Song Is Memory #3
Recorded at home in Pevensey Bay, autumn 2014
This meditative little track was the opening song on an album that I put out in 2015 called Bank Transfer. Creatively speaking, I consider that album to be the biggest failure of my entire life. The biggest failure, but also the most successful, in the sense that everything I have done since then has been a response to it. I live in fear of committing the sins that I committed on that record, and this fear shapes everything I do. There would be no Traitor without the unique disaster of Bank Transfer.
The most unforgivable sin that I committed was, almost everywhere on the record, writing without simplicity. I had many different feelings going into the songs, many impressions and stories that I wanted to share, but at no point was I really able to sit down and work out how to share them so that they would actually connect. What I hear when I listen back to the album are nineteen songs (yes, nineteen!) that want to connect with an audience, but through some failing in the execution, just can’t.
The fundamental problem back then was that I was unable to connect with myself, or my past, in a way that could possibly bear fruit for others. I don’t blame myself for that — one’s twenties are always going to be something of a rough ride — but I do blame myself for putting my confusion on record, and attempting to share with others things that I couldn’t even share with myself.
Although great works of art defy any one explanation, I do believe that if asked the artist should be able to give a clear, concise summary of what their work is about. If they have lived with it for long enough to give birth to it, they should know it, like a mother or father knows their child. Dostoyevsky said of Crime and Punishment — a novel that sprawls over 700 pages — that it was about the tension between inside and outside, between the ideas in one’s head and the reality of the world itself. Simple as that; he could summarise his timeless work in one sentence. If pushed, I would say about my perhaps less well-known work, Nostalgia for a Wound, that it’s about the difficulty of paying one’s debts. A little cryptic perhaps, but to me that’s what it’s about, and when I was in the throes of making it, at the critical moment of delivering it, I had a very clear sense of that meaning, and I knew what I was doing.
But back in 2014, when I was making Bank Transfer, I experienced no such clarity. If asked, I could not have told you — certainly not in one sentence — what the record was about. Listening back now, I can hear the songs are full of anger, bitterness, ennui, nostalgia, queasiness, doubt, despair, even a little love and humour — but when I was in the midst of it I had no knowledge about how to distil these emotions into songs that were actually worth sharing. So what I did was I created a monster. I put everything I had, all my dark energy and sour emotion, into building this strange, lumpen mass that pretended to be a record of something. But if it was a record of anything, it was a record of my own confusion.
As I say, in those days I was not in touch with myself. I felt lost and angry after years of difficulty in my youth, and I had no guide on hand, nor yet any guiding light in my spirit, to help me through. Two entries from my diary from 1st July 2014 sum it all up:
‘Started recording the album yesterday…Constant feeling of inadequacy…’
‘Ideas die inside my head.’
I didn’t realise at the time, but that whole era of my life was over. Now, when I listen back to this song, Help, and it’s one repeating line (‘are you waiting for my help…?’), I feel sympathy for the young man that I was, but glad that, coming through all the confusion and sorrow of those years, in the end he was able to help himself.