Diary Of A Songwriter: Emily Breeze
With a single to launch and songs to write, it’s a very busy week for this Bristol-based gothic pop artist
You can’t help but sit up and take notice when an artist has been described as both, “A 21st century Patti Smith,” and, “A Lou Reed, Trent Reznor hybrid.” Thankfully, Bristol-based chanteuse Emily Breeze can back up such hyperbole with her menacing and charismatic noir pop stylings. Her most recent single, Ego Death, gives voice to the internal monologue taking place during a bus commute through Bristol’s urban landscape. It’s a world of carbon footprints, credit ratings and Greggs coffees – viscerally brought to life by Breeze.
Here, she describes the week leading up to the single’s launch; including her attempts at writing songs inspired by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the all-consuming internet age…
I teach in a music college, many aspects of this job are rewarding and joyful. My students are hilarious and I get a kick out of the lightning bolt ideas I have when solving someone else’s creative problems. Unfortunately, I am also drowning under a tsunami of administrative tasks, planning and marking and I have to organise the launch for our new single Ego Death on Friday. I feel compelled to use this as an excuse not to do anything creative (which is ironic as that is supposed to be the thing I want most to do in the world). I commit to writing for two hours.
I have just finished a song, so the decks are clear and I must scour my imagination for a new subject. The Charles Manson women? Too clichéd, Lana Del Ray has already referenced Manson and he is the most mainstream cult leader. I revisit an old idea based on a Jehovah Witness pamphlet “All Suffering Soon to End”. My version is an apocalyptic love song, screwing as the world goes up in flames. I push the idea around and poke it with a stick but I can’t get a strong enough angle. I move on and read through the crazy notes and old lyrics I have stored up. “Baby I’ll Help You Bury the Body”. A strong song title which would work well as a list of all the twisted things we do for love. What rhymes with ‘body’? I consult RhymeZone. “Daddy?” “Bawdy?” Too weird. “Bourgeoisie?” Too pretentious. “Divorcee?” Strong, but won’t sing well. “MONEY!” I can work with that.
Nothing happens, I go off the idea. Why does everything have to be about death anyway? I resolve to be less immature and read some Adam Curtis quotes in a vain attempt to say something meaningful.
I get home at 7pm. I am worn out and rained on but I have steak and wine so am in good spirits. I spend too long trying to create a fan link (don’t ask) and update Bandcamp so people can buy my music. I am also haunted by the lingering spectre of incomplete PPL and PRS registrations. I must shake off these earthbound endeavours and launch myself into the creative stratosphere.
I am interested in the internet. The brand new beast, the spying eye which we all ran arms out towards crying freedom and connectivity. This is the data-mining, digital church in which we all now reside. Computer scientist Jaron Lanier refers to it as, ‘The dawn of the new everything,’ (which does sing well). The burgeoning era of the internet was powered by renegades and turbo nerds but now our preferences and private searches are being monitored and monetised by powerful forces with sinister motives. Even Mark Zuckerberg had no idea when he created Facebook as a system to rate Harvard hotties out of ten that he would end up with the blood of Brexit and Trump’s presidency on his hands. The geek shall inherit the earth.
The results are dire, objectively bad. I conclude that some things are not meant for songs and this cannot be tackled head-on. Everything Is Free Now by Gillian Welch is a stunning side-eyed appraisal. She approaches the idea from behind the barrel of a distant sniper rifle and you have to be forensically examining the song to get the message, but it’s the feeling I am looking for. The feeling of everything falling apart under the weight of consumerism was perfectly executed by Radiohead’s 1997 depressathon Fitter Happier. It’s too big, it’s beautiful. I back off.
I am reminded of Adam Curtis… ‘Don’t write a book about it. And don’t tweet about it. Don’t tell anyone.’
I finish work at six and wait at a cold dark bus stop to be unceremoniously shunted to the other side of Bristol for band practice. We are all tired, overstretched and too old to harbour any teenage dreams about our efforts being rewarded by music industry overlords. There is something very pure and beautiful about this. We are here because this is what we have always done and will always do. The band are a joy to work with. Highly skilled and inventive, they anoint the songs with grit and glamour and I always end up pissing myself at all the bizarre and childish in-jokes, weird noises, dances and nicknames that anyone who has ever been in a band will be familiar with. We run through the set for our single launch on Friday. We are ready.
I work from 9 in the morning till 8 at night at an event. I go to the pub and have a strange and embarrassing emotional outburst. I drink too much just to make sure I am disorientated and dishevelled for our launch show the next day, in an act of sabotage. I do not attempt to write a song. I go to sleep.
For anyone reading this who is not in a band, the hour you spend on stage is the smallest fraction of the affair. Mostly we move heavy equipment around and question our sanity. I have booked the venue and promoted the show myself so I do not stop moving tables and chairs, sorting out the playlist, prepping the door person and endless other tiny tasks until the first few people start coming through the door. Our friends Modulus III support. They are outrageously good and somehow allow improvised, avant-garde Krautjazz to feel sexy and dangerous. I am too nervous to watch them properly though and this venue has the rare luxury of a dressing room where I can hide and try not to throw up.
We hit the stage, the room is full. The crowd is a gorgeous boozy, swaggering beast and it is an untold pleasure to see people singing, swaying and snogging to our slow sad songs. I feel a powerful sense of unity with the other players in the band and the audience too. There are moments of interplay which crackle with black magic and joy and whilst acting like a smouldering bitch from hell I am secretly feeling very grateful to everyone who has come along with me on this weird ride. It is difficult to describe because the best gigs are an out-of-body experience in which I stop being conscious of myself and everything else, that is why it is so addictive. For a moment god lets go of the scruff of your neck and you are free.
Ego Death is out now. For all the info, go to emilybreeze.bandcamp.com