Etta Bond stands huddled outside the Chocolate Factory studio in North London, illuminated by the thick, cold-night air. Taking time out of her recording session to smoke and chill, this evening she is warm and energised. Best known for her brash but sensitive collaborative work alongside close friends, Bond's reputable production squad consists of Raf Riley, Tom Misch, and Chris Loco. Initially unearthed and signed by Labrinth, via MySpace, Etta's creative family has developed an instinctively cohesive and powerful relationship, encouraging the most distinctive and enticing facets of the Odd Child-signed artist to the fore. Proud, powerful, and unapologetic, the Cambridge native's upfront dialogues on wax outline her sexuality, physical prowess, insecurities, vices and creativity with zero fear of judgement.
Recording with the likes of Skepta, Plan B and Lady Leshurr, Etta has been working with urban music's most prolific artists for years. Her understanding of what makes good material is now instinctive. Deeply considerate of the visual and vocal aspects of her sound, her mission statement is to reinforce diversity. Historically revising earlier material reveals videos which are focused, primarily, on hedonism. Maturing from rave baby to empowered woman, Bond's recent music video for "Seen And Never Heard" shows the artist entirely naked, complete with a shaved head surrounded by friends who stand proudly around her—they too, entirely in the buff. Explaining that the motivation for the amount of skin on show is to progress our ideals on how a female body should be perceived, there is nothing about Etta that exhibits ego or arrogance.
"I'm aware that I'm not society's idea of a model," she says. "I don't think that I'm ugly—I try not to look at anyone in that way—it's all about not allowing yourself to be fed false ideals by the media. If you don't think it's possible to train your own mind in the correct way to think, you need to look again at how you were trained to see yourself. I would like to encourage people to be in control of their own minds and bodies. I'm all about that." Etta Bond speaks truths which represent a deeper-thinking, older soul. Reflecting on her 26 fast-lived years, she opens up to Complex about her journey thus far.
Interview by Milly McMahon
A lot of your music is in support of diversity and female empowerment, but tracks like "Boring Bitches" kind of contradicts the feeling of sisterhood. How did you hope that track would impact girls who you were targeting?
It can seem contradictory to some people, but the style of music I made when I was 21 was about me not giving a fuck. I much prefer being more considerate about things now. The message behind that track is about dispelling the myth that you should be sat down and behaving like a lady. Just because I'm a girl, doesn't mean I have to be in a club with my legs crossed, behaving myself. I don't have to be like that if I don't want to be, and that's really the whole point of the song.
You worked with Lady Leshurr on the track—do you ever feel frustrated on behalf of the real talent that surrounds you struggling to thrive in the midst of more diluted, commercial female artists?
It depends on what way you look at things. Even great artists you think are doing well aren't even selling that much. There's so many different avenues you can go down to get your music heard. Leshurr is doing crazy well with her "Queens Speech" thing. Her views on Facebook are mad and her following in the States is huge! It's a worldwide thing and people just have to spread themselves about and do what they can. Slowly but surely, people are coming up. Nadia Rose is making some noise and she's really cool; I love her vibe and she isn't scared to say what she feels. I think she's wicked. There are a few girls doing their thing, but everyone has their obstacles. I'm still trying to get over mine.
Since getting signed in 2011, has the pressure to release music for wider audiences matured your attitude to songwriting?
I'm lucky because, although I'm signed to SyCo, I'm also with the Odd Child label. I've worked with Labrinth since I was 16 so we collaborate with the same team. Our family has grown, and I don't feel too much pressure. You either chose to let it affect you, or you don't. Pressure is good sometimes, but the way I like to make music ignores the pressure. I just try to keep myself as free as possible.
What prompted you to shave your luscious locks off?
When I'm cooking, getting dressed, making music—I love experimentation. Before I cut my hair, I had extensions and they started ripping my hair out, so I thought it made sense to just take them out. I also had a few people close to me tell me it wouldn't look good and I'd look ugly if I shaved my hair off. And if someone tries to put that fear into me, I automatically wanna go against it because I feel like no one has the power to dictate what I should look like. My beauty is definitely not about my looks, it doesn't end there, and I don't think anyone's beauty is that shallow. So cutting my hair off was my moment! It was very liberating. These things are tiny parts of us; our hair, our look. That's why I used to change myself up so much because I was fed up of it always being about how I look—and it still irks me. That's partly what the "Seen And Never Heard" message is all about. I'm not beauty-shaming—even the beautiful people on Instagram who get 50,000 likes for putting up a selfie don't feel secure—it's beyond that. People just need to be reminded that there's more to life.
When you're in the public, just being comfortable with yourself promotes a powerful and very progressive message.
I was never the pretty girl in school. The boys didn't want to date me—I was never that girl. From a young age, I've felt crap and I'm lucky to have a mother who allowed me to feel loved and confident. I have never relied on my looks because they never got me very far. I knew I had to focus on the things that made me stand out. I may not have a perfectly symmetrical face or legs up to my boobs, but I can look at the things that really do make me a great person. If you're an arsehole, the longer people know you, the sooner they'll learn that you're an arsehole. It doesn't matter what you look like. When people know you're a good person, people will think you're beautiful and that's how I strive to be with my friends and anyone I meet.
Back to Labrinth, will you be working closely with him collaboratively in the future?
We've taught each other so, so much. My time span with him is like from 16 to 19, then things started really kicking off for him and he's always mad busy. He's always been the same, though—you can't get him out of the studio [laughs]. He's so hard-working and he has truly dedicated his life to music-making. But we've been talking about collaborating, yes. Maybe there's a reason we haven't got in the studio yet... When we do, though, it'll be really special.
Rave music has been a prominent influence on the creative direction of your music, both thematically and melodically. Did you always imagine live parties would be the best environment for your music to thrive?
I still love dance music and still love expressing myself though the genre of dance, but after the last few years of performing various types of songs that I've written, I'd like to work more with live music in a band. The genres that influenced me, originally, were neo-soul, jazz, and R&B. That kind of music is smoother. I'll always continue to experiment, especially now that I'm growing up. I was 21 when I first started making dance music and I had the time of my life! But I'm getting older now and finding out new things about myself, so I want to work out how to share that with people.
Weed features heavily in your music, and your videos. Why is your love of smoking something you decide to speak so publicly on?
I'm a very honest person and my music is a reflection of that. I smoke weed, and so do a lot of other people, so for me to talk about my reality just comes natural. The first video I smoked in was "Resolve". It felt natural for me to smoke and I didn't mind if people knew it was a habit of mine. My mum sees the videos and she knows I smoke. I'm not necessarily trying to promote smoking—like, at some point in the future, I might stop. But we'll have to see how THAT one goes [laughs].