A selection of articles from all our issues - go to 'The Magazine' to read them all, including exclusive interviews from Aston Barrett Jr., Niko Moon, Serena Ryder, Canaan Smith and many more...
Hi Kel! Thanks so much for talking to me today! Your most recent release is the fantastic song ‘Still a Child’ – what was the influence for this song?
It’s such a special song to me, so thanks for the compliments about it, and for asking! I think there are always a lot of influences that come into play, but for this song in particular I was watching a video of myself! My sister had sent it to me and it’s of when I was younger and I just kind of awkwardly singing into the camera, really insecure. I watched it and thought that I’m still that young girl in a lot of ways; I know that in mental health work and psychology there’s a lot of that talk about your inner child. So, I really started to get this idea about singing to my inner child and looking at who I am now against who I was then, but also recognising that I’m still that person and who I am has always been inside of me. It’s really about nurturing that part of yourself and trying to figure out life the best we can, one day at a time!
One thing I’ve found from interviews in the past is that often the most emotional and heavy songs sound the most light hearted. ‘Still a Child’ definitely fits the bill. The strong message carried in the lyrics is contrasted by a melody and beat that is catchy and fun. Is there a reason why you chose to put the song together this way?
Yeah, absolutely! I think firstly having that contrast makes it interesting and fun to listen to, but it’s also showing that contrast about being a kid and being unaware and aloof almost and, as they say, innocence is bliss! That’s where the melody and the track come into play. It’s that childlike innocence, and then the lyrics really go into this idea that life is no joke, things happen and it’s tough! What I love about this song is that it’s really relatable to any time of your life, the chorus talks about feeling alone and being a stranger in your own home and I know that can very be applicable to children. People who haven’t had the support at home can often grow up and reflect and realise that maybe their childhood wasn’t quite as blissful as they thought it was. For me, personally, I had a different experience where I didn’t have the perfect childhood, no one does, but at the same time it was still a pretty idyllic childhood, I was really lucky. Once I became an adult, I started to burst out of that bubble, and it wasn’t until the pandemic that I started struggling with anxiety myself and experiencing mental health in a very intimate way and learning to impact that. Even feeling like a stranger in your own body, it’s something that is just so foreign and is something that was new for me, because I had to learn these lessons later in life once I became an adult. I just love how this song can be applicable to be whatever stage of life you’re in and that’s always my goal in my music, people listen to it and think of themselves, not me.
You’ve been open in the past about your struggle with anxiety, especially during the pandemic. If you could go back now and offer yourself some advice to get through that time, what would it be?
It’s a good question, because being totally honest it’s something I still struggle with. I feel like it almost opened a pandora’s box; I have come a long way and I’m really proud of myself, and therapy is amazing, but thinking about what I’d say to myself? I think I had a mental breakdown last week! What would I say to myself last week! I think what I try to remind myself a lot is that I’m not my thoughts. With everyone having different struggles, for anxiety particularly, what I’ve experienced is my thoughts just spiralling and getting out of control. It’s so bizarre, but I was talking to my sister about it a few weeks ago; it’s like I’m having a battle in my head. There’s the logical, rational and reasonable part of me that’s like an observer, so I know what I’m feeling and that the spiralling isn’t productive or healthy, but the other side of me that is spiralling is also putting up a fight! I think the biggest reminder, whether when I was first struggling or now, is that you’re not your thoughts. Just breathe and pause - sometimes you have to let yourself ride the wave and get through it. For anyone else struggling, it’s also about not shaming yourself for having those moments of weakness and recognising that it’s human. Start developing healthy habits, it’s the little things that can really help you in the end.
You have spoken about how during your anxiety issues, often people would praise you for ‘having it together’ even though you felt as if you didn’t. We often feel a need to mask our issues - how important do you think it is for us to be as open and honest as you have been in this song?
I think the more that you bottle it up, the more it can build up because there’s not a release, and even just having that human connection can make a difference. With my personality, I’ve always been such a high achiever and had a ‘go go go’ mentality, constantly doing 100 things at once. So for me it has been hard to bring down that façade. I think the lyric you’re referring to is ‘Man, she’s got her act together but they don’t know the storms I weather’ but I still find myself putting up that façade sometimes! I don’t think there’s always a problem with that, it’s good to have those boundaries of who you can open up to and when it’s appropriate, but I have found the times I have broken down those walls, let people in and shared my struggles, we always end up closer and better for it. It’s retraining yourself to think that it’s actually positive and going to benefit the relationship and your health and your mind, as opposed to what I think the first thought is, that we can’t show weakness. That’s part of growing up, learning to be accepting that everyone has their weaknesses.
I really relate to that, it’s hard finding that balance! Obviously if a colleague you don’t know too well asks how you are, you aren’t really going to want to go into great detail sharing all of your troubles, so it becomes a constant consideration of how much do you say and who do you tell.
What I will say is that in the ‘downtime’ or more consistent moments, it’s important to work on intentionally building those relationships, when you’re good or more regulated. Making sure you’re invested in the people around you so that it’s not just a case of only calling when you’re having a problem, but genuinely having that friendship.
I’ve written in the past about the difficulties of growing up and the weight of expectations we feel as we get older. I love the verse in the song about dancing to Shania Twain as a three-year-old, and how at that time you were completely free with the whole world in front of you. The theme of this song is very much about looking fondly at the past and wanting to get back to that place of freedom and innocence. How do you think as adults we can try to recapture some of those sentiments? Do you still dance to Shania?!
Yes, I do! I still love Shania! I think that’s a really good point that you bring up, it’s not just getting stuck in the past or analysing the past but creating those moments now. For me it’s giving yourself permission to have fun and be silly. I saw a video about how some people were walking in their neighbourhood and their neighbour was spraying his lawn with a hose and they just asked him if they could run through the hose! The neighbour ended up holding the hose out for them so they could run through the water, they were just two adults having a totally fun moment! I think it’s about recognising that a lot of people have that side to them, that silliness, that playfulness. You have to kind of be brave yourself to ‘run through the hose’! Shedding some of the ego of being together and proper all the time. Just like running on the beach and into the water or blasting the music in my car and not caring if the car next to me is looking at me like I’m a freak! Those little things of being in the moment!
I feel like a great example for our generation is video games. They were a new thing as we were young, so were always associated as being strictly a thing for kids, however, as we have all grown up many of us still use video games as a way to relax. People are coming home from their careers to play games as it’s their way to shut off. I feel like there’s a stigma though amongst the older generations that it is a sign of immaturity or childishness to enjoy these things they’ve always associated with children.
I just started playing ‘Breath of the Wild’! I heard so many good things and I finally got into it! It’s the most peaceful thing! I’ll be there picking up mushrooms and cooking them in a pot, it is really fun! You’re just enjoying the moment and letting yourself relax and unwind! That’s a good point about maturity, I think sometimes we use that word as a weapon. Personally, I believe maybe it’s appropriate in terms of interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation like if someone is immature because they behave the wrong way; but I think it sometimes goes in the wrong way, like this weapon of ‘Oh you play video games, that’s immature’, but it’s okay to be immature sometimes if it’s directed in a healthy way!
The repetition of ‘I’m still a child’ in each chorus, and then especially at the end was very powerful to me, especially when it comes back at the end in children’s voices! Firstly, and slightly off topic, are the kids in the recording ones you know or were they just randomly recruited?
I’m actually really lucky to have a bunch of nieces and nephews! I’m the youngest of five kids and all of my siblings have kids of their own! I messaged them and asked if they could get their kids to say or sing it! I replicated it in my phone, then had them record a voice memo and send it back, then we built it into the chorus that you hear. It was so darn cute! When I got them back, I just thought it was exactly what the song needed! So, they were real children, and they were the cherry on top in terms of the song!
The other thing about the ‘I’m still a child’ line is that I wasn’t sure which way to interpret it. On one hand I thought maybe you were trying to convince yourself and holding onto those happy times of the past, not wanting to let go. The other interpretation I had was that you are trying to tell those people around you who assumed that you were fine and well during your anxiety that actually underneath the surface you are vulnerable and you do need support. The great thing about music is that the real truth is in the mind of the listener, however, would you say any of these interpretations hold some truth for you?
Yeah, those both really resonate. I always feel like a good chorus, or even post chorus, can have multiple meanings. You know, as the first verse comes in it means one thing, then as the second verse comes in, it means another thing, and so on. A song that I resonate with - and I aspire to write these types of songs - is where the meaning evolves and it doesn’t just have one black and white meaning. So, I think both of those could be really applicable, and I also think another perspective could be kind of accepting it yourself! Realising that you are still a kid, despite thinking you should have everything figured out but in reality have no idea what you’re doing, kind of like imposter syndrome. I always love to leave it open to interpretation, because depending on who is listening, they’re going to resonate with their own version of it and that’s really the point.
Another line in the song that really stood out to me was, ‘All at once the future’s unknown’. One thing I’ve struggled a lot with is being a ‘worrier’, constantly focused on the future and having everything planned out, so that I don’t enjoy the present. Do you think that sometimes in life we can spend too much time focused on the destination, and not enjoying the journey?
Oh my gosh, yeah! You’re speaking my language. For me, that’s at the core of anxiety, that’s at the core of when you’re having an anxiety or panic attack, like for me, it’s usually triggered by uncertainty. I’ve really had to learn, and still am learning, that I’m not going to know what’s over the hill. I used to be the kind of person that had my five-year plan, my ten-year plan. When you’re growing up and in school you have very clear milestones that are very laid out, advancing to a different year and recitals or sport events or graduation, then you go off to university. It’s so clear cut that from a young age we are conditioned to have these milestones and structure. For children, that’s very necessary, but then to make that switch is really hard as an adult. What’s my milestone? I think for a long time, personally, I was very tied to visible metrics and optics; I graduated high school early and got my degree in three years, I went and got a corporate job and wanted to climb the ladder and be a CEO. I was so fixated on these external things because it gave me a recipe. Then, I realised I wanted to do music, which has none of that! Everyone’s path as a musician is very different. I definitely have been a ‘worrier’ and still am, it’s just a case of constantly going back to remind myself that I might not know what’s on the other side of the hill, but focusing on taking small steps to be fulfilled in what I’m doing today. But it’s a struggle, dude, I’m still always thinking about that next thing!
I completely relate to that! One thing I’ve learned about myself since finishing my education is that I rely on validation. As you mentioned, there are so many milestones in education that give you that, getting good grades or completing a year, for instance. However, I’ve discovered that being an adult, you don’t often get that, when you do well at work it’s kind of just your job, there’s no good grade for it! I had no idea I relied on it so much until growing up and losing it!
Yeah, totally. You have to learn to validate yourself, right? You get used to having parents or teachers to provide that, and even when you start dating, you’re still using other people for that. It all comes back to learning how to validate yourself. So, there are a ton of personality tests out there and I love them all, I’m weirdly obsessed. One in particular, Enneagram- you should try it - gives you a number and I’m a 3 wing 2. The 3 essentially means ‘obsessed with achieving’ and that’s my main one. Everything you’re saying, you are speaking my language because for someone with my personality type I have tied my success to external measures more than I think has helped me. You should go try the test, it’s a great self-reflection tool.
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name their top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
1. 'Breathin' – Ariana Grande
2. 'Morning in America' – Jon Bellion
3. 'What a Wonderful World' – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Added Extra: 'Up' - Shania Twain Kel Adore's latest single,
'Still a Child', is out now on all platforms.
Maxim and David
We loved getting the opportunity to chat to Jaren Johnston from award-winning US country trio, The Cadillac Three, ahead of the band’s hotly anticipated closing set at the Long Road Festival.
Something I think the Long Road Festival epitomises is the fact that the UK’s country music fanbase is a very close-knit community. It’s not as big as in the States, and it has an almost familial sense to it. How do you find playing to UK crowds, compared to those back home?
We love it, man! We’ve been coming over since 2013, and it's gotten bigger and bigger. I just love the fact that you guys still listen to entire records, and not just one song. We notice that a lot when we’re playing. In the States, it’s not really like that - crowds are waiting for the one big hit. I think that’s why we're done so well over here, because we put out full records.
Talking of putting out full records, you’re known for releasing a lot of music. Does this mean you’re constantly revising your set list?
It’s exhausting. It’s really just a matter of us learning all the songs. We don’t really create set lists, but we have songs that are in the flow of the set. We attempt to sprinkle in the new ones where it makes sense. It’s an ongoing process. Any word on new music? It’s on the way! We’re about halfway through. It’s tough, we put out so much music in 2020, like you were saying, and we just needed a mental reset. Back then, I could write all day long about how everything being shut down because of the pandemic sucked, but now we don’t really want a sad record. But it’s coming!
What’s your favourite song with a theme of mental health? Kacey Musgraves, Follow Your Arrow
It’s tough - (to his bandmates) I’m saving you guys a little bit - because most people listen to music to ideally feel good, whether that’s a song about drinking, a song about losing your dad or a song about your dog dying, you know? I wrote this song called ‘Doggone’, and it was on the last Tim McGraw record, and the amount of messages I got from people who had lost a dog...it’s amazing what that does to people. I think music in general is hopefully designed to heal - I don’t know if we’re healing people when we do it! But yeah, it’s just got to provide any kind of release. Every song in theory is coming from some place, and trying to help the artist get through something, celebrate something, forget about something, etc. I think there are different songs for different moments - there will be times when turning on a really simple song will be what I want, and then there’ll be other times when I need something deeper like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ or Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House That Built Me’. It could be almost anything, which I think is what’s great about music.
When I think of your music, I think of it as generally being fuelled by an upbeat, funky style - particularly on Country Fuzz. When you’re putting together a project, to what extent do you factor in the mood - like do you think, ‘Okay, we want this to be a happy record’, and so on?
Sometimes we’re just feeling it out. We see where it goes and which songs present themselves. The Tabasco and Sweet Tea record is like a hillbilly DJ set - if that doesn’t make you feel good, then something’s really wrong! We were trying to make that record in 2020 during that time of there being no smiles, and we wanted to try and bring a smile to somebody. We tried to give the whole record away for $1.49, and we couldn’t figure out how to logistically do it with the DSPs, so we ended up doing it for $3.99. So people got a really cheap record that was fun to listen to while sitting on their couch during quarantine, wondering whether the world was ever going to get better. I feel pretty good about that whole thing.
With that project, because the title is so distinctive, did you start with the title and build the project out from there, almost as a concept album, or did the title come later?
I think it helped us finish it. It was something I started before the pandemic, and it was a reaction to the end of the Country Fuzz record. I started to get into more funky material, like on ‘The Jam’, and we didn’t get to fully explore that. We had to wrap up that record, but we’d had a lightbulb moment with this new sound, so we wanted to see what was going on with it. That became Tabasco.
There’s an undeniable sense of genre fluidity with your music. Is this a conscious creative decision, or does it flow naturally out of your process?
It ends up leaning one way or another to some degree, but it’s a natural process and we just see what comes out. It’s all an experiment. You feel your way towards the things you’re all connecting to the most, and then once when you’ve got a few of those, then maybe you start to find more of a musical path and sound.
Writing and creating music is a very personal thing. As a group of three, do you ever find it difficult when writing together to make sure you’re all on the same page?
It’s usually a meeting after every song. We’ll sit and listen to songs on the bus and think, ‘This could be really cool’, and one person will be like, ‘Actually, I don’t know’, and then we’re like, ‘Actually, you’re right’. Every time it's different. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s Neil, sometimes it’s Kelby, and sometimes it’s all three of us. Sometimes it’s something we wrote ten or fifteen years ago, and we’re like, ‘Dang, we really loved that, let’s do something with it’. And sometimes we sit there and we know we need something with tempo and that’s badass in order to fit onto the record. It’s different every time.
One of my favourite songs of yours is ‘Long After Last Call’. How did that come about?
That’s an old song! I wrote that by myself around ten years ago. I wrote it around the time of the Legacy record, but it didn’t quite fit on that. Then it came back up for a later record and it did make sense. It shows how it’s all about timing and how all the songs fit together, you know? In that instance, we felt like it fit better with the Country Fuzz record.
There aren’t too many bands in modern country music. Does this create a competitive spirit between you and the other biggest bands in the genre?
We’re all friends for the most part. There are a couple of rivalries that are unspoken, like us and Brothers Osborne - we’re good friends, but there’s also a sense of competition there. And then there are bands like Old Dominion who we just cannot stand… Jokes, we’re friends really! And I wrote my first number one with LOCASH in 2010 over at my house - Keith Urban’s ‘You’re Gonna Fly’. We’re all one big family, and it’s very similar to what you explained about the UK country scene.
Keep an eye out for an announcement about The Cadillac Three’s upcoming project, but in the meantime, you can stream Tabasco and Sweet Tea on all platforms.
Recently, I’ve been reading ‘Zero Negativity’ by Ant Middleton. Despite the rather large number of times I’ve read the ‘F’ word, it’s really opened my eyes to the value of being positive. As I’m sure many others have, maybe you as the reader have too, I have had my fair share of mental health struggles. During lockdown, I was taking part in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy & getting mentoring, and whilst all of it was really beneficial in the moment, the biggest thing that I learnt was that the more I tried, the better I could make it.
The music industry is particularly tough! In my day job as a PhD researcher at Cardiff University, I spend a lot of time with my headphones in, listening to a podcast or music, knees deep in chemicals & other things, working on my project in Huntington’s Disease. Whilst the outcomes of the project could be life changing, I never feel too much pressure. Everyone supports your wins whilst helping you navigate your failures, and no one minds too much when you put your head down and want to ignore the world for a while. The music industry is the complete opposite really, isn’t it?! Everything you do is being scrutinised and judged in every intimate detail, and there is always someone that has something to say! And by all means, please do, criticism can be very helpful for making something better!! But, should we really care? What should we be doing to help keep us positive, and to make our own desires and goals achievable?
One of the lines that struck me in this book was “don’t be one of those people who forget that life should be about trying to pull yourself up, rather than tearing others down”. Such simple words can mean so much! Whilst I always try not to be a negative person, I don’t think I’ve always tried to pull myself up either… I like to think that I work hard, and keep motivated - I’m proud of the business I’ve created in Scarlet River PR & I’m working with other companies so that artists benefit from my services - but when things go wrong, how likely am I to stay positive in the moment and find those things that will pull me over the fence?
How positive are you when things don’t quite go your way?
How motivated are you to continue pursuing your dream career when it isn’t so easy? Remember where you’ve come from, remember what you’ve achieved, and keep positive!
I’ve written in the past about the evolution of live music but unfortunately the only thing I can decide on is the fact that it is changing. With this in mind I am going to present two scenarios; the old and the new. I will be positive in both my versions to present little bias and as you read I want you to consider which of these is more to your taste. To be honest my expectation, as with most things, is that people will side with the old, adding comments about ‘better times’ and donning rose coloured spectacles – however I encourage you to give both a fair shot and simply choose what you would find more enjoyable.
Now I’m not really trying to suggest that every single live concert in times of old was entirely identical, but simply provide a representation of the key elements where I believe the biggest shift has happened within live music. For me, when I think of live music maybe fifty or sixty years ago I think about a full band. I see on stage a drummer, guitarist, bass guitarist, singers and because it’s me I obviously also see a saxophone. The band have rehearsed the full set top to bottom, even throwing some interesting variations to the fans by merging songs into medley form or adding additional chorus’ for the crowd. The singer is the real star, shaking along to however the music takes them and throwing smiles at the crowd. The band may roll their eyes but they know who people are there to see. The backing singers have a few simple steps; maybe a sway and click to look busy when they aren’t required. The performance goes on, song after song interspersed with some talking to the crowd or grabbing a drink. The music sounds just as it does on the album, but somehow better due to its lack of perfection. A bum note here or there and the balance of live instruments not tuned with maximum precision in the studio offers a new perspective to the songs you love. The only thing that stands between you and the voice of your favourite artist is an amplifier and if you close your eyes and pretend, you’d feel as if you’re up on stage.
Now, once again, I’m not suggesting all new concerts are the same et cetera et cetera you get it. As you turn up to the gig you are handed a free wristband; you expected you’d have to pay through the nose for a souvenir but you’ve been handed one at the offset. You’re told it’s got a special part to play in the show and you’ll know when to use it. As you’re anticipating the start of the show the lights suddenly drop before a few crisp laser spotlights work their way around the audience. Suddenly the stage comes to life and it is projected with a light show that put’s New Years to shame. Amongst the crowd of back up dancers on the stage you spot the artist dressed head to toe in something unbelievably stylish and cool. You curse the extra piece of chicken you ate the night before as you try to imagine yourself slipping into something similar. Over the speakers plays one of their hit songs; the bass makes your chest pound and you hear it in a way you could never hear it otherwise. After the intro is accompanied by highly choreographed dancing the artists grabs the microphone and starts singing along to the backing track, somehow managing to dance better than you ever could whilst also singing better. It’s something of a modern opera with so many moving parts, the lights dance around the stage in a rainbow of colours and move perfectly in time with the current song. Suddenly the moment you’ve been waiting for arrives; the artist tells you to raise your wristband to the sky and simultaneously thousands light up – you look around in awe at the spectacle. You have no doubts that you’ve just witnessed quite the show.
So, thoughts? I must admit, in writing and trying to be unbiased I found it easier to romanticise about the old scenario. Maybe it is the rose coloured spectacles talking but it just seems like more my cup of tea, which is indeed a British way of saying my own personal unique tastes even though everyone loves tea so it doesn’t make much sense. I think for me I base my experiences mainly from seeing Drake and Seafret. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely loved both. I was in awe of the staging, the lights and the energy Drake bought. It was just the most amazing spectacle. One thing that fell by the wayside though was the music. Hearing his songs played over the speakers in the same way you would listen on your phone just doesn’t feel the same as listening to live instruments for me and as much energy as he put into the dancing and the light show it felt sometimes like he barely sung half the songs, just allowing the recording to play whilst engaging with the fans. As I said before, it was still an unbelievable experience and I left feeling absolutely incredible but I couldn’t help but feel I’d have dropped the dancing, the lights and all the choreography in a heartbeat if it meant I just got to see Drake rapping and singing his songs more. Seafret on the other hand had a spotlight, a simple light box with the band name on and stood onstage, vocalist, guitar and drummer giving heartfelt performances of all of their songs. I think for me there is something to be said of a mix; Seaftet could have maybe added a little more showmanship (although in fairness their emotive ballad style does lend itslef more to simplicity)cand Drake probably could have focues more on the music thasn the show. A happy medium for me would be Coldplay. Not only do they get on stage and give incredible live renditions of their own music but they also turn it into some huge celebration. Colourful stage sets, light shows and all the spectacle you could ever wish to see. I must admit I’m not speaking from experience, only from clips online but Coldplay is for sure on my bucket list. I think that really the development of live music depends for each artist and even each song. A band like Seafret with more ballads and a folky feel were hardly going to sing about heartbreak while breakdancing in the midst of a laser show; whilst Drake was never going to perch himself melancholically at the front of the stage to give a heartfelt rendition of 'Started from the Bottom'. I think it's great that we get a mix of the two and whilst we could compare all day really it just depends what you like. Maybe something has been lost when live instruments left the stage, but maybe something was gained when showmanship became more important.
Lyrical genius, humble honesty and emotional rollercoasters
So anyone who knows me, or has taken the time to read some of my previous articles, will probably know that I’m a complete sucker for a song with a story. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I sit vibing in my room to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ though, and to be honest I’m not prone to spending too much time listening to cheesy love songs that detail every stage of the romance. I think for me, in some weird masochistic twist, the story telling songs that really appeal are those that dive deep into some sort of pain or anguish. I love that connection you feel to the music either through sympathy for the artist or an empathy, having had similar experiences yourself. What I also love is songs that shed light on a perspective that maybe we hadn’t previously considered. Justin Bieber’s ‘Lonely’ received high praise from myself (I’m sure JB is over the moon with that) for telling his side of the story and detailing that whilst many of us saw a spoiled rich kid we didn’t stop to consider the challenges he was facing.
Some of you reading may also know that I’m a big fan of Quadeca, the rapper who made his name on YouTube. Having reviewed his artistic and powerful ‘From Me to You’ last year and shedding praise on it (I’m sure Quadeca is just as excited as Bieber was) I thought it would be good to go back and review one of the songs that made me so interested in the artist in the first place. Yes that’s right, I’m writing a review on something that was released three years ago. Some would say late to the party – but really I just wanted to switch it up; so instead of reading my ramblings on the latest new album from someone or other and concluding ‘it wasn’t bad but could have been better’ as I tend to - you’ll be reading me rambling about something that I already know I love – but I’ll be telling you more about why.
Now – you’ll realise more about why later but if you haven’t already then go and listen to the song! This is sort of a spoiler alert warning, if that does apply to music. If you read this and then listen it would be a bit like reading the plot of ‘Fight Club’ then watching the film – the experience is so much different if you already know what happens!
From the moment you press play on this song it is driving home a message. Opening up with a tuneful piano intro that is quickly topped with a gospel choir. I’ve always loved hearing gospel choirs in music, there’s just something about the sound that adds a texture and a feeling that is yet to be emulated by anything else. A key example would be Stormzy’s ‘Blinded By Your Grace Part 2’ – an amazing song but for me wouldn’t be half of what it is without the beautiful sounds of the gospel choir. Although in this song they don’t play as large a part as in Stormzy’s they still add such a beautiful sound to even this intro. It’s the lyrics too – ‘everybody loves a winner’ – without much impact at this stage but almost a foreboding hint as to the subject matter of the song. I also love how the snare is introduced underneath. When I first listened, I wasn’t a huge fan mainly thinking that it sounded out of place but now I’ve come to realise that’s almost the point. I think it helps to connect the sample used at the start with the rest of the song as when the verse comes in we lose the choir and the piano but the snare remains constant, sewing it all together as one.
After Quadeca lets us enjoy the intro for twenty or so seconds we are thrown straight into the chorus. For me the chorus in itself is unbelievably powerful despite only being a few lines.
‘I swear, they only love me when I'm not there
I know you trust me, but I don't care
I swear that I don't care
I know you love me, but I don't care’
What stands out is the repetition of ‘I don’t care’ and particularly when the ‘I swear’ gets thrown in front of it. This is also what makes opening up with the chorus so intelligent. The thing is, and what the title and first chorus don’t really say, is that he really does care. You’ll only realise this when you listen to the rest of the song. This is why I dropped the spoiler warning in. If you still haven’t listened yet – go do it! If you hadn’t heard the song before you would assume from this chorus that the message is genuinely ‘I don’t care’ – that the song is Quadeca maybe sticking a finger up to the haters or something like that. When you listen to it back you realise that what it actually represents is Quadeca attempting to convince himself. This is where the repetition and the ‘I swear’ come into it – because you can picture him almost pleading to himself hoping that if he just says it enough and with conviction then he genuinely won’t care, and that it won’t hurt anymore.
Continuing the theme of impactful lyrics – the first verse is such an open and honest reflection of how Quadeca feels about his career, and that ultimately, he isn’t happy. The way the verse is written pairs the good and the bad together, and in a similar way to Bieber’s ‘Lonely’ makes us realise that someone who appears to be doing well isn’t always doing well. This verse feels somewhat like a coming of age, it is Quadeca realising that success isn’t what he thought it would be. Speaking about his passionate fans but also suggesting he doesn’t have the time to engage as well as feeling numb when he looks at his ‘numbers’ (suggesting streams/views and potentially money); it’s the harsh reality for him that actually he’s sort of got everything he wanted but it’s nothing like he imagined it to be. The second line is simultaneously very serious but somewhat comical; ‘Mom wanted me to be a doctor, But I came out as a patient’, ironically suggesting how far apart his dreams are from his reality. The final line is the verse is equally profound; ‘I wonder why I feel so little 'Cause I ain't been on the top, I think I'm somewhere in the middle’. This is probably one of my favourite lines in the whole song, mostly because it’s something you don’t usually see. Usually, you hear rappers bragging about being the biggest, coming out with an arrogance and a swagger that gives an energy to their music. Alluding to the classic ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown’ phrase here Quadeca is suggesting that he doesn’t consider himself to be one of the best, but within that is questioning why he therefore feels all this pressure.
The second verse opens up with Quadeca speaking more about the pressures of his career suggesting there’s a hole in his soul before dropping another profound, but once again simultaneously comical line:
‘I know this'll make 'em proud, but I know they gon' need another
And another, and another, and another, and another
Like I'm DJ Khaled with a motherfuckin' stutter’.
What I love about this, apart from the DJ Khaled gag, is that it once again gives us an insight into how it feels to be an artist and that actually it isn’t all we would expect. It’s weird to digest because as fans we all obviously look forward to new releases from our favourite artists, we want new great music from them as much as possible, but the way Quadeca frames this almost gives me a tinge of guilt – should we always expect and demand more? And what does this do to the artists? I think this resonates throughout the years too as anyone who has seen the new ‘Elvis’ film will know, as this documents the story of how Elvis became one of the most sellable commodities in the world, and how his manager worked him essentially into an early grave. Whilst I’m not suggesting that we are all like Elvis’ infamous manager it does make you think about that side of things.
The second verse is also what really brings us the ‘twist’ that makes the first parts of the song make more sense, particularly the chorus. The tragic story that Quadeca proceeds to tell is that he received a long message on social media from a profile without a picture, and thinking it was spam tried to delete it but accidentally opened it, and upon doing so decides to read it anyway. Quadeca then proceeds to paraphrase the message:
"My homie was a huge fucking fan, used to play your shit every day
He struggled with depression and he told me that the music was the thing that always set him straight
But I guess it must of gotten too much for him, killed himself a couple months back, it's felt so fucking long
But it reminded me of him when you popped up on my page and I went and started listening to a couple songs, so...
Keep doing you, bro"
Whilst already incredibly profound, the twist comes later in the verse when Quadeca goes to look at the profile of the fan who killed himself
‘But all the sudden, in the instant, everything felt grimmer, read the name again, and realized it sounded familiar
Clicked the DM, to see if he had talked to me before, saw this was the same kid I consciously ignored a couple months ago’
As if not powerful enough already the song then finishes with a repeat of the chorus but this time with the gospel choir sort of underneath and interspersed. Honestly, I think this is genius. The revisiting of the chorus offers the listener a chance to hear it but with the new knowledge of what happens in the song; giving them that new perspective on the lyrics. This is then represented by the choir underneath the chorus; the lyrics stay the same but the choir makes it sound different; giving that feeling that whilst you are listening to the same thing it’s got a whole different spin on it now. It’s also genius because of what the choir is singing. ‘Everybody loves a winner’. It’s so profound – that contrast of the message from the gospel choir, probably representing what Quadeca had thought success would be like, underneath the pleading of Quadeca trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care in order to numb the pain of the weight on his shoulders.
This song is honestly one of my all time favourites and offers such a powerful new perspective on what it is like to be in the limelight. We heard Bieber talking about how no one really knows him or what he’s going through, but Quadeca takes it a step further by underlining the pressure and the responsibility. The story is so sad, and I’m unsure whether it is true or not, but you could see how this would really affect someone. Quadeca is obviously blameless but you can understand why he blames himself. You would never expect him to reply to every fan’s message but the knowledge that he could have made a real difference to this fan’s life with one simple reply is undoubtedly something that would weigh heavy on his mind. That’s what makes this song so unbelievably memorable. I remember the first time I listened, and thinking that as well as being great to listen to I was so engaged in the lyrics. I was in the car at the time and I remember spending the rest of the journey just trying to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he would feel in that situation. I also love that the song is so ambiguous at the start but later reveals it’s true meaning, you start to wonder why he is so insistent he doesn’t care but then in the first verse details how tough he finds his situation before revealing all in the second verse. It’s not something I’ve seen very often but it gives this amazing scenario where the first and second time you listen to the song are entirely different – the first time giving you this moment of realisation and the second giving you a chance to listen back to the lyrics with a new perspective. This song is one of the key reasons why I do like Quadeca so much, he does things his own way. As a skilled lyricist it would be so easy for him to just make loads of commercial tunes with fast verses in but, as with ‘From Me To You’, he really puts everything into his art and that gives you this sense of connection with him every time you listen.
Kezia Gill's vocals are unlike any other. Her signature rasp, sensational power and unbelievable control make for a killer combination. Read her interview as she discusses her style, influences and writing processes.
Hi Kezia! Thanks so much for talking to me today! Your most recent release was a cover of 90’s dance party classic ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ featuring friend of the magazine and former interviewee Tim Prottey-Jones. You’ve put a new spin on the song; taking the iconic upbeat foot tapper and turning it into an amazing country blues tune. Why did you choose to cover this song in particular – and where did the idea for the bluesy spin come from?
I must confess, I can’t take any credit for the creative process. It was all Tim and his wonderful imagination!! He approached me with the project and asked if I would be interested in lending my vocals to the track. After one listen I was sold! I love anything dark and bluesy, so it was a great project to be part of.
Your voice really stands out – it has an iconic rasp to it and the control you have to execute perfect bends and melismatic turns is staggering! For me talent like this that’s made to sound so effortless always brings up the nature vs nurture debate, so was this singing ability something you’ve just always had, something you’ve worked to get or maybe a combination being something that you have always had to an extent, but have had to work to perfect?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I come from a line of singers, so it was always in my blood, but there’s no doubt that honing your craft is hugely important. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become perfect at something, and I’d say I’ve probably done double that when it comes to singing!! I’m by no means saying I’m perfect, but years of singing means I’m comfortable in my own voice, and I know how to get the best out of it.
In a similar tone, for some people being on stage and singing is a childhood dream that is harnessed at an early age, and for others isn’t something they realise they are interested in until later. Was this always the dream for you, or is it something you discovered a love for later on?
I can say with some certainty that I always wanted to be a singer. My Dad was a singer, and my earliest memories are watching him perform and longing to be up there on stage with him. It was at the age of 5 that I made my debut, and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve never been interested in anything else.
Music can be such a powerful and expressive tool, allowing us an outlet for emotions that sometimes we didn’t even know we had! Being a songwriter and a singer, do you often find yourself using your songs as an outlet, and do you find that this helps you and your mental health? Absolutely.
I find song writing extremely therapeutic. I can write about my deepest darkest emotions, and packaged in the correct way (neither too personal nor to cryptic) they will hopefully mean something to the listener. It’s always been important that I write about things I’ve been through and emotions I understand.
‘All of Me’ is a fantastic song. I find it particularly interesting that the lyrics are those that you would maybe expect to hear in a gentle piano ballad, but seem even more powerful in the hard-hitting rock and blues style of this song. When writing this tune did the lyrics or the music come first, and what was the inspiration for pairing the two together in a way people maybe wouldn’t have expected? This was a rare exception where the lyrics and music came together. I thought the idea that all you can give might not be enough was truly heartbreaking. It provoked a raw and bluesy tune which paired with the lyric “All I can give you and All that I want to are two very different things” creates quite a powerful chorus. It’s sung with passion and heart because it comes from a place of desperation.
A lot of your songs have an anthemic vibe to them, ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ and ‘The Mess I Made’ being prime examples. Somehow you manage to generate atmospheric accompaniments whilst keeping the textures fairly thin, and the slower but very deliberate, driving tempos create this swell of intensity that sits perfectly underneath your powerful vocals. Although the words ‘style’ and ‘genre’ feel as if they are becoming less relevant in music – would you say that you have a particular style, and how would you describe it to someone who hadn’t heard your music before?
I have always believed that you don’t just hear music… you feel it. The first thing I say to my producer when I’m making music is “I wanna feel the message”, If it’s sad, the music needs to hit me in the stomach, if it’s happy, the music needs to lift me up, and if I’m going for a banger, it needs to make me move!!! I’d like to say my style is raw unfiltered feels!!!!
In fitting with style and genre I always find it interesting to learn who an artist’s inspirations are so that I can try and hear elements of it in their music. Who would you say your biggest inspirations have been?
This question follows on great from the previous one. I’m inspired by artists that make me feel something. Patsy Cline taught me how to sing. You could hear her heart breaking in her ballads, and hear her strength and sass in her upbeat tunes. I also adore Elvis, Freddy Mercury and Tina Turner because they’re all raw, unpolished and phenomenal with it. They condone your attention because you believe what their telling you. It’s quite incredible to watch one person control 50,000 onlookers. I find that hugely inspiring.
It’s currently a very busy time for you as you’re on tour! Can you tell us some more about any big plans you have in the next year or so?
I actually can’t say much, but mark my words, BIG things are coming!!
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name your top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
1. Rainbow- Kacey Musgraves
2. Everybody Hurts- REM
3. I’m Here- Kezia Gill
Nashville's R&B-Country singer-songwriter is making love songs cool again. Maxim chats to Tiera about her unique sound, plans for new music and her obsession with the UK.
Hey Tiera, thanks so much for taking the time out today! You recently dropped the studio version of ‘Found It In You’, which followed the hugely popular demo version as part of your self-titled 2021 EP. What inspired you to roll out the single in this way, involving listeners in your creative process of moving from demo to studio release - and which version is your favourite?
I released the demo version a couple of years ago, during the pandemic, and when I put it out originally I was independent and had a really small team. I didn't really know what would happen with it, I just wanted to put some music out there. We put it out and it just took off. I started getting calls from labels, and I ended up signing with Valory Music Co at Big Machine, and ‘Found It In You’ made sense as the first single. It was the first song I wrote that was 100% me and embodied my sound, which I like to call R&B-Country. We went back in with a label budget and re-recorded it. The new version feels bigger, more vibe-y and something I would hear on the radio, so I’m excited that we went back and redid it!
It’s a really uplifting, happy song. Country sometimes leans towards the more mournful, tear-your-heart-out kind of songs, so it’s always refreshing to hear a genuinely joyful track such as ‘Found It In You’. It tells the real-life story of you and your partner, so I think happily coupled-up listeners will be able to see themselves in the story, while other listeners will be able to use it as a form of escapism. Do you personally prefer to use music more as a reflection of reality, or do you find it more therapeutic as a form of escapism?
A lot of the songs I write are things I have gone through or am currently going through. For me, writing songs truly is therapy, especially when writing with your friends that know what you’re going through. Most of us are around the same age and we’ve had similar experiences, so it’s always really refreshing going into the studio and just talking for the first hour, before even thinking about writing a song. I definitely gear towards writing about my reality, and using songs to get through that.
Your sound fuses a smooth, R&B feel with Country influences. Genre-fluidity is becoming more prominent in Country. What inspired you to move your music in this direction, and have you faced resistance to this from traditionalists?
Honestly, it wasn’t a conscious decision. On ‘Found It In You’, my co-writer is also my producer, and we grew up listening to both R&B and Country. When we started writing together, it happened organically. You can hear that sound throughout my music, and it seems to be resonating with people. I’ve had fans coming up to me saying, ‘I don’t really listen to Country, but I love your music!’. I also hear from people that are more into that traditional sound, but they still enjoy my music. I listen to a lot of Dolly and Lee Ann Womack, and when I sing I have that classic Country sound. I feel like it’s a mixture of all the best aspects of Country and the best aspects of R&B.
I’m a big fan of your Apple Music show, which has been a huge success. What has this experience been like, and did you know that radio-hosting would be such a strength of yours before taking the role?
Apple Music came to me and asked me about it during the pandemic, and I’d never really thought about it before. But it really has been a lot of fun, and it’s made me a better artist. I used to be really bad at talking - at shows I’d just want to sing, I wouldn’t want to tell stories in-between songs. So I think it’s made my performances stronger, and it’s fun because I get to not only play my music on the show, but I get to play my friends’ music who may not yet have record deals. I was in that spot for a long time, and to be able to give my friends and other artists a platform has been a really cool experience.
I love your cover of Halsey’s ‘Be Kind’, which paints with a different palette to the love-story of ‘Found It In You’. It laments the attitude of a partner towards the main character in the song, and the hook is irresistible. Do you have a debut album in the works, and if so, will these earlier tracks make it onto this project?
That song was really fun, I did that during the pandemic too. It felt like a really appropriate time to cover this song because of what was going on in the world, and I really enjoyed putting my spin on it. I’ll be putting out an EP with five songs on it soon, but we are gearing up towards a…’project’! It will have a lot of new music on it, including ‘Found It In You’, and a couple of songs I’ve been playing out to fans. They’ve been very vocal about wanting those being released!
A 'project' - sounds mysterious! I spoke to Breland for the previous Mindful Melody issue, and he’s featured on your song, ‘Miles’, which again embodies the laid-back, peaceful atmosphere that you bring into your music. The feel of the whole song seems to be perfectly summed up in the opening lyrics, ‘You’re like a slow lane Sunday’. ‘Laid-Back’ is similarly serene. Is it a conscious decision to make your music relaxing and soothing to the listener, or does this flow naturally out of your creative process?
I think that’s the R&B part coming out. When I listen to music, I want to feel uplifted. If I’m having a bad day, I want it to lift me up out of the rut, or if I’m having a great day, I want it to pump me up even more. So, when I get in the room with my friends, the first thing I say is, “We're not writing sad songs today! We’re writing something fun.” I think that’s what people are craving, and it’s great getting to play them and watch people dance along. ‘Miles’ in particular is an easy song to catch onto, so I’ll see people that have never heard it before singing along by the end of the last chorus. I want to make sure my music has a good vibe all around.
On the new project, will there be any sad songs that still feel good, and that maybe have a sense of peaceful melancholy? Yeah, that’s definitely my vibe! If I am going to write something slower, I still want it to feel good. I have an unreleased song called ‘I’d Look Good In That Truck’, and it’s one of the only slow songs I have on the upcoming EP. I think it’s great to have a variety, so you’re definitely going to go on a journey with my projects. I’ve been writing a lot, so I’m excited to put out as much new music as I can.
You’ve been named as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country. This must be incredibly exciting, but as you prepare to release new music, does the fact that the industry’s and fans’ eyes are expectantly on you add a sense of pressure? Or does it just add fuel to the creative fire?
It definitely just motivates me. When you’re doing this, it can feel like you’re doing it all in the shadows, because you’re just working on music behind the scenes and when you haven't released it yet it’s hard to gauge how it’ll be received. We all have our ups and downs in our careers, so when you do have a successful song, it’s so motivating because it lets you know that somebody’s watching, somebody’s rooting for me. It doesn’t add pressure, it just makes me excited for what’s to come.
Speaking of you being one of the exciting new female voices in Country, a genre that has a track record of giving male voices more prominence, we are thankfully seeing progress in terms of the elevation of under-represented voices in Country. As someone within the industry at the moment, have you seen noticeable change, or does it still feel as though there is a long way to go?
I’m out on a radio tour right now, and I’ve been out for five or six weeks, and I definitely think that things are turning around. The reaction has been really positive and everybody’s being really supportive. Just looking at the charts and seeing plenty of women in Country music, it makes me so happy. We always say that when one of us wins, the rest of us win too. I definitely think we’re making progress.
Earlier this year you performed over in the UK for the first time, as part of the awesome C2C Festival. What was that experience like, and do you have plans to come back to the UK to perform anytime soon?
Oh my gosh, as soon as I left I was already trying to get back! I loved being over in the UK, it was so much fun. Those shows were unlike anything I’d ever played. For some of the shows I play over in the US, there will be a few people talking and not really listening, but I didn’t really experience that over in the UK. As a songwriter and as an artist, I’ve noticed how fans in the UK take the time to really lock into the stories we’re telling and the songs we’re singing. It means a lot. I also have a bit of an obsession with London. I hope this is not insulting, but I have this habit of talking in a British accent! When I was over there, I did it a lot, and my UK reps say it’s pretty good…so I’m excited to get back over so that I can utilize it!
Tiera Kennedy's latest single, 'Found It In You' is out now - and keep an eye out for her upcoming EP!
Few bands have instigated the level of multi-generational adulation that the Eagles have built over the past five decades. The frontrunners of California’s easy-rock hey-day, despite an ever-changing line-up, the band’s sprawling list of hits continues to stand the test of time.
Increasingly, at the start of my articles I seem to find myself making a confession about my (worryingly large) musical blindspots, which is always a promising start for someone who claims to be a music critic.
I’m afraid to say this will be no different. Before the last couple of years, my main interaction with the sonic delights of the Eagles was when, as a child, I would play ‘Hotel California’ on Guitar Hero. And 10-year-old me would crush it, I might add.
Fast forward to my final years at University, and my tired, coursework-clogged brain started to find some respite amidst the laid-back harmonies of songs like ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’. So when the opportunity arose to see the Eagles at British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park this summer, I was excited, but in all honesty I was looking forward to the Country opening acts - the likes of Cam, Little Big Town and Morgan Wade - just as much as the headliners.
When the day finally came, the sun was beating down and there was an electric buzz rippling through the thousands of festival-goers. The long, Hawaiian-shirt-speckled expanse of Hyde Park was cushioned by colourful, eclectic lines of food and drink stalls, all built to appear like Mediterranean bistros and villas.
Cam kicked off proceedings with a high-energy set that showcased her stellar vocals, with plenty of friendly intermissions to chat with the crowd. Little Big Town then took it up a notch, stringing together fun, anthemic hits such as ‘Pontoon’ and ‘Boondocks’, before stripping it back with their Taylor-Swift-penned ‘Better Man’. Morgan Wade reeled through tracks from her critically acclaimed 'Wilder Days' album on the smaller stage, drawing a keen audience, but her performance could have been buoyed if she’d taken note of Cam’s personableness and had taken more time to interact with the crowd. Richard Plant and Allison Krauss, the final openers before the headline slot, were charming as they serenaded the Hyde Park crowd with their sweet euphonies about love and friendship.
However, throughout all of the opening performances, it became increasingly clear that the crowd was there primarily for one artist and one artist alone: the Eagles. Billed as their final UK show ever, the anticipation was that this was set to be a special night.
And boy, did they deliver. As a self-confessed passing fan, rather than being one of the many leather-wearing, 70s-merch-donning Eagles aficionado in the crowd, I was expecting to enjoy the handful of songs I knew, and then perhaps feel a little out-of-place when they moved through their other material.
But from the moment they walked onto the Great Oak Stage, you couldn’t help but feel lifted and energised by the electricity that surged through the crowd. The band’s cool charisma was undeniable, and they showed their class in the way they commanded the stage without the need for any gimmicks, glitz or glamour. At risk of descending into over-sentimentality, there was something pure about the performance, as though they were transporting us back to a time when music was just about, well, the music, without any of today’s social-media-pandering and artificiality.
As sacrilegious as it might sound, before BST I hadn’t heard hits such as ‘Lyin’ Eyes’, ‘Heartache Tonight’, ‘The Best Of My Love’ or ‘Take It To The Limit’. Yet by the time the final chorus rolled around, I was singing along at the top of my lungs with everyone else. The latest band line-up featured Country veteran Vince Gill and even included a surprise appearance from Deacon Frey, the son of former frontman, Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. Deacon has been touring with the Eagles for a while, but announced earlier this year that he was leaving to focus on solo material, so his reuniting with the band brought a welcome sense of familiarity and warmth. Tennis icon John McEnroe’s invitation to play guitar towards the end of the set was a little more random, but hey, I guess when you’ve sold over 200 million records you’ve earned the right to bring your famous friends out on stage with you.
Don Henley assumed the lead on the chat in-between songs, dropping a big hint that this really would be their last time on British soil. Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh brought immense gravitas, especially when Walsh stormed into a mesmerising vocal-distorter solo. As they all stood side by side, staring out into the Hyde Park sunset, they had an undeniable gravitas that seems to separate the great artists from the legends.
What made the experience all the more memorable was the good-natured feel of the crowd. Every now and then during the performance, I’d cast my eyes down to an elderly couple a few places in front of us, and it was genuinely heartwarming to see the sheer jubilation etched on both their faces as they sang every word as loud as they could. There were plenty of others just like them, who, as soon as the music started, seemed to radiate this sense of youthfulness and joy.
As well as a new identity as a fully converted Eagles fan - minus the head-to-toe leather - I left Hyde Park with the memory of all those happy, older fans that seemed to connect with a part of them that had long been buried beneath the expectations of age. It reminded me that, no matter how old we are, I think we are all deep down still the same childish, fun-loving person we were when we were first exploring world and creating the soundtrack of our youth.
It gave me a newfound resilience - no matter how serious and sobering we are expected to become as we grow older - to never lose that sense of wide-eyed, child-like excitement about the things we love. I can only hope, when I’m attending Kenny Chesney’s farewell concert as a 70-year-old (come on Kenny, you can make it to 100), that I embody the same unabashed, unrestricted sense of zest and youth as I sing along to every single word. Well, every single word that my ageing memory will be able to offer me.
I've always considered myself too cynical to be religious. Even as a kid at a Christian school I always listened to tales from the Bible with doubts in the back of my mind. It is also very easy to look back over the years at the countless human conflicts and attribute many of them to religion; it never made sense to me that people would kill each other over which of their gods (both of whom usually condemned killing) was real. With that being said, religion has always peaked my interest. I studied philosophy and ethics at A level and always found it fascinating to see how religion plays a part in the everyday ethical and moral make up of people.
Despite my doubts I've never questioned why people are religious though. I think it makes a lot of sense. The pride, the belonging and the faith. What I'm most envious of though is the absolute belief in Christianity that everything forms a part of God's larger plan.
"I can't do this on my own"
I've written articles before about being lost in life; at an age where it feels like I should have achieved a lot more, or have much clearer ideas on what I'd be doing in the rest of my life. There's so much pressure on people from a young age to pursue big career goals and for a lot of us it isn't always that simple. I seem to spend a majority of my life trying to make decisions and changing my mind. Where I will live, what I will do and how long I'll do it for are just constant questions that float around in my brain. I often find it difficult to relax just trying to constantly plan and control everything. This is why I envy Christians. How freeing, to wholeheartedly believe and understand that whatever may occur God has a plan in place. To know that you're not alone in what you're going through and that God is on your side, putting all the pieces together to form the end result of your life. For us humans the future can be really scary, it's the unknown and we can spend far too long worrying about it but it is reassuring to believe that actually it isn't the complete unknown, God decided long ago what the path was for us. In this way then life is less like tetris, frantically throwing together random pieces and trying to make it work, but more like a jigsaw puzzle. The final image is already within the pieces, we just need to put them together. I've written in the past about not spending too long worrying about the destination because we forget to enjoy the journey, but if you believe the destination is pre planned and waiting for you then surely you can't help but relax and enjoy the ride.
"I feel good sometimes I don't"
There is more that this belief in God's plan can do for us though. Not only will it allow us to focus on ourselves and enjoy our life as it comes, it will also allow us to deal with hardships. One of my favourite ever things to watch is Last Chance U on Netflix, and particularly the Basketball edition. The filming of this series takes place in LA and follows Christian coach John Moseley and his community college team. During the filming of the series the tragic death of Kobe Bryant occurs and being basketball players based in LA you can imagine how devastated the students were to hear the news. From this though arises what for me is a beautiful moment in which coach Mosely assures one of his students that actually Heaven for us is the destination, it is where we want to be, and that we shouldn't be feeling bad for Bryant because he's had the chance to get there. From what are completely tragic circumstances it was so empowering to see how belief had allowed for this positive spin. Of course it doesn't make the news any less sad but it just takes some of that weight off.
The idea that you can go through life and face whatever adversity that hits you but be able to confidently conquer it all safely with the knowledge that it's all part of God's wider plan is astonishing to me. Often when we go through times of trouble the first question on people's lips is 'why?' however for Christians this isn't something that needs to be asked. As I mentioned before I'm not exactly a religious person but I do appreciate what it does for people who are part of that community. I also think that's the absolute belief that whatever happens is part of God's wider plan, and that whatever adversity we face is all for a part of something, for a reason, is something that for atheists like myself can't really be replicated. As I think to my life now, the rut I seem to be stuck in, and my dad passing, I can't help but wonder that these moments would have been somewhat easier to deal with if I felt there was some divine reason, that it would all be worth it or that no matter how bad it feels now ultimately it's going to lead to some good, whether that's 10 days or 10 years from now. Of course I'm not under the illusion that life is any easier, or that pain is less painful for those who do believe, but more that these things will be conquered more easily safe in the knowledge that God has your back.
The heatwave has given a new lease of life to the usually mud-splattered UK festival season, and with a range of exciting tours planned for Autumn, we've compiled a bucket-list of songs that are best experienced in either a sweltering, summer park, a crammed, sweaty theatre or a massive, Friday-night stadium. David & Maxim
10. Hey Baby - DJ Otzi
Bringing the cheese in with this classic kids’ birthday party anthem – I’m pulling from personal experience when adding this to my list for crowd songs. The catchy melody and the fact that everyone knows the lyrics make it ideal for huge crowds to sing along too. When in a stadium for a concert myself I remember music playing to warm up the crowd just before the first artist came on stage. When ‘Hey Baby’ was played thousands of people were singing in perfect unison and the iconic ‘Ooh, Aah’ echoed and resonated beautifully under the roof of the stands. It’s probably not the type of song you’d expect to find on this list but I challenge any of you to listen and not sing along – times that by 70,000 people and you have a special atmosphere. DD
9. Grace Kelly - MIKA
I had the pleasure of seeing MIKA at Sadler’s Wells as part of his ‘Boy Who Knew Too Much’ tour, and this intimate setting gave him the perfect opportunity to showcase the full range of his dexterous vocals on ballads such as ‘Happy Ending’ and ‘Billy Brown’. However, despite it not being an arena-crowd, when he launched in the trademark ‘Grace Kelly’ opening, the whole theatre was rocking. It’s easy to forget about MIKA when we think about the great pop performers, but he had a rare stage presence that could ooze confidence and charisma one minute, and then draw this back into a tender, self-effacing humility the next. MM
8. Nonstop - Drake
Using the opportunity to get in a brag here – I’m speaking from personal experience yet again with this one. This song is one of the best from Drake’s ‘Scorpion’ album – a huge compliment given the array of classics on there. Whilst it isn’t one with a catchy melody that will have everyone singing along the driving energy of the beat and the memorable rap will be enough to get the place pumping. When I was lucky enough to accompany Maxim to see Drake live at the O2 in London this song was one of the standout moments – really pumping the crowd up early in the set. Whilst I do enjoy the softer side that Drake has taken on recently sometimes you just can’t beat his darker stuff, and ‘Nonstop’ is one of the absolute best in this category. DD
7. Goosebumps - Travis Scott
It’s impossible to think of a Travis Scott performance without your mind immediately turning to the Astroworld Festival tragedy last year, which saw ten fans lose their lives in a crowd crush. He’s started easing his way back into live performances with his two recent UK shows at the O2, which have only amplified the anticipation surrounding his upcoming album, ‘Utopia’. Before he was selling out the O2, I was fortunate enough to see Travis at Birmingham off the back of his mercurial, hypnotic ‘Birds In the Trap’ album, which remains one of my all-time favourite projects. The atmosphere was sizzling and his on-stage energy completely matched the cavernous, live-Auto-Tuned howls that echoed out around the venue. He closed the set by performing his smash hit ‘Goosebumps’ multiple times, and yet somehow it still didn’t feel long enough. At one point, he even ended up climbing and dangling from one of the stage-side pillars - the whole set was pure, electrifying theatre. MM
6. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
What an absolute banger this song is. Most people know it for the iconic bass and guitar section two thirds of the way through but actually sometimes I think this takes away from how good the rest of the song is. Fleetwood Mac are on my bucket list for people I’d love to see live (however I do think I may have missed my chance) and this song is a big part of the reason why. The melody is catchy and easily singable and the song builds and builds to the iconic climax. I can just imagine the atmosphere building as a huge crowd sing along and then goes absolutely crazy when the bass guitar riff starts. Being a fan favourite it is bound to get the crowd going and is a moment I would love to experience live. DD
5. Hotel California - Eagles
The fact that they stayed true to the recorded version and drew out the ethereal, ominous intro when performing this live only added to the suspense. With any live performance, at least half of the experience is contributed by the audience - even if it’s the best show in the world, if the audience isn't feeling it, each delivery is met with a dead bat and the atmosphere dissipates out of the room flat. With ‘Hotel California’, every single member of the crowd I could see was 100% captivated by the bewitching melodies and iconic lyrics. Usually, whenever there’s a musical interlude in a live show, it’s fun for the first few moments, but after a minute or two you’re just waiting for them to transition into another song that you recognise. However, when Joe Walsh launched into his extended guitar solo, which seemed to last at least ten minutes, he had every single member of the crowd in the palm of his hand. MM
4. Fix You - Coldplay
I’ve written in another of my articles about my desire to see Coldplay live. A great performance of their songs is the minimum to be expected from the band who usually turn their shows into quite the spectacle. I’m mainly basing this inclusion from a Glastonbury performance of the song in which the spectacle is allowed to take a break will Chris Martin sits at a piano to serenade the crowd with the opening of the song. It’s the perfect way to deliver the emotional classic. As much as this simplistic yet beautiful performance was powerful enough alone it then completely switches as the drums and guitar are introduced. As you’d expect the crowd are in full voice and loving every second. A performance I wish I’d been present for and one of the songs I’d still love to see live. The classic build, the memorable lyrics and the melody make it perfect for a sing along. Match that with the emotion in the music and the feeling within the crowd must be breath-taking. DD
3. Get Along - Kenny Chesney
For the thirteenth time, David forbade me from picking five Kenny Chesney songs for my half of this Top Ten, so I’ve settled on the solitary ‘Get Along’. Hearing thousands of people come together to sing the uplifting chorus - “Paint a wall, learn to dance, Call your mom, buy a boat, Drink a beer, sing a song, Make a friend, can't we all get along” - was such a heartwarming experience. It epitomised the unique sense of unity that you can only really feel at a concert, and perhaps from time to time at sports events, where everyone becomes your extended family for a couple of hours. The cri-de-coeur of this song captures the power that music has to completely transform and elevate a person’s mood. I’m not sure how keen I am to paint a wall anytime soon, but I am as we speak checking to see if Amazon sells Evinrudes… MM
2. Bittersweet Symphony - The Verve
This song is one of my favourites of all time and similarly to ‘Fix You’ I am basing this off of a Glastonbury performance. I actually used to have a video saved on my phone of the band performing it at the festival in 2008. It opened with Richard Ashcroft giving a rousing speech to the crowd: ‘It’s a struggle; life’s a struggle, and Monday morning may be a struggle for a lot of you in a job that you despise; working for a boss that you despise. A slave to money then we die. God bless you.’ You can tell when he delivers the line ‘A Slave to money then we die’, which is one of the iconic lines of the song, that some of the fans know what’s coming – signalled with cheers. For those who didn’t Ashcroft allows a moment of silence before the strings begin to play one of the most iconic openings in modern music greeted with pandemonium. Ashcroft then places his microphone onto his chest where his heart is before signalling his love for everyone in the crowd. As if not incredible a enough already the band proceed to drop an absolutely jaw dropping performance of the song, accompanied by the thousands in attendance. It’s a moment I really wish I could have lived because as amazing as it is to watch on YouTube I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt to be part of the crowd that night. Incredible. DD
1. Bloodstream - Ed Sheeran
It still amazes me how one man and a guitar can hold a hundred-thousand people in the palm of his hand for two hours straight, but Ed manages it time after time. With his trusty loop-pedal, he builds up songs in front of your very eyes from nothing more than a few hand claps, guitar-strums and hums. This only adds to the sense of anticipation, as the audience waits tantalisingly to guess which song it will transform into, before they hear that giveaway ‘Bad Habits’ beat or ‘Shape of You’ synth. For me, this loop-pedal is used to maximum effect on ‘Bloodstream’, with the atypically moody song meandering along, before he layers vocal upon vocal as it reaches its violent crescendo. By the end of the song, it sounds like an army of Eds are singing the increasingly haunting hook, and the atmosphere he creates in doing this is simply unrivalled. MM
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