In August 2017, Alynda Segarra and her band Hurray For The Riff Raff found themselves on the bill at a corporate festival. It was not the most auspicious setting for an artist whose then-current album, The Navigator, dealt in themes of identity, assimilation and colonialisation. As the sun set above a hillside in southern England, Segarra found herself ignoring the indifferent audience and singing instead to a copse of trees and wondering where she might go next.
“I was already thinking about the next project – I always begin making demos right after an album is released because I get really lonely when an album is done. It feels like my friends have all left town,” Segarra says with a small, almost apologetic smile. She’s speaking on Zoom from her brick-lined office/think tank in an airy corner of her impeccably neat shotgun house in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, surrounded by some of her arcana: a tarot deck, salt lamps, stacks of art books, poetry books and history books, a few on gardening, a bubbling blue lava lamp and three unruly plants that snake towards the camera.
“We were supposed to be performing for thousands of people,” she explains, still a little bemused, running her tattooed fingers through her short choppy shag. “It turned out all those thousands of people were desperately hung over from the party that they had all gone to the night before on this huge compound, so we probably played to eight people. Most of them were laying on their backs or their stomachs, looking like they were going be sick.
“I told myself, ‘I can look at these humans who are making me have an existential crisis, or I can look out into the horizon.’ I saw this line of trees far off in the distance. I noticed how they were swaying in the breeze, the way the light was hitting them and I started playing these songs for these trees. It just struck me – why haven’t I ever thought that trees deserved songs too?”