Sometimes – I’m not quite sure how I got here.
After years, ten years really, of recording music in walk in closets and basements, I found myself in a 19th century drawing room outside of Paris, at a beautiful studio, with a week to make a record – my record. With two people I respected and admired, there from generosity and a desire to make it with me. We drank wine – we walked by the Seine – Afie Jurvanen and I played whatever we wanted and Robbie Lackritz recorded it on a beautiful board – there was a piano by the window. We got excited, we argued, we laughed.
The result was an album I love – still – after all this time. It’s called Loyalty – it comes out today.
When you sing into a great microphone, headphones on, your voice billows out of you. You feel – enormous. Your own voice so loud that you start to believe, if only for the moment, that maybe you will be heard, in the things that you are choosing to say. I sang all the time as a kid. I grew up in the country and it was easy to be alone – to walk through the forest singing at the top of my lungs – whatever melody came to mind. It was my way of working through things.
When you’re a young women, people look at you – shout to you on the street, implore you to smile – but they don’t necessarily listen to you. Or listening is selective – subtly discounting all that doesn’t fit the fantasy. I’ve been an obedient person in my life – a nice person – a quiet person – and I’ve also consistently stayed silent when there were things to say, in service generally of someone else’s needs or desires.
I wanted to make music because I wanted to talk to people, and because music was the way people talked to me – in headphones, walking around the city. I don’t know why I was always so shy – but as a young person, I so rarely saw evidence that my experience of reality had any relation to anyone else’s. It was in music that I heard this – this evidence. When I started recording music in 2005 – through trial and error, hitting the desk to make a percussive sound, fumbling with instruments I didn’t know how to play – I was heavily influenced by the sound collage of The Books. I think I loved it so much because they took ordinary sounds – a bouncing ball, a passing car, a child’s voice in a distant park – and recontextualized them as meaningful, worth listening to over and over again, part of a larger whole. I attempted to do the same thing, talking at first through sound, through shadings of timbre and tone that felt deeply meaningful and expressive to me, and then as I grew in confidence, through words themselves.
People often ask young artists ‘what is your story’ – and what they are looking for is a one liner – something so shocking, so exciting or compelling that it will sell newspapers (or blogs, as the case may be). Strange things have happened to me – sad things – wonderful things – but in writing I have always been drawn to the mundane – to the bouncing ball – to the thought or observation or image that would otherwise go unnoticed. There is meaning in this – I always want to say – meaning in everything – and that in and of itself is a hedge against disappointment and obscurity.
I started playing music as a way to talk to people – and because I loved it too, with a passion that still makes me dizzy sometimes – and what is so strange to me is that I have succeeded, at times, in small ways. When my last record came out – people listened to it. And I don’t mean they put it on in their houses or on their turntables – I mean they listened, they heard the songs, and they found meaning – and wrote to tell me so, or wrote about it in insightful, thoughtful ways. It was perhaps the first time I’ve felt, in such a wide way – understood. It’s a rarity – a luxury.
I started playing music in 2005 – in the wake of someone I loved passing away, suddenly, inexplicably. It was an experience that shook me from complacency – I had to make music – I had to do something – because I had nowhere else to put my feelings. I was 19. Music was for me the great romance that superseded that lost one.
Before that, I worked in acting – a job I fell into as a shy teenager. I wanted to not go to school – my parents thought it would be a good way for me to learn social skills. It’s a line of work that, barring great success, is perhaps the acme of personal disappearance – intense obedience. I was good at it – I had a knack – and I worked hard and I learned my lines – but I never mistook it for something that had anything to do with me. You show up – you surrender your likeness and you disappear into the part. That’s what they pay you to do. I got good at that – disappearing.
When you make an album, you (or I, at least) often experience a sort of hangover of vulnerability. You wonder if you revealed too much. With this one – I had that – but through it was a kind of pride that wasn’t there before. This album touches on things I regret, moments where I wish I had done things differently – said something I didn’t say. I generally write songs when there’s something I can’t get to the bottom of. There’s this song – this one song called ‘Shy Women’ – it’s about a little moment – a friend and I meet, and she doesn’t feel that she can reveal her own darkness to me – so we talk about nothing. It stuck with me. In the end I wrote that it would be a ‘luxury to be not so ashamed’. I meant that – I didn’t realise I did till the record was done and I was home. But I meant that. It is a luxury, though. To allow yourself to not disappear. To allow someone else that as well.
I’m proud of this record – it talks about anxiety – idealism – travel – It’s an album too about friendship, strongly so – and work – and the struggles we share, my friends and I.
Also, I hope, it is beautiful. I meant it to be. I hoped it would be. Beauty is something that not everyone goes for these days. But, well – I hope it is beautiful, if nothing else.