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Whatever happened to 2019?

I’ve let a few weeks of 2020 slip past without really having the chance to reflect on the year that was. You probably all thought you’d finally gotten through all those posts. So I’m sorry mine is late, but I’ve been busy as I know some of you will have seen, and art can be a very demanding taskmaster.

I’m so grateful for the 2019 that I had, even if it got a bit bumpy at times. It was the year I launched my first EP and music video, and I had my music played in every state and territory across the country (and a few places further afield as well). I got to watch other people play my songs for the first time, and even had someone on the street recognise me from my music video. Just the other day I realised someone had actually gone to the trouble of putting the chords for Into the Fray up on Ultimate Guitar (nice work by the way, whoever you are). It was, really, the year I became an artist. And I have been so lucky to have people around me that have wanted to support that. 

I’ve also gotten my recording skills to a point now where I can knock together a finished version of a song in a week or two if I really focus on it. So the only thing that holds back my music from the world these days is me. That’s quite an empowering thing but can also be quite daunting. Perhaps the biggest thing I achieved last year was learning to put imperfect creations out into the world, and to stop judging my own work, and just let it say what it needs to say. After all, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, art is never finished, only abandoned.

As I’m writing this I’ve been knocked off course from normal life somewhat. I’m at my parents’ house in Melbourne, with one eye always on the air quality readings back in Canberra, which we’ve all gotten so good at interpreting over the past few weeks. I can’t really go home until the bushfire smoke settles down because the air was making me sick. Melbourne is a very comfortable refuge, but it is still quite disorientating being here under this set of circumstances.

But I’m making the most of it. For the first time in a long time I am actually getting some rest. I’m getting caught up on some life admin. And I’m starting to get excited about the next project.

Before I left Canberra I hustled to finish Thoughts and Prayers, my song about the bushfires. But the fires, and the related issue of climate change, have been preoccupying me recently and I have other things to say about the whole situation. According to Woody Guthrie, it’s a folksinger’s job to comfort disturbed people, and to disturb comfortable people. So I guess I’ll be getting to work on that, because it seems to me there are some other parts of the story to explore. Once I get back home I’ll be dusting off the mics to start work on the rest of what I hope will be a 2020 EP. I hope that some of you will be excited to come on that journey with me.

It’s been a bit of a shocking start to the year. But that’s why it matters so very much what we choose to do next. In spite of everything, I am feeling optimistic about the year ahead. But we all have our work cut out for us, so we had better get to it.

Lisa Maps xo

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Chapter One: Colours

It’s May 2019, and my debut EP – or as I have been calling it, my ‘pre-EP’ – has been out in the world for about six weeks. It’s strange how much that fact has changed the way I feel about myself and my music. It is a thing that I crafted, nurtured, and put out into the world all on my own, and no matter what happens next, no one can ever take that away from me.

I never really planned for Colours to turn into such a big project – I was just looking to put together some basic demo recordings, and I thought I could probably do an okay job of it with the gear I had at home. But once I got started I realised that I was doing fundamentally the same thing as anyone else with a home studio. And while I was definitely learning as I went, I was also prepared to put in the time and effort to get things right.

(That makes it sound so simple – there were a lot of mistakes, and do-overs, and whole days’ worth of material that I threw out because I am still a recovering perfectionist. But yes, let’s go with that!)

And the more I listened to the results the more I wondered whether what I was doing was really any less legitimate than going down a more established path to recording an EP (you can all judge that for yourselves now of course!)

The project also kept escalating because every time I learnt a new trick or had an idea I thought might make things sound better, I’d find a way to do it. And once the music itself was finished I just really carried on with the same approach – taking whatever seemed like the logical next step. After all, if you’re going to spend all this time on your recordings it makes sense to work out how distribution works so you can get them online. And then it makes sense to talk to some local radio people so that there’s some chance that people will actually get to hear your work. Oh, and it makes sense to have a launch, just something small as a way of celebrating the achievement (although actually if you are going to the effort of organising a launch maybe you should think about promoting it…)

I look back on the past few months and I still can’t quite believe everything that’s happened.

I left my safe and stable full-time job to try to make a go of the whole singer-songwriter thing in February 2018. It was a ridiculous decision, not least because I really actually wasn’t ready. I’d only just gotten all the bits of a PA together so that I could start doing covers gigs, and the first time someone offered me a 3-hour spot I had to run home and spend the next week learning songs because I had confidently told them that I could play for that long. I knew I had some good songs, but my writing was still a bit hit-and-miss and I had no clue how to actually progress as an original artist. But I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t able to focus on my music the way that I wanted. And I felt like I would never really even have time to get ‘ready’ unless I carved out a bit more space for it.

A bit over a year on, to be honest, I’m still not sure that I’m ready. But I know that I am improving all the time. And if you were to ask February 2018 Lisa what she thought of my progress in year one of #musiclyf, I think she’d be reasonably impressed.

In a way I think the most important thing for me, though, is that I have finally started to live my own authentic life. For a long time, Colours was definitely not my favourite of my songs. After all, it talks about carving out your own path and leaving behind the things that make you unhappy, and it wasn’t until around a year after I wrote it that I actually followed through on those things myself. But that’s what made it such an important song for me, and I’m so grateful that I’ve now been able to share it with so many people. I have an inkling that at different times some of you have probably ended up in a place you didn’t really want to be, because you also forgot to take your eyes off your feet to see where the path led. But you know what, I promise, it’s not too late to change things. Leave the path. Follow your dreams. And let your colours fly!

Lisa Maps xoxo

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Welcome to #musiclyf

I have a tendency to think about things pretty deeply. That’s probably why I write songs. I love finding ways to express a complex idea or feeling in a way that makes it accessible and relatable. And for me, music has always been the most effective and elegant way to do that. My favourite thing is to listen to a new song and to hear a moment, or a lyric, or something in it that I instinctively recognise – that moment where you go, ‘oh, me too!’

For me, music is about connection. It’s a way of trying to find or to describe what we all have in common with one another as human beings. Being a songwriter can be a quite a difficult job because a lot of the time creating work that does that means examining the parts of ourselves, our histories and our own behaviours that we’re less than proud of or that have caused us pain – and then holding those up for everyone else to see! But it can also be extraordinarily rewarding. When done well, it means creating something that shows the listener a glimpse of themselves and, at the very least, lets them know that they are not alone.

However, any of you who have been to one of my gigs will know that I also like to talk. And some of my ideas and reflections are probably better expressed non-musically. So I thought it was time I started a blog on here so I have a place to put them all.

To begin with, I thought I’d rework a piece that I put together as I was working on my first release – what I was calling, at the time, my ‘pre-EP’. I’m revisiting it in light of everything that has happened since, and I have to say it’s nice to take a moment to actually reflect on what I’ve achieved over the past year. It’s been a big one!

You’ll see that post in the next week or so, so be sure to keep an eye out for it!

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