Fans of folk music will probably be familiar with Folkstock Records, a prolific boutique label well known for championing new, acoustic folk and roots music. We’ve come to expect excellence from them, but rock? That would be unexpected.
Expect the unexpected.
Following the release of her fourth album, Little Girl, Welsh singer-songwriter Sera selected a handful of tracks with a rockier edge and released them as a digital EP. Folk-rock may not be a new thing, but this is a bold departure for Sera, whose success to date has been founded on a traditional acoustic sound, making her a favourite of the folk festival circuit and seeing her songs placed on TV and radio.
Before you read on, Sera is giving a FREE download of “Little Girl”, the title track from her album, to Angry Baby readers. If you’re not already subscribed to Angry Baby, just pop the email address that you’d like it delivered to here and it will be on its way to you straight away, together with a bumper collection of music that has been shared by Angry Baby. The music comes from outstanding artists that you may not have heard before. With a mix of rock, pop, folk…you name it…there’s bound to be something new that floats your musical boat, and all for free! What’s not to like about that?!
Sera makes the transition with care. Opening track “Through The Wild” starts with the promise of a folk ballad before rock instrumentation charges in. Despite the changing dynamic, Sara’s vocals rise over, clear and controlled.
Cutting a selection of songs from an album while retaining a theme and a story through the music isn’t easy, yet Folkstock’s Helen Meissner has navigated this process for Sera, with the subtle assurance of a label manager who knows her craft. “Through the Wild” with it’s air of lazy summer – “I sit there in the tall grass playing guitar to the bees” – blends into “This Town”, with its grittier message “…all the bees are lost and honeys not as sweet as it was”. Either Sera has a thing for bees, or she is carrying a metaphor from song to song.
“Storm Cloud” showcases Sera’s musicianship. She isn’t just singing of a storm; she plays one too. Step back from her searing vocals to take in a shower of harmonies and the subtle percussion of raindrops. There is nothing accidental in this arrangement – every note is finely placed and each listening reveals a new layer of intent.
Sera’s folk-pop roots re-emerge with “Optimist”, which opens with the chords of a ballad. Don’t get complacent. By the half-way point, Sera is mixing up the moods with a brief psychedelic moment, a drop, a rise and a chanting finale. The promised rock influence may be sitting softly here, but we don’t have to wait long for Sera to get her rock-chick on. “Through The Night” dispels any doubt that Sera has what it takes to move from floral prints to black leather. Pounding drums, electro-guitar breaks, soaring harmonies – this is Sera’s cross-over track, proving her strength beyond folk and into pure rock.
Embracing Sera’s native language, to the undoubted delight of Welsh speakers everywhere, is “Mond Am Eiliad” (Just For A Moment). Closing the EP with exquisitely pitched vocals over gentle strings rising to cinematic proportions, with Sera around folk is never far away but always surprising. This is a clever selection of songs by a canny musician who knows what makes for good listening. Thoughtful and generous, Sera proves that she has a lot to offer and the courage to share her creativity.
Sera’s advice for anyone just starting out with their music is generous, profound and extensive:
“Be prepared. If you’re serious about it, your musical quest will define you and consume you. That can be a great and exciting thing, but also… not so good at times. My main advice would be to look after yourself and to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons – because once you go down the rabbit hole….
You look at those ‘born artists,’ icons like David Bowie and Prince and Kate Bush, who probably just crawled out of the womb exceptionally cool and brilliant, breathing creativity, right? Destiny. Born to be musical rebels. Songwriting wizardry and stage presence. Sure, you may be iconic too. And when you’re 18 and starting out, that dream can be beautiful. Don’t be a cynic, not yet.
But you need to arm yourself with tools beyond those associated with playing your instrument and marketing yourself. You’ll need knowledge, skills, coping mechanisms and focus, but most importantly, the ability to look after yourself financially, physically and mentally.
With anything in life, your main goal should be to be happy. If music makes you happy and that’s what you want to do. DO it.
Separate your music from the dreaded ‘music industry’:
You can make music absolutely anywhere, and you can find musicians anywhere in the world; However, this is not the problem. The problem is the music industry. You may live far from a major city, there may not be many opportunities where you live, your family may be barely getting by financially, and ‘music and media industry connections’ is absolutely alien to you. But these are and never will be obstacles to MAKE music, to write songs. What these are, are little obstacles into the music industry. Obstacles though, and not an electric fence separating you from it. The music industry is that horrible two-word term that sucks the joy out of what you love most…making music. Breaking in to the industry, how you do it, how you try to do it; that’s the part that hurts; emotionally, mentally and physically. It’s a struggle and it will wear you down and you will wonder why on earth you CHOSE to do this. It’s madness.
Stick with it. You will learn to deal with rejection and criticism (though I have found that it doesn’t get any easier to swallow!). You will learn to manage others around you who impact on your music; How to say no. How to know when someone is bullshitting you (or at least learning to trust your gut feelings) and how to know when to trust; How to not turn into an arsehole; How to be ‘nice’ but also ambitious. And so, so much more.
These are skills that develop, just as you as a human being will develop, just as your music will develop. You are not born with it all ready to go.
Unless you have a good manager, an insightful musical and business-like parent or mentor – it will probably be just you, swimming in the sea of all of this ‘stuff’ – It can be lonely, having to make choices in a really weird world, one which is constantly changing. Some of these decisions will have big consequences. Most of the time they won’t, but you will treat them as though they carry the fate of the world, just the same. For example:
“If I don’t do this unpaid gig the other side of the country….i MAY miss out on someone in the audience who MAY just be related to a guy who runs a stage at …… or runs a label, or knows…….’
“‘If I plan to go on holiday in the summer I will miss out on potentially life changing festival opportunities that will advance my career enormously…”
(5 years later and you haven’t had a summer holiday. And you haven’t had that life changing festival experience…)
“If my website doesn’t look right it will misrepresent me and my music. I need to be original. what hasn’t been done yet? How can I be original, how can I get the attention of THE MUSIC INDUSTRY??!!”
Making it vs Making a living
You will question a lot, kick yourself a lot. But your music- YOUR MUSIC will be fine. Keep being creative and pushing yourself and trying new things, being fearless in your lyrics and experiment with sounds. Your music will be fine – as long as you are expressing YOU and not someone else, trying to be like anyone else or listening to someone else’s view of what you should be.
That might mean you’ll never make it big. But you can always make your music, whatever happens. Big or small.
Fixating on ‘making it’ will take you on a tangent away from music. You will judge yourself, compare yourself to others – become envious. This is not helpful, or nice, or a reflection of the real you. Focus on your music, and do what you can to create, find and make the most of opportunities. And enjoy your life! Don’t sacrifice too much for the idea of ‘making it’.
Music changes; what’s popular and how it works, how it is consumed, how it’s enjoyed. You can do your best to keep up, but don’t make yourself fit the trend. Keep authentic and honest. If fame is your goal, you may as well make a fool of yourself on ‘Big Brother,’ or any other reality TV show. If fame is what you are after, and music is second to that, then you are probably confusing what your passion really is. Fame is different to success, we all want to be successful musicians and songwriters, but fame is something different. If music really is your passion, you won’t try and change yourself to make it. Just make your music, say what you want to say. Some people or MANY people may dig what you’re doing. But it is important that YOU dig what you are doing.
While your music is growing, do something that doesn’t fill you with dread, to put food in your body. If you really are serious about a career in music, either take on something casual that doesn’t stress you out too much (so you can save your stress for the Music Industry!), or get involved in the industry yourself, in some way. Even better, try and redefine it! Get involved in local arts projects, venues, festivals, start some new venture, get involved in community projects, teach and interact and inspire others. Try and find something that can realistically fit in with your music but also make you happy and keep you fed, watered and with a roof over your head.
The joys of self-employment
You’ll have days like this:
“This It is soul destroying. I think I’m depressed. Where has the time gone? I’ve sacrificed so much, put things on hold, spent all my money on music instead of what I should spend my money on, like normal people do – holidays, buying a house. I’m obsessed. I have no other hobbies, no time to do anything other than constantly badger people online for gigs, festivals, radio play, this review, that review. And no one gets back to me! Ten years now, and I’m still struggling. I could have done so many other things with my life, worked my way up in a job, travelled the world…oh what have I done!”
And you will also have days like this:
“I cannot imagine working a 9-5 job, every day the same. Wow, I can’t believe how great this week has been. I met so many interesting people. Just this year, I’ve been to all parts of the country I would never have come across usually. I’ve had my song played on the radio! Making music is amazing, we sounded so great on stage as a band.
All that practice has paid off. We’re getting somewhere! That DJ has just tweeted about me saying how awesome my sound is! Self employed and loving it – no one tells me what to do or how to do it. Bring it on!”
About that……Have enough musical friends and self employed friends you can talk to. Been ill, not able to gig? No sick pay for you! And when you want to think about starting a family….that’s another story. These are all challenges. Don’t get me wrong, these are challenges for a lot of people, you are not so hard done by as a songwriter to be different from anyone else. But these are all things I have felt and experienced, and things my employed friends don’t think about. You need to be able to vent and have people have some kind of understanding of it.
If you are lucky, you will be able to make a living, be respected and enjoy doing what you love, which is so much more than most people, even if they are earning big bucks. The value of doing what you love is beyond any monetary gain. But still, very hard.
You will get pulled in all directions – by yourself and your own expectations, by your family and their hopes for you, by your school if they think you are better suited to something else – too smart or not smart enough. You’ll be pulled by people who say they have your best interests at heart, by people who have had success before and think they can advise you. Everyone will have something to say about it. You can stick to your guns and go after your dreams, and eventually, after some time, people will take it seriously. It will stop being viewed as some pipe dream and a hobby, and you will be taken seriously as a musician who works hard and is in it for the long haul. Others…will never understand. But you’ll just have to leave them to it.
I’ve done the whole ‘I’m moving to London and will work as a waitress and gig every night, network and it will be great’ – but when rent is too much and the pool is too large, and you are not a city person….this may be a very bad move. After years of pulling myself apart, thinking I should do this or do that, I know now that being close to my family in a place I love is important. It is best for support (because you need a lot of support) and for my soul (and my pocket!). You may miss out on the advantages and networking opportunities of a city, but you will have more than you think. But that’s not the same for everyone. The city may suit you and your personality, but if it doesn’t, don’t force yourself to fit. You can make music anywhere.. It is much more important that you are happy where you live. You may need a bustling nightlife, or you may need the mountains and sea air. Both are fine and down to you.
You will be hard on yourself, far more than others ever will, far more than some unfavourable review. You are basically baring your soul and letting the outside world say what they want and react as they will to it. Learn to be ok with that. Don’t let the whole journey consume you so much that you lose sight of yourself. Be good to yourself, kind to yourself and keep healthy.
My main advise it to be happy. That could be at 18, or 32, after a year of trying to ‘make it’ or 15 years. If trying to make or sustain a career in music is making you miserable, do something to change that. Take a break, go back to scratch and reassess where you’re at. Go back to just loving music. You will worry that you’re wasting time, losing touch, missing out, time passing by….but trust me – That is not worse than having a meltdown. Because keeping up with all the emails, social media, trying to get gigs and deals and organising your band members, as well as trying to make sure you can pay your bills.( Oh, and having A LIFE) That is hard. All that will take it’s toll on your health and mental well being. It has for me. You will beat yourself up about how you’re not doing as well as you’d hoped by now. Why? Because you can’t get playlisted? Because you can’t get a slot at some festival? No one knows who you are? Add to that the pressures of life and society’s expectations of you, and all those things you had planned to do. You’ve been so busy trying to hold it all together and get your music out there….
You can stop. You can pause and the world won’t end. You will not get struck down by the hand of the Music God (was that Apollo?) If there are other things you need/want to do to help you feel complete, fulfilled or happy…do them! it’s the reason you started music isn’t it? To be happy?
Music is a joy. So love it. But love yourself first.”
And get your free download of music from Angry Baby now, including Sera’s “Little Girl” – just pop your email down below.