"In its purity, I wanted to give everything I could to make this body of work the best it could be."
Being an emerging musician can be hard, but I think it also presents a unique choice.
How much do you want it? What would you do for your art?
Last year I was fortunate to embark on the creation of my first-ever album – Flowers In The Sky.
Being a bit of a nerd, I apply for a lot of grants. I managed to get some funding for my first album, however, it only covered a portion of the project’s costs.
I was faced with a decision – I had worked so hard to get this grant application over the line, (getting knocked back a few times in the process too) and now I did it - I was terrified.
A little bit of me wanted to give the money back and just do a smaller project, but instead, I embraced the challenge and saw this as a defining moment for me to embrace change.
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I wanted to create the best work I could, and that was ultimately the defining moment. I was all in.
I decided for the next 12 months I base all my decisions around best supporting my album.
I kept working my butt off paying for living expenses, investing my savings into my album.
A fateful twist came when I reached out to record with Schramy.
When we originally corresponded, he was based just down the road in Byron. We were planning on doing a song together, however, a certain songwriting legend - Neil Finn - loved working with him so much that Schramy relocated to New Zealand. By the time my project was underway, he was en route to set up life over the ditch.
We had two options to work with him:
#1 remotely – he would mix the tracks, we would record elsewhere, or
#2 Fly to NZ?
My partner Matt, who had worked with Schramy before, said the real magic was working with Schramy in the flesh, and with my mantra of best serving my art, we were off on a spontaneous recording trip to NZ.
We woke early for our flight and made brekkie, during which Matt managed to chop the tip of his finger off with a bread knife of all things – just in time for studio recording.
We bandaged it, dropped our dogs at my mate’s place and headed to the airport.
Courtesy of Sunny Luwe
I got a little emotional on the flight over and had a happy cry because I was so grateful I got to do this. I have struggled with my self-confidence and anxiety over the years, and felt really incredible to be doing it – living my dreams – so I cried those good tears – I wrote a little poem too – who knows maybe it will turn into a song one day?
It was still COVID times, so once we checked into our Airbnb, we did our covid tests, some post-flight yoga and were in the clear, so we were all go for Hobbiton.
Matt loves Lord Of The Rings, and this was his day to nerd out and enjoy. The drive there was so beautiful; my one regret was not hiring a car for that one day so we could explore the beautiful countryside a little more.
Hobbiton is incredible. I was stoked because I saw so many flowers and gorgeous gardens, real-life tiny bunnies and learned a heap of random facts about the filming of the Lord Of The Rings franchise – including a loud and croaky frog pond, hand-painted leaves and a strict no-fly zone during filming (with a $50K penalty.)
I played with daisies falling from the sky after our tour – dreaming of Flowers In The Sky.
We cruised home and relaxed before the studio the next day. Unused dog pop bags kept Matt’s finger dry in the shower.
We walked to the Roundhead and found it eventually. Someone had recently stolen the numbers off the front door so it was a little tricky to identify, but once we found it, we were in for the magic.
To be in Roundhead Studios is a pure treat. High ceilings, art everywhere, chandeliers, guitars, epic music memorabilia, even a friendly puma – this space is filled with incredible creative energy.
It was amazing.
Then I met Schramy. Matt had worked with him before with WHARVES, so they had a quick catch-up, and we shared the tracks: I Got A Thing For You and Give A Little Bit Of Your Love.
He was impressed. So we got coffees (in-house of course) and got to work.
During this time, it also hit me. Holy smokes, I’m in New Zealand. Recording at Neil Finn’s studio, with Schramy.
I was getting to live my dream, and it was that good kind of scary.
We spent today tracking the instruments for IGATFY, goofing around and making sounds.
Today we started on GALBOYL. Zed (an NZ pop-rock group who got big in the 90s) were upstairs recording for their album, so we had a yarn and got into it.
Again, we tracked for most of the day – Matt being the legend he is, just cruised through drum, bass and guitar takes with a bandaged finger.
Then it was time for vox. Schramy was already stoked on the vocals for IGATFY from the demo, so we were going to see if we could beat it.
We rolled through a few takes, but the magic from the demo take was undeniable – so we stuck with that.
We wrapped things up in the evening and made plans to wrap things up tomorrow.
We rolled into the studio again at 10 am, almost getting blown into the studio with some classic Auckland wind and rain. Had our coffees, and I hit up Schramy to do one more song and one more day.
This trip was mainly to record. Both Matt and I work day jobs and had taken leave to come and record – keeping a day on either side for a little sightseeing.
Tomorrow, we had plans to go to Waiheke Island to do some wine tasting, however, I felt like we had found a good groove in the studio with Schramy so I decided to book one more day – and record one of my favourite songs for the album – Flowers In The Sky.
We showed Schramy the track – he loved it, so spoke about track references and started recording drums and bass for Flowers In The Sky, with vox for GALB to be recorded that evening.
We spent the day, tweaking at tracks, adding little bits here and there. Listening. Listening some more. Then we geared up for vocals in the evening.
I really had to work for the vocals in GALB.
I had gotten really in my head and too caught up with a ‘perfect’ delivery than embodying the feel of the song. We were doing take after take, but it still wasn’t hitting right.
Schramy told me just as much and ended up leaving for a cigarette whilst Matt and I persisted.
Matt and I work so well together, it’s really natural, and we feel comfortable enough with each other to try things and be silly.
I remember feeling the big belt wanting to happen in GALB, and I went for it. That’s when we really found the sound. It was so euphoric.
Schramy rejoined bringing more unique suggestions which ultimately make GALB what it is.
It was a really incredible moment – a highlight of this day was when his kids came to visit and were absolutely loving the track.
Our spontaneous day rolled so smoothly. We relistened to the IGATFY and GALB making minor tweaks and returned to Flowers In The Sky.
FITS was a breeze. Matt got all the guitar, bass, and synth takes so easily, and vocals felt like the most natural thing in the world.
By the arvo, we were done.
We all poured a scotch, and chinked glasses to the tracks we had made.
We had some time up our sleeves, so I showed Schramy the rest of the tracks I had recorded for the work so far. He said he could mix my album, which I was stoked about, and we made plans to get the stems to him once we got home. Matt and I grabbed our backpacks and headed back home.
It was really awesome getting to work with Schramy, however, it was pricier than what I was used to paying with Tim on the Goldy. But I kept coming back to the decision I had made when I started the project -what would best support my album?
When I considered choices through that lens, it made my decisions easier.
In the interim, my ceiling had started to cave in at home and needed repair.
Matt and I jumped into renos, and with this unexpected cost, plus the extra studio time and mixing with Schramy, my expenses had really jumped up.
Listening to my intuition, and having a very supportive partner and family, we renovated, sold my place and moved back in with my Mum.
With Flowers In The Sky, I had created something I was so very proud of – but I also know that the work is only half done after recording, and I really wanted to be true to my art and my intention for that year. I also felt my intuition really guiding me – particularly over the last couple of years – and I knew it was important to listen and be brave with actions.
I will also admit, I was very nervous about telling this story.
I know not everyone has the same privilege as me – Writing this, I completely acknowledge the privilege in this headline. I got to sell my house.
But I’m not from big money. My Dad is a brickie, and my mum was a housewife and now works as a flight attendant. I grew up the eldest of four in a middle-income household, and I started music a little later in life than most.
In its purity, I wanted to give everything I could to make this body of work the best it could be and sit back after the release and know I did everything I could for this album.
Flowers In The Sky is out now.