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Carol Hodge cover

photo: john middleham

design; giles sibbald

Carol Hodge sub cover

original photo: chris hill

design; giles sibbald

carol-

 

I've released the first single Manoeuvres, which is the opening track on the upcoming album, EffortLess InSecurity. And that's definitely the heaviest song on the album, but it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the piece.

So I wanted to create a slightly more cohesive world in terms of genre for this album. So I feel it's more of a stoner rock album. I mean, I've described it as Queenadreena meets Queens Of The Stone Age meets Queen, which is probably quite lazy self journalism, but I think that covers all the bases.  

So, when I say stoner rock, it's got more guitar in, it's slightly darker, slightly heavier.

But there's still all the sort of slightly proggy, Queen-ish piano bits, you know, key changes, and proggy chord changes that I love with, again, a bit of more this slightly more introspective-in-a-theatrical way vocal, I think, which is the Queenadreena element.

With all my previous albums, I've just really enjoyed exploring the variety of colour that I could have on an album, because I'm very much a fan of just doing what I feel the song wants, and serving it that way.

So, there's been much more of the big, polished pop numbers on those previous albums. There's been piano ballads and the more anthemic rock stuff as well. In terms of the production of the record, I wanted it all to feel like it was in the same room as well. So I really thought about the space that it was recorded in. We spent quite a long time trying to nail that down getting exactly the right drum sound and guitar sound and bass sound and piano sounds and everything to feel feel like it was in the same sonic space throughout.

 

Which I think we've achieved!

Carol Hodge LIVE - Chris Hill

photo: chris hill

carol-

 

as you know, I write about my own inner... turmoil sounds a dramatic word ... but basically what's going on in my brain. I'm very open about mental health and, I feel that my strength as a songwriter, has been to be able to mine into and articulate a lot of the anxiety, insecurity, depression philosophy that is going on in my inner world, and being able to get that out for other people to hopefully feel an affinity with.

Carol Hodge LIVE - Natural Vibrations

giles-

what was happening in your life when you were writing this?

carol-

So, as the title suggests, it's about insecurity. And a lot of it was inspired by me going into a new romantic relationship as a sober person for the first time. My partner is also sober. And he's from the same world as me - he works in music, he's on tour a lot. So it's been a really interesting process for me to be with somebody new. I don't know what it is about romantic relationships, but they're very different to friendships. My experience is that they're very intense and it's made me realise that I'm the sort of person who wears my heart on my sleeve, dives into things with both feet, is very open emotionally, is effusive, expressive and has a lot of love to give. And that can be a bit overwhelming for some people. I've also realised that I have anxious attachment. I didn't even know what that was, until this scenario, where I was like, 'why am I so insecure about this? Why do I feel so anxious about everything?'. I was over-analysing everything that I was saying, and that my partner was saying, and it brought up a lot of stuff psychologically speaking. So that's been a massive journey that I've gone on over the past 12-18 months. I've been feeling my way through that, and that's what a lot of the album was inspired by. And, we're still together, and it's great. I feel a lot more settled now, and I'm really happy, but getting to this point has really been a huge journey. I started therapy as a result of what these feelings catalysed, which brought up a lot of inner child stuff that I've never addressed or considered before - or even knew was a thing. So, the new relationship catalysed this massive chain reaction psychologically for me. Because of the sobriety and being a lot more self aware, I was able to analyse why those reactions were happening - why do I feel like that? why am I overreacting in this way? So, I sought some help to mine down into all that, and that's where a lot of the songs have come from. It's very, very honest record. There is more of a darkness there because it has been a difficult process. I know there are a lot worse things going on in the world than me being insecure, but it's been a real eye opener, and it's exposed a lot of things under the surface that I didn't even realise were there.

giles-

Did you talk to your partner about what you were going through?

carol-

Yeah, absolutely. And he's been great. He's very patient. He's the opposite of me in many ways. And, you know, that's the cliche isn't it? That opposites attract. He's very stoic and very consistent. In terms of the attachment styles, he's probably more avoidant. So there's this whole collision of anxious attachment with avoidant attachment, which apparently, is a very common thing : as humans, we seek out the people who are the opposite of us in order to fill that gap, I suppose, or learn from the other person. But yeah, the whole process can be quite painful and intense.

giles-

I did start seeing a therapist a short time before my mum had an accident which led to her getting diagnosed with Alzheimers and what I found interesting - and this may be well known to everyone but it was a bit of an eye opener for me - is that the problem I thought I had wasn't actually the problem, it needed delving into to get to the root.

carol-

There's this concept of your inner child - we all have a level of awareness of it. Whenever you react to anything, it often comes from your internal system, I guess - it's weird to talk about it, because it sounds like you've got multiple personalities or whatever - but everybody has different pieces, or characters or elements or whatever you want to call them, inside ourselves. Nobody has just a single monologue. For me, it's been about recognising, accepting and not worrying about that. I've just been like, 'Okay, well, everybody has them'. And then it's case of tuning in, and being more aware of which piece is being activated in different circumstances, and what that piece needs in order to be reassured, so that you can, you know, follow the most healthy path for your wellbeing.

photo: natural vibrations

Carol Hodge  - Photo John Middleham

photo: john middleham

giles-

Fascinating stuff, Carol. Through your music, you've always talked openly about your life, your emotions and always through the lens of the social inequalities and injustices. We've obviously seen significant calls for musicians to use their platforms to speak out about injustices. What role do you feel music and musicians need to have in society and in our lives?

-cAROL

Yeah, I mean, obviously, there are the Crass songs that I'm singing and playing with Steve Ignorant and that's a legacy of material from 40 years ago. The lyrical themes in those songs are still massively relevant, unfortunately. It feels like, on a grander political scale, that we've gone full circle, and we're back to the late 70s, early 80s with what's happening with our government and, globally, things have taken a much more extreme, right sidestep. There is a massive amount of poverty in our country now and the cost of living has gone up massively. There's a huge wealth gap, so the division between people who experience and acknowledge that and the people who just don't care, because they're just interested in making money is really stark. So there is that sort of 'us and them' feeling. I engage a lot with what's happening in the world - I'm very interested in political issues and in being aware of, and understanding, what's happening. I find that, personally, very important. But as an artist, I'm also aware of whether people are really interested in my opinion. I'm not a politician. I'm not a spokesperson for that. I'm not here to talk about what I think is happening politically. I feel like I'm quite a sensitive person emotionally, I'm very empathetic and get affected by other people's emotions and what they're experiencing, I really feel it. And what I feel is happening is that there's a real desperation out there. There's a real feeling of helplessness. And there's a danger of that helplessness turning to apathy, and people just disengaging, just thinking 'Well, I can't do anything about any of this, because I'm completely powerless. So I'm just not going to bother, I'm just going to put up some brick wall and not engage with it'. And I totally understand that and I felt like that a lot myself. So as an artist, I feel like what I could do is to provide a realm and a situation in which people are allowed to be emotional and to not shut that off; whether it's listening to a song or listening to an album at home, or just feeling something, and feeling that it's all right to feel something. Or whether it's in a live gig situation: often, some of the songs really seem to resonate with people and they'll tell me that they cried when I did whatever song. And that's a massive compliment for me to know that I created a situation where people feel something. That's what's important. And the second thing that is important is that we all connect, and we don't isolate ourselves, you know, physically, emotionally, or mentally, that we don't shut ourselves off and think, 'Well, I'll just deal with all this on my own'. It's really important to go out and be in spaces with other people and have a shared experience of an emotion. That's what it is to be human. And that's what community is and that then trickles down because it's that feeling of not being alone - other people feel this, other people think this. The memory of that, the reassurance of that then has an impact on people's day to day lives.

giles-

 

I think that's a really fair point. I remember reading Bad Religion's book and they talked about the difficulty of putting a message across without sounding preachy. I think you're right that creating that emotional connection where people feel that what you're saying relates to them can give the message a greater impact. I do feel that people want to hear your opinion, but equally they want to own decisions and feel that they're not being railroaded into something. People do need to feel 'I made this decision on my own'.

carol-

I mean everybody says Crass are a political band. But, their ultimate goal I think, ideologically, was to get people to see that "there is no authority but yourself" and that their beliefs, opinions, feelings and actions are just as valid as anyone elses. And I need to tune into those instincts that tell me what the right path is for me and what the right actions are. I was at the Wildhearts gig last night and as soon as the gig had finished, everyone just stuck around for ages to talk to each other. If you're a fan of that band, it is like a big family and people know each other, and they recognise each other from previous gigs. And that's really special. If you can build that sense of community in the largest sense, just through music, it's a very anarchic thing to do, because that's a system, a community that isn't governed by any body officially. And I think it's really important to find these tribes, these groups, that are just yours, they don't belong to anyone else, they're not dictated by a higher power, you know, politically, they're just yours. And it's important for people to have that sense of belonging to something, to know that they're not on the own.

giles - 

I think that's such an important point, I really do. It shows how far we've lost that, because I do think community should be second nature to us. But you know, we've drifted away from it. I think you're totally right, with what you've just said - music providing that space for community for like minded people where they are brought together by the music, the lyrics, the band ethos, politics, whatever. I really found that myself with the people I got to know through Killing Joke. I interviewed Alice Nutter who was in Chumbawamba, and I love Alice, she's brilliant. She's a TV screenwriter now. She was saying that when Chumbawamba got together and they were living together in a squat or commune, they used to put all the money in the pot, they shared the work, ate together and stuff like that. She said that the feeling of being in that tribe or gang was so powerful, to the point where they felt invincible, which is really important when you're up against all the people, government and media that were hurling shit against them, that bond of 12 humans or whatever helped them through it. I mean I guess Crass were doing something similar with Dial House. And when Alice was telling me that, I just thought, yeah, that's really important these days...finding something that binds us.

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carOL- 

That sense of being in a gang - that's one of the things I love the most about being in a band or going on tour. You get really tight with people, you just feel like you're with your tribe, and you're protected, kind of invincible, but that is very much like it's a feeling. And that's the important element of it... it's not a thought process, it goes beyond that. And that's what I mean about the live gig situation. It's something that you can't quite articulate. You could intellectualise it and be like, 'Oh, well, I'm with like minded people, we are experiencing something together, so therefore, we are connected', but it's so much more than that. It's a real feeling. And it taps into something very, very primal that is often missing. With all the technology we've got and how easy we've made life, you've don't need to go to the shops anymore, anybody can order things online, you don't have to speak to a human to do all of that. But the danger of that is that it creates more space between people and if you don't have to talk to somebody, or if you don't have to be in the same room as somebody, people won't because it just feels quicker and easier. But if that keeps happening, we're going to lose this art of communication and experience. And that's that's really sad, you know, because that's starting to transmogrify into the world of AI.

giles-

So, talking about friendships and places where people meet, tell us a bit about Julia Othmer - you met her on tour in 2018, right?

carol-

We did. We met on tour in 2018 when we were both supporting The Alarm in the UK - Mike Peters' band - and we just hit it off. And then we did a few dates together the following year. Then, obviously, pandemic. But, we've stayed in touch, and I just wanted to find a decent excuse for us to spend time together. She's somebody that I really admire and look up to. She's very inspiring. We last did some gigs in 2019 and I found it really interesting, because we're both women who play piano. And that as a lineup is, unfortunately, quite unusual. In the acoustic world, it tends to be a lot of blokes with acoustic guitars, which is absolutely fine. But, for me, I often feel like a bit of a one off, because I'm often the only woman on the bill and I'm often the only piano player. So for me, it was like, 'Oh, my God there's someone else!' She writes in a similar vein to me, she's very emotionally connected. I just really wanted to learn from her and join forces, as she's had a similar experience of often being this oddball on the line-up. We'd like to very much make it the norm that there's more women sharing bills and more piano-playing women sharing bills as well! We're both interested in, you know, psychology, esoterica, magick, energy and emotion. Part of this project of ours is that we would have a zoom session - she's in Kansas City and I'm in Huddersfield. So we'd meet on Zoom every couple of weeks, you know, we'd be discussing the tour and booking the dates and all the logistics, but we'd also just be talking about songwriting, and sharing ideas and encouraging each other. I think that that, in particular, is one of the things that we often forget, especially if you're a solo artist - you can feel very lonely. It's very different to being in a band. I'm very fortunate in my career in that I do both band and solo. Just that sense of having a peer that you can bounce things off, like 'do you ever feel like this when this happened?' 'Oh yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you mean' It's like a shared experience, and again, it's just really nice to connect with another artist who has a very similar mindset, and very similar background and experiencing similar things. It's been amazing, really.

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original photos: chris hill

apart from * : natural vibrations

giles-

I love these sort of projects, too. The way you're gonna bring this to the tour sounds like you're turning the creativity dial quite a lot. Properly putting your money where your mouth is so to speak....

carol-

Yeah, so, one of the things that we're going to do, which, at this point, is very triggering for me and makes me feel very anxious, is that we're gonna write a song with the audience every night. The song is gonna be improvised based on the input of the fans. I've never done anything like that before. But we've got a rough outline of what that's going to look like. But it is going to be a risk for me. And I think for me as well, the actual touring element of it, it's going to be pushing me outside of my comfort zone and I feel that's exactly what I need, and I know that Julia feels exactly the same. We both expressed our own respective anxieties and discomfort around what we're actually going to do, which is playing brand new songs that we've never done before. She's going to join me on some of my songs and vice versa. And neither of us have really done that before with another pianist and singer. And so, I feel we're gonna grow throughout the actual tour and throughout the live performances. It's going to be an organic process of things becoming more apparent, things taking shape. Not that we aren't well rehearsed, because we absolutely are, but there is an element of Fluxus Art in this and we absolutely want that, we absolutely want each gig to feel like a unique happening. It's not just a tour where, you know, Julia's touring and I'm supporting her, or whatever, and we just do our sets and that's it. It's gonna be different every night. We're not going to have the same setlist as it's going to really be based on what energy we're getting from the crowd and how up for interactivity they are - those things are going to dictate the night. And also, we're going to be talking a lot as well: we're going to be discussing the creative process and discussing all these ideas around psychology, magick, energy, instinct and feelings, you know, really being transparent about that and making ourselves very vulnerable on stage, again, in the hope that we can create a space where the audience feel they can get involved, where they feel they can let go, and they can just get involved in something where, for that hour and a half, it feels different and they have permission to be in that space with us, permission to feel, and to feel different to how they normally would and just create those little chinks of vulnerability in people's armour and embrace that and celebrate it.

Carol text repeater black

giles-

As you were talking, I was recalling a podcast I was listening to the other day. It was Ezra Klein talking about attention spans and how we struggle more and more to spend any amount of time on something without being distracted. And, I was thinking about it in the light in the context of music. And one thing that drives me insane is the amount of nattering that goes on at gigs - and yes, I'm aware that I sound like a really grumpy old fucker now. But it drives me nuts. It's got far worse. And I think it has something to do with our attention spans, we just can't hold attention. Whether or not you intended this, but I think this tour is also a great way to keep people's attention and actually immerse in what they're there to witness, get involved, be vulnerable, participate in something that they'll remember. I actually love that you're taking a risk that you might make a mistake when you create a song - that's easy for me to say, right?!! - but you've got their attention, and they're involved in it and they're there with you. It's an experiment in a way because you don't know what the outcome will be - and I love that - but if you help people to think about how your creative process might relate to them, how your vulnerabilities relate to them, then I think that's brilliant. Job done.

carol-

And also, it's that idea of translating your inner experience and your emotional world, like finding a channel for yourself - it doesn't have to be songwriting, you know it could be writing in a journal or anything that helps you get engaged with that inner world. I'd love for people to leave these gigs and feel inspired in some way to just either go and do something creative or just be interested in themselves a bit more, and, you know, be excited about thinking about things from a different angle and then going away and thinking about that a little bit more. I often find at acoustic gigs, that there is an element of people chatting at the back. I think at my gigs, it's an awkwardness because they can feel that something very real is going on, it's very emotional, and it makes people feel uncomfortable and unsure how to engage with it. As you know, I'm in recovery, and I'm very used to talking very openly about myself and my emotions and my experiences, and then also holding space for other people to do that. But I sometimes forget that's not what most people do on a day to day basis. So, we're trying to create these, I guess, safe spaces for people to come in. And that's why we deliberately chose very small venues, because we want that intimacy, and we want to feel that energy from the crowd, and tune into were they're at, and let them tune into where we're at. And we've also tried to keep the tickets as cheap as possible in order to not exclude anyone because I know, that people are really struggling at the moment. All of this is having a knock on effect, though, in so many areas, not least in grassroots music as people just can't afford to pre-buy tickets in the way they used to. It's a different dynamic at the moment.

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giles-

These are all really excellent ideas. I guess I've also become more confident talking about my own vulnerabilities and insecurities - even as a devout introvert! - but there was a time, probably not that long ago, when I wouldn't have been so comfortable.

carol-

Yeah, we've been very mindful of how we manage that. First of all, the people have a complete choice in how much they get involved. You can just come to the gig and watch - you don't have to contribute if you don't want to. I don't want people to feel anxious about that. But, you'll get a pen and paper when you get in the room, and there'll be time for you to start thinking, you can write stuff down, obviously anonymously if you want, and there will be various buckets that you can put your pieces of paper in, that we'll pull out throughout the course of the gig and some of those will be to do with the creation of the provided song. But there will also be themes that we'll be talking about, and anxiety might be one of them and, you know, we might dip into the anxiety bucket and then see what someone's written and then talk through our experience of that, or we might have a song that relates to that, that then we maybe perform on the night, you know. So we'll just try to make it an organic process, and I dunno, I guess it feels very much like an art project as opposed to just an average tour. It's very much a one off. You know, we've done this songwriting project, we've developed this relationship between us that we're then going to explore fully on stage together and we want it to be a shared experience for everybody. But, like I said earlier, you don't have to get involved in anything, you can just sit and listen. But there might be some things that you want to share, or want to talk about or ask about or anything like that. So, it's really up to you how much you want to get involved.

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giles-

Carol, just tell me you're not gonna pick me out and say "Sibbald, right, stand up, what you got for us?!"

carol-

I'm tapping into my teacher mode, so I love all that kind of stuff! But I'm also acutely aware that a lot of people don't {laughs)

giles-

I'll hold you to that {laughs}. You talked earlier about being out of your comfort zone. What do you feel is going to be the least comfortable for you?

carol-

To be totally honest, at this point, it's whether people are gonna come to the gigs. I'm friends with Paul Morricone, 

who is the singer and guitarist in a band called The Scaramanga Six. And I was chatting to him about this the other day and he said that promoting your own gigs is really uncomfortable because you feel like you're having a birthday party: you invite people to come to your birthday party and then the anxieties and insecurities come to the surface.... like, 'are people actually going to come? Do people like me enough to come? Is it an egotistical exercise for me to make an event that's all about me and they're being forced to watch? How do other people feel about that?' and 'well, people won't come because it's my party, but they'd come if it was so and so's party. But it's mine and they're not going to bother'. I thought they were some really good analogies. So, that's the thing I'm most anxious about at the moment. I know that as soon as I get on stage, once I get out there, that whatever happens, it will be great. And it will sound amazing. And Julia is so supportive as well so I'm not worried about that at all. The improvisation element that I'm slightly, you know, trepidatious about, I mean that'll be a good experience for me to push myself. But yeah, I just really hope people come. Julia is coming all the way from Kansas City. If you've heard what I do and you like what I do, well she's like a more evolved version of me. She's such an engaging and powerful performer. I just really would urge people to come to see her. You know, she doesn't tour here very often at all, and it's gonna be a really good opportunity to see her in her full flow and power.

 

 

I'm just really excited about that!

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