This song started completely differently in early production. Despite being the first song on the album it was actually completed as one of the last. It began as a bittersweet slow piano ballad but was always a mantra for someone close to me. Naturally I ended up wanting it to be a more empowering track, something that felt joyful or hopeful. Basically without much thought I starting playing the piano chords with this arpeggiated bubbling synth line on my Dave Smith and then it instantly all just fell together in about an hour. Even the lyric started to feel much more potent. Adding layers of simple 4/4 beats with an energetic string line rather than having layers off-kilter rhythms and counterpoint melody felt really refreshing and instantaneous. It was a lesson in simplicity for me and a good reminder of how to say something really important but with a lightness of touch. The song is supposed to echo the passion and brightness of youthfulness before the music takes you deeper into the rabbit hole of the mind. It’s a smile and welcome and a reminder that despite the heavy subject matter of the record, life isn’t all complex, forbidding and tragic. Being cared for and caring for others is a simple thing really.
I love the idea of standing on the edge of a great city height, looking at the architecture, the whirr of the lights, traffic, and life below ready to get involved or take a step back with a detached perspective. When you are young anything seems possible, there is less fear, more hope, a passion with the bright lights of perceived success all twinkling in the city but there is always an underbelly to any city pulling you in. In the production the distorted synths and electric guitars mix with misleading found sounds and echo the lyrics of “come follow me”. I love Micachu’s score to the film Under The Skin and the beginning here and in "Don’t Take It Out On Me" is a small nod to Jonathan Glazer’s view from the outsider’s world. As I get older, things become a little more distorted, memories are discarded like old skin but new ones grow like tree roots under the pavement.
This is supposed to be a fun and lighthearted song and the only one on the record with no hidden undercurrent or tragedy! It’s hard not to write a miserable song, you know…
It was written quickly on a trip to my homeland of Donegal, Ireland, a place I love to visit and see family. The people and place are full of memories for me, old and new and with each time I go back. I wanted the lyrics to reveal an ease and happiness, seeing over and beyond any troubles. When I’m back in London, I imagine looking at the tawny hills that speak volumes with their past… these are moments of pure joy and optimism in life for me to treasure and keep safe. When I think of my granny Joyce, these are the moments I can’t help but imagine she kept safe too. The synth lines are simple and the flow of the production I wanted to keep natural and organic like the countryside, the melody is sung like the skyline on the road trip as we made our way down to the coast and the middle section even sees me panting like a dog on the mic… yup, rightly or wrongly I figured Kate Bush would have done that..
I spend a lot of time driving late at night after shows and rehearsals, often on my own through traffic, in and out of cities, and London in particular. There is a lot more time for me to reflect at night and to see what is happening all around. Many ideas and inspiration comes from those journeys and it's always quite surreal to imagine in every darkened room passed, people are sleeping, in a different world, whilst life drives by them and the radio still plays hits into the nighttime. I’m really fond of the rhythms and score on this one. I chopped up samples of traffic recordings to make the beats and wanted lush string lines to give the dreamy and melancholy sense of past and present tense.
I love the Golden Age of cinema and the scores, from Morricone to Herrmann and there is supposed to be an ominous, Hitchcock-type orchestral sample at the start here. It was actually taken from a show I was working on at Sadler’s Wells; during rehearsals I recorded it on my phone, but I pitched it down so it steps and sounds strange, almost circuit bent. It marks a change in the album and the start of a change in the brain. Words are repeated and so is the woodwind’s hypnotic refrain. To me it feels like the mind is starting to jolt and drop memories while the fragility of memory is echoed with each breath. Darker memories can creep in to replace positive ones and I’m afraid to be seen as getting older and more vulnerable. The unblinking emotion of the mind feels like stone but starts to flow and erupt towards the end of the song. I often wonder if domestic or abusive memories are replaced by more positive ones as we get older or whether the mind treats them both as equal. I like to think the more positive ones remain and provide the comfort needed.
Awake But Always Dreaming is out now via My Own Pleasure.