Luna Bec displays a streak of candidness on multiple subjects ranging from misogyny in UK culture, Black Lives Matter and her experiences of communing in Buddhist circles. And yet, her straightforward approach to these often tricky conversations is not burdened with towing the popular consensus. Join us in this conversation between herself and author/director John Clay as they discuss the ramifications of lockdown and how that contributed to her newly released single, ‘Depths’.
‘It’s curious to me that in this society where there is so much violence and aggressive use of sexuality in words and imagery all over the media, that nudity itself is considered threatening.’ – Luna Bec
JC: In a few short words, what specifically led you to create ‘Depths’?
Luna Bec: I wanted to write about what recovery feels like. To me it feels like a rebirth. That moment when things begin to shift, the weight begins to lift and there is hope again, a reason for living. I wanted to acknowledge that moment and celebrate it. I’m proud of myself for surviving. Life is richer. It’s not a rose-tinted view – it includes the depths of sadness as well as joy. It’s full, like Autumn.
JC: When you speak of recovery are you referring to specific events of the last two years?
Luna Bec: For me, yes. Although I think it could apply to anyone who’s recovering from loss, depression, trauma, physical illness. I’ve been into the depths a few times in my life. What happened over the last two years was on another level though.
JC: Considering how much you’ve detailed those events it may be prudent to focus this discussion on the composition and execution of ‘Depths’. Did you go into those waters looking for what you now present to us, or was the song a happy accident that eventually turned into its current form?
Luna Bec: I actually had the original idea a few years ago, after my father died and I had been in a low place for a while. I had the first couple of verses and the beat in my head but no chorus. I just let it sit there in the back room of ideas and got on with other things.
Then during the lockdowns I wasn’t able to get into the studio with my co-producer, so rather than wait around I got stuck in by myself. ‘Breath’ was the first song I produced alone, playing all the parts except drums. That gave me confidence and then I made ‘Debt’, and on that one I did absolutely everything.
A few weeks after recording ‘Debt’ my housemate Alex died suddenly and I was in deep shock. For a long time I didn’t sleep. We had to stay in the house because of Covid rules and had no answers about why he had died. My traumatised mind held me responsible and I began having intrusive thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
I won’t dwell on that time but it was as dark as it gets. Another symptom of the trauma was that I was unable to breathe in deeply. eight months later when I finally entered the grief process and wrote ‘Everyday Magic’, I had to physically hold myself open whilst recording so I could get the air into my lungs to sing.
After that I had to leave my home, I felt really let down by the community I had been part of. I had nowhere to go but luckily a friend on the other side of London let me come and stay. It was hard but it was a fresh start, like coming back to life.
That’s when I started recording ‘Depths’. I had always felt the beat I wanted but hadn’t realised that I could make it myself. The chorus and the backing vocals came to me one day after I’d been out with some new friends I had met through dancing. I had shared my story and felt really heard by them. I think the missing piece of the song was about allowing myself to be held.
JC: Community and sharing oneself authentically within it has been a collective concern for many over the last few years. What has been your experience of this concern? Feel free to detail how such thoughts have impacted your songwriting and reverberated across your new friendships.
Luna Bec: Should have known I’d get searching questions from you! That is a very interesting question. A few years ago now I was part of a Buddhist community and was on the leadership team there. I was aware it was all very white and middle class and I started to probe into why that was. We invited a teacher, Lama Rod Owens, who had co-written a book called ‘Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation’. The first question he asked was, “Who in this room has the power?” That was one of those lightbulb moments for me.
I had been very naïve about race. The term “white privilege” is taken by some as an insult but I see it as more of a description. When you grow up and move mainly in white spaces you can be blissfully unaware that some folks are having a different experience. You have a few black friends but you never really talked about race. You’re not gonna learn that in school and it’s possible never to find out unless you go looking for that knowledge. I think that’s how it was for a lot of white people before 2020 – now, not so much, which is progress I think.
When the whole movement of Black Lives Matter blew up after George Floyd’s murder, I had been part of this radical dharma discussion group for a while. I had taken a black history course and was reading and trying to educate myself. I was excited by what was happening but I also felt unsure what to do with my own voice, aware that it was a white voice, but still it was the only one I had. Stay silent and remain complicit or speak up and risk taking up more space?
This was the place from which I wrote ‘Breath’. Connecting with ballet dancer Shevelle Dynott was truly serendipitous as he had just left the National Ballet and was up for working together on a video for the song. We spent many happy hours preparing the choreography and chewing over the events and protests of that summer.
As an artist you have to write about what fires you up. I wrote ‘Debt,’ which went deeper into specific incidents that I’d been moved and enraged by. I was out of my comfort zone which can be good but something didn’t sit right for me. Luckily my manager was well immersed in this movement and we put our heads together, and decided to invite a collaborator with a different perspective, British Nigerian artist Jael.
We sent her the song and lyrics, she agreed to work together and sent me back her edited version. We spent an exhilarating and heart-opening day going through my words and her changes, sharing our truths. Then we recorded the song. You have to give up some ground in order to let others in. It can be scary, but it’s totally worth it.
Learning about race and racism has opened my eyes to gender inequality and the ways in which I have been conditioned as a woman, the myriad micro- and not so micro-aggressions I’ve accommodated and absorbed and taken on throughout my life. It’s a real journey once you really become willing to look at your conditioning and start questioning your thoughts. It’s messy and humbling and enriching and empowering. There’s always more to learn.
JC: Your honesty and vulnerability on these topics is greatly appreciated. Now that the lockdown days are safely in our rear-view mirror (fingers crossed), what plans do you have to rediscover ‘Depths’ with a live audience?
Luna Bec: It’s funny you should mention that! The past few days I’ve been getting messages from people saying when’s your next gig, and I’ve been itching to get back out there as well. I played a lovely festival gig over the summer and it felt great to do a proper long set – it gave me renewed confidence that my voice was recovering. I had Covid + pneumonia very badly in December ‘21 and my voice was wrecked for a good few months. My lung capacity is still not quite what it should be but it’s improving every day. My live set evolved during the pandemic, partly through the freedom I got from live-streaming, and I’m excited to explore the full range of possibilities in real life. My next gig however will be an intimate, acoustic set at The Green Note in Camden, I’m really excited about it.
JC: You’ve gone on record to state that learning to stop is a practice? How’s that going and is there one particular aspect of your recent creative history that served to cement this lesson as valuable?
Luna Bec: Knowing when to stop. I am still working on that! I’m getting better when it comes to things like food and alcohol and relationships. But songs are still a sticking point. I’ve come to realise that the part of me that seeks perfection is the same part that drives me to create in the first place. So I have to treat that part of myself with kindness and respect. I talk to myself gently, like I would a child. “You’re doing really well. Maybe this is good enough for now?” On the other hand, it’s important not to be patronising to the artist in me. If I’m not happy with it, maybe there’s a good reason. Sometimes there’s wisdom in the need for one more take. Sometimes that next take is gold. It’s not always obvious at the time whether it’s wisdom or neurosis.
One thing that’s helped me is to really listen in to what people get from my work. It’s often about the emotional honesty and authenticity that allows them to open and relate to their own feelings, less about how well I executed a particular note or phrase. The song I am working on at the moment has lyrics that are especially pertinent to this subject. Recording it is exploring it in real time. Coming to terms with my own imperfection – even learning to love it – that’s the journey of learning to love and accept the imperfections of others. It’s the road to true intimacy.
JC: Your search for intimacy through communal activity is a recurring thematic clause in your output. You recently took what some might call a risqué chance by posting a promo for ‘Depths’ which revealed a lot of skin. Talk us through the reasoning and concern you had in that latest approach to curating a deeper connection with your audience.
Luna Bec: It arose by chance. I was on a beautiful wild beach where nudity was welcomed. With the song being about rebirth it felt totally natural to be naked. I loved being tossed about by the waves, covered in sand, it felt like a perfect metaphor for life. It is empowering and invigorating to swim in the sea naked, nothing between you and the elements.
I’ve had a complex relationship with my body. Like a lot of women I’ve spent much of my life feeling like it wasn’t good enough, that I had to work hard to change it, to make it fit into a standard of beauty that was being projected at me. Dancing has changed that relationship. I love my body from the inside out, because of how I can express myself with it. That feels like something worth celebrating.
We started this interview talking about recovery. Loss makes you realise you won’t always have a body. It’s a lot of fun to have one! At the same time I recognise the risk attached. When a woman reveals her body, it seems like there is some kind of social devaluing of her other attributes.
It’s curious to me that in this society where there is so much violence and aggressive use of sexuality in words and imagery all over the media, that nudity itself is considered threatening. We are all naked under our clothes. There are nudes in the National Gallery. It’s like ageing – it seems to me still a taboo, and yet it’s one of the experiences that unites us as humans.
I’m reminded of Audre Lorde’s essay on The Erotic as Power. “We have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.”
I like to challenge ideas, both my own and other people’s. I have accepted that the visual realm of social media is a part of my work now, and I’m developing my relationship with those platforms, learning to dance with the environment. I’m not interested in creating promotional material for its own sake. It has to be creative and fun for me, it has to be a way of expressing beauty and truth. Otherwise, what’s the point?
JC: The point is often the commodification of an enigmatic resource for the modifier to escape their social status.
Understandable and admirable if you’re a southern black bluesman circa 1954 or somesuch. Routes through entertainment in that context promised a swift alchemical life change and theoretically further life security. Now? Well, the creation of content presented as art may often than not be a social climbing endeavour as an expression of vanity for vanity’s sake rather than a profound sense of securing one’s survival and, most importantly, the preservation of one’s point of view through music or some other artform. The marginalised experience being a useful reflection of what lies beneath the simulation projected by a media dependent upon obscuring inconvenient truths. This is evidenced in projects which tackle race, gender and sexuality. Your quote of Lourde is an apt one. Do you think our conflation of erotism and pornography is down to patriarchy and internalised misogyny? Perhaps the source of a future song from you?
Luna Bec: Yes! Is the short answer. Thank you for naming it. I’ve had so many conversations where I end up exhausting myself trying to prove its existence let alone its impact. Inside of a patriarchal system women enjoying themselves on their own terms are always going to be considered intimidating at best. A lot of violence has been inflicted on women from this premise. In terms of songs I have covered some ground with ‘We Will Be He Heard’, but I have some ideas.
I guess what interests me most is that the need to dismantle patriarchy might arise as a priority for people of all genders, because being in the position of privilege doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a great time. The poet JJ Bola has a brilliant book on this subject, called ‘Mask Off.’ It looks at the ways that patriarchal systems repress men, especially their emotional development and expression; the disturbing numbers of male suicides. There’s this quote he uses from Frankie Boyle, “I genuinely think, if you’re a young guy at the moment, feminism is the only thing that has a plan for you. Capitalism doesn’t give a fuck about you, materialism doesn’t really care if you live or die. Feminism includes you.” I love that.
JC: Such apt words from you as well as Boyle. In closing, are there any immediate plans regarding your output that you’d like to share with the readers?
Luna Bec: Yes! Come catch me live at The Green Note on Wednesday 30th November and do book ahead as it’s a tiny space so there are limited places. Meanwhile you can find me on Spotify or Instagram, or TikTok if you fancy exploring the more… experimental side of my oeuvre. I even have an email list via my website if you’re into old school methods. I love writing to my audience directly and sometimes they write back!
JC: Thanks for a candid and thought-provoking interview. Until next time.
Luna Bec: Likewise.
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