INTERVIEW: Beccy Owen & The Refuge | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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An interview with Beccy Owen isn’t your typical rundown of details about recording studios and influences (although you get that too). Owen considers everything in its broader context – what it says about her and about the world – to the point of exhaustion, it seems. For Owen, making music is both a healing process and a way of reaching out. It’s also, it must be said, very beautiful indeed.

Her new album (and first with The Refuge) emerged from a dark place. “I started writing Chaotica eighteen months ago, just after a depressive episode that lasted for almost a year. I desperately needed to use my brain for something other than rumination or catastrophising, so I set up a Patreon campaign and backed myself into a corner.” Owen admits that Chaotica didn’t come easily to her. “The early songs were dog shit. They really were. I’d lost so much confidence and I chucked a lot out. I’d also stopped listening to music at some point during the depression, but I knew I needed to try to release a build-up of emotional pressure as part of recovery. Sometimes it felt painful, bewildering and exhausting but as Chaotica gathered its own momentum, I became determined to keep going. Things gradually started to brighten and my confidence started to come back.”

Owen started working with co-producer Julie Bartley and gathered a band around her. “I spent months on end demoing everything very thoroughly before bringing it to the band. Then I’d either get very fussy about aspects of those demos, asking players to replicate what I’d written exactly, or I’d invite them to bring their own take on what I’d composed to the table. By the time we got into the studio we were breathing so much life into the songs that it was genuinely thrilling.”

While the music itself is beautifully realised, with a sense of drama and space and some gorgeous jazzy arrangements, what hits you first about Chaotica are the lyrics, which veer from imagistic to startlingly direct and are always keen to communicate something.

I did find that writing songs about the trauma of depression had a functional benefit. I could feel my brain starting to heal itself via music

“A great deal of the record is lived experience,” Owen explains. “It’s intensely personal and in some places specific, but I’ve also absorbed a lot from other people, especially from other women who’ve had similar things happen to them, and from other people who are living with mental illness.

“In the aftermath of a breakdown, the elasticity of language becomes an essential thing. I veer from being abjectly mute in depression to garrulous in recovery. It’s not a linear process but I did find that writing songs about the trauma of depression had a functional benefit. I could feel my brain starting to heal itself via music. Our mission was to capture the stories of women and of people who live with mental illness. Beyond that, with regards to if the album has a core message, I think that’s probably up to whoever is listening to decide. ‘Death of the author’ and all that: I’ve just been trying to survive! Our mantra was ‘whatever the song invites into the room, the song gets’. For someone with control issues, I was pretty acquiescent to the music itself.”

Beccy Owen & The Refuge’s album Chaotica is released by Fairy Snuff Records on 25th November. They play Pop Recs Ltd., Sunderland on Friday 8th November and Old Cinema Launderette, Durham on Saturday 21st December

 

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