Prior to the release of her new EP Fool’s Fire this weekend, we caught an interview with artist and musician Lily Dooner to find out more about the project and her approach to songwriting. Here’s how it went.
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Hi Lily – thanks for the chat! Congrats on the new EP. How would you describe the project Fools Fire – what does it represent for you, how did you choose the title, and what do you hope people take away from it?
Thank you! Well Fool’s Fire came out of a really rough time for me. I felt like my life had very much been derailed and my ability to coherently express myself had suddenly disappeared. I never seemed to be using the right words and no matter how much I talked about it or how understanding anyone was I felt like I could never really succeed in communicating just what was going on . So I decided to work through it by writing music that was, at first just for me, just my process, but as I wrote I realised that so many people must feel this way. Like they’ve been silenced by their own sadness. I hoped that the songs would help other people who were struggling with that.
Fool’s Fire came from researching the term Hinkypunk. It’s another word traditionally used for the legend and I thought it fit a lot of what I’d been going through, regretting past decisions and looking back on the reasons I made them.
What made you want to tackle the particular themes and issues that run throughout this project?
What spurred me on initially was that writing music was a form of therapy. It helped me finally find the words that I felt really translated what I was going through. When I finished the songs I saw that I had finally been able to be honest with myself and I thought there was the potential that it might help others do the same.
While you undoubtedly have a sound and style that’s your own, each of these songs are fairly unique in their own right. How do you decide which direction to take a song in?
Lyrics pretty much always come first. It’s super rare for any kind of melody to come up before the lyrics. I really like to have a narrative structure to work off to build up the melody and the direction of a song. This is the way I’m able to fit the tone and sound of a song to the story it tells. In Erosion, for example, I sort of tried to imagine what it would sound like if something was grating or chipping away against stone, aggressively wearing it down, which is what lead me to the heavy use of synths. Funnily enough while I was recording Erosion someone started digging up the pavement outside my house, so somewhere in there is the sound of tarmac being torn to bits.
What drew you to the term HinkyPunk – how did you develop this song around that, and how does it feel to listen back to it and indeed to share it with the world?
The first time I heard the term Hinkypunk was actually in Harry Potter. It’s a creature that the gang start learning about in Defence Against the Dark Arts. As a kid I thought it was a pretty cool word. It sounded weird and it was fun to say and so I sort of filed away in my brain. Years later I picked up a book called Katherine Brigg’s Dictionary of Fairies and came across the term again. Brigg’s identified the word as a regional term for the Will O’ The Wisp (also known as Fool’s Fire) which was believed to be a malevolent sprite what would lead travellers off their path and into the darkness. I felt very much that I had been lead off my path and it just sort of felt like the perfect metaphor to explore.
Is there much of an editing process involved when you write, or do you consider the moment captured initially to be a more natural way to move forward?
Sylvia Plath apparently used to work in these great bursts of inspiration and write lots and lots all at once and I sort of identify with this kind of process. I do often write a lot at one time and it just appears kind of all at once. The editing happens as I’m writing so often the lyrics to finished songs emerge in one or two sittings. It could be potentially anywhere between an hour, a week or a month before any music appears to go with the lyrics. It’s a very variable process, it’s something I’m working on refining all the time. While I love being struck by sudden inspiration I’m always looking to challenge myself to write in a new way.
You recently took part in a creative weekend organised by the lovely Siren Songwriting team. How does the collaborative process compare to solo writing for you?
Very very very different. I don’t get to do a lot of collaborations which is I why I love the workshops held by Siren Songwriting. It’s good for me to let go of the control a little bit and see what I can do with other people and what other people can bring out of me. It really challenges me and develops my writing and I also get to meet fantastic and talented people who I find really inspiring.
Do you ever second guess yourself or worry about putting so much of your personal journey into your music?
Yes. Of course I do. It’s a very vulnerable process, but often I get past that by the idea that it can help other people. I listen to a lot of feminist podcasts and have often been inspired by the stories that people are brave enough to tell. Talking about mental health and sharing our experiences is so important. I know that if many people I look up to hadn’t shared their stories then I would have felt a lot more alone and would have struggled to navigate my way through my own difficulties.
Who or what would you say has been your greatest inspiration or motivation to create in this way?
I’ve mostly been really inspired by other musicians. I grew up listening to a real range of music thanks to my parents. Portishead, Bauhaus, Norah Jones, Suzanne Vega and The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack were all on heavy rotation in my house. Reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids was a real revelation. I’d never really encountered anything so honest. I also didn’t realise it was allowed to be so creative and moving with your own autobiography. Until then I’d sort of viewed autobiographies as structured chronological accounts containing facts about famous people. That book really changed the way I saw things.
You have a live show coming up to launch the new EP. How will these songs translate to the stage, and how does a fuller electronic sound compare for you to the more acoustic side of things?
Well right now I am working with the acoustic guitar and then a backing track for the new, more electronic sounding songs. I’m hoping though to develop a show where I can reproduce more of the electronic songs live using loop pedals and a laptop. This is still in the works! I am enjoying singing with the backing track though. It means I’m freer to move around the stage and do some bizarre dance moves.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, past or present, who would you invite – and what would you ask them about?
That’s really hard because it would be a big lunch with one of those very long banquet tables. There’s so many people I’d like to meet! If I had to choose one or two I’d probably choose Patti Smith and Margaret Atwood. We’d probably spend a long time talking about books, feminism, music, I’d probably tell them way more than they bargained for about my cats and I’d ask them a lot about their creative processes.
If you could only listen to one song for the rest of time, which would you choose, and why?
That’s really hard. My favourite song changes daily. Probably something long like Baba O’Riley by the Who, Pictures of You by the Cure, Marlene on the Wall by Suzanne Vega, O’Children by Nick Cave…ah no…I can’t choose! Too hard!
What’s something about you that most people don’t know?
I secretly look forward to Halloween all year because it’s the only time I get to hear the Ghostbusters theme.
What’s next – after the EP launch, where can people catch you, and what do you have planned creatively?
Well next for me is I’m studying for a Master’s degree! I’m working on music all the time at the moment and will hopefully be releasing some more singles soon. I play a lot at open mic nights around Cardiff so you can probably catch me around Cardiff and chances are I’ll have some CD’s on me.
Is there anything else we should know?
I’m trying to be better at social media! Instagram is my current medium of choice. If you want to keep tabs on where I’m performing, new singles, what I’m up to in general or just pictures of my cats, my Instagram, @ldoonermusic, is the place.
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