Guest Blog: Nuala Honan

Having just released her latest album Doubt & Reckoning last month, Australian Bristol-based Nuala Honan has been evolving her songwriting over the years from acoustic folk artist to a grittier, more eclectic, sound, whilst losing none of her reflective lyrical storytelling.

A collection of lilting, heartfelt offerings, the new album showcases a soaring, emotion-strewn splendour and the subtle, stirring power of Honan’s rich vocals.

Following the album’s release, Nuala has reflected on the influence of water on her music, and the strong feelings it evokes in her. Read her guest blog below:

FOR A SOUL-SAVING NEW SOUND, JUST ADD WATER

When I was a kid growing up in Australia, I spent a lot of time at the beach. I had so much to love and cherish in life then, but I was also often unhappy. On walks down the beach by myself, once out of earshot, I would shout at the sea. Long, musical wailing, improvising words and melodies about my woes and teenage crushes, writing my first songs. I still shout at the sea when I get the chance.

The landscape where I grew up is big, and flat, and the sky and sea goes on forever. Something about bigness soothes my soul, keeps me grounded, and speaks to me in a way that I speak back and write songs. I honestly can’t think of anything more spiritual to me than water and music, hand in hand. Since moving to England’s South West sixteen years ago, I’ve transferred that love of the ocean to England’s cold, stretching network of rivers and lakes.

In the ’90s, the Eyre Peninsula – my dusty corner of South Australia – had no accessible live music, no DIY or riot grrrl culture, and no internet to seek it out. Gifted an acoustic guitar for my fifteenth birthday, I fell into folk and eventually country. It was satisfying and leant itself to my autobiographical musings. I ended up making a living that way, often playing alone, but after a decade I ended up in a rut. Not just creatively but physically and mentally in my work and self, so I took the step into counselling.

Very quickly my therapy revealed a desire to take a break from my music and the unsustainable DIY artist grind that I’d wound up living, and I applied to be a lifeguard at an outdoor swimming lake, an old flooded quarry in North Bristol.

The most interesting thing I’ve learned working at the lake is the power of being bored (not so bored I get distracted from the task, you are in safe hands!). But I spend hours on end without a phone or the internet, surrounded by trees and wildlife and water, listening. I process ideas for songs, and have the time to repeat and reinforce them. I feel safe to ask myself why I make music, and what I want to communicate. I sing when I think no one’s listening, and I quite literally stared across the lake at the big willow tree for months, planning the photoshoot for my album artwork.

The space and balance the lake brought to my life made room for me to consider themes from my counselling and re-examine my creativity. The track ‘How to Shame You’ from my new album is an ode to my childhood bully. I wrote it consciously, to cast off and free myself from pain I was holding onto. It marked a transition, where I cast aside my old way of writing and weaved myself outside my comfort zone. You can hear the country sound in the verses sweeping into the new belting psychedelic sound in the chorus.

People are often surprised to hear I suffer with self-doubt and anxiety; they only see the confident gig or final version of a song (the studio stage might be the only place in the world I love more than the water!). It took a lot of practice in courage to pull myself, this band, and this album together, and I learned a lot about courage from winter swimming at the lake. Lowering your body into water is totally mad. It takes a mindset of courage and acceptance to get in. The sensation of catching my breath, feeling the blood move to my core, the needles and fizzing on the surface of my skin makes me feel totally alive. Then getting out of the water is a whole other feeling. Because my body is essentially in stress response, all my senses are heightened, I feel a bit like a superhero for two minutes as I stand beside the lake!

I think it’s the same experience making music. It’s terrifying, but it’s courageous and magical and human and even though you’re afraid, you have to do it anyway, and then you feel alive, and you make something beautiful.

Massive thanks to Nuala Honan for sharing her thoughts with us!

Doubt & Reckoning is out now. Listen on Spotify.

Photo Credit: Paul Blakemore

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