Last updated: 25 May 2023
On creativity as a process for catharsis
This one is more about processing emotions and dealing with loss. If that triggers you or isn't interesting, feel free to skip it.
The more I listen to our third album, the more I recognise the fact that I wrote it as a form of catharsis.
Our music has always been an outlet for me to deal with emotions I think, but this latest album more so than any other.
We started writing it whilst my dad was sick with terminal cancer, but having survived 6 years at the time, I wasn't expecting anything final to happen. I'd been feeling in a pretty positive place and so the songs I was writing, whilst heavy, weren't dealing with anything difficult. It's evident when you hear them, they're more upbeat and rotate around a major chord.
When I listen back to Cornerstone, which we re-recorded for it's 2022 vinyl re-release, I can hear the difference in level of positivity. It's dynamically much more upbeat and musically rotates around much more major themes, both musically and thematically.
Although we write as a unit, and I don't contribute lyrically, the main skeleton songs I write at the start tend to have a dramatic impact on the overall final outcome. Thematically I set the scene, and the rest of the guys come in and chop and change things until we're all happy with the final outcome. But regardless of that process, what I define upfront tends to set the stage for what the final form will be. So, if I'm feeling wildly optimistic then that'll be reflective, if I'm feeling concerned or solemn, that'll come through too. Unlike any other medium I work in, be that design or development, music is my catharsis.
Working with design systems and predefined toolsets, design and development don't really offer that same level of catharsis for me. They're much more clinical and definite. Not entirely void of emotion, but not filled with heart like my music is. This is in part because whilst I'm a designer that loves design, and I'm a frontend developer that loves development, music is my passion project and the thing that gives me emotional release.
We decided to re-release Cornerstone in memory of my father. We knew we were going to re-release before I lost my father, but once that happened it became a great opportunity to take a step back and rethink that album again. When we originally recorded it, it was our first attempt at a self recorded album that could be released rather than just demoed. As a result, whilst we knew a lot about music production from all our demoing over the years, we had lots of gaps in our knowledge and skills. Since releasing Cornerstone we'd learned a lot and gotten much better at async recording and production. This meant we could more confidently deliver the album we wished we had the first time around. So we decided to make the version we wished it had been before. And I'm so glad we did.
When it came to our latest record, as I said earlier, it started in a place of optimism and hope. There was a new drug on the horizon that might extend my dad's life, at least for another year or two based on study data. He was desperate for just one last summer and we were desperate for him to have that, and it seemed like it was possible. He wasn't in the best place but he was coming through it like he always did.
Sadly, that day never came to pass. My father collapsed one morning and never recovered. Watching the strongest person you've known, the person who literally and metaphorically gave you your own strength, revert to a state of confusion and have an inability to speak and respond is immeasurably hard to handle.
After that moment we spent a week or so watching him decline. Going through that process is still hard to process and often when I go to sleep those are the moments I see the most. It gets harder and harder to remember those good times and the positive memories, but music becomes my outlet in those moments.
Although the tracks aren't in the order they were written, it'll be evident when I started writing post-passing. The songs have a darker tonality, tend to be much heavier and generally less musically positive. But this is purely part of that catharsis for me.
I'm not writing to be negative, I'm writing to help me process that negativity, that heartbreak, that anguish. Often popular songs are written about the anguish of breakups and in some ways, these songs are my breakup songs. They're a way for me to breakup with the past and look forwards toward the future.
Things will never be the same, but my father was from the school of Stoicism. He didn't believe in hanging on the past or looking too far in the future, he believed in the power of the Now. Living each day for what it is. And that'll be how I continue to move forwards. Living each day doesn't mean doing something of importance every day, it can mean doing nothing too but doing nothing with absolute intention.
And music will continue to be my outlet, my catharsis, my process of grieving. It provides that creative freedom and feeling that I can't get anywhere else. If you're dealing with anything in life, look for your cathartic outlet. It can be anything, and it's often likely to be something you don't try to force into an outlet but just finds itself like that naturally.
First published: 25 May 2023