Murky Waters - the backstory  

How does one describe innate fear? 

I wrote the song Murky Waters as a co-write, lyrics only, and left the rest to my songwriter partner on the track Will Fergusson. He and I have shared a conflictual relationship. We... fight. Every rehearsal. We agree on nothing except food. But through music we have spent much time together.

He always took me to water sources - river, lake, sea. His favourite river is the one that he grew up with, the River Deben in Woodbridge. He lives by the Toaist mantra "be like water". He has much water about him generally. The trips to the sea and lakes and rivers were pleasant on the whole... except that each time, I'd begin to feel afraid. It is true that I almost drowned when I was six and have become a committed swimmer ever since. Maybe one day I will beat the waves. But I don't think it was that. It was a fear of something I couldn't name. An omnipotent element and the limitlessness of a musical genius I had not seen before? I don't know.  

The lyrics came in a matter of minutes; I didn't edit them despite their flaws. And of the 12 sets of song lyrics I gave to Will, he chose only Murky Waters. There is no other instrumentation on the track, just piano and vocals. 

This is a song that was born spontaneously and one that has a life of its own. I don't want to tamper with Murky too much.  

Some things you can't explain. 

Click the pic for the song

 

Finding your voice  

A friend recently told me that she'd gone to see a vocal therapist because she was unhappy that her voice lacked stature. In certain social contexts, it would rise and turn to a squeak. She was nervous - and her voice showed it. 

Interesting... 

If your voice reflects your emotions, then what does that say about the nature of voice? Is it a vehicle for emotional communication? Or is it, itself, an emotion? 

Some people think speech is a left-brain thing, while singing is right brain; it's why people like Carly Simon can sing fine, but stutters when she talks. 

I find this topic so interesting because a long time ago, I lost my singing voice because of an emotional problem. From a potentially professional singer - to silent, overnight. It was like being cut from the root. It took me ten years to connect and heal.

Ten years without a note.

The best word for it was agony. You'll hear a lot of artists use that word when they are separated from their art. It was agony. 

Luckily, I healed, but I wonder what it was about voice that meant that of all the things I lost, the vocal loss was so final. Not a note for ten years. Hmmm. 

 

Love Through the Ages  

The most disturbing experience of love I ever had was opening a book of Disney's Beauty and the Beast when I was at the dentists about to get my teeth cleaned, and feeling like I had returned to source: love was an idea that had first been shown to me as a frothing yellow dress. Omg: love was Disney. No. Life was Disney.

 

I realised in that moment that we are so bombarded with love as some primal form of salvation that we don't think a meaningful life is possible without it.  Meaning, did Paleolithic man value love above... building a massive shrine out of bark and cawing at it? If we don't marry and fall in love, is life just a blank meaninglessness? If life were less commercial, would we even have it? 

Love isn't really working for me. If it comes, I kill it. And besides, the best times I've had recently are enjoying the things that tell about the human experience, but not love. I saw this incredible cellist called Gyda Valtysdotir at the Arts Centre on a Tuesday evening. I was blown away by this haunting birdlike woman tapping into another world. The whole room was captivated. I've also just finished reading Sapiens. The best bit was thinking relatively about human happiness and whether ancient civilisations measured happiness in terms of material comforts like we do. I love that idea. I'd honestly not thought of that before. The worst bit was learning that man has and always will destroy everything in his path, first with fire, then greed. So humanitarianism isn't actually human. Hmm. That's awkward but fact. 

Love didn't really come into it. And what's more, nothing really ever makes me happier than singing a song or better, writing one that is beautiful. I've a way to go before I reach my musical pinnacle, but the journey is the joy of this lifetime. Am I missing something? 

Maybe it is that good. Or maybe we are all just bored. 

Either way, now that we have supermarkets we can devote all our best hours to love. And nothing is truer evidence of that fact than a quick scan of the number of love songs in existence since we deified love over an actual deity.

More stories like this, and a walk through time, at my next gig at Bermuda Bob's this Valentine's Day. Playing with the incredible Will Fergusson on keys, it's a night of love songs through the ages, from Classical, Musical Theatre, Jazz, Pop and some originals. Timberhill, Norwich, 8pm onwards!

 

How to find your own voice: the dangers of belting  

It's a complex beast, finding the different vocal technique that suits you as a singer. The difficulty is that singing coaches will observe popular singers and work out mechanically the techniques they use to achieve certain effects, maybe belting for impressive diva-esque renditions of our favourite ballads or shrieking top notes in rock anthems. 

But your instrument is unique to you. So how do you find a technique that serves you?  

My biggest issue in singing was to embrace my own voice rather than feeling that I needed to belt to be a 'good' singer. Belting, hurts me, a lot. Two songs in and my voice is fried. I trained classically because my voice likes classical singing. Doesn't mean I sound like a pointy-titted opera singer, but my voice wants to sing in a head-mix register. It's happy there. So it's my job to appropriate that technique to the style I like, rather than twisting my natural voice into a shape to which it doesn't want to conform. 

How to find that out?

I've found the best thing you can do for your voice, is sing well written songs. Well-written does not necessarily mean popular: most often, it's those that do not meet modern standards of effective songwriting. Better, are songs whose melodies move around, and require a controlled vocal treatment; say some of the old Jazz standards. Most of these songs follow the tradition of older styles of songwriting, that originated from blues or folk or opera or some combination of those, but their melodies tell a story on their own, while the note sequences and intervals force you to control and navigate your breath control in ways that contemporary pop doesn't. 

Take 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'. In the second note, you have an octaval leap, eight notes. In Adele's Hello, you have one, "He-llo". Though she does reach a high belt at the chorus of the song, this is a power note that requires a vital push, a force of thrust to deliver on the emotion. Not my favourite style, but it has its merits. I just worry that all these songs are really inherited from the soul tradition, that is a wonderful, but only a singular tradition in our very varied musical landscape. The lift in the song is generally, power rather than the quiet or pause. If I forced myself to mimic Aretha Franklin, I'd get nowhere. 

But human emotion can be more subtle. It can twist and contradict. It can fall and rise in the same breath. It can whimper rather than scream. It can be silent. It can be an echo. All this can come out in a more nuanced melody, but more importantly, one that demands muscular control of the breath and support of the note that expresses complex emotions subtly. 

If you want to learn how to sing, sing the first two phrases of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in one breath. Sing it loudly. Sing it quietly. Vary it. But control every note and do it until you are in full control. Record yourself, work out which is best. Thereafter, your singing muscles will grow. This is yoga of the voice. And you will be on your way to finding what works, for YOU. 

 

Probably the only song that has or ever will start with the word Wittgenstein 

Wittgenstein.

Not a word you hear very often in a song, not a love song. But his words rule my mind more than mine, and more than love.

If you think on a word long enough, you'll find yourself in oblivion. And I've thought on you so long, I'm lost.

No words, no words for you. 

 


So goes my next song, the first from my next EP 'The Dark Hand of Love'. A magical, philosophical, more serious bunch of tracks that challenge the instruction I was given on vocal technique, song structure and style. I was told not to discuss themes that a wide audience wouldn't understand. I could think of no better way to start my first song than with the word Wittgenstein. 

Wittgenstein doesn't have an obvious place in musical territory given that he was an analytic philosopher of Maths and Logic; except that Brahms was a regular at his home in Austria; he would listen to music with the same fury he puzzled over Logic; and he was a mystic. Suddenly, we are not so dissimilar. 

I came across him at school, around the same time that I lost my singing voice. Maybe because I was suddenly not able to communicate any longer through my natural voice, I found conversations about meaning and language poignant. His theory developed from book to book, but generally the journey is: a) the world is the totality of facts so words have meaning so long as we can picture them in our minds; b) then later that pictures aren't as important as how words are used in language games, so meaning is determined by use; c) and finally at the end of his life, he went on to distinguish between absolute certainty and absolute knowledge as being categorically distinct, thereby evading most of the problems that philosophers like him grapple with. 

Blah blah. 

Philosophy had its place in my life at one time: I used it to find my voice again; but that is a bigger story for another time. I don't need Wittgenstein anymore; but when I find myself lost, his words come to me.

Like during a recent romance when I found myself unable to understand someone and even more unable to express why. Some people can't be defined. Some emotions can't be defined. Sometimes - there are simply, 'No Words'. 

Watch the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upUzwWwoOBI

 

Where and what is home?  

As we fast approach the Soup Kitchen Boogie on May 13th, the theme on everyone's mind seems to be "home". 

In fact, I went to a fabulous contemporary dance show at the Norwich Arts Centre last week called Home Solo. Hayley Matthews and Hej Jones combined lights, music, dance and the spoken word to explore the notion of what it feels like to be at home in one's own skin. It was mesmerising to watch her. That's Hayley below. She's in London and NYC in the coming months- don't miss it! Learn more here

Home is the subject of my next single. Or at least, the search for home. It's a word that describes a place; a feeling; an entitlement and a practice.

And one that I have never understood: 

My mum is Indian and my dad British-Canadian. I was born in Holland. I lived with my mum until I was 11 - we moved from Maastricht, to Calcutta and then to Toronto - until I left her to live with my dad who had moved from Norway to Oxfordshire. His wife is Italian. He sent me to boarding school in Edinburgh but I did my A-levels in Oxford. In total, I went to eight schools and when I'd finished, he moved to Italy. The next Christmas I had at "home" was ten years later. 

Where do I come from? 

Mixed race nomad. Rootless cosmopolitan. No clue, basically. 

I'm not alone. Third Culture kids are a function of modern life. We have a wikipedia entry now. Do read; it's a brand new category of life. 

It's quite interesting as a story for people to hear; it's quite interesting to live it; but not having a home can be terribly lonely. I would say, it's unnatural not to have a nest. I'm grateful for the colours of my journey, but I probably wouldn't raise kids this way. Strong roots over epileptic branches. 

Stories make for good songs though. My next release is called Sceptre, and it's is the story of my search for home. Ironically, it's the song that is guiding me to my musical home - harps, soft guitars and tribal beats see a more organic sound. Even my vocal register is more true to me.

Amazing how the arts have all the answers. 

Next month release. Enjoy. Please do pledge to support the homeless, they need it. Facebook fundraiser here

 

 

 

The music of Moscow  

What an absolute blast. To be back in Moscow after five years? A blast yes, but in the sense that I really felt like my memories blasted me back from the dead. 

Moscow was the city from which I launched my music career back in 2012. Recently free from the shackles of my enormous university debt, I found myself richer and freer than ever before (it's a tragic thing when you can't pursue your real mission in life because of something as lame as money). 

I remember I met a guy called Pavel in a bar. He said he was a producer and was looking for a singer. I offered. I had never been in a studio before. I told him I had. I had never used a studio mic before. I told him I had. 

I arrived to a find him at his desk, a mic'd room to the left and little more to the song than the bass line. 

"What do you want me to do?"

"Anything, here's the bass line" 

"I don't get what you mean, where is the song? I thought I would be singing." 

Blank face. 

Luckily I'd brought my lyric book with me. We wrote the song in the studio. And then recorded it. 

Next thing I knew, it had been signed to a label, put on an Ibiza compilation album and played on the radio in Europe. I think the figures are currently 40,000 hits on Youtube. 

 

Thank you Moscow. You made me. 

 

It's all in the light sometimes  

Spent the day in a pub.

I ate a Ploughman's lunch and had a cup of tea. I didn't know about this pub when I set off, I just wanted somewhere to write and couldn't trust what I read online. Attleburgh. I turned left off the roundabout and the first thing I saw was this pub. I spent the day writing the book that describes how I lost my voice, the book that will accompany my album, an album I wrote two years ago. It's a thing - a multidimensional mission, all my learnings so far. And then there will be round 2 and probably 3. But this is round 1. 

I rewrote the first chapter.  I've done two of the three parts of the book so far but I need to edit before I start the finale. I'm a better writer now, weave the world and the narrative; story and conception. Writing needs time. Long stretches so you can think in long stretches. And a lot of energy. It takes a lot of give to be creative. 

Anyway, it's a book about creativity and the power of Creative Light. It's a book about light.

And then I read an article about Wittgenstein who was the only philosopher I could ever relate to. He talks about how confused everyone is. And then I looked out and saw the light of the sky.

And then I thought, I better write my blog so you all know, that if artists go into hiding, it's probably cos they're getting ready for the show. 

 

Alright... so my EP wasn't what I was expecting.  

Yeah. I thought it would be a way to burst my new found identity onto the stratosphere of a fresh life; a harmonious world of wispy angels floating on harp-shaped clouds and singing in a perfect ten part harmony of alelujia. 

But instead, I was reminded of an industry that I'd left many years before - music, like everything else, is business. 

How can I put this so you can understand. I.... got ripped off. Not much more I can say really. It was the second of the two times that I'd been robbed in the industry, the first being when I wrote and recorded a song in the studio, which was then sold to a label without my approval and vanished into a whiff of nothing. I know it made something because I bought the record myself. Not a penny. I can assure you. 

My conclusion? This industry was not for me. What I'd spent had been a serious investment. I worked round the clock. I'd got sick and kept on. I'd tried. It wasn't for me. Fine. Hence my silence. 

But lo and behold, it's not that easy to quit when you've got guardian angels. I really don't know what else to call them. Somehow, I ended up with some good news. 

An old friend got in touch and asked me to do a charity gig for the homeless. Yes. I would love to. sometimes, you gotta give back, especially when things aren't working out. 

 

 

And soon after that, this: 

 

Now I'm meeting some new band members and I think the tide is turning. 

What I can say is that for all my experiences with the EP I learned one thing: choose wisely. There are good people out there, there have to be. 

 

And onto Phase 2. 

 

 

One EP done!  

So! I'm done with the first round of my music career and what a cracking year it was!

Semi-finalist in the UK Songwriting Contest, Regional Finalist in Open Mic UK, 5 times picked up by BBC Norfolk, three times by Future Radio, live set with Shoreditch radio and countless gigs. 

I learned an awful lot this year. I learned about what it takes to get good news and bad news. I learned about the importance of professionalism in music as in any other job. I learned about practice. I learned to keep my voice healthy. 

Most all, I learned to listen. Not to the many voices of the industry that will make decisions for you that you don't necessarily agree with, but my inner voice to guide me on my rightful path in music. 


And best of all: I attracted the attention of some important voices for my future career. Watch this space. 2017 is my year. 

Love Naomi.