Intangible Beauty: Sometimes Do and Lucy Roleff
Written and Interviewed by Anna Snoekstra
Lucy and I work together in an old football factory in suburban Thornbury. My studio used to be an office, and hers was the waiting room so they are joined together. We often talk through the doorway. Every time I get up I’ll walk through her space. Hour by hour, I’ll see her paintings come to life. The sheen of a brass vase, the light caught in a glass bowl of peaches. It’s magical to be witness to the process of art being created. But painting is only half of Lucy’s work. She’s also a musician. Unlike her artwork, I only hear her songs once they are complete. Her graceful voice over the glistening strumming of harps and guitars.
Today as I travelled to the studio I listened to her brand new song Sometimes Do. When I arrived I went into Lucy’s studio where she was painting a candlestick. In front of this half-finished painting I asked her some questions about her process in both art and music and the relationship between these two very different forms of creative expression.
I’m lucky to see your artwork come together every day. You take everyday objects and make them look magical, luminescent. Is that what you intend to do?
"The idea is taking different objects and gently questioning what they mean, while considering their hierarchy in the world. It is a semi-celebration/ critique of opulence and decadence, through all these things we desire. I’m really drawn to materials like brass and silver, and candles, extravagant objects. Then there are also natural objects which I feel equally drawn to, so it’s bringing them all into the one space."
It’s similar in your music. In this song, Sometimes Do, you are taking natural moments, moments that you wouldn’t necessary think about or remember and making them beautiful. Fiddling with someone’s lighter and not being able to work it, studying someone’s houseplants to try and understand them. I’m interested in the relationship between your art and your music and whether that’s a common theme between them.
"It totally is. I think my interest is in creating ‘vignettes’. A small window of very ordinary things, so that ties in with the paintings. The general thing that I’ve always been drawn to is capturing a domestic moment or a really banal sort of moment. It’s kind of a cliché: taking the ordinary and making it beautiful. It’s not like that. It’s giving people an insight into something intangible, something they can’t necessarily put into words."
It’s hard to do that. I’ve been trying to do that with writing at the moment. Capturing that beauty of everyday moments. Even just when the light looks a certain way or you just feel a certain way when you’re walking and the weather is nice. It can feel so joyous, but being able to capture that is difficult.
"It’s a real challenge. You’d think being able to capture that feeling would be the most natural thing. I guess that’s the word that ties together the painting and the art: naturalism. I’m really drawn to naturalism in all forms of art. Writing, film, visual arts, music. Not overly grand, necessarily, though there is a place for that too. Just simply beautiful."
Do you feel like your music and your art inform each other? Or is it hard to jump between them?
"I find they inform each other, and they provide respite from each other. They keep each other fresh. Artists and writers have this need to express, I feel. Things that I express visually I might not even want to express through songs. This album is quite autobiographical, and my paintings are a little sometimes, but not so immediately. I wouldn’t try and get across an idea in painting that’s too cerebral or anything like that, where I might at the very least touch on such topics with a song."
The album has one of your paintings on the front, the first time you’ve used your artwork as a cover.
"I think that painting is a big part of me right now. The title and the painting seemed to go together. “Left open”, and then there is this open glass container. I think it gives another level to it than just my face."
Well it’s almost more intimate, having a painting you’ve created. The painting has come from inside you. What does the title mean?
"The last lyric of the last song is ‘and all this while waiting for you, like a book left open in a room.’ So it’s this unresolved relationship. The record was going to be called ‘a book left open in a room’. But that seemed too literal, too visual. So I scaled it down so it’s more ambiguous, and could mean more than just a book."
You were saying before that this is album is your most autobiographical one yet.
"Yeah. Often songs will come together over a three, four, five year period. So when I started putting the record together I realised they were all more or less about my life. My last record was in parts, but it was more about romantic ideas, and I was bringing a lot into it that was not necessarily my life but from imagined scenarios. I looked at the songs on this record and I saw that they were all about relationships or events past and present, as well as meditations on moments I’ve experienced. Even just simple things, like the song ‘I went to the ocean’ is a meditation on going to the ocean, but also philosophical things I was thinking about."
When did you write ‘Sometimes Do’?
"I wrote it three or four years ago, when I first got my harp. I wrote the harp parts when I took myself on this self-directed residency where I was staying in an isolated farm house in the country for a week. I was still really new to the harp and so the harp parts are very instinctual. It started to unravel to be about a time from even longer ago. Noticing how this time in my life was still a bit present in my head."
Is it difficult to record and perform it now? Something you wrote three years ago from a memory that was distant even then?
"Yes, when I wrote it, it still felt fresh. It was probably an exorcism of sorts, this period of time over a year or two in my early 20s, not that I wanted to go back there but the acknowledgement that it was unresolved. I’d never written about that time in my life before and after I wrote it I stopped thinking about it. Maybe it was a way to exorcise that.
People seem to respond to that song, and that’s why I made it a single. I have seen a few people cry when they hear it live, so I think they have their own story that they attach to it. It is that universal unresolved, unsaid strangeness that I’m sure a lot of people experience. The opening line ‘long were the afternoons spent, trying to be different girls’ is a sort of reflection on how I had such low confidence at that age. I would be around guys I liked and be so awkwardly alert, so conscious. I was trying to fit in and be this person they might like back. Then years later I found out they did like me anyway - ‘only to find that the one you first met had caught you’. I feel like it’s a weird universal thing for women especially, trying to fit in, trying to be attractive, trying to please and placate, and then you get to an age later where you settle into yourself more, and realise you are fine to be yourself."
Does it feel exposing? Putting these songs out that are about your own experiences, your own vulnerabilities and flaws?
"A little bit! Especially since I’m still dipping my toes in the imagined world, it’s not all confessional. I know a few of my contemporaries who have put out beautiful autobiographical albums that are quite blunt and personal. They’re talking about their family and partners – it’s like a diary entry. I don’t think these songs are really like that. I guess they’re somewhere in the middle - tying the ordinary with the poetic, perhaps."
You can follow Lucy Roleff and Anna Snoekstra's work via the following links!
Filmed by Alex Badham / Edited by Lucy Roleff
Images courtesy of Lucy Roleff