MUSIC REVIEW: “A contemplative, part hopeful part melancholy piece of music & writing”
Music Review of ‘Pocketful of Sand’ by online magazine Stereo Stickman.
Described as ‘a contemplative, part hopeful part melancholy piece’, read the music review of Pocketful of Sand.
“Pocketful Of Sand is the long awaited release from songwriter extraordinaire Kathy Muir. This delicate, piano-led folk song offers a minimalist approach to expression and presents just a few lines of thoughtful lyricism throughout the whole recording; for listeners to take on and attach meaning to in their own unique way. The accompanying video for the song adds a striking level of imagery that re-emphasises each of these lines beautifully. All in all, you get a contemplative, part hopeful part melancholy piece of music and writing.
MUSIC REVIEW of Pocketful of Sand from online magazine Stereo Stickman.
South Korean Visual Artist
Jun “Sean” Sung Hyun is the artist behind the single sitting video, a creative whose sketches brought to life the images desperate to emerge from Kathy Muir’s mind as she wrote the song. The two art forms go together superbly, a perfect match in fact; the video is a peaceful and enjoyable visual outpouring that feeds further into the concept of this pocketful of sand, this pocketful of something that can’t long be held or kept whole in its initial physical state.
About the Song
The song itself is a gentle and notably organic piece of music. The simplicity of the instrumentation pays tribute to the value of reflective and honest songwriting – nothing fancy is needed, nothing flashy or over the top. The song alone and the artist’s emotional exploration of it, throughout the performance, does the ideas and the melody more than enough justice. The sound has a freshness and slight vulnerability about it, something likely to intrigue most listeners, and yet the familiarity of Kathy Muir’s voice and musical style steps forward almost instantly when the track and video begin to play. As mentioned, it’s a long-awaited release, and a welcome return.
BBC Taboo social media creative replies on Twitter
They say little things please little minds. And if that’s the case then I’m especially happy after waking up this morning and opening Twitter.
I blog on website Niume. Follow Magazine is a very cool Australian online magazine that is also a member on Niume. Founder Nathan March commented on my post that he thought the song was great and that my post really illuminated the process beautifully. I was very happy to read his comment but even happier to find that he shared my article on Twitter. When I discovered this I thanked Nathan and wondered if the BBC Taboo show would be interested.
As you can see in the photo below, I awoke at 6 a.m. EST to see this tweet from Richard Barley, a social media creative for the BBC and I guess one of the team members who can reply to the hashtag #bbctaboo.
Album Review ‘Second Life’ – all the way from Scotland
I recently discovered a super review of third album Second Life on Twitter from up and coming blog The Barley Boat. The Barley Boat is based in Scotland.
Below is an extract
“The video for Troubled Town is a track from Kathy Muir’s third album, which was released at the tail end of last month. It is a song about her current home town in the United States and the City she was brought up in, Edinburgh. This serves as a pleasantly soulful introduction to the artist for those who may not be familiar with her work. The piano only accompaniment complements her voice perfectly as she delivers an ultimately optimistic outlook on life”.
You can read the full article here which actually includes two videos relating to Scotland: Like Warriors and Troubled Town.
I write a whole heap about new song ‘Same As Letting Go over on my blog page. If you’re interested in the creative process, would like to read the lyrics or want to actually see me playing the song then you can read the article here.
What other news? Producer Steve and I met up late last week and signed off You Never Knew Me and Try Coming Round. These are two songs from the forthcoming 4-track EP entitled 2+2=4. I’ll be posting some info soon about this but will be telling you all about it in my newsletter. It’s never too late to sign and join our little community.
I let Steve hear the acoustic version of French song ‘Si Doucement’ and structurally, we’re all good on that one, so our plan for next week is to finish the pop version of the song and , time permitting, recording one take of the acoustic version. I’d love to squeeze in 30 minutes to record Same As Letting Go, so we’ll see.
What else? Oh yes, I have seen the artwork for the EP and it’s looking wonderful. I’ll be sharing it exclusively in my newsletter at the end of this week. Just sayin’
Check out a video of The Other Side filmed at home yesterday Jan 30th and which introduces the show at which I’m playing ( Cafe Nine, New Haven on January 31st.)
I’m also psyched to tell you that I’m aiming to release music video Never Felt Like a Woman in a few weeks time. This is the third and final music video taken from the third album Second Life. We shot Never Felt Like a Woman in the recording studio. The footage captures the recording process; me singing and playing guitar, and Steve working his finger picking magic. Never Felt Like a Woman is one of the few songs on the third album that it is pretty much bare arrangement-wise. It’s one of those songs that could become loud but, in actual fact, the essence of the song is about feeling stripped down, so it seemed only fitting to reflect this with the song’s arrangement.
New EP ‘2+2=4’ near to completion
Speaking of which, the finishing touches for new EP “2+2=4” are happening right now. At least in terms of the songs themselves. These are four songs on the new EP:
The Other Side
Try Coming Round
You Never Knew Me
Go over to my blog to read more about the making of River Running. For the music video, we were doing a bunch of recordings – both audio and video for the EP. After filming Try Coming Round, I let Vincent (videographer) hear River Running. You see, we’d planned to release the EP with simple, honest music videos during the recording of each song. Once Vincent heard the song, he said “this isn’t a studio video, we need to shoot outdoors and I know just the place. I also have a pretty interesting idea for this video”.
Once the weather gets warmer, we’ll head towards Beacon in New York State. I can’t say much else about the video except that a Roland Micro Cube amp is going to feature. Big time!
I have a few stories to tell behind the making of these songs, so stay tuned!
I recently met up with online music magazine Stereo Stickman. Here’s what we chatted about.
Following the release of her new album Second Life, which we reviewed back in October, we caught up with songwriting extraordinaire Kathy Muir to find out a little more about her creative process and the array of music she’s written and released over the past twelve months. Here’s how it went.
* * *
Can you tell us a little about the whole Second Life concept – what does the term mean to you, and was this an ongoing, slowly developing idea for the album, or was there a certain point at which the thought appeared and it just seemed to fit?
I would say it is a mix of both.
The first album Far from Entirely was the beginning of my recording aspirations and this title seemed fitting. Far fromEntirely could be a real place or it could be a state of mind for which you have yet to reach your end destination. That’s how I felt about my music. I had so much material from over the years that I’d never recorded, so the first album was the beginning of that recording journey.
Book Cover Judge was a continuation of that journey. The old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ was something I felt strongly about, especially when musicians are so often forced to try to categorize their music. The album title was a reminder to use your ears not your eyes.
Second Life cemented the essence of this journey: I felt home, I felt well in my creative skin and was finally comfortable accepting that my writing songs in various styles didn’t mean I was trying to be a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none but rather I was embracing who I was as a songwriter and expressing that identity with absolute freedom and conviction. I also felt with each new song I was writing that the title of the album was still relevant. Poignantly, the actual song Second Life was written for a young boy who was trying to make a change in his life and didn’t know how to. My song was a message to him and a hopeful support.
When you wrote and released Like Warriors, did you know that it would feature on this particular album, and did you already have the album name in place at that point?
When I wrote Like Warriors – I think it was early November last year–I knew I wanted to release it as a single in December. That was around the same time that I decided to delay the launch of the six-track EP until February or so. Knowing how quickly I write songs, by the time February came around, the EP had become my third album Second Life. Like Warriors was indeed released as a single and then re-mastered for the album (as was Born By The Water).
This video chat was shot the same day I visited the local Oxgangs library to get photos from residents and the same day we caught on camera Harry and I doing four unplugged songs. (The second time in three years we’ve been in the same room together playing.)
Did you write each of these songs for this particular project, or did you choose from a larger list of possibilities and build the collection from there? Are there songs that didn’t make the final cut, and will people be able to hear those at some point in the future?
I tend not to write songs for particular albums. Even while recording songs for the album we were in the studio recording other material. When we completed the last song for the Second Life album, we also had two other projects on the go. Even as we speak, I’m working on my fourth album, which will be called Double Take as a nod to those double A-side singles released in the ’60s and ’70s. There will be five songs with both a pop and an acoustic version. After all, most of my songs are written on acoustic guitar and I’ve always believed that a good song is one that, when stripped bare, still engages the listener.
We’re three quarters of the way through the recording process for Double Take but I’ve been writing other songs that I really wanted to record. So, Pocketful of Sand, Try Coming Round, Morning Song, You Never Knew Me, and Perfect Day, are all songs either completed or close to completion in the studio that will not be on the fourth album.
All songs make the cut. I don’t waste time and money going into the studio unless the song is going to be released. All my songs are eventually released to the public. None are held back. That’s the joy of being an independent musician. The songs are released in various states: some as part of the Rough Diamonds playlist on my website or on Soundcloud. The Rough Diamonds Sessions contain songs that are yet to be polished in the studio.
To be honest, I think my constant challenge is not if I release material but when. For example, I’d like Try Coming Round and You Never Knew Me to be part of a set containing three or four songs that feel indie, stripped-down, high in reverb, and atmospheric. I’ve just finished completing a home demo for another song called River Running that will be a great addition to this concept EP. No title yet. Answers on a postcard…
Click through to read Kathy’s blog for a more in-depth analysis of her creative process.
How much of your time is spent writing and recording music, whether for release or for personal recreation, and how much of it is spent performing and sharing it with audiences? How does the live experience compare to when you first create the song at home?
Of all the time I dedicate to music, the majority of it is definitely spent on writing, then recording, then performing. The reason for the order is that I think of myself as a songwriter first, a singer second, and a guitar player third. I never stop writing and find on most days I’m singing sound bytes onto my iPhone or writing down words in my notebook. Certain song ideas take shape really quickly and I’m then forced to open Logic Pro and put down the vocals and guitars as well as any ideas for strings, bass or drums. This was actually the case for River Running.
Do you think live music is still as important now that most music is discovered and shared digitally?
It’s a double-edged sword. We all seek a global awareness of our songs yet are not well enough known to afford to travel far and wide to perform them. So we play locally. Although Connecticut is considered small in comparison to other states, you still have musicians who will travel two hours to do a gig that may have a small audience or that does not pay. Combine that with the fact that many places are swayed more toward cover bands and you find the opportunity to play live and raise awareness of your music becomes limited. Moreover, if you want to play in places that do recognize original music, you can be asked to bring at least twenty people to attend.
However, it’s not all bad news. I do play live. I enjoy this real litmus test that gives you a sense as to whether the audience likes your material or not, and it’s so worthwhile to get feedback, engage with folks after the show or even get to talk a little in between songs about what the songs are about.
I think today’s musicians need to provide a mix of both live performance and of ensuring they are social media-present. I love writing, period. I like writing about other artists (visual artists mainly) and especially love to write about the creative process. For the latter, my website is my second home and I get excited when I get to share what I do on my site.
Which of the songs on the new project affect you the most emotionally, when performing them or listening back? Do they all have a personal connection to you, or are there some that are simply songs to tell stories or to reach out to people in a more general way – using the music to connect, the sound to evoke feeling, as opposed to purely for expression?
There are actually a good few on Second Life that I strongly relate to. I Want to Lay Down was written last summer. I would go out on my 18th story balcony and play the song while watching the sun go down and hear the kids and their families in the communal courtyard down below, squealing and having fun (the kids I mean 😉 ). The song is personal because it’s about those we love, physically or spiritually. Troubled Town relates to my life in Connecticut and my love for my home city of Edinburgh. Never Felt Like a Woman was one of the last songs from my earlier material I still felt strongly about releasing because it’s so honest. And of course, Second Life, as much as for the reasons I mentioned earlier but also because I delved much more into the arrangement of the song and wrote all the parts.
You recently released the song The Other Side as a personal response to the tragedy in Orlando earlier this year.
Despite its inherent sadness, the song comes across representing hope; the idea that violence and hatred will not bring out more violence and hatred even in the most horrific of circumstances. It’s natural to react with anger to needless and twisted events such as this, but anger doesn’t often help anything, and, to me, the song suggests that the love and happiness that bothers certain people so much will continue and perhaps be even stronger in the face of their evil.
You’re on point. While I want people to enjoy listening to my songs, they are a part of me, and things that are a part of us are often private. A painter doesn’t paint because he expects to exhibit his work or to gain financial reward. He paints because he needs to express his creativity. Therefore, I measure a song’s creative content by how much I want to sing it every night on stage. Would I really want to write about a relationship that ended, or that made me bitter? No.
I’m an optimist at heart and always want to write words that go beyond the obvious, and that offer–if not hope–some learning from which to grow. Out of challenge comes opportunity.
Was it your intention to write something about the incident, or did you just find yourself deeply saddened and in need of creating something to try to help combat the negativity? Did it make you feel any differently about the situation once you had seen your thoughts reflected in the song?
Specifically relating to The Other Side, I found myself deeply affected by the maelström of events occurring around the world and, as you perceptively pointed out, I wanted to bring a message that I think we all want to hear: we can bring about change through unison not division. ‘Walls being built’ to divide people was one of the triggers for the song but the more immediate one was that of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Very similar to River Running, I spent weeks writing in my notebook, writing down too long a list of events that started in early 2016, laying down my thoughts and the eventual story line for the song. I actually had too much material: one of the hardest challenges songwriters face is how to tell a story or convey a message within a finite amount of time. This is when every single word matters.
I didn’t feel any differently about the situation but I felt that I had created something meaningful that I would continue to ‘talk’ about through performing it live. The Other Side is often the final song I perform at my shows. I want people to remember the last words they hear: Life is so sweet, don’t let it pass you by. Is this what you really want to leave behind? Our actions have a consequence.
Who are some of your favourite songwriters? Are there any artists or bands that you’ve discovered or worked with recently that have inspired you or that you recommend checking out?
Wow, don’t get me started. The artist I keep going back to is Joshua James. He has everything for me and when I hear one of his songs I feel I’m seeing a short film. I listen to new artists all the time on Sofar, Soundcloud and Hype Machine. Up there in my top ten right now are two composers Sebastian Plano and Ben Stanbridge and more contemporary sounds from Matt Woods, George Ogilvie, Flora Cash, Joe Mason, Beauvois and Molly Moore. Zak Abel has real talent. Right now, I can’t stop listening to Highasakite’s acoustic version of Samurai Swords.
I watch a lot of acts on Sofar, which is a brilliant idea and an extension of what The Mahogany Sessions started. For ambient style music, I always head to Soundcloud. I have a public playlist called Brotherly Love that has a heap of my favourites.
Where can people catch a live performance from you over the next few weeks?
I have shows from now until March that are mainly in Connecticut and my website lists them all. I am doing a wee show in Edinburgh when I’m home for a week in May and during that time hope to play at The Jazz Bar and The Bluebird Café. I may look into Stage It for virtual shows if fans are interested.
* * *
A big thank you to Kathy for taking the time to talk to us with such honesty and depth. Leave your comments at the bottom and find and follow Kathy Muir on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud to stay in touch. Her new music video Troubled Town is out December 28th.
To read the interview online or to discover more undiscovered artists, check out Stereo Stickman’s website.
Second Life: ‘The lyrical content has exceptional literary value’
Kathy Muir’s third album doesn’t find her negotiating her way through some major change in direction or style. Instead, Second Life is eleven songs of consolidation. The style she has established with her first two albums is further refined here and her singer/songwriter bonafides are burnished further by the obvious personal turn in the writing. Second Life’s production and songwriting also hints at a gradually broadening of Muir’s sound – the classification of Americana music is growing harder and harder for Muir’s releases to maintain and she seems to be subsuming a variety of styles into her sound. The lyrical content has exceptional literary value – each text is perfectly conceived and Muir expresses herself in words with the same lean vitality energizing her music.
“Lucky One” has a number of emotional stances and some underrated moments of bite. Muir’s vocal never becomes overwrought at any of these turns and she orchestrates the competing emotions with a sure hand. The song has the sort of steadily mounting tension we associate with rock tracks. This quality is present on the album’s second song as well. Muir cuts loose vocally a little more than before on “Better Man”, but it still avoids lapsing into anything melodramatic or purple. A big reason why such a moment never comes is thanks to Muir’s lyrics – few songs on Second Life embody her precise writing style better. Her warm, welcoming vocal on “Honey Child” has a practically hypnotic quality. It’s the depth of emotion that’s soothing and the guitar work complements it perfectly with a number of subtly lyrical runs. “Stop Messin’ Me Around” jumps with genuine live, musicians on the floor feel and the bluesy echoes fueling the track are a welcome shift at this point.
The violin and guitar arrangement of “Born by the Water” is deceptively simple, but it has flashes of ingenuity and one of the album’s best lyrics. Muir’s voice follows the emotional trajectory of the lyrics with an eye towards balancing her performance in perfect sympathy with the band’s playing. There’s a surprising rock and roll energy peering its way from below the acoustic musings of “Never Felt Like a Woman” and it might help make the track the album’s high point in many ways. There’s a very folky quality to “Like Warriors” that Muir makes the most of with a gloriously sweeping vocal full of feeling and the careful phrasing that brings her lyrics more to the fore. The title song concludes Second Life on quite a memorable note. Muir’s voice works exceptionally well with the song’s classical backing track despite the fact that the production clearly places a priority on her voice. It’s one of her best vocals, however, and the song’s lyrical turns are particularly affecting.