In late April of 2021, I talked to Indigo Sparke about her debut album Echo and we explored big themes like death, solitude, and children that are rarely given space in interviews. This year, just a couple of days before her sophomore record Hysteria was released into the world, we picked up on some of those themes. With time passing, change is inevitable. If you’re self-reflective and consistent, so is growth. Hysteria presents Sparke’s evolved perspectives with confidence and self-assuredness, and a sense of endless desire to fully accept yourself.
The last time we talked you had just moved and were on this island near Seattle. A lot has happened since – how are you doing? How is everything?
Everything is good. I am definitely a little bit overwhelmed at the moment with everything going on. But I am good. Currently, I’m in New York just riding the waves of life as they constantly keep changing, not just me but for everybody I think.
God Is A Woman’s Name
I feel like the song writing on Hysteria is a lot more abstract but also less timid than on the previous album. Was that intentional or did that happen naturally in the writing process?
Interesting. It wasn’t intentional at all. It’s cool to hear that. I feel like it’s less abstract because it does feel more direct right now but maybe the lyrics are more abstract in some way.
For instance, in ‘God Is A Woman’s Name’, Sparke explores the connections we carry to all the women before us, the female archetypes they set or reinforced. These bonds through time and narrative are best expressed poetically because they are only tangible through the abstraction that is part of the creative process.
“How does fear speak your name
Her smile lit eyes
Her violet sky
The moss is feeding
All the littlest lights inside
So true and bright
Their minds as their begging
There is a lyric on the new Florence + The Machine album where she says “[I need] my empty halls to ring with grand self-mythology”. Do you think about building your own mythology through song writing and music?
Definitely. On this album, I was thinking a lot about Greek mythology, religion, the church, and what it is to be a woman in the world, and having a connection to women, their archetypes, through history and time. One song ‘Infinity Honey’ especially picks that up. I often think about embodying certain qualities of these women through history, to be able to keep moving forward with a sense of strength, power, purpose, integrity and grace. So, I think it’s inevitable that you start to think about your own legacy or journey as a woman in mythology and in this current reality that we live in. I was thinking, at the time about the oracle of Delphi and my own imagined narrative and myth around that.
Another stereotype the Australian singer songwriter evokes with the album title is the hysterical woman. The word origin ‘hystera’ is the Greek word for uterus, and throughout time women “with an ungovernable emotional excess” have been diagnosed, hospitalized, exorcised and killed for their anxieties, insomnia, sexual desire, or often, simply because a man decided he’d like her to disappear. This discourse has been present and various in film and literature for centuries, like Perkin’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892) or Coppola’s film adaptation of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992). The first notions of hysteria were found in Egyptian records from 1900 B.C about ‘wandering wombs’ and reached a devastating high in the West when Christianity took over. Nowadays, it is still too common that women are underestimated, disrespected or harassed because of these accumulated associations. Sparke who has openly talked about her sensitivity and the mentally challenging times in her life got closer to making peace with the ‘emotionally excessive’ parts of herself through the creation process of this record. We talked about two words that seemed to me at the centre of this process: holding and breathing.
There are two words at the centre of the record – ‘holding’/‘being held’ and ‘breath’. What do they mean to you and why are they so prominent?
‘Holding’ has many different layers of meaning to it for me, and has for the last little while. I was learning how to hold myself. I was longing to be held by a lover, a partner that didn’t exist– just deeply longing to feel held by the world. And then, there was this simultaneous holding on to the world, holding onto things in my life, things that I couldn’t let go off, that I was trying to let go off and a sense of holding in my body, bracing for what I felt like was going to be an onslaught of life. I think we tend to do that as humans in our nervous systems, to hold or brace if we’re going into something instead of breathe and release. So I think, the process of making the album is definitely a whole journey through de-armoring.
As a writer, I’m constantly analyzing the words that hold my world together. They gain extra meaning when you encounter them externally and they become their own concept in my life. They have their own semantic meaning and a personal context they seem to repeatedly appear in. Are there melodies or words that have become symbols for you?
Yes, but it’s very intuitive and difficult to articulate because it’s constantly changing. It’s so fluid that it’s hard for me to pinpoint. Maybe it’s harder for me to answer right now because I go through phases of locking on and into certain things, words, phrases, feelings, colors, stories, myths. I start creating from that place once I’ve gone into the seed of it. Right now, I’m in a liminal space right where I’m moving from this album into a new phase that I haven’t fully landed in. I’ve started writing but I’m still turning over the ground, churning the soil, and finding where my minerals are, that I’m going to magnetize to so it’s a little tricky for me to answer that question.
Of Love and Grief
It was interesting to watch the Hysteria-video because it was a throwback for me to 12th grade because we had to do a self-portrait of ourselves in 10 years and I was staging myself as the bride left at the altar. I was also running around, wearing my mother’s wedding dress and I thought the energy of the video is very similar but you are marrying yourself. What was that day like, how did it feel?
It felt liberating and fun. It felt like reclaiming. I’ve been talking a lot about reclaiming lately, fully inhabiting, expanding into a new version of myself who is full of independence and joy, accepting all the parts of myself that I have inside of me alive and cherishing them. I think in that reclamation, you are marrying yourself, I am marrying myself.
It was a beautiful day for me to have in the whirlwind of it all. I’d spend a lot of time grieving the fact that maybe I would never get married, maybe I would never have a family, maybe I would never have a child, these things that you dream of when you’re a little kid. Whether it’s an authentic, deep yearning or it’s because we live in a society that’s so hard and heavy filled with projections of what life should look like as you grow up. I’m sure that that sways people’s sense of self or purpose. I’d spend time really longing for that sense of home and family and partnership, and it just didn’t seem to be happening in the way that I thought I wanted it too. So eventually, after doing so much work on cultivating a sense of home inside of myself, I got to a point where I said – ‘Actually I’m good. Maybe there is grief and sadness and it’s ok that I don’t have these things in my life yet or right now or ever but simply asking, can you be ok with just being with yourself, what does that look like and how do you inhabit a space of joy being alone.’ It felt great because I was affirmed, ‘Yeah, I have amazing friends, I have music, I have my art and the world is alive and dying at the same time as are we. I can just be in it and joy and grief can exist in the same space and simply what a relief’.
I want to talk more about love. You wrote this beautiful text, talking about how hard it is to find a balance, that there is so much of everything that you’re feeling, you’ve said: ‘So much poignant reflection in the tidal poles of intimacy’. How do you try to keep the balance or maybe if we even should have a balance when it comes to love?
I don’t know if we should have a balance or not. If you’re in a love space and you’re out of balance, everyone always loves to tell you to get back in balance from the outside.
It is funny. We get older and things start to even out a bit more so love doesn’t feel as chaotic as it used to. I’m left with the question, ‘People say love should feel easy; stable; and safe, and like a home that you can come back to’ and I’m like ‘Does that mean that you don’t have all the deep, electric passion and connection with someone and it’s just monotone and safe, or are all relationships that are lightning bolts of magnetic, intense, transcendental, profound connection doomed to be chaotic or what? Do I choose one or the other? Then people say, ‘Why can’t you have both?’.
For me, I haven’t really experienced the capacity to have both and maybe that’s just what young love is. I don’t know… I’m having an experience now where I’m experiencing both for the first time in my life with one person and that’s beautiful. I think if you’re two flawed humans coming together with history and trauma, things are not always going be in balance, it’s impossible. None of us is fucking enlightened and that’s why we’re still here on earth trying to figure it out. It’s lovely to have some balance sometimes but the moments of being out of balance give us information and indicate where we need to work on ourselves.
Yeah, I agree. In this societal way of looking at it, the number one advice you always get of having one or the other, it kind of takes yourself out of the equation. I feel like that is where we should start and say ‘I know where I stand on this, I can muster the storm, and decide to go there or just leave it behind if it’s too chaotic.’ I feel the whole discussion around it is so plain and so not true to what everyone must actually be feeling.
The conversation is black and white. No one is talking about it realistically in some sense where we say, ‘Ok, let’s be honest, relationships are the hardest thing on the planet if you actually want deep intimacy. You’re out of your element, it’s going to be painful, you’re going to be fucking terrified, and all the shit from your history is going come up.’
An Anchor In the Everyday
We talked a lot about death last time and Hysteria feels more like the rebirth album. What are the places you went to be reborn or what places did you find?
There is still a lot of death on this album. I was still in this place of dying. I was having a conversation with a really dear friend of mine a few months ago when I was in a pretty severe depression and she was just amazing. She said: ‘You’re not alone, and sometimes when you’re at rock bottom and you think you can’t go any further down, the floor gives way and you go further down and then there’s nothing to do but simplify and do really gentle, mundane things like wake up in the morning and all you have to focus on is making a cup of tea, so just do that. You may fall over crying in the middle of the day and aren’t able to get off the floor for 3hrs so just do that and then get up and make a bowl of white rice if that’s all you can do, do that.’
Back then I was doing that and that was my resurrection in this, the most pure simplicity known to humankind, how do you take the most basic care of yourself, that’s where it was all born from I guess.
Like an anchor in the everyday?
Yeah exactly, an anchor in the everyday.
Hysteria is out now via Sacred Bones Records.