Creative collaborations

A few days ago my nakama Megan Valentine released her debut EP Wrong Side of the  Road! It’s fantastic. You should click on that link and listen to it now, especially if you like anime, pop, punk or anime pop punk (which is what it is). Seeing as Meg is one of the main people I collab with, I thought I would discuss the importance of creative collaborations.

Julia Mascetti Megan Valentine
Me and Megan Valentine in London

For the first 20 years of my life I was terrified of showing people my songs. Too personal, too weird, not good enough. I also don’t think I had met the right people to work with yet. When I did start creating with other people, it changed my life. I think art is (almost always) meant to be social. Stories round the campfire and all that jazz. So without further ado, here is why you should do creative collaborations:

1) You get shit finished
So many artists are chronic un-finishers. Perfectionism, procrastination, fear of not being good enough… Honestly I think doing a collab with a friend is the best way to get out of the ‘I can’t finish a song’ rut. Because the fear of letting your friend down because you haven’t written your part on time outweighs the fear of never starting because you are scared you will be shit. Once you’re done, you will be braver about sharing you collaborative work then anything you made on your own because your confidence in your friend becomes confidence in yourself. Neat huh?

2) You grow musically
Although I had got my ABRSM Grade 8 and a place on a BA Music course, until I was 18 I had no idea how to count or play in time. Violinists grow up in out of tune youth orchestras, guitarists in bands but harpists… honestly before I left home I could probably count the times I had performed with actual other people on one hand. There was not a Youth Orchestra that was big enough to want a pedal harp in my neighbourhood. When I got to university I made principal harpist in the uni orchestra because the audition was, again, solo. When I started playing in orchestras I got a rude awakening. Turns out technical ability wasn’t much use without the knack of actually playing in time. It was a steep learning curve but but after two years of being looked at weirdly when I came in 8 bars early and one year of slowly starting to get it, I was five times the musician I was before. I will never say timing is my strong point but at least now I can count rests and play to a click track. Even when I play by myself, everything sounds so much tighter and slicker. I could never have got this ability alone in a practice room.

3) You support each other
If you are a soloist, creating can be very lonely. Sometimes you really just need to talk to someone who gets it, bounce off ideas, get feed back on a draft, share your insecurities and get some sympathy and encouragement. From a practical point of view you can also gain exposure through each other; your collaborator’s fans can become your fans, they can introduce you to venues, people and experiences you wouldn’t get otherwise.

4) You get inspired
In general I like to be around awesome people who do awesome things. Though I am proud of my friends who are a great data analysts, unfortunately you can’t put their work up in a gallery. Two of my besties work for the British military. An exhibition of their work would compromise national security. No such problem with my artist friends! Not only can I feel proud of them and warm and fuzzy, they hold awesome events for their work where I can go home feeling inspired and moved.

5) They make your art better
I am just so hugely lucky to know Isabel Galwey and Oliver Wood. Whenever someone gets a physical copy of my EP they always comment on how beautiful the artwork is. It’s the first thing people see, it’s what they remember and what they hold in their hands to take home once they put their money down. And without Olly, well it would be me recording with a USB mic in my drafty flat. There would be no high quality harp tracks, no beautiful string arrangements, no flutes, no violins… well no EP at all. Both of them not only did what I needed them to do, they understood my creative vision entirely and finished my thoughts, creating something bigger than just me.
Two (or more) heads are usually better than one. 

If you’re an artist go and find your people. You with enrich each other’s art and each other’s lives and have a blast doing it!

Thank you

In June 2016, I became more unwell than I had ever been in my life.

My story of chronic illness in Japan  has been told elsewhere but essentially after 8 months of pain, doubt and sickness I quit Japan and moved back in with my parents in Essex. For 2 months I temped in a call center and blew my savings visiting a swanky Harley Street doctor in the hope that he could fix me.

These two months could have been really shit but during this period I had the chance to reconnected with wonderful UK friends. Thanks to these people, I feel I recovered spiritually as well as physically.

One of them was Oliver Wood, a wonderfully talented musician and producer that I know from my time in the Essex Youth Orchestra. During my exile to the home counties, we recorded my EP In Distance, Everything is Poetry together. It was the kind of recording experience I’ve always craved, relaxed but bursting with creativity. Olly drew my best playing out of me and we had a lot of fun getting the tracks done. His string arrangements and post production are stunning and I feel he’s really brought my songs to life.

In May 2017 I made the decision to return to Japan, this time not with the protection of a steady job, but as a freelancer. Perhaps a crazy choice given I was recently ‘recovered’ (what I have doesn’t usually go away completely but I’m 90%) and broke thanks to the swanky doctor. But illness sometimes brings into perspective what is really important to you. When I was faced with the prospect of possibly never being able to work full time again I realised that I had spent my entire life doing things I was never really that into.

I don’t mean I’ve lived an unhappy life, far from it. Most of the things I’ve done with it – uni, music PR, teaching – have been worthwhile, good things that I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from them. I mean that, to be honest, I was never super passionate about any of them them, even if I told myself I was. Illness taught me that life can take time and opportunities away when you least expect it. I had spent my first 23 years hitting targets and doing the things I was supposed to do. Now it was time to chase what I actually wanted.

The last 6 months have been the most exciting of my life but also some of the most challenging. For the first time I feel like I’m spending most of my time pursuing things I actually, really care about. It is tough as hell but also hugely fulfilling.

On Friday I released the EP and yesterday I held a release party at the Cheshmeh in Sasazuka, Tokyo. The venue was packed; I felt bad because a lot of people had to stand or sit on the floor, but we opened up half of the stage for extra seating space. Two wonderful female artist friends opened for me. I enjoyed this performance more than I have in ages and I will always remember looking out into the crowd, unable to believe that I had this – a release party in a beautiful venue packed with people of a variety of ages and nationalities but united in their warmth and love of art.

There are so many people in my life I have to be grateful for. The musicians I perform with and the venue owners who book me. My wonderful producer Oliver Wood and Isabel Galwey who made the beautiful album art. Everyone who bought a CD, came to a gig or shared my work. I have found Tokyo to be a wonderful place where so many people are enthusiastic about music and supportive of musicians. It’s the kind of artistic community I’ve been looking for all of my life to be honest.

What I have to be grateful for goes beyond my art. Every friend who listened to me when I was sick, my parents who let their daughter in her mid 20s move back in and eat their food, my long suffering boyfriend who has supported me through thick and thin. Everyone, thank you so much.

I’m collapsed in a bit of a pile right now. Over the last couple of months I have performed my original material more intensively than ever before. Putting on shows is a lot of fun but it is exhausting, physically, emotionally and socially. Actually the social one is a biggie – I think one of the main reasons I didn’t get seriously into performing original material before graduating is because I hadn’t got enough experience points to level up to the required social level back then. You need to make friends with musicians, make friends with venue owners, invite everyone to your events, hustle on social media, and talk to everyone competently after the performance. Yesterday, people asked me to sign CDs. I mean, me. Signing CDs. I can’t get over it.

So yeah, I’m on my sofa in a pile eating takeaway sushi, catching up on Netflix. I usually work out twice or three times a week but I have been so busy I haven’t in almost three weeks. Maybe I’ll catch up on that too.

The world won’t stop for me. I actually have a huge writing deadline tomorrow. My next solo show is on Friday, then another on Sunday then I need to get to work on learning a tonne of material for a corporate event in December.

But for the next couple of hours, rest, relaxation and gratitude. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much.

My wonderful support acts ❤ 

Marie Dangerfield and her beautiful Amy Winehouse style voice
Marie Dangerfield

The trilingual electropop stylings of Juliette Jemm
Juliette Jemm