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Interview with Heartwork (Part One)

Whilst The Literary Sisters is primarily a literary blog, I have always shown my love of music here, what with curating various playlists and posting music videos twice a week.  I am always struck by those musicians who are passionate about their craft, and who write wonderful, thought-provoking lyrics which really strike a chord within me.  One such musician, Dan O’Dell, formerly known as Dropout Dan and who now writes and performs under the name of Heartwork, has very kindly agreed to be interviewed.

Your newest EP, ‘Coloured Out’, came out at the end of last year.  Every song drips with emotion.  What influenced you to write it?  
Well I was at the back end of getting over the break up of my most “serious” relationship I had been in. So it’s definitely more retrospective of the months that had come and gone, rather than writing from the point of view of a self-loathing mess that’s going through that period of time. The first EP ‘Five’ is coming from that point of view and I like how contradictory they are to each other. Almost like two different people writing about the same things but both have a different standpoint on the situation. On the one hand, ‘Five’ is the heat of the moment, sporadic knee-jerk reaction to a lot of things, whereas ‘Coloured Out’ acts as the more self aware, wiser statesman, so to speak.
It seems a very thematic work – was that deliberate?  
There is definitely a theme to ‘Coloured Out’. What I will say is that even though the starting point to both EPs was essentially… going through some kind of horrible anxiety/panic attack episodes, leaving my job, breaking up, moving out, moving back home with my parents, sleeping on a couch, not understanding where I fit in life, not all the songs on both EPs are about the girl I broke up with. Sure, there’s hints of her throughout it, but I think they’re much more than just break up songs. There’s songs on them about getting in touch with people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in a long time. Making some bad decisions whilst influenced by those pesky critters Whiskey & the occasional Gin. But I think that even though at its darkest most self involved points, ‘Coloured Out’ is the light at the end of the tunnel. The mindset that says ‘OK, enough is enough. This happened. You’re here now. What’s next?”
What was the writing experience of ‘Coloured Out’ like?
The ideas of the songs had been floating around since I started writing ‘Five’ at the end of May last year, but none of them really came to fruition until around September time. I think that as I said before, ‘Five’ is very depressing sounding but it didn’t really give the whole picture and I really didn’t want to come across all “woe, is me” about it all, so ‘Coloured Out’ was my chance to shed some light on the other side of the story, which is essentially, “Yeah. I’ve been a bit of a self absorbed dick about things”. The song ‘I Went To Parts’ for instance is a song that had about six different rewrites, as the subject matter on that is the most revealing song I’ve ever written. To put it bluntly, it’s about this one particular week in October 2013 where I was left alone in the flat whilst ‘the ex’ went on a little holiday with a friend to France and I essentially didn’t go into work and didn’t leave the couch for four days. It was around the time I started getting tired of the whole Dropout Dan thing and there were many other things in my life that just seemed to be missing. I had been getting down since the August time and after taking some advice from select friends and family members, I went to the doctor’s and was prescribed antidepressants, which essentially made things a lot worse in the end.  So that song is set in the doctor’s room, confessing everything to him. I think it might be my favourite song I’ve ever written actually, as on first listen, it sounds quite upbeat and happy. But when you dig into the lyrics it’s pretty much me falling to pieces in the listener’s ear.
What has the reception to the record been?
It’s been incredibly positive and it’s nice to know that some people have found a certain connection with it. I was worried that because of how personal the subject matter is that maybe people might have a hard time identifying themselves within it, but I guess we’re all a little similar inside.
Your first EP as Heartwork too, ‘Five’ is very personal.  Could you take us through what inspired you to write it?
Well, the Sunday after said break up, I went and stayed at my sister’s house in Milton Keynes for the week, simply to get away from home for a bit. She was on holiday but my niece and nephew were there; they had college during the daytime so I pretty much had the house to myself. I watched a lot of Friends, American Dad, Family Guy, etc., and ate a lot of cereal. Then by the Wednesday, it dawned on me that I had the first official Heartwork show in Cambridge that Friday and I had to write some songs. I already had a couple of new songs to play, but they weren’t really anything special. They were just things I had written in the transition from Dropout Dan to Heartwork.  So I borrowed my niece’s guitar and it was really out of tune, but there was something about the way it sounded. I plugged it in to a tuner and tuned each string to its nearest note, and the sound was just lovely. From low string to high string, standard tuning on a guitar is E A D G B E but I was playing around with D G D F# A D. Despite playing guitar for about 11 years before that, this tuning meant essentially re-learning the instrument. None of the chord shapes I had grown so used to were relevant anymore. I had to start from scratch. Plus, there were no plectrums in the house that I could find, so I started finger picking, which is something I had dabbled with before but never really taken too seriously. All of a sudden the main riff for ‘Midnight Calls’ was there, so 50% of the battle to writing new material was won. The next morning at around 3am, I wrote some lyrics on the notepad app on my phone about a conversation with someone that I hadn’t spoken to in a long time a couple of hours prior, and it just fit with what I had been playing the day before. From then on, the music/lyrics just came pouring out of me. The gig that Friday was awesome too. I did some drinking and had two kebab wraps. It was fun.
Which is your favourite track on the EP?
That’s a difficult question because ‘Midnight Calls’ kind of got this whole project off the ground and ‘She’ is the most fun to play live but, I guess I’d have to go with the final track ‘With Regards (These Letters)’. It’s a really horribly sad song to be honest, but I remember the day I wrote it. I was out in my garden with my Dad cutting the branches of the trees back. It was boiling hot and I was coming down from a few days of escapism with some of my best friends at 2000 Trees festival in Cheltenham, and I was starting to feel good about things again. Then I just started humming the verse melody for that song and came up with the words, “Where to begin, where do I start?” and the song kind of wrote itself from there. It was after I wrote/recorded that song the same day that I had finished the EP, and could draw a line under that sinking feeling that I had felt for a while. It was definitely a new beginning for me.
What was the writing experience of ‘Five’ like?
Looking back, it was incredibly therapeutic. There’s a great phrase that Justin Vernon of Bon Iver uses when he talks about the writing process of the debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ where he says that writing those songs was a way to excavate his emotions around a particular timeframe and let them come up to the air and breathe. I certainly feel that way about ‘Five’. Even though the only song on that E.P. about the break up itself is the final track, there’s a lot of referencing certain things that had been going on in my life around the songs that I wasn’t really sure how I felt about until I listened back to them. I surprised myself a few times and really got to understand myself a little better because of it. I also feel that way about ‘Coloured Out’. For instance, ‘The Apple Tree’ sounds like it’s about someone else, and when I started writing it, it was; but in hindsight, the main protagonist of the song is me.
Was ‘Coloured Out’ a natural transition from ‘Five’ for you?
I think so. I could’ve easily recorded another EP that sounds just like ‘Five’ but I wanted to add a bit more colour to it. Again, the song ‘I Went To Parts’ has more of a full band feel and I like the contrast between the really personal, self-involved lyrics and the wholeness of the musical arrangement. There’s also a song on there called ‘Cold Coffee’ which is about a subject I never thought I’d write about. It’s a confession about a few things that are probably best left unsaid, but after a particular night in November last year, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer.
You’ve just moved to Cardiff.  Are you finding that your new surroundings and transition in life are influencing your music?  How?
Funnily enough, I am. I don’t know what it is really. It might have something to do with the fact that nobody here knows me. There’s no preconception about me. Literally everything here is new. I was talking to my housemate about this a week or two ago over some rum & cokes and I said that “I’ve never felt so content before in my life”. It kind of shocked me as I said because it just kind of came out, but I definitely meant it. He grinned and said how happy he was to hear that.
You’re now writing your first full-length.  How does the process differ to writing an EP?
So far it’s differing in a big way. I’ve already thought of most of the titles to the songs and am kind of writing words and music to go with the titles rather than the way I normally do it, which is the other way round. I have about 3 and a half full songs written, and so far the demos I have are sounding like a good progression from the last two EPs.
What has inspired you this time around?  
Well it’s safe to say that the catalyst to this whole new life is all the things I went through in 2014. It wasn’t my best year by any means, but it got me to a point where I was ready to leave everything I’ve ever known behind. It brought me here and already I’m looking at things differently. It most certainly isn’t going to be a break up record, however!
Does the music you’re working on now come from a good or bad place?
I think that to have the good, you’ve always got to have a little bit of the bad. I’m probably a pessimist when it comes to most things in life, so the way I view the world is a little tainted by that and my stupid brain, but what I’ve got so far is quite cleansing. The first song I’ve written for the album, for instance, is a song called ‘Water’ and it’s about how easy it is to choose to self-medicate, or how quick I’ve been to slip back into old routines and put myself in similar situations, but at then end of the day something as simple as a glass of water can refresh your outlook and make you think “enough is enough”.
Will we see your lyrics moving away from the heartbreak of ‘Coloured Out’?
I think so. Just before I moved out here, I took the opportunity to clean the air with my ex. She’s not a bad person by any means, and I didn’t want to leave with a bitter taste in my mouth about anything back home. In all honesty, yeah, it wasn’t the best of situations, but we’re adults and can move on. She’s still a fan of mine it would seem, and I know that she’d want nothing more than for me to continue making music and finding happiness in whatever way I can. I think that there will always be a hint of her in some of my lyrics though, as this project wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for what we went through.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time, music wise?  
10 years ago I was still learning guitar but also still trying to write a rap album under the name DODELL. I wish I was joking. I am not. So who knows? In 10 years time I could be repairing people’s hover boards in what used to be Argos before the self-serve machines gained human emotions and started an army of self-serve robots that enslave the human race who now travel exclusively by hover board. Ask me again in 10 years.
Are there any projects in the pipeline which you can tell us about?
Myself and my housemate Chris used to play in bands together back in the day. He was also my bassist whenever I did a full band show as Dropout Dan, so since we moved in, there’s already been a few nights where we’ve just set up the guitars, had a few drinks and recorded some ideas. Nothing’s really set in stone, but we will be looking for a drummer at some point and look at booking some shows. Completely separate to Heartwork though, by the way. Something a little more technical and a lot more noisy. I’m also still working on a technical, instrumental metal album under the name Glitterskin, but that’s really taken a backseat at the moment what with everything that’s been going on recently. Whenever I have a spare five minutes, I’ll try to get something written for that, but it’s just not a priority at the moment. When the time comes, there’ll be more news on that!
When did you first start writing songs?  
I had always toyed with the idea of writing songs from a very early age. There’s footage of me in my living room growing up with an old Casio keyboard just banging the keys and singing things horribly out of tune. It wasn’t until I was about 11 and I got into Eminem that I started forming full songs. Rap songs however. I’m probably the least gangster person you could ever meet, so I had absolutely no business whatsoever dying my hair blonde and writing songs about things that literally make no sense whatsoever, but I did! On the one song that I actually recorded properly called ‘DODELL IS ME’, I somehow managed to come up with the lyric “Spitting rhyme lyrics through bullet holes. I’m not in royalty but I’m Prince Charles”. To this day I still have no idea what I meant by that, or how I had the audacity to rhyme “Holes” with “Charles”. I like to think I’ve come a long way since then.
Looking back, are you happy with your first efforts?
No. I’m absolutely mortified.

 

‘Five’ is available now on Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes & Spotify.
‘Coloured Out’ is available exclusively from Bandcamp.

Keep in touch with Heartwork here: Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram
Alternatively, you can drop him an email at heartworkmusic@outlook.com

Watch out for part two of the interview, plus a special making of the ‘Coloured Out’ EP video, tomorrow.

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Saturday Poem: ‘Life’ by Sir Walter Raleigh

What is our life? A play of passion,
Our mirth the music of division,
Our mother’s wombs the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dressed for this short comedy.
Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is,
That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
Our graves that hide us from the setting sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest,
Only we die in earnest, that’s no jest.

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‘The Unicorn’ by Iris Murdoch *** (Reading Ireland Month)

I read The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch as part of the Reading Ireland Month, hosted by the lovely Cathy746books and The Fluff Is Raging.

I was not entirely sure as to whether this book would qualify as Irish literature, but I decided to include it nevertheless. Even though Iris Murdoch is mostly considered a British author, she was born in Ireland from Irish parents, and this book is also set in Ireland, so I guess this makes it an eligible choice.253954

The Virago Vintage Classics edition that I read started with an introduction by Stephen Medcalf, who was Iris Murdoch’s very own student. As he mentions in his introductory essay, The Unicorn is “set between two famous landmarks on the west coast of Ireland, the cliffs of Moher and the limestone country of the Burren”. I have never been to Ireland myself (yet), but merely looking at pictures of these places just to have the image in my head when I read the story, made me think that Ireland was the perfect place for such a gothic story to unravel.

The book begins with one of the main characters, Marian Taylor, who has been given the job of a governess in a remotely placed castle in the west coast of Ireland. There, Marian comes to meet and hear about many different people, including the ones also living in the castle but also some strange-acting neighbours.

Marian’s life at the castle is pretty uneventful at the beginning, until suddenly she starts noticing that the people surrounding her may not actually be as innocent as they look. The castle itself, as well as her employer Hannah’s life turns into a complete mystery in which everyone seems to secretly participate and Marian decides to look for answers to all the questions posed before her. Hannah never leaves the castle and she appears to be a prisoner inside her own property, while her husband is enigmatically away for a long period of time. As Marian gets more and more deeply involved into this mystery, she (and the reader alongside her) begins doubting the verisimilitude of the events that occur to her surroundings and to herself as well.

I have to admit that The Unicorn is a wonderfully written novel. I had not yet had the opportunity to read any of Murdoch’s other works prior to this one, and it made me really intrigued about her other stories as well. However, it did take me quite some time until I fully got into the story. I loved the ominous atmosphere and the landscape descriptions at the beginning, but the novel felt pretty repetitive and redundant to me from that point on. I had been re-reading Jane Eyre before starting this novel, so it felt very much like yet another copy of this gothic romance type.

However, after a few chapters, the events took such a sudden turn, that it made me really curious to see how the author would end up wrapping things up and finishing this strangely enchanting tale. Luckily, it did not end up being similar to the other gothic novels I initially had in mind. I liked how the novel was separated into seven parts, and in each part the narrator’s voice would be interchangeable between Marian and Effingham Cooper, a visitor of the people that live nearby, who is in love with Hannah. Each narrator presents the events under their own circumstances, and therefore the lines between who is lying and who is not are becoming rather blurred.

After reading the entire novel, and especially upon reading the introduction, I am certain this novel contained much deeper philosophical meanings and symbolisms than I could understand. I did not particularly like how the characters fell in love with each other in a flash and forgot about it when the tiniest distraction came along. It might have been done in purpose, to serve the establishing of the magical and mystical atmposhere, since it looked like everyone acted while being under some sort of spell, but I found it rather unnecessary. Perhaps I should come back to this book some time in the future, when I will be able to notice more in it than in my first reading.

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‘I Go By Sea, I Go By Land’ by P.L. Travers ****

P.L. Travers’ I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, first published in 1941, is a children’s novel, which seems to have been largely – and sadly – forgotten.  Virago have just reissued it as part of their Modern Classics list, including Gertrude Hermes’ lovely black and white drawings.  Travers writes in her preface that the characters and ‘the experiences recorded are authentic’.

The novel presents the fictional diary of eleven-year-old Sabrina Lind.  With the Second World War raging, she leaves her cosy parental home in Sussex with her younger brother, James; their father tells them that their house, in the village of Thornfield, ‘had stood for over nine hundred years and was old enough to take care of itself and would probably go on standing no matter what happened.  The pair have been invited to travel to the safety of America to stay with their aunt, Harriet, for the war’s duration: ‘Just when we were so sure nothing would happen, the German plane came over one night at one o’clock in the morning…  Suddenly there were five loud explosions.  After that there was a terrible silence and I knew that Father and Mother were looking at each other in the darkness and I felt myself getting small and tight inside.  Then Father said quietly, “Meg, they must go””. Sabrina goes on to say, ‘We do not want to be cabin boys and see the world if there is a war on in England.  We want to stay here.  But we do not tell them [their parents] so because their faces will crumple’.

Sabrina has decided to record her experiences in an exercise book, each entry of which is undated: ‘Now I am going to write a Diary because we are going to America because of the War.  It has just been decided.  I will write down everything about it because we shall be so much older when we came back that I will never remember it if I do not.  So this is the beginning…  All of us felt the same thing, that this summer was not like all the other summers but only a Farewell’.

The narrative style which Travers has crafted is engaging, and Sabrina’s voice is believable throughout.  Whilst her narration is, on the whole, unreliable due to her youth, she is an observer; she thus relays all of the information about the war which she hears from the adults around her, so as to set the scene further.  It is most thoughtful in terms of the expressions which Sabrina uses: ‘Oh dear, what an exciting day.  Not the birthday kind of excitement but the sort that makes you feel empty inside and the middle part of you all quivery like a telephone wire’.  Her narrative also rather charmingly contains spelling errors, which makes the whole feel relatively authentic as a document; for example, ‘Walter and James went down into the crayter and found some jagged pieces of bomb and kept them for souvenires’, and ‘he does not like children trapezing over his garden’.

Sabrina and James are charming characters, and both are beset by what they believe to be pressing matters: ‘James is specially worried now about going to America because he has just remembered that in ten years he will be called up and that he ought to be here ready for that’.

Socially and historically, I Go By Sea, I Go By Land has been grounded so well.  It would make a great introduction into the problems which the Second World War caused for civilians on British soil, describing as it does fears of air raids and rationing.  The whole is very of its time, too.  When asked about her future career prospects, for example, Sabrina says: ‘I might be a First Officer or perhaps a Clown in the circus because I like both but perhaps I would rather have some children’.  Pel, a family friend and the woman whom the children are travelling with, announces that foreign waiters ‘are like all the Murders in Shakespeare, they burst in on you at any unexpected moment and have to be bribed before they will leave’.

I Go By Sea, I Go By Land is just as endearing for an adult audience as it surely will be to children.  The novel is a lovely read, which has been well plotted throughout.  We see how the children cope with being away from their parents and their feelings of homesickness, as well as the way in which they fit in to their new community.  One can only hope that Virago reissue more of Travers’ books in the near future.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘The Judge’s House’ by Bram Stoker **** (Reading Ireland Month)

The next Irish story I read for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746books and The Fluff Is Raging, is Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House.

Bram Stoker is mostly well-known for his gothic horror novel Dracula, a tale which has inspired numerous adaptations in many artistic media. The story of Count Dracula is known by pretty much everyone nowadays, regardless of them being fans of the horror genre or not.

3014867-M Dracula‘s immense success, however, has resulted in Stoker’s other stories to be rather neglected and not so widely read. The Judge’s House is a short story, first published in a magazine called Holly Leaves the Christmas Number of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in 1891. The story was not published in book form during Stoker’s lifetime, since it was included in the short story collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories merely two years after his death, in 1914.

The story begins when Malcolm Malcolmson, a university student, decided to move into a rather old and abandoned house in a small English village in order to find some peace and quiet to concentrate on his studies. He rents the house for some months, despite the horrified looks on everyone’s face when he tells them about his decision.

Things go smoothly at first, as he manages to get a lot of his studying done (and drink quite generous amounts of tea in the process), but it is not long before strange things begin happening. The sudden appearance of rats in the house, the creepy and dusty portraits that loom over him and the unexplained presence of a hanging rope beside the fireplace are just some instances.

Since it is a short story, I do not want to get into much detail and give it out. I really enjoyed reading this, as it contained all the Victorian gothic and horror elements that I adore in such stories. Stoker’s writing is really captivating and it manages to keep you at the edge of your seat until you finally find out what happens.

On a side note, the edition I got of this story is a really pretty one belonging to the Travelman Short Stories, by Travelman Publishing. It does not have the format of a regular book, but rather that of a map. You open it like a map and read each page as it unfolds. I thought it to be an excellent and really innovative idea – traditional books are always beautiful but such unconventional formats are really refreshing once in a while. I also have one more short story by this series, William Trevor’s The Summer Visitor, which I will be reviewing in the next couple of days.

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