To Whom It May Concern,
I'm writing to announce that my new album, Cocoon, the second chapter in a trilogy of concept albums and the follow up to my debut LP, Ovum, will be released on 30th July.
For reasons that will hopefully become clear upon reading this, I felt it was important for me to share how Cocoon came into existence.
It’s hard to pin down when the album was actually written, but If I had to commit to a year, it would be around 2006.
By then I was reaching the light at the end of a near decade-long tunnel. Of course, I didn’t know this yet. I’d been struggling with illness through most of my teens. And I’d spent the last two years almost completely housebound. My health only seemed to deteriorate. I was almost entirely detached from the world.
The solitary life I’d feared and fought against for so many years was now just normal and for all I knew, I was only at the beginning of a tunnel that would span a lifetime.
Living a life of such disconnect, it doesn’t take long for the days and nights to lose their shape. Most people have experienced this directionless feeling to some extent in their lives (perhaps more frequently in the last 12 months) but when the shapelessness becomes chronic, with one nameless day running into the next for months, or even years – the only distinction between night and day being a change of pace in TV programming – the desire to keep up inevitably fades. The shapelessness slowly begins to shape you, bleeding into your habits and your personality.
It colours your outlook and how you feel inwardly. I’d been lonely for so long, and with no one around to even confirm or deny my existence, I’d begun to question if I really was – or ever had been – the person I’d grown up as. And if I wasn’t really that person, then who was I?
The void these questions formed was quickly filled with all the wrong answers: events, interactions and conversations from the past were heavily scrutinised. I almost took pleasure in weaving them all through a web of self-doubts I'd deftly spun over the years. The lack of counter arguments meant the conclusions inevitably stuck.
Looking forward, plans for escape and fairy-tale endings seemed to drift further and further away from reality. As the months and years marched onwards, it became harder and harder for me to imagine how and when I was ever supposed to catch up.
In the absence of resolution and, more importantly, hope, this self-interrogation inevitably uncovered bitterness — bitterness I aimed squarely toward a world I was sure had forgotten me. I was slipping through the cracks into the unknown and there was no one there to look me in the eye as I faltered.
I gave up pining for the world and doubled down on solitude, armed with the misplaced confidence that I would surely find a way on my own.
I was lost in the woods, convincing myself that the best way out would be to dig a hole. The further I went inward, the easier it became to tell myself to keep digging. I made an uncomfortable home of this dark place, with a feedback loop — hating because you’ve been left behind and being left behind because you can’t let go of hating — drowning out any voice of reason that would tell me to bury my pride and ask for help.
It was during this time that I began to write. This is no endorsement for the suffering = creativity theory, but it was this simmering sense of injustice that every part of me seemed to bond over. I’d been keeping a diary for a while, but I now found myself writing every day, actively seeking pen and paper and writing for hours at a time, day and night — pages and pages and pages — I filled countless notebooks during this period. Sometimes the output took on a loose poetic form, but more often it was a complete, unfiltered stream of consciousness. I was venting – and for no one but myself. This was an exorcism, an ugly purge that, unbeknownst to me, would form the backbone of my first two albums, Ovum & Cocoon.
In hindsight, as much as I might lean toward mythologising this period of my life, I consider myself very lucky that this chaotic state was impermanent. The rise in negative emotion predictably coincided with a dramatic decline in my health. A few months passed by before insomnia (unsurprisingly) took hold and I was now no longer functioning in any reasonable capacity. I was practically nocturnal at one stage and had even begun confusing dreams with reality, catching glimpses of dark thoughts I hope never to glimpse again.
I was prescribed sleeping pills in late 2006. I took one pill and slept for 48 hours. The physical and emotional relief this drug-induced intervention provided was profound. It gave me just enough to break the wave of irrationality, pulling it back under the ocean it had risen from.
The habit that persisted post-2006 was writing. As I started seeing slight improvements in my health, I reconnected with the creative outpour of the previous months. I faced myself once more, but this time through a far more balanced and altogether softer lens. Admittedly I was squeamish about this at first, but only through embracing this discomfort did I truly begin to see the value in my experiences, in my loneliness and crucially, the value in my life again. I was no longer staring mournfully into the blank space that my old life had once inhabited. Purpose now lit the void. I was unconsciously beginning the process of reclaiming myself, one small idea at a time.
My imagination seemed to propel me forward, finding inspiration everywhere I turned. I was almost dependent on it. A day without consuming new information felt like a waste, and I’d already wasted enough. I bent everything to my cause – books, art, film and in particular, music – and found ways to feed it all into the narrative of my own story.
I’d undergone something of a musical renaissance around 2005. Having devoured the back catalogues of Bob Dylan, Funkadelic and Jimi Hendrix (I listened to Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” every day for at least a year), I’d started to seek out the musicians and artists that had influenced them, daisy chaining them back to early Country Blues, Folk, Gospel and Jazz. I was captivated by the myth underpinning so much of the music from this era and just how the sense of sadness often being conveyed could feel so incredibly relevant to a lonely white kid 100 years later has always blown my mind.
I was bubbling at the idea of merging this newfound musical inspiration with my story and telling it through a series of concept albums. The only problem with this idea: I couldn’t play any instruments. But I wasn’t going to let this detail stand in the way, I’d lost enough time already. The light was there, and I was focused. I just had to let my feet carry me toward it.
I began breaking down in detail all the things I thought I’d need to learn in order to record an album and simply started learning. I began slowly teaching myself how to play the guitar, bass and piano. At times I was restricted by my health, but even if I only got to play guitar for 20 minutes in a day, as long as I was moving forward I was happy.
I read multiple books on recording and music production/engineering. If I heard something I liked, I cracked it open in an attempt to figure out why I liked it and how I could apply it to my own work.
I’ve never really felt much like a musician. To this day, I’ve never been in a band or moved in social circles driven by mutual passions for music. It simply became my chosen form of expression – a means to an end. The story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it has always led the way. Any new skill or instrument I’ve ever learned has been in service to the story and never the other way around.
It seemed from this point, my life and health gradually improved and I made my first tentative baby steps into the world again. As much as I'd deluded myself that I could take my life back unaided, ultimately it was never something I could’ve done alone. While a creative spark may have been the lifeboat, it was people and their kindness that guided me home. The journey was slow and at times painful, but the gratitude I felt at finally being in a position to piece ‘normality’ back together for myself succeeded in out-hustling any growing pains I may have felt.
The how’s, when’s, highs and lows of my recovery and eventual ‘re-birth’ into the world are a story for next time, but by 2008-2009 I was actually living a life again. Ovum and Cocoon had been committed to paper in one form or another, but their existence was very much a secret. While I’d given so much of myself up in the exchange for the social acclimation needed to regain my life, this was one component of my identity I was reluctant to give up so freely. Not that I was in any way ashamed, but I’d been defined by illness and vulnerability for so long I was wary of allowing it to define my future.
Unfortunately, my most vulnerable experiences were now so intrinsically linked with the creative energy I had, I ended up relegating them both to their own very private place. It was a place I would frequent on an almost daily basis but without ever allowing this part of me to experience my newfound freedoms. My public self and my artistic self existed right under each other’s noses for years, and yet they lived completely separate lives.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I finally began recording Ovum — I still had no real desire to share it, though I did occasionally indulge in fantasies: years from now a stranger — or maybe a grandchild — would uncover some old wooden chest under the floorboards and discover my life’s work. Even in my fantasies though, my music wouldn’t have to change anyone's life, simply the thought of someone gaining a glimmer of insight or solace from it would have been more than enough to ease my soul when I’m dead and gone.
I may have temporarily blacked out the first time someone listened to Ovum whilst in my presence. It was a big deal and something that took a lot of negotiation (and a considerable amount of night sweats). I sincerely thought people would be indifferent, at best, upon listening. Instead I found people to be incredibly supportive of it, and of me, nursing my confidence just enough to tilt me toward finally releasing it in 2016.
I was immensely (albeit quietly) proud of Ovum. People were now at least aware that I was capable of such a thing as recording and releasing an album, but I was still fully dedicated to the position of not performing the album live, keeping up the pretence of being OK with the cloak and dagger approach to creativity. I’d convinced myself that I would never have to perform it live. I reasoned that if a painter didn’t have to paint in front of an audience as confirmation of their art, then I could do the same. There were plenty of explanations like this that I had lined up ready to go, should any doubt seek to threaten this position.
Still, it’s not lost on me that although I was clearly lying to myself, had I not adopted this mentality I may never have allowed myself to record Ovum in the first place. The detachment to the end result was a full investment in the idea of creation for creation’s sake. It allowed me the time and space to experiment, to be honest and unafraid in bringing up delicate subjects and expressing feelings I would never usually have expressed to other human beings.
I’m doing my best to avoid cliches here, but time does have a way of weeding you out of you. It might take months, years or even decades, but guarding a piece of yourself (no matter how big or small) is so deeply tiring. My patience for masking the most open and honest side of me simply ran out. That's not to say I woke up one morning thinking, “I must seek out and assault the nearest stage with a rapid-fire of show tunes and flamboyant high-kicks…”, but as I’ve found previously, moments of weakness can often morph into resentment — if left unchecked — and I was now beginning to resent myself.
I’d been 'free' for close to a decade by that point, yet the fortress of self-preservation I’d built around myself was beginning to resemble the prison of physical isolation I’d escaped.. I was so devoted to my past, I'd failed to notice how much it was informing my present. It wasn’t until 2019 — midway through recording Cocoon — when (finally) performing in front of an audience for the first time, that I had this epiphany. Immediately after performing I felt a tremendous sense of calm, like I'd split the aching skin of a long-worn burden before plainly and dispassionately stepping out of it, emerging from the cocoon I’d been telling myself I escaped 10 years previous.
I’m not only excited but relieved to finally release Cocoon. I’ve moved on, but now I need to move on and let it go free, to roam the universe. If someone listens, if no one listens, it’s all the same. I just need to stop carrying it.
As was the case with Ovum, Cocoon has been a solo project from start to finish, with at least 13 instruments involved in production (some of which were ‘learnt’ and played specifically for tracks on the album).
Guidance has come in multitudes from literature and film — moulding both the sound and story — and heavily drawing inspiration from both the lone anti-heroes found in Spaghetti Westerns and the myth inherent in folk and blues music. Where Ovum told the almost diary-like beginnings of a decline into solitude, Cocoon takes a more cinematic approach to exploring the "innermost cave", blurring the lines between the truth and the fiction born of a person who has spent an inordinate amount of time alone with their thoughts. I've attempted to capture this tendency to wander, both lyrically and musically.
The story picks up right where we left off, at sunrise, with the birds gently stirring the world and all its living creatures back to life.
All except one.