Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
My latest album, Penelope Two, was written from a deeply emotional place, triggered by two separate events involving two separate friends. I have a friend that I made upon moving to London who had lost almost all of her family in a tragic accident and when we met she was in a stage of rebuilding her life. The deep sense of empathy I had when hearing her story had profound effect on me and thus we have grown very close. At the same time, a dear friend of mine passed away not long after giving birth to her third child, leaving behind her partner of 23 years, who is one of my best and oldest friends. As a mother, I felt this so deeply and was so at a loss. My daughter was away and I walked into her room for solace, picked up her guitar, and wrote a song for my lost friend and her family, called Maeve. I did one vocal take and that is the one on the album. This began the process of releasing the emotions within the songs. They became soundtracks to the meditations and mantras that were part of the healing. Often, it’s quite hard to know what to say in person to someone who is suffering from grief, so I tried to say some of those things within the music.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The perfect state of mind for creativity for me is away from all distractions. Living in a city makes this quite tricky but, for me, meditation helps. It allows me to remove the clutter from my mind. Just after a meditation, ideas tend to come to me and I quickly take notes. I also live near a beautiful park in which I have a favourite tree that I like to sit under which helps to clear my mind and let ideas come forward. Sometimes mindfully sitting alone on a bus or a train can make ideas float to the surface. In each of these situations I take notes in my phone or journal.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Performing has always been my first impulse. As a child, I always wanted to sing, dance, act, or whatever I could get involved with in performance. A live show for me is where the unknown comes to life, a magic is revealed because you are so immersed in the moment. Within that otherworldly state I can explore themes and feelings with a much more acute depth and they can become highly emotional. Recording in a studio is very different and much more slow and methodical, but there is a conscious attempt to try to emulate the live performance energy within the studio, and also to emulate the studio vibe during a live show. But I am accepting that they are quite different from one another.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Sound qualities are what draw me in first. The resonance of a piano in an empty room, the emotion and timbre of the delivery of a certain vocal line, mixed with an analogue synth, or the sound of birds in my yard… Simple tones and textures, listening deeply to how they interact, become the basis for most of my compositions. Capturing these moments is integral and then production allows for these to be enhanced in the studio or with effects.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
What I hear is directly to connected to what I see. After travelling and becoming hyper aware of my surroundings, learning to ‘survive’ in new worlds, made all of my senses very sharp. Tasting fascinating food from foreign places. Smells - some heavenly others nauseating, seeing beauty and poverty, the touch of natural environments vs city environments - sand and sea, trees, concrete, metal and then SOUND… I think trying to have acute observation skills with a complete awareness of your surroundings helps you listen deeply, on another more spiritual level. These are the nuances of what I want to enter into my work. Emotional and spiritual qualities, which is the basis of why I incorporate field recordings into my work.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I have never felt that I can create in a vacuum, without there ever being a greater purpose behind what I make. Just the fact alone that I am a woman, a mother, making music after the age of 40, is an act of resistance to the patriarchy. Socially, I feel responsible to share my story and inspire other woman to feel they can do whatever they want at any stage of their life. So, my approach to being an artist is deeply personal and yet also very political.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I think that inherently, music’s true essence hasn’t really changed that much over the centuries. Technology has made composition and instrumentation available to a lot more people which is wonderful. But one of the negatives with current technology is that a lot of amazing music will never get heard because of the online algorithms for how music gets from the music-maker to the listener. I think those algorithms are slowly narrowing down what music is heard, in turn, making it hard for music that isn’t as easy to understand to be as relevant as it potentially should be. My vision of music’s evolution is that we can all learn to listen deeper, feel more, learn about ourselves and our world. Perhaps in the future, there could be a way for the world to harness emotional and/or psychological responses to music and utilise that powerful internal human energy for a greater good.