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Isobel Anderson: "I have lived with chronic pain for six years, and I learn't the only way through that is to focus on what you can do"

Indie | Tuesday 23rd May 2017 | Patience

Like many great stories adversity only makes the end result that much better, Isobel Anderson is no exception to this rule.

Ahead of her politically themed album CHALK/FLINT coming out on June the 2nd, the songstress lets us know how she overcame chronic pain & tendinitis, to create an LP that has been described as 'beautiful, shimmering and wonderful'.

How did your journey with music start?

I really didn't have any idea that I could sing particularly well when I was a bit younger I wanted to be a visual artist really more than anything and I kind of begrudgingly accepted that I was just naturally better at singing.

But I think it was when I was in my first year of secondary school and there was a rock concert, and I got up to sing 'Don't Speak' by No Doubt, and everyone was clapping loads, and I got loads of great feedback, more than I ever expected, and I realised okay, I am really good at this!

I also had dyslexia all the way through school so for me it was really amazing, to find something finally that I was naturally really very good at, because I had found it so hard in school.

So your new album CHALK/FLINT is coming out on the 2nd of June, what can we expect?

Well, it's got a lot of new textures, in comparison to my other albums before, so it's got quite a lot of electronic influences in it. But the songwriting is still very much characteristically me, it's just now I have expanded my sound quite a lot and so the subject matter is a lot more political, than ever before. There's one song about abortion rights in Ireland and another song about abusive relationships, another song about gentrification and another song about political apathy so it's quite varied.

What is the story behind the name CHALK/FLINT?

So that basically just relates to the landscape of where I am from, the main kind of geological features are chalk and flint, flint only exists in chalk and is made within chalk, but they are completely different materials and act completely differently.

Chalk is completely soft and crumbly and dissolves into liquid whereas flint is very sharp and can be used as weapons. So I just became really interested in that, and I had just finished a PHD on the connection between self-identity and place identity so I was just thinking about this connection between who I was and what growing up in that landscape meant to me really.

So in the song Flint/Shingle the most obvious example of that is me saying, 'Chalk is my skin, flint is my bones',  so I am just trying to analyse what does that landscape mean to me now that I am an adult.

The first single to be released off the album 'Flint/Shingle' is about abortion rights, why is this issue so important for you?

I have lived in Belfast for 8 years now and when I first moved over here I was completely shocked to find out that abortion was illegal over here and I really had no idea! It's something that I have always wanted to be changed and then just over the years different new stories have come out of women having to go abroad and paying thousands of pounds or women not being able to do that and therefore taking their own life, or having dodgy abortions.

There's just been so many new stories over the last two years as well that I just think that it is such an important issue, but thankfully it is being talked about a bit more now.

The video for Flint/Shingle is out now, how did that come about creatively?

The song is talking about the landscape but kind of in a disconnected way, it is obviously kind of memories of this landscape tied up with this person, and this relationship that I am talking about and I wanted the video to echo that kind of distance.

So rather than just having the more obvious shots of me on the beach we also did shots in the studio of the beach being projected onto my body and the studio. And me on the beach projected onto the wall with me in the studio so that there is this kind of feeling of me being there but also of not being there. 

How did having tendinitis affect the recording of the album this time round? 

I have still got tendinitis unfortunately, I have better periods and worse periods, so when I was beginning this album I had only just developed it so I couldn't use a guitar, and I couldn't use a computer.

So I had to start by writing the songs in my head, and then I was able to use the computer a little bit. But still not play guitar at all so then I started demoing songs up on the computer, and then there was a phase when I could play the guitar again so a couple of songs do have me playing the guitar, but then my wrists got worse again and I couldn't play the guitar again so there's only two tracks that I am playing the guitar and the for the rest of them I am playing keys. 

However, in terms of writing, I wrote everything in my head including all the drum beats, the bass lines, and the keyboard parts and then when I had periods where my wrists were a little bit better I would sit down in front of a computer and demo it all up.

So how did you push through despite the pain?

I have lived with chronic pain now for six years, so I have got chronic pain in other parts of my body, as well as my wrists and I have learnt that the only way through that is to focus on what you can do.

For my PHD I wrote all of my thesis's with voice recognition software, cause I couldn't type with both my hands cause I had a shoulder injury but before that I had to start standing up when I was writing cause I had really bad pelvic nerve pain so I had become really used to just focusing on things I could this other way.

So it's just focusing on what you can do and also just because the alternative is to do nothing and there's no sense in that, that's just a road to depression and feeling pretty crap.

You also teamed up with Pledge Music for this album, how was that process for you?

I think it made things easier but also there where new challenges which I really welcomed.

 And the challenges were that you then had to start a music campaign which is a lot of work and you are asking people to support something that meant you are constantly trying to find ways of engaging people, and keeping the momentum going.

So there's an awful lot of work that I had to put in during this campaign and also being in the studio, it was pretty full on, but then at the same time it was also great to document what I was doing and say I have never done that before, I now have a document of that whole process, of being in the studio which is really valuable!

What collabs can we expect on this album?

So yes there is Ruby Colley playing the violin on it, who plays violin on my last album, so she was like really, really, a fundamental part of that last album so I really wanted to get her on this. She added some really nice violin textures to about five of the songs!

And then there's Michael Mormech who I produced the album with, and I recorded the album at his studio as well as my house so it's kinda half my house then half at his studio.

Is there a message you would like to get across in your music?

I think that it would definitely be if you have any kind of limitation in your life, especially due to some kind of debilitating chronic health condition, you have so much potential and so much to offer, and never give up on yourself.

So if you weren't doing music what do you think you would be doing instead?

Well, to be honest, I have always thought that I would love to make instruments, so I would be an instrument maker.

What is the first law would you change if you were prime minister?

If I had the power to change the abortion rights in Northern Ireland I would change that!

What would a swimming pool with if it could be anything?

I would make a massive trifle in a swimming pool!

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