The Journey of The Great Song Cycle: Interview with Joanna Wallfisch

The Journey of The Great Song Cycle: Interview with Joanna Wallfisch
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Playful and poetic British vocalist and composer Joanna Wallfisch shirked the bus aspect of her latest West Coast tour in favor of a bike. The tour was aptly named The Great Song Cycle.

Joanna pushed through challenge and triumph while traversing the coast with only her body and two thin wheels propelling her forward; what transpired was a tour full of music made richer by the beautiful struggle Joanna intentionally created.

As you’ll discover in the following interview with this unique songstress, her journey was not passed through without contemplation and growth; it birthed it.

Why did you decide to pass on “traditional transport” in favor of a bike for this portion of your tour?

J: The main reason was freedom. Life on a bicycle is to be completely self-reliant and self-sufficient. I carried all that I needed for my multi-faceted month; my instruments, my home, my clothes, food, water, and myself. When traveling by car, train or plane one can easily forget that you have to carry yourself with you wherever you go. On a bike, you become so attuned to the body you live in and how mind, spirit and flesh can actually exist simultaneously together and also as separate entities. It was a complete thrill to know that the only way I was going to get from A to B was by the strength of my own body and mind.

What were the biggest challenges of weaving through your West Coast tour on bike? How did you move through them?

J: I faced a number of different challenges, from pain and exhaustion to loneliness and even, at times, fear. The way I overcame each of these was seeing everything not in terms of distance, sensation or emotion, but in terms of time. Knowing that time would pass meant that any one of these discomforts would also pass.

What were the most surprising benefits of traveling the coast on bike?

J: I guess there were many benefits of traveling by bike. One was that I got to experience the coastline in its entirety. There were magical moments when I would come around a bend and see a humpback whale breaching near the shore, and I know the car that just zoomed by me did not see it; or, the ballet in the sky of a thousand small birds suddenly flying from a tree. Again, in a car you just wouldn't see this. You don’t miss anything when on a bike. You get to experience every hill, wave, cloud, bird, tree, smell, taste, temperature and breeze. You really are one with your environment, and you can’t help but gain a unique perspective on the shape and workings of the planet we live in.

Another benefit was more internal, and perhaps more subjective. I experienced a deep sense of presence. My mind barely ever reached back into thoughts of the past, and only when I was tired, and in need of getting to my destination, did it reach forward into the necessary future. Otherwise, my mind, my sight and my body remained firmly in the present moment. I felt peaceful, and deeply happy.

On a human level, I experienced a wealth of kindness from strangers. It is amazing that in a world filled with fear, fighting, prejudice, selfishness and anger, I was experiencing nothing but kindness, generosity, joy and acceptance from everyone I met.

Your music video for Gardens in My Mind is so visually appealing and unique. How was the idea for the video birthed, and then nurtured into the final creation?

J: The idea for the video came to my mind as if in a dream. I have always been into the more performative and creative means of expression, and actually did a fine arts degree before I pursued music full time. So, at first I just wanted the album cover to be a body paint extravaganza, giving the idea that a garden had grown out of my mind. Then, having experienced being painted before, I recalled the lengthy process, and tried to imagine how it would be if we were to take a photograph as every brush stroke was placed, thus creating a stop-frame animation of the garden literally growing around and over me. I am lucky to have some very talented and daring friends in New York, and so with the help of photographer Jeremy Sailing, and body paint artist Alyssa D’Anna, we spent the day making, effectively, a great paint-y mess!

You seem to radiate authenticity, and a dedication to honoring your true self. Any advice for other artists on the journey of tapping into that authenticity, and finding the courage to follow its lead?

J: Gosh. I will admit it’s not easy forging a path as an original artist. It’s not easy being original, and finding your voice, period! Finding yourself takes time, perhaps a whole lifetime, and so I would say that patience is a very important thing to practice. I am one of the most impatient people I know, and so at times face frustrations. But I find the best way to overcome this impatience is to just sit down and make the work, write a song or practice my craft. Making the work is key. If you call yourself an artist, whether singer-songwriter, choreographer, painter or photographer, you have to live it. To be an artist is not theoretical, it’s practical. You are what you do. And to be an artist is all consuming. You will lose track of the days, and there is never a switching off after work. So, you better love it. You better need it. You better understand that you have no choice.

Where are you (and your music) headed now that your West Coast tour is complete?

J: As soon as I returned from the road I went straight into the studio with my band and recorded a brand new record! I am very excited about this new project, though I don’t yet know how I am going to release it. I have a Europe tour in November to bring this amazing 2016 to a close, and in the New Year I will be sharing new music and videos, and continuing to tour solo and with my band in the USA, UK and Europe. I am definitely plotting my next Great Song Cycle - which will either be around the UK, or from Brisbane to Hobart, Australia.

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