Judith Owen On ... Her new album & Losing It
Date: 7 March 2012
Singer/songwriter Judith Owen is performing at The Pheasantry, King's Road, SW3 on Tuesday 13 March and Tuesday 20 March. She has also just released her new CD Some Kind of Comfort, available on iTunes and Amazon.
Here, she talks to Whatsonstage.com about the new album, collaborating with husband Harry Shearer and losing it with Ruby Wax...
What we can expect from the new album?
A collection of intimate songs about compassion (for oneself that is). It's the most difficult thing for any of us to find. We tend to be kinder to total strangers than we are to ourselves and these songs speak abut the kind of inner struggles I and so many of us have, with a sense of forgiveness rather than punishment. The sound is simple and beautifully powerful: piano, cello, bass and voice… a mix of folk and classical and as always in my recordings, the songs marry the hardest of sentiments with the lushest of chords and melodies
Do you enjoy collaborating with your husband Harry Shearer?
He's the first person to play on my songs, at home when I'm working them out, the double bass lives at the end of the piano, so it's always ready for action. Harry played on just the one song ("Under The Manhole") on this album, but it's the most important. It's harrowing in its description of depression, but also cathartic and full of hope. I wrote it as a thank you to Harry for not only sticking by me all these years, but for being the constant voice in my life who reminded me that it was illness talking and that underneath was a vital, talented, funny, alive woman trying to get out. These days with us both travelling and me being in the UK and him in the USA, I make sure we collaborate as much as possible, especially on live shows. I think I'm incredibly lucky to have found someone who loves music as much as me and who I can share the entire experience with.
Will he be appearing with you at your forthcoming gigs?
Hopefully, schedule allowing, he'll come over. Luckily the incredible Laurence Cottle will be playing bass, alongside the exquisite Gabriella Swallow on Cello. Both recorded the album with me, so it's a very tight unit and an intensely rich folk/classical sound. I think it might be my favourite combination to date, both instruments resonating with the piano like a mini orchestra. I tend to swoon a lot when they play!
Speaking of collaborations, how did you find working with Ruby Wax?
Utterly fantastic and liberating. Nothing could be better than creating theatre about losing your mind, when you've lost it many times and so has your partner. We call it "finding your tribe", in other words, those who you don't have to explain yourself to..it's such a relief. We spent a lot of time laughing inconsolably (you have to have a sense of humor to get through) and we ended up writing a duet between two like minded women. She was the story and I was the emotional soundtrack and we wrap around each other. Where one ends the others starts and so on. Some of the songs from the show are featured on Some Kind Of Comfort, like "Tidal Wave" and "Trip and Tumble" and it's the first time you can hear them in full and not condensed form, underpinning Ruby's words. For two solo performers, I'm proud to say we created a de-stigmatizing and incredibly moving tw- woman show which touched many ill and well people alike.
A week doesn't pass without a Losing It fan writing to tell me how much this album has meant to them”
Did you get a lot of feedback from audience members?
Well the second act is a conversation with the audience and that was the most therapeutic part in my opinion. Having seen us bare all in the first act, the audience felt comfortable enough to speak candidly about themselves and the things they shared were heartbreaking and inspiring. Like the woman who hadn't left her home for 20 years until she came to the show with her support team. We'd spent a year performing in psychiatric hospitals and the like and hadn't expected the conversations to be quite as revealing in the theatres, but people want to talk about this now and if you give them permission and make them feel safe, they will. Of course it also touched me deeply that the music resonated so much with the audience. A week doesn't pass without a Losing It fan writing to tell me how much this album has meant to them. That the lyrics have helped them through bad days, reminding them that somebody understands and feels the same. THAT'S the best reason for doing it.
Did you find the experience of doing the show therapeutic?
Very. With this illness, you think you're the only one who can't cope; who's hiding from the world, whist everyone else is having a great time. Hearing the audience's stories made me feel less lonely and more able to feel compassion for myself through them. I always compare it to AA, an organization that figured out long since that sharing is half the battle.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Classical music, Folk and Jazz. My dad sang at the ROH Covent Garden for 30 odd years and I went to the Saturday morning dress rehearsals almost every weekend from age five. So my sense of using music to convey emotions is very strong and is what really works in this show and within my own recordings, especially an album as revealing as Some Kind Of Comfort.
Looking further ahead, what have you got in the pipeline?
I’m working on a new show for the Edinburgh Festival, there will be more Losing It shows, a live performance collaboration with Richard Thompson in his 'Cabaret of Souls' theatre piece, two more albums, one of ballads in a melancholy Welsh vein and a second Christmas collection which I'm already halfway through. Sounds like a lot, but honestly, it's never enough!