Interview: Sabreen Islam – Count me out

With its catchy groove, delicate yet powerful vocals, and infectious chorus, the latest release ‘Count Me Out’ continues this sphere of pop influence. It begins with a jumbled piano that builds up to Sabreen’s sweet vocals. Her vocals are a consistent presence and a welcome one throughout ‘Count Me Out.’ They softly lull the listener into a state of relaxation, encouraging them to immerse themselves in a completely relatable story. Her words spin the yarn in a wonderfully beautiful yet plain style, one of heartbreak and anguish, and the sadness that comes with being stood up on a date. Sabreen also crisply created this sun-drenched release, highlighting her abilities as an artist. Sabreen Islam’s beautiful vocals are extremely contagious, and you can’t help but boogie and jam to them.

Nineteen-year-old Sabreen Islam is a singer-songwriter hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. With her tuneful, catchy melodies, confessional and deeply personal lyrics, Sabreen has captivated live audiences across her native New Zealand and is now ready to share her music with the world. Her single ‘Glow’ is a pop earworm created with Auckland pop producer Will Henderson, and was selected as a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition 2020, which comprised of just 9% of over 26,000 entries.
After supporting artists including NZ’s pop sensation in live shows and earning comparisons to artists such as and , Sabreen Islam is an artist to watch in the coming years as she prepares to share her music with the world.

Today we had a chance to interview Sabreen Islam about her journey into the music industry and her freshly released single, “Count me out”.

My dad really loves music, so he made it a huge part of our childhood. I started piano lessons at four which is where it all started. I hated theory, but I loved the music, which is where it all started!

I’m mainly a guitarist, but I also play the piano, ukulele and bass guitar.

I hope to create lots of musical projects that I’m proud of and to work with musicians around the world, and to hear a crowd sing my songs back to me. It’s hard to predict anything in this industry, but that would be the ultimate dream.

I love different instruments for different reasons, but I think I’ll always come back to guitar. I love how versatile and universal it can sound.

Oh god, sometimes I’m truly dreadful at the piano. I love to play it, but it can definitely be trying sometimes!

Hmm, I would say the thing I try to do the most and am the most proud of when I succeed is capturing a feeling and having it relate to others. That’s really the power of music and since music is such a lifeline for me, when it can touch someone else it’s truly magical.

I get really, really bad stage fright sometimes. It’s gotten better over the years though! I’m also sometimes nervous to approach other musicians or industry people, though everyone is lovely.

Taylor Swift. This woman pretty much raised me. I’m such a fan of everything she does and how she metamorphosises with her music, and creates such distinct eras and imagery.

Seeing my song on MTV was pretty surreal! Or being selected as a semi-finalist for the International Songwriting Competition in 2020. But if I’m being honest, it’s the fact that my dad loves every song I play for him. He’s the reason I love music.

Outside music, I’m a writer. I write poetry, and am currently working on a novel project. I also love sewing and spending time with animals.

It varies! Sometimes, a song will start with an idea, a melody or a particular lyric. That’s the beauty of it, you never know how it will happen. I’ll usually write it on one main instrument, then when producing I’ll layer more on and add different parts. Harmonies are a core part of my music so I typically spend a lot of time recording them as well.

I recently played a show for Breaking Sound, it was my first show in a while and it was amazing, definitely one of the best I’ve played. I think the joy of being back onstage after so long due to COVID sort of wiped away my stage fright! My friends and family were there as well as some friends from the music industry it was such a great night. My top performances are always the ones where I can manage to have fun and let go of comparing myself to other artists or worrying what people think of me.

Someone I love was stood up on a first date with someone they really liked. They were heartbroken! I was so mad on their behalf that I marched downstairs to the piano and wrote ‘count me out’ in about twenty minutes. I wanted to write something for her and anyone else in this situation that you deserve better, you deserve someone who will show up for you. I had a very specific idea for the production, and I left the song for a few years because I couldn’t afford a producer at the time. But I managed to produce it myself and got the sound perfect, which I’m really proud of!

I would love to collaborate with Joel Little. He’s an incredible music producer from my hometown and has made such an impact around the world with Lorde, Taylor Swift, Khalid and more. Working with him would be such an honour.

My high school music teacher really helped me become a better person and musician. He was always pushing me to try new things, take risks and perform to the best of my ability. I really wouldn’t be where I am without him.

My guitar teacher in high school was a musician in her own right, and she was my song-writing mentor for years. Her name is Holly Christina, and she had such kindness and understanding for the vulnerability and personal nature of song-writing. She’s also an incredible guitarist, I miss her dearly.

Oh god, one time in high school I was performing and in the middle of the song my guitar strap came undone and the guitar FELL. I managed to catch it but it made such a terrible noise, it was so embarrassing!

It’s always tricky, because you feel a bit like a jester at a king’s court when the audience doesn’t seem to care. And they don’t owe you anything after all, you have to make your performance worth their time and money. Obviously, an engaged audience is a blessing but if they aren’t, I try to make jokes or interact directly with them. This usually helps to break the ice and get people smiling. Having friends in the audience is also a safety net.

I’ve been working alone more out of necessity due to COVID, but I love working collaboratively. There’s nothing better than being in a room with people who are all on the same wavelength, it’s so exciting and fun. I think I love working alone and with others for different reasons; I like working alone when I have a very specific idea in my head, but I love working with others to really feel that musical comradery and fun atmosphere.

I love performing at little venues that are built for smaller artists. It can be intimidating playing at huge ones, but there’s such an atmosphere of genuine support at smaller venues which I personally really adore.

Life is endlessly inspiring to me. There’s inspiration everywhere; in people, in experiences, in stories. An enormous part of me being an artist is simply me being amazed by everything I see and wanting to capture it the best that I can.

I feel like commercialising art can definitely kill creativity. So, I always try to maintain creating things as a comfort for me, rather than a job or a checklist. I don’t like putting limits or requirements on myself. So, keeping it open, keeping it to the reason I started writing songs in the first place, is the best way for me to nurture my creativity.

Absolutely. I struggle with anxiety in many aspects of my life. It’s gotten better, but it’s still always there.

I love indie pop music. It’s such a fun and versatile genre without the confines of mainstream pop, and allows for so much artistic expression and experimentation. I also love acoustic folk-pop that has intricate guitar parts, I find them really calming. Musical theatre, rock, hip hop too. I will say probably the only genre I don’t particularly gravitate towards is heavy metal, it’s a little too…loud?

Oh god, that’s tricky. I think all artists are individual and unique in their own ways. If there was something about me that set me apart, maybe it would be that I try not to compartmentalise any part of me in my music. My politics, my religion, my feelings, my experiences, even my other hobbies all interconnect. I refuse to sacrifice one part of myself for another; it’s the whole package or nothing.

I think I was a lot more nervous with my previous single, ‘like a movie’. I loved the song, but it was the first that I recorded, produced and mixed all by myself. It was a much more stressful experience as a whole. With ‘count me out’, I drew back a little and focused on the music, which I think created a healthier mindset for me. I think as I keep learning and growing artistically my production skills evolve as well, and I think that’s really apparent between ‘like a movie’ and ‘count me out’. They’re two stages of my musical journey.

Don’t forget to follow Sabreen Islam on Twitter: thesabbymonster on Instagram: thesabbymonster

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