Folk singers are often well-traveled. Though one’s roots may be humble, the wanderlust of life draws them to new cities and more challenging sources of inspiration. For Eiks, inspiration comes not from visiting new places, but from living in them. To know a city like Eiks knows London, one must experience the day-to-day monotony of urban life. To write lyrics like “… falling petals settle on us like a gentle burial” one must know the English fields where these petals fall. Speaking with Eiks about her home and her passions, it becomes evident that she is completely immersed in her creative world—and she’d like us to join her there.
Eiks’s new album Braids is a snapshot of the places, both real and imagined, that she has called home. The title track, she says, is derived from memories of her childhood in Jordan: “…my parents used to entertain frequently, so I spent a lot of time drawing cartoons and making up stories whilst playing with my cat.” For her, “the image of braids is nostalgic, simple, and humble.” She channels recollections from her youth and describes to me the most poignant memories, the origins of her penchant for music. “I discovered composing whilst doing GCSE music and I absolutely fell in love with it. I relished getting lost making up tunes on the piano for hours and hours.” Eiks is able to meld these musical memories and childhood flashbacks into poems so vivid that listeners’ own distant thoughts are jolted to life. The result is a shared story and a work of communal memory, giving shape to the nebulous experiences of home, love, and spirituality.
Looking beyond a childhood that brimmed with playful creativity, Eiks also explores the more recent memories of her adulthood in London. One is drawn particularly to Eiks’s inclination to recall the scenes of nature encountered in her daily travels. “I enjoy using imageries from nature as they help me convey a certain atmosphere or express emotions without spelling things out too much like in the songs, ‘Willow Tree’ and ‘The Fall’…Whether it’s the tiniest parks in London or the countryside in the UK, urban or suburban environment, I try and pick the relevant images in my mind and memory that fit the song I’m writing at the time.” Stunningly memorable pictures emerge, as Eiks captures the scenes of her wanderings. “(The song) ‘Away They Fly’ was inspired by a place I stayed in France where I could sit on the roof of the building and watch all the birds fly away during dusk. I was so engrossed watching them as it was so hypnotic.”
Arguably the most unusual and compelling tale from Braids takes us back to “a tiny whisky bar in Japan,” which Eiks describes with great nostalgia. “…The place was almost like someone’s small living room. The barman had made it so tidy and immaculate, and he himself was the same. Whilst telling us how it was great to see Miles Davis live, he put on the Kind of Blue record with a pair of white gloves as not to ruin the vinyl. He was a character and it was so atmospheric which inspired me to write Kind of Blue.”
Compelled to pry into the core of her artistic process, I asked Eiks how she composes the lyrics that characterise these thought-provoking stories. To my surprise, it is not a task which comes naturally. “I can churn out tunes/chord progressions, but when it comes to lyrics, it’s not as easy,” she explains. Consequently, she has eased herself into the practice of constant awareness: “To look for inspiration, I grab whatever piques my interest: anything I see, hear, a conversation with a stranger or with a friend, an image I see on a TV, any phrase that jumps up from a book. As I go about my normal daily life, I seem to have a subconscious radar that looks for inspiration [sic] however small and embryonic they are, and I note them down.” She strives to capture creative stimuli wherever she finds them. “Strong characters or stories also inspire me…For example, I wrote ‘Curtain Call’ after watching a documentary called ‘Grey Gardens’ in which the two main characters left me with a vivid impression.” Gathering these ideas is just the first step of a workflow that then involves transforming her spontaneous jottings into sophisticated poetic arrangements.
When Eiks is lucky, a source of inspiration arrives fortuitously at her door, as did the works of Oscar Wilde, from whom she borrows the lyrics for “Tread Lightly.” Frustrated and unable to produce words to fit an eerie piano melody, she was suddenly struck with the idea to tap into Wilde’s writings, which she had read fondly in school. “I wanted to find something haunting to go with the music quickly, so I read some poems and came across Requiescat by Oscar Wilde which instantly moved me. It’s such a touching poem, and I could imagine Oscar Wilde sitting at the grave of his sister.” Never before had she thought to integrate another’s words into one of her pieces, but to her surprise they blended flawlessly. It seems no surprise to us that Eiks, master of memory, would fall in love with the words of one of the greatest virtuosos of nostalgic prose. “Hopefully Oscar Wilde would approve of this song!” she exclaims.
Eiks’s music allows her words to flourish, and vice versa. Make no mistake, though. As uncommonly creative as she is, Eiks is also fiercely driven. She lives to create music and “[get] lost in the writing process.” For her, “writing music is a form of addiction,” and without it she experiences symptoms of withdrawal. Reliant upon this therapy, Eiks is incapable of straying from her passion, and consequently embraces her inquisitiveness: “What drives me is curiosity. If I use these chords, how would it change the song? If I add a particular instrument, would it change the colour or texture? If I change the melodies how would it sound?” Eiks examines every city in which she sets foot through this lens of curiosity. It has fueled her creative career and driven her to become the artist she is today.
Upon first hearing Braids, I felt I got to know Eiks, but having spoken with her I see yet another side of the artist: the passionate, resolve-driven composer who seeks fulfillment in the words of a poem, the transmitting of an emotion, or even something as simple as musical plucks on a homemade rubber band guitar. “I really don’t know why I love it so much but since I was a child I’ve always liked being creative…drawing or thinking up surreal stories for my comic/manga drawings. I think I’ve inherited this from my mother who used to paint and has arts and crafts hobbies…Even if I only have some rubber bands, wrapped around an object, I will be engrossed in trying to play some tunes with them.”
Her soul is so human, and her songs are so sweetly honest that one can imagine Eiks as an artist’s artist, elucidating her tale of creative highs and lows. However, in speaking with her, this is truly not the case. It is music which feeds her highs, and it never prohibits them. “What keeps me going is my undying love for music and [my] self-belief as well as an incredibly supportive husband.” Surrounding herself with music and with encouraging loved ones, she sees no other life for herself. Tempted to test her self-professed “undying love” for song, I asked Eiks if she has ever had an experience that dissuaded her from pursuing music and how she overcame it. Her answer was blunt, beautiful, and expected: “No.”