Snow gently falls as I stand on an abandoned looking train platform somewhere in the mountains close to La Chaux-de-Fonds. Oreille, who hosted the concert I’d played the night before, waits with me for my train to Germany where I’ll play my next show. I’m 9 weeks pregnant. Oreille doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak French so we communicate in a mixture of broken German and exaggerated facial expressions. As we say goodbye, she hands me a little bell, hanging from a satin rope. It’s black and gold and when she loops it over my head, the bell lands gently on my stomach. She tells me the sound is for the baby. I’d seen their daughter playing with it in their home, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of a blizzard, where I’d played last night’s concert. Late that night I’d watched the snow storm unfurl, lit only by the brave car lights of concert go-ers who’d thought nothing of a little blizzard. I’d written the song Danny there and then, going to bed only to scrawl in the darkness before dozing off, wondering if the weather would clear enough for me to carry on my tour the next day. It did. The train arrives and I step on with my guitar and my bell in the residue of this woman’s kindness. Listen carefully to the beginning of Keep You In Light and you’ll hear the little bell there amidst the layers of crackling tape before the guitar begins.
Those songs belong to an album which began production the very same morning I found out I was pregnant. The challenge and beauty of producing an album and growing a human at the same time began. 285 days later the album was mixed and I gave birth to my daughter. At a time when I was perhaps the most open I’ve ever been to the extremities of joy and fear, I made this record; a collection of stories that draw on the light and the dark of our everyday and try to make sense of it all.
People talk about how everything changes when you have a baby. People would tell me that music would have to take a backseat, that my and my husband’s creative careers would have to be replaced by some kind of ‘normal’ or ‘grown-up’ jobs. Interestingly none of those people knew me very well. Everything does change. When my daughter was born, I was re-born. It’s as powerful as that. The way I’m wired, how I see things, how I feel about and navigate the world around me has altered forever. But the amazing thing that no one mentioned was that those changes, that shift, that total rewire, would be the thing that set me free.
I stopped caring about all sorts of little things that had held me back; from dealing with challenging personalities to worrying whether I should sound or appear a certain way, it was as if growing a human had come with a pair of bull-shit-filter glasses.
I was also no longer only accountable to myself – whatever I did, whatever I made, had to stand up, it had to be something worthwhile that this little person might one day feel proud of. There were practical implications too. I wanted to finish everything before the birth so that, for the first three months, I could focus solely on my family and me. In a way, this meant that I couldn’t be overly precious or too much of a perfectionist. It allowed the music to be more honest and for me that’s where the good stuff really lies. Creating an album while growing a human and now being a mother, has hands down been the most empowering thing that has ever happened to me.
As I release 285 Days in Germany on International Women’s Day, I reflect and am thankful for all the awesome women that I’m currently working with. At this point in my life, as I’m raising a 1-year-old, the hours in my day are spent on music and being a mum and I almost don’t have time to think too much about women’s position in the music industry. We’re far from where we deserve to be, but right now I’m just getting on with it and hoping that the work speaks for itself. Whatever my gender I just want to be a better musician, write better songs, create work that can move and connect people. I want to be a strong and positive role model to my daughter and to the listeners that my music connects with. I think musicians have immense power, one that’s too easily forgotten or diminished. We have an opportunity to make people feel something. It’s that mission to make people feel something; to think and remember, to weave connection between souls, that’s behind what I do and what I make. Surely when music connects us, when it moves us, it’s universal? It’s equal, it demands vulnerability. You can’t get the connection without standing in the snow, without playing live music, without offering a bell on a string. 285 Days is a chapter to an ongoing story of hope and passion, whose next adventure is a 4-date tour in Germany. Then I’ll be returning home to work on remixes, a live EP and more writing before further touring this year.
Mara Simpson‘s 285 Days album is out now via the Rough Trade album club and Republic of Music.