Name: Lou Rhodes
Occupation: Songwriter, singer, poet
Current release: Lou Rhodes' latest release, a deep and sensual song collaboration with emerging producer Tutara Peak called “Ember”, is available now. [Read our Tutara Peak interview] Lou will be also performing as part of the ‘Secret World of Plants’ series at Kew Gardens on 15th August.
If these thoughts by Lou Rhodes piqued your interest, visit her official homepage for everything you ever wanted to know about her. For current updates, photos and music, head over to her Facebook, twitter and Soundcloud accounts.
Also make sure to check out our Lamb interview, where Lou Rhodes and Andrew Barlow discuss a wide range of topics, from production and originality to their creative partnership.
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?
My creative impulse comes from so many sources it’s hard to pin it down. I guess, over the years, love and personal relationships have played the biggest role but sometimes it’s just been a case of, quite literally, looking up to the sky for inspiration.
I remember a song I wrote with Lamb called ‘The Spectacle’ which was a perfect example of this.
Andy (my partner in Lamb) had written this lovely piano part and I was struggling to find lyrics that worked with it. I put the track on headphones and went for a walk and, at some point, looked up at the sky and was like ‘c’mon whatever, or whoever is out there; give me something!’ Then it all came, like a download, and was about how we, as humans, give away our power to forces outside of ourselves when we are the channel for so much.
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?
For me there’s no planning at all. I’m a firm believer in ‘process driven art’ in all its forms. It’s a common approach in visual arts but also, if you ask writers of literary fiction they’d often have a similar approach; the idea that we simply start to write and the story takes over from there.
It’s a case of being open to triggers and impulses at all times.
The song ‘Sea Organ’ on my last solo record was inspired by the sound of an unusual instrument of the same name which is a concrete structure built under the sea and makes music as the waves wash over it. The song evolved from that sound and addressed the subject of our human responsibility to the earth.
Sadly, the original sound couldn’t be tuned so had to be removed but its effect (and name) remained.
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'?
The only preparation for me is being in the right headspace which is hard to describe to anyone who doesn’t share that experience. So, for me, everything is preparation: getting up, meditating, exercising, drinking coffee, doing the washing up. In a sense, everything is creativity. Everything leads to that moment when the words and melody flow so it’s important to create an environment in which that can happen; to keep my mind, heart and soul open for the inspiration.
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?
Oh, I think I just answered a lot of this above. I’d say I’m at my creative high point just after my morning coffee. And it has to be good coffee (laughs).
I guess I also eat healthy and avoid additives etc. I’m also super-sensitive to artificial smells (there’s a certain hair product that many women use that puts me in a really bad mood) So, yeah, a natural environment that’s quiet with plenty fresh air.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Again, there is no recipe. Most songs and, more recently, poems come from a first line that just pops randomly into my head. Having said that, during lockdown, I decided to have a daily poetry writing practice in which I’d sit at my laptop (after that first coffee) and ask myself ‘what needs to come?’ Then I’d just write with very little conscious editing, in a kind of free-form way. Quite often I’d be really surprised at what came out, almost as if I hadn’t written it.
Then again, some lyrics and poems come from a specific trigger. My poem ‘Rain’ was literally the story of being awoken by rain dripping through my ceiling.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
See above (re poetry). In songs lyrics and music often come in a two way process, playing off of one another. Sometimes though, as with poems, lyrics emerge out of the blue; when there’s something that needs to be said.
Our Lamb song ‘The Secret of Letting Go’ emerged as a result of an argument between myself and Andy (Barlow) which nearly split the band.
As a kind of last resort we decided to go into seperate rooms where I’d write lyrics and he’d write music which we’d throw together and see what happened. The track that emerged is abstract and angular, reflecting the atmosphere that created it whilst also providing a possible route to redemption: ’The secret of letting go is forgetting to hold on …’
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
For me it’s always about what moves me. When I listen to other peoples’ songs that’s my barometer; that ‘goosbump’ moment. In my own writing I simply want to make a difference in whatever way in the people who hear them. To move them; to touch their hearts.
‘Good’ lyrics don’t have to be complex or clever, in fact sometimes I’m blown away by the simplest of lyrics. Often it’s as much about the space between lyrics as the lyrics themselves.
I guess that’s what Lamb song ‘The Silence in Between’ was inspired by.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Sometimes I’ll write a first few lines and then leave it for a while. There’s a sense in which putting an idea on a ‘back burner’ allows it to gently percolate in a place beyond the mind. The best ideas come from that place.
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?
The freer the process the better. Often, especially recently when writing poetry, there’ll be a turnaround in the piece that totally takes me by surprise. I love that.
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! I love when that happens. It’s a magical mystery tour of ideas.
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?
For me the creative state is an ‘open’ state. It’s what, in Zen Buddhism, is called Buddha Mind. It is total simplicity. There’s nothing fancy or clever about it. It’s about letting your whole being be, as much as possible, a blank slate so the ideas can flow through you.
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?
I can’t stand to overwork things. There’s a gut feeling when something’s done.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It’s definitely good to get some distance from a piece if time allows. In that way it’s possible to have a more objective approach.
There are definitely two stages to the creative process: the initial open, creative stage and the second stage in which the ‘editor’ comes into play. I do, however, have a strong belief that first ideas are often our best in the way they slip out and avoid over-thinking and the ego.
There’s some editing but I try to keep that to a minimum as you can offer dissappear down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and end up hating what you’ve made.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to the tech side of music. I have recently set up a basic home studio but generally tend to like to leave this part in the hands of others whose realm it is. I think there’s a very different mindset to creating/writing etc and the production/ mixing end of things and, for me, it works best when they’re in different hands.
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?
I haven’t experienced emptiness at this stage as much of a kind of fear and vulnerability which feels almost like being thrown out into the world naked. Putting this work out there that you’ve thrown your heart and soul into for months (or even years) can be pretty scary and tender.
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?
As I said earlier, I think everything is creative. To me it’s important to do each small thing with the same focus I’d bring to writing a song or painting a picture. I can’t stand when people do things half-heartedly and, ironically, it’s often the same people who complain of a lack of fulfillment in their lives or of boredom.
Everything’s an artform and everything’s worth doing well.