THE sensational young artist DIDI has just released a gem of a debut…
track in Sorry. It looks at being betrayed and having to say sorry; how putting your heart out there and being trusting can often lead to undeserved hurt. She explains it a lot better and talks to me about future recording plans. I was keen to know how she got into music and talk about her other, real-life persona, Lauren Deakin Davies. She is a respected and talented producer and boss at The Den studio. She has worked with, among others, Laura Marling and Kate Dimbleby. I ask about the experiences and what it was like being involved with Marling’s project, Reversal of the Muse. DIDI talks about inequality in the music industry and how more needs to be done. She chats about the advice she would give to new artists coming through and whether being a producer – and working closely and personally with musicians – has helped her as a songwriter. I was keen to learn more about the lo-fi, Grunge aspects of Sorry and the albums/artists that have influenced her style.
Hi DIDI. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! I am ok, thank you. It’s been a really full on week preparing for my launch. It’s a self-release so I’ve have had fun doing all the artwork myself – but I had help with the photography and abstract background (I hurt my arm on a photoshoot the other week but it’s feeling a bit better now!) – as well as finishing the mix for Sorry; doing the banners and promotional G.I.Fs; getting my website and socials set up; uploading the track onto the digital aggregators such as iTunes and Spotify. In-between times, I’ve been recording other artists too!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Hello. My name is DIDI. Everyone is going to be new to my work, I think! I am a solo artist from Hertfordshire. My music has a deliberate raw and real sound: some people have called it ‘Punkish’. I produce, write and perform it all by my little self.
You have a new single out. What can you tell us about it?
This is one of the first songs I have written that I have actually connected to.
I have been songwriting for years in all sorts of collaborations but this one really resonates with what I am going though at the present time.
It isn’t directly aimed at a particular person – but at the repetitive patterns I seem to go though in my relationships with other people. I always wish the best for everyone else and sometimes that leaves me by the wayside. I have got very hurt and unintentionally hurt other people in the past by always trying to make everything right but inevitably making it worse. The aggression in the track is more about me finally ‘putting my foot down’ and saying “I don’t want to do this again”. The light and shade of the track is meant to represent the contrasting thoughts when you are nearing the end of a relationship and the extremes that your mind takes you through.
It’s not intentionally meant to be a ‘heavy’ song, musically, but this song came out when I thought, ‘I am just going to write a song for me and see what happens’. I don’t regard myself as a very strong singer so it was definitely about the music and lyrical content for me. I decided to keep it quite simple production-wise: there is only one electric rhythm guitar, with overlay high guitar in the verse and bass – with the additional sounds of me hitting my desk to get a kick-drum sound! I really wanted to keep a rough-and-raw edge to it because I have been spending my whole musical life so far making sure everything is pretty and perfect.
It looks at the way relationship patterns repeat – hurting others unintentionally and seeing the same results. It talks about the feelings one experiences when a relationship ends. How much of the song is based on your personal relationships and how much is taken from observations?
If I am being perfectly honest, it’s pretty autobiographical. It was one of those songs that just sort of escaped out of me.
I was messing around with a new guitar sound and next thing I know, about an hour later, I essentially had this song!
It has quite a lo-fi, Grunge sound to it. How did you manage to capture that particular sound?
I like micing-up amps. Part of this particular sound was achieved by using my busted semi-broken Marshall practice amp. I tracked the guitar on my Danelectro (which I acquired from friend and super-musician, Minnie Birch) and this, combined with my pedal board, created this sound. I wanted to keep it super simple but ‘big’ so distortion and Octaver pedals were the way forward! A massive advantage of being a producer is that I have my own studio and the knowledge of how it works – so I can experiment and basically do what I want – which I think is what has led to this sound.
Can we expect to see any more songs or E.P.s coming this year?
YES! I will be releasing a second single next month and hopefully (an) E.P to follow.
People may know you best as studio head Lauren Deakin-Davies. What compelled the decision to record your own music? How influential were the artists you recorded in regards that decision?
I have been gigging and writing with so many artists recently and I just got the bug back. I’ve been in bands of various sizes and genres since I was ten years old – until the final incarnation ended just over a year ago. When I wrote Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself. It was like a flood and now I have a whole set of originals! It was a classic case of “Mum, come listen to my song” and her liking it and being so supportive saying, “You should release this”. So, here we are!
In the studio, you have worked with the likes of Kelly Oliver, Youth Club and Emma McGrath. Who has been the most memorable artist you have worked with?
Ahh, man: you can’t do this to me!
They are all memorable in their own way, although, one that really sticks out is recording the Kate Dimbleby (layered) a capella album, Songbirds. I have never worked on anything like it before.
It was entirely vocals on different loops and we made all the tracks just using her voice and the occasional sound of my beatboxing (or the tambourine) The fact that it got great reviews in The Times, Sunday Times; The Guardian, a feature in The Daily Telegraph; Album of the Week from Mail on Sunday – and six plays on BBC Radio 2 (so far) is an added bonus!
Many musicians have provided laudatory words concerning your passion and professionalism. Does the fact you’re a musician (and producer) give you greater empathy and connection with artists you work with?
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think it made a difference. I think, knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of the glass, really changes the way you approach the session. You are a lot more attentive to the artists’ needs because they are pouring their heart out to you. You know what it feels like to be that vulnerable so you have to make sure you respect that and give them the reassurance they need.
I was excited to see that Laura Marling connection. You have worked on Reversal of the Muse. Did you get to meet Laura and is she someone you are a fan of?
Yes. I did get to meet Laura: not gonna (sic.) lie; I was quite the fan growing up so it was a strange but exciting experience working with her: tracking her recording; sitting next to her and chatting; her trusting us to make sure her music sounded good!
It was great getting to work with Shiva, too. I did the session with another awesome person called Rhiannon Mair. Laura is much taller than I expected and the picture of the four of us is really funny because of the height difference!
That project, Reversal of the Muse, brought together women in music and discussed themes of gender imbalance and lacking job opportunities (in music) for women. As a studio head, you must relate a lot to what was discussed. Do you think there is a big gender divide in studios and in record labels?
In all honesty, yes. There is a massive gap, purely because there are not as many women doing it – although I am speaking more on behalf of the production side of it than the label side. It’s possible I have a skewed view on that though because my mum runs a record label! I don’t think it will be that way for long, though: I am seeing so many new faces; younger girls getting into production and that is because the technology is so much more accessible now. It really excites me!
I know a lot of female P.R. bosses but few women based in studios. Why do you think there are so few behind mixing desks, producing artists? What can we do to change this?
This is the million-dollar-question I get all the time. It’s definitely not down to one thing. I believe it’s a hangover from an older way of thinking and a subconscious thought process where girls are encouraged to be singers before they are encouraged to be engineers. It doesn’t necessarily come from a place of malice. I just think it’s not directly encouraged.
There are so few role models and seeing a woman in the studio behind the desk is so rare (I have been given the tea orders more than once when I have been behind the desk!). It’s usually men who are featured and photographed in the industry magazines.
Although, there is a definite desire to change this which I’ve noticed especially within the Music Producers Guild – of which I am a full member (and for sure, there’s not that many women members yet: but we hope to change this!).
PHOTO CREDIT: Bellanova Photography
So, all this means is that a girl has to really like techy stuff at school and want to get into it before the support kicks in. But, on the whole, I just don’t think people see it an option for a job! Interviews like this will start to help change things, so thank you!
If you each had to select three albums that have meant most to you which would they be and why?
Ok, here we go…!
Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
This was one of the first albums I really stuck my teeth into a teen and I have never found a sound that I like more since – the music, the guitars; the vibe: it’s just perfect! I was also lucky to get the opportunity to assist on sound for part of their U.K. tour this year which was just a dream come true!
Ellie Goulding – Halycon
This, to me, is the perfect Pop album. The production, well, it’s just right, you know? It builds and delivers where you want it to and the dynamics are just so on point. The choice of instrumentation works perfectly for her songs. Jim Eliot is a legend. He literally produced all my favourite tracks on that album. I would strongly recommend a listen if you haven’t already!
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Tegan and Sara – The Con or Heart Throb
Haim –Those Days Are Gone
… But, finally….
Muse – Absolution
It just gets me really pumped and it’s so musically-technically brilliant! The articulacy of the musical direction within just one track is astonishing. It constantly keeps you guessing about what is coming next and it’s never a disappointment. I love how they weren’t afraid to cross genres: it’s such a mix and done so elegantly. They really get the Grunge but, also, the clarity and passion of their songs – not to mention the top-notch lyrics!
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
I am not sure who is already on your radar so I am going to suggest some you might not know – and one you probably do know!
Stevie Parker – She sounds like London Grammar mixed with (a cool) Ellie Goulding.
Gothic Tropic – Throwback, Grungy ’80s vibe. Upbeat. Really love it!
Alex Lahey – Super-funny lyrics; straight-to-the-point Australian.
Declan McKenna – Local guy; really different. Really unique and super-catchy
What advice would you offer songwriters coming through right now?
From the standpoint of my career so far, not necessarily as a solo artist, I would say explore the areas you enjoy that make you feel excited. Don’t worry if you feel out of place or that you are not good enough – because you are good enough!
If you are not, you soon will be as there is no better way of getting better at something than doing it! There are a-million-and-seven opportunities out there: you just have to keep your eyes and ears open and find them, even if it’s searching online.
Overall, it’s about connecting with people and keeping to your roots (as corny as it sounds!): you know, your core self and identity.
Don’t be tempted to blow with the wind just because that’s the new sound everyone likes. If it’s not you, don’t do it. It won’t come across as genuine. Don’t be afraid to fail because you probably will be caught out a couple of times. But there is nothing wrong with that: you just have to keep going; respect where you have got and respect how hard the people around you have tried to get where they are.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song you like (not one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
Declan McKenna – Isombard
Stevie Parker – Siren
PHOTO CREDIT: Bellanova Photography