Denai Moore was only a teenager when her music career began – plucked from an early open mic night, the exquisite shape and timbre of her voice met immediate adoration: her first single, Blame, played across Radio 1, 2 and 6Music, and her debut EP brought a stunning appearance on Jools Holland. Her peers were desperate to collaborate. Her debut album, Elsewhere, was rapturously acclaimed.
The last couple of years have provided an intense and sometimes painful period of growth for Moore – an experience that she documents now with unflinching openness on We Used to Bloom. These 10 songs reveal a young woman figuring out the world and her place in it, while also charting Moore’s evolving relationship with herself – with self-esteem, self-image and the crippling anxiety she once suffered and is now challenging head on through her songwriting. What is particularly notable about Moore’s music – in her early EPs and collaborations, on Elsewhere, and now in We Used to Bloom – is how it defies genre. There are R’n’B influences, certainly, but alongside them stand a love for folk and soul, for Bon Iver, Feist and Solange, for Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz into the “richness” of Beyonce’s Lemonade, for the fact that “Kanye never made the same record twice”, for the way that St Vincent “really reinvented the idea of being a lead guitarist.” And there too is the girl who learned to play keys alongside her session musician father, the girl who took up guitar and sang at a young age, who spent her childhood in Jamaica listening to the gospel music of the local churches. “And melodically that still influences me,” she says. “It’s a very resonant music. It stays.”
And so to bracket Moore with any one particular scene seems naive – such of genre is crucial for a flourishing British music community.
“I feel at the moment in the UK there’s such a budding scene,” she says, “and it’s amazing to see producers exploding out and acts working together. Working with people pushes you. That’s how I learned how to open myself up, how to really think about how I should deliver the songs. I don’t think about genre, because I think it’s reductive, these people are kind of unapologetically being themselves in their music without getting caught up in genre or image.”
Key to We Used to Bloom’s development, and its diverse sound, was producer Steph Marziano. “I met Steph at an event called Girls’ Day,” Moore recalls, “where lots of women from the music industry were giving advice to girls who want to work in music. It was one of the times that shows you how the universe is amazing, and you cross paths with someone at the right time. We just really connected – it was really like recording with my best friend. We had the same intentions for the songs, the same sounds in our heads.”
Among those sounds are the unexpected – one track hears the pair chewing gum; another found its main beat from Moore rolling a stick around on the studio floor. But there was also an unusual approach to more familiar sounds too: early on in the recording, Moore realised that guitars had become “a comfort zone” and requested that Marziano mute them entirely. “It completely changed the frame of the record,” she explains. “It made me think about how the guitar could be integrated on the record, and it pushed me beyond thinking what I was comfortable doing.”
Growth is a recurring theme of this record, a fact Moore attributes to the way her life has changed since her last record. “I think a massive part of the last few years for me has been how I feel about life,” she says. “The infinite possibilities of it. It’s something that really had allowed me to have no fear.”
The album title, she says, is a nod to this feeling. “I chose it because I felt like I’m in the growing aspect of my life,” she explains. “There’s something about blossoming and blooming that I associate with being younger, but now I’m older and I’m really coming to understand myself as a person. We used to bloom; now we grow.”
We Used To Bloom is out now.
Buy / Stream: http://smarturl.it/DenaiMooreWUTB