‘Embracing Solitude’ From Exstoa Is A Sound Diary Of Japan’s Landscapes

We spoke with the mastermind behind Exstoa, Danish singer and bassist Ida Urd, about her journey writing and recording in Japan, being a person and 'Embracing Solitude'.

Ida Urd as Exstoa is an experimental avant-garde pop output with an alluring sensibility that will hypnotize you with the gentle sway of every note and lyric. The latest release from this Danish writer, singer and producer, Embracing Solitude, is perfect for Spring; the eclectic five-part EP is full of expansive soundscapes that reflect the lush nature of Kyoto, Japan. Using diverse influences from her solo trip to Asia in the Autumn of 2018, Ida uses the inspiration of days spent in nature to encapsulate the generous feeling of self-acceptance through embracing solitude.

Accompanying the release, Ida says: “Many of [these] ideas have been created on walks in Japan’s magnificent nature and recorded in a hotel room the same evening. I hope you can feel the moment the songs are created in.” With that, feel free to step into Ida’s shoes through this journey and reflect on your own presence, in the moment. We spoke with Ida herself about the process of recording this EP, her unique experience of Japan and Embracing Solitude.

Hi Ida! What is your personal background? What brought you to where you are today?

Music has always been a natural part of my life. I’ve played the electric bass since I was twelve and I have always been playing in a lot of different constellations and bands and explored many different genres, from free improvised jazz to radio-pop. When I started at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen five years ago, I started writing my own music. Even though I applied for the conservatory as a bassist, I spent most of my time there developing my own musical language as a composer, and I started using my own voice as an instrument as well.

Most important reason that I’m here today, following the dream of being a musician, is through the support of my parents. They still tell me that I must continue to dare to go after what I dream of when I’m in doubt. It’s not always easy to be in the music business, so it’s very important to me to have their support.

How would you describe your relationship to music?

Complicated. My music is like an extension of myself. I haven’t always been good at talking about feelings, but when I make music there’s no filter, emotions and feelings can flow freely. It’s very releasing to me. But it’s also a struggle and it causes a lot of frustration when there’s no flow – there are ups and downs, like in any other relationship.

Who are a few of your biggest musical influences?

Björk is definitely my biggest musical influence. She is a constantly evolving artist, innovative, experimental and accessible at the same time. I have also listened a lot to Efterklang, Colleen, Moses Sumney, Portishead, Asa-Chang and Junray and Slowdive.

The title of your latest release is called “Embracing Solitude”. Can you explain why you chose this title?

The music is composed and most of it recorded in Japan, where I was traveling around on my own in the Autumn of 2018. Before I left, I was afraid that I would feel lonely, being all by my self for more than a month. But I didn’t.

The EP “Embracing Solitude” is dealing with what happens when you embrace the solitude, and through it get to know yourself better, both good and bad. It made me feel very strong when I realized that I’m human enough in myself, and not dependent on being part of a community or group all the time.

What was your experience like, recording this album?

For me, it was like making a diary on my travel around Japan. I didn’t think of it as an album before I came home and listened to it in another setting. First then I realized that I wasn’t that far from having a finished EP.

Still from Japan, 2018

What about your writing process. Is it always the same? How did the songs for your EP come together this time around?

The process of making a track is almost the same as making a physical collage for me. I work with different fragments: words, sounds, rhythms and feelings that I combine in different ways. I write, record and produce at the same time, and I improvise a lot while I make and record the music. The directness in improvising has a huge strength, I think. The unconsciousness is way more intriguing to me than some kind of planned structure.

On this EP, most of the recordings are made in hotel rooms, the vocals are recorded directly into the computer, and the tongue drum, which is one of the main parts on ‘Hidden Strength’, is recorded in a guest house in Kyoto, where I found the instrument in the common living room. If you listen carefully, you can hear the ticking from an old watch in the background of the track. To me, all these sounds from the places where the music was created is adding a feeling of being present in that moment.

Still from Japan, 2018

I definitely feel the nature in this EP. Was this what you were going for? If so, how did you achieve this with production, instrumentation, overall feeling, etc.?

I was very inspired by Japan’s magnificent nature while writing this music. Some of the melodies were created on walks in the mountains, and my choice of sounds also reflects the surroundings a lot.

I have chosen not to re-record the vocals with some nice study microphones back home, because there’s an exciting new discovery in the first recordings I made in Japan. This feeling of the ‘now’ is more important to me than the traditional “good” sound. In the last part of the mixing process, I’ve worked with my dear friend Peter Lademann, who has a large share in the final production. He immediately realized that the music had to flourish and be challenged in production rather than doing it in a more mainstream way.

How do you feel about the EP as a whole?

I am very happy about it, and I’m looking so much forward to playing the music live for an audience.

Any words of wisdom for fellow musicians, or just girls and women in general?

Erase the limits of what you can and cannot. Explore and express…

Still from Japan, 2018