Parenthood and artistry...My hands smell of bleach and I’m wondering if I remembered to register an ISRC code with PPL.  My son waving a school form in his hand and I’ve just received an email from a radio station about airplay. This request then makes me have a slight panic as I realise that I haven’t prepared the EPK (electronic press kit) for the single. There’s laundry everywhere and I haven’t done my invoicing. This is the day to day reality of being an artist in 2019. I’m a mother, a singer-songwriter, a friend, a painter, a daughter, a writer, a sister and my manager all rolled into one. Everyday I spin plates to make things work at home and at work. 

There are lots of romantic notions about artists and how they live. As though we spend our days drinking coffee and pondering life’s realities whilst creating something beautiful in a loft apartment. For me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes I do drink a lot of coffee and I do spend a lot of thinking, but my life is surrounded my other elements as well. I’m a single mother of two children, I live in a terraced house in a market town, I have a job as well as running a business. I’ve learnt to be creative in small pockets of time, whilst cooking the dinner or after I’ve put the kids to bed, while there’s an hour of quiet or while I’m sat on a train to town. In fact, large spaces of time seem intimidating now; they have no structure, no deadline to spur me on. That one hour slot of time makes me seize the day and be decisive in my work and thinking. Before I had children I could waste hours on projects that didn’t really go anywhere. Juggling family life and work has made me more focused on what I want. 

From the outside, my day must look haphazard and chaotic. Sometimes as I’m being creative, other ideas spring to mind and I have to shelve them so that I can get on with my day. I used to find this frustrating but more recently I’ve found that it makes me hone in on what I really want and what will work. It makes me work savvy. The chaos adds to the creativity; it’s a constant stream of ideas. 

Sometimes you have to be forgiving of situations that arise that you have no control over. Sometimes projects get delayed, or they change. Sometimes things just don’t get done. Life will take over. The secret is not to be too hard yourself and ride the wave as it comes towards you. 

If anything I want to encourage you to create and work in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. There will never be a perfect time to create. An idea has to lift off the ground at some point. If you wait for that perfect moment, you will miss an opportunity. I used have have an office to work in; over time that office has become a bedroom for one of my children. This morning I answered my emails at a small workspace in my kitchen; it’s also where I paint. Yesterday I worked on a recording of a new song; no fancy office, I curled on the sofa with my laptop. It’s less than ideal, but if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. It takes resilience and tenacity to work through the challenges, but it is worth it in the end. It is possible to balance family life and work space. 

All dreams start from small beginnings. A humble seed may take years to grow, but it can grow into a mighty oak tree. So while I’m writing this blog, my hands smell of bleach from cleaning the sink, I’m uploading a song to a music distributer and the washing machine is on in the background. It’s all in a day’s work and I love it! Don’t let the excuses stop you from creating. 

Yesterday I hit a wall with the lyrics for a new song. I stared at the same piece of paper for two hours. I played the same part for two hours. NOTHING. Typically the week before I’d written 90% of the song and then got stuck on the last two lines. For many songwriters, this is the point that is “make or break” as to whether a song will be finished or not. I played the song over and over in the hope that something would materialise, but no. In the end I did a Facebook Live session about my frustration (you can watch it here) and it turns out that many of you have been through the same frustrations.

There seems to be a perception that songwriters just write a hit song in ten minutes and its complete. In reality, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind each song. There’s more than an element of truth in the saying 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Often with lyrics, the version that lands up in the published domain will have had umpteen rewrites and edits to get to the final product.

So a morning was wasted. Or was it? It’s in these times of perceived lack of growth that our giftings really develop. We learn perseverance, tenacity, patience; all good fertilizers for creativity and art. We learn how to how practise our gifting: we can have all the talent in the world but if we don’t practise songwriting, our talent will never grow and flourish. We look for new ways of doing things, we try new techniques and we seek to understand the purpose of the barren season. We also learn to make the most of what we’ve got; I got two hours of piano practise out of my wasted lyrics session. That’s two hours of practise that I hadn’t planned but happened anyway.

So how did I break out of this lyrical dead end? A change of scene always helps; I went for a drive and a walk and cleared my mind of all the clutter. I pondered on what the song was really about… Had I conveyed the theme adequately in the current lyrics? Was there more that I needed to say? I also have several notebooks and cloud storage with ideas for songs which I plundered through looking for inspiration. Sometimes something that I scribbled down three years ago has relevance for the current song topic, so it’s worthwhile keeping old ideas for future projects. A couple of days later I wrote down a random idea that turned out to be the missing lyrics. Once the pressure was removed from the situation, there were the words waiting for me.

What I’m trying to say here is that all experiences whether bad or good can lead to growth and development. It’s the ability to keep going through barren seasons that lead us to have expertise in our field and the tenacity to deal with whatever our craft throws at us. Although we may want to quit and have an easy life, we gain more from continuing and seeing the task through. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the “daily pages” where she writes down everything on her mind each day. I can’t say that I’ve ever had the time to do this, but I can see the value in practising a creative art form daily. If you are in the habit of writing, then you are more likely to prioritise it, and it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. The same is true for any art form or project that you’re working on. So as I said in my Facebook live video, don’t quit, keep going, deal with where you are, find a way to make it work and the rest will follow.

You can listen to the new song You’re So Hard On Me here.

We’ve all been there: stuck in a rut, frustrated, can’t produce anything new. Our creativity diminishes and we fear that we’ll never produce anything new or good again. There are two things you can do in this situation: firstly, rest. I can not emphasise how important it is for creative people to rest. A few years ago, I was told by a record executive that you have to keep going and produce new work all the time. “People always want something new to consume” he said. And that’s where I switched off. It is true that as an artist you need to keep some momentum, it’s also true that if you don’t stop you will burn out and lose your passion for creating music altogether. That is a far worse state to be in than just taking a few months off. The whole idea of producing for consumption does not appeal either. Art should be revered not consumed.

Secondly, do something new. Be brave and try something completely different that takes you out of comfort zone. Just because the route you were on has come to an end, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your creativity. Sometimes we need time to recalibrate between creative seasons. We change as people, which also means the way we think and do things has to grow with us. What we perceive as an ending, is actually the beginning of a something new.

So what did I do when my creative energy came to a grinding halt? Well I did eventually take my own advice and have a rest. It took some doing, I was convinced that I needed to keep going but in reality it just wasn’t possible. And you know what? I actually enjoyed having a break! I watched films, saw friends and did things that I normally don’t get time to do. And then.. I started to listen to all the music I love and remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. It’s important to remember that you get one life; spend it well, with the people who are important to you and doing the things that make you happy. Success can be measured in many ways, but it can also lead you to search for things that ultimately become meaningless in the course of life. You’ll make better art if you learn to enjoy life and get your priorities in order.

I also changed the way I write songs. I used to spend hours at the piano working at the magical moment when music and lyrics come together. I decided to write songs by just singing without the piano and seeing what happens; this meant that I could write anywhere. Then I went back to creating backing tracks and top-lining, something that I haven’t done in a long time. I gave myself small creative challenges, such as writing a short song in thirty minutes and recording it using vocal loops, (you can hear the song here). The return to simplicity helped free up my creativity and took the pressure off. Bravery came calling and I decided to release an EP of my demos (I still can’t believe I’ve let you hear them!) so that listeners could experience the live, raw element of songwriting (you can hear the EP here).

I also decided, after a lot of soul searching, to change the way fans can support my work. In the new year I will be launching Helen’s Angels which is a VIP club that fans can join and receive new music, videos, merchandise each month. More details about this will follow in 2018.

So what I’m saying is that there comes a time for all us when we have to throw our net over the other side of the boat and see what happens. It’s a game of trust that will lead to self-development. In letting go, we can gain new skills and experiences. So if you’re stuck in a rut, try something new!

So vinyl is hot right now (probably one thing that it shouldn’t be!). Over the last few years Aylesbury has seen it’s fair share of record and music retailers come and go, indicating the precarious nature of the music business in today’s climate. However, there’s a secret that the town is hiding… The Vicious Squirrel, based at Deco Audio. A few days ago, I took a trip to visit the record store in its new home since relocating from the town centre. Now based on the Gatehouse Industrial Estate (it took some finding as I didn’t know that it was inside Deco Audio!), the store boasts a dedicated warehouse space that houses vinyl from a wealth of genres and decades. There is also a floor of turntables and a repair workshop on site which tells you how serious they are about music – it’s a love affair and they are going to help you make your vinyl collection dream come true!

I was greeted on arrival and taken up the vinyl floor where I was offered a coffee to assist my browsing (if only I’d had more time!) which is great perk that other stores don’t offer. What I loved about this is that it’s record hunting for grown ups; time out from the kids and work to relive your childhood dreams whilst feeding your caffeine habit. The vinyl area is decorated with black walls that double as blackboards for the sales team to add on their favourite albums or record of the week recommendations. There’s even a vicious squirrel who watches over proceedings from his own top shelf… If you’re looking for new albums or old secondhand favourites, this store has got it all. The staff were knowledgeable and offered me advice on the best companies for reissues (and the worst too). I’ve since contacted them via social media and told them of my love of 80s Madonna and they’ve dug out some LPs for me to go and peruse. Attentive, good customer service is rare in this day.

My only bugbear is that their signage isn’t great, so it took a while to find the centre and it only opens three days a week. Give me records all day please! Notably I was the only woman perusing, which having worked in the music industry for decades I’m well used to, but come on ladies, get in on the seen! We know just as much as the boys!

The Vicious Squirrel have to some great events coming up in the near future. One that particularly caught my eye is the record fair from 30 August to 2 September, which quite frankly you all need to go and support! If you haven’t got a record player, why not??? Last night my evening was made perfect by George Benson and Pat Benatar whizzing around the turntable! The team also mentioned that they are keen to forge links with local bands and host album launches and music evenings. Aylesbury needs more opportunities for live music that extend past its established rock scene. They already have connections with Sweet Billy Pilgrim who originate from the town.

So would I go back to The Vicious Squirrel Records again? You betcha! I’m counting down the days! If you want to find out more information, The Vicious Squirrel

Recently in an interview Bono said something that is very close to my heart. It’s something that I have been quite passionate about for a long time. It’s a reason to get out of bed, a reason to song-write and create, it’s a reason to be the person we were made to be as artists… It’s no secret that Bono has criticised Christian artists who only produce worship music, and that his own musical and creative journey started in a worship band that eventually morphed into the internationally renown U2. However his stand point is refreshing and challenging, “we don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest,” he said. And that’s what I love. The fact that I can be brutally honest in my songwriting.

Bono’s thought process goes further than that though; just because an artist is a Christian doesn’t mean that they can only produce worship music. He goes on to say that “Creation screams God’s name. So you don’t have to stick a sign on every tree.” And I agree with him. I always think it’s sad when artists are pigeonholed with the label “Christian” as the genre immediately limits their scope of work. We don’t need to mention Jesus in everything we do, we carry the fragrance of Jesus with us so his presence is always in our work.

Our music might help someone… Over the years, I’ve been encouraged by many a song that wasn’t Christian because I connected with it some way. This is usually because I could empathise with the topic because I was going through the same life experience. Our songs don’t always have to rejoice over happy endings, some of the best selling pop songs over the decades have been sad, yet the music-buying public lap it up as they need something to help them through their difficult times.

I am not a Christian artist. I refuse to be. I’m an artist who happens to be a Christian. What’s the difference? Well although I write the occasional worship song for church, I don’t feel that worship songs are my calling. I don’t feel the need to mention Jesus in every song I write; I believe that my art should be influenced by faith and that it needs to go much further than the walls of the church building. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are called to compose worship music for church gatherings, and if that is what God has called them to then that’s great, but for me it’s not the be all and end all.

This route into artistry is often lonely though; artists who don’t tow the party line and stick to producing worship material are often overlooked by the Christian public. Churches in the UK don’t tend to support artists whose work moves beyond the church walls. We need to release artists into their callings and let them create the works that God has designed for them to do. There are far more opportunities for people to meet Jesus if we are honest about life experiences and allow those experiences to help others. And how much more will we learn about God if we dare to explore further than the praise and worship genre? Some of my greatest experiences of God have come through secular lyrics, the process of songwriting or going to concert. So take Bono’s challenge and dare to go further than praise and worship song in everything you do. You never know you might help someone…

Quotes from an interview with Carol Kuruvilla