- Suki Waterhouse recently spoke to Insider about her new EP, “Milk Teeth,” out Friday.
- It’s a compilation of six songs from Waterhouse’s early career that explore nostalgia and heartbreak.
- “I can look back and see that younger person and have so much more empathy than I was given,” she said.
Picture this: It’s long past waking hours in London and Suki Waterhouse is sitting alone in her apartment, noodling around on her Wurlitzer piano, surrounded by the scattered tokens of her youth.
“There’s a marching band in my head that is hard to switch off at night,” she told Insider during a Zoom interview in early October.
The question: When does Waterhouse feel most nostalgic?
“There’s something very ceremonial about that, when you just absolutely oust any distraction and you’re completely alone,” she explained. “You think about how far you came just to be able to have the home and it makes you think of all the things from the wild that you’ve collected around you, every little thing that you’ve picked up to get here.”
It’s safe to say Waterhouse is fascinated by nostalgia, which she described as “not sadness, but it’s a lump in my throat, and it’s trying to find a home in the past that isn’t there anymore.”
She also rightly pointed out that it was previously regarded as a diagnosable mental disorder, before medical professionals realized that anyone can feel “incredibly sick for something,” in her words.
“Nostalgia” is the title of Waterhouse’s most recent single, which she wrote during pandemic lockdown. She said the world’s sudden stillness felt like looking at an old photograph and, for many people in her life, inspired near-apocalyptic regret. “It’s being clanged over the head and I think people are just reaching around for loves that they once had,” she explained.
Nostalgia is also the unavoidable theme of her new EP, “Milk Teeth,” out Friday. It’s music that marries old Hollywood romanticism and Tumblr-era melancholia, a brief yet haunting compilation of old songs that Waterhouse wrote in her early career.
Five out of its six tracks — “Valentine,” “Good Looking,” “Johanna,” “Coolest Place in the World,” and “Brutally” — are loose singles that Waterhouse released over a five-year period before she was signed to Sub Pop in 2021, the legendary indie label that first signed Nirvana.
Put in conversation, the collection paints a portrait of a wistful, sensitive woman who was extremely tuned to the whims of others.
“I would only put out one song a year or something because I was just nervous about the whole thing, very nervous that everyone was going to be like, ‘Shut the fuck up. You were a model,’” she said. “That really plagued me for a long time.”
Waterhouse broke into Hollywood as a model before she pivoted to sophisticated indie-pop
Waterhouse independently released her first song in 2016 and her debut album, “I Can’t Let Go,” last year via Sub Pop. But the 30-year-old Londoner has been in the spotlight since she was a teenager.
Although she launched her career as a model, working for top brands like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger, Waterhouse quickly became better known as an “It Girl.” She sat front row at fashion week, spoke to Vogue about her personal style, and rubbed elbows with stars like Cara Delevingne and Harry Styles.
In 2013, several tabloid pieces about Waterhouse suddenly sprouted, touting headlines like, “Seven things you didn’t know about Bradley Cooper’s latest squeeze.” She was 21, while he was 38. That same year, the couple was famously photographed reading “Lolita” together in a park.
Waterhouse is remarkably judicious when sharing personal details and declines to identify her muses, but she’s open about the toll that public relationships can take on a person’s psyche.
“Sometimes you do think, ‘I would love to actually have this be understood about me,’” she said, “or even, I’d love to be able to say someone’s name and explain it.”
“Maybe it’s a cowardly part of me too,” she continued. “There is still fear of the unknowingness, of the repercussions of the internet. A lot of the time I just want my life to be as peaceful as possible. Once you give certain things out like that, it can feel like you’re just completely out of control.”
“I’m a personable person. I love talking to people and I love, outside of being interviewed and being in that public thing, I’m not very closeted in those ways,” she concluded. “But I think it’s an easier way to live if you’re not constantly barreling towards making yourself a headline.”
This privacy is especially important, Waterhouse said, when it comes to weathering a public breakup. But music is where she feels “most comfortable” expressing emotion and telling real stories about her life.
“Neon Signs,” the never-before-heard first track on “Milk Teeth,” was written as a direct reaction to “the big heartbreak” of her 20s.
“I was probably 23 at the time and I’d really thrown myself into being in love,” she explained. “For a few years after that, I really was the kind of person that had this feeling of, ‘Love is not for me. It’s a distraction. I don’t want anything to do with it.’ I was very closed off to the idea of being vulnerable for a long time.”
The song explores Waterhouse’s instinct to hide, her sense of being “lost” to the world, but also charts a path for her to make her way through it.
‘I can look back and see that younger person and have so much more empathy than I was given’
Although Waterhouse is currently in a “happy, lovely” relationship with Robert Pattinson — whom she also avoided referring to by name — she said that writing about her regrets and traumas is an essential piece of her personal growth.
“The casualties of your 20s, that’s what you have,” she said. “That is everything that I went through romantically and publicly and all that stuff in the past. That’s my life material and I’m still unpacking it.”
Writing “Nostalgia,” for example, allowed Waterhouse “to interrogate my actual life from afar” and probe lingering feelings without judging herself for them.
“When you’re involved with someone that’s, I don’t say this lightly, but sociopathic and incredibly narcissistic, and you were very young at the time, and when you’re older, you can still remember the good days,” she said. “That’s what’s so difficult about those kinds of relationships. It’s that so much of it felt sweet and good, even though you can think about times when, you know, you could have called the police or something.”
Of course, having been in relationships that she’s “still trying to untangle” is far from a weakness. In fact, Waterhouse’s willingness and courage to gaze backward is perhaps her greatest strength.
“Only from being able to needle myself have I been able to get to this place in my 30s where I can look back and even just be able to say, ‘That was wrong,’” she continued. “And you can look back on someone from the past and be like, ‘No, I’m older now. That whole thing was strange.’”
“I can look back and see that younger person and have so much more empathy than I was given and even had for myself.”
While the songs on “Milk Teeth” predate that epiphany, Waterhouse’s decision to compile them so many years later — and physically immortalize them on vinyl — speaks to a unique understanding of herself in flux.
Most of us cringe when we come across old status updates on Facebook or photo albums compiled by our grandparents. But Waterhouse manages to respect her triumphs and missteps in equal measure.
This is crystallized by the EP’s title, which evokes the concept of baby teeth as building blocks for adulthood — tender, fleeting, and essential.
“I really turned to music because I was drowning in my own life,” Waterhouse said. “It felt like those people who worked with me and those songs that we made were lifelines, pulling me out of a path that I think I was always meant to go on, but it wasn’t the full picture. I was really searching to go somewhere else.”
“I don’t think you ever get back to that place where it’s like, ‘We’re just doing this. No one’s telling us to do this,’” she continued. “There was no deadline, no pressure around this in any other way, apart from the fact that you are desperate to do it and you need to do it. So all of these songs, they’re all sisters and twins. I know they’re the core of everything that’s happened afterwards.”