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Concise as ever, Vashti’s lyrics open out a series of locket-like miniatures - stories of family and friends, lives and loves, memories, dreams and realities; of differences in perception and the gaps between people / meanings / understandings; of coping, getting by, surviving. “All the songs are based on real stories or real people, 'Mother' especially. 'Blue Shed' was written when the house was still full of young people slamming doors and yelling. (I do miss them now). 'Gunpowder ' is about an ex-partner with whom communication can still be difficult." There is no vast sweep or ambitious stabbing at the grandiose in her lyric writing, yet in their honesty these close-focused articulations draw you in and resonate with heartfelt emotions and universal truths.
The luminous musical arrangements act with the lyrics illustratively - ‘Jellyfish’ ripples and floats from side to side, “and is soft apart from the vibraphone which is quite harsh - like the dream it's about. The kalimba and the tumbling guitars in Across the Water are to give the song the sound of waves on shingle, and the piano on 'Mother' is to sound a little like the old un-tuned upright piano I overheard my mother playing sometimes, 'briefly unbound' from her duties as wife and mother."
Recording in studios in California, New York and London - but mostly alone in her own studio - it took in total seven years to put together these ten songs. The first was written in 2007, the last just two months before mastering. A hiatus in recording came with the untimely passing of Robert Kirby in 2009. Robert had arranged three songs on Just Another Diamond Day and the pair had just reconnected and planned to work on new arrangements together - just weeks before he died. It would be another two years before she took the decision that she must arrange the music herself, with Robert always in mind. The subsequent three years saw her gradually picking the thread back up and working with renewed purpose. Slowly more songs found their way out of her. Gems like ‘The Boy’ - which she’d sat on, fretted over and intended to ditch - were prised from oblivion. Seven became ten and those around her finally began to really believe that an end was in sight. The right final mix frustratingly eluded her until the album magically came together in a week in May 2014 - when it was balanced and mastered beautifully at the hands of mixing engineer Martin Korth - and mastering genius Mandy Parnell at her Black Saloon studios in London.
The album’s striking cover artwork is once again taken from a painting by Vashti’s daughter, Whyn Lewis, and forms a neat companion to her hare painting featured on Lookaftering, giving the impression (besides both album’s titles being portmanteaus) of a pair of bookends. Whyn describes this painting (titled 'Hart’s Leap’) as being “about getting away unscathed… about confidence and self-assuredness, and wisdom. The deer is leaping forward while looking backwards - and it has a little grin. It is said that deer make a large bound of joy when they know they are escaping. The deer is linked with the deerhound shown on the deer’s collar - what it has been escaping from. The deerhound in this case really is just allegory for the thing that chases or hounds you. Life is most appreciated when it is challenged.”
One of the final songs to be written, the gorgeously gauzy, autobiographical title track came to Vashti all of a sudden in March this year, as she was gazing at Whyn's painting. Recorded straight off, with only minor changes made in the final mix, it closes the album perfectly. A bittersweet song, it cryptically catalogues and a whole life’s worth of loving, losing, letting go, getting through; of heartbreaks and happiness and the lulls in between – through a minimal, modular, repetitive structure with recourse to just a handful of compound word variations - surges and tugs between head and heart. Simultaneously aching and hopeful, it looks back with both pain and joy, with resigned acceptance. If it truly is to be the final word on a final album, then it is an utterly fitting and devastatingly beautiful one.
Like the deer on the cover painting, Heartleap moves gracefully, enchantingly. Overcoming adversity through sheer willpower, its very existence is a dazzling triumph.
Heartleap will be released on DiCristina in North America October 7th and in the UK / Europe on FatCat on October 6th.
Vashti will play a run of UK tour dates in smaller settings with guitarist Gareth Dickson (her first since 2010) in support of the album, with more dates to be added in early 2015.