"You're Scared" - The Beginning According to Pip

Fear can be a metal detector for things that are good for you. I’m not talking about a (healthy) fear of rapists or brown snakes or hedge fund fraudsters. I mean the fear of sharing a shitty song you, at some point, must have thought was worth writing, with three friends who are better at everything than you, especially when you can barely find your way around a guitar, and are sharing lyrics that reveal your revenge fantasies, or your romantic weak points, or your love of puns. Writing songs closely with two other women who are at turns as stubborn, as touchy, and as dorky as you is like being in a three-way marriage. The prickly sides of our characters, usually reserved for our most intimate partners, tend to rise to the surface over the smallest of creative disputes. And yet we are also quick to exult over each other’s successes, and are fiercely loyal to our shared project. Fear was not unfounded, but the payoff has been worth it.

~~

2012 was a rough year. I was struggling with a creative thesis that had the better of me, and was trying to co-direct a national writers’ festival at the same time. As winter set in, my very dear friend T. died, and a few weeks later my boyfriend dumped me over Skype. I had not been the most present of girlfriends in the lead up to T.’s death ­-- paralytic fear of an unfinished thesis can be rather unsexy -- but the breakup was untimely, the shock rude. I was in Prague, attending a summer school for creative writing, wide awake when I should have been asleep, and lucid dreaming through the days. As I walked down cobblestone streets my head was full of Golems, drunk soldiers, endless Kafka offices and Tereza’s dream of colourful park benches from The Unbearable Lightness of Being. My sister flew from London to cheer me up, but I was only capable of glaring at twisted bodies in a Goya exhibition, or watching the swans on the river dip their heads in and out of their own reflections. At some point one night an idea struck that shook me out of my fugue state, and I messaged two friends in Sydney, Lauren and Anna:

Hey Ladies,

It's five am in Prague and I haven't slept a wink. At some point in the night I got the idea in my head that we three need to play some psych-y garagey droney music when I get back to oz. … I haven't touched an instrument in years, but I really want to. … If I've learnt anything after T.'s death it's that I don't want to stew on these things - I want to fucking do them before it's too late. I don't care if we're not very good - I just want to get some of this crap off my chest, and am sure you ladies want to, too. Was thinking we could all write some tunes and switch instruments around and harmonise n stuff. Anyway, let me know what you think.

Thinking of you both,

Pip

When I came back to Sydney my heavy, Goya-obsessed grief had fermented into a creative mania. I caught the train to Melbourne to buy a cheap guitar off eBay. I wrote a poem every day for 90 days for the Lifted Brow’s website. I drove to my parents’ farm listening to the Straight Arrows at full volume and turned the few chords I knew into a brash demo of “You’re Scared”. Amongst all this, I continued to be afraid of my thesis.

By the end of the summer, Lauren, Anna and I had worked on three songs in fits and starts in my garage, but Anna had other creative projects blossoming on the horizon, and our painstakingly slow development was not showing signs of bearing fruit any time soon (in fact, it would be another four years until our songs would be released as an album). It just so happened that Lauren’s friend Eve had been given a guitar for Christmas from her guitar pro (ex-Leader Cheetah) boyfriend, and was keen to suss out how the damn thing worked. As the cold set in, Eve, Lauren and I fumbled our way through chords and song shapes in my garage, occasionally warming our hands around steaming red tea pots and clambering over busted up old furniture to stretch our legs. Sometimes, an unwell man who lived behind our place howled along with the tunes. We were never sure if this was a sign of pleasure or pain.

As the weather de-frosted, so did our self-consciousness. We each had three songs which had found some kind of shape, but we needed a drummer to hold them together. Once again, Lauren’s horde of musical friends provided. Nick Kennedy had been playing drums with passionate dedication since the age of ten. He brought patience, an unflappable charm and plenty of tricky fills to the rehearsal room, and our ensemble was complete.

~~

I have now submitted my thesis, and sold the creative component (a novel) to a publisher. Over the five years it took me to finish, I spent hours on my own, my spine a hunched questionmark, my eyes straining in laptop light. Every Monday night I escaped my house and my own mind to the Imperial Broads rehearsal room, where creative thinking was (and still is) not a solitary grunt towards the finish line, but a matter of negotiation, suggestion, pleading, placation, celebration, and silliness – in other words, being a human amongst humans.

It often strikes me how oddly calcified the form of a garage band is. Why two guitars, why one bass, why has a drum kit evolved to be those toms, and why are they almost always arranged like that? It is a very particular product of the late twentieth century, and yet it’s everything I need on a Monday night. We can be loud enough to lose ourselves in noise, we can be stripped back enough to hear three voices meld into one twisting chord. In other words: we can run to each other, but we can’t hide once we’re there.

- Pip

Pip Smith