"People are being coerced into being creative" - Nicol & Elliott talk the new norm.

Interview by Isabella Eastwood - April 2020

In the second set of our Isolation Interviews series, Andrew Nicol, Rachel Elliott and I gathered around our phones and discussed the stress of shifting work patterns, identity in isolation, and how remote working has afforded them a certain freedom to experiment in a different way.


Both Andrew and Rachel are witnessing changes in their daily working lives and the jobs they hold outside of music. Andrew’s visits as a public health nurse for children from 0 to 5 and their families are restricted, and Rachel, working for Scottish Water, is temporarily back in the lab testing water quality. “It’s strange and tiring being pulled out of your routine,” Rachel says, “doing something completely different to what you were before is exhausting in itself.”


Working remotely and apart is something neither has done before, but it’s been easier than expected. Already they are bringing some of the other band members in to contribute and try new things.


“I’ve not been doing a lot of writing at the moment, but I can feel things bubbling under the surface”, says Andrew, adding: “I’m desperately trying to avoid the word isolation, but there’s definitely no lack of things to write about: politics, mental health, relationships… I’m no stranger to writing about loneliness – pretty much what I’ve always done – but it’s somewhat difficult to write when the whole country is in this state of inertia. We are effectively facing a collective trauma; people are kind of frozen because it’s so stressful.”


The psychological implications of a lockdown have not really been considered on a nationwide scale before, and advice on how to cope is flying around from all directions. Whether you’re being told to treat yourself, indulge in cake or use this time to be as productive and creative as possible, it’s easy to succumb to social media and find yourself worrying that you’re not trying hard enough.


“People are being coerced into being creative when sometimes it’s just about getting through these months,” highlights Andrew.


Rachel in turn describes how the sudden spur to be productive was a bit paralysing: “For me creativity has always been an outlet, and once there is this pressure, it doesn’t feel like much of an option anymore. So initially I struggled to get motivated, and there was this panic because everything was at a standstill. But that’s why the project has been really useful to have something to work towards. Especially after all our gigs were cancelled.”


Both Andrew and Rachel have ties with L-Space, whose song “Backup Baby” they chose to cover, and part of the creative challenge was rendering something that was more of a “spacey electro pop song” into something “folky Americana”, without, as Andrew emphasised “ripping it to shreds”.


Genre difference aside, it was also the leitmotif of the song that drew them to it.


“The concept of shifting identity is rather poignant within the current climate. Now that people are so isolated, away from their friends, family and job – essentially all the things that make your identity – it can induce a state of anxiety. Not just stress, but pure anxiety, staring at the walls thinking ‘What am I doing?’” elaborates Andrew.


Both agree that it’s important not to get mired in music that is too dark, as it risks taking you places you don’t need to be right now. But music can of course do the opposite and lift you up, and Andrew speaks positively of ‘listening parties’ that not only inspire a sense of community but also introduce new music.


I wonder whether musicians have a particular responsibility right now, to provide some kind of safe space or positivity for their fans, perhaps in the form of free concerts, such as some big names have done. But it’s actually other musicians Andrew thinks of, pointing out: “Some professional musicians have been hit really hard financially, so perhaps people like Rachel and me, who have jobs, should be aware not to take up all the space.”


“If they can continue to release music that makes people feel good and make a positive impact, that’s great. But people still need revenue, so they shouldn’t feel obligated to make it free,” adds Rachel.


While being stuck indoors can easily become a literal creativity block, Rachel and Andrew have found that the circumstances have induced a new approach to how they make music, and how they would record in the future.


 “Having the Isolation Sessions project has definitely motivated us, especially me,” notes Rachel, ”to help things not fall by the wayside. Now we’ve set up home recording, we have maybe 3 or 4 songs lined up, and it’s totally changed the way we work. We’ve always messaged, and Andrew would send me something over which is nothing new, but being able to record into it, listening back to it, editing it and going over it again has really impacted how I add my part.”


“Before, I didn’t have the time to maybe experiment with the strings as much before going to the studio, so it definitely changes the way we make music and how it will sound.”


Until that music comes out – which may take a while yet – make sure you listen into LNFG Isolation Sessions, the proceeds of which support independent venues across Glasgow.


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