Name: Elles Bailey
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Elles Bailey's new album Shining In The Half Light is out now via Outlaw Music.
If you enjoyed this interview with Elles Bailey and would like to find out more, visit her official homepage. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I’ve never known a time in my life that I have not wanted to create, it feels an innate part of me.
In terms of inspiration - it can be found anywhere but is often fleeting. You have to be curious, searching for new ways to view the beautiful troubled world we live in. I’m always inspired by personal relationships and by what’s swirling on around me, especially in the news and politics.
Take "Cheats and Liars" for instance, the opening track from my new record. It was written as I watched how polarised the arts continued to be, so undervalued by our government during the various lockdowns. It was heart-breaking to see, especially as it the arts were integral to so many in helping get through those incredibly tough isolated times.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I think with all songs there’s a different process. Sometimes you can get in a room with someone to write and just be chatting away and be inspired through the conversation completely by chance and that in itself turns into a song. However I never like to go into a writing session empty handed - it’s always great to take in a handful of ideas no matter how concrete or transient.
I do like the riskiness of chance though - sometimes you can create something incredibly heart wrenching and unique when you least expect it. Those are special moments ...
"Deeper", written with Dan Demay and Daryl Burgess, from my second album, was seemingly plucked out of nowhere and it's one of my favourite songs from that album.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I actually think for me there is no “process”. I don’t have to be at an instrument to write an early version of a song and as long as I have something to put pen to paper (or digitally) and to be able record a voice note then I'm sorted - especially for early versions.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I’ve got no rituals that I’m conscious of, however I drink copious amounts of English tea when I’m writing. I always find myself at the kettle during sessions but I often think stepping away from writing, even for a few minutes, can actually be really inspiring, that’s when the subconsciousness comes in to play.
I can’t tell you how many great lines have been written when I have taken a break to make a cuppa!
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
It often varies depending on who I am writing with, whether it is an organised writing session or unexpected.
However if a subject matter is very personal, coming from a real place of heartbreak I often that first note and line is delicate and terrifying. But those are often the songs that fall out once you get them started.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Sometimes lyrics emerge, inspired from a melody in the room at that moment, and some are born independent of music. For me that doesn’t often happen but some of my favourite songs I have written have come into being that way.
Take "Girl who owned the blues" from Wildfire, that was inspired whilst I was watching “Little Girl Blue”, the docufilm about Janis Joplin. By two thirds in, I had written all the lyrics. I paused it and sat at the piano and the next thing I knew - the song was finished.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Honesty - and being honest with yourself, which is often the hardest challenge in writing. That’s what makes good lyrics. It’s about laying your scars and secrets for all to see, because those listening will relate. When you write a song with lyrics that connect with others … that’s the gem right there.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Sometimes words pour out and at other times it’s not so easy. It depends on the subject matter, my state of mind at the time, and who I am in the room with.
If words are not coming it think it’s good to shake thing up a bit, change instrument or rooms … or step away and make a cuppa tea. (laughs)
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I like to be lead. There’s something very beautiful about letting the song take hold and transport you to a different place, time and headspace, especially when you are least expecting it.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I think I just embrace it when this happens, and enjoy the ride. I feel that’s what happened with "Hell or High water" written with Ashton Tucker, from my last record Road I Call Home, again, another favourite.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
There are many descriptions and different versions of the creative state, and I have to have a different mindset for writing for example, from when I am in the studio.
From a spiritual point of view … somewhere between the pillow and dreaming is a sweet spot where your mind is so relaxed, your subconscious is taking over and I often find lightning strikes there. The problem is if I don’t write it down then and there it’s gone … I never remember in the morning. There’s definitely a spiritual element in that state.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I do find that songs can evolve over time. However there has to be a final moment when you let it rest, and I think it’s when I’m in studio recording the vocals. For the time being I think the song is done … it doesn’t mean I won’t change a lyric here or there on stage though.
With my latest single - "The Game" - I loved the groove but I hadn’t settled completely on the chorus and it wasn’t until I was recording the final take of vocals in Middle Farm Studios that I finished re writing! The pressure was on!
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
The best writing is re-writing. I am always editing songs and refining lyrics right up until the vocals are recorded.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
For a song to be a good song, I believe it has to work in its purest form. It’s why I love watching, playing and recording acoustic shows and songs which presents a song in its barest of bones. However I love production and it is so important, especially when you are telling the story of an album, it helps thread it all together - the production needs to make sense.
I really enjoy getting involved in the production and talking through mixes, I was even listening to final mixes whist in hospital just before my son was born. Mastering however is a dark dark art - but it is so blooming important to get it right and should never be skimped on. A great record is perfect if its mastered well!
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I run my own label as well as being the artist. There is always so much to do in the lead up to a release and usually post release there is a tour so I often don’t have a chance to feel empty.
But I often feel fear, fear of the unknown, the next chapter, how I will tell it and what it will sound like.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I’m hugely inspired by John Prine, and what I love about his writing, is he has this beautiful way in making the everyday, mundane goings on completely magical … so although I fell that songwriting is very different from making a great cup of coffee (not something I’m good at!!), a brilliant song, especially about life as we know it, is something that everyone can relate to - that’s the magic right there.
What I love about writing and producing is the freedom you have to create anything ... that doesn’t mean you don’t get to create with the mundane tasks too … although I do often find it hard to find inspiration when putting away the washing!