Last year, in April of 2014, after not having written anything for a few months, I suddenly felt compelled to write again. This was after a spate of feeling a little bit down with the music business and losing my sense of humor for a while.
I decided to sit down in my studio and write, with no preconceived ideas, and nothing in mind set for any particular “genre” or mood; to just see what “came up”. And, I did not have the idea in mind of writing an album, just songs. And surprisingly, to me, I started with an idea that had more of a dance/electronic feel. One of the first songs I wrote was “Home” and I played it to a friend who was visiting from Australia. He loved it and I felt very encouraged to continue in this mode and just kept writing some more songs.
After a few months, I found I had about 7 songs and realized I had nearly an entire album. So, I pursued it with that in mind and culled the songs that I thought didn’t quite cut it and continued to write, write, write! That to me was the fun and [almost] easy part. Anyone that knows me know that I’m my happiest when I’m being creative.
The next task was to create good backing tracks that supported the songs. I created everything in my home studio on my iMac that I’ve had for about 5 years, using software called Logic Pro. I did lots of programming, using lots of the incredible plugins and virtual synthesizers. Then, I started doing vocals and adding any real instruments, like guitars, etc. where I felt it was needed. My husband, Lance Aston, who had much computer and engineering experience [and was also called “Casio Man” and contributed to some Shakespear’s Sister music, namely on Hormonally Yours, our second album] helped me with some engineering, programming and even songwriting on the songs “England Calling”, “U N Me” and “Not Just A Number”. For “England Calling”, I had started the idea and played it for him and he helped me develop a better chorus. For “U N Me”, he started a backing track and I came up with the lyrics and melody. For “Not Just A Number”, I got stuck and asked him to help me find a better chorus for the song. [Incidentally, Lance wrote one of the best songs on my Jewel album called “Out of My Mind”].
All the while, I had been in touch quite regularly with a very talented songwriter and producer/engineer that I’d met a few years prior, named Paul Drew of DWB music, Ltd., based in the UK. I met Paul while attending a songwriting camp called Black Rock Camp hosted, founded and led by world reknown songwriter/publisher, Leo Chantzaras. The camp was located in Santorini, Greece, a charming little island off the coast of Greece. Who knew that I’d be going back to Santorini less than 1 year after being there while I was on a vacation in 2012.
Paul and I wrote a great song with another writer named Marcus Winther-John during that trip in 2013. It really was the best song I wrote on that trip and made it all worthwhile. It was actually covered/recorded by a Belgian artist named Syl in 2014 and her version was entered into the 2014 Eurovision song contest. She did quite well with her entry, it made it into the semi finals and was a single which was also well received in her country.
Paul and I stayed in touch and I had asked him if he might be interested in mixing some songs for me. [I was really impressed with not only his songwriting skills, but his “demos”. The quality was very high and they really sounded like records]. At that point, I wasn’t sure I’d be doing an album, maybe an EP, but he said he’d be happy to be involved. So, after I recorded all the vocals and whatever else I played for “Home”, I sent him all the audio files via Dropbox. It’s just amazing what you can do these days via the internet. Gigabytes worth of information that you would have had to send on cd’s could now be downloaded and processed within hours of receiving them. Technology has really come a long way in this sense.
Being able to actually produce something that sounded like a “record” has always been a tremendous source of frustration for me, try as I might. But my meeting Paul and having him be able to take my files and produce them further, adding some more instrumentation including bass, guitars, drums, keyboards, mixing them, and making them sound very professional and modern, took it to a whole new level and I considered myself very lucky and grateful that we met.
After we did a few more songs, I decided that I wanted to do an entire album and Paul did a great job, tirelessly, with each song, when he could find time in his studio. After we did most of the songs, I thought it would be a good idea to include our song “What’s The Time In Tokyo” on the album and a great place to put it would be at the end, capping the album off perfectly.
And that’s the story!! I decided to call it Gray Matterz simply because the songs are about what I’ve been about for the past year.
Inspirations for each song:
1. Digital Age: The song speaks about the perks and the darker under belly of living in this Digital Age we are now in. On one hand, the world is at our fingertips and it’s wonderful; on the other hand, I feel it’s really interfering with our social skills, especially for our children, who spend way too much time on computers and phones, and we are starting to forget how to interact with people. I chose to have the son of a friend of ours say specifically, at the beginning of the song, “Mommy, I don’t want to go out and play”. The little boy’s name is Clark Ehler. I went to their house, recorded him onto my iPhone and put it into the song.
2. Turn Up The Volume On The Positive: Basically, when I’m in writing mode, I am always listening and looking for inspiration. It can be through something that someone says to me, or something I overhear, or something I hear or see on television, film or something that I read. And it’s usually a phrase, something that resonates with me. I was talking to a friend, feeling a bit down and she said, “you really need to turn up the volume on the positive” rather than focus on the negative and darkness. I immediately felt very inspired and had a revelatory moment and went home and started writing the song, citing my own experiences with going down a dark spiral, playing things over and over in my mind and coming out of it none the wiser. I realized that sometimes, it’s can simply be the choice of what I focus on.
3. Drag Queen: A good friend came to LA about two years ago. He was having a party in the Hollywood Hills and said he was having a special guest perform, a Drag Queen named, Courtney Act, who was a star in her native country, Australia. I had never seen her or heard of her before, but when I saw her perform, I was very impressed. My friend suggested we write together and introduced me to her after her performance. I jumped at the chance to write and we exchanged contact details. As a Drag Queen, Courtney was absolutely stunning, and I’d only seen her that way. We set up a date to write, I came to her place in Hollywood and she opened the door of her apartment, as a “man”, named Shane Jenek. Well, I was equally floored with how gorgeous she was as a man, but not only gorgeous, but a very enlightened human being, vulnerable, sweet, very open and honest. We worked on a song together. When I got home I found myself having a little crush on him! [Please remember, I’m a happily married woman, to a man!]. That night, I had a dream that I was kissing Courtney, as the Drag Queen, in my dream. When I woke up, I thought, ok, I have to write this song!!
4. The Nothing Life: Have you ever craved a life with no drama, stress and worry free? That’s what this song is about!
5. Home: Home is my modern day love song. It’s about feeling so comfortable with someone you can just be yourself, warts and all, and not have to pretend. It’s so refreshing. I was inspired by my own relationship and I feel so fortunate to have this in my life.
6. Not Just A Number: This song used to be about something else; it used to be about being in the “dating scene” and I was writing it for another artist. But I always liked it and wanted to make it more personal to my own life. So, I made it about how I feel, that I’m not just my “age”. The lyric says it all. And for me, it’s ain’t over till it’s over!
7. U N ME: This is how I feel about my other half. That no matter what, it’s really he and I against the world. We always have each other no matter WHAT! He actually came up with the backing track in our studio. I had that little melody pop into my head pretty much immediately and it went from there.
8. England Calling: This is what I call my “Ode” to England. One day last year I got a call from someone in England and a request to do some work. The phrase, England Calling, got in my head and it went from there. I started thinking about all the incredible things that have happened to me in my life and many of them came to me via England: my husband, [who’s British], for one. All the incredible people I’ve worked with including Eric Clapton, my work with Shakespear’s Sister, Elton John, the list goes on and on. And it’s really my second home. I love it and I feel so alive when I’m there.
9. Lighthouse: When I learned of comedian/actor Robin Williams’ death, I was quite saddened. I thought, what a shame, he was so talented and creative. And I thought of some people I’ve known in my life who’ve needed help when they’ve been depressed. Sometimes I just wish I could help in some small way. So, I wrote this song to reach out to those who feel there’s nothing left, to let them know that there’s still hope, that they’re not alone, no matter what happens.
10. What’s The Time in Tokyo: I went to a songwriting camp back in 2013 that took place in Santorini, Greece, called the Black Rock Camp. I was fortunate enough to work with these two writers, Paul Drew of DWB Music, Ltd., and Marcus Winther-John. We wrote 1 song before lunch and then wrote this song afterwards. Paul had the backing track and we all felt very inspired. I used my own experience of being away from home and missing my family to inspire me. Originally it was written to be a cover song and would hopefully be recorded by another artist. We found out soon afterwards that it would be recorded by a Belgian artist named Syl and was entered into the Eurovision song contest in 2014 and did quite well for her. I always loved the song and thought it would be a great addition to the album.