Liar, Flower is the new project from KatieJane Garside (formerly of Daisy Chainsaw, Test Department and Queenadreena) and her partner Chris Whittingham. When I reviewed the new release, Geiger Counter, I felt a deep connection with the spirit of the music along all its twists and turns from pastorally playful whimsy to frighteningly aggressive punk chaos. I was also very intrigued by KatieJane Garside’s stream-of-consciousness approach to writing which involves intense meditation sessions and an improvisational approach. Garside seeks to “get out of [her] own way” and let the music channel itself through her. I wanted to speak to KatieJane Garside to find out more about this esoteric process and idiosyncratic outlook on the world. What follows is an edited transcription of a highly inspiring, energising and educational conversation with a true artist in the purest sense of that word.
Chain D.L.K.: When I listen to the Liar, Flower record, I just love it. So the first track, “Sundress” — you talk about being free, “I will be free” is one of the lyrics. For me, this record does feel free because you’re doing exactly what you want with absolute freedom. Is that how you guys felt?
KatieJane Garside: We’ve worked together and done many things together like having a child and sailing around the world and made lots of records. And as you probably know, I’ve been making records for a long time. So the main thing when we came to do this one was that we didn’t put any conditions on it, which in the past I have done. I was really done with anything that required plugging in, putting electricity into anything after twenty years or so of being on the road and making a huge noise, I had to walk away from that.
Whilst it wasn’t purely without electricity, Ruby Throat, with this one we were back on the land and not the ocean and had access to plug sockets. I took off the embargo against drums and we just let everything happen without restrictions. It took about fifteen months to record that and we ended up using everything we wrote for this record.
Chain D.L.K.: I read in the press release about you guys living on the boat. It’s interesting to hear that moving off the boat influenced the sound of this record, being able to plug in.
KatieJane Garside: Yeah, ten years is enough distance from previous stuff. I have five different voices that all have their own personality in a way – they all have something different to say – and I asked a couple them to be quiet for about ten years. I’ve been meditating on my own since I was eighteen — meditation is the one thing that really allows me to be here quite honestly because it allows me to check out and check back in. Otherwise, I just feel that my system’s in permanent “fight or flight” or overload. I found that as I come out of that, I start writing, as you beautifully put it [in the review], “scream of consciousness” before the brain kind of recognises who she is again, kind of like automatic writing. Then I just print it all out and have it all around me, and then we improvise and allow that stream of consciousness to pick me rather than me pick the words. This removal of self.
Chain D.L.K.: You use the phrase “get out of my own way” and I think that’s just brilliant —
KatieJane Garside: I can’t claim that to my own, but yes. I’ve always tried to do that in different ways, but it’s the clearest, most effective way I’ve found to make that happen. If you’re recording the improvisation… “My Brain is Lit Like an Airport,” and “Mud Stars,” and “Hole in My Hand” — that was slightly different. “My Brain” and “Mud Stars” are the actual improvisations — it’s an hour and a half improvisation and then there’s the moment when it all coalesces and comes together… So those songs are how they arrived.
Chain D.L.K.: So you didn’t plan the structure, you let it go over that hour and a half? Did you choose the section to start singing the words, or were you kind of just singing them on repeat? Or did you overdub the words afterwards?
KatieJane Garside: No, there’s no overdubbing for me – I think there might be a bit of backing vocals. But no, there’s a journey in and a journey out. There’s loads of different words going on but you’re in that bit where you’re probably unconscious and the music is playing us rather than we’re playing the music. Everything happens there. I’m feeling around and working through different words on the way in and on the way out and they don’t hold up in the same kind of way. I’m really fortunate that I work with someone who really can do all the technical stuff so we’re in a position where we can really capture those things and record it well enough. “Hole in My Hand” that was improvised to phone and that was a transmission — that was without any pages around me, that was a very pure download and I had to learn that improvisation note by note because the timing is really strange on that song. I never consider myself a musician, I’m more of an “impulsive chancer” so I don’t actually have the technical musical know-how to learn that improvisation. I have to draw out graphs and stuff so I can understand because it’s quite, for want of a better word, jazz… The timing is very peculiar. I had to do my own notation. On that particular song, it’s the breathing — the phrasing is very strange. So anyway, that’s a bit of the process to get out of my own way for that record.
Chain D.L.K.: Even though you let it all flow, different songs were done with different approaches. What shines through about this record is that it’s very diverse. You’ve got the sparse autoharp with very peaceful stuff — and then you’ve got the “riot grrrl” punk thing. But it all feels very cohesive. It feels like everything that happens couldn’t be in a better place.
KatieJane Garside: Thank you. I think what we both thought about this [is that we] kinda think the record is more than the sum of its parts. If you break it down, I’m not sure it holds up in the same way. I mean it does hold up, I’m not gonna run it down, but I think if it’s played as an album, that’s how it’s intended. With this one, you need to hear the journey.
Chain D.L.K.: I was just going to say it’s like a journey or a mediation in a way. The lyrics, the feel, and the sound touch on some big ideas. It feels like we’re going into a spiritual dimension, like we’re talking about the universe and all this big stuff. And also, it’s peppered with these mundanities — I don’t mean that in a negative way. “I’m in a band called where’s my fucking phone” just sounds like something you’d have said a few times. This idea of being distracted from the big stuff by a little bit of nonsense that’s happening day to day, was that conscious? Did you mean to have that microcosm / macrocosm stuff?
KatieJane Garside: I think I’ll hand it back to you. You’re very insightful and of course I agree with you. I don’t do any of it consciously and I think you alluded to that. I do my best to let the songs write themselves. I haven’t thought about this for a long time, but I do have a preoccupation with the miraculous within the ordinary. Because I think we become so unseeing or immune to the miraculous, which is just being conscious — to look out of our eyes is phenomenal and unknowable. We don’t know, not any of us. Anyone that pretends they do is just that, pretending.
Chain D.L.K.: My girlfriend was just telling me that she had went to see you in Queenadreena and that it was an amazing experience. She talked about the way you moved. Even when you’re sitting down, you can see that you just move while you’re singing and it just looks like it comes absolutely naturally. I wondered about the whole movement thing because you’re so distinctive in the way you do that, but my guess is that it probably comes quite naturally. What do you think?
KatieJane Garside: This thing I do remember — there was a point very early on, it was probably after the second gig I ever did in my life, I went with Crispin from Daisy Chainsaw and Queenadreena, we went and saw a band. I would have been about nineteen…. We went to see a band called Some Have Fins. There was no one there, it was one of those gigs, and we were up against the stage watching them. Something happened to Steve who was singing, which I hadn’t seen before. It hit me, it was a transmission and what I saw with him was that he allowed it. He allowed whatever he was feeling; he embodied his neurosis. I realised that instead of dying up there, I could just allow it and be with it. And that was it. It just went into me. I consider it a moment when everything changed and I’ve told him, I’ve known him over the years, and he knows that that was the moment everything changed for me and it just showed me how to do this pretty stupid thing, really. But he showed me how to do it and I took that incredibly to heart and that’s how I do it. Whoever it is, whatever it is, whatever’s present in me, I just embody it. I don’t try to control it, I just set it free. It’s the whole process of getting out of your own way, not being at the steering wheel.
I’ve have looked at bits of Queenadreena and I know it weighed heavy on me. I definitely went into the shadow with Queenadreena and I can talk about the reasons why that happened….
Chain D.L.K.: Yeah, if that’s comfortable for you to talk about…. You moved from that noisy music to something very different with Ruby Throat.
KatieJane Garside: Well, there was a literal chain of events that happened where I left Daisy Chainsaw and I wandered around for a few years, and I was involved with a group doing shamanic practice and I was meditating and walking and doing a lot of stuff in the wilderness, lived up in the Lake District —
Chain D.L.K.: I love the Lake District —
KatieJane Garside: Where are you, are you quite close to it?
Chain D.L.K.: I’m in Leeds, so I can drive up there in two and a half hours.
KatieJane Garside: Oh I love it! It’s magical, I lived with a woman called Varia V. in a house called The Purple House. At the time I had no idea, but Ted Hughes had lived there. I had no idea, I lived there with Varia and a young couple who were about to have a baby and one other young man… I was there to meditate. I was recording more of that “primal scream of consciousness” with the idea that I was gonna make it all into a record.
So that was a very verdant and beautiful time, and then I came back to London to make that into a record. I had little detour with Test Department. That was a fun time, I could be a cog in machine rather than having to front something. It was so different, I wasn’t “important” at all, I use that word with quotation marks.
Chain D.L.K.: It can free you up when you feel it doesn’t matter if you’re not there.
KatieJane Garside: Yes, it was exactly that. I was utterly dispensable. I was not responsible for other people which was a nice place to be. Crispin and I ran into each other and he asked if I wanted to sing on a song called “Pretty Polly” which is a traditional song. Then we started tentatively navigating the water with each other because we were very wary of each other.
I will always love Crispin, but there’s so much tension, friction between us.
We ended up with these four-track recordings that were sort of broken and idiosyncratic. I just really loved them and thought they were special and worth pursuing, and other people did too. We ended up on Blanco Y Negra one of Geoff Travis’ labels. From there we went to the studio again and all the…sweet recordings for me became so overblown and turned into — I’ll happily admit that the recording process was very distressing as I felt my control slipping and this thing emerging. It was meant to be this cramped four-track recording and it became this looming behemoth.
And I should probably have cut my loses at that point, but that became ten years. So that’s what Queenadreena is. I had this phrase in my head: “I don’t want to die doing something that’s so painful to me, I want to die doing something that I’m in utter joy with.” I finally got there. To walk away when I did, there wasn’t much [left] to walk away. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with having no sense of self.
Chain D.L.K.: I think you just have to be accepting of that. That there, acceptance is the right decision.
KatieJane Garside: That’s a long way down the road, that acceptance, actually. It’s an easy thing to talk about but it’s a much harder thing to make peace with.
Chain D.L.K.: I suppose when you create any type of art, one byproduct of that is that people have an image or an expectation of you that’s not necessarily where you’re at in your own life. Is that what you’re alluding to?
KatieJane Garside: I think you’re right in that, in what you just said. This is a side comment or one in the margin, but if I do look at anything like Queenadreena performance or something like that, I don’t recognise it as me. I feel for that person and I would hate to be their mother, as a mother myself. I don’t recognise that person and I never did either. It’s a strange thing…
Other people’s perception, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t step into your world, the reality is I probably can’t step into my own daughter’s world. I can hold her, empathise, do my best, but she is in her own version of events, isn’t she?
Chain D.L.K.: If you are communing or mediating on those long walks, do you feel a sense of communing with anything higher, with a god-type figure or nature as God, or is this very much just “me being on my own” and that’s that”?
KatieJane Garside: Well, you can get quite cute with words here. Loneliness is very different than alone-ness. It keeps coming back to no self, annihilation of self… And you do find that, sure, when playing music, when at the bottom of a glass of wine — I personally drink very little these days, five years without it, I can’t remember the last time I had a drink, and that’s relevant too — is it higher? I don’t know if it is higher. That sort of alludes to thrones or something above. I don’t think it is, love, I don’t think it’s higher. I think it… [laughs]
Chain D.L.K.: It’s difficult, isn’t it? There almost aren’t words, that’s the problem.
KatieJane Garside: I think it isn’t thinking! The thoughts still keep going, but who’s thinking the thoughts?! It’s all that stuff. Who’s the thinker? You can use words like “connection” but I don’t think they’re right, I don’t think they’re actually correct. I think they spell illusion, they are the red herring trickster, they’re the illusion.
Chain D.L.K.: I just want to bring it back to the record a little bit, it’s been an amazing conversation…
KatieJane Garside: Yes, it has.
Chain D.L.K.: One thing I wanted to mention that we haven’t quite got to is the play on words in your lyrics, like in “…Sundress” — the word “sundress” sounds almost goddess-like, but it’s also a dress you might wear in the sun. Am I making these things up or is this what KatieJane means, or does it matter?
KatieJane Garside: Well, KatieJane doesn’t know what it means. The words all come from stream or “scream” of consciousness. “My brain is lit like an airport” just coming again and again for pages and pages…. I’m not consciously grabbing these things. “I am sundress,” I will admit that has kinda enrobed me. I’ve worn that one, I do meditate with that phrase. I think it doesn’t really matter what I say, but it is literal. It is “I am dressed in sun.”
Chain D.L.K.: That makes sense —
KatieJane Garside: Well, I don’t think it makes sense, but it’ll do.
Chain D.L.K.: There’s one play on words that I thought was intentional and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but “Hole in My Hand” and the lyrics are “holding my hand” — but if you didn’t read the lyric sheet you might not realise it because they sound very similar.
KatieJane Garside: I think the lyric is in there, actually, “hole in my hand”, it does come up. I will also admit these things are titled literally as we are printing them because I don’t really care about song titles.
Chain D.L.K.: In reality people accept what it is.
KatieJane Garside: I’ll admit I will generally avoid the on-the-nose song title, it could have been called “Holding My Hand” but the “hole in my hand,” I do believe it is within the lyric, it’s a bucket with a hole in it. We so want to hold the hand but it falls through.
Chain D.L.K.: The band’s name, I think it comes from a Ruby Throat song —
KatieJane Garside: It came not from a song —
Chain D.L.K.: Oh, sorry —
KatieJane Garside: That’s fine. We did an “introducing” record at the end of Ruby Throat. We’d been at sea for year and years and years; we’d released four records and only our nearest and dearest had heard them, and we thought well maybe someone else would like to hear this. One Little Indian – Derek [Birkett] – wanted to put it out so we did an “introducing” record. When we finalised that, I woke up in a cold sweat and we’d already pressed the vinyl. I went “Ahhhhhhh, we missed the most important songs”. Well not the most important songs, but I had that voice in the blind spot or voice on my shoulder saying, “You’re being self-sabotaging by leaving certain songs off.” So I went, “aaaaaaah, must be self-sabotage, we’ll put those songs on,” and I rang Derek in a panic and said that we left songs off that should have been on the record. I said, can I stick it on there as a CD on the back, which he agreed to totally because he’s very adaptable and a really good man.
Within my writing book, there was just “Liar, Flower Liar, Flower” with the comma in it written again and again and again, just pages of it with the comma. And I said, that’s the name for this EP. But like you said, the name with the comma in it just became stronger and stronger and stronger, and the change in energy went hand in hand with it. Something moved out and something moved in, and that allowed the gates to open, which became that Liar, Flower record and this Liar, Flower record, Geiger Counter.
Someone sweetly suggested, “Are you sure you’re going to change the name now? You’ve got a little bit of a toehold with Ruby Throat. Why not —“ But the energy had changed, it had absolutely changed. It was a new thing that moved in. It very much came in with “I Am Sundress”. It started with “Broken Light,” but when “I Am Sundress” came in, I just knew that there was something. I’m kind of contradicting myself, but something new had landed. In my funny, corrupt little version of events, that’s what I have to hang onto. I am devoted to that. People call it the muse or y’know, but I am devoted to that and I do as I’m told. [laughs]
Chain D.L.K.: Well you’ve got to be in the right situation with yourself to be creative, so you have to follow it.
KatieJane Garside: Yeah, “impulsive chancer”, that’s what I am!
Chain D.L.K.: Before we wrap it up, I emailed you publicist about the language in “Sundress”; it sounded like Spanish or French or something like that. I wanted to find out what the translation was because it wasn’t in the lyrics. He emailed you, and you said it isn’t a language and that it’s your own thing. Is that when you really just let the stream of consciousness go, or is there any planning at all with that?
KatieJane Garside: [laughs] I speak in it most of the time, I do drive people mad. I hear my daughter doing it as well! [laughs]
Chain D.L.K.: It’s like a pure feeling in audio form?
KatieJane Garside: Yeah… I think language is… I find it really tiring. When I use it, I feel like I’m speaking someone else’s words or it’s been said so many times before and you almost have a “stream of cliche”. It just feels old and tired. I’m kind of alright with it, because human beings have this urge to communicate. We’re just like squawking gulls really, and that’s fine.
We’re just letting each other know we’re here. To speak in that unformed language just feels so free.
Chain D.L.K.: It makes so much sense and we’re right back to where we started with the idea of being free. Just to wrap up, why don’t you tell us about the release. Any plans for touring? That might seem like a silly question with the lockdown…
KatieJane Garside: Our plan was, and we will do what we can of this plan, we will get on our boat in September and go to Europe, probably live in Portugal or the Canary Islands or something like that, and have access to Europe and all that, living on our boat the way that suits us. From there, it’d be easy to tour. We’ll just have to see how things unravel for that.
We do want to do that. It’s all part of not editing or trying to direct the script. We definitely should play live, and if that means walking into the square or the underpass or the street, if that’s what it has to be…
Chain D.L.K.: So there’s a special edition vinyl / CD box set that’s coming out in early June, is that correct?
KatieJane Garside: Yes. It’s not in a box, it’s in a vinyl sleeve with the album and CD. And yes, an LP-sized comic book — it’s not comic art, but it’s on that kind of flimsy paper.
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve done that yourself?
KatieJane Garside: Yes, for better or for worse, lots of stream of consciousness writing and drawings and stuff in there. And some prints, signed and numbered… And a pressed flower…
Chain D.L.K.: Oh wow, a pressed flower! So it’s really special.
KatieJane Garside: [laughs] And a comma!
Chain D.L.K.: Exactly. That’s great. Is it downloadable?
KatieJane Garside: You can download it and buy it that way, or it’s on all streaming platforms as well.
Chain D.L.K.: It has been absolutely fantastic to chat to you, thank you.
KatieJane Garside: It has been lovely to talk to you.
visit Liar, Flower online:
Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/katiejane-garside-138681575782/
Instagram Link: https://www.instagram.com/garsidekatiejane/
Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/user/oneuntoherself/featured
Bandcamp Link: https://rubythroatmusic.bandcamp.com/
Spotify Link: https://open.spotify.com/artist/0IoPYl4rVEeuqKTucJ0gdN