Folk Witness has been talking to Josienne Clarke about her debut solo album, In All Weather – among other things! So many other things, in fact, that we decided to split this fascinating interview into two parts. Click here to take a look at the first, in which she discussed creative space, her ‘rules’ of songwriting and the difference between constructing poems and songs. Part two – which begins with a discussion of the impact of gaslighting on her song If I Didn’t Mind, and continues with talk of videos, fizzy drinks and sandwiches – is below.
Folk Witness: If I Didn’t Mind tackles the subject of gaslighting and passive aggression, something you’ve written about your personal experience with. You wrote on your blog that writing it helped you ‘define what was happening to me’. Was it painful to do this – did you have any reservations about making it into a song, releasing it, talking about it?
Josienne Clarke: The worst thing about that experience for me was not being able to explain what was happening to me. As someone who articulates difficult emotional situations/feelings for a living that was deeply frustrating and upsetting. I’d always thought I could solve my problems with words… and I guess it turns out that in this case I can and I have and I did, but it was really hard and took me ages!
Seriously though, it wasn’t so painful to write about – it was liberating and making it a song is kind of liberating too. Every time I sing it I feel like I’m reclaiming a little more of the truthful narrative, dispelling its myth and putting it squarely behind me.
I did find it hard to talk about though and the blog you refer to… my finger hovered over the ’publish’ icon for days!
The thing about gaslighting is that no one believes you. No one can see it happening, so they rationalise it away and put it down to ‘paranoia’ or irrationality or your inability to keep perspective. It’s behaviour that projects with a cunning sleight of hand and it’s designed to make its victim look bonkers and I did look bonkers for years. So I worried that in posting and talking about it I’d get written off as unhinged and overdramatic: not a thing I actually am – I’m emotional, which is why it was possible to do that to me, but I’m a clear thinker, I now know what it is and it has no power, the process of writing about it was part of that change in thinking.
That song in particular is a good example, but the album seems particularly open, and emotionally vulnerable in some ways. Has the response felt any more personal than with your other work?
I’ve always been an autobiographical writer and I’ve always been pretty open in my writing but when you have more than your name on the record you have to temper that a little. I was always aware of having to express two people and I didn’t really like that aspect of the duo format. With this record there’s no need to express anyone else and no worry about whether or not it’s too out there and honest or not.
I’m not afraid to express things as they really are. I’m not afraid of emotional honesty, I never have been. I’m okay to be seen this way, this is what it feels like to be a person living now, a woman in this world – simply existing can be hard. Interpersonal relationships are a delicate, difficult set of emotions to balance, but those difficulties don’t have to be secret or shameful. Like a lot of women, I know, my vulnerability is not weakness. I’m alright, I had some things I needed to work through, and I did and that’s what this album represents to me and what I’m always aiming for is that that rings true for someone else and it helps in a tiny way. To be real, not to be perfect.
You’ve taken a lot of care over the album’s visual elements – Alec Bowman wrote a great blog about the process of putting together the cover photo – plus there are a some very different but very thoughtfully made videos. Do you enjoy that side of things? There were some great JC & BW videos too, did that come from you?
I’ve always considered the cover art to be part of the overall work. It’s not simply some wrapping, the titling and artwork are intrinsic and must reflect the overall artistic intention. It’s a part of the process that I really love and took on gleefully as one of my jobs in the duo.
For this record, as Alec described, I had an idea of what it needed to do and as always by a process of elimination and experimenting we managed to get there and I think the packaging of this record is my favourite of my career so far (with the PicaPica Together & Apart sleeve a close second, both put together by Phil Laslett). As a photographer and a maker of videos, Alec has been really useful in helping me to translate my ideas/concepts into a visual medium more succinctly. It’s nice to have someone both creative and enthusiastic to bounce lots of ideas about with.
The Slender, Sad & Sentimental video is particularly arresting. We don’t want to destroy the mystique or unravel the references within it, because they’re fun to spot, but… can you explain why someone pours a can of fizzy drink over your head while you’re lashed to a tree?
That is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 2013 video for ‘Fire & Fortune’ in which I am tied up and have petrol poured on me in a sort of ‘Josienne Of Arc’ style video that was, as with most of the duo oeuvre, fairly dark and serious. In my defence that was the director Alec Bowman’s idea but as it was so funny I couldn’t not do it, even though it made me an extremely sticky target for wasps on a summer’s day! (I had a big bottle of water on standby to pour over me too to wash off the Fanta!)
That song speaks perhaps of a desire to be more positive. You’ve long talked (and sung) about melancholia and sadness. Are you still finding new things in it? And – just considering the subject matter of songs like If I Didn’t Mind – are you okay?
I’ve always felt like writing about melancholy is easier and more natural because joy isn’t an emotion that requires so much reflection. My albums are usually working through something and as I’ve said before joy is a momentary experience – to be truly in it is to release oneself to that all-encompassing moment, not to be outside documenting it.
However, I guess from my artistic output one could assume I have no love and no joy in my life, that I lie about like a pale pre-Raphaelite painting, reading Baudelaire and weeping! I don’t. ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’ is me suggesting to myself that I might in future like to present a more rounded view of myself. I’m not sure how that would manifest itself in my artistic output, but I’m perhaps tired of playing the character of the ‘Mistress of Melancholy’ and just maybe there’s a way to be reflective and poignant and poetic without being seen as such a sultry sourpuss.
I’ve had some pretty difficult times over recent years and some of the process of making this album was identifying the source of some of that unresolvable sadness, letting some things end and alter for the better. The only person you can ever change is yourself and I had to learn that not all problems could be solved with words, however good you are at them (a tough revelation for a professional wordsmith). Sometimes actions speak louder and now I know that I’m okay, yes.
In All Weather seems borne of change – so what’s next for you? Another change? Or is the Bute life the way forward now?
Right now I’m not sure. I only planned up to this point! I’m touring the album more extensively next year and I’m writing more songs, as I always am (and more poems) and I’ll see how that goes, I think.
To be quite honest, a year or so ago I wasn’t sure I’d get this far. I thought it might all be done, so that it isn’t is a joy I want to hold on to. I might just sit with that for a moment and let it sink in.
Finally… what, Josienne Clarke, is your favourite sandwich?
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, naturally.