Features Interviews

Musician and producer Ciara Gayer on writing songs in trees, music theory and her upcoming EP

One of my favourite things about gigging in London has always been meeting other musicians. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie and mutual support, which I find deeply inspiring. We’re all in this together, after all.

I first met Ciara Gayer at a brewery in south London, where we were both performing for Sofar Sounds, and was instantly drawn in by her bluesy, soulful arrangements and raw, captivating vocals.

As she prepares to release her debut EP, A Journey To Blue, which was self-produced and recorded in her basement studio in Brighton, I had a chat to Ciara to find out more about her story so far…

Hey Ciara! I loved your live performance for Sofar Sounds London. When did you first start making music?

Thank you! I really enjoyed playing that gig and playing for Sofar in general. The shows are so intimate, which is something that I think compliments my style.

My earliest memory of writing lyrics and melodies was when I was about six. I used to sit in the tree in my garden and write… I wish I could remember what they were about. One thing that hasn’t changed is writing about the colour blue, because that was my favourite colour back then. It’s changed in its meaning to me and is now a way to describe a sound.

I started playing guitar and piano around the age of eight. I always preferred the journey of writing my own music and hated reading music and theory (but I did end up teaching myself later on, because you’ve got to know how when you’re playing jazz standards).

I started recording my own music at about 14 when I used to make beats on Fruity Loops (FL Studio software) – I used to listen to a lot of hip hop back then. I started using Logic Pro when I was studying music at college, but always ended up writing classical pieces as I’d get carried away with the orchestral sound on MIDI.

I now use Ableton Live 10 in my basement studio, which I rate over everything!

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Photo: Ella Yabsley (instagram.com/ellayabsley)

Your upcoming debut EP, A Journey To Blue, is due for release on 10 May. What’s the story behind the songs and production process?

To me, the EP is about ending an old cycle of my life and bringing on the new ones.

Intro is about how I am and have always been – happy in my own company. Space Cake is breaking out of who I’d become as a young adult – aware, yet unaware of some of my self-inflicting habits… Not just intoxicants and partying but breaking down the walls I’d built up, because I didn’t want to accept responsibility for my human emotions. I think this was a huge habit of people around me. This image of not caring or seeming to be emotionless when they’re screaming inside for love! The end of the song is just about re-realising the thing I love about myself and how weird I actually am, but that’s what makes me happy. I enjoy the upside-downs in life.

What comes next in the EP is more in tune with how I feel now I’ve broken out of my little hazed bubble. Mr Bossman is just a big f*** you to neoliberal economics (which is what I wrote my dissertation on) and the perception that problems are caused by the individual in societies (usually seen as the working class), rather than the imbalance of wealth that is perpetuated through capitalism.

Baby Blue is just a sweet little love song about making love.

The most important thing to me about this EP is that I recorded everything in my basement and mixed everything myself, to portray the way I imagined it to sound. I didn’t want to create something over-produced and wanted to use real instruments rather than MIDI sounds, because this is a reflection of the music I love and listen to. Being in the comfort of my own home and space meant I could really get lost in the sound in my basement. I’ve got some clips saved on my Insta highlights.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

When I was 16, I went to this blues night run by an amazing musician named Benny Carr Guitar (he’s pretty legendary in south Devon). This night completely changed my attitude to music, as I was brought into the blues world. He’s an amazingly creative person who’s absolutely breathtaking at the guitar and is great at bringing people together.

I’m also massively inspired by Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Allen Toussaint, Dr John, B.B King, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Mel Torme, Aretha Franklin… the list goes on and on.

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Photo: Daisy Sharp (instagram.com/daisybeax)

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as a musician?

Learning theory! I used to hate it so much when I was a kid because I could play all this intermediate stuff by ear but then was expected to go back and learn all this simple stuff out of a book, which completely contradicted why I loved music.

About a year ago, I started applying myself to the intermediate parts of theory (I’d luckily learnt the basics during GCSEs and college). Playing with incredible jazz musicians gave me the inspiration to study and there’s still lots to learn (the more you know, the less you know).

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any more live shows coming up?

I’m so excited to host my EP celebration at St Mary’s Church in Kemp Town, Brighton. It’s an amazing gothic church. It’s on Friday 24 May, free entry and doors are at 7pm.

I’ve become so used to dedicating 70% of my spare time to my EP, so I’m going to continue recording singles (I have heaps of material to record due to a three year recording break).

I’m going to be releasing a single every month (probably over the next six to seven months) until I take the time out to record my debut album, which will have a blues/motown/soul feel.

ciaragayer.co.uk

 

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