Things You Might Not Have Heard…

My first EP from 2006! You’ll probably recognise the title track but that’s me playing the guitar part I wrote on my trusty Alvarez MD60, brand spanking new then, I still use it today… The Tangled Tree EP

Singing & songwriting are hopelessly naively cynical in that way little me was. Lots of things I wouldn’t do today but also plenty I would. I was 24 which is old enough to be better than that but I always was inclined to take my time, no protégé am I, more tortoise than hare.

I flirt with the folk genre in the use of imagery but it’s not trad by any means, I was going be hard to pigeonhole, tough to pin down.

Confrontationally demure, Earnestly honestly cynical, Acerbically articulate, succinct…

And utterly unprepared for an industry of arseholes

The Tangled Tree EP released 2006

By 2018 I had honed it all a bit & was asked to write songs for playwright Zoe Cooper’s adaptation of ‘The Snow Queen’ for the National Theatre ‘Let’s Play key stage 2 education project My second writing commission for The National The Snow Queen

Songs written, composed & arranged by me. The superb guitaring is the wonderful folk king legend David Delarre. The drumming is my fave Dave Hamblett & bass by Sonny Johns. Recorded by engineer Sonny in The National’s recording studio in one afternoon. Writing songs for children aged 7-11 to sing is a very different discipline to writing for myself. They need to be pitched higher, not contain too much melodic or lyrical complexity but they simply MUST contain the right emotional impact, they can handle & deserve depth.

I got to watch a performance in Liverpool in Jan 2020 (These are not privileged kids, these plays are made for state schools) It was amazing & I can’t describe the feeling of hearing their tiny voices sing my songs so well & with such heart. One of my favourite projects of my career.

The Snow Queen – Six Songs – The National Theatre

A couple of ‘lost songs’ written in 2007/8 & demo recorded in 2009 One of them isn’t even finished, often the way, some of them get finished, some take years. I’m gradually getting better at writing… But I never got round to using either of them.

What I hear now is that my guitaring really wasn’t bad, wish someone had told me that, anyone, at the time. But alas my insecurity about guitar playing is the perfect opportunity for some bloke to grab my work & pass it off as his own isn’t it. Lost songs & lessons learned.

2 lost songs written in 2007/8

Lastly my weird little 2PrivateMatters EP ‘Doubts Run Out’ with Alec Bowman_Clarke Recorded at home during the long days of lockdown, these are song demos I made that Alec has given his industrial noise treatment in Ableton… Every noise made out of my original song demos Each songs settles a little score & lays to rest some past wrangling

“When all the weapons are spent out, when all your doubts are run out / You sleep so soundly in your bed / When all the words of someone else aren’t in your head”

2PrivateMatters EP ‘ Doubts Run Out’

“I give you nothing like the nothing you gave me / That’s how you win / That’s how you won / No, not to hurt you / But to stop you hurting me / That’s how it ends Slate and sleek, grey Wait and see Wait / Weigh down with stone.”

Grey Rock by 2PrivateMatters

Sorry, is the key to a door…

A genuine apology is a respectful and restorative thing. It will set you free, but you have to mean it.

I have only ever refused to accept one apology in my life 

That was because it was half-hearted, vague and insincere. It did not address any of the hurt or unhappiness caused. 

It wasn’t genuine, it was merely a small step up from the standard “oh come on, don’t be like that” more usually used to dismiss my feelings & get things quickly back to the status quo.  

Beware of those, they are as amorphous and intangible as smoke.

So this one refusal was somewhat of a turning point for me and my reply to it was simply: “for what? There is SO much”

This song is about that, a refusal to accept a hollow, meaningless apology that will not amount to any change…

Host 

Sorry, is the key to a door 

That you will come through 

And hurt me some more 

All my good deeds are dust on your desk 

Shiny stone medals 

To hang in your chest 

So maybe if I meant a thing at all 

You’d let me know 

But you didn’t know me 

I’m just a host 

A host for your dreams 

All that you hate 

All that you wish for 

All that you ain’t 

Sorry, is the key to a door

That you would come through 

And hurt me some more

There comes a point when reconciliation is no longer an option, talking is just wasted air, understanding isn’t out there. You aren’t cared for, you are merely a survival mechanism for a distant, damaged person, who doesn’t know you, who doesn’t want to know you. They just need you and they hate you because they need you. 

‘Host’ From ‘In All Weather’
‘Host’ – Official Video

Fair Weather Friends

Some thoughts on ‘friendship’ when navigating the music industry, I’ve learned a lot, mostly the hard way, about the myth of friendship and its limitations. I’ve developed some valuable rules & boundaries you might find useful to bear in mind…

A professional relationship & a friendship are not the same thing, one does not entitle you to the other by default. 

Making, maintaining friendships as adults is hard. Doing that in or around the music industry is even harder. So much interaction appears to do mainly with LEVERAGE. When you’re perceived as having a lot of it you’re surrounded by ‘friends’ when you’ve less going on those people go.

You don’t have to believe you or anyone I work/worked with owes me kindness. But then you won’t be receiving any & access to my personal life will be rescinded.

I’m deadly serious about boundaries these days. I will not endlessly explain or justify myself to anyone anymore

I don’t have a place for people who confuse the two & aren’t willing to do the legwork friendship requires

Be hurt, but being “just bizniz” will cut both ways.

Fair Weather Friends

I am so tired of trying to explain to people how an intelligent, confident person could be coerced to agree to something entirely against their own interests.

All you have to do is isolate that person from anyone who’ll make the opposite case & if they’re at all motivated to be well thought of they’ll sign their rights & interests away. In hope that it will buy them freedom/gratitude/absolution or peace.

But it doesn’t & further demands are made. They are in a spiral they believe they’ll never get out of. They believe they will spend the rest of their lives, pouring their resources into a vacuum. It doesn’t take much to break them entirely.

You don’t have to raise a hand to someone to make them afraid of you. You simply have to get hold of something they need/treasure/love dearly/depend on & keep it gripped.

Reimagined, Re-worked and Reclaimed. Making New Things Out of Recent Ruins…

Taken by Alec Bowman_Clarke

As mixing begets mastering new things take their shape, their space & in time, their place. 

I’m making new things out of the wreckage, sifting through the rubble, a decade of my wasted work, to find the important particles of enduring gold.

Taken by Alec Bowman_Clarke

Foraging for the diamonds amid the rust, restoring & forming them into something sparkly & renewed. Retelling the old stories with their whole truth, & nothing but that.

Taken by Alec Bowman_Clarke

Pushing away the dead wood & now released from the drag of other’s need to be a part of a story that is not their own. Songs that were always built by my head & hands alone, get set right & reconciled. No one else pinning my heart to their sleeve & wearing it with unwarranted pride.

Taken by Alec Bowman_Clarke

So with all that picked out and put away I will eventually present to you something new. Something truer to my singular vision. Something I can stand by, live with & survive on for many years to come…

I can’t wait to tell you more about it in a less cryptic way 💗!

Things I Didn’t Need

Unused cover shot for ‘Things I Didn’t Need’ 7″

This ltd edition 7” white label single/b-sides came out 3 yrs ago today. Only a couple of hundred were ever made & (to my knowledge) no more have been pressed. So it stands alone, a little timestamped signpost of where things got truly interesting for me.

This is the first release from the phase of my work I can say I’m truly proud of, my (duo) output up to that time was always weirdly compromised. To be honest if I could I’d take a torch to what I produced between 2011-2018. I’m proud of my older songs, the writing itself, but not their recorded versions. This single release in 2019 was the start of a singular vision, writing that got the setting it deserved not the setting that best served someone else’s desire to showcase their technical skill.

‘Things I Didn’t Need’: A love song to myself from the perspective of the fragile male ego, something I’ve come to know more about than I care to, and one of the only times I’ve written a song from a male perspective. The subsequent two B-sides – ‘Season & Time’: appearing later that year on full length album ‘In All Weather‘ bears a Nick Drake reference for its title. It picks apart the resigned futility in communicating through song. ‘Never Lie’: (revisited on 2021’s ‘a small unknowable thing’) acts as a response to the self-delusion of the A-side’s protagonist.

It was the first tiny rumblings of the storm I was cooking, the storm that ultimately shed all the things I never needed. A first step on a bold journey to a better place for me and my songs.

Lyrics

Things I didn’t need

That song plays 

And my heart actually aches 

I need a guarantee 

Though I detailed all the things I didn’t need

And it turns out 

I’m weaker than I would care to seem

Come to me, this is enough 

Before I turn my head and it disappears to dust 

What have you done to me? 

What will this do?

Now I cannot think of anything but you 

That song plays 

And my heart actually aches 

I need a guarantee 

And it turns out there’s a weaker man in me 

And his need is more than I would have believed 

Come to me, this is enough 

Though I cannot give you anything but love 

What have you done to me? 

What can I do? 

To show you I’m the only one for you 

Come to me, this is enough 

Though I cannot give you anything but love 

What have you done to me? 

How can I be? 

The only man that you will ever need?

Season And Time

Singing is just talking to a tune 

It’s trying to convey something, desperately 

To communicate 

With the added use of futile music 

I’m pretty sure you never understood a word I said 

Still I’m pinning all my sentences on melodies instead 

This one struggles with structure 

It wanders in its rhyme and it’s reason 

They never got me nowhere in my season and time 

Love me like you ought to 

Or leave me if you don’t

Cos I’m tired of talking 

And I’m running out of notes 

Blue sky in the morning 

And birds fly along the shoreline

Beautiful pictures captured in a rhyme 

So love me like you ought to 

Or leave me on the line

Where I’ll sing beautiful pictures

Of my season and time.

Never Lie 

Read yourself a story that you wrote 

Tell yourself whatever lies you like 

I can never lie 

The truth is sharp it hurts my eyes 

Walk around a hole that’s in the floor 

Pretend like you don’t see it anymore 

I can never lie

The truth’s so bright it hurts my eyes 

There’s a sound 

Drowning out all the other sounds 

How do live with that din in your ears? 

If you can only learn to let it lie 

Then all the falling stays up in the sky 

I can never lie 

The truth runs all through my inside 

Just pretend you didn’t hear 

And nothing good will ever disappear 

I can never lie, dear 

The truth is like a needle in my ear 

There’s a sound 

Drowning out all the other sounds 

How do you live with that din in your ears? 

You’re Not Shit At Singing, You’re Just Afraid

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 08: Josienne Clarke performs at Islington Assembly Hall on February 8, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

So i wrote recently about how my guitaring got worse over the last ten yrs because i didn’t feel like a ‘guitarist’ anymore for psychological and emotional reasons. In that piece i promised to write this, to elaborate slightly on my personal observations of the connection between technical ability and frame of mind in singing/playing instruments.

It’s a connection I’ve noticed in myself many times, I play the saxophone, I’ve played it on most of my records but for several years in early 2000’s I was convinced i couldn’t get a note out of it. And while i thought that, I couldn’t. The bottom fell out of my belief in myself and it became true and just as suddenly it became untrue and i merrily toot away on it now. It’s that simple and that complicated.

But i want to talk about singing because its my main skill, the thing I’m kind of known for, you all think I’m good at it and you’re not wrong. But there isn’t a world of inherent genetic difference between you and me, I wasn’t “born with a gift” that’s bullshit. You’ve got the basic physical make-up, the vocal chords you have and so there’s some luck in that but it’s not everything. It’s a small percentage of the overall skill.

MOST IMPORTANTLY the main beauty of singing is YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GOOD AT IT!! You’re allowed to be shit, it’s for everyone. Just open your mouth and something comes out and the act of it is proud and glorious and full of joy. However far from the melody or key you stray you’re still offering something wonderful, the art of participation.

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 08: Josienne Clarke performs at Islington Assembly Hall on February 8, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

I’m not a singing teacher or vocal coach, this is not practical, technical advice. I’ve considered it but singing and teaching other people to, is not the same skill set. So I don’t say this as a tutor i say it as the personal observation of a professional singer. These are my hot opinions not necessarily fact.

According to ME, the good singing equation is: 90% self belief + 10% technique

Going for that high note is a leap of faith, the more you believe you’ll land the other side the more smoothly you approach the jump. So go for lessons of course, they can give you great technical advice and professional support but you need to work on the other 90% just as hard. Allow yourself to fail, learn to love the sound you make, YOUR voice as it naturally, actually is. Croaky, breathy, pitchy, quiet whatever! I can think of an example of great singing in all those categories.

I know, I know easy for ‘Sweet Pipes Clarke’ to say but honestly the secret to my singing is mainly that I’ve always thought I was shit hot at it and I really wasn’t to begin with, I was average, it’s the only thing I’ve ever thought that about so I go for it…

Sing like nobody’s listening

Here I am – aged about 3 singing averagely

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – OCTOBER 17: Josienne Clarke performs on stage at Usher Hall on October 17, 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns)

The making of …a small unknowable thing

I want to talk briefly and gushingly about some of the men behind a small unknowable thing first, it’s a very female album and it promoted that heavily BUT here are the men (& women) who helped me make that possible

Dave Hamblett – Drums

The drumming on this record is standout. I’ve worked with Dave Hamblett for a good few years now and his playing just gets better and better. I was clear in my mind beforehand that I wanted pulse, too many years i have wasted in a previous guise watching my fast thumbed right hand guitaring get replaced by beatless languid over complicated string meandering. So i set Dave with the task of bold, strident nippiness, he’s extremely good at blending into the meld of soft acoustic music so i had to encourage him to play out on tracks like ‘Super Recogniser’ and ‘Sit Out’, but when he gets going it’s really something to see & hear! He’s a real technical master and a perfectionist at his craft, he doesn’t quit till it’s exactly right, every hit of every beat on every drum in his kit. Luckily he’s so good it doesn’t even take long to get it so! He’s also a real collaborative person so he’s equally happy to lay down an electronic drum part and let us pass it through beat repeat and granulator.

Matt Robinson – Keyboards

Keyboards and Synths were central to this record sounding like it does, I began using them on ‘In All Weather’ and i wanted to continue and develop their part in my sound. Matt Robinson is one of the most laid back musicians I’ve worked with he just plays about until the sound is exactly how you want it, just wobbly enough with just the right amount of grit and fuzz, he’s never phased by anything you ask him and so quick to work out from my inexpert explanation what it is I’m trying to ask for

Mike Hiller – Recording, Mixing, Mastering

As someone who has worked in many studio situations with many characters, predominantly male, I was looking for something VERY specific and I had some really firm thoughts about what I didn’t want. The majority of the recording and all the mixing and mastering were done by Mike Hillier. He’s been a reknowned engineer for years and has specialised predominantly in mastering. I’ve had him master many things for me in the past and his work is always superb. I first contacted him because I had a question about mastering, I knew what i wanted but I wasn’t sure how to get it. (this is his absolute sweet spot, he always knows how to make a thing do the thing you want even if the thing you say you want isn’t exactly the thing you want! He always knows!) I was asking about how i need to record and mix the record in order to achieve my intended master. He was able to articulate this perfectly. I then realised if he was a) going to master it in the end anyway and b) knew how it should be recorded and mixed in order for that he would surely be the best person to chaperone & shape it through that process. So i took a deep breath and asked if he would, he said yes and he did. I could not be more pleased with his expertise and effort. He listened so carefully to everything I said and never forgot a note or request I made however small it was. He made great suggestions but never tried to imprint the record with a signature sound. He pushed at the boundaries of my comfort and understanding in certain mixes & subsequently this record is the pinnacle of what i have achieved to date, I learned many things and i grew as an artist in the way that is the hallmark of great collaborative work.

Alec Bowman_Clarke – Bass

Alec Bowman_Clarke played the bass and equally didn’t play bass when it wasn’t needed, he was all about adding only the notes it required. Focussed entirely on the goals I had and helping me achieve them. Obviously he took the cover images, promo photos and directed the videos (there’s still a couple to come!) He’s been in his own quiet way the MOST important person to this process, his skills are superb and mighty useful but more vital is that his support is unwavering, unselfish & the reason I am here today.

Nick Turner – Engineer Extraordinaire

Nick Turner helped with some last minute additional recording at his beautiful Watercolour Studio in Fort William, (which is essentially the local for me now I’m based in Scotland) No-one else knows better than he does how to place a TLM170 in front of my face & recording the guitars with him was fast, furious and an awful lot of fun!

Mary Ann Kennedy is a famous woman of course and she played the harp for me and it absolutely made the track, I love working with her so much and I hope to work more closely with her in the future if she’ll let me!

Learning what I can from the Master!

Other mentions include Aaron Miller who made sure every line of artwork was seamless & straight! Alison Clarke who made all those butterflies, Pias for placing just enough copies in record shops across the globe. Elizabeth Aubrey for writing a stunning bio that framed the record clearly & perfectly. Ellie Ball at SomeoneGreatPR for promoting it sensitively, supportively & superbly. Everyone who’s reviewed, played it on the radio & mentioned it, in print or online.

So it’s done and out there and I hope you like it, cos I do, I thoroughly enjoyed this process with these people, which isn’t a thing i’ve always been able to say. Thank you x

a small unknowable (happy) thing

“by our losses we are defined”

I’ve been having a clear out, literally and generally and I found two old songs i’d completely forgotten about on my computer. I’ve linked to them here. They’re not great songs, one isn’t even finished, the ones that get forgotten usually aren’t for some reason.

They were recorded in 2009 which makes them over a decade old & hearing them was a strange experience, somewhat excruciating as listening to old material can be (I’ve learned a lot since then).

But mainly it’s bittersweet because I realise just how competent the guitaring is, potentially more competent than today. It’s hard to realise that over the last decade my guitar playing got worse, not because I stopped practicing but because I stopped believing it was a thing I could do.

Psychology and emotional frame of mind have so much impact on how well we sing and play technically. (I’ve been thinking to write a whole piece about this concept at some point soon, probably entitled- ‘You’re Not Shit At Singing You’re Just Afraid’)

I stopped being able to hear my own guitar playing as it actually was, a murky fog descended and I heard nothing but incompetence and inability, this changed the way I approached it and made me worse at it. I’m only now emerging out the other side of that and my guitaring is better, I can hear that it is most days, it’s not as good as it will be one day but it’s not an abomination like I once thought!

I’m never gonna teach guitar or hold a fancy masterclass about it but I am able to play my songs on it in public, I can accompany myself, I always could. I just lost my belief in it and my professional structure didn’t encourage me, a woman, to play my guitar.

Encourage your friends, especially women, especially women in male dominated enviroments, they need that, They need you to believe that they can do it, it will help them believe that they can do it.

I lost it but I’ve found it again and my commitment to myself and my own playing is renewed and it will be all the harder to undo in the future.

New Album News

As with most things right now the pandemic has altered the course and trajectory of my latest album. At the end of 2020 I went up to Watercolour studios in Fort William to put down the first bits of the record, my guitar and vocal tracks. We were then due to go again in January to record Drums, keyboards, bass etc and return with the finished article, however a change of restrictions led to a necessary change of plans.

Instead I zoomed into a session Mike Hillier, (a sound professional in all the senses) hosted, closer to home, in which Dave Hamblett and Matt Robinson (world class jazzers and friends) placed their parts upon my original tracks. All the while I barked orders from a small screen on the mixing desk, which Mike relayed over the talkback into the studio. Strange times require strange solutions and as artists we adapt, as we have always adapted, to our ever-evolving industry.

I return to Watercolour soon to record my saxophone parts and where Mary Ann Kennedy will grace my record with her ever classy harp. ( I may also coax a few free double bass notes out of my Alec Bowman_Clarke, he’s got to use that fancy bass for something!) These will all be dumped on the metaphorical internet doorstep of Mike Hillier. He will then be tasked with piecing it all together and eagerly awaiting a thousand neurotic mix notes from me…

Is this protracted patchwork the way I’d have chosen to undergo the making of this album in an ideal world? Fuck no, but am I a) fortunate enough to get to do it anyway b) dextrous enough to work in whatever way the work requires of me? Fuck yes!! I have a small and extremely carefully selected team of people involved who have also made the process as painless and pleasurable as possible.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and what you want to ask “yes but when is it coming out?” The truth is currently it’s hard to say, there is potential delay at every stage and in every aspect of the album making/releasing process at the moment. The thing I can say is I’m doing it, it’s being done now and as soon as I know, so will you. I won’t be quiet about it and there’s little chance of it passing you by…

Thank you for sticking with me

Jx