Did you set out with a theme in mind for the album UNFLESH, or did it emerge as you worked on the music?
I knew I wanted to write a record about the body in some way, but just how that would take shape did not emerge until I was about 50% through the writing process. Then I really noticed the theme emerging quite strongly. It took me by surprise. Originally I was just writing about my interest in anatomy and neurology etc, but then I realised just how personal it was becoming.
Vocals in the early stages
How do you write/create your tracks - do you start with lyrics, or beats, or an atmosphere?
It depends on a lot of factors – my mood, my tools, my environment etc. Sometimes I just start out with a written word and go from there. There is always a vocal aspect in the early stages, whether it’s a lyric, or a melody or a repetitive rhythmical phrase.
Your work is very cinematic in feel at times, have you worked on soundtracks in the past, or is this something you want to develop?
Yes, film music was the spark to make me want to compose. I have not composed a full feature length movie, but I do hope to do so one day. I have had a few experiences with writing to picture, and composing an underscore to a music documentary for the Backstreet Boys (under my other pseudonym NEWT), I hope to do a lot more in future.
Production and writing
How important is it to you to produce your own work?
When I first realized that I could do it myself, it became a thing of the utmost significance, especially considering myself as part of a landscape of undervalued, underestimated members of the music industry. Production is as essential to composition to me, it’s as instrumental to the process of writing as my own voice, or a synthesizer.
Your synth sounds are amazing, do you have a collection of vintage synths, do you use plugins, or mix and match?
I don’t own a single synthesizer of my own. I can’t afford to begin such a collection at this stage in my life. My husband has a couple of vintage Casios and things, but I have never used them for my own recordings. A lot of the sounds I set out with are emulations of vintage synths or drum machines like the CS-80, Linn or Moog. I was lucky enough to exchange some of those emulators for the real thing on UNFLESH, thanks to the help of Benge and his excellent analogue studio, MemeTune.
Keeping it simple and breeding creativity
What are some of the key bits of music gear you use (hardware and software), and why have you chosen those things?
I like to keep it extremely simple because I prefer to use my own vocal techniques, samples and field recordings as the main body of my tools to compose with. I use Ableton to record, mix and sequence most of the time. I am not a gear-nut, I actually prefer to have limitations with recording and production, as I think it breeds a greater level of creativity and uniqueness. The things I couldn’t do without are my vocal pedal VE-20 Boss, and Condenser mic just for the more delicate vocals. But otherwise I am quite happy using anything to make a sound.
Voice as an instrument, and non-traditional sounds
UNFLESH features a lot of unusual sounds, such as barking, do you do many field recordings, and use rare or DIY instruments?
Mostly I create recordings using my voice, and pitch and shift this around to create synths or beats. I find this really satisfying and it’s something that cannot really be created purely in a digital setting, which is my limitation when composing at home.
It sounds like many of the amazing beats are constructed from new sounds, not drums – is that the case and did you experiment a lot with the beats?
Yes that’s correct. I like using non-traditional sounds as beats, although there is rarely a good comparison for a good bass/kick sound. On UNFLESH Benge replaced some of my kick drums with a Moog Modular and it sounded really organic but huge!
Your vocal recordings are very varied, from spoken word to harsh noises and beautiful tones, how much do you enjoy pushing your voice in different directions?
It has always been my chief instrument, my main compositional tool, even for an instrumental piece, so I really enjoy pushing it into different textures and using it almost like an orchestra to get every range, every texture I can squeeze out of it. There’s nothing more satisfying than this for me.
The live show
It is incredible how you convey the intensity and atmosphere of the album when you perform, how do you arrange things for live?
Thanks! The arrangements are not too different from the original. Some parts are more improvised, or elongated, but generally I wrote UNFLESH with the live show in mind, so I knew that I wanted to keep it just as sparse and direct. A really good sound systems helps with this too of course, the music has to be loud live, otherwise it feels awkward for me onstage. I have performed on a Funktion One a fair few times, and every time it feels sensational.
What is your essential music gear for live?
It’s ultra simple – sound techs are always pleasantly surprised by our almost instant setup and soundcheck! I use the VE-20 Boss vocal pedal, and my performing partner uses a Roland SP-404 to trigger samples. That’s it, it’s a dream and great for touring.
Identity and the girl in blue
Why did you choose that particular costume - mask and sports clothing - for your pictures and live. Are they bound up with what you are writing about, or does the anonymity give you certain freedoms?
It’s a bit of both. I enjoy the freedom and the confidence that performing in a conceptual identity allows me, but the concept of the girl in blue, is also deeply personal. It was completely bound up with the themes of the record, about isolation, anger and oppression as a young female, but many of those aspects are universal and ageless. It has become a very powerful messenger for me, and the reaction to the girl is continuing to amaze me – from fan art, to people dressing up in the same costume, to people becoming really engaged with her as a character and what she can stand for, for them, as much as for me. It’s going to be a hard one to part with, or to replace.
I use Ableton to record, mix and sequence
Boss Vocal Performer VE-20
I couldn’t do without
My performing partner uses a Roland SP-404 to trigger samples