Josephine Sillars: "I Had To Learn a Lot Of Life Lessons The Hard Way"
As I sat in the cozy ambiance of a quaint café tucked away in the heart of Leeds, I couldn't help but anticipate the arrival of Josephine Sillars, the prolific Scottish songwriter whose music has captured the hearts of many. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingled with the gentle hum of conversation, creating a soothing backdrop for what promised to be an engaging encounter.
As I glanced around the room, my attention was drawn to a figure entering the café, exuding an air of effortless grace. With her unmistakable presence, Josephine Sillars made her way towards our table, her warm smile instantly putting me at ease. Settling into our seats, we began to explore the intricacies of her latest creative venture. Reflecting on a whirlwind year marked by captivating singles and collaborative projects, Josephine shared insights into her creative process and the inspiration behind her upcoming EP, "The Loveliest Things Change." With her band Rubber Rose and notable performances alongside Declan Welsh and the Decadent West, Josephine's artistic evolution has been nothing short of remarkable. As we delved deeper into the essence of her latest single, "Move Higher," Josephine illuminated the intimate layers of its composition. From the ethereal melodies to the poignant lyrics inspired by personal growth and the literary musings of Alasdair Gray's "Lanark," the song embodies a profound sense of introspection and resilience.
photo by @ellesirsproductions
Hello, Josephine! First of all, congratulations on the release of your new single "Move Higher"! I've listened to it, and it's just incredible how your ethereal vocals and dramatic synthesizers create this dark yet captivating sound. How did you come up with the idea to blend such diverse sonic elements in this song?
Thank you so much! So “Move Higher” went through a few different versions of itself before we settled with how it would sound. The original version of the song was actually a lot softer, and more like a lullaby. I’m lucky to work with some really great musicians in my band, and it was when we were figuring out ways to do it live, that the arrangement really built. I will also 100% credit Jay Taylor, who produced the track. During the recording process they were really integral to how we built the sound - and they absolutely love big, dramatic builds. Having that drama, especially with the looping vocals (which I’m a huge fan of) I think was really key when we were arranging it.
"Move Higher" is partially inspired by experiences from your early 20s. How did this period of your life influence the creative process in crafting this song?
I found my early 20s to be a really confusing time, as I’m sure most people do. I think I put a lot of trust in people that weren’t necessarily deserving, and I had to learn a lot of life lessons the hard way. “Move Higher” kind of speaks to that uncertainty, but also looks at the idea that even though there’s things we would all probably like to change, and things we would do differently - ultimately the experiences we have, lead us to where we are now. So the song sits at that crossroads really, where you’re simultaneously looking back and looking forward.
Your new single is also connected to Alasdair Gray's novel Lanark. I haven't read the book yet, but many say it's "the best Scottish novel of the 20th century." How will this novel influence the new single and your upcoming EP?
This is my all time favourite book! “Move Higher” as well as being partly inspired by my own life, I feel that a lot of the themes I was trying to cover are really key themes of Lanark. In particular, I think one way to view the characters Lanark/Thaw, are that they are characters who do not know how to love other people, even if they’re trying. They are wrought with misunderstandings. I really love the way that Alasdair Gray’s imagery gets these ideas across in a very literal sense, for example, with the dragonhide illness that Lanark and Rima have. The opening lyrics to the song in particular are really inspired by that chapter and the conversation between Rima and Lanark. I think Rima is probably the most interesting character in the book. In terms of inspiration for the EP - it’s just this song that is inspired directly by Lanark, but other songs on the EP take inspiration from Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, and in general the EP is really a collection of songs that look back on my time in Glasgow, which is when I read all of these books. I’ve always been a big reader so I feel like literature is always inspiring me.
photo by @ellesirsproductions
This year, you returned to your solo project after working with Rubber Rose and touring with Declan Welsh. What makes the solo project special for you, and what do you invest in it?
I really love working with other bands, and Rubber Rose and Declan Welsh are both really amazing - and very different to my solo work. With Rubber Rose, as the synth player it’s really nice to have a project where I’m predominantly focusing on the sound, and building parts, and with Declan where I’m a live session player, it’s again a really different experience but one that really, really fun, and we play some amazing shows. With my solo project, I keep chipping away at it because I really feel that while I do a lot of things in music, my favourite thing about music is songwriting, and I’ll always be a songwriter first. My solo project is the main place I get to do this, and it will always be something I invest in.
"Move Higher" is the final single from your upcoming EP "The Loveliest Things Change." How does this single and the EP as a whole differ from your previous work, especially from the Rubber Rose project?
So this EP is a collection of songs that I’ve been sitting on for a while. Some of the songs are quite old, with the oldest being one from 2019. The only EP I’ve released in recent years was very much a concept EP (“Desperate Characters”) or collaborations (“Someone Else’s Break Up” with Loughlin), which has meant all of my other songs have felt like they are just floating in the wind. I wanted to release them all properly. In a way I’m actually worried that the EP is a little incoherent - but I think everyone’s early 20s are incoherent, so it’s accurate if nothing else. In terms of sound - it’s very different from Rubber Rose. We’re totally different genres, with Rubber Rose being more heavy, and my solo stuff being very pop focussed.
How do you assess the current state of the music industry, especially in the context of its impact on young and independent artists?
I’ve honestly got a lot of feelings on this, so I’ll try to keep it as brief as I can. I really feel that the industry is not currently in a good place. A lot of that is obviously a ripple effect from COVID, Brexit and over a decade of a conservative government, but overall the industry is really difficult for anyone without significant financial support at the moment. Funders are having their funding cut, venues across the country are closing, and gig fees and royalties remain low. I think unfortunately we’re going to see a lot of young working class artists excluded from opportunities within our industry because of this. With the cost of living crisis, I actually currently can’t afford to gig because we cannot justify the cost of rehearsals vs the fees from shows, which means every show we’re taking this year has had to be very carefully thought-out, with me having to work out which parts of the year I’ll be okay to take a loss on shows. If venues/promoters can’t afford to pay a support act more than £50, then the business model needs rethinking, and this should not be coming at the expense of young, poor musicians. Promoters and venues are currently exploiting artists because they are operating at lower income levels than usual because of all the socio-political issues I’ve just mentioned. But ultimately, it shouldn’t be bands paying the price. I really feel that legislative change at government level needs to happen to protect artists and venues alike, and make this career more viable.
For example: in 2020, the French government stepped in to implement a tax of 3.5% on all concert tickets, with the money raised used to fund musical creation, innovation, the green transition and the export of French music. Both artists and venues get subsidies.” (Big Issue). Why can’t the UK do something like this?
You toured with Declan Welsh. What lessons and impressions did you gain from playing on tour with other artists, and how does it affect your creativity?
I had a really great time playing with Declan and his band - they have really amazing fans, and it was a really great experience to be a part of. They work really hard, so it’s great to see them succeeding. Creatively, it was again a different process to my other work, as with Declan I’m a live session player, so the parts are pre-written. I was able to think a lot more about stagecraft, and about how best to serve the music rather than focussing on being the front person. Overall, touring with them is great fun and I’m really grateful to have more opportunities to work as a session player!
With your new single and upcoming EP in 2024, what are your plans for the future? Can we expect more solo projects or any interesting collaborations?
With this EP, it feels a bit like the end of an era for me. As most of the songs on this EP have been sitting with me for a while, I feel really excited to have them out in the world finally, but also because it feels like creatively I can now properly move on to the next project. The next thing for me is definitely my debut album. I’m trying to pull the funds together for it now, but writing has started. I imagine there will be more collaborations in the pipeline too - I had a really great time on the EP I released last October with Loughlin, so hopefully we’ll get to do more writing together in the future too.
Your recent singles, like 'That Boy' and 'Slow,' have achieved success. How do you assess the audience's response, and how does this feedback influence your creative process, impacting new material?
Thank you! So audience response is a strange one for me, because I feel like sometimes things that work really well on recordings don’t work as well live, and vice-versa, so it’s interesting for me to see how audiences react digitally and in live spaces. For example, my track “Enemy” did really well when it came out, but I feel like it doesn't translate live as well - whereas “Move Higher” I think really comes into its element live. With my writing, I think I take a lot from how things go down live, and when designing a setlist I really try to keep the audience perspective at the front of my mind. A big part of being a musician is that you are ultimately there to entertain others, so making sure, especially live, that the music has a good flow is really important - especially for when I’m working on new material.
Let's imagine "Move Higher" is part of the soundtrack for a magical moment in a movie. Which film would you choose for this song, and why?
This is a super good question - I feel like because of the Alasdair Gray link, Poor Things feels like an obvious choice, but I haven’t actually seen it yet so I’m not sure! I think out of movies I’ve actually seen, something like a teen, coming-of-age movie would probably suit it. Maybe something like the Perks of Being a Wallflower? Or if they ever make Boyracers by Alan Bisset into a movie maybe, for some triumphant moment near the end? I’d die for it to be on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I think it would really suit some triumphant Grey’s Anatomy moment, like a patient overcoming a two-episode illness, or an intern breaking up with their terrible boyfriend. Does anyone have a contact for their music supervisor? I am full of ideas.
*This interview was made possible by BTD Sounds PR