introduction by tom johnson
words by deerful
Released in to the world this weekend, Deerful’s “Peach” LP is a skewed but absorbing patchwork of sound and colour; a collection of songs that juxtaposes wild electronic flourishes with a more subtle and refrained vocal that lends the whole thing a somewhat unexpected touch of decadence.
The brainchild of Emma Winston (quite literally: she wrote, played, recorded, produced, and mixed the record, as well as making the sleeve art – “Peach” takes that aforementioned decadent touch and sculpts it in to something that flickers between a cluster of romanticised sentiments while always bending the boundaries of what we think pop music is and should be.
Streaming here from today, you can listen to Deerful’s brilliant new album in full while reading Winston’s own detailed track-by-track guide beneath. Dig in below…
Peach Rose Tea
I wanted something a little strange to open the album. The lyrics were written using the free-writing technique, then heavily edited for rhyming and scansion afterwards. It’s nonsense, essentially, but it’s nonsense that, in context, I quite like. The title was the genesis of the whole thing, and I wish I had a good story for where it came from, but I just saw it on a bubble tea stall opposite Shoreditch High Street and thought it sounded nice.
I’d had the idea of the only voice on the album other than my own being a computerised one, but robots can’t free-write. Since I occasionally build Twitter bots, that was my starting point. I put together a simple program (which you can download here and use yourself, if for some reason you wanted to) which looks at a live-streamed sample of tweets as they’re posted to Twitter, and, if the word ‘peach’, ‘rose’, or ‘tea’ is mentioned, respectively sends the name of a random fruit, flower, or type of tea to my Mac text-to-speech program. My laptop then reads out the item at a pitch within the key of the song, kind of allowing the computer to ‘sing’.
The lists of fruit/flowers/tea were drawn from Darius Kazemi’s Corpora Project, and the real ‘brain’ of the program, which allows it to grab items from the lists, was taken from Allison Parrish’s script Pycorpora. Both Darius and Allison are themselves amazing artists and coders and people and I can’t thank them enough for making such great stuff. Fittingly, I met both of them on Twitter.
I actually did go back and have a peach rose tea from the bubble tea stall recently and it was excellent, 10/10, would recommend.
“What happens between women now is the most interesting thing in the world because it’s least described,” says Chris Kraus in her 1997 memoir-novel I Love Dick, which I finished reading the day I wrote ‘Conceptual Art’; even though I don’t know if that quote still rings quite as true twenty years on, it remained in my head the whole time I was writing Peach. A lot of the songs on the album are either addressed to or stories about women I admire, or who have played an important role in my life, or who I have something I want to say to but don’t know how. ‘Conceptual Art’ is kind of a crystallisation of this, as well as honouring a specific person who was and is very important to me.
It both is and isn’t the most straightforward love song I’ve ever written, and the narrative is both completely and utterly truthful and unedited, and rendered abstract and hyperreal to make it impossible for anyone other than myself and the other subject of the song to unpick the full details, a fragile thing held between us. I wanted it to walk a line between abstract and universal, and specific and personal, exactly like the book that inspired it.
A message to myself, frankly, to dial it back about a thousand notches at any given time. I was attempting to put together a research method for my PhD, and was reading Stanley Hauerwas’s and Jean Vanier’s writings on the concept of ‘gentleness’, and Mary Field Belenky’s book Women’s Ways of Knowing. The idea is that as a researcher, or just as a person in general, the best way to connect with people and their stories is to believe them, let them be, and try to understand them before leaping on them to correct or analyse them, while still standing up for what you believe is right. This is the toughest thing in the world to me, and also a quality I admire a lot in other people, since I am by nature kind of an argumentative douchebag, but also paradoxically an argumentative douchebag who hates conflict when it actually matters. ‘Solar Phenomena’ is a series of reminders to myself, a document of who I want to be and how I want to conduct myself, and how far I have to go.
The song started from the odd bleepy squeaky percussion you can hear throughout but especially in the choruses. I was a bit worried it might be too ridiculous to leave in, but, true to form, I dealt with that by writing a completely sincere song around it.
The Wider Sky, So Far From Land
This was partly produced in a pub round the corner from my flat. I say this like I’m proud of it, and I kind of am, but I also am kind of an awful person, since I sat at the pub table with the two friends I’d arrived with, let them talk to each other, put my headphones on and played and arranged the song idea I’d just had on my OP-1 synthesiser instead of just actually socialising like a decent person. Portable synthesisers: destroying millennial society, probably.
I was thinking a lot while I was writing the lyrics about a friend who’s one of the most high-achieving, talented individuals I’ve ever met, and is also incredibly self-effacing and self-critical. I found myself constantly wanting to affirm to her how wonderful she is, and also being much too awkward to do so with the language I felt she deserved. ‘The Wider Sky, So Far From Land’ was my cop-out way of pouring all my ridiculous sappy feelings into a song and packaging it up in a sufficiently abstract box that she’d never guess.
Before Us Comes The Flood
I wrote this in bed the day the extractor fan in my bathroom caught fire. You would think that a bathroom would be the one room in a flat that can’t catch fire. Ah, my friends, you would be wrong. I woke up to a power cut, saw smoke pouring into the back garden, legged it out of my flat, and called the fire brigade. After they’d put the fire out I’d crashed so hard from the adrenaline rush that all I wanted to do was go back to bed, and when I did, this song happened. It’s also, unrelatedly, the closest thing I’ve ever written to a diss track.
Cloudwatching is the utopian island in the midst of a sea of expectations and little resistances, I guess. It’s an amalgamation of the memories of a million different wonderful summer days with a million different people over my entire adult life, and is intentionally totally idealistic. I have slept on grass in the open air only once in my life and can unfortunately confirm that a) sometimes songs are a lot better than reality, and b) you shouldn’t ever go camping without a sleeping bag.
Again, every sound is from the OP-1, but I intentionally shaped each one to sound as organic as possible, modelling them on strings and bass guitars and using samples of acoustic drums rather than aiming for bleeps and clicks and pops with no reference points in reality. I think of it as a digital overlay on reality rather than shaping sounds from nothing in space. Homer Simpson outside the third-dimension erotic cake store, rather than Homer Simpson in the Tron universe. This is definitely my worst analogy ever and I can only apologise.
The idea for the synth part this came from a video clip I found on my phone of me button-mashing on my Septavox synthesiser while drunk. The Septavox has a really cool arpeggiator mode where you can essentially just hold a chord and it writes a part for you of its own volition, which is heaven for drunk musicians, basically, and I don’t remember filming it but I’m glad I did.
Lyrically, you know those irrational moments where your brain goes ‘you’re DIFFICULT and UNLOVABLE and a BURDEN to everyone around you INCLUDING THOSE WHO CLAIM TO LOVE YOU’, that you bat away or stuff down and try to get on with just existing instead? This song is what happened when Sad Past Deerful decided to completely and utterly indulge and express those feelings. REAL TALK: if you are listening to this song and relating hard, Present Day Deerful would like you to know that you’re actually just a person with feelings and needs and emotions that need expressing sometimes like everyone else, that the people who say they love you know what they’re talking about, and that you’re going to be okay.
Subjects Of Our Love
Subjects Of Our Love is kind of a dedication to several wonderful people I know pushing back at the expectations placed on them by society, whether by gender or race or disability or class or sex assignment at birth or a million other things. There are so many ways to live a life and some of them are harder than others but all of them are real and perfect exactly as they are, and, once again, this is me not wanting to embarrass myself or anyone else by being directly effusive to anyone I know about how cool they are, shouting it into the ether, and putting a bunch of 8-bit bleeps and kick drum samples all over it instead. Maybe that’s more embarrassing. Sorry if that’s more embarrassing.
I *think* this was the first track I ever attempted to mix completely by myself without some kind of expert sound engineer leaning over my shoulder and telling me what I should be doing, and even listening back to it a little less than a year after I did so is funny because I can hear so many things I’d do differently to it now. Nonetheless, I’m really proud of it, I feel like it documents what was a really important learning process for me, and I strongly recommend anyone who thinks they’re a terrible engineer, but would like to be less terrible, to mix their own song and then release it as the first single off their debut album. NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT.
This was one of the last tracks on the album to be written. Because I have no scruples, I asked my Twitter followers to suggest a song subject to me, and a friend who keeps pet rats (only ‘pet’ feels like the wrong word, because they are essentially a little family) suggested I write about them. It was such fun, because although you’re always writing for an audience, it’s usually a faceless one, whereas this time I wanted not only to write something that I was happy with and that I thought would be generally listenable, but I also wanted to write something that my friend specifically would love.
Every sound on ‘Take Care’ had to be small and crisp, no mid-range mush, no soft synth pads. I wanted it to sound like someone with very small hands – rat- or mouse-sized hands – had produced it. It’s a vignette of a girl in a tiny, safe, warm space with her tiny family away from the outside world; because you don’t always have the energy to push back against expectations, sometimes you just need to hide with people or animals who love you, and that’s okay too.
This was the excellent idea of the lovely John Jervis, whose label, WIAIWYA, Peach was released on, because one disarmingly weird track amid nine pop songs was never enough and we all knew it. Remixing your own song to make it glitchier and spookier and more like a chewed-up radar signal beamed from the fourth dimension is great and I would strongly recommend everyone try it.
The Ice Fishers
This is the earliest song on the album and I think the first version was actually written before Staying Still, my EP, came out in 2016; it was an attempt to write something a tiny bit harder and darker than my earlier songs, and although I’m not sure it quite fits that bill there’s an oddness to it, to the metallic ringy feel of the snare drums and the dusty overtones in the upper synths, that I quite like.
When I wrote it, I thought it was about rescuing and being rescued from the cold and the dark by someone you really care about; months later, I figured out the only person who can actually get up and walk you out of the cold and the dark is yourself; it’s not always easy or possible to see the exit, but that doesn’t mean anyone else can do the job of finding it for you.
Maybe Princess Peach was always ‘in another castle’ because she’d already figured out she could just get up and leave before Mario even showed up.
‘Peach’ is out now – you can buy it here