Erika Szurcsik aka Unknown Child: ‘ I will never call myself a musician’

unknown child uh fest Marton Berta

Erika Szurcsik is a multifaceted graphic artist deeply rooted in music and poetic imagery: her songs are expressionist human landscapes, her visuals are fragments of poetic narratives. Mainly known as the vocalist and intense live performer of Budapest-based art punk band Gustave Tiger, in her solo project, Unknown Child, she represents quite the opposite with her inner persona. Unknown Child is stripped down to soulful singer-songwriter loneliness, while her looped and multilayered hypnotic live melancholia opens up a wide range of sounds, distortions and harmonic interferences with the ethereal and deeply intimate sung words of a wonderfully touching voice. Her latest album, ID Check At Night, is out now. 

You come from an artistic family of painters, graphic designers. Can you talk about your upbringing and your first encounter with art & music?

I was surrounded by it, nonstop. We lived in a studio apartment where my father would work on his paintings while listening to blues and rock records. He was also a self-taught musician and he has played in various bands. He also had his own band Art Reactor in the eighties. He was the frontman and he also created the scenography, all the visuals, backgrounds and masks etc. Every concert was a provocative experimental art show. He also made famous album covers for the progrock band East and many others. With my grandparents, father, mother, uncle, aunt, cousins and brothers, a family of all kinds of artists has always been truly inspirational and still is.

Can you talk about your visual art work and how it is connected/influences/is influenced by the music you make?

First it was the art, I guess. Thinking in images, the way I inherited it from my family. But I’ve always liked to make noise and be loud. I liked to sing, too but never thought about it seriously. I still don’t. I will never call myself a musician. I’ve never learnt music, but I studied art, formally though. I’ve always been doing what I wanted, learnt what I felt was useful. Not that I didn’t give a shit, I just had problems focusing. Observing the world around me at my own pace and giving back something pure and honest is my way of being inspired. As for your original question: I consider my music a soundtrack to my visual art, while my pictures make my music more layered in its meaning. And I use both to illustrate my mood.

How was your solo project Unknown Child born, and what lies behind its name?

I needed to find a name for this art project that was deeply rooted in my life and my depression and was built from eternal loneliness. Unknown Child seemed to be neutral enough, yet expressive and powerful. The ultimate outsider without name and responsibility. I felt comfortable making music under this name although I lack every musical knowledge. It has worked intuitively. Connecting it to other art forms I work in was absolutely natural. Using my voice or a guitar is not different for me than using paper and scissors. I use everything I have to express myself. It’s not always easy for me to explain my art, that’s why I am making it, and not talking about it.

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Compared to your work in your other band, Gustave Tiger, especially your stage presence in it, Unknown Child is much more introspective, forlorn, melancholic. Can you talk about some of the feelings, ideas, thoughts that are connected to this project?

In Gustave Tiger I don’t really do any creative work and I like it that way. They play awesome raw, energetic music. They give me the opportunity to roll on the stage floor screaming and drunk and I get credited for that and that’s cool. It’s a show. In my own project I like to preserve everything for myself. I do every part of the work and I like to do it alone. It belongs to me only. While in Gustave Tiger being part of the band makes the performance easier for me, performing alone on stage as Unknown Child is a much more intimate experience, sometimes even traumatic.

Can you talk about your new album ID Check At Night? The track titles allude to travelling, transformation, being on the road, Americana even (Fast Car, State Trooper, Night Train, etc).

It’s my third album. The title was inspired by the lyrics on Bruce Sprinsteen’s State Trooper, and a hypothetical identity check by a policeman at night. The record is about a lonely journey at night, about being and wandering alone, while strangers are crossing your path and then disappearing. We don’t see farther than our headlights. We don’t know where our train is going. We almost fall asleep to the repetitive sound of the vehicle while we are travelling alone. The sound of the rain and blowing snow. We are safe in fate’s hands under the moonlit sky, but still it leaves us with an unsettling feeling. So it has positive and negative aspects too, but the final conclusion is that we get there eventually. To our destination. And we will discover the unknown as we are changing constantly. These are recurring themes of my art and my music. Some years ago, for instance, I had a series of digital prints featuring nocturnal images of animals, left dead by the road, or just searching for their game.

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