Vancouver-based electro pop artist Serena Sun is just getting started, but her passion for songwriting has been blossoming for a lifetime. In her youth, Sun spent time weaving her experiences into lyrics, both crafting original pieces and covering songs by others who inspired her. Making music comes naturally to Sun, and now she’s found her way back to those creative roots with the release of her debut EP, Shadows on the Ceiling. Inspired by a mix of indie pop and ambient soundscapes, it’s time to tell her story.
Sun’s music video for her powerful track “Body” begins when she wakes up in a dark room after a party, disoriented and left to piece together what’s happened after being sexually assaulted by someone she thought was a friend. Feelings of hurt and betrayal are palpable as she grapples to understand such an incomprehensible breach of trust. Quickly, though, these dark, moody moments are interrupted by scenes of the party itself: light, colourful, and glittery, Sun dances and laughs with her friends, confident in herself and her ability to reclaim ownership of her body.
The lyrics to “Body” are vulnerable and tell a story of redemption and empowerment. With this video, Sun hoped to convey that same strength. Alongside cinematographer Cathy Ye, producer Darcy Touhey, and director Tamara Black, she takes viewers through the stages of her healing process: suppression, anger, and, ultimately, triumph. Healing is far from linear, and “Body” depicts that reality beautifully.
We connected with Sun to learn more about her inspirations and her ability to use songwriting as a form of therapy.
You grew up writing songs and recording covers of your musical inspirations. Whose music influenced you growing up, and how has that changed over time?
I’ve always gravitated towards artists who put out songs that are lyrically relatable and melodically interesting and catchy. When I was younger, one of my earliest songwriting inspirations was Taylor Swift; I love how she honestly tells her story in a way that’s authentically her. Nowadays, I’m listening to a number of artists I admire for their songwriting: Sasha Alex Sloan, Sophia Alexa, and Julia Michaels, to name a few.
When did you know that music was something you wanted to focus on and pursue?
I felt a strong pull towards making music in high school, but didn’t view it as a viable career option, so I let that dream take a back seat in university. It wasn’t until I had a “real job” in the working world that I questioned what I really wanted to do with my life. That’s when I started to make music again – initially, as a form of comfort and therapy.
You’ve moved around quite a bit in your lifetime. What does “home” mean to you? And how have your travels influenced your perception of what is most important to you?
This is such a good and tough question! I think my idea of “home” changes depending on the season of life I’m in. In the past, home meant wherever I was living, like my childhood house, my boarding school dorm room, or my university apartment. Right now, “home” travels with me wherever I go; I feel like my “home” is a sense of peace in whatever I’m doing, wherever I am. I wrote a song about this feeling called “Homecoming,” which should be coming out sometime late this year or early next year. Travelling is such a gift. Whenever I’m elsewhere, I like to act as if I live there year-round. Whenever I come back from a trip, it feels like I get a chance to reset my mindset towards being in my “home” city.
Though you’ve been creating music since childhood, Shadows on the Ceiling is your debut EP. How does it feel to see others experiencing your music?
This is definitely a moment my childhood self would be freaking out about, and for that I am very proud. I’m so glad I started my journey as an artist a few years ago and am continuously trying to remind myself why I started. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what I’m working on next and I don’t realize all of these milestones that are happening right now! I feel so incredibly grateful that people are listening. For those who connect, I’m grateful they relate and are enjoying the songs.
You’ve shared that Shadows on the Ceiling touches on different traumas you’ve gone through, and that writing these songs was a step towards healing. What made you decide to take that step and start writing, recording, and ultimately releasing these songs?
I started making music at a low point in my life and it was a form of therapy for me. I only kept going because I started sensing little signs of encouragement from the universe – and those around me – as I progressed in my career. I’m so grateful I listened to my intuition during the times I wanted to quit because I honestly don’t think I could’ve imagined the people I get to work with, and what my life looks like now.
How was the process of creating the music video for “Body” different from writing and recording the song itself, both artistically and personally?
This was the first time I worked with a film team, so the entire process of planning, budgeting, and filming the music video was very new to me. Writing and recording, on the other hand, is now a much more familiar process.
Preparing to shoot the music video happened over the course of several months. I met our cinematographer, Cathy Ye, while we were volunteering in the art department of an indie film being shot in Vancouver. I had previously seen Cathy’s work, which is stunning, and we briefly talked about working together on a project. The story of the video started taking form after weeks of back and forth with Cathy, and then eventually bringing on Tamara Black as the director to fully flesh out the story. Darcy Touhey worked as our producer to bring the missing pieces together, and I’m so grateful for every individual who worked to make this music video possible.
What was your favourite part of creating this video, from concept to production to the editing process?
There were so many highlights!! One of my favourite parts was definitely shooting the music video itself. The energy on set, and being surrounded by such a talented and fun team was an absolute blast. Another favourite was seeing the edit for the first time, as well as the coloured version of the final cut. It was really cool seeing how months of planning had led to this beautiful work of art.
The subject matter of “Body” is such an important conversation to have, and it’s admirable that you are creating this space for both yourself and others to feel safe. Watching the music video inspires such poignant emotion through the lyricism and imagery – personally, the overarching feeling I’m left with is one of empowerment. What do you hope people take away from this video?
Yes! I’m glad you caught that. When our team was brainstorming how to portray the feelings behind my story and song visually, we landed on moving the audience through different phases of the healing process. We named these different stages: Suppression, Anger, and Triumph. Over the years following my experience with SA, I found myself going through these stages and wanted to depict that in the music video. I hope that those who have been through a similar experience will feel seen through this video, and those who haven’t will gain a better understanding of what it looks like to go through that.
What are you most looking forward to in your artistic journey moving forward?
Definitely experiencing the different eras of myself and my music as I continue to create and grow. I am always trying to evolve and inject what I’m learning into my creative process, so I’m excited to look back years from now and see how it all unfolded.
By Christine Leonard
Mixing new wave harmonies with garage-dwelling post-punk, the Calgary-based pop rock supergroup bring their DIY daydreams to life.
By Tyson Lennox
Much more than just a Radiohead side-project, Thom Yorke and co. left Toronto grinning from ear to ear.