I met up with composer and songwriter Joy Askew on a Sunday afternoon in her Bed Stuy apartment where she’s lived for the last 9 years. Joy is originally from Newcastle, England but has lived in New York since coming here in the 80’s. Joy’s creative space is her bedroom; she converted it into a studio with her piano, keys, and various recording equipment sharing the space with a bed and dresser.
Joy’s most recent record, Queen Victoria, was inspired by a memory from her childhood when she was a young girl and heard the sound of a brass band playing in the distance as it was approaching her home. This figment of an idea later came to take shape in the form of an album. Joy composed the album with a brass band in mind and was able to travel to England to record the 30-piece Brighouse & Rastrick Band. A “flock of birds” coming together to create an incredible sound.
When we spoke about inspiration and creativity and how Joy gets her ideas, she shared that usually there’s a spark of an idea and sometimes it’s just a matter of following it down the rabbit hole. There is always a concept to her albums. Some of her prior albums were inspired by the specific tuning of Joni Mitchell’s guitar or the deconstruction of famous jazz songs which lead to the downbeat electrojazz album she worked on with multiinstrumentalist, Takuya Nakamura. Regardless of the idea, there is an effortless and spontaneous nature to her creativity, one that she allows to form without questioning its connection to her established path or sound.
Before ending our session, Joy mentioned something that I have not been able to get out of my head ever since. When she was asked to deliver a songwriting lecture at Berklee College of Music on the topic of what makes a good chorus, she analyzed her top 50 songs across the decades to come up with the elements that made these choruses successful. After all, she said, it is usually in the chorus that you can find the point of inspiration for the song. Perhaps to most musicians this is not news, but to me it was an incredible discovery. To think that you can find the nugget for the song in the chorus, was like unlocking the viewfinder into the songwriter’s head.
Why am I so interested in this idea? Because it feels like the key to understanding art. Not by asking the artist (especially when we don’t often have the chance to do so) but by experiencing the art itself.
For me, my point of inspiration for this project is inspiration itself. Where is creativity derived from? I don’t know what my ultimate goal is in this search for inspiration, but perhaps if you know the path of creativity you can somehow tap into it. Without art and beauty and inspiration, we’re just skin and bones and blood (thanks Niall). Bodies in motion instead of beings.