First up, can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about your music?
Breckin is my moniker as a solo artist. My real name is Heather Marsh. I’m a visual artist, writer and musician. I’ve been making music for a while – at first playing violin in a band and then in a duo making art-pop. I have wanted to make a solo album for so long and when the songs finally came, they were surprisingly really personal. I didn’t set out to make a heartbreak album or to write in a dark-folk or dream-pop style. I just wrote out the pain of what was happening in my life at the time – losing people, deep disappointment, sorrow, hope….
Where did the moniker Breckin come from? Is there a story behind that one?
Breckin means ‘freckled or speckled’. It is from the Irish. I’ve always been red-haired, fair and freckled. When I was growing up in Queensland everyone wanted to be blonde and tanned, but I love my colouring and my speckles now.
How did you first get into music; has it always been in your blood?
My Dad plays guitar and is a fan of old-jazz. He and I make music together when I go home, with him on his 1920′s banjo ukulele or guitar. That is something so precious to me – I love the grin he gets on his face when he’s playing and I’m singing. I learned violin as a child – it was terrifying. My teacher had been taught by nuns and was very strict. I almost had to un-learn my classical training to become a song-writer.
Congratulations on releasing your album Shiner earlier this year. Can you give us an overview of the album; is there an overarching theme?
Shiner means ‘bruise’ and that is what writing this album was in some ways. It was about exploring a hurt in the same way that as a kid you poke a bruise over and over again until you get bored of it. I wrote out my pain but also the pain of those dear to me who were having their own struggles. Desire arrived about half-way through the writing process as well as hope in love. I wrote from the perspective of someone who knows love doesn’t work out but hurls herself over the romantic cliff anyway. The music shifts between my many musical loves – jazz influences, folk, dream-pop, 40′s sweeping piano and string ballads and electronica. I worried when I made it that it would sound like six different artists. I think my voice and lyrical style are the constant.
Tell us about the recording process, and what was involved in the three years it took to complete it?
When I first wrote the songs, my guitar playing was rudimentary at best. I wanted a full and distinct sound for the album but didn’t want to release this as a band. I approached Richard Andrew from Pharmacy Studios. A muso friend made the suggestion and it couldn’t have been better. Richard is a very talented producer and multi-instrumentalist. He was wedded to finding the heart of every song. Despite a real creative meeting of minds for recording, this album really arrived kicking and screaming. I got sick right when we’d booked vocal takes. We had very different ideas about mixing. Two of the songs were total ‘enfant terribles’ – they just wouldn’t cooperate. I knew they needed strings so then I hunted for and hired a strings arranger who got too busy and then I hired another strings arranger (the wonderful Biddy Connor) who completely made the songs fly. I was going to play violin in the quartet but in the end was such a perfectionist that I hired only professionals. It was worth it. I love listening to those two songs the most.
What’s the perfect place/situation that someone should listen to the album ‘Shiner’ to get the complete experience? (e.g. driving, relaxing at home).
I wrote Shine (the title track) while driving home late one night through forest. I feel like that would have to be the perfect way to listen to the album now – in a car alone. (and if you really want to re-create it, take the Geelong/Anakie back road to Ballan but watch out for the roos!). If you get the vinyl then listen on a rainy night when you’re feeling nostalgic.
What are some of your main musical influences; do you mostly write from personal experience or draw on the experiences of others?
My record collection reveals my complete lack of commitment to any musical style. I have: The Cramps, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, lots of 4AD, Nina Simone, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jen Cloher, Perfume Genius, Daft Punk, Linda Ronstadt…
I write very intuitively. A scrap of a melody and lyric will arrive, or a compelling guitar riff and if it wants to be born as a song it will grab me and I won’t want to stop until the whole thing is done. Some songs arrive in half an hour. Some will drive me round the twist for days and be so compulsive- like trying to solve a Rubix cube – until they’re done.
I write my own experiences or write trying to channel the experiences of people in my life or fictional or historical characters. I nearly alway write lyrics in the first person.
We love working with and admire the resilience of independent artists as they follow their dreams. For you, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far, and how did you overcome it?
I overcome this challenge every week, every month – trying to find the time and space to write songs or make art in between earning a living and caring for two small people as a single parent. I worry about revealing that I am a mother – because children don’t figure in the romantic image of an artist at work. That is my reality though and the reality of many male and female artists I know. It is part of who I am and it makes me proud to acknowledge the creative life I make possible in our messy, wonderful little family.
Release: Shiner is out now.