Interview by Joana Meurkens
Photography by India Coombs
Summer Breeze is an LA born and bred musician on her journey to expressing her truest self through her art. Summer Breeze talks to artistic director, Joana Meurkens, about how her rigorous dance training has shaped her as an artist and how she celebrates the eccentricity of her personality in her songs.
Tell us a bit about who are… where you’re from?
My name is Summer Breeze and I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I grew up in the performing arts so that is everything to me. I didn’t start pursuing my singer/songwriter passion until about two years ago when I really had to make it known to my own spirit that that is what I was meant to do. I grew up as a dancer, so for a big part of my life that was my profession. Music was not something I felt I could mix with dance because the people surrounding me at the time told me I could only focus on one thing. But I knew that wasn’t true because I knew I would be able to incorporate all of my talents in one. I am a living breathing version of my name. I am Summer Breeze, I am the heat but I also come with a heart, and I am a chill ass being. And that’s my legal name!
How has your cultural identity influenced your music?
I’ve always been an outgoing free spirit who grew up around people who allowed me to identify myself as whatever I wanted to be. I think it shows within my music that I don’t want to be put in a box of just R&B or just any genre really. I just want to create based off of my emotions. Culturally, I am influenced by a lot of gospel and operatic music from being in a choir for so much of my life.
Did you go to a performing arts school when you were younger?
All of the schools that I went to were performing arts schools.
What did you study in school?
Dance! I strictly studied dance for about eight years.
Has dance influenced your songwriting? How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Being a dancer made me listen to music on a different sonic level. I learned how to move within the beat and tune into what was happening. Being a dancer and taking classes of different styles, my eyes were opened to new music and artists. Having different dance teachers really influenced my songwriting simply because the field of dance is so diverse.
I also think that dance gives a lot of discipline.
Yes absolutely. You really have to think in a pattern. It’s the discipline that really makes you aware that your skills have to be at a certain level. You’re always working toward being better. The dance world always made me want to one up my own self. The dance world is so strict, so you always had to go above and beyond. There is no room for mediocrity or error. It also taught me the importance of teamwork because when doing choreography with other people, everyone has to be synchronized and look good together. You have to trust each other to achieve that.
Who were your musical influences as a child?
My family. My mom was a performer. She was either performing on a stage or on the road, so seeing her do the things I wanted to do was amazing to me. I love her so much and because of her I knew that I could do what I wanted to do and be the best that I could be. Whitney Houston was a big influence. She has such a strong voice and I knew that if I was going to sing, I wanted to sing like her. Artists from more eclectic backgrounds like Bjork made me feel that it was okay to be myself because they were thinking outside the box and doing things differently. I really want to mix the strength of my voice with the weirdness of my background.
What is your cultural background?
I honestly don’t know because my family is a big melting pot. For the most part I grew up with all Black people and in the church. I grew up in a church that was very open and accepting of everyone. People were treated with respect no matter where they came from. I grew up around a lot of Hispanic families so that was also a big influence on me. But for the most part I was always with Black people and learning from them. I’m an LA kid, so I was always on the go and doing things with purpose. I grew up around a lot of funny people so my sense of humor is a very big part of my personality as well. I feel like I grew up in a cartoon because my family is really just a bunch of goofballs. Even when there were dark days, there was always a smile at the end.
I feel like when you approach life with that energy it’s easier to process when things kind of hit the fan…
Right. I know shit can get real, but at the end of the day I’m still going to be me and I’m still going to thrive. I think that should always be the mindset.
Who are your musical and non-musical influences now?
I am a big fan of Studio Ghibli films and the man who writes a lot of their scores, Joe Hisaishi. That music makes me feel like I can do anything because it’s so magical. Whenever I listen to scores like that I think to myself, “how can I write something that really builds a story?” His music makes me very emotional and because I am so emotionally driven, I try to build off of what his music makes me feel. It’s meditative for me to get me into a space of believing like I can create. Dancers are also a huge influence on me because I want to be able to choreograph to what I write. I would love to be able to put myself into the fluidity and movement of the song.
What type of dance did you do growing up?
I did mainly lyrical and modern, but honestly I did all styles.
In your opinion, what role does music play in the Black Lives Matter movement and activism in general?
I try to steer away from that because as a Black person, this is my life. I try to block it out of my life spiritually because at a certain point it really does get to be too much. I don’t like it to influence my art too much because I don’t always want to talk about how I’m oppressed or about some horrible shit that I’ve been through and continue to go through. I want people to identify my music with the loving person that I am and the happiness that I can give rather than focus on the negative. I appreciate it and applaud the work that people are doing but that just isn’t my job.
How has Covid shifted the way that you approach performing and making music? Has it affected your creative process?
It affected my ability to perform because I had a show booked right when all of this started, and it really sucked because I’d never had my own show before. At first it was really discouraging because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I felt I needed people to experience my art first hand. Creativity wise, it’s been great because I’m going through something new everyday and it’s easy to tap into that and write about it. But I’ve felt deprived without being able to perform. I’m just being patient and writing, making sure that my music is at a point that when we do go back out I can give it all of my energy. This time was necessary for my growth as a musician.
What is your favorite part about being a singer?
It’s performing. I love to see how I can make people feel and take in the energy from the audience. I love to perform for myself too because you can really see the work that went into the song when you package it like that.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
Absolutely. Unfortunately, so many of my dream collaborations are gone. I really wanted to work with Prince and Whitney Houston. I know she’s the queen but Beyonce is also on the top of the list. If I can work with her then I know what the fuck I’m doing. I would love to work with Rosalia. I think that the difference between our worlds and cultures would sound really beautiful together.
Are there any brands that you would want to work with?
I want to work with brands that have respect for Black women. I want to work with people who see me and want me to shine in their clothing. I’m very much into designing my own stuff too. I want to work with people who understand my creative vision.
Listen to Summer Breeze here:
Connect with Summer Breeze: https://www.instagram.com/summmaaaab/