MUSIC AND GENDER: STUART WARWICK INTERVIEW
Posted by James Dawson on January 16, 2013
In Greek Mythology, the Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, whose music inspired love and joy in all who heard it. Today we use the phrase to describe any person who can conjure artistic inspiration. In this sense of the word, Brighton-based singer/songwriter Stuart Warwick is my muse. Although it would be lovely, he doesn’t sit on my desk while I write, singing YA fiction at me, but his intelligent and creative approach to songwriting is inspiring. You might remember ‘Misplaced Hearts’ from his first album, ‘The Ordeal’ appearing on the Hollow Pike playlist.
This week, Warwick releases his second album (which tradition tells us we must call his ‘sophomore’ effort), ‘The Butcher’s Voice’. Purely coincidental, but in a week which saw Twitter and high profile journalists at war over feminism and gender, Warwick’s album contains eleven songs which ponder this very subject matter. ‘I’d say it is mostly a concept album’, Warwick tells me, ‘Eight of the eleven tracks on the record deal with the problematic idea of gender identity.’
Tradtional concepts of masculinity in particular seem to fascinate the singer. On the title track, he establishes ‘The Butcher’ as the epitome of stereotypical masculinity, only to point out, ‘he’ll never sing you love songs’. The motif of adhering to, and defying stereotypes recurs throughout the album. ‘I’ve always seen gender identity as something quite strange’ Warwick muses,’ and the older I get the more peculiar it seems. We adhere to these very rigid ideas of what is masculine and what is feminine, not just in terms of behavior but in what clothes we wear and how we speak. It’s conditioned in us from a very young age to recognise these things and identify them as belonging to one sex or another. Of course they are just artificial, abstract notions but yet society on the whole obeys them, and alienates those who don’t. When you think about it though it’s utterly absurd; the idea that what genitalia you have should dictate the type of clothes you must wear, or what hairstyle you’re allowed to have, or weather or not you can wear lipstick.’ Taking this further, I ask Warwick how he defines his own gender. ‘I don’t have to define it, everyone else has done it for me,’ he says.
In a week that saw transgender issues (finally) being discussed (and perhaps if any good can come from the debacle it is that), I ask Warwick what he made of the articles that caused the ‘Twitter Storm’. ‘I haven’t read the article Susanne Moore wrote which sparked the outrage,’ he admits. ‘I did read Julie Burchill’s response which was hideously ill informed and comically stupid, and I’m sure can’t have helped matters at all. I understand there was an issue with Moore using transsexual as a noun, but as I say I haven’t read it yet so I can’t really comment on it.’ In the summer of 2012, Warwick previewed his new album with the controversially titled ‘Man With A Pussy’, although any possible offence taken to this title didn’t concern him. ‘Buck Angel has taken it as his sort of tagline if you like.’ Angel, the muse behind the track, is among the most famous female to male transsexuals in the world. ‘He’s very proud of it. It would only be offensive to someone who was offended by the word pussy, and if you are the sort of person who is offended by that then you’re probably not the sort of person I’d like listening to my music.’
The excellent video to accompany the song featured caberet genius David Hoyle (who, in the 90s, lived on Channel 4 as The Divine David), another muse for Warwick to play with. ‘David Hoyle has had a massive effect in the album. I’ve always deeply admired David, and after I promoted three of his shows in Brighton in the summer of 2011 (where incidentally the video for Man With A Pussy was filmed) I channeled a lot of what he’d been talking about on stage (with regards to gender) into the lyrical content for the album.’ Furthermore, Hoyle can be heard renouncing gender in the opening bars of final track ‘The Fairer Sex’ – ‘there is no such thing as gender, and those of you who think there is are deluded,’ Hoyle tells his audience.
Although hugely well regarded on the London and Brighton ‘gig scene’, high profile support slots for the likes of Marc Almond and sharing musicians with Patrick Wolf, Warwick is self-managed and self-promoting. In his previous guise as Jacob’s Stories, Warwick was managed but prefered the autonomy of riding solo. This said, achingly beautiful new single Sailors, a (mostly) unrequited love song to a drunk seaman was recently picked up for airplay on BBC Six Music, signalling a move into the mainstream at last. ‘I’d like to be acknowledged by the mainstream media. It would be great to receive a larger critical response to my albums. Having said that though I think it’s something quite out of my control. I’m just making the music I want to make, if someone else decides it’s current or that it fits in with a current trend and can be mass marketed, then that’s up to them.’
Describing Warwick’s ‘sound’ is difficult. ‘Haunting’ is a word that has literally haunted the singer, often drawing comparisons to Thom Yorke, Rufus Wainwright, Kate Bush and Portishead. Warwick’s looped samples, dramatic organs and sweeping violins have an identity of their own however. The Butcher’s Voice is more of a ‘production’ than its predecessor, welcoming more of a ‘sadpop’ vibe. Warwick took his time with his second album. Several songs didn’t make the final version of the album, although ‘Butcher’s Cuts’ with new material will be available later in the year. ‘That will contain a variety of songs that didn’t make the album,’ says Warwick. ‘Over the year or so Aidan O’Brien and I worked on the record many songs were scrapped because they just didn’t work alongside the others. So Butcher’s Cuts will be those songs plus a few remixes and live recordings.’
There is a sense of things snowballing for Warwick. He tours the new album this spring, and, in the summer, plans to undertake his first European Tour. Say you were there at the start and buy the album today.
The Butcher’s Voice is available as a download and limited edition pop-up physical format HERE and, of course, on iTunes and Spotify.