Chapter 25 – In the strange of the day and the elusive hit song.
So in the last chapter I confessed to being a bit of a pot head during this period. Smoking weed changes your mental state and I found it enabled me to withdraw from the reality of my situation a little. On paper I had it all going on; I was a young artist with the world at her fingertips but behind the scenes I had a lot of issues regarding what lay ahead. First and foremost I was still very much afraid of what being a major label artist would mean and I battled with it constantly. There was no chance of being a left-field niche artist with Sony, they were mainstream and they meant business. I could see my label mates in the public eye, I could hear them on the radio and I could see them in Heat Magazine – being photographed with their skirts tucked in the back of their knickers … that will be me … I’m always getting my skirt caught in the back of my knickers.
If I blew up liked Sony hoped I would, I would be a household name and my life as I knew it would drastically change. I realise that might be a dream come true for some people but come on … think about it … and I mean really think about it. Regardless of how much money you made from it, would you really want that? Because I didn’t. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to be recognised on the street. I didn’t want the skeletons in my closet exposed for all to see. I didn’t want to be photographed in my joggers buying loo roll and I didn’t want my personal relationships to be affected. I didn’t want my life to become a circus. PLUS I was also becoming acutely aware of the push and pull in regards to the music … there seemed to be a definite chasm between the music I loved creating, and the music Sony loved me singing. All these fears kept me up at night, and this is why I smoked weed. But I chose to do this so I carried on moving forward, and in the meantime cannabis provided me with a safety blanket. It didn’t make any of my fears go away, but it enabled me to hide from them … if only for a while.
Most of the producers I worked with weren’t big tokers (as far as I was aware) but there was one producer in particular who andy and I worked with for quite sometime – let’s just call him Buzby. Buzby was an awesome human being. A lovely, warm funny talented producer to boot. He’d had a lot of success with some big well known bands so I was really excited and nervous about working with him. However, within minutes we were rolling fatties and giggling like school friends. We had some great times with Buzby, and we recorded some great songs including one titled ‘Strange of the day’ which was about, coincidentally, smoking weed. These weren’t always the most productive of sessions as you can imagine. Sometimes the three of us would spend AGES in a hazy state of mind working on just one section of a song … which can have a detrimental affect … as overthinking and ‘perfecting’ can sometimes lead to removing the character from something altogether. A valuable lesson I learned years later was it’s often the mistakes and imperfections that can give a song it’s character and that ‘special something.’ Which is evident in old records, as back then artists recorded straight onto tape, warts ‘n’ all. There was no hiding behind auto-tune, just sheer talent and a real ‘performance.’ With technology as it is today, it’s easy, and tempting to iron the life out of something – but inevitably those songs end up having as much character as an old grey dog turd. We are human after all, and the best music reflects that.
As for the weed, it was a good few years before we decided enough was enough. When you’re young it’s easy to lose yourself in things that are bad for us … we tell ourselves we’ve got time to get healthy in our thirties but this was taking it’s toll on us, not to mention our bank account. There’s a lot of info on the addictive nature of cannabis, and many claim it’s not an addictive substance. That may be true for some, but personally I found it extremely addictive, and when I did finally quit my reaction was pretty extreme – I had to sleep on towels because I’d sweat so much though the night I’d soak the bed through (I know, gross right?) I also couldn’t eat, at all … and I love eating. We bought all my favourites but everything I ate came back up and even the smell of food made me physically sick and I lost a stone in weight in under two weeks (and that’s the honest truth). I don’t know anyone else who had a similar experience getting off weed. Do you? It was a horrible time.
That said, don’t get me wrong, this is not me saying ‘Don’t smoke weed kids, it’s bad‘ … you need to make your own history and there’s enough info out there for you to make your own informed decision on such things. To be honest, I loved smoking weed. I loved the buzz, and the way of life that went along with it. But unfortunately, like anything that’s potentially bad for you, there’s always a price if you don’t have a handle on it. In the meantime I had a lot more sessions ahead … and the next one was with Grammy winner producer Martin Terefe and songwriter Nick Whitecross.
The elusive ‘hit song.’
If there was one thing I came to loathe about my experience with Sony it was the constant pressure to find the ‘hit song.’ My repertoire was building up slowly and while Muff loved a lot of the songs I was writing I still needed THE song that would launch me. Consequently the process of going into every session with the intention of leaving with a hit song ended up having such a detrimental effect on me, I eventually came close to wanting to stop writing altogether … and eventually I did, but that wasn’t until much later.
As I’ve mentioned before, songwriting had always been a very natural and private experience for me … but I was now on a conveyor belt of songwriting sessions and I was fast becoming numb to the process. Each experience I had depended on the songwriter I was working with. Many songwriters are musicians first and foremost – and often you are cut from the same cloth and have a mutual love / respect for music – so you create something of worth and leave feeling good about it. If you do find you have a fruitful relationship with another songwriter it’s always worth developing and nurturing that relationship. In those sessions our aim would be to sit and write a great song together, and if that song is later deemed a ‘hit song’ then great! But entering a session with the primary goal of writing a ‘hit song’ can put an incredible amount of pressure on a session. Some writers may thrive on it, though I suspect many may not. After a while I started to feel like a whore to my craft … and just a bit of a cheap sell out. Everything was about hooks, big choruses and provocative edgy lyrics. The feel had gone. I’d go home and listen back to what we’d created and I’d just feel sad.
Because I was a major label artist I’d often walk into some of those songwriting sessions feeling like a prize bull … of course it was in the other writers interest to bag a song on my album but as a result they would (sometimes) totally disregard what I was trying to achieve (whether it was in terms of the sound / direction etc) and they would push the session into a place they thought Sony would like … ie a poptastic house of horrors. I might say something like … “look I’m sorry, this is just not me at all, perhaps if we tried this here blah blah blah” but they would argue their point, and if there was no give I’d just give up and go along with it just to get the session over with – knowing full well this song would never see light of day. Which was a sorry shame. Perhaps those writers assumed I was a pop-dolly who didn’t have a say in what got used on the album … but that wasn’t the case – If I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be used and funnily enough Muff wasn’t never keen on those songs either, because they just weren’t me.
Of course I needed to have hit songs in order to make this a success, but how you get there seems to make all the difference. If you’re a jobbing songwriter who writes songs for other artists your approach is often different from a artist who writes for themselves. It’s different for every writer of course, but when I sit down to write for myself my process and the headspace I’m in is very different from when I sit down to write for another artist – I wear two completely different hats and it’s very hard to wear them both at the same time when writing for yourself. As a result of my experience I now realise how fragile the creative soul is … and how easily it is to dilute it, or worse still, destroy it altogether. As a result, twice in my life I’ve walked away from music for a long period, not knowing if I’d ever return to it. The first time being when I left Sony. I was completely empty. I no longer loved making music, or even listening to music – I didn’t feel anything for it which was a pretty heartbreaking realisation. It had been such a big part of my life for so long, and it took me almost two years to find my way back to it. When I did eventually find my way back I decided I’d only ever wrote alone, or with Andy, and I continue to work like that today. Even if I don’t write a song for months it’s ok, because when I do whatever comes is the genuine article – it hasn’t been forced, or written with an audience / radio station in mind, and even if no one hears it, it still has worth.
Anyway, that was much later on in the story. Back to the matter at hand … it was time to embark on an adventure to the US to write with the big leagues!