Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Leah of Betwixt / Turkish Delight whose 2003 solo album Even Sleepers is up now on Bandcamp!
More TBTs in our archives.
It’s an interesting exercise, to revisit something one wrote many years ago, I recently (well 2 years ago) did that for my band Turkish Delight for a zine the band created for our 20 year reunion show. Surprisingly I found that lyrics I wrote over 25 years ago still made sense to me, while lyrics – and in some cases music – I wrote for a project in the early 00s “Even Sleepers” seem lifetimes away.
If you have an interest in this album, perhaps take a step back as I am doing now, and see it as a whole, not as parts. The melodies, the genres, the instrumentation, the lyrics would all not exist without each other, without happening at that moment in time. Music like this, for me, will never happen again. It was a time I was questioning myself, society, exploring musical ideas, trying new things. It was me in 2003, it’s not me now. I don’t recognize many of the thoughts and feelings, so that will surely cloud my descriptions of the songs, but I will try.
I had been in bands for 10 years, I had never written a song without another human to inspire me to sing, or to collaborate and translate what I was singing into richer, fuller music. (And not to put a value judgment on rich or full here, just the best adjective I could think of.) For the 1st time in my life I found myself alone, not sure if I could create anything, but compelled to do so. Alone, I write melodies a cappella. They come directly out of my head. They don’t have a set rhythm or key or genre. At the time I liked rock, experimental music, world music. Not a huge singer-songwriter fan, my influences are different from many typical singer-songwriters. I don’t strum a guitar then sing along. I was so unsure a solo album would happen I went to a psychic who I think read my palm or cards and assured me it would happen. After speaking to her, I still couldn’t see how.
I can’t remember how I approached Shaun Wolf Wortis, a Boston area musician and band frontperson; our worlds were slightly different but we shared stages a handful of times. I don’t think Shaun had any idea of what he would get when I sent him my a cappella demo, but luckily for me he liked the songs. He described them as “magical” and was intrigued by my songs which “didn’t seem to be culled from any particular rock genre at all.” So he spent many months helping me, putting instrumentation to these songs, arranging and co-writing in some cases. He had to have an incredible ear, a musical curiosity and as he wrote, a desire to “make sure I stayed out of the way of her voice”.
The music is a pre-jazz Klezmer style, which is influenced by Romani music. From the song: “I really have no clue, what it means to love and be love, is it something I should do?” At times I wonder if romantic love is a societal construct used to sell such unsustainable products/ideas as diamonds & gold, cut flowers, pronatalism and Disneyland.
On a quiet night I remember two sad lovers who were happy to be sad together. The music is bossa nova inspired by the Brazilian “saudade” which describes being both happy and sad at the same time.
The child complains to the parent: “Why have you created a Frankenstein’s monster forced to wander the earth in suffering and solitude?” The instrumentation is obviously Tom Waits influenced; whose unique style is perfectly described by writer Pete Anderson at PutThisOn “it blurs the line between what’s authentic (hey this is just how I sound/what I threw on) and the theatrical”. “Red Eye” has double meaning, could be the (good or bad) feeling of being up all night, or eyes that are red from excessive crying.
Sometimes when people don’t feel the need to put a filter on what they say – perhaps they see the person they are speaking to as powerless or lesser than they in some way – they say inexplicable things. Around the time I was working on these songs a friend randomly blurted out, almost as if reading her grocery list, without making eye contact or expecting an answer: “I’m better than you.” So I wrote a song about it. I learned a little bit more about human nature. And I learned to keep her at a distance.
There’s that Old World, pre-jazz European influence again here with the music. I guess what I am dealing with here was trying to understand human cruelty, from the child or partner abuser who terrorizes into the night than wakes the next morning like nothing’s happened, to the government official who approves mass murder while fitting their next ball gown or tuxedo.
This song has the folkiest style on the album, with a mellotron thrown in for good measure. “Some of us are blue, some of us are grey.” Royal blue aura: This means you are a highly developed spiritual intuitive or clairvoyant. Grey aura: This color indicates blocked energy fields.
Not exactly sure what musical style this is, perhaps someone has an idea. Same deal as “Valentine”, trying to figure out love which was a preoccupation of mine at the time.
Again sort of a Tom Waits influenced style. Lyrics are pretty straightforward, not trying to be deep.
In his “Starry Night” Vincent van Gogh depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an imaginary village. I sing: “The lights of the strip mall, outside my window, they are my starry night, twinkle, twinkle.” Shaun didn’t want to add anything, he kept this last song on the album as-is, a capella as he first heard it from me.