The story behind I CHOOSE ME

It was my wife, Gaye, who persuaded me that I needed to do another album. Just over a year ago, I was in NO position to record an album. I was broke, emotionally empty and on the verge of quitting the industry, thinking I had given it my best shot and I’d failed. I honestly just didn’t know how to bounce back from everything that had gone so horribly wrong in my life. It seemed a terrible thing, to have achieved so much and then to not be able to go any further. I was disillusioned and depressed.

It was while I was in this state of mind that my (future) wife asked me why I didn’t record a new album. I looked at her slightly incredulously. “Isn’t it obvious?” I said. “It takes money and I have none.” I was in a horribly negative headspace and the last thing I needed was another reminder of my failures. I thought the conversation was closed but she kept at it, asking how much it costs and what was needed and how I would go about it if I HAD the money. Then she offered to help me. I immediately said, “Don’t be mad!” I’m a very proud person and I like to do things myself. But Gaye can be very stubborn and VERY persuasive when she wants to be and she would not take no for an answer! Eventually, I agreed, once she’d accepted that I’d pay her back every cent. However, I was in such a slump, it was hard to think that it was all real. My mind simply refused to accept that I could start making my dream a reality. Gaye knew this and so she started pushing me and pushing me, asking if I’d talked to anyone, where we stood with finding a producer, what the next step in the process was etc. I began to think she REALLY meant it and I eventually started to motivate myself. I met with a few producers to discuss options but none of them really grabbed me. I knew the sound that I wanted and I knew that I wanted to be fully in control. Handing my songs over to a stranger and then waiting for them to interpret them, was not an option for me. I wanted to co-produce and I needed someone who understood that, and understood me musically. It was a scary thing because it could go so wrong and my songs are precious to me, as is my career. All of these made good excuses to just do nothing, because I still wasn’t completely comfortable with accepting her help and I have to admit, I was in a complete slump. You know that place where everything just seems like an effort? You feel tired all the time, but you can never get enough sleep. I didn’t want to gym anymore which is a big deal for me because I love it. I didn’t want to sing and my guitar was my worst enemy because it wasn’t speaking to me. I had the worst kind of writer’s block and I was convinced I’d never get out of it. I wanted to feel better but I didn’t have enough respect for myself to even start trying. In short, I hated myself. Luckily, I had an amazing woman who loved me enough for both of us.

In this headspace, it was hard to find the right producer and I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen. Out of the blue I received a facebook message from John Ellis, Tree63 frontman. We’d been friends for a few years, and we’d gigged together in the past but we lost touch for a while when he went to America. I had always been a fan of his music and his guitaring and followed Tree63’s musical career with interest. As far as I knew, he was still in America but he’d put his cell number in the message and it was a local number so I called him to touch base. It turns out he’d been back for quite some time and he happened to mention that he was trying his hand at producing. Something clicked in my mind and I just knew this is what I had been waiting for. I don’t think he took me seriously when I said I was looking for a producer but, after a few weeks and a few emails, I think he finally realised this was going to happen. It took a while to finalise things, mostly because of our schedules AND we’re both artists so we live in an almost constant state of procrastination;) All the while Gaye was behind me, pushing me to push him. The thing with artists is that we need constant pushing because we lose faith in ourselves so easily and, either we fall into a rut, or we take something bad happening as a sign that it’s not supposed to happen at all. We can convince ourselves of just about anything because we are that insecure! We carry our hearts on our sleeves and the world on our shoulders. My practical virgo side is constantly at odds with my creative side. This time, the virgo won out and I have my wife to thank for that. We finally pinned down some dates, booked FACE Studios in Westville and started in October last year. I decided to choose one song and finish it from top to bottom, just to see how we all worked together. We started with I CHOOSE ME. Greg Bedford was engineering and John and I were producing and, right from the start, there was an amazing synergy between all of us. The entire song was finished in less than a week and we all had a feeling we’d just created something very special.

Over the next few months I got away to Durban a few more times, but it was tricky between all of our schedules. On my side, we were moving into our new house although we still didn’t have a bathroom or bedroom and the house was literally a building site. Everyday brought new challenges and new decisions; like choosing ALL the fittings for our new bathroom and camping in the lounge with 4 cats and a bird and NO indoor toilet. Having to trudge through the sludge of our Parktown Prawn-infested garden in the rain, in the dark, to use the outdoor toilet was NOT fun! We were also planning our wedding, and to make it more complicated, we’d chosen a beach in Knysna as a location! That involved even more challenges and decisions and travelling back and forth. I was trying to make important career decisions while Gaye was in the process of starting a new division at her work and her responsibilities had multiplied by about 70! I often had to travel to Durban to record and she was left trying to handle everything on her own more than a few times. Sleep was a luxury and quality time was simply non-existent. My poor wife, who never shows the slightest bit of stress, was beginning to feel the strain. I asked her jokingly if she was sure she knew what she was getting into by marrying an artist. Things were probably going to get worse once the album came out, and this was just one of many more to come! She was a trooper and she supported me every step of the way, despite her carrying such a heavy load of responsibilities. While all this was happening on our side, John’s side was no less chaotic. He had a wife and children to think of, a new album to promote and a schedule that didn’t bear thinking about. We were so fortunate that FACE Studios was so accommodating. We worked very odd hours and often had to grab opportunities at the last minute. In hindsight I still wonder how we didn’t all go mad!

You would think that, in all this chaos, the creative process would be completely compromised. Ironically it seemed to wake us all up! Because we were flying by the seat of our pants in our privates lives, we followed suit with the album, juggling loads of balls in the air and somehow keeping them all up there. Amazingly it didn’t compromise the integrity of the album at all. We were completely focused on everything we did, when we did it, and the songs seemed to just fall into place. In fact, it happened so fast that we started worrying that we were missing something, or we’d made wrong decisions, or been to hasty. It was a bit unnerving how smoothly everything went. I put it down to the fact that we were working with such talent. Everything happened in half the time because the musicians seemed to be able to literally “turn on” the creativity at the drop of a hat. There was such a great synergy between everyone involved. In fact, it’s something that I’ve noticed when it comes to my music, when I am following the right path, things are pretty easy. Opportunities fly at me, money seems easy to come by and everything runs smoothly. The minute I veer off that path I start hitting obstacles and sometimes it takes a while to wake up to it but I eventually do. I knew this was the right path because the universe was literally opening the door for me to walk through, and I was listening to it for the first time in ages.

Let’s dissect the album a bit so you can see where I’m coming from:

I think the tone of the album is set right from the start with FREE. The name says it all really. There’s no question that I’m more free now, in every sense of the word, than I’ve ever been before. Musically I have the freedom to do what I want with my songs, for the first time in my life. It’s a feeling that I find hard to describe and, during the course of recording the album, I kept having to remind myself that this was MY album and what I said, and what I thought, mattered. It was ok to say no if I wasn’t happy about something and there was no-one to argue with me. I’ve recorded and released 2 full length albums, a 5 track afrikaans EP and three singles, one of which won me a SAMA award (CABIN FEVER single) and one of which won me a SAMA nomination (UNSPOKEN TRUTH). I’ve performed on stage with some great artists like Katie Melua, Sarah Bettens, Tree63, Watershed, Nianell, to name a few. At this stage of my career I should be entirely comfortable with where I am musically. I should be proud of what I’ve achieved. Most people would be. However, there’s a part of me that has almost seemed to apologise for what I’ve achieved. I don’t always feel like I deserve it and I never really believed I was good enough, I didn’t believe enough in myself, and my music, to think I could do it alone. Knowing all that, it may seem strange that I’ve continued to pursue a career in music for the last 15 years! I clearly love the challenge. However, what I’ve learnt recently is this, and it may sound cheesy but it’s the absolute truth; until you learn to love and accept yourself for exactly who you are, you will continue to feel the need to apologise for who you are and nobody will really take you seriously. And it helps if you can find the courage to stay true to who you are, even in the face of adversity. A little anger won’t go amiss;) People don’t like change much and they don’t like “different”. They’ll try and convince you otherwise and when you refuse to budge, they can turn nasty. You have to get comfortable with the fact that you can’t please everyone. What you need and want and feel is more important than what other people think. So my newly acquired freedom also comes down to me deciding to love and accept myself despite other’s perceptions. It’s a constant battle and I have to challenge myself almost daily. Hearing people criticise and attack who I am, is hard for a person who does the same thing to herself on a daily basis. I have to keep telling myself that it’s only fear and ignorance that makes them act out that way. We artists are pretty sensitive creatures. We are our own worst enemies. We sell ourselves short all the time and we don’t even realise that WE build the prison walls that surround us.

I made the decision, last year, to break down the walls. I took a leap of faith and I was completely honest about myself, to the whole world, for the first time. The sense of freedom that comes from stepping off that cliff and not knowing if there’s a safety net, is indescribable. I’ve grown so much as a person in the last year. It’s amazing how, when you OWN who you are, and where you come from, suddenly everything else in your life starts to make sense.

When I was thinking about the cover of the album, all I knew was that I wanted it to be different to anything I’d ever done before. I knew I’d changed, and my music had changed and I didn’t want to stick to the conventional way of doing things. I was tired of playing the nice girl. Everyone has a “dark side”. Few people are willing to acknowledge it and embrace it. They keep it behind closed doors because it’s safer that way. I’m not a confrontational person. I hate to rock the boat. But you can’t keep living your life that way or you’ll never grow. I think challenges are good for a person. So I took myself out of my comfort zone and I embraced that side of me that isn’t sweet and soft and compliant. I found the “edginess” in me and I also embraced the woman I am. I am soft at times, I am nice at times, but there are times when I’m not and that rebellious side of me is coming out more and more as I get older and wiser. I wanted to look and feel sexy, and a little angry, for this album cover, because that’s also a part of who I am. I chose a sexy suit because a lot of people expect a lesbian to dress like a man, but none of them expect a suit like THAT and none of them expect lesbians to LOOK like a woman;) It was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “Here’s your stereotype… NOT!” I wanted everyone to understand that I may be different to their idea of the norm, but I’m still a woman and I embrace that in every sense of the word. The name of the album drives all of this home. I struggled long and hard with the name before I settled on I Choose Me. I have a policy. Don’t name an album with a track name. To me it seems a bit lazy and it usually doesn’t capture the essence of the album. However, no matter which way I looked at it, nothing captured my state of mind, and my album, better than the words I Choose Me, and so the album chose it’s own name.

Melanie Lowe

This album captures a lot of this new me I’ve discovered. Take the title track, I CHOOSE ME, for example. I was at the lowest point in my life. I wasn’t sure how I was going to claw my way out of the hole I was in. I hadn’t written a song in ages and I thought I’d lost it. And then someone told me that I WAS worth it, I DESERVED what I’d achieved, I had a RIGHT to expect more for myself and I went home and wrote I CHOOSE ME in about 10 minutes flat. Songs like that are a rare gift. They come from a part of you that you aren’t even aware exists. I sat back after writing it, and I listened to what I’d recorded and I KNEW every word was true. It’s become my own anthem and I hope it becomes an anthem for many others out there who, like me, struggle to find acceptance and who are at odds with themselves. This song is to let them know that they are good enough and that no-one has the right to tell them otherwise. We all have secrets we are hiding and people are so selective about what they consider to be right and wrong. It’s the reason we shot the music video for I CHOOSE ME the way we did. The video, and the song, warn people not to judge a book by it’s cover. If you take someone at face value and base your decision purely on what you THINK you are seeing, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The song encourages people to rather form their own thoughts and opinions, and to embrace their differences, rather than fight them. We’re not sheep. We’ve been given free thought for a reason. We can make choices for ourselves. I think sometimes people are just a bit lazy and it’s easier to let someone else do the thinking for them. I also think part of their thinking is based on fear of the unknown. The song, and the video, encourages people to think outside of the box; think about the possibilities of “what if” and it challenges them to look inside themselves and make a decision to start being true to who they are, to stop apologising for it and to start making a noise about it. That’s my hope anyway.

Krystle T is a good friend who is currently working on her first album. She’s young, she’s enthusiastic and she’s passionate and she reminds me so much of myself when I first started doing music. I didn’t have a lot of support back then and that’s why I’m so glad that we met when we did because I can help where I can to give her a bit of the guidance and support that I lacked. She asked me if I’d be willing to do a duet with her and I said sure but I wasn’t really sure where the idea would take us. And then one day, I sat down in front of my keyboard and YOU’LL KNOW came about. I definitely wrote it with her in mind. The lyrics are based around someone who’s already been down a certain path, giving another person advice and encouragement. The song has an overall positive feel to it and I love how Josh Klynsmith interpreted it with his drumming. He lifts it to a whole new level. I knew almost from the beginning that I wanted a choir singing at the end. There are few things more uplifting than hearing a chorus of voices singing a positive, uplifting message. It never fails to give me goose bumps when I hear it. And what’s so amazing is that that choir is made up of just 4 female voices!

SOMETIMES is a song I wrote about 11 years ago when I was still with my old band, Ichabod. I was in a difficult relationship at the time and that’s really what inspired it. It never made it onto an album and I always felt like it was missing lyrics and I was never able to write more because I’d moved on emotionally. Part of the lyrics had also been added by one of the band members back then and it wouldn’t have been right to use them. I knew I’d need to rework the whole song and the inspiration just hadn’t come to me. When John Ellis heard it, he loved it and was determined it needed to be on the album but he also felt it was missing something lyrically. That night I went home and picked up my guitar and within about 10 minutes I had a chorus and a bridge for the song. It literally poured out of me. I quickly recorded a demo of it and took it with to the studio the next day and John loved it. And so SOMETIMES ended up on the album and I love how it’s turned out. To me it’s reminiscent of one my favourite bands, Fleetwood Mac. It’s very easy listening and it’s also my wife’s favourite!

I think, if I look at the songs on the album, there isn’t one that doesn’t capture where I am in my life right now. My past albums have been almost like diaries for me. I allowed myself to just be open to every feeling and I poured them into the songs. Even the names accentuate that: Yesterday’s Diary and Unspoken Truth. There was a melancholy air to them because that’s where I was in my life at the time. People commented often on how I needed to write happy songs!

What feels different for me about this album is that, even songs like LONELY NIGHTS, SPACE TO BREATHE and UNDONE, which are not terribly happy songs, also have a sense of anger and rebelliousness to them, lyrically, that implies that I’ve changed and that I will no longer take nonsense from anyone. I’m not drifting around, feeling sorry for myself, drowning in my own despair. There is an overall feeling that I’ve had some kind of epiphany, that I’ve discovered a sense of self, that I’ve made some changes and that I’m angry enough to talk about it. And I have made changes. CHANGE IN ME says it best, I think. It’s my way of starting a conversation with whoever is listening. I’m saying, “Look at me, I’ve changed. I want to be able to be myself and I want you to accept me, but I don’t NEED you to accept me. Are you willing to take the leap with me and free yourself?” I think there’s definitely been a shift, musically and, if you listen to all the lyrics, there’s also been a shift lyrically. It comes from a shift in attitude. I like to think I’ve grown and this album, for me, is a direct result of that growth. It’s a very different album for me, but it’s also still me.

As I’ve said, this is the first time I’ve had the freedom to express myself the way I want to. The songs are a little more rough around the edges than usual. We haven’t cleaned up too much because I wanted to keep the organic feel of the songs. SONG FOR KELLY was definitely one of those organic tracks. If you listen with a trained ear you’ll realise the drums are not even played to a click track. They’ve hardly been edited. Josh just sat down and played while I sang and strummed my guitar and Greg recorded it. It never really had a structure to start with aside from how I’d originally written it and that’s how I wanted it to stay. I wanted to capture the emotion of the song, because it is coming from a very emotional place. I wrote the song for a very good friend of mine who was killed in a horrific accident two and a half years ago. We loved the same kind of music and she also loved my music so I knew she’d appreciate how I recorded the song. I literally handed it over to the universe and John intuited where it needed to go and suddenly the song took on a life of it’s own. It was one of the hardest vocals I’ve ever had to record because I kept getting a lump in my throat but it didn’t bother me too much because that’s exactly how I felt and we used the whole vocal take, hiccups and all. When I first gave John a list of 30 tracks to choose from for the album, that song was a non-negotiable. It was going on the album regardless. It’s Kelly’s song and, in my own way, I’m immortalising her I guess, because I believe music has that power and we’ll always have this connection.

THINK I’LL STAY and READY TO BELIEVE are really just songs about meeting someone, and wondering if they feel the same way you do. No relationship comes without its complications and my own was no different in the beginning, largely because of where I was emotionally. But underneath it all I knew that this was who and what I wanted and that made everything else easy. As much I love to be loved, and to be IN love, I’ve never really been lucky in love and there is a part of me that always thinks something is going to go wrong. Luckily for me I have found a partner who is so grounded and secure in herself that she can look past my insecurities and see them for what they are and then she can convince me otherwise, because she is so patient and so strong. She makes it so easy for me to finally believe in someone. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to come home to that;)

That, in a very large nutshell, is the story behind my album. Of course, it has yet to hit the shelves, but the process is well on it’s way and I really believe that everything has a time and a place, for a reason. The album will come out when it needs to come out and I’m completely ok with that. In the meantime, I am putting every ounce of energy that I possess into making it all a reality because I’m well past the stage of thinking that it won’t happen. I now believe in it, and myself, wholeheartedly. In the year that has passed, I have gotten married (in style!), created and built a beautiful home with my new wife, recorded a new album, and found ME; a person I’d thought I’d lost, and tried to forget, on purpose. I have my wife to thank for bringing me back to me but I also know she couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t wanted it so I have to be grateful to myself as well for finally taking the step and accepting who I am, and loving myself for it. Each day brings new challenges, but we’re a team and so we face them together and it’s a beautiful feeling knowing that we are both safe and secure in each other’s hands. The future looks bright and welcoming.

My hope, for this album, is that it speaks to people the way that it spoke to me. There are so many of you out there who are in the same place that I was. Listen to the songs, take the lyrics to heart and KNOW that you have the right to choose YOU. You are worth it. You are the only person who can be YOU, so embrace that, accept who you are, despite what anyone else thinks. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you no longer buy into other’s belief systems. Define your own “normal” and suddenly others will start to realise that it’s not so different from their “normal”. And maybe you’ll be less inclined to hide and keep your thoughts to yourself, because you’ll believe in who you are and you’ll be proud of yourself. You deserve that. Stop apologising and start living. You only get one shot at this life. Make it count.

“IT’S TIME THAT EVERY PERSON MADE A CHOICE, TO SIT ALONE IN SILENCE OR TO BE THE NOISE”

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