A Q&A with Raven Shelley
Ethereal, poetic indie-folk from Manchester…
What’s the title of your new release, and what does it mean to you?
It’s a song called ‘Sink in Solitude’, and it’s actually my first single to be released! It’s a song about time passing by without achievement, and it has a very special place in my heart because I still remember the time when I was writing it. It was one wet afternoon in Manchester; I’d woken up late, having been out the night before, and was annoyed with myself for wasting most of the day. It was winter, and (as usual) raining. The light was flat and dull, and I stood looking down at the grey urban street, at the litter, the sludgy brown leaves and skeleton trees, at the other houses, wondering about the individual stories and tragedies that could be unfolding just metres away from me. I’d been reading Shakespeare’s Richard II, and a lot of Shelley’s poetry, so many lines from the song are influenced by these two great writers. It’s a song I wrote to myself, trying to rouse myself to get on and do something, rather than wasting the time that I have been given. Cheery stuff! But I do think that it’s quite a universal human feeling, in that everyone has felt like that at some point. Whenever I listen back to ‘Sink in Solitude’ I remember that time very clearly.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Trying to get this song – and the other four singles I have, which will be released over the next few months – professionally recorded was really hard. I had an EP that was due to come out a few years ago, but then Covid struck and they couldn’t finish mastering it because the studio closed. Now, I’m glad, because it forced me to look for alternative solutions and led me to The Animal Farm, who have been great to work with. At the time, though, it felt like I’d put all this effort in and had nothing to show for it. And it feels as though I’ve been waiting for a long time to release this song now, so I’m delighted that it’s finally been released into the world to seek its fortune, and it’s had such a lovely response.
Who produced the release – what did they bring to it?
Mat Leppanen from The Animal Farm produced it, and he brought a lot to it. I don’t know a huge amount about producing songs – I write them, and usually have an idea of how I want them to sound, but I don’t have enough expertise to know how to do it. Working with Mat was great, because he listened to the ideas I had, and he also brought his own ideas to the song. The slide guitar was his idea for instance, and I absolutely love it!
What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
I hope that people listen to the lyrics, and think about them afterwards. There’s also often lots of literary allusions in my songs, so perhaps they’ll spot some of them. I was told by someone recently that when they listened to my music they felt at peace, and felt like everything was going to be ok. It was such a lovely thing to hear, because I don’t often have that sense of peace in myself, but if I can bring it to others then that’s great!
How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
It’s a weird thing, because I don’t really like sitting down and saying “Ok, I’m going to write a song”. Occasionally I have done that, but I think it lacks an element of magic. On the other hand, I’m very wary of sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike. I think perhaps it’s from having watched my parents working; they’re both writers, and I know that the difference between people who play at writing and those who actually do write is that they do it even when they don’t feel like it. I know I go through phases of being far more creative than at other times; often if something emotionally draining has happened, or if I’m in the middle of a really chaotic situation (breakups, moving house, etcetera), I’ll only start to process it all afterwards, and then I’ll write about it. You tend to cannibalise your own life, and the lives of those around you, to write. I am almost always on the lookout for song ideas, for phrases which I overhear or read and which kickstart the creative process. And I have certain ideas or phrases in various notebooks which sometimes I only use years after I first thought of them. I write stuff by hand, and my house is full of various notebooks, scraps of paper, receipts, bus tickets, all with ideas and lyrics on them. On the other hand if I want to write a song about a certain topic, sometimes I will sit down and research it, making notes, deciding how to use the information I’ve gathered. Usually though I’m much more relaxed, and songs just grow organically. Occasionally I’m in bed, about to drop off to sleep, and suddenly an idea hits and it’s a scramble to find the nearest scrap of paper!
What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
I have a really broad range of influences. Musically, I’ll always say it’s those artists whose lyrics are so exceptional they could be described as poetry. Namely, Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco, and Leonard Cohen. However, I also love Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, Edie Brickell, Suzanne Vega, 10,0000 Maniacs, Wolf Alice, Marika Hackman, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Loudon Wainwright, Tanita Tikaram, Donovan, Billy Bragg, Ian Dury, Glen Hansard, Fleetwood Mac, Against Me, Kate Bush, Nico, T. Rex, Phoebe Bridgers, Stevie Nicks, Blondie, Pulp, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Florence & The Machine, Iron & Wine, The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, and many more. Literature and poetry also have a profound influence on my music, and a few favourites include Thomas Hardy, John Irving, Charlotte Bronte, John Fowles, Shakespeare and Homer, Graham Greene, D.H. Lawrence, Blake, Philip Larkin, Milton, Brian Patten, Sylvia Plath, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Literature makes its way into my songs in all sorts of ways. I tend to read with a notebook and pencil in hand. That way, if something I read kickstarts an idea, or I particularly like a phrase or word, I can underline it/write it down, and either run with it right then and there or come back to it later on. I am also enamoured with visual mediums, my favourite artists being Schiele, Klimt, Van Gogh and Turner, whilst my favourite director is Nicholas Roeg. I am drawn to images that strike the mind, that are unusual and memorable, commanding attention and demanding to be noticed.
What countries would you like to tour? Are there any standout venues you’d like to play in?
Oh wow that’s a tough question to answer. I love travelling anyway, and I always want to go everywhere I haven’t been yet. I’d love to tour in Germany, and I’d have to say Greece too: they’re two of my favourite countries. I want to play every venue that I haven’t played in yet! I would have loved to play the Manchester Free Trade Hall, because there’s been some incredible performances there. Sadly it’s been developed into a chain hotel now, though.
If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
‘Sink in Solitude’.I’m very much looking forward to the next release though, in September. It’s called ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’, so if you want a satirical and biting breakup song you’re in for a treat.
What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
I’d like to make a living from my music. Anything after that would be a bonus.
Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
Thankyou for taking the time to listen to my musings, and remember: “Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking metres”.
For more info visit: facebook.com/ravenshelleymusic