Music interviews Women in Music

“Banging out chords on the guitar can be like screaming and it’s wonderful”: Interview with Siobhan Wilson.

Scottish-born Siobhan Wilson has been writing songs and playing an assortment of instruments, which include guitar, cello and piano, since she was seven years of age. In her teenage years she continued to hone her skills in Edinburgh, winning a scholarship to St Mary’s music school. By eighteen, the classically-trained Wilson moved to Paris, leaving behind her family and friends, embarking on every young persons dream of discovery and adventure. And so, with only her wits and guitar in tow, she called Paris home for an incredible five years, where she learned the language, fell in and out of love, but also importantly discovered she had a wonderful singing voice.

In short, since returning to Scotland some years ago, the Glasgow-based Wilson, has released a number of EP’s and albums, toured extensively and cemented herself a loyal adoring following. (Interestingly, when she is not touring she teaches music and keeps herself busy studying part time in Edinburgh, a Masters in composition for the screen.) Importantly, it was in the middle of last year that her latest album, There Are No Saints, caught the attention of critics, whom all fell in love with her album immersed with heartbreak and healing.

I too, would discover this incredible album, more recently and marvel at her adaptability across instrumentation, easily her love for her electric guitar and her interest in exploring an array of musical genres that makes Wilson and her musical output so otherworldly. For me, I suppose, There Are No Saints highlights everything that is interesting about her unorthodox approach to music – a blend of indie folk, French pop, classical and elements of grunge all rolled into one. That said, I spoke with Siobhan recently about that amazing album amongst some other things. Here is what we talked about.

Siobhan, lets start with one of the first things that grabbed my attention about you.  I understand you love Pearl Jam. (By the way, PJ are my favourite band of all time.) What inspires you about PJ? What’s your favourite album and why?

I grew up listening to “Ten”. It’s the only album I know! But it was my Dad who owned the CD. I remember when my Dad’s CD collection was building. He had Nevermind beside Ten and I remember thinking I was lucky to have a cool Dad! My favourite song used to be Evenflow now it’s Jeremy.

You’ve on occasions described yourself as a classical musician, one that likes to dabble in a lot of different genres. But tell me the inspiration behind why you love performing as a singer songwriter with guitar in tow so much?

Especially electric guitar – that’s the loudest I get ever. I’m a pretty quiet person. Playing in youth orchestras was very exciting. But there’s something really special about standing on a big stage and making amplified noise. It’s not as subtle as classical, but it’s just as interesting.

I understand you are a shy person by nature. What are some of the things that have helped you to overcome stage fright? Does it still occasionally happen?

Well, I don’t know if I overcame it. Or if it just became me. If you practice doing something terrifying like standing infront of lots of people singing about your life you learn people are very forgiving and warm and everybody shares your vulnerability and it’s a really supportive environment. I still probably look scared but I only feel scared sometimes now. I get far more nervous doing day-to-day things than playing on stage now, like crossing busy roads or walking home in the dark. Really when you think about it the stage is not a scary place at all it’s very fun and nice.

You talk about things like heartbreak and depression on your last album There Are No Saints. I certainly like to believe there are people who find comfort in your lyrics that they can relate to it. Do you feel the same way?

If somebody relates to them then they are sharing it with me/I was already sharing it with them. That’s a magical and cool connection.

Whatever Helps is one of those songs that deals with the subject matter of depression. I believe you once said that you often like to “turn the amp up loud and blast some chords” when you’ve been down. Is it fair to say giving the middle finger to all those swirling horrible feelings definitely helps?

Yes!!! I don’t have a very loud voice and I rarely shout ever. Banging out chords on the guitar can be like screaming and it’s wonderful. I also like to give my cello a big play sometimes. My cello saw the worst of my teenage angst and knows me better than most people. I have an upright piano but it’s in storage just now because I’ve been on the go so much the last year. I’m looking forward to living with it again.

If you don’t mind Siobhan, I’d like to continue to talk about There Are No Saints, in particularly the song Dark Matter. What can you tell me how it came about?

Dark Matter is about how none of us know anything about why we are here, what love really is and how you never know what’s going on in somebody else’s head. 

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? What was it about?

It was about my friend who kept trying to commit suicide at high school.

What inspires your mood or truly puts you in the right frame of mind to want to write and record new music? 

Hmm, nothing and everything. It is always different. Everybody has their own way. It would be difficult to keep track of my writing style cause I just go with my gut and have a very intuitive approach to music-making. I get lost in different musical trips and I’m mostly inspired by being around other people or in new places. I think to be really inspired by your surroundings and make art that sounds like your environment you have to because that environment a little bit and forget yourself in the process. I know that other people sit down at an office desk to write, or have a special notebook, or drink 2 bottles of wine and I respect everybody has their own way. I just think my own way is having no way. 

I understand you are already in the process of putting together a new release? What can you tell me about it? Will it be comparatively different to your last album?

ALL I can say for now is that I’ve been working my ears off over it and it’s close to becoming finished 😉 

On a final note, I dearly hope one day you visit Australia. But for those of us worldwide unlucky to see you play live, what is a Siobhan Wilson show like? Can you give us a  run down of a typical day of a show from start to finish?

9AM – wake up (or set Snooze 5-10 times) (or read a book) (or attempt pilates) (or watch a period drama) (or gravitate towards existential doom)

10AM – wash hair and other morning stuff

11AM – dry hair and other morning stuff

12PM – get my guitars together and merch or whatever I need for the show and call or text whoever I’m doing the show with to say hi

1PM – Travel to the venue with all the stuff 

3PM – practice and sound check

5PM – tidy huge mess that I always make of instrument cases + make up and usually find my phone because I’ve lost it and get ready for the gig

7PM – Doors open in the venue and I either hide to get in the zone or go to see if I know somebody in the crowd to talk to

8PM – play

11PM – pack / pint

12/1AM – get home

2AM – usually homework or read a book or watch a period drama or go to a party or sleep.

Note: That is for a gig I do in the city I wake up in. (But) if travelling to a different city to do a gig, add 1h on to each bit, and wonder if time is real, and how the band are still alive!

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There Are No Saints is available through iTunes and Song, by Toad Records. For more information on Siobhan Wilson and her current tour dates please check out her website. You can connect with Siobhan via her Facebook page. Follow her on twitter. Listen to her on Soundcloud. Watch her on You Tube.

Photo credit: The header image is courtesy of Siobhan Wilson. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.

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