Susanna O'Leary and I cover "You Will Be My Ain True Love", written by Sting, originally recorded by Alison Krauss.Read more
Ever since recording my song Somehow (You Always Leave Me In Tears) for the Independent Music Project, my friend Nathan Hoad has been volunteering to make a music video.
Inspired by my lyric "to the sea where we met", his idea was to film on the beach in Shorncliffe, a quiet, seaside suburb on the outer edges of Brisbane. His heart was set on filming along the historic and rustic Shorncliffe Pier, one of the longest timber piers in Australia, which reaches over 300 metres into the beautiful Bramble Bay.
The song, if you haven't noticed, is pretty darn melancholy. This meant we had to wait until the weather was moody and grey. But this last summer in Brisbane has been relentlessly long, hot, and full of matte blue skies. In any other situation this may be considered idyllic - I'm sure there are about 9 million people in Sweden who are incredibly jealous right now - but it wasn't the right setting for the song. After all, who can be sad under a blue sky? We didn't want viewers to think, "Look at the weather, woman! Get over that guy you're singing about and go for a swim!". No. We wanted the viewer to feel the emotion of the song. To think, "Now THAT'S a dreary sky. No wonder she's miserable. I'll make her a cup of tea.".
So, one Sunday afternoon in February, when autumn was wandering up the footpath and the weather forecast yelled "Clouds!", Nathan, his partner in crime Lilly Piri, and I, drove up to Shorncliffe. (Well, Nathan drove, and I sat in the back fiddling with my nail polish).
We arrived to discover the weather there was PERFECT! Layers and layers of thick grey clouds. Rain-free. More wind than a wind machine on a Beyonce set.
I was really excited. Then, I heard disappointment coming from Nathan's corner. "The one thing I really wanted to film was the jetty". We looked over and saw that Shorncliffe Pier was closed off, surrounded by the plastic orange skirting indicative of construction sites. Apparently, a wooden pier that was built in the 1880s needs a bit of mending every now and then, assumably to stop small children from falling through mouldy wood. Fair enough.
It was time for Plan B. If only there was another jetty-type structure nearby!
And if only there weren't children playing on this other structure! You know, the sort of children who would have fallen through the mouldy wood of our Plan A Pier if it weren't closed for renovation! They'll get bored soon and leave. What should we film in the meantime?
Shorncliffe beach isn’t your typical Queensland beach. There’s sand, but it’s not the pristine creamy type you’d see on the Gold Coast. It's much darker. But what it does have, is rocks. Lots and lots of beautiful rocks, in 49 shades of grey. Lilly suggested we keep an eye out for animals on the beach, and we found a delightful little crab, nestled in between rocks. I'd like to thank Annabel Crab - or Leonardo Di Crabrio, as I'm not sure of its gender - for appearing in the second shot of the video.
We'd decided in advance to film the video in slow motion, so that the movement of the waves and the wind would look more dramatic. I also wanted to try that special music video technique where the artist is seen singing in time to the music while his or her body moves in slow motion. Coldplay's Yellow is a good example of this.
How is the effect achieved? The singer mouths along to a sped-up version of the song while the video is filmed at a slower frame rate. It's then stretched in the edit suite, and voila! Mouth in time, hair gracefully blowing in the wind.
You may notice in the video that I’m carrying a tiny silver handbag. I was secretly carrying my phone, which had a version of the song at double-speed. When Nathan was ready to film, I’d hit play in iTunes, pop it back into the bag, and sing along.
This is harder than it looks, because even a slow song that’s been doubled in speed sounds FAST! I spent at least an hour the night before practicing at the new speed, and it felt very strange not being able to sing long notes. All my singing standards had to be thrown out the window, just so I could get my mouth around those sprinting-leopard words. My next release will be rap.
When the kids left our Plan B jetty, we raced up there and Nathan filmed me walking along it, back and forward. It was so windy up there that Nathan had to hold down his tripod and my hair was performing an interpretive dance.
Finally, Nathan filmed me sitting on the edge of the jetty, staring at my necklace as though it had an important meaning. And it kind of does. It was a handmade item I bought from the South Bank Young Designers Markets at least six years ago. I love its whimsical design reminiscent of Celtic illustration, and it's been all around the world with me. As a possible ending, we filmed me pretending to throw it into the ocean, but I'm morally against flinging sinkable objects into the sea.
Nathan took the footage away and a very speedy two days later he showed me the clip! A big thank-you to both Nathan and Lilly for their hard work on this. You can check out their other artistic endeavours at their Little Nebula YouTube Channel.
As for the song, did you know you can buy it? Or stream it? Find it on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, and an ocean of other places.
Thanks for reading, watching and listening!
Since releasing my first music video late last year for “Funky T-Shirt”, I've often been asked how it was made. Then, last week, I received an email from the wise and entertaining entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who I'd written to about something completely different. He had obviously checked out my website though, because immediately he wrote that he was watching the video. "God, that must have taken some patience!" he said. "Paid off, though."
Firstly, there was some freaking out on my behalf that Derek Sivers had watched my video. (Derek founded CD Baby, my online distributor, and these days makes excellent speeches like this one). Secondly, YES IT DID take some patience!
When brainstorming the kind of video I wanted, originally I envisioned a live-action dance video with me prancing around in a cute t-shirt and a tulle skirt. (It may still happen). But then I thought about how the song describes the little thrills we get from seeing a hilarious quote or cute illustration on a t-shirt, and I began googling animators and illustrators, thinking this may be a better direction.
One Sunday evening, I discovered Soymilk Studio - a Brisbane-based company who make stop-motion animation with craft materials. The company was founded by illustrator Paul Lalo and designer Jenni Vigaud.
Two things stood out to me:
1. Paul and Jenni were French-born and between the two of them had trained in France and Denmark. Big points. I love cute, chic, understated European style and wanted that sensibility on the video.
2. Their work was adorable, thoughtful and clever. Check out their sweet short film about the designer of the Sydney Opera House, "Mr Utzon":
I sent them the song, asking if they'd consider meeting to discuss making a lyric video. To my good fortune, they liked the song so much that they wanted to make something a little more...adventurous. At our second meeting when Paul was telling me their ideas, he said to me, “We like to do things the hard way”, followed by, “So we need t-shirts. LOTS of t-shirts!”.
Paul and Jenni are experts in stop-motion animation: the technique that’s used to make television shows like Pingu and Wallace and Gromit. A photo is taken of a clay figurine in one position, the figurine’s arm or leg is moved a fraction, and another photo is taken. After hours and hours of taking photos and adjusting clay body parts, the photos are stitched together. That's when Pingu no longer looks like a static pile of clay, but a waddling penguin. Where Paul and Jenni’s work differs is, they’ll animate using materials like felt, wood and paper, and incorporate illustration.
But, they hadn’t tried this technique before with a human. I was to be the first! I would be that clay figurine, having my limbs moved millimetres at a time.
The plan was for me to don multiple coloured t-shirts in the choruses. And in the verses I would wear white t-shirts, illustrated by the team. Hand-illustrated. With a fabric marker. To give the effect that a cartoon was happening on my shirt. These days, it’s far easier to draw an image with a computer and digitally layer that over a t-shirt. But remember how I said Paul and Jenni like to make things the hard way? Authenticity is cool. So I was in.
Our first step was to collect coloured t-shirts for the choruses. Paul and Jenni threw a party and invited friends to bring their most eye-catching shirts, and I dug out whatever shirts I could find at home. By the end, we had piles and piles of shirts!
Then, we sourced other materials for the shoot. I ordered over 100 plain white t-shirts for Paul and Jenni to draw on. In the end we only used about half of them (and returned the unused), but that's still an awful lot of drawing!
The shoot took place in the co-working space Salthouse where Soymilk Studio was based. The day before we started shooting, Paul filmed me singing along to the track so we'd have a visual record of all the correct mouth shapes.
The next day, I was seated in front of a green screen, facing Paul with his computer, and another large monitor. On this, I could see the video of my singing from the day before. We'd freeze the video every few frames and I'd have to move my mouth into the exact position that I could see on the screen. Sounds easy, right? It’s surprisingly difficult. Paul would be saying things like, “Close your mouth a little more. A little more. Hold there!”. The goal was to piece the still photos together so it would look like I was singing the song, but in a more choppy way. (Check out "In Your Arms" by Kina Grannis for a great example of this). After shooting the first verse, it just didn’t look like I was singing the correct lyrics. In English, anyway. Maybe it was Welsh. But we wanted it to look like English, so we shot it again and thankfully it looked far more accurate!
The shoot took around four days - a Thursday, Friday, then Monday and Tuesday. I’m pretty sure I lost weight in that time. Long days were spent having to hold a position, hearing Paul say, “Move your left arm up a tiny bit. No, too far, down a bit. Okay stay there! Now move your chin down a fraction. Hold...hold...hold...and...next shirt!”. Every three shots, I’d have to change t-shirt, and make sure it didn’t mess up my hair or makeup. That was also quite a feat. My hair had to stay still which is why it’s tight and braided for most of the video. However, having my curled hair down during the deer jumping scene gives a pretty cool effect. I look like Medusa!
I've estimated that I must’ve changed t-shirt approximately 400 times during those four days. My body was probably aching by the end, but I seem to have blocked that part out. But I DO remember thinking, "If Gotye can do it, so can I". Because as I like to say, when in doubt, ask yourself WWGD? (What Would Gotye Do?).
After the shoot, Jenni crafted adorable backgrounds made of felt and balsa wood. In real life they weren't much bigger than an A4 piece of paper, but in the video they look huge! I love the record store she made with the little felt records. And the cityscape. And the little white forest. All. So. Cute.
Then Paul spent months editing and piecing the whole video together, adding in extra bits of digital animation. I think you can see that a huge amount of work and care was put into the video!
Thank-you to our friends who lent us their t-shirts, and to Paul and Jenni for their beautiful work!
Let me know what you think of the clip!
Here's a new song that I recorded as part of the Independent Music Project: Indie 100...and below, the tale of recording the song in under four hours.
I’ve never been on a speed date before, but I imagine it would be something like Brisbane’s Indie 100.
Picture tens of eager musicians wafting in and out of recording studios, making quick introductions with producers they’ve likely not met before - let alone sung in front of - being smooshed together to record a song in under four hours.
This is what I was part of a few weeks ago.
(Actually, that description makes it sound more like a really short, but thoroughly enjoyable, arranged marriage....rather than a speed-date. Let’s move on from the coupling analogies).
Indie 100 is the baby of something called the Independent Music Project run by the Queensland University of Technology. What’s special about it is that it gives 72 independent music acts the opportunity to have an original song or two professionally recorded, produced and mixed in a swish studio. The ‘swish’ studio I speak of is the QUT Gasworks Studio in Brisbane’s inner-city suburb of Newstead. It houses three recording studios, two luxurious grand pianos, and a slightly unwell harpsichord, last time I checked. To let you know where this studio lies on a scale of 1 to Hipster, it’s next to a craft beer brewery.
2015 was the fifth, and last year of the project. But it was the second year in a row I was selected to record a song. (Here’s my 2014 contribution). I’m pretty sure I jumped around excitedly when I got the call to say I was in. Because it’s seriously fantastic to be given recording time, with engineers in a nice studio, for free. In the real world, that would cost a LOT of craft beers.
The other bonus? Musos get to feel like they’re part of a special music community all striving towards a common goal. When Indie 100 is on, I feel like maybe - just maybe - the sum of all of us musicians meeting, collaborating and simultaneously recording, may inadvertently create a musical movement to be known in years to come as Indiepressionism.
The way in through those Indie 100 doors was to submit a song demo. My song “Somehow” started life...oh, about ten years ago. It’s always been one of those slippery tricksters that I've half-wanted to drop, but could never completely forget.
Through rewrite after rewrite, I’ve always called my song “Somehow” and it’s always been about the closing of a chapter. What’s changed over the years, is WHICH chapter it’s been about. And it's been a struggle to get the chorus up to Wendy Standard™.
Early last year out of frustration, I took the unfinished version to a workshop run by a visiting lyric writing teacher called Pat Pattison. It was my last resort to help me get unstuck. I played my song to the class, and Pat did what I thought was unthinkable. He swapped around verses. He also showed me where my chorus at the time wasn’t making sense. By the end, I felt disjointed and even remember staring at the floor mumbling something like, “I should just bury it”. Pat, sensing my despair, said he quite liked it. A slither of hope!
It turned out that breaking the song apart was exactly what I needed, and after the workshop, I finally finished it to a standard I was pretty happy with. (No easy feat!). When I ended up in Austin, Texas in late 2014, I then took the song to a songwriting critiquing session run by a group of Pat Pattison devotees who meet monthly in a lawyer's office. They drew my attention to a few lyrical discombobulations which I hadn’t picked up on before. I’m a fan of being pushed that extra three percent. Often that’s when the magic happens.
This is where Indie 100 feels like a speed-date (or a really short arranged marriage). Musicians are allotted a time, a producer and a producer’s assistant. You can nominate the timeslots you’re available, but you can’t pick the studio or the team. You literally walk in, meet your production team, then have to be all vulnerable and start singing in front of them about that guy who broke your heart.
It’s pretty much like, “Hi! I’m such-and-such. Here’s my song. Shall I sit by the piano now?”.
Reactions you DON’T want from a producer when you play them your song:
-speedy parkouring out of the studio
-suggestions that you should rewrite all the lyrics without using the letter ‘e’
Thankfully, my producer Adam Kharita did none of these. A jazz-pop singer-songwriter himself, he exclaimed something like “This is right down my alley” and later thanked me for not bringing in a banjo.
We started by recording the piano - a lovely, white, sumptuous beast that I happily would have let follow me home. I can play enough piano so that I can compose on it, but I’m not a proper pianist. This became obvious when Adam sat down to give me a few tips, making the keys sound like melted white chocolate. Nevertheless, I did my plonky piano thing and we got there.
Next step was to record the vocals, which went pretty smoothly. Voice is the instrument I’ve focussed on most in recent years, and Adam and his assistant Alex Van den Broek (from the sassy singing quartet Jazel) informed me that I seem to have a talent for mirroring my own voice. That is, singing a line, then being able to sing along with that recorded line almost identically. It's my mediocre superpower.
After vocals, I layered on some clarinet (an instrument I’ve played for decades) and some simple bass drum (an instrument I’ve never really played). Adam suggested I give it a go, and I felt mighty powerful sitting behind that drumkit. As it turns out, you need quite a bit of calf strength to play a bass drum evenly - and my right calf just ain’t up to scratch. But post-editing, it sounded great.
We had our noses to the grindstone throughout those four hours, especially during the last 30 minutes. But we got the song and all its parts recorded, edited and mixed. Exhausted but content, we packed up, congratulated each other, and handed the recording baton over to the next arranged musical marriage. A group with a banjo.
While I’m a little sad this was the last ever Indie 100, I look back on my experience with joy. Both Adam and Alex were very professional, gave useful ideas and feedback, but were also fun people to work with. I think we made a great team! And I’m happy that this song, which has been plaguing me for a decade, has been released into the wild.
Now let us all raise a glass of craft beer to the Indiepressionists!
Thanks to the QUT Independent Music Project team for this opportunity.
Please let me know what you think of my song. Constructive criticism is welcome - it’s how I get better!