Today, we sit down with Raven Shelley to talk about her inspiration to write music, advice for musicians and much more! Be sure to check out Raven Shelley music on Spotify below after the interview!
What is your inspiration to write your music? Is it your
I don’t tend to sit down with the aim of writing a song; occasionally I have done that, but I feel it lacks an element of magic. On the other hand I’m very wary of sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike. I think that’s quite dangerous, because you can very easily end up not getting anything done, and just saying “Oh well, I wasn’t in the mood, I wasn’t feeling inspired by my muse” or whatever. I think perhaps it’s having watched my parents working; they’re both writers, and I know that the difference between people who play at writing and those who actually do write is that they do it even when they don’t feel like it.
I can be inspired by pretty much anything. It can be as simple as a sentence I overhear, or a story I’m reading. Literature is one of the main influences for my songs; I tend to read with a notebook and pencil in hand, so I can note down anything that kickstarts an idea. I either run with it there and then or come back to it later on; my house is filled with notebooks and scraps of paper with ideas and quotes, or half finished lyrics and verses. My songs which are based on books include one called ‘A Spy in the House of Love’, inspired by the book of the same title by Anaïs Nin, about free love, and I’m writing one now based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which I intend to call ‘Blighted Star’.
I’m also influenced by films and art; I find visually striking images often create an idea for me, especially if it’s from someone whose work could be described as ‘uncomfortable’, like Nicolas Roeg or Egon Schiele. I’ve recently discovered the artist Vladimir Kush, and his paintings are stunning. They’re so imaginative!
That said, my surroundings do have an effect in some ways. I was born in the UK but I grew up in France, where I went to small rural French school. It meant I educated myself in English works of literature, and this became my own private world. I think it’s also one of the reasons I dislike settling in one place for too long; I like to keep moving on. Coming back to the UK as a teenager was very weird; it was a country both strangely recognisable and deeply unfamiliar at the same time. I’ve been living in the Peak District for the past year (though I’m moving back to Manchester, where I went to uni, this Autumn), and that’s helped me creatively because I feel there is space and time to breathe, which there wasn’t in the city. I also walk a lot more here, and there are some fantastic trails. It’s a great way of clearing your head, and the rhythm of walking tends to be very productive for me in terms of writing songs and poetry. You have the silence which surrounds you, the clean air, it’s good for clearing the mind and letting ideas flow.
Mainly though, I just can’t not write music. It’s essential to me, as essential as breathing. I find it very cathartic, and I’m always aware of a shift in my mood once I’ve written something; there’s a kind of calm, a release.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
There was a lot of music in my house growing up. We would tend to have classical music – especially Tchaikovsky and Mozart – at breakfast (though I didn’t appreciate that enough as a surly sleepy teenager, I do now!) and then various playlists at dinner. An early memory is my parents having dinner parties, and when I went up to bed I could still hear the music playing; I still have some of those playlists and certain songs still remind me of that time. That’s one of the amazing things about music; its ability to transport you back to times and places long gone.
There was a lot of different music, though some names which spring to mind are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Loudon Wainwright III. Lyrically good artists were always favoured, and I think that had a huge influence on the kind of songs & artists I listen to now.
Is there someone you looked up as a hero?
I don’t think I’d use the word ‘hero’, but there’s a huge number of people I admire greatly. It would take far too long to list all of them, but they tend to be people I find interesting, or whose work I admire. Bohemian & counter-cultural, subversive figures tend to be favoured, especially if they are also creative!
If you weren’t a musician, would you be doing today?
There are so many options! There’s metaphor in The Bell Jar about the narrator’s life being a fig tree, and on every branch is a juicy fig representing a different, wonderful future. And the narrator imagines herself “starving to death, because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest”.
It’s a brilliant image, and for a while I think I felt like that, unable to choose what I wanted to do really, because I wanted to do everything. Then, I realised that I would never be entirely happy without playing music, and without at least having tried to make a living from it, whereas I would be happy to do everything else as a side project or hobby.
I would hope that I would still be doing something creative; I can’t imagine living without creativity. I would probably still be doing something with words; I still write poems & short stories, and I have various other longer projects on the go, but they take second place now to the music. I’m also a keen silversmith, so perhaps I would be focusing more on that. Now it’s just a hobby, and it’s nice to do something creative that is visual rather than sound based, just to have a break. I like creating this beautiful jewellery out a sheet of silver. It’s a lovely feeling to know that you’ve made something that didn’t exist a few hours ago. I do occasionally envisage alternate realities, thinking if things had gone differently where would I be now (I’m sure everyone does that), but I always see myself doing something creative and travelling around. I can’t stay rooted in one place for too long.
What advice do you have for our fans out there that want to create music?
Have confidence in your own music, and in your abilities. If you don’t have the confidence, just fake it until you do! Also be aware that sometimes you have to be pushy. It’s not something I’m naturally good at, but it is sometimes necessary in this business. It’s also important to make connections, to be aware that often things come about because someone knows someone who knows someone.
And don’t be disheartened! It isn’t easy, otherwise everyone would be doing it! And, as with so many creative pursuits, it can look way easier than it actually is. It requires hard work and endurance, and like any form of writing there’s an element of solitude which is necessary to produce work. You’ll get turned down, but you have to keep putting yourself out there. Keep knocking on doors until one of them opens just enough for you to wedge your foot in, and you claw your way up from there. You only need one break for it to have been worth it.