Josienne Clarke Announces New EP ‘I Promised You Light’ Out February 4th 2022
When award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Josienne Clarke was performing at a show prior to lockdown, a moment meeting a fan afterwards remained fixed in her memory. “There was this one woman who came up to me at the merch table in tears. She was a fan pleading with me to write something in the style of how I write, but more positive,” Clarke recalls, saying that while the fan had been visibly touched by her emotive, melancholic songs, she was craving something more joyous. The fan told Clarke she was going through her own difficult time. “She wanted something with hope, something with a bit of light in it,” Clarke recalls.
This is where Clarke’s new EP, I Promised You Light was born. After the release of critically acclaimed album A Small Unknowable Thing this year (which earned four-star reviews from the likes of The Financial Times and MOJO), Clarke set about her next project with the words of her fan front-and-centre. “It stayed with me,” Clarke says of her message. “It made me really think: do I need to try and frame things more positively? Maybe I haven’t been able to in the past because I’m still working through things – my work is very autobiographical and cathartic – but I’m only now just finding more positive threads through new experiences and what I’ve learned over this last year.”
Clarke has certainly worked through a lot. Rejecting a male-dominated system where women in music are discouraged to voice an opinion, retain artistic control and produce music, in 2020 Clarke ripped everything up and started again. She went solo and for the first time, Clarke was in complete control of everything from her songwriting to arranging and production – and she even released on her own label, Corduroy Punk. The result, after years of being told women couldn’t do all those things in a patriarchal industry, was an album variously described as “the sound of an artist in full bloom”, “a remarkable, impeccable collection” and “her finest work to date.”
Clarke says the experience gave her confidence to try a new direction on her latest EP. “Once I got all of that out of my system,” she says of the anger she expelled on her last album, “once I had a bit of time for reflection, I started writing again. I’m looking at life in not such an angry way. I’ve had my cathartic being cross with everything moment, and now I can look back on that time a little bit more reflectively and perhaps more constructively,” she explains.
Indeed, the EP begins with ‘Where the Light Comes In’ a song that speaks directly to the fan who wanted more positivity and hope. The titular track is a nod to Leonard Cohen and repeats “Who am I to give you something to live for?” which Clarke says came out of her self-doubt wondering if she was the right person to give positive advice. “I was like, look at my life – it’s an absolute bin-fire at times! What wisdom do you think I have to impart?” Clarke says with a laugh. But she does know from first-hand experience as someone who came out of a place of darkness after years of struggling in a situation from which she wanted to escape.
Clarke says on top of the personal struggles people face day-to-day, it’s also hard to find positivity at a time when we’re surrounded with so much negativity in society. “We’re careering towards climate collapse, there’s a pandemic, the government are awful. In this context, I can’t just frame everything positively because we can’t just take away that negativity. But it’s about how you make a positive from it, I think. It’s me saying, ‘Well yes, there’s this really dark and difficult stuff but that is the stuff of life. Everything looks impossible at times but there’s a balance with the light of things too. We have to look towards those lighter moments and find the hope, as hard as it can be sometimes.”
The delicately optimistic song sees Clarke’s songwriting at its most uplifting: “The still of the night lies calm in the palm of your hand / Truth that you took too hard you will understand / Love that you gave in vain comes back round again. That’s where the light…remains,” she poignantly sings. In the darker moments we face, Clarke says in the song, “But here’s a thought for if you ever lose your way.”
The next track, ‘Driving At Night’, saw Clarke going directly back to a time she lost her own way. “It’s essentially a song about escaping,” Clarke says, explaining it was about driving away from the last ever gig she performed as part of a duo. “After that gig, I literally drove for hours across Europe. I wanted as much physical space between me and my previous career as possible at that point. The feeling of release of having finished that final gig was huge, as was the exciting air of possibility that came about having left behind a thing that was so difficult for me for a long time. It was like a literal lift: I felt everything would suddenly be easier now.”
You can hear the relief in Clarke’s voice on a track that soars with hope and the song’s propulsive force reflects the momentum Clarke felt on that journey – both physical and metaphorical. “There was a time when I didn’t want to think about that time at all,” she admits. “But I can look back on it now feeling nothing but relief, a kind of ‘thank fuck that’s not happening anymore.’ It’s a song about looking back from a much calmer, safer position and realising that journey was the catalyst, the start of all the good things that followed.”
The song’s message she says, is simple: “it’s – just leave,” she laughs. “It’s alright to leave because all this other great stuff awaits you if you just walk away.” Clarke explains that it was also inspired by the “insurmountable structures which surround people,” which may prevent them from leaving something that is having a negative impact on their lives. The song is full of fire-like imagery too – of burning things in order to start again. “Sometimes you do have to set fire to the whole fucking thing and start again – and that is what ‘Driving At Night’ is all about.”
The EP feels deeply personal, with Clarke stripping back her sound and putting her vocals – which BBC6 Music DJ Cerys Matthews described as one that can “trickle back over centuries” – at the forefront of her music. “The vocals are really up front, and you can even hear my tongue moving in my mouth at one point,” Clarke laughs. “It’s meant to be an intimate confessional, really close-up,” she explains, saying it was needed on a work that is urging listeners to find the positives in the dark moments. “Many of the songs could be sung as much to me as by me,” she says, explaining that she wanted to convey the vulnerability she felt in those tougher moments to her listeners.
The EP’s fourth track, ‘Workhorse’, is the first with this particular type of percussion and one of the most experimental of Clarke’s career to date, with Sharon Van Etten and Sylvan Esso being the song’s musical touchstones. “This is the most joyous on there to me,” Clarke says of the song which she describes as a “weird dance acoustic mess.” The song’s video sees Clarke learning to roller-skating at a silent disco to emphasise the sheer joy of the track. “It’s just me in a massive room with loads of disco lights with silent disco headphones on just messing about to my own positivity anthem,” she smiles.
Of the track’s experimentation, Clarke says she has been “slightly flirting with synths and electronic sounds more” and using “less acoustic music” in an about turn from her usual style. “I don’t intend to renounce my acoustic roots at all, but I feel like the old set-up in the industry was quite keen to tell me what type of music I could and couldn’t make,” Clarke explains, saying she was told by one male label boss that she had to stick to a singular style. “I was like, ‘why do you get to decide?! I feel like ‘Workhorse’ is an example of me trying something different, trying something without someone telling me I can’t, which is often the case when you’re a woman in this industry,” Clarke says. “This is like: ‘What if I could do whatever I wanted? What would that sound like? That sound is this track,” Clarke says assuredly, mirroring the confidence of a track that is sure to become a standout of her career.
“Like a lot of young women in this industry, I started out believing everything that everyone told me. I did what I was told and I took the advice really openly. I assumed these old dudes knew what they were talking about,”
“Like a lot of young women in this industry, I started out believing everything that everyone told me. I did what I was told and I took the advice really openly. I assumed these old dudes knew what they were talking about,” Clarke says, referring to those male industry bosses she came across, “because they’d been in the industry for years and so must know more than me. The humility that only young women have. I had to go through a long process of realising maybe all of that was bullshit and I could in fact do whatever I wanted. And this EP is also about that, about not being afraid to try new and different – and sometimes frightening – things.”
These experiments took place over a four-day period in London, where, for the first time since lockdown, Clarke was able to get into Hackney Road Studios in London with her band. Clarke says after producing her last virtually from afar, she went into this feeling more certain. “I was more confident this time because I’d done it before and it worked. I felt able to experiment more and just getting to work in a room with other musicians again after lockdown buoyed me further I think…I’d missed that!” Clarke says laying the EP down in the studio was the culmination of what was “an incredible, joyous project, from start to end.” She continues: “I’ve probably enjoyed writing this one more than anything I’ve done.”
The EP’s closing track, ‘I Promised You Light’, is the culmination of that joy. “It’s me saying it actually will all be alright,” Clarke explains. The track, which was inspired by the likes of Courtney Marie Andrews and Julia Jacklin, is the zenith of the optimism found throughout this entire project. “I thought, ‘What would I say to someone like me who came into the position I was in two years ago?’” she reflects, thinking of her time unhappy in a musical partnership, label situation and an industry that treated women as less-than.
“I thought, what advice would I give to me? Forget all the framing it beautifully and poetically: what do people really need to be told in their darkest, lowest moments? And they need to be told it gets better, it will be alright. And it will,” she says determinedly. “And I know it sounds trite, but it will,” she continues, knowing from her own painful personal experience that it is possible to come out the other side – as hard as it might seem.
“I thought back to the merch table,” Clarke says, “and the woman who was crying in front of me. What does she really need to be told at that point? What’s the one thing she needs to hear? She needs to be told that it’s going to be okay and she asked me to put a song in my collection that does that – so this is what that closing song is about. And I hope it brings her, or anyone else who needs it, a few seconds of comfort.”
Clarke has already started work on her next project. Will it be a direct continuation from this? Not necessarily, she says. “I feel like this EP is a little experiment, a thing that stands on its own. I think I will try to take some of the things that I’ve learned from this into my next project. It’s not going to be a case of me never writing a melancholic song again because obviously I will, but maybe I’ll try to balance the message more, because now I can write from a position where I can see both the light and the dark – I can see them both in an equal, more balanced measure. This EP is really the documentation of that realisation.”
The main thing she’s learnt, Clarke says, is to not be afraid of failure when going into something new – of starting over. “I can take less fear into whatever I do now. I can just try things and instead of thinking about succeeding or failing I can exist in an in-between space where it’s okay to just create, to put songs out into the world and not worry about all the fear and the bullshit I was conditioned to think as a young woman in this industry. I can just exist in whatever form I want to and I don’t have to constantly earn my right to exist personally or professionally any more.”
“I can just be…with both the darkness and the light.”
Josienne Clarke announces new album
‘A Small Unknowable Thing’ and shares
defiant new single ‘Sit Out’
|For the first time since her early beginnings, Josienne Clarke is flying solo. No label, no musical partner, no producer. Clarke is in complete control of her songwriting, arranging, producing, release schedule and musical direction. A Small Unknowable Thing, Clarke’s second solo album will be released on August 13th via her own label, Corduroy Punk Records. Today she has shared the first taste of her new album and new sound in the form of defiant new single. ‘Sit out’ is frustration and defiance in sonic form. “All you stand for / Makes me want to sit out” she sings over thick, driving guitars and an almost Beastie Boys-esque drum beat. The heaviest moment on the album, ‘Sit Out’ sees Clarke fully let rip.|
|Despite writing a plethora of critically acclaimed songs, winning a BBC Folk Award, opening for Robert Plant on his European tour, playing prominent slots on some of the UK’s biggest festivals and even taking a leading role in The National Theatre’s revival of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good (after being personally chosen by Cerys Matthews no less), Clarke felt daily self-doubt as a result of an industry that variously gas-lit, put-down, questioned and othered. It’s an experience the vast majority of women making music today can identify with. A Small Unknowable Thing is, at least in part, about recognising there are still existing structures to keep women in their place – but it’s also about having the courage to break those structures down too.|
“I realised that I had to be so explicit in explaining how much I’d done in order to get credit for it,” Clarke explains. “I started saying ‘No, actually, I did all of this, can we put my name on this thing?’ It’s really resisted – it’s as if I’m being an arrogant megalomaniac for wanting the credit for stuff that I did. Now, I just do it all by myself. If there isn’t another name on it, then there can’t be a misappropriation.”
After leaving her label, musical partnership and home (Clarke moved to a small village on the outskirts of Glasgow with her husband), she started afresh. Gradually, as she slowly began to write and record once more, the album’s narrative arc emerged and Clarke found herself again. “It’s an empowered narrative, not a weak and vulnerable one,” Clarke says of the album. “It was a conscious decision to walk away from my career as it was and there’s a positive message on this record: there’s a lot of reclaiming the narrative.”
Like Clarke’s other albums, A Small Unknowable Thing also travels from despair to hope. While the themes might feel familiar to her many fans, the musical journey will not, with Clarke taking in a wide range of new and diverse influences across the album’s 14 tracks – from Adrianne Lenker’s ‘Hours Were The Birds’, IDLES’ ‘Colossus’, Radiohead’s ‘Airbag’ to Phoebe Bridgers ‘Garden Song’, The Beastie Boys’ ‘Remote Control’ and Sandy Denny’s ‘Listen, Listen’ and more, the album’s touchstones span a vast musical collage of anger and hope.
“What I’ve been doing throughout my career is pushing the boundaries of the production aesthetic with each project,” says Clarke. “You might pick up one album and then you hear something really kind of folky and acoustic and then you listen to this one and almost every single guitar in it has some slight level of distortion on it. I didn’t want this one to be soft, acoustic, folky and gentle. I didn’t feel gentle, I didn’t feel soft: there is a lot of anger in there.” Letting rip about her treatment – and that of other women – in the industry clearly comes from a place of pain, but her decision to believe in her abilities, to walk away from the path others wanted her to follow, to demand equality is one that has paid dividends. Clarke sounds the most content she’s ever been in her career.