Wow, I can't believe that it was one year ago that I released my first ever single: Wasteland. I know it's just one song, but it was a big day for me, especially as the song is sort of about struggling to find the confidence to jump off a cliff into the unknown. And it took a lot to finally get there!! Nobody tells you how much is involved in releasing a single - the logistics alone are complex, but there’s also a million artistic choices, costs, difficult decisions, and if we rewind to the start, merely starting the journey of writing and sharing one’s music is a massive step into public vulnerability: firstly just in performing, and then, again, in releasing. (And that’s saying nothing of the inherently insecure nature of just being a singer-songwriter and the improbability of success in that crowded field! 🙈)
I hadn’t realised just how vulnerable I’d feel releasing my music, and release day was quite an emotional rollercoaster for me. When you put out a record, suddenly literally anyone could potentially hear your innermost thoughts and creation, and judge it. The reality is I do not have even a fraction of the ubiquity of someone like Ed Sheeran, so comparatively not that many people have heard it, and most people are just going about their own lives with their own concerns and their own vulnerabilities and they’re not actually analysing every lyric, harp arpeggio, mixing and production choice (unless you’re submitting to submithub - singer-songwriters know what I’m talking about 😂), but that doesn’t diminish the weight of the artistic responsibility I feel to myself!
To my surprise and pleasure, I was overwhelmed with the kindness and support I received and I’m so very grateful for that ongoing support - I can’t tell you what it means. In the following blogpost I’m going to tell part of the story of my journey into becoming a singer-songwriter and that first release, and I hope that will show just how grateful I am for anyone who bought/streamed Wasteland and who continues to listen to my music 🙏
I don’t often explain my songs, because I like the idea that songs in part belong to each and every listener and can mean whatever you want them to mean to you. We are all a product of our past and our experiences, which in turn influences our subjective understanding of the world around us and the art with which we choose to engage. Thus everyone will bring their own unique set of circumstances to everything they experience; we project ourselves into the art we see and hear, and through that projection, find our own personal meaning (or not, as the case may be!)
But even considering this, I still personally enjoy hearing about the genesis of other people’s songs and what inspired them, and that can lead me to a new way of hearing and understanding them. So I thought I’d explain some of the influences and thoughts behind Wasteland, in case it’s of interest to anyone, and I also wanted to credit the things and the people that inspired it and its journey into the world.
As anyone who listens to my music knows, I am influenced a lot by poetry and literature, and it was only recently that I realised one of the biggest sub-conscious influences on Wasteland was a poem I heard in a school assembly on my first day at secondary school at age 11. Upon hearing this poem, I loved it so much that I later asked the teacher taking the assembly - Miss Topp (an amazing biology teacher) - to repeat it for me so that I could write it out neatly, mount it, cover it in sticky-back plastic, and blue-tac it onto my bedroom wall. And there it stayed for years, right in front of my desk, where I saw it everyday. The version I had heard started with “Apollinaire Said ‘Come to the Edge’”, which is its most famous title, but I’ve since learnt this to be the original version:
Come to the Edge
by Christopher Logue
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.
Miss Topp’s assembly had been encouraging us not to be afraid to take risks and keep striving forwards, even if something feels scary, because sometimes it is only in doing the things that scare us that we realise what we can do, what we might see and how maybe we’ll fly if we can find the courage to jump. That metaphorical image of jumping off a cliff speaks to me vividly, because that is what it feels like jumping into the unknown. It is a leap of faith; will you fly or will you fall? Succeed or fail? Is the risk worth the potential gain? “The precipice calls me, singing my name, but it sounds like a warning, play it again.”
Whilst writing Wasteland I felt paralysed in inaction, unable to make it to the edge of the cliff - trapped between fear of how to move forward and fear of not moving forward at all and getting stuck never doing the things I wished I could. Staring into the vast chasm of the space between where I was and where I wanted to be, and not knowing how to traverse it, it felt like having to jump off a cliff just to try, and yet I couldn’t get there; I felt like I was stuck in the quicksand and longing for some kind of fire to ignite me forwards, feeling the weight of time ticking on and wondering if I’d missed my chance. I was in a dark place and already felt like I was falling, and the idea of taking a leap and potentially falling further was more than I felt I could take.
I have been writing music and poems since I was little but I’d never shared any of it. My journey as a musician had taken me down lots of different roads, and eventually I found myself doing backing vocals for singer-songwriters and bands. This was incredibly inspiring, getting to work with and watch some amazing artists (Radiohead, Charlotte Church, Sam Smith etc), and I loved it, but I also longed to be singing my own songs and creating. I was metaphorically, and literally, standing on the sidelines and wondering if I could ever be the one sharing my songs from the middle of the stage. This is where some of the lyrics in Wasteland came from, especially the third verse (“I’m stuck in a sideshow..”). I had also felt that no matter what I did, or which road I took, I always ended up feeling ever so slightly like I didn’t belong. There is a fourth verse that used to be in Wasteland which Robert Taira Wilson told me to cut when we were arranging our duet version. The missing verse:
A different story ends the same, ends the same.
Stuck in the shadow of glory, play it again, play it again.
I am obsessed with words and lyrics and every single word in my songs means something to me - no-one else may ever care, but I do, and I agonise over every word! So even though that verse had meant something to me when I wrote it, Robert was right, and the song didn’t need it. I do have a tendency towards writing very long songs (as in life, so in art, and clearly also this blogpost - I am nothing if not verbose), and sometimes I need to be reminded that not everyone cares to listen for that long (that old adage comes to mind “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”!)
Tying together this story and the various threads of lyrical influence, to me, Wasteland is about the paralysis of fear, being afraid of getting stuck in time and left behind, and in part charts my desire to be a singer-songwriter, but also wondering how I’d ever find the confidence to do so.
I can’t believe how much it took for me to take the first step, but eventually I found the courage to step out from the sidelines and share my own music, and I’m so glad I did! I started doing open mics and in doing so met a whole community of wonderful musicians and artists, who continue to inspire and encourage me, many of whom I still work with now, and who have become great friends. Finally I felt like I was home. I could combine my various musical and literary influences, create new things, sing how I wanted to sing, play all my various instruments, and try to make sense of my world through art.
One of our favourite places to play was The Spice of Life (they also gave me one of my first gigs - thanks Shaun!), and it was there that I met Robert Taira Wilson, who features on the recorded version of Wasteland. Robert and I ended up gigging together, playing with and for each other, and recording our respective EPs at the same time, helping each other. I’m really grateful for his contribution - singing, playing guitar, and together coming up with the duet arrangement of Wasteland which became the version I released. Some of the happiest hours of this process were spent laughing, gooning and making music with Robert. Being a solo artist can be very lonely; I guess the clue is in the title. It was great to share the journey with Robert for a while, but then he said he was moving to Japan, so we quickly decided to record our acoustic version of Wasteland before he left - piano, guitar and vocals. And then once he was gone I was left to finish the record by myself. I had never thought of myself as a producer, but I ended up producing all 5 songs that were to become my first EP “Caught in the Dark”. They say necessity is the mother of invention and I guess finding myself in that position forced me into a steep learning curve which was tough, but also rewarding. It was very lonely at times, and trying to navigate a male-dominated industry as a woman can be incredibly challenging. (This experience, amongst many others, was part of the reason I later ended up co-founding The HEARD Collective for women with fellow artist Daisy Chute, but that subject could be a whole other blogpost in itself - should I write it one day?!) I can honestly say making this EP has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and due to various factors, it took longer than I would have liked, but I guess life is a journey and it happened as it had to. I’m just sorry to the people who’ve had to hear Wasteland so many times and been exasperated by how long it took to release it!
Anyway, eventually I managed to finish the EP, and I really have to thank my amazing family, friends and colleagues for encouraging and helping me to do that. But then a new paralysis overtook me - how on earth to release music as an independent artist? There are so many things to learn and consider and I felt like I didn’t know enough. PR / marketing / distributors / ISRCs / metadata / artwork / video / social media .. the list is endless. I was waiting to feel ready, to feel prepared, to feel like everything was perfectly in place before releasing: and I never felt ready. My friend calls it “analysis paralysis”.
The catalyst I needed was unexpected. Thanks to someone sharing an insta-story of one of my performances, I was invited to play at an inspiring event called Creative Mornings, London by Elise. My performance there preceded a wonderful talk on courage by Ella Saltmarshe. Everything she said was inspiring, but the take away phrase for me was “DON’T WAIT TO FEEL COURAGEOUS, JUST ACT.” If you wait, you may wait forever, and life will pass you by. Finally I realised that if I kept waiting, nothing would happen. Just as I had had to jump off the metaphorical cliff in first performing my songs publicly, I now had to do so in releasing. And if it didn’t go perfectly then so be it: life is learning, and only in ‘doing’, could I learn what worked and how to improve next time (and this is a lesson I’m still learning). So it prompted me to finally set a release date.
I’m very grateful to the support of the Creative Mornings community, and they then invited me to perform again a couple of months later. This time my performance was followed by a talk by William Sieghart about the beauty of poetry and its ability to connect us. He quoted a poem by Christopher Logue: “Come to the edge.” Hearing it, I knew every word and remembered it’s presence in my life; I was suddenly aware that this must have been a clear influence on the writing of Wasteland. In his book “The Poetry Pharmacy”, William explains (much more eloquently than I have managed - see photo at the bottom of this article) what can be gained by taking a leap off the cliff into the unknown, even though it is scary: “If only we had the courage of our convictions and were willing to fail every now and again, we would achieve so much more.” I wasn’t conscious of Logue’s poem when I was writing Wasteland, but I love how life presents us with situations that make us realise how inter-connected everything is, and it was clearly a massive sub-conscious influence on me. My Dad always says ideas are floating around and any of us can be the vessels through which they are received and expressed if we are just open to listen.
Wasteland is the first of five songs forming my debut EP “Caught in the Dark”, of which I’ve so far released three. I’ve always been nocturnal and had a troublesome relationship with sleep and the night-time. All five songs forming this EP were written in the middle of the night and depict my own struggle with the darkness and the search for light, both literally and metaphorically, externally and internally. The EP charts that journey and there is very much a direction to it (albeit one that may only be obvious to me!) One of the biggest hurdles I felt in first sharing my songs was feeling embarrassed at how terribly self-indulgent and self-obsessed it all was (as indeed this blogpost is - don’t worry, I’m not unaware). Then I realised that one of the reasons I love the music and songs of others’ is because it helps me navigate my own way through life and emotions. I remember listening to The Carpenters on repeat in my teenage years during the early hours of my solitary night-time vigils, finding comfort in the lines “So here I am with pockets full of good intentions, but none of them will comfort me tonight. I’m wide awake at 4am without a friend in sight, I’m hanging on a hope, but I’m alright.” Through the music of others’ I have sought, and found: solace, comfort, joy, sadness, elation, heartbreak, the full gamut of human emotion, and through that, always a comfort that someone else has shared those feelings. Art is but a poetic manifestation of the human experience, and as humans, we are all on that same journey. Realising that shared journey through the art of others connects us and makes us feel less alone. If just one person connects with the sentiments expressed within any of the music I share, and maybe feels less alone because of it, then it will have been worth it.
Wasteland means a lot of things to me, and the explanation above is just one aspect of it. I hope that some of the things which inspired me might resonate with others, in whatever situation you find yourself. My own personal cliff represents my lack of courage, but for other people, their cliff will represent different things to them. We all have different fears, hurdles and challenges and we’re all navigating life as best we know how. Making the video was a chance to explore even further another side to it… but that’s a blogpost for another day ;)
And as to the title of this blog: Behind The Bull Shit? In the spirit of BTBS, I wanted to share the ups and downs that lead to the moment where I got to say “I released my first single today!” That sentence is so easy to write, but took so long to be able to say. What that sentence doesn’t say is the fact that if you want to be an independent artist you not only have to be a writer, but also a producer, business-woman, graphic designer, artist, stylist, editor, marketer, PR person, agent and promoter; it doesn’t explain that the single cover posted on instagram which looks so simple, actually took months of planning, a day of shooting, and hours spent navigating the veritable Pandora’s Box of Photoshop; it doesn’t tell the truth about the smile that hides a hundred tears. The journey that led to both the existence and the sharing of Wasteland was fraught with difficulties, but also wonderful moments.
When it turned midnight on Friday 27th July 2018 and I saw my first song appear on Spotify, I was excited, but also nervous. I listened with new ears, and realised how much had changed between the moment Robert and I started recording Wasteland and the moment it was finally released. It might be just one song, but it represented a lot to me. I gained a lot in the journey that led to that day, and there was also heartbreak in what was lost along the way. But just as I didn’t foresee where I’d end up when I first wrote Wasteland, so I don’t know where I’ll end up next. I am trying to trust Max Ehrmann’s assertion in “The Desiderata” that “whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Sometimes in retrospect we can see a trajectory we struggled to find in the moment. In dark times, it can feel like all we can do is keep on keeping on, but sometimes the struggles and the hardest things are what propel us forwards and lead us to the greatest growth. The path that lead us to this moment is the only path we could have taken, and the future is still unwritten, we just have to come to the edge…
- - -
- - -
Since I first performed Wasteland it has taken on different forms and been played by different musicians and arrangements and I always love hearing it evolve and change; I’m so grateful to the various musicians that have been part of that. I’ve linked some videos throughout this article of a few of those iterations.
To that effect, I’ve been promising for a long time to share the lyrics and chords for Wasteland, as a fair few people have expressed an interest in covering it. I would be delighted if anybody wanted to cover Wasteland, and so I’ve included the lyrics and chords below. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to share - now you see the length of this blogpost, you see why it took a while 😂 (And I haven’t even mentioned musical influences yet! That, too, will be a blogpost for another day…)
Please do share with me any covers you might make! If you do one, I would be thrilled to hear it! Or any other response, be it art, poetry, words or just a thought… (there’s even a comments section below for such a thing…)
Also, if anyone would be interested in purchasing the full piano/vocal sheet music, let me know, as I’ve been considering making it available in my as yet non-existent but hopefully soon-to-be existing merch store…
And if you’ve read all this and haven’t yet heard Wasteland, firstly congratulations for making it to the end of this epistle with what must be a disconcerting lack of context, and secondly, go have a listen and see if any of my BS makes sense… 😬 Pick your favourite platform here: https://smarturl.it/WastelandSingle
And if you have already heard and tired of Wasteland and my superfluous backstory, feel free to do me a solid and leave it streaming on loop on Spotify whilst you sleep, because I really need any of the £0.001 pences per stream that I can get so that I can start recording something new... I mean it’s about bloody time I jumped off that cliff again, right?!