One-half of the West Sussex bluesy alt-rock duo shares her songwriting essentials, including Stanley the cat and his weird meow
The atmospheric music of Smoke Fairies has now swirled its way through six studio albums and one live offering [becoming the first UK band to release a single on Jack White’s Third Man Records along the way]. Since their 2007 debut Strange The Things, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies have performed their own brooding alchemy on the worlds of alt-rock, blues, folk and beyond. New album Darkness Brings The Wonders Home was inspired by mysteries and mythical creatures and is a suitably smoky offering from the duo. Drawn into their world, we asked Katherine and Jessica to reveal their essential writing kit to us…
This is a guide for an undisciplined songwriter. Some people that say you should write every day but that idea has only ever left me feeling inadequate and lazy. There are enough things to feel bad about not doing so I only ever write when it feels good and I’m in the mood.
1. A SPARK
All songs need something to spark them off. Songs sparks can come out of the blue from anywhere so you need to be alert to them at all times. They can be melodical or lyrical. Sometimes lyric inspiration comes from books, poems, conversations, passing conversations, views from windows, weird views expressed by people you come across. Melodical inspiration is a bit more fun. For example, the photocopier at work makes a weird barely audible electronic melody when it’s churning out copies. Only I can hear it and my colleagues think I’m crazy when I sing it back to them but it’s actually quite catchy so I’m planning to use it for a guitar riff at some point.
My cat Stanley does this weird meow when he is especially pissed off about not being fed, it’s fun to mimic that with the guitar and see where that riff can go. If you can’t find a spark, return to something you’ve shelved and perhaps it’s been sat there waiting for you to pick it up again and make sense of it. Never feel you have wasted your time writing and be sure to keep records of unfinished songs and demos so you can return to them.
2. AN INSTRUMENT
Once you have your spark there will be an impetuousness to write a song. That’s when it’s good to grab an instrument and start fleshing it out. We’ve written with guitars, xylophones and pianos. This is usually the exciting phase of songwriting where there is so much promise and anything is possible but after you’ve crossed out everything you have written it’s usually best to move on to the next stage…
3. AN ACTIVITY TO DISTRACT YOUR MIND
If you are struggling to finish, or even get started with a song, get up and walk away from it. Admitting defeat is the lazy option but a focused mind can sometimes be a hindrance. Go wash the dishes or go for a run or do some gardening and the ideas might just start to flow. I wrote the lyrics in my head to Eclipse Them All when I was painting a wall, so it can work. Look around you, and switch off. An hour staring out of the window is never an hour wasted.
4. TEA AND BISCUITS, WINE
If you are trying really hard to finish a song, there will be an element of procrastination involved and that’s where tea and biscuits come in. Wine… If you’ve had a really stressful day, it can be hard to disconnect and find that creative self that’s been crushed out of your system. Have a nice glass of wine, pick up the guitar and embrace the joy of being in your own company. Associate music with unwinding and letting go and explore the weird things you’ve been thinking that you haven’t articulated to anyone else.
5. TIME AND SPACE
Sometimes you need to be alone to totally feel at ease with your ideas as they pop out. Find space away from the world so you can murmur tunes and mutter random sentences that spring to mind without feeling self-conscious. Self-consciousness is the enemy of natural creativity. However, sometimes it’s hard to get space and sometimes when you finally get it you don’t feel inspired. I find it’s good to store up ideas, so when the space comes you’re ready for it.
Darkness Brings The Wonders Home was released 31 January and the group are currently in the middle of a UK tour. Watch the music video for the duo’s latest single Chew Your Bones and further songwriting insight can be found on the duo’s podcast Smoke Signals. For all this and more, head to smokefairies.com