Troye Sivan on Making Music in Quarantine and the “Hyper-Fabulous” Power of Cartier
The “Easy” singer discusses the first song that made him cry, the pain and importance of writing personal music, and launching a campaign from thousands of miles away.
Troye Sivan isn’t usually left alone, but he’s getting used to it. Under normal circumstances, the 25-year-old singer, who was born in South Africa and raised in Australia, lives in Los Angeles, where he’s surrounded by friends, musical collaborators, and the sprawling California city itself. But during the coronavirus pandemic, Sivan has returned to his hometown near Melbourne, where he stayed with his parents for a spell. Like most people who have moved back into their childhood homes, he’s fallen into familiar dynamics with his mother and father. “My mom’s knocking on the door and she’s like, ‘Do you want tea? Are you hungry?’” Sivan said over the phone earlier this summer. “I’ll be leaving the house and she is like, ‘Where are you going?’ It was actually really nice for those first couple of weeks, and if anything, it’s renewed a little bit of closeness in my family relationships in general.” But after experiencing the freedom and independence in his own home in the United States—Sivan has spent the last five years here—he needed some space. He moved into his brother’s “granny flat,” a separate apartment attached to the house, nearby. “I was like, sick, I’ve got my own entrance. I have my own bathroom,” he said. “To be able to come and go as I please, I think I missed that a little bit. The privacy felt really nice for the first week when I moved here.”
Sivan hasn’t lived a cloistered existence by any means, but his desire for some privacy is warranted. His latest EP, “In a Dream,” contains six songs about heartbreak—particularly the track “Easy,” which chronicles the period right before a relationship ends. Although Sivan doesn’t explicitly say so, tabloids have speculated that the musician went through a recent breakup with his longtime boyfriend, Jacob Bixenman. Fans of Sivan surmise “In a Dream’s” subject matter pertains to this split. And indeed, although Sivan has written deeply personal music since his beginnings in the industry during the mid-Aughts, something about “Easy,” feels especially vulnerable.
Sivan has the work ethic of a seasoned businessperson—in conversation, he’s so prepared for every interview question in an even and diplomatic way that it’s easy to forget he’s just 25 years old. The musician’s desire to keep a nose to the grindstone hasn’t wavered during the pandemic—he’s done multiple interviews from the spare bedroom in his parents’ house, promoting the new music. He’s also been named one of the faces of Cartier, alongside Rami Malek, Willow Smith, Maisie Williams and Jackson Wang, and is part of the campaign for the brand’s launch of the Pasha de Cartier watch. In the conversation below, Sivan discusses which song on “In a Dream,” was the first to ever make him cry, how he created tracks without the help of his usual cowriters, and why his earliest memories of Cartier are linked to his personal identity.
Have you been writing music since the pandemic started? Some artists have expressed the feeling that creating in this environment can be overwhelming.
I’ve felt creative—like, very creative at times—but it’s honestly been in almost every way, except for actual music creation. I’ve been enjoying design—interior design or graphic design or architecture. A bunch of stuff has piqued my interest—I’ve filled my time cooking.
For music, I always co-write with people. I always collaborate with other writers and it’s such a sacred and special experience for me and the thought of doing it over Zoom, with audio lags and people breaking up and freezing—I’m just imagining the producers playing something and I’m trying to write over the top of it, and there’s a weird delay where I’m singing out of time with the music. The whole experience just sounds really weird to me. So I haven’t tried the Zoom songwriting session yet. And that kind of bums me out—I do miss writing. The other day, I had a friend send me a bunch of tracks. So I’ve got a little mic set up. I’m sitting on my bed right now and literally on my bedside table, I’ve got a microphone. That’s been fun, but again, it’s not the same as starting something from scratch; I’m basically just writing lyrics and melodies over ready-made tracks just because I miss it a lot. But it’s been a bit tough.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you’ve been messing around on Photoshop.
Totally. I’ve watched a bunch of master classes and I did some woodworking with my dad, too—stuff that I’ve never done before, never thought I would do before. I definitely still feel the creative itch. It’s just, my usual go-tos of like, okay, I’m feeling inspired, let’s go to the studio—that’s not really here at the moment. So now I’m like, okay, I’m getting inspired, I’m going to make a tuna casserole for the first time.
Have you thought about getting back into making YouTube videos? It seems like the perfect time.
No, but I definitely did go full social media kid, for the first two weeks I was here [in Australia.] I felt like I was 17 again—all I did was spend time on Twitter and Instagram. I made a few TikToks. I was fully into it because it was that very familiar feeling of being locked in my bedroom, which is basically where I spent all of my teen years online. So I regressed back to that for a second and really enjoyed myself. I haven’t had the time to just sit on my phone and be online in a really, really long time.
So it’s safe to say that the songs you released, “Easy,” and “Take Yourself Home,” were not written in quarantine.
No, they were not. I’m really thankful that I actually had this music nearly ready to go—we did little things, finishing touches remotely, but it was all written and pretty much ready to go before all of this happened.
I’m curious about the songwriting process of “Easy.”
It was interesting because I have my little safety blankets as far as people that I write with goes, and on this particular day it was me and Oscar Gorres, who I’ve worked with before. [Brett Leland McLaughlin], who’s sort of my best friend, my ride or die partner, songwriter soulmate, couldn’t make it that day. So I said to Oscar, I was like, ‘Why don’t we just try to write, just the two of us?’ It was kind of a daunting thought because Oscar doesn’t really do lyrics and melody, he’s a producer. I knew that I was going to have to write the song by myself. Oscar started playing some chords and we had this drum loop going that sounded like a bad drum machine, or like a train that, no matter what, no matter how bad you wanted to get off and stop and breathe for a second, it just never did. It felt relentless. And then he played these chords that just felt special to me. They felt super emotive. It sounds cheesy, but the song started writing itself.
I wasn’t really taking the session very seriously because my normal co-writers weren’t there. So I was just like, let’s do this for fun. And I wasn’t being really precious and I was just writing and writing and writing. The lyrics were happening super easily. And then—I’ve got it on Voice Notes, because I always record when I’m writing, just in case I forget something—but I was sitting there, racking my brain, thinking, “What the hell rhymes with ‘you?’” And I was like, boo, coo…I don’t know. For some reason I was having an absolute blank and then I was like, woo? And I thought to myself, what if I yell “woo!” in the middle of the song? I was just having a lot of fun and messing around. But I still cried when we were writing it.
Do you often have these cathartic songwriting sessions where you’re alternating between crying and just having fun, not thinking too much?
Yeah, I do. But I never cried in the studio before. That was the first time. In general, I have always alternated between actually going to my therapist and going to the studio. Those are sort of the two coaches.
It felt different this time. I’ve written about personal stuff always and written about relationships, and my sexuality and my family and where I’m from. But for some reason, this time, I didn’t think about it much while I was writing, because I just felt like I needed to get it off my chest. Almost immediately afterward, I felt a bit like, “I don’t know if I can put this out, or if I want to.” I felt a little bit squeamish the whole release of it. So in a way, I’m glad that it’s out and that it’s over and done. And then I kind of go in circles with my head; the only reason I had convinced myself to release these songs is because I know how impactful, specific, personal music has been to me in the past. I think of someone like Amy Winehouse where, you’d think that writing about these insane little details and all of these specificities would alienate your audience and make it too personal. When in fact, I think it actually does the exact opposite. It really draws people in and makes people connect and apply it to their own life. That’s when you can end up getting something special.
It’s funny that you mention Amy Winehouse, because I have thought of her twice while you’ve talked about the process for “Easy.” Once when you were talking about rhyming, I wondered if you had a rhyming book and thought of Amy Winehouse, because she famously did. The second time was when you were talking about crying in the studio. There’s this video of her performing “Love Is a Losing Game,” and she’s bawling and singing through it.
That’s, like, my favorite YouTube video ever. To answer your first question, I don’t have a rhyming book. I use rhymebrain.com.
But weirdly, with “Easy,”—sometimes I’ll bring in a book, any book, fiction, nonfiction, it doesn’t really matter, as long as the book has pretty words in it, it’ll spark something. And with “Easy,” I brought a book in. I don’t even remember what book it was. But I remember I read that there was a line in this book—something about “the wood walked under our feet.” I ended up putting it in the song because this idea of: you’re supposed to be having a really tough conversation with someone that you loved, and instead, you’re staring at the space next to their feet. And you’re like, Oh shit, the wood’s fucked up on the floor over there. You’re avoiding the important subject. It’s weird that you mentioned a book, because I don’t always do that, but I did that day.
So during this pandemic, you also have been participating in a product launch for the Pasha de Cartier. What has that experience has been like?
I’ve been doing a lot of Zooms. It’s definitely felt different than it initially, probably, was going to. But I just feel really lucky that I got to be a part of the shoot in January, because I think that one of the things that made this opportunity so exciting to me was the fellow cast in the campaign. They’ve got such strong, specific voices that are identifiable. I wish we could all be doing in-person interviews, but that’s okay.
What’s your earliest memory of the maison?
For me, it’s my auntie. She’s this super, super, super stylish and elegant lady—she’s drop-dead gorgeous and the coolest. She was a model when she was younger. She’s lived in all of these fabulous places. She’s exactly the person that I’m hoping you’re picturing right now. And she had the most beautiful jewelry. I remember her having some Cartier pieces and as a little closeted boy, I thought of her as this hyper-fabulous, hyper-feminine, powerful being. I just remember being in awe of her.
So her hyper-fabulousness and hyper-femininity was tied up in your identity.
Yeah. The idea of fashion, accessories or jewelry—I don’t care if it’s something you found at a thrift store or if it’s the most expensive jewelry in the world—I love the idea of expressing yourself through those mediums. You can put on something and it changes the way you feel. And so for me, looking up to a woman like that, as a little kid and just wanting to be—I don’t know if I wanted to be her, or if I wanted to just be around her, or if I was just impressed by her, or what. But seeing someone who presented themselves with such pride, I always knew there was something really special about that.
Related: Troye Sivan Explores ASMR