New York City’s Sweet Soubrette is a ukulele-powered indie rock band with dark, poetic lyrics, songs that tell stories, and lush instrumentation. Sweet Soubrette’s edgy love songs explore troubled romance, works of literature, and the mysteries of existence, featuring the songwriting, vocals and ukulele of Ellia Bisker and a talented backing band.
In this exclusive weekly series for Feminist Wednesday, Ellia talks about some of Sweet Soubrette’s songs that take on themes relating to the modern female experience. Each song is paired with an image of Ellia by Brooklyn-based photographer Emily Raw. The two artists have been working together on various photo and video projects since 2007.
What’s My Desire
What’s My Desire, from Sweet Soubrette’s recently released album Burning City, was inspired by the book Henry and June by Anaïs Nin, an erotic literary work based on Nin’s diaries from the period in the early 1930s when she was living in Paris, romantically involved with author Henry Miller (among others), and becoming a serious writer herself. The song was an assignment, and without it I may not have finished the book, because it bothered me in a way I had a hard time putting my finger on. It was something about Nin’s fascination with her own developing sexuality, deep narcissism, and disregard for the feelings of other people (in particular, her husband). It seemed almost adolescent to me, to be so self-involved yet somehow so uncritical, and also so obsessed with men. It bored me. It made me uncomfortable.
But also, undeniably, the book spoke to me. Its overlapping concerns are love, art, ambition, sexual independence and loyalty, and the drive to experience deeply and to write it all down. Nin sets an example of what it is to live the story, then to examine and document it unflinchingly. She demonstrated how to savor the unsavory. To claim ownership of oneself as a grown woman, however complicated. How could I not write this song? It was my own story. Maybe it was every woman’s story. And the desire in the title of the song is not only sexual desire. It’s also part of the larger question we each have to ask ourselves: What do I want? What’s my desire? It’s a dangerous question.
Anaïs Nin was an audacious and fearless artist whose work should command as much respect as that of her better-known contemporary Henry Miller. Readers of her book will find lines they recognize from this song; I lifted turns of phrase directly from her own writing as much as I could in constructing it, and in a couple cases from Miller’s letters to her: “…eyes all over your skin, woman, woman, woman. I can’t see how I can go on living away from you…”
In collaboration with Emily Raw, we produced a music video for What’s My Desire that takes the literary theme to an extreme. We used up an entire bottle of India ink to make it.