Interview’s Talent Show: denitia and sene
Published October 28, 2014
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ABOVE: DENITIA AND SENE IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2014. PHOTO BY ATISHA PAULSON.
Denitia Odigie and Brian “Sene” Marc do not discuss the meanings of their songs. Sene, a producer, rapper, and singer, lays down a reference track and passes it on to Denitia, who provides the main vocals. “I feel like an interpreter of sorts. A mouthpiece, but not in a negative way,” says Denitia of the duo’s forthcoming EP, side fx. “I think so much of the value is in the interpretation,” she continues. “If we overthink it, it might lose a little bit of the artfulness that happens in that obscurity.”
“The reference track is the talking,” adds Sene. “To beat it over the head would be an insult to the intelligence or talent of the artist.”
As denitia and sene, the New York-based duo creates minimal, soulful, electro R&B. They write about relationships and love, focusing on the present with lyrics like, “If everybody breathes until they die, why don’t we just live tonight” in “runnin.” or “Forget the weather, we’re here right now…” in “the fan.” They rarely use profanity. While they’ve been releasing music for almost three years, they remain an insider’s secret, singled out by the likes of French record and fashion label Maison Kitsuné and producers like Chad Hugo. This November, they’ll play Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in L.A. festival with Chet Faker.
EMMA BROWN: You have such a beautiful voice Denitia. When did you realize you could sing?
DENITIA: I didn’t think I could sing for a long time. When I was 19 or 20 I was in an a cappella group in college, and I finally felt like I was starting to dial into something. But I still wasn’t sure. I think learning to sing with other people in a cappella groups and choir helped me. I always loved music, but it probably wasn’t until I was 21 or 22 when I really was like, “Maybe this sounds okay.” I feel like my voice has changed over the years for sure.
BROWN: Where did you go to university?
DENITIA: I went to school in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt University.
BROWN: What about you Sene, did you go to college?
SENE: I actually went to California when I was 18 with the hopes of going to school—I had to wait a year saving. I finally signed up at school and during my first semester got offered a tour. I left for a year on tour, came back, waited a little while, went to a different school, got offered another tour, left again, came back, and finally someone pulled me aside and said, “Hey man, you might want to finish the college thing after this. Because you can’t rap or make music at 40, but you can go back to school at 40.” So I took that path instead and I’m glad I did.
BROWN: Did you always know that you were interested in music?
SENE: Yeah. I feel like I was raised by a bunch of different family members and they all, for whatever reason, made it their point to spend their time with me playing the music that they liked. I’d go from my uncle’s, and he’d be playing classical music, to my grandmother’s, and she’d be playing salsa and merengue and all those kind of things. My father was playing classic rock, Woodstock-type stuff. Everyone took turns passing me around and playing me their music, with no real intention of doing so. I think I knew from then that I was going to do something with music, acting, all that kind of stuff.
BROWN: What did you want to be when you were five years old?
SENE: There’s a famous story that says I told someone that I wanted to be a horse’s ass, but I don’t know. My grandmother still swears by that. At five, I think music—music and acting. I was already doing some stuff when I was younger and I just felt happy doing it. I always felt entertainment was the future.
BROWN: What about you Denitia?
DENITIA: I feel like I would have either said, “I want to be a doctor!” or “I’m going to be the president.” [laughs] Some huge aspiration.
SENE: I guess I had the wrong influences.
BROWN: Have you done much acting Sene?
SENE: I did when I was younger and I’m currently wrapping production on a movie right now. I’m co-starring in a movie with Morgan Saylor from the show Homeland and Justin Bartha, who people know from The Hangover. I’ve been filming all month for that.
BROWN: How did you get the role?
SENE: Believe it or not, someone on the backend of the website “Rap Genius” had gotten a feeler for the role and wrote back and suggested that they sit down and audition me. I went through the audition process, had a few callbacks, and finally they offered me the role. It’s being made by Killer Films, who made Kids and Boys Don’t Cry, and [the production company] Supermarché, the Catfish people. A whole bunch of different people teamed up to make the movie.
BROWN: How do you know someone from the backend of “Rap Genius”?
SENE: I don’t. To this day, they told me the name a few times, and I’ve never met the person. I’d like to thank him, but I have no idea who he is—I can’t lie.
BROWN: Are any of your songs on “Rap Genius”?
SENE: Yeah, we have a bunch of stuff.
DENITIA: Is it “Rap Genius” or “Rock Genius”?
SENE: I think both. I think they started putting us on “Rap Genius” and then someone was like, “Hey, there’s no rap in this.”
BROWN: I didn’t even know there was a “Rock Genius.”
DENITIA: Yeah, it’s fairly new.
SENE: I think it’s just “Genius” now, and they have poetry genius, bible genius…
DENITIA: Well, that was a smart move. They’re genius smart.
SENE: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a genius move.
BROWN: Have you ever looked up the interpretations of your lyrics?
DENITIA: No, I have not.
SENE: I was in their office once for an interview, so they set up an account and then that same day some came up, so I looked at some of them. Some of them were spot on. One of them was like, “What!? You just explained why you think it means that and I still have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
BROWN: I know you’re going on tour soon. Do you see the same people at your shows—do you have a core group of fans?
DENITIA: I’m hoping that we will because this will be our second time to do a West Coast run. I think that we might, because we do kind of get that here in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
SENE: Yeah, in Manhattan it feels like a picnic sometimes. It was a surprise, definitely for me. Sometimes you’d see the same people at all these shows and we’d be like, “Oh, what are you doing here?” and it’s like “Oh, wow. You came because we’re playing.” It’d be a moment of “Ohhh. Cool!” I just thought we kept bumping into each other, but they were always at our shows. It feels nice, you know? It’s special to get that kind of support, I think.
BROWN: Have you ever had to have day jobs?
BROWN: What was your worst day job?
SENE: I’d have to say Blockbuster when I was 19. This boss was a sweetheart when she hired me, and then people would let me know: “You’re doing a great job, but something about Heather”—I have no problem saying her name—”She really doesn’t like you.” And I was honest, I was on time…
BROWN: You didn’t steal all the VHS’s?
SENE: You want to laugh? That’s how that ended. One day I got a call from someone. Someone kept running in and stealing a bunch of tapes and then running out the door. Then on top of that, things started going missing out of the backroom—there was a gate and key, which I had no access to. One day one of the kids called me and he was whispering. I was like, “What’s the matter?” And he said, “I just wanted to let you know they’re going to fire you tomorrow.” And I was like, “What? For what? Why?” And I swear to god he goes, “They think you’re the one stealing everything.” And I went, “What?” And then he whispers—he was Asian—and he goes, “I think it’s because you’re Latino.” And you could tell he felt so bad saying it but he was so serious. He said “You’re going to get another call in a few minutes.” And someone else called me and said, “Hey, it’s been me and I know they’re going to fire you for it. And I just want to apologize and be a man and tell you that it’s my fault.” And I said, “Hey, it’s alright. I appreciate you calling and telling me. But she can go fuck herself.” So I didn’t come to work the next day because I knew they were going to fire me for it. But that was the worst. Every day, I’d go there and come home miserable. It was really bad treatment.
BROWN: That’s horrible!
SENE: Yeah, it was really bad.
BROWN: When Blockbuster started to downsizing, were you like, “Serves you right!”?
SENE: No. I tried to get it out of my system. To hold onto negative feelings towards it would probably be detrimental to my current state of affairs. I definitely remind myself of what I never want to go back to, but I don’t root against anybody, really.
BROWN: What about you, Denitia?
DENITIA: I think my worst job was making coffee at a place in Chelsea. That place sucked. It just sucked. I could see if it was artisanal or something feeling a little creative, but it was just one those jobs where I was just shlepping there, like, “Oh my god I’m doing this again.” I think stuff like that makes me more grateful to be doing what is my current dream.
BROWN: What was your first bonding moment?
SENE: Probably that time we beat those kids up?
DENITIA: Yeah I was going to say, either intercourse or…[laughs]
SENE: [laughs] I’d be lying to point one out. There’s been a lot of that—whether it was travel or at a bar, or whatever. I wouldn’t be able to put a finger on one. Maybe after we recorded “how to satisfy.” The train ride home was the first time we had some time without anybody around to talk. I remember that. But there’s been so many.
DENITIA: Yeah, I feel like recording “blah blah blah.” was a solidifying moment, the song on the first EP. We were just in my bedroom at the Clubhouse. I liked the song, I like how it was going. I liked how it sounded. I was like, “Okay, this is looking good.”
BROWN: Have you ever been star-struck by people you’ve met through your work?
SENE: I wouldn’t be able to say star-struck. [There was] a moment of, “Oh wow, pretty cool.” We were on the phone recently with Chad Hugo of The Neptunes because they came across our music, liked it, and wanted to do a remix. So a few different times we hopped on the phone just to talk about the status of it, and someone was like, “Who was that?” after I hung up. I was like, “Chad Hugo.” [laughs] And they’re like, “You have a friend named Chad Hugo?” “No, Chad Hugo.” I grew up listening to that and I just got off my second or third phone call with the guy. I don’t know if it’s star-struck really, because it didn’t hit me until after. But things like that, getting recognition—and I don’t want to say respect—but tips of the hat from people from people you grew up listening to, that feels pretty nice. There was [another] moment where I was like, “Oh snap.” It was six in the morning and we were getting on an early flight to L.A.
DENITIA: Oh and we saw Chuck D?
SENE: And Chuck D was right next to me. There was a queue to get to your seat and I was like, “Thanks, man. Thanks for everything. I’m a big fan.” And he was like, “Thank you, man.” I wanted to leave him alone, but he tapped me and was like, “You a Nets fan?” Because I had a Brooklyn Nets hat on. And I was like, “Uhm…” I didn’t want to say, “Oh, I don’t really mess with basketball anymore.” I talk my fair share and for whatever reason, I didn’t know what to say. He was like, “How come every time I ask somebody if they’re a Brooklyn Nets fan they’re like ‘Umm…'” That’s probably the only time I met someone and didn’t know what to say.