Music

“What if they had the opportunity to tell their story…”

I am reading this book at the moment called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, in it she talks about ideas being a “disembodied, energetic life-form.” She goes on to say: “ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.” I really love this analogy. I think any creative person who has ever created something will understand that mystical, magical feeling of not really knowing where it came from and certainly not feeling like it came from you; That feeling that it was indeed some sort of outer body experience that you had little control over. Elizabeth tells the story of an American Poet named Ruth Stone whom she met with when she was nearly 90 years old. Ruth recalled to Elizabeth how she would experience ideas: “she would sometimes hear a poem coming towards her- hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and pencil fast enough to catch it. That way when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page.” Now, just as Elizabeth goes on to say, not every idea comes to you like this, sometimes it is a hard old slog and you have to sit there prising it out of yourself, exploring many different avenues before you get there. Both of those are true for my song ‘Four Weeks’.

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From the first day I began writing music I wanted to write a song about losing my Dad to cancer. I wanted to capture the joy I got from the 11 years I spent with my Father and also the pain I felt when he passed. I wanted to set my feelings free into the world for no other reason than I could; I am a songwriter this is my therapy and this is how I exist. I have several, very awful attempts and several very awful songs that I have banished to the land where no one hears. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to write this song that I had my ‘Ruth Stone moment’; Sat in Rhys’ (my co-writer) living room having a writing session for a whole other song; Rhys played a few chords on the piano and something just rushed through me, I could hear it coming and with an air of panic and excitement I just said to Rhys; “Keep Playing that” I moved closer to the piano and put pen to paper, writing the lyrics in pretty much the exact order and state in which they now reside. The melody too just flowed from us both! We couldn’t believe what was happening or how it was happening; the song I had been trying to write for years and years was finally being written, right in front of me, and I didn’t really know where it was coming from!

To this day, that song still has its very own life. I cannot take credit for it for I feel, just like Elizabeth does, that it came from some external forces outside of me. It speaks to people still, the way that it spoke to me that day and whilst it has a very real connection to me and it is without a doubt the most personal and emotionally exposing song I have ever written (Read my open letter to my deceased Dad), it still speak to others as if it were written for them, about them… and I believe it was! The reaction I get when people hear it forever cements this belief of mine.
People would always talk to me after gigs about the song and divulge their inner thoughts about their most personal experiences. I also began to receive messages from people who had heard it online:

“Four Weeks is the most beautiful song, I’m sorry you lost your dad, I have too and that song is a comfort somehow.“

“…I haven’t been allowed or had chance to grieve and I was the most surprised when tears started rolling down my cheeks and the memories I’d hidden away came flooding back. Seriously, even today I’m feeling a bit released from the pain I’d been hiding… Anyway I’ll try and put into words but didn’t think I’d be in a position to thank someone I hardly know for genuinely helping me sort of move on in so many ways… and if I never see you again, for what ever reason, I thank you…“

I feel a deep sense of joy when receiving these messages but not in an egotistical way. I feel in no way responsible for the comfort and release that these people and others have experienced from Four Weeks. I just feel joy that whatever external force it was that wrote this song, it came me that day and Rhys and I were able to give it life. Elizabeth says; “Ideas are driven by a single impulse; to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.” I am not the only person to have lost their Dad to cancer, nor am I the only songwriter to go through that so I thank that idea for choosing me as its collaborator.

After many years of writing songs… I began to feel a little self involved in my music, always writing about my heartache, my own experience of the world and the journey I am on. These messages and conversations I had as a result of Four Weeks, gave me another idea (Maybe this was why Four Weeks was written): Music is an outlet for me, a therapy if you will, Four Weeks has given people that same outlet even though it was not directly written about their experience. That is the beauty of music, I know we all know that feeling, when you listen to a song and it’s as if it was written about you! But what if it was, what if they had the opportunity to tell their story through a song. Release their daemons into the world through music, delve deeply into their journey during the writing process and discover things about themselves that they never knew, let go of things they didn’t know they were still holding onto and share their pain with others who may, like Four Weeks, have experienced something similar…

So I set out in search of stories, in search of people, in search of songs…

Click here to see Four Weeks performed live in session with RoadTwo

 

The Story Behind my new single ‘Stare At Me’

At the age of 20 I was diagnosed with a Teratoma, it was sitting just behind my sternum undiagnosed since before the day I was born. Teratoma’s are congenital and are usually benign. I am happy to say that this was true for my Teratoma but none the less it was taking up a lot of room in my chest causing me a great deal of pain and problems with my breathing so it had to be removed. Though it took us around 2 years to discover it from the day that it began to cause me problems; once discovered I was referred straight to Addenbrookes Hospital for a biopsy and then subsequently onto Papworth Hospital for a Median Sternotomy. I was left with what is more affectionately called a ‘zipper’ scar: the full length of my sternum, along with a biopsy scar around 2 inches on my right breast and a few other little ones around my torso from various different drainage tubes and such like. At this time in my life I was attending a stage school in Cambridge called Bodywork. Whilst I have very fond memories of my time there, as you can imagine, this was a difficult place to be when coming to terms with the new additions to my body…

My Scar

I did a big charity shop run with every item of clothing that didn’t hide my scar and replaced them with a wardrobe of high-necked tops/dresses and leotards for dance. I had scarfs for all occasions and as I became more inventive with hiding my scar, my large costume jewellery collection also grew along with some very expensive camouflage make-up concealer! I recall one morning; I was in the shower, I had not long had my dressings removed; As I began to wash my chest I closed my eyes but I could feel the scar all bumpy and uneven. I opened my eyes and looked down at my once untarnished, smooth skin to see what, at the time I thought was the ugliest scar I had ever seen and I just sobbed. I started scrubbing as hard as I could, wishing that I could just wash it off and be ‘normal’ again…

I would like to tell that young girl what I know now; I am and always will be eternally grateful to my Teratoma, for it gave me the life I have now! I can put my hand on my scar-covered heart and honestly say that without that experience I would not live my life the way that I do now. It gave me an understanding of just how precious and fragile it really is and it taught me what really matters. This has only grown as I have and it continues to grow with every day and every new experience.

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I never wrote a song about my scar; maybe it was too difficult but more poignantly I think I just didn’t want people to pity me.

It was Christmas time and I was home with my family, a few years on from my operation and now with a little more confidence to occasionally lower the neckline of my clothing. Katie Piper– ‘My Beautiful Face’ was on the telly and I was glued. It was a documentary of a beautiful young girl who experience a horrific ‘revenge’ attack from an ex boyfriend. He hired someone to throw acid in her face and she was left with terrible burns that deformed her once ‘picture perfect’ face. After watching it I initially felt guilty for the shame and embarrassment I had felt over my measly scar that I could easily cover with various different ‘costumes’ I’d perfected. I wanted to stand up and shout about my scar and shamelessly present it to the world in honour of those people whose scars and disfigurements were not disguisable. I guess this song (Stare At Me) was my way of doing that. Katie Piper subsequently brought out a documentary called ‘My Beautiful Friends’ where she met many people with various different disfigurements. She showed perfectly their beauty within and opened our eyes to their world. It was as if our desires united with our scars. Although my scar pales in comparison, it was my journey and my experience of it; Of people pointing and staring, talking and looking at me with this face of disgust, confusion or pity; Of children brazenly and beautifully asking their parents what it was on my chest and their parents shushing them as if it was something so taboo that it could not be discussed.

Stare At Me was written from my experiences but was born from my desire to change people’s views of scars and disfigurements. I wanted to tell people that it’s ok to talk openly about it instead of averting your eyes in the hope that we won’t see you staring….

When I was writing the lyrics for this song I wanted to make my point without sounding argumentative, defensive or confrontational. Whilst the staring and pointing was a big part of my struggle to come to terms with my scar and have the confidence not to hide myself. I also understand that in many cases it comes from a place of compassion and a lack of understanding of the appropriate response. Even with my scar, I still don’t always ‘get it right’ but I just act from an honest place and hope that my heart is felt.

 

The most important thing is not to fear someone who looks different.

 

As this song grew into its own and I performed it more and more I began to realise, this is not just a song for people with scars and disfigurements but for everyone who has ever felt judged or discriminated for their physical appearance. Which, lets face it, is pretty much all of us right? We are, at times such a superficial society and we place importance on appearance in such a way that prohibits us from truly loving and accepting our bodies and ourselves. Stare At Me is written with hope that it will help even one person love themselves and all their imperfections unconditionally, for they are what make us unique and beautiful.

Stare At Me is out today (18/11/16) to coincide with #AntiBullyingWeek. 50% of all the money made will go to The Katie Piper Foundation. ‘Helping to create a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of well being.’

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Click bellow to listen to Stare At Me:

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Meet The Producer

As the time for me to finally get in the studio and make my album draws near I thought it might be nice for you to meet my partner in crime. Dan Goudie will be producing my album from start to finish. We’ll be growing this little seed into a gigantic tree together and I for one can’t bloody wait!

Dan Goudie

Dan Goudie

Here is a little interview that will tell you a bit about Dan and how he is feeling about this project!

Q: Where are you from?
A: Born and raised South London to a Yorkshireman and Irishwoman.

Q: What do you do when you are not making music?
A: When’s that?! Music is a full time job/obsession for me so there’s not much room for other stuff. When I do get time off I love skiing, eating out, spending time with the Mrs…

Q: How long does it normally take you to produce an album?
A: Project lengths vary hugely depending on type of music and of course budget. A month’s worth of sessions is an average from start to finish.

Q: What made you want to work on Sian’s album project?
A: I’ve had the fortune of working with Sian for a while now and as well as her being easy to work with I was really interested in her vision for this album. I’m looking forward to exploring some new territory with her.

Q: What other artists have you worked with?
A: I’ve been producing/writing/mixing/recording for quite a while and I’ve been lucky to work with a really diverse range of artists from U2 to UNKLE, Cover Drive to Clean Bandit, Ed Harcourt to Everything Everything, Ben Howard to Bombay Bicycle Club, Paloma Faith to Paolo Nutini. I like to get involved in all sorts of projects.

Q: What do you think of Sian’s album concept?
A: I think a concept for an album always takes it to the next level as then it becomes a unified piece rather than just a bunch of tracks. The specific concept Sian’s chosen is really beautiful and gives the songs a real identity.

Q: What is it like working with Sian?
A: Lots of fun!

Q: Which artists would you compare Sian to?
A: We’ve talked a lot about direction for this album and it’s going to be a new expression for her so watch this space!

Q: What is your most favourite project you have worked on?
A: Spending a few weeks writing songs in Barbados with Cover Drive was pretty fun!

Q: What else are you currently working on?
A: Juggling lots of projects with artists like Melissa Steel, Matrix & Futurebound and 5 Seconds of Summer to name a few.

Q: What is your favourite song of 2014 and why?
A: Picking favourites is always tough but to narrow it down I’d say something like Bloodsport by Raleigh Ritchie, Got No Brains by Dems, Everything Nice by Popcaan, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson et al or Tove Lo’s Stay High (Habits remix). They all have such a strong identity and personality with interesting production and real emotion

Q: What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ song of 2014?
A: Rude by Magic! It’s sooo infectious!

You can look forward to hearing more about Dan as the album takes shape over the coming months…

BBC Introducing with Tom Robinson on 6 music
 
 
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