You are what you hear

Since moving in with my singer-songwriter friend, new songs have been pouring out of me. Of course, house-sharing can have its disadvantages when it comes to creativity – which is why I was even more impressed that my singer-songwriter friend was up for me moving in with her, as she, like me, lived alone before our current co-habiting situation. But she is a constant inspiration: writing poetry or painting beautiful, huge canvasses when she’s not singing or songwriting or playing her guitar. Oh yes, it’s like Greenwich Village round our way.

What is doubly inspiring about my singer-songwriter friend is that she isn’t some slacker bohemian type doing all the above things while bemoaning her lot or not achieving her ambitions; she is making a huge success of herself. She is confident, and focused, and driven as well as hugely talented – and her drive and hard work is paying off, as she gets fantastic gigs and reviews, and continues to move up the music food chain.

As she touches on jazz – working with jazz musicians, playing some jazz venues and having jazz and blues influences in her music – her music is sufficiently like mine, and yet not like mine, to be inspiring as opposed to competitive. That said, it wouldn’t matter if she *was* a jazz singer. I don’t feel competitive with other jazz singers; I feel inspired by the great and successful ones (note: these two things are not necessarily related) as they spur me on to be great and successful myself. Plus as far as I’m concerned, if everyone is doing their own thing, why in any way are we competition? Everybody offers something unique, their own voice, their own take on life. Or hopefully we do, if we’re doing it right.

I’ve got slightly distracted here ๐Ÿ™‚ . What I actually wanted to write about – to update you on – was my own songwriting.

‘Yosemite’, the only original on my first album, was the first proper song I’ve ever written. Sure, I’ve dabbled before – but I’ve never produced, let alone recorded, a fully fledged song before. People had asked me if I was going to put an original on the album, and initially I’d said no (it’s a particularly daunting prospect – verging on hubris, it felt – to write a song when you’re going to be recording ones by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jobim, and Paul McCartney ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). But as I thought more about it, I realised there was no harm in trying – I could at least attempt a song, and if I wasn’t completely embarrassed by it, put it on the CD.

My starting point was wanting to write what James Taylor calls ‘a fake bossa nova’ (that’s how he once described ‘On The Fourth Of July’). I had been listening a lot to the wonderful album by Luciana Souza, ‘The New Bossa Nova’; and I guess I did the musical equivalent of ‘write what you know’. I knew I wanted to write a gentle bossa nova. And so I did.

Since I recorded and performed ‘Yosemite’ – and got such lovely feedback on it – the thought of writing more songs has been there in the back of my mind; but it is probably a combination of living with an inspiring creative person and falling in love (note: these two things are not related) that has led me to properly sit down at the keyboard over recent weeks and come up with ideas.

And they’ve been coming. ๐Ÿ™‚

As a result, I suspect the next album could be half originals, half covers. Also as a result, I’ve realised that a) if I had started this process years ago, chances are I would now be a Sarah Bareilles-style singer-songwriter-chick-at-the-piano, rather than a jazz singer fronting a quartet; and b) I have been listening to much more pop than jazz recently.

The songs which I’m writing right now have jazz sensibilities, certainly; but there are stompy, pop-style piano chords in there, too; and I realise that listening to Steely Dan, Madeleine Peyroux and Melody Gardot on loop over recent months – all of whom would be described as jazz-crossover artists rather than jazz artists – has clearly influenced what’s coming out of my fingertips and mouth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course – I love that kind of music, and it makes me feel like I am getting even closer to finding out what *my* music is – but it has led me to wonder whether I should be listening to more bebop right now ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

That said, Madeleine, in particular, is constantly inspiring. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see her at the Roundhouse on my birthday last week, and in her understated, musicianly, one-of-the-boys performance (not to mention the similarly inspiring, though slightly less understated, one from her support act, Imelda May), she reminded me of why I do this. It is the best job in the world, bar none, to make music for and with people. And to see the crowd go crazy for her, as she quietly and modestly made the music that appeals to her, simply reinforced again the belief that I just need to get on and make the music I want to make. Whether that’s stompy pop or gentle bossa nova.



  1. Sarah says

    Plus as far as Iโ€™m concerned, if everyone is doing their own thing, why in any way are we competition?

    Hi Andrea, I don’t know that artists are in competition but if they are it is prob down to economics, not art. Available gigs, arts funding, record company budgets, magazine column inches, PR representatives and audiences are not finite. As soon as we aim to commodify our music, we enter into a market place as competitive as any other. I see a huge amount of mutual respect and support among musicians but competitiveness is natural too.

  2. says

    I spent 8 years singing and playing Irish music in a pub in San Sebastiรกn. Our night was Wednesday. On other nights there were other musicians from deep bluesy jazz, pop to Beatles covers. On our ‘off’ nights we would go and see the other musicians. We all came from different traditions/styles/flavours but we all love each other’s music. It was a glorious 8 years of respect and joy for each other and for music. ‘He who sings prays twice’ said St Augustine and I think that’s true. Music unites, uplifts and speaks to and from the soul.

    Liking music is an honour. Making it…a title!

  3. says

    Thanks for your comments, guys. Sarah – Yes, you are totally right about the competitiveness that arises from being in a market place. I suppose what I was referring to was the innate feelings that someone who does something similar to you is your competitor somehow, is someone to ‘beat’, that you are both in a race and only one of you can succeed. Those feelings aren’t of course limited to musicians or those in the arts, but to anyone in any walk of life (although thinking about it, if you’re a competitive sportsman, it probably is a healthy attitude to adopt ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). In my experience, those who feel threatened by others in the same field are often simply insecure or aren’t concentrating on being who *they* are, because as I say, I think that, by definition, when you are being utterly yourself, you will feel less threatened (because what are the chances of someone else having exactly your take or schtick?). I have absolutely learned that the more I concentrate on what *I* can offer, the more confident – and empowered and inspired by others – I have felt, too.

    Donal – Sounds like a lovely time; and I feel exactly the same way about all music being celebrated. For example, I got some grief from total strangers about putting on an iPod Night – that somehow I had stolen the idea of/was trying to cash in on another local night of music in which people brought 7″ singles to play to others. Apart from the fact that I didn’t even know about the existence of this other night, my main feeling was ‘Why in anyway is this competition or a threat? Liking one doesn’t prevent you from liking the other. Surely all music events – anything which encourages people to share and enjoy music – are to be celebrated?’

  4. Sarah GIllepsie says

    ola love…exactly i wd say competitivness at its best is more like a fruitful combination of pragmatism, humility and awe… aka ‘Rock and Awe’ :-)xx