Friday, December 10, 2010

Ella Joyce Buckley

The first time I met Ella Joyce Buckley she had just broken her nose in a unfortunate encounter with a window. I thought she'd been mugged and might need that rescue remedy stuff moms in Cape Town seem to carry with them for emergencies. She seemed a bit embarrassed by the look, but otherwise happy to be out watching a band. Beguiling would be a word you'd want to use in reference to her and to her music. Beautiful, another. Born in Johannesburg and currently living in Brooklyn, Buckley grew up being bounced back and forth between here and various parts of Canada by her maverick film-maker father. For Astraea is her first album out on Cape Town's Jaunted Haunts label and Sway Church is the title of her upcoming EP (being printed as we speak). 
I thought I'd ask her some questions.

There is a sense of free spirited gypsy Bloomsbury about your creation. The imagery you choose, the wondering piano, your dancing voice and poetic line; even your name seems to fit perfectly into this classic tale you weave. How much of this comes from an imagined world and how much of it is a retelling of your past?
My parents were going to call me Francis, after Francis of Assisi, but then decided on Ella.
I like Ella, I would have been quite happy with Francis too. Joyce is my grandmother's name and Buckley is my father's surname. It's just my name, nothing precious I invented!

I have a mercurial temperament and, like many, go through stages of self destruction and rebirth. 'For Astraea' was an escape. I think the whimsical nature of the record was to cover my tracks of debauchery, for myself. Re-interpreting mistakes, failures and sadness because they were poisoning me. I could have been more honest and dirty and musically progressive which is where my lust lies. I read a lot and have collected words in diaries for my entire life. I like words, and the rhythm of certain words are sexy and fun to sing. When you're young you are attracted to rare words because you want to escape the supermarket language of the everyday. Rejuvenate thoughts by putting different clothes on them. The songs themselves are about heartbreak, biology, love, destruction, rape and adolescence. A cape and a hangover. I think I wanted to be positive with my heart again. I don't ever make anything up in music, but I probably disguise it so I can make sense of it in an allegorical way. For me, 'For Astraea' is a very naive album. It's very flowery, but I do think flowers are more complex and uneasy than we give them credit for. I like flowers right before they are about to die, when they start to ache with their smell. I think that's why I like instruments a bit out of tune. Poppies especially, they are pretty haunted creatures.

Growing up, my sister and I were always a bit out of place everywhere. Our relationship is impenetrable and old. She's a very talented photographer. Our childhood was definitely an adventure. Our parents really spun a magic nest for us, engaged with our creativity and encouraged a relationship with the figurative. We didn't have a television and we moved around a lot. Alice had very profound dreams, about witches and poisonous milk and twins. Very mythical and poignant. The white witch, that's the one that sticks with me. She had white eyes. I remember begging my father to throw all the garbage cans in our house out because I knew this awful woman lived in there and she wouldn't stop brushing her teeth. With a horrible mop of hair, at night she would freak out, whizzing around the house, blowing all the doors open (in our house which was an old sweet shop in Canada, maybe it was haunted, too many sweets, all that tooth brushing!) half woman, half garbage can, like a creepy downtown mermaid. I hated going to school, school was scary and real. We all can remember having to develop tools to survive and cover things that are sacred to you so they don't get persecuted. My favourite time was when we stayed in the Kaokoveld in the Namibian desert, my family was doing a documentary. We washed dishes with sand, it was so beautiful, exciting and away from everything else. With 'For Astraea', I allowed myself to be shy and whimsical. When I play those songs, I get shy and whimsical. When I perform in different arenas, with different material, I am another animal. I have a happy and violent relationship with life and my eyes are wide open when they are not locked closed because I exhaust myself until I shut down completely. Clearly, I can be self-involved. Our best qualities are almost always our worst.

I get the feeling that music is one outlet for you; that perhaps writing might come first or painting. Do you create in many different ways or have I gotten carried away and your reality is more 9 to 5 with a restless scrawling of ideas between 3 and 4?
Reality, forbid it! I have other creative outlets, I do write. I write a lot. Most other things have fallen away now (I used to be involved with film and I love to paint) and now I'm really left with music. I started making sculptures last year, but it really disturbed Don (
my partner) so they got the boot (I think I was trying to invent some kind of physical religious creature I could believe in, I was driving myself nuts, but they were a bit creepy I'll admit). I make videos for myself too. I have a few jobs too, you know, to keep me alive and paying rent. New York is brutal. I record everyday, I just haven't been very public with it yet. I'm learning patience. I have a little storage room just off my kitchen which I lock myself in for hours and attempt conversations. I've made a lot of noisy little instrumentals that I like. Very self indulgent. Distortion and a casio VA-10. I can occupy myself for days!

Don had a gallery for a long time (it closed this year, it showed contemporary and emerging art, not very lucrative during a recession) He is a genius. Brilliant. He's been chewing on this one idea, I can't wait for it to see the light. It is so immaculately arranged that it is almost more science than art, but without the snotty academia. It's more like a vision, it's hard to explain. It took me almost two years of knowing him for him to share it with me, and I had to get him drunk!. I puttered around the gallery a lot during its last kick, we lived above it so there was always something interesting happening. I got involved in some projects. I did a performance piece with this artist (Claudia Hart) which was a good experience. I got to be suspended in a halter from the ceiling and I built an instrument for my body which ran through pedals and made a soundtrack. I also made a soundtrack to accompany another piece by Gregory De La Haba. I played and sung in a band for a bit, that was great! We played some pretty loud and frenetic shows around Brooklyn.

I spend a lot of time alone. Maybe I'm not a very important musician, maybe I'm just a little bit on the outside and enjoy making spells for myself out of music because it makes me feel connected. It's not terribly important right now. All I've done is put out a tiny little record of not terribly progressive material. I did do it with my full heart at the time and I do love it... for reasons that aren't related to music. Whether or not I deserve to be respected in the future will entirely depend on if I deliver something of magnetic substance. So we'll see.

For Astraea? I had to Google it - celestial virgin; virgo; the other gal with the scales of justice; the last of the immortals to live with humans; fleeing from the new wickedness of humanity at the end of the Iron Age... was this for her?
Yes, it was for her. Not so literally, but yes, it was for what she represents. It is to be interpreted. I think I used it to reference the pervading idea that we have to learn to love without expecting anything back. Rian Malan presents this so exquisitely in his book 'My Traitors Heart'. In the chapter about the road to Msinga. That's a powerful book. I don't care how much shit and criticism that man has to entertain, that book is up there with Jean Genet's 'Our Lady of the Flowers' in my favorites. 

From what I've heard, the Sway Church EP is going to be darker, less whimsical, something more progressive even. Tell us a bit about it and what you're aiming for down the line.
The Sway Church EP consists of 6 songs that I recorded myself in my unprofessional way. They are demos, Righard (Jaunted Haunts Press) really liked them and said why not put them out. I called it an EP to suggest that it's not a new fully realized album, nor a major statement. Dirk Hugo then offered to master them. I'd like to make dance music too. Anyway, the EP is just a bridge release. It's more intimate than progressive I'd say. I am so excited to start recording the next album (I've already written all the songs for it) though, which I'd like to do with an engineer.
All instruments and vocals Ella Joyce Buckley. Recorded, mixed and additional guitar effects by Dirk Otto de Kock. 
Mastered by Dirk Hugo. 
Released through Jaunted Haunts Press
All songs written by Ella Joyce Buckley.
Parhelion by Ella Joyce Buckley

1 comment:

  1. Great interview!! Love the stories about you and your sister and your witch dreams... I feel this in your work..