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Photo Credit: Eva Catarina Olausson
After their debut with the critically acclaimed EP ‘Minus Seven’ (2021), new contamination rock’s voice Idle Fire is finally presenting their first video: ‘Starve to Strength’, premiering today here at the Big Takeover. Produced by Chemically Sinister and Idle Fire, filmed by John Clay with VFX by Rob Homewood, the video brings a mysterious and intriguing vision to life. Actors Ruth Mestel and Bryony Miller contribute with dazzling performances, telling a story of dysfunctional love.
The Stockholm based music project is the songwriting and performing effort of multi-instrumentalist River Gari, who started writing on the family piano at the age of three or four and never stopped.
The importance of finding oneself outside of the expectations of others is discussed here in this conversation between River and filmmaker John Clay, exclusive to The Big Takeover. How often have we attempted to contort our personality into the preferred version of a romantic partner? ‘Starve to Strength’ was created as a result of such a relationship and its music video explores this core theme in its abstract and involving visuals.
Will ‘Starve to Strength’ be your first and final foray into confessional expression, or will there be more catharsis sought by this kind of songwriting?
River: That is an interesting question, because I’ve never thought of my songwriting in terms of “confessions”. I suppose that ‘Starve to Strength’ is rather intimate, but so are the rest of the songs on the Minus Seven EP. I also feel that STS is the kind of song whose meaning is elusive, or at least it felt so when writing it – even elusive to me, to some extent. I suppose the video helps a little with framing the meaning of the lyrics.
In regards to framing and communication, how important is it to you that your lyrics are understood?
River: Not very. To me what’s important is to evoke an emotion or an image. I put my own meanings into it, but as a writer what I hope is for people to find their own meaning, to find some comfort, or some elation. Being understood is something that I look for in everyday human interactions, ethically and emotionally, but it’s not something vital to my artistic expression.
‘Starve to Strength’ – like a lot of songs before it – breaks grammatical rules to evoke an image. Tell us more of what you intended and how your thoughts developed in the writing of your song.
River: It’s difficult to describe the thought process behind writing the song. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the song was written over a decade ago! I can tell you that rules, grammatical or musical, were never at the top of my priorities when it comes to songwriting. I try to allow inspiration to flow freely. At the time of writing ‘Starve to Strength’ I was feeling the relationship I was in quite intensely. I really focused on the sensory quality of that weekend at the beach and the peace I felt. But somewhere deep I was probably processing some hard truths about the dynamics at play between me, what I wanted, and the other person, and what she wanted.
You must be proud of writing something so long ago that provides emotional resonance for your fans now. Let’s talk a little about current songwriting techniques and how far you’ve grown since the writing of ‘Starve to Strength.’ We’re all familiar with Bowie and Eno’s cut and paste technique. Tell us about the quirkiest approach to songwriting you would like to take in future, or indeed have already taken.
River: Well, while I wrote it over a decade ago, the recording is fairly new, and I think it reflects the sound that I have now and I guess that my vocal interpretation of the song is informed by who I am now, while I try to connect with my own history. I hope folks listening to it can find it relevant and timeless, that would be a beautiful achievement, but obviously it’s not for me to say whether I accomplished that or not. I have to say that I like to be playful when it comes to songwriting. It might not be immediately obvious listening to the EP, because the songs often deal with some painful feelings, but I like to bring in a little irony and a little weirdness as well. The way I write lyrics isn’t always the same, but I guess an approach of mine that might be considered unorthodox is that I like them to be in service of the music, rather than the other way round. This doesn’t mean that lyrics are not important to me. Quite the opposite, in fact.
What kind of instructions did you give to the musicians who helped create your song and were there any suggestions from them that altered the execution of the record?
River: It was a very easy process. I got very lucky to work with drummer Giuseppe La Rezza and bassist Alessandro Mezzone, who are incredible musicians. They were able to understand what I was after very quickly and with very little need of guidance on my part. I shared some stylistic references with them, talked about the vibe I was going for, and they came up with perfect parts. For a couple of the songs I had precise ideas for the drum grooves and bass lines, for others I had more of a loose one. The whole recording process took two days to complete, including coming up with their parts, and rehearsing them until they were good to go. I am so impressed with their work, listening to it you would think that we were a band for a year prior to recording, instead it all happened so fast! I also have to credit Kazemijazi, our recording engineer, for the piano part at the end of ‘Stranger Feels’. I had a slightly different thing in mind for it, but he wanted to try and use his vintage Dynacord PDD14 delay unit, which gave it such a spacey vibe that I absolutely love – to the point where I decided to end the song with it.
Very comprehensive, thank you. In closing, you talk about ‘not coming out a winner’ in the relationship that inspired ‘Starve to Strength’. What lessons did the relationship teach you and are any of them universal?
River: I think the biggest lesson that relationship taught me was self-respect. It was very hard to admit it to myself, and it’s not easy to say this to an audience, but I was trying to be someone else because the other person made me feel I wasn’t good enough the way I was – which is not a great feeling at all. I wasn’t confident enough to say “wait a minute, if you think I need to become some ‘improved’ version of myself for you to love me, then it’s never going to work”. After the relationship ended I started learning to love and accept myself the way I am. The person I’m trying to become now is the person I want to be. No one else gets a say in that.
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