Name: Fiona Brice
Occupation: Composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Fiona Brice's And You Know I Care is out via Bella Union.
If you enjoyed this interview with Fiona Brice and would like to stay up to date on her music and releases, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram.
To keep reading, we recommend our earlier Fiona Brice interview, in which she shares her perspective on a wider range of topics.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
The visual arts and literature are important sources of inspiration for me. Art galleries, magazines, literature. Playing the classical music repertoire (violin, piano) also inspires me to write.
Personal relationships definitely play a part in my songwriting; I often scribble down odd sentences, things I’d like to say to people, things I wish I had said, but then I strip away the actual narrative, reducing it to its core emotion (eg. love, loss, grief, desire).
The title track from my new record ‘And You Know I Care’ is a good example of this.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
If I am writing for TV or an orchestral arrangement for someone else’s song I am fairly disciplined and I map everything out thoroughly on the page (usually in Sibelius) marking out intro / verse / chorus etc before I start experimenting with musical ideas.
However, I have a strong gut instinct for my own music so when I feel an idea coming for a song or an instrumental piece, the process is a lot more fragmented. I will usually play around with an idea at the piano and let it develop. Sometimes I improvise around it and record this as a voice note.
I will see where the idea takes me until I feel I have explored it thoroughly, over several days or weeks, then I will craft it into a final form. This usually involves some scruffy manuscript sketches and some demos.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
As above. I nearly always sketch on manuscript at the piano. Some projects require research, others just seem to unfold naturally.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I do not have any rituals other than boiling the kettle for a cup of tea before attempting pretty much anything.
Having practiced yoga regularly for about 20 years, I find it influences my state of mind, allowing me to find space for thought, and to develop calmness, curiosity and patience. I’m naturally quite an impatient person so this is helpful when I’m struggling with an idea or a tricky musical passage.
The 3rd movement of my String Quartet No.1 was actually written while studying yoga in Thailand and I feel you can hear that calm space within it.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I tend to start with a melodic fragment that has occurred to me or a short sentence; the seed of an idea scribbled down that stays present in my mind, but it’s not necessarily a linear process.
A first idea is just a starting point that has held my attention and it might develop upwards or sideways, I have to play with it and let it emerge.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I definitely experience a sense of flow when I’m working well and I do follow wherever this leads.
Some things are a real struggle though, especially when you’re working with larger orchestral forms. You have to have the patience to graft through a passage when it gets tricky, taking regular breaks to re - assess.
When I listen back to a completed work after not hearing it for some time, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I wrote it. The struggle is long gone and the music now inhabits its own space.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes. Explore every avenue. You need to find out where they lead.
Sometimes they lead to an entirely new song or piece.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Being creative is a state of being present and being able to express yourself truthfully.
There is no element of spirituality to my writing. I am firmly grounded in the human present and have no interest in religion. Its dogmatism angers me.
There’s a track called “Whose God are You?” on my new record which is basically questioning moral authority.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Again I’d say I have a strong gut feel for when the work is finished, musically. I get a sense of balance and clarity.
Production is a process I prefer to share with someone else I trust, often working with an engineer / producer friend, and then I’m pretty hands off in terms of mixing / mastering, although I do comment on every mix and feed back until I’m happy with everything.
I think it’s important to let go and to trust other people’s expertise in the studio.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yes I am in that state right now!
You live with an album in secret for months, sometimes years, then it finally gets released to the public and there is a strange sense of relief plus absence. I try to take a break for a few days, and if I feel like being creative I might choose a different instrument to write for, eg. if I have just finished an album of songs I might then choose to write something for string quartet instead.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Composers and recording artists spend years crafting a unique catalogue of work which will become their life’s legacy (a word which has annoyingly come to mean old or outdated thanks to software developments. I prefer to use it in its positive historical sense). When you create and record music you leave your permanent mark on the world, in the way that making a cup of coffee just … doesn’t.
I’m protective over genuine artistic creativity because it takes years to become an artist in any discipline and the word ‘creative' is currently very over-used.