I sang a lot as a kid, and I've always been a writer - whether it's poetry or prose or short stories.
How has the way you expressed this creativity changed over the years?
Once I discovered music it became my primary form of creativity, although poetry has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager it was a lot about interpreting music in my own way and using it as a tool to help me deal with emotions. Nowadays I guess it's a lot more 'creative' in that I write songs, rather than just play other people's music.
How do you feel when engaged in a creative activity?
You play guitar; when did you learn to play, and who taught you?
On guitar I'm self taught. When I was about 21 I decided it was a cool instrument to pick up - for singalongs and songwriting and that kind of thing. A friend of mine loaned me his old Yamaha dreadnought and I bought a chord book for about $5 and downloaded some song sheets from the internet and went from there.
A lot of people ask me if it was hard, and I have to say it wasn't. It was a lot of repetitive practice - it took a long time before I could play a whole song all the way through withoug stopping, but I got there in the end.
I do admit though, that I had a fair bit of musical training beforehand - my main instruments being piano and clarinet, both of which I began learning when my family lived out bush as a kid - thanks Mrs Woods and Mrs Ireland! Although I never got much beyond grade 2 in piano, I still play, mostly just making up technique as I go. Piano is my great love.
When you went to Africa recently, you took your guitar with you. How did you use it on the journey and how was it received? Please share any memories related to this that you want...
I very nearly didn't take my guitar with me to Kenya as it was an additional expense insurance wise, not to mention the lugging around of it. I am so, so glad I did though.
The point of taking it was to ensure that I had my main form of dealing with things that were coming up. I knew that I was going to struggle with some of the things I saw, and I wanted to be sure I had enough tools to deal with it. I have bipolar, so sometimes that kind of thing is a bit more of a struggle for me than most people, and I wanted to make sure that I was able to cope without burdening my team leader and team too much.
It ended up being far more than that though - a means of communication, a joyous celebration, a gift I was able to give people - just so much. I wrote about 9 songs while I was in Kenya, and another 3 (about Kenya) since I've been back - I've never been so prolific in such a short period of time.
I have so many amazing memories, from writing songs out the back of our house in the village, surrounded by kids; to playing a 'whole set' for my tour on safari. I swapped song for song with kids in orphanages and was able to use my music as a gift to my team mates - writing a song for my team leader's birthday, and a tribute to my team which spoke about the bond that we had developed.
One of the most amazing memories I have was of a moment early in my time in Kenya where we visited a juvenile detention centre in order to run activities with the kids. I was nervous going in, especially when I looked up at the blackboard and noted that more than a few of these kids were in for serious crimes like murder, rape and armed robbery.
When we got in there though, they were just kids, and it was amazing to see them able, despite their horrific backgrounds and the terrible conditions they lived in, to just have fun. I ran a workshop where we 'wrote songs' with the kids - essentially put some words together over some chords that I had jotted down, and got the kids to sing it. No mean feat where we spoke very little of the local language, and they spoke very little English. One girl though, her name was Susan, she was about 15 had terrific English, and offered to translate for us. She sang with us for every song, and showed us some Luo dancing and songs.
It was music that created an opening for her to begin talking with me, sharing with me stories about her life and the terrible things that had happened to her. It broke my heart to hear her say that I was an inspiration and she wanted to be able to sing like me, but that sometimes she was so desperately sad that she prayed for God to take her life. What could I, a privileged white woman say to a girl like this? I shared with her a little bit about my own childhood, which was difficult in Western standards, and said that there was always hope no matter the circumstances. I don't know if I got though to her, I hope I did.
As we were leaving she came up to me and gave me a friendship bracelet - you know the ones that are made up of knotted coloured string - saying 'I want you to have this to remember me by'. She tied it on my wrist, and I was so touched by how she, who had so little, wanted to give somehing to me, who has so much.
On the bus back to the village that day, I wrote the song "Remember Me" in the space of about an hour - quick even by my own standards. I really feel as though it captures the experience of what it means to meet people in Africa and really engage with them.
This is a link to a song 'Please Stay', which was inspired by the book 'The Time Traveller's Wife' (before the movie [see below trailer] came out). It's one of my favourite songs.
Does poetry cross over into your music as well as songwriting?
Sometimes, although writing lyrics and writing poetry seem like the same thing, I often use them for different purposes. Poetry is a much more conscious thing for me - I use poetry as a way to 'work through' my issues and consciously understand why I feel a certain way.
Music is generally much more organic - it sounds a bit airy fairy, but basically a song wells up inside me until I can't stand it anymore and have to get it out. Sometimes I know what the subject matter will be, and sometimes it surprises me what has been going on inside my head.
I started writing poetry seriously when I was about 12, so I've had a lot more practice at it, and some of the turns of phrase that I've learned in my poetry forays turn up in my songs.
Do you have a poem or song lyrics you would like to share?
I actually wrote this in 2001, but it remains one of my favourite pieces. I still get surprised when I remember that I wrote it.
Is beautiful and haunting once again...
I reach my hand up to the stars
Hoping that the brush of my fingertips against
their cold, clean clarity will make me immortal.
But they are beyond my grasp
And I have failed, once again.
And hope fades...
I gaze intently, but unseeingly, at the darkness
Hoping that it's velvety blackness will envelop me,
take away my fear, and pain
like a favourite blanket on a cold night.
But it hangs there insensitively,
And I am in this place once again.
And hope fades...
I speak to myself of the beauty of the night
Hoping that you will hear me, and remember me,
Like lovers on another plane.
But my words are hollow and serve only to remind me that the night is much more beautiful than me.
And I am silent once again.
And hope fades...
And I look into your eyes from a distance
Hoping that the picture there has changed
And I notice that I am much there and I
ponder that we are still here, and I ask
the timeless question.
But I already know the answer
And I cry once again.
And hope fades...
The sun rises with the promise of a new day.
But I wait for the night.
For I know that the night will be beautiful and haunting once again.
While hope fades...
I spent three weeks in the UK on my way home from Kenya last year, and one of my great joys whilst there was spending time picnicing in parks. I took my guitar down this day and rocked out to the trees and woodland creatures, all the while being documented surreptitiously by a friend.
Where do you find inspiration for your creativity?
It's just life in general. I, like most other songwriters have written a lot about love and unrequited love and lost love and being angry about all of that. When I was in Kenya it was a lot more about what was happening in the world, and as I reflect back over my work for this interview, I notice that there has always been a bit of that. Essentially what inspires me is anything I'm passionate about at the time whether that's a person or a place or an event.
Do you find the styles you write in are constantly changing, or do you generally write in the same genre?
Genre is interesting - in terms of poetry, I write a lot of 'poetry' that relies on form and metre as opposed to rhyme, which is what most people associate with poetry. A lot of my more abstract poems are like that and are the more 'serious' pieces. But that said, I have some very, very dark poems that are exclusively rhyme based and 'simplistic' in their form:
Tear it open
Rip it out
Throw to the ground
And leave no doubt
Grind it down
To thin fine dust
Get rid of it
You know you must
Given to you
Some time ago
You didn't say yes
But couldn't say no
Treasured it dear
For a year you did
Then from behind your fear
You held it in your
It's loving beat
You could not stand
You threw it down
Upon the ground
Then in my face
Your feet did pound
So dig a grave
Dig it deep
Bury my heart
And watch me weep
I also like to do fluffy pieces that are just fun - I wrote a poem for my best friend's wedding that I thought was a bit of nothing that everybody loves. So I guess in poetry, like anything, people have their own preferences.
Are there any other ways you like to create?
I do love art - drawing and painting and sculpting, though I'm really not very good at it. I also like knitting, but find I don't have a lot of time for it. I've recently re-discovered baking and am enjoying finding recipes and modifying them to be even more delicious!
I am seriously impatient and can't do fiddly crafty stuff, although I am an awe of people who can. I would love to learn how to quilt - I just think that it is the most beautiful and practical thing you can do, and the idea of keeping people warm at night makes me all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Maybe when life settles down a bit...
I also blog, which satisfies a bit of my creativity, although I'm not nearly as regular about it as I should be. Blogging is another way I sort stuff out in my head - how I feel, what I believe, how I think the world works. As I'm a writer by nature and by trade (as a lawyer) I find it's a good way to express.
What kind of guitar do you have? How did you happen by it?
I got my first full time job in 2004 and I started looking for a new guitar straight away. I had my eye on a Fender in Allans Music store in Queen St Mall, because everyone I knew told me Fender was the best for guitars. I was diligent though, and went searching all over town, eventually ending up at Morris Bros in Stafford where my eye fell upon the milky surface of this beautiful cutaway guitar. They took him down off the shelf for me and after the first strum across the strings I was in love.
Nat (part of his serial number) is a Cort SFX-5 cutway, which makes him a little smaller than most guitars. He makes up for it by having a rounded back, rather than the standard flat back, to increase the volume to produce sound. The sound is surprisingly powerful for a guitar so small and capable of such sweet sounds. His nickname is The Milky Bar Kid after his light, light spruce top.
Is there a guitar you dream of owning?
Not so much a guitar, although I am starting to long for something a little bigger that makes a bit more sound. I'm thinking of having a bigger dreadnought for some of the bigger songs I have, but at this stage I don't think I need two guitars simply to play for friends.
My musical dream at the moment is to own a grand piano, or at least a baby grand. I am in love with the sound of the piano, and can't wait to own one. I've compromised on size at the moment and am eyeing off a beautiful jazzy white Roland electric piano which I think will be perfect for where I am skill and house wise at the moment. Maybe one day I'll own the Steinway, but as they cost over $100,000, that day may be a ways off.
When you write, do you handwrite or type? Is there a special notebook or similar that your write in?
I have two B5 size artists sketchbooks which I draft my songs in, usually in pencil. They were originally bought so that I could doodle and write and sketch all in the same book, but they ended up being just for songwriting. I'm in the process of transferring those into one notebook for convenience when I'm travelling around and playing, but I keep getting distracted by playing them as I write.
Thanks for joining us this week, Erin Marie! It was great hearing all about your creative outlets! Please visit Erin Marie sometime and let her know if you enjoyed her poetry; or leave a comment here for her to see!