Ciara Brennan chats to Cheylene Murphy, songwriter and producer with indie pop outfit Beauty Sleep, about creativity, working with young people in music and the importance of representation in the music industry.
Beauty Sleep have been playing together since 2016, what has kept you guys going and excited about playing together?
Beauty Sleep was created as a place where myself and my partner Ryan could try out creative ideas and get better. We specifically started the project because despite being in many bands for many years, ‘lead’ singing terrified us, writing honest lyrics terrified us, we didn’t think our songs would be good enough and we wanted to get better at production and know more about the workings of the music industry. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it, we both learn by doing, so that was the goal. Which is maybe a strange place to start a band! It’s so funny to think about that now because I’m a really confident singer and songwriter but it was a real insecurity of mine in 2016. I feel like I know a lot about production and the music industry too, I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do.
So I guess the constant chase of learning and doing new things keeps us going!! And to be honest, it just makes me happy. Playing your own songs in front of people, holding a vinyl you made in your hands, having a conversation with someone where you can see in their eyes that the song you made connects to them in a meaningful way, ooh there is no feeling like it in the world! It feels like a life well lived, for me anyhow. I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t do that, and I know Ryan is the same. Beauty Sleep is our happy place!
It has been just over a year since Beauty Sleep released ‘Be Kind’, your debut album. What has surprised you about the response and are there any plans to release new music any time soon?
The thing that surprised me the most was how much it meant to ME. I didn’t account for how rewarding it would feel to have a whole album out there, to hold the vinyl, to hear people talk about ‘album tracks’ being their favourite (you know, songs you just would never release as a single) It was the most rewarding and life changing thing I’ve ever done. For that reason, yes we are planning to release more music! Currently working on another album. I think we won’t release anything until a whole album is ready to go this time round, just because we enjoyed that album cycle so much last year, and we have ideas of how we could engage more and have more fun with it. I imagine at some point 2021 there will be new Beauty Sleep music out in the world!
During lockdown, Beauty Sleep have taken part in the Artists on Lockdown project and the Bangers ’n’ Mash Ups album. What else have you guys been doing to keep busy and creative?
Writing an album! But also, taking a bit of time off. We are notorious over-workers, you can probably hear that in a lot of our songs on ‘Be Kind’. And although we loved writing the first album, we were doing it at night, from 7pm-3am after a full day of work, every day for months and the burnout nearly destroyed us. The last holiday I took was literally just before the band started in 2016, I remember sending ‘The Dark’ to a PR company in the airport on the way there, just realising that was a bit of a shock! So I have been taking this time to slow down, reflect, grow and get creative. It’s been joyous. I think if I hadn’t done that I would have been too frazzled to write anything. I do a bit of online teaching as well, which keeps me busy and structured and not too stressed about the pandemic-job-uncertainty of it all, so I definitely feel very lucky. These are strange times!
You recently worked on the Global Citizens Together Music Project in Galway with Music Generation Galway. How did you get involved in this project and how important is it to you to see young people taking up music and song writing?
I work freelance with a company called Wall2Wall Music who do these amazing, big projects about once a year where they go to a community and write music with them. I got involved originally because I was so passionate about passing on the songwriting and indie-DIY mentality to the younger generation. After a consultation about how a project they were running could be more relevant to today’s young musicians, they brought me on board and I have been involved in every project since! Writing songs, being in bands, collaborating with other people has been the joy of my life and it was LIFE CHANGINGLY empowering as a teenager. So I adore doing those projects. To see young people so curled up, painfully self aware, shy and unconfident find their voice in song, find a smile in a guitar solo, make friends while learning something new is, I don’t know, maybe the point of life? It definitely feels monumental to watch and foster. It always reminds me of the gift that music is, the magic, joy and importance of it in people’s lives, no matter how small. I hope passing that on to young people makes memories for life, and ignites a spark of self confidence that grows into flames of unstoppable, empathetic, collaborative humans. The recent Global Citizens Together project in particular was so impactful, because we asked these 11 year olds in Galway what they wanted to write about and it was all climate change and fixing homelessness, with soulful vocals, shouts, raps and dramatic percussion. I’m in awe of the next generation!
Help Musicians NI is a fantastic initiative that works to help musicians with their mental health, you have worked with them in the past, helping to run events and fundraisers. In your opinion, how important are these initiatives for musicians, especially during this time of uncertainty?
SO IMPORTANT. Help Musicians NI has helped me more times than I can count, they are vital to this scene. In these uncertain times there is a lot of rhetoric about the value or importance of music and art. To be honest with you, even before the pandemic people were dismissive of the value of music. If it isn’t apparent already in this interview, I think it is the most important thing in the world! Art saves people, connects people. My best memories are gigs or sing-songs at parties. My most defining moments have been with an instrument in hand, or on a stage. I’ve listened to songs that have stopped me dead in my tracks and changed my life in an instant. And that is definitely not just me. Art, music, saves people and makes life worth living. But here’s the real kicker – to get those life changing songs, gigs, moments, you have to support all art. You have to support the battle of the bands with the angsty teenagers who can only just about play 2 chords. You have to support the experimental think pieces with newly invented instruments. You have to support the metal bands, the opera, the rappers, when they are excellent and when they are hilariously bad. Because you can’t have one without the other and they all have value. No one is born an excellent musician, you only get there by being terrible over and over again, until you’re a little better, until you’re great. And you can’t do that if you don’t have any money or support or access to experience. Help Musicians supports musicians’ physical and mental health, they support creative and experimental projects, they support, they support, they support. These charities and government investment are necessary. Art is not a commodity, it is a community so it will always need outside financial help, but the outcome is immeasurably worth it!
You have been a vocal supporter of Women in creative industries and you used to help run the ‘Go Girl’ collective. How do you feel the position of Women in creative industries has developed in recent years and what else needs to change?
The position of women in creative industries has definitely changed for the better since I’ve gotten involved in music! So many more women are getting into the scene and it’s inspiring. Similar to above, art needs to be from diverse voices, so we need people of all genders, classes and races supported and uplifted because different voices and perspectives build a more empathetic and engaged cultural community. That’s important. And more interesting!
Someone told me once ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ and that haunts me. It’s not entirely true, but speaks to the nature of how difficult it is to imagine yourself in a position where you don’t see yourself represented. It takes a big leap of faith, by you and everyone around you. I think the reason the music industry can still be an unwelcoming place for women is because there are limited examples in mainstream culture of women being successful in the music industry. You can play certain roles – the rebel girl, the sexually empowered pop star, the delicate and brooding folk singer… you see a lot of amazing women find home in these spaces (though it is still difficult because these roles are ultimately restrictive and women are questioned everywhere) but until we see women on all instruments, in all roles, in all genres accepted and celebrated, not just tolerated, we have failed as an industry. Everyone who works in music should be making an effort to manifest a better culture.
Actionable things everyone can do to make that happen, in my experience is:
- Amplify the contribution of women, past and present, not just ‘female fronted’ bands, but in every job and role in music, because they do exist, they have always existed. Recognise, oh I might feel like this ‘just doesn’t quite work’ because it’s unfamiliar to me. Women have different perspectives and experiences, so their music is going to be different and interesting and exciting. It’s valuable and it has a knock on effect. All genders have a value in arts, this isn’t an either or, it’s a BOTH AND situation. Lads in bands are also class. There is room for all of us.
- Seek out new and different sounds, always. If you don’t like something, listen again, consider it. You still might not like it, but it will make your musical journey more exciting. ‘Gatekeepers’ need to do these more than anyone, they should feel a responsibility to question the status quo because they uphold it.
Also – more women please! In every role. If you’re reading this and you’re interested in some aspect of any creative industry, you absolutely can do it. Reach out and ask for a coffee with someone who works in it, ask advice, people are generally friendly and helpful in creative industries. Try things out. Fail upwards, be brave, no one is good overnight. You going for it will mean that the next generation can look up and see themselves in this industry, in the path you forge. That’s powerful and exciting. Let’s flood this culture with voices and talent from all backgrounds because that has value!
Interview by Ciara Brennan
Featured image by Ciara Brennan – SheBop Imagery
Follow Cheylene’s work and the organisations mentioned below:
Help Musicians NI
Go Girl Collective
Global Citizens Together Music Project
Artists on Lockdown Project
Bangers ’n’ Mash Ups Album