The Argotist Online
Judith Owen is a singer-songwriter whose music combines pop, rock, jazz, classical, R&B and theatrical influences. She has sung on Richard Thompson's Mock Tudor, and performed in his Billboard-inspired “1000 Years of Popular Music” at the Getty Museum.
Her albums include: Some Kind of Comfort, Emotions On A Postcard, The Beautiful Damage Collection (which features songs from the West End show Losing It, co-starring Ruby Wax), Mopping Up Karma, Here, Happy This Way, 12 Arrows, and Christmas In July.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Yes I do. I've been writing poetry since I was a child and love combining words
and music. My lyrics have to stand alone from the music, whether prose or
poetry. I feel let down by great songs with thoughtless lyrics, or mediocre
rhymes. There is a pure musicality to language, just listen to Shakespeare.
Writing lyrics for me is an extension of the music and always feels as if I'm
plumbing the depths emotionally, like unraveling a puzzle. I usually only see
their true meaning… months, even years later, it is so subconscious. The words
always take longer to write and as with many poets, I strive to achieve the
greatest of meaning in the simplest of ways, with sound, rhyme, rhythm,
texture, onomatopoeia... told you I love language!
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
I cringe at crudely constructed rhymes and swoon at the great ones. To me, it's
an art to write rhymes that aren't obvious and yet seem effortlessly perfect. I
do think that that's what the Cole Porters and the Gershwins of this world
excelled at... smart and emotional lyrics that rhymed and still surprised you
with their eloquence.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such
as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs
can also be like free verse?
think everything and anything works as long as it isn't mediocre and gives you
goosebumps and gets you thinking! I'm
rehearsing songs right now from my new album Some Kind of Comfort and I'm
aware in hindsight that the lyrics reflect the rhythms of the music. So in a
song like ‘Tidal Wave’ which is a folk/classical gig, the words are fast and
precise in verses when it talks about the child within, becoming more legato and
therefore thoughtful in the chorus when it refers to the contrasts of joining an
adult world. It's all about creating a mood, telling a story, painting a picture
for any suggestible and imaginative listener.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
I remember loving Yeats’ words which were used in the traditional folk song
'Sally Gardens', and being incredibly moved by the simplicity and power
of them... a perfect complement to the melody. And that's how I view lyrics, as
being the mirror to the music.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your
Growing up, I loved the poetry and prose of Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Chaucer
and Dylan Thomas, but actually, I think the words of the Great American
Songbook has had the greatest influence on my songwriting, as they were
every bit as important as the music… pure poetry.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
I think music is the greatest communicator and it touches and reaches us
in a way that words alone cannot. Together they can leave you a quivering mess.
Perhaps it's that music is so emotional and poetry cerebral that makes the
difference. In my
own writing, the need to say very hard personal truths through the more
accessible medium of music is incredibly important. Again, in the case of the
title track of my latest album Some Kind of Comfort, I can talk honestly
about self-harming by imbedding provocative information in soulful, gentle
music, to draw the listener in rather than repelling them, which words alone
can’t often do. That to me is the real magic and power of words and music
© Judith Owen