Photo by Patrick Naughton Doe
I’m like two people! I’m an accountant by day and a musician by night.
I’ve been playing instruments for most of my life. I started off with the violin when I was about 7 and went onto viola in my early teens, and I also picked up the piano as well. I was classically trained and I went to the youth orchestras and had a great time there. My family aren’t really that musical, although I will mention my Uncle Mark who absolutely loves his blues and country and so actually he’s been playing with a band in Lancaster, and that’s really exciting. My uncle Richard used to play in a local band called Superscape in the nineties but he’s stopped playing now. I’m the only person in my family at the moment apart from my little brother Alex who’s having lessons at school, and he’s a teenager now, so I’m praying that he keeps it up!
When I was 14 or 15 I got into lots of different music like punk, ska and metal, and I started to meet loads of other musicians, people who played guitars, and when they found out that I played viola they said ‘Oh come and join us in our band!’ So the first band I joined when I was 19 was an improv band called Phonic Voices, which was an eight or nine piece band playing hip hop, scratching… we had a double bass, a didgeridoo, we had rappers, people on laptops… we had all sorts and I just really got into improvising. I always liked writing my own stuff anyway – quite a few classical musicians freak out if you ask them to improvise – but I absolutely loved it and it helped me with my writing as well. I’d done a bit of singing with the band but I didn’t properly start singing on stage until I was about 22 or 23 because I always hated my own voice! I was also in an all-girl band called Awash with Antler, we were a bit of a cult band and we did lots of three part harmonies, back in the day! I had so much fun with that band and that was how I learnt to do live gigs, how to do sound checks etc, and we played a few gigs around the country learning the ropes. I loved that band. We played a lot at the Adelphi and I still play there regularly. I’ve probably played there about 100 times.
I perform solo as The Dyr Sister. Dyr is is the old Norse spelling for deer, which is the spirit animal for being kind to yourself. I need to remember that because I am prone to beating myself up! I’m just getting to the stage where all of my hard work is starting to pay off: I’m getting good gigs and I’ve got some really good opportunities with my job where before long I’ll actually be able to live my life on my own terms. Sometimes I overwhelm myself with work so it’s also to remind me to be kind to myself and to do things for myself that I like doing. And to just be myself – it’s okay, it’s fine. I’m my own worst critic, absolutely, and if I let it get the better of me it can be quite damaging.
I started loop pedalling because one of the bands I was in split up and I needed to keep writing and performing. I’d wanted to try it for a while so it was the perfect time. My first gig went really well, so I thought ‘I’ll do that again!’ I mix a lot of different sounds and influences together. I can’t decide whether I’m really silly or serious! I have songs which are dirges, really depressing… and then I’ll go into a reggae song about beards. So I’m quite hard to bill sometimes! I have a niche audience. I’m also currently in an improv band called The Immigrants and it’s going really well, everyone’s incredibly talented and we’re getting really tight. It’s satisfying because a lot of the really talented musicians in Hull leave, but there is a lot of good stuff coming out of the city at the minute.
When I was at school I didn’t really think about what I wanted to be – I wanted to be a musician, and that’s all. I’ve always loved performing, doing plays, being silly… I can show off quite well! I do get stage fright sometimes depending on how well or how badly the sound check has gone, but I’ve been doing some gigs lately in places like Camden Jazz Café where there’s a green room and you can relax, and I’ve learnt a lot about how to make sure I’m in the right headspace so I can give the best show possible. I really need to warm up and sleep properly the night before. My life is really busy so I need to make sure I’m not overscheduling myself. When I’m playing with a band it’s better because there are other people to bounce off, but when I’m doing my solo loop pedal work and I’m on my own with a lot of technical equipment, and I need to get everything absolutely perfect, that only comes from playing it over and over again and really making sure that I know the music. I’m just getting more experience as I go along really. I haven’t had any formal training since I was 17.
That’s because I left my family home and after a brief period of couch surfing I ended up on a bed in the hallway of my mums flat. After dropping out of college twice in the past year as well it was time to get a job. I responded to an advert in the paper offering NVQs and a job to go with it and I chose Accounting. I realised partway through that there are a very wide range of options for work if I became a fully qualified accountant. So I stuck at it and qualified last year. It’s been a battle over the last few years regarding my work-life balance, but I think I have it nailed down at the moment with a part time job at a Community Interest Company.
The other thing is my hearing. It’s not that bad – I don’t know any sign language and I’ve always been through mainstream education. But I don’t know if it’s going to get any worse. I don’t know if I could one day get to the stage, relatively early in my life, where my hearing actually deteriorates to the point where I can’t do my music at all. So with the accountancy I wanted to have something else that I was able to do in case, and I’m glad I chose it. It’s given me a lot of freedom.
I don’t actually know how much hearing loss I have. Rather than giving a percentage the doctors say I’ve got ‘high tone deafness’, so all the higher frequencies I can’t hear. I can only hear lower frequencies, and my digital hearing aids pick up the rest. My mum decided that I would be treated like any other child, and I was, and that’s done me really well because I’ve had opportunities like being able to do my music. I was really lucky that my teacher Miss Pitts came in in year two and asked who wanted to play the violin. Everyone’s hand shot up, and she picked me as one of her students after an audition.
It makes me feel like a bit of an imposter in the deaf community though! I was in London earlier this year and I went into Wetherspoons on a Friday night and it was full of people but unusually quite silent. It turned out that it was a deaf friendly meeting! I got talking to one person and when I told him I’m a musician he said ‘Do you subtitle your music videos?’ and I said ‘No I don’t, but I should!’ so I’ve subtitled them since then. It would be good someday to get a sign language interpreter on stage with me to make my music accessible to more people too.
I think because I have always lived a normal life, it means I don’t really consider my deafness to be part of my identity. I’m starting to think now that if I want to be a certain standard of musician then I need to start taking into account the fact that I am deaf by talking about it with some professionals and sourcing some digital hearing aids that could be more suitable for performing live on stage than the ones provided on the NHS. I need to find out what other deaf musicians are doing; I don’t know any at all. But I’d rather people said ‘She writes really well’ or ‘She’s a great performer’ than ‘She’s a deaf musician’.
Right now I’m quite interested in working in different disciplines, so I did my first performance art piece at Ground gallery on Halloween. This was a collaboration between myself and Michael Anthony Barnes-Wynters. It was a three hour durational art piece called ‘Control’ exploring various notions of control and oppression through the context of sustained and repeated actions. The whole thing was filmed and he’s done an edit of it, and I have responded via the medium of sound. I’m excited for us to release the results. I want to create more videos for my songs so I’d like to incorporate performance art elements into those.
Ultimately my aim is to get a big bus, convert it into a living space and travel around playing music. I’d love to tour in Europe. When I was in Mexico in 2013 I stayed longer than planned because I got some gigs and did some busking with a friend and I thought ‘Why should I go home?’ I have done quite a bit of travelling – I went to China for a month in 2015 and that was really inspirational. I love music from around the world. We were in the south of China and we went from Yunnan up into western Sichuan, which is at the foothills of the Himayalas where a lot of Tibetans live. I saw some of the most beautiful places and I listened to a lot of Tibetan music on these long scary journeys on dirt tracks on the side of mountains. It was so high above sea level I felt like I was closer to the clouds. It was amazing. A couple of songs from my last EP are directly influenced by that environment. And I just got back from a road trip around northern Spain – being outside in different landscapes just really destresses me and sets my imagination on fire.
I write a lot during winter because it’s cold and dark and I just come home from work and lock myself away! I’m three quarters of the way through a new EP, and I wrote my last one over last winter. I need to be disciplined because I need to be able to turn around work quicker if I want to continue gigging and becoming a better musician. My first album was called Fairytales for the Modern Gentleman – Volume One (which saves me from ever having to think about naming an album again). They’re all just stories about my life really, influenced from where I’ve been and who I’ve met. I’m sort of a folk musician in the way I tell stories, just that I don’t always sounds like one!
If I am not playing music, if I’m not writing and putting my feelings down, I go a bit mad. It is my therapy. I think I actually have to do it, and my challenge is trying to find enough space and time to do this in a world where people are expected to give their whole lives to work. I’m working part time for a not-for-profit organisation at the moment, which I really enjoy, so at least the motivation behind that is different in that it’s not about making money for shareholders but about giving money back to the community. I have also just joined the board of a local arts charity too. It’s taken me a while to find work like this in this culture!
My whole life is about doing what I want. Some people have said that’s selfish, but I think it’s self-preservation. I feel that if you spend your whole life being obliged towards social constructs like work and profit that you don’t really believe in, you’ll grow old and miserable. You’ll look back and wish you’d done things differently. I never want to be one of those people who says ‘I wish I’d spent more time doing things I really love’. I’ve got energy, and I can choose what to use it on, so I try to discipline myself and make those decisions wisely.
I can be a perfectionist and it paralyses me sometimes. But then I take a step back and get some perspective, and then it’s fine, it’s okay. I’m 31, I’m an accountant helping to run a business, I do all my music as well, I supported Prince’s bass player Ida Nielsen last year which was the best!… I’ve done some really really good things already. So it’s important to take stock. Yoga really helps me to relax and counteract some of the physical side effects of working in an office, but I can’t meditate. I can’t silence my thoughts. My brain is full and noisy. And my life is always manic, but it’s never boring.
How can people find out more about you and your work?
By visiting thedyrsister.co.uk
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