INTERVIEW: Chiseko chats valuing authenticity and opening up the conversation around mental health
We spoke with Perth-based artist Chiseko about music as a form of self-expression, the high value of authenticity and honesty and the cruciality of speaking up about mental health issues and supporting those who are struggling.
Multifaceted Perth-based artist Chiseko began writing music when he was just 13-years old. An articulate and down to earth person, Chiseko speaks on the impact of the journey he has endured thus far, one which has been laced with highs and lows that has seen music-making become his passion.
“It basically started as a self-expression kind of thing. I’ve been to, like, nine schools and lived in three different countries: England, Zimbabwe and here. It was cool in some ways but in other ways it was a little bit tough. [Music] was the best way for me to express myself because I kind of felt out of place everywhere I went, and it was always a constant adjustment.”
Even before diving into music, Chiseko wrote poetry. “It’s kind of embarrassing because I used to write poems for girls that I liked. It was the cringey typical ‘roses are red, violets are blue’ kind of stuff. I didn’t even listen to hip-hop at the time, my family did and then the people that I went to school with used to say to me, ‘You kind of remind me of Biggie Smalls’ and I’d be like, ‘Who’s this Biggie Smalls guy?’ I started listening to his music and I was like, ‘Yo, this is cool’ and I was already writing poems, so I just put two and two together and it kind of made sense.”
From that point forward, Chiseko enjoyed writing and making music and relished in every creativity-induced aspect of the process. “I was a visual artist first, so I think creativity is just something that runs in my blood. I always used to just sit in front of the TV and just draw and music videos would come on and I would just be fascinated by them. Really it was just creativity and being able to express yourself and talk about the things that you’re going through.”
Chiseko describes creativity as “a way of thinking” and says he would love to engage in a range of artistic practises throughout his life and career. “I think music is the current mode of communication and in the future, I want to go into other things like designing furniture, doing household items and sculptures things like that. It’s all just self-expression in a way. If I can remove myself away from music it kind of creates a bit of intrigue as well like, ‘Ooh what’s he doing now?’”
When asked how he would describe the style of music he creates, Chiseko responded by saying he doesn’t believe his music truly fits into a singular genre or ‘type’ of sound. “I just write, I don’t think about it like that. I guess, I just try and express myself. I don’t think that I try and fit into one style, it’s just whatever I’m feeling at the time that’s what comes out.”
He continues to explain how his main prerogative is to share music that makes his listeners feel something. “My influences come from 90’s rap, Erykah Badu, super soulful stuff. I like Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky – that whole period between 2012 and 2014 with Joey Bada$$ and The Underachievers and Danny Brown and all those guys. For me, that period was super influential. I just take things from everything and normally I’ll hear the beat and that will tell me what I need to say on the song… It’s not like I go out and say, “Today I’m going to make a trap song”, it doesn’t work like that. If I’m having a bad day, I write a sad song and if I’m having a good day, I write a happy song.”
Chiseko is currently studying architecture, taking one unit at a time, making his music career the spotlight priority, but this wasn’t a smooth decision to pursue music seriously. “When I finished high school, my dad got unwell, around the time I was releasing demos on SoundCloud. He got super unwell; his whole body got paralysed. We were playing indoor soccer and he got hit in the face with the ball and it triggered some sort of chemical reaction in his body where his nervous system stopped working properly so the next morning, he woke up and half of his face was paralysed. Slowly different parts of his body essentially just shut down and eventually, he couldn’t even speak, do anything.”
Consequently, his father was in hospital for up to five months leaving Chiseko overwhelmed, trying to cope with this sudden scare on top of making music and getting through his first year of university. “I also had this song ‘Juice’ which was popping off, so I was trying to make tracks to reach that same level, when you can’t really predict whether a track will be successful or not. I really just psyched myself out, I was like “I’m not even going to be able to do this” and “I can’t make another ‘Juice’”. Mentally, that all just took a toll on me and for quite a while I was just like, “Fuck music, I’m not doing music anymore”.”
Looking back at the way Chiseko’s mental health declined, he now wants to spread awareness around the significance of mental health and helping people to understand it’s okay to not be okay. “I really dealt with some quite serious anxiety, quite serious depression. There was a point where I couldn’t even have a conversation with someone because I was too nervous, and I would overthink everything I was saying. In an industry like this, you can’t be like that, that’s the one thing you need to be able to do, to communicate with people and communicate well.”
“All of that really took me down a dark place and I just started experimenting with all kinds of stuff. I’m grateful for the experience because I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for it, but I do definitely think that there’s something to say about musicians and mental health, as well as just mental health in general and people kind of downplaying it when really anything could happen in your life that can send you down that path. For a long time, I would literally just stay in the house, I wouldn’t go anywhere, I wouldn’t do anything.”
Chiseko says he didn’t tell anyone for a long time about how he was feeling and eventually he went to see a therapist who assisted him in getting his fire back by opening up through conversation. “I feel like it’s really important, I think that people need to know that it’s okay to go through shit and it’s okay to talk to other people and to let them know that’s what you’re going through and to allow the people around you to actually help build you up.”
“My therapist, she helped me sort out those problems that I had, all that trauma with my dad and all the things that happened before that, so that’s the real reason I took a break from music. I was going through a lot, didn’t know how to deal with it and I felt as though the last thing I needed to do as an anxious 19-year-old was to be on stage in front of one hundred people spilling my heart out. Now, I’m so open to talking about it because I think that the only way for this to become normalised and for people to understand stuff like this, is if it is spoken about.”
Chiseko says he believes the best way for an individual to work on their mental health and to overcome feelings of anxiousness and self-doubt, is to force themselves to do things they typically wouldn’t do and step out of their comfort zone. “Just trying different things and building yourself up, building your character up…that makes you a better person overall. Gives you more inspiration and stuff to talk about…I think it was just having those conversations and unpacking all of that trauma and realising “Nah, actually I’m going to be okay” and then forcing myself into uncomfortable situations instead of just staying at home.”
“Whenever someone was having a bunch of people around at the studio to hang out, I’d force myself to go, even if I was super uncomfortable or super nervous or super anxious the whole time. The more I experienced those things, the better I actually became at handling and dealing with those situations, and it’s got to now, where I can sit here and have a conversation with you and it flows and it’s friendly and happy, but if this was me even a year and a half ago, I’d be freaking out having cold sweats and stuff,” Chiseko laughs cheerfully.
Following his mental health break from music, Chiseko made a comeback with his vibey single ‘Care’ featuring Your Girl Pho. In our conversation, he reveals that he has more music he’s been working on alongside the producer of ‘Care’, roc. “I first met up with roc and started renting out the studio with him and then we just worked together all of last year and we came up with, like, 20 songs.”
Chiseko says people should expect a new release as soon as six weeks’ time. “The goal is to try and diversify as much as possible so that we can draw a little bit of attention from different audiences. Based on that information, we can then work on a project that we think is going to be, not just suitable for what I’m trying to do but also suitable to fit the Australian market. As much as it sucks, you kind of have to look at it from an analytical perspective as well. Once you have the platform, you can do whatever you want. It’s just getting there.”
On his journey to build this platform for himself, Chiseko expresses how important it is to him to be honest and genuine in every aspect. “Something that’s been going through my mind recently, listening to a lot of local hip hop acts, I’ve noticed some of these guys have incredibly interesting stories. There are people who come from all over the place and these people have had different backgrounds and different experiences [in comparison to people from Australia]. It seems that a lot of people fall into – I’m not going to say ‘the trap’ because if that’s the life you’re actually living because that’s fair enough – but it seems as though a lot of people fall into rapping about the same topics, which are currently trending, i.e.: trapping and shooting people and it’s like, bro, we live in Perth. You rarely hear about shootings on the news or on the radio because they don’t happen that often. I feel like there’s so much inspiration in your roots and where you come from and if you allow that to shape your music and you do that in an authentic way, people will love it because you’re providing something that’s different.”
Chiseko says authenticity is something he values highly, both from the people around him and as something he always strives to achieve. “The moral of the story is speak your truth. Feel free to stretch it a little because at the end of the day, you’re creating something and it doesn’t have to be always 100% factual, but I guess the idea is that you write something, and then you flesh it out a little bit to make it more interesting. [Authenticity and honesty are] a huge deal for me. Just be truthful, be honest and appreciate the people around you. Spread positive vibes and positive energy. The universe will work in your favour.”
Words & interview by Liv Declerck
Photos 1, 2 & 5 by Michael Tartaglia