Many Moons started life as a writing exercise – I’d been doing Tim Clare’s 100-Day Writing Challenge, a programme for keeping creatively fit, that he released on his terrific writing podcast, Death of a Thousand Cuts*, and (without giving too much away), one of the exercises generated the character in this song almost fully-formed, albeit without the slightly strange circumstances they find themselves in. I was listening to one of his other episodes where, in discussing of a broader point about how fantasy has to build understanding of the everyday that literary fiction can take for granted, he commented “I don’t think there was ever a piece of literary fiction which started, ‘oh! I was eating a fish'”, and that tickled me. He goes on to ask, “why would the narrator be surprised that they were eating a fish?”. The best explanation I could think of was that they weren’t surprised, and the utterance was entirely sarcastic. What a surprise! Fish again.**
These two ideas were enough to get me going. There are lots of little things that fed into the song – the choruses both work around the “by day/one day – at dusk/every evening – at night/one night” construction, suggesting the repetition of days; it was watching people fishing on Brighton Marina and trying to remember the gender-neutral word for “fishermen” that led to “fisherfolk”; it was having just watched the word-showy Hamilton that possessed me to rhyme “fisherfolk” with “oscilloscope”, and then “give up hope”; blame LMM.
I was living by the sea. The sea is different every day. Life during 2020 was not. It was boring and isolated. Ultimately, though, I was safe and comfortable, so fish every day really isn’t enough cause for complaint. That said, I strongly self-identify as an introvert but I started to miss spending time around people, and this was as unwelcome as it was unfamiliar. I don’t want to give away too much of the story – do listen/watch the video first – but Joanna Russ’ We Who Are About To was an inspiration, as was the end of The Quiet Earth. The “I” in the song is a scientist, or maybe an engineer or radio operator, and while she is part of a living community, she is not with the people she loves.
Some songs are emotional and abstract and a real struggle to visualise – this song has fish, the sea, an oscilloscope, feet plunging into oily waters, the creature-strewn shore, and the moons of the title – and that’s just in the lyrics. Binoculars, maps, and scientific observations all seemed pertinent. I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about the moons of Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus. Some of them are really cool. Some have seismic activity due to the immense gravity of their parent planets, and some probably have water oceans. The lyrics actually don’t actually imply the many moons as presented in the video – which seems to show one planet with many moons – it’s more a reference to the idea that wherever we are in the world, we can look at the moon and be seeing the same moon everyone else on the planet – or a special someone – is seeing. It’s an idea Tom Waits uses in his song Shore Leave, and I wanted to explore the converse – looking up at night, seeing the moon, and feeling more isolated; not feeling that connection. How is it possible to look up, and the moon you’re seeing isn’t the same moon as the someone else is seeing? What if a whole swathe of people looked up and said “yes, actually, the moon is made of cheese”. That’s not the same moon I’m seeing. I’d feel pretty alienated from those people. However, the protagonist of this song is seeing a different moon in a physical sense; it’s not just that they’re seeing the same moon a different way. I think the song hints at that without spelling it out; the video makes it much more obvious.
I’ve never tried to illustrate a video in this way before. It took weeks and weeks and weeks. I had to draw hands, and feet, and other things I’m not very good at drawing. I used Procreate and an Apple Pencil on an iPad mini, and animated it in Davinci Resolve. I’m inordinately proud of it, and I hope the bittersweet sentiment and colourful, edible sea life gives you some pleasure and entertainment. I want to say thank you to my cousin Michelle Dickens, a fine artist and animator who steered me towards the video editing software I used to make this, and fellow musician, podcaster and pal Lily Sloane, who was encouraging about my drawings of feet, and in general.
Many Moons is taken from an upcoming EP called Unwavering Sentinels of Dreaming, written largely on 7- and 8- string guitars because I wanted to try something new. There’s also a short interlude of lofi microtonal hip hop. You can preorder it on bandcamp, or hang on until December 1st, when it’ll be available wherever you find music.
* I should say that I did 50 days of the challenge to keep the creative equivalent of a daily run going, took a hiatus to move house twice, and am hoping to do the other half over the winter
**I slightly misremembered the quote as “Oh! I’m eating a fish” of course