Tricky Lyrics and Empowering Nuggets: A Reflection from a Songwriter for Change

Guest Post by: Amy Woodburn of eco band ISYLA

How do we become empowered to join the fight for a better future for people and planet? If you are reading this, you are likely already sold on the need to address the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. But if you are anything like me, you may sometimes be at a loss as to how to best communicate this need to others around you. As a songwriter writing for change on climate I ask myself this question a lot.

Certainly, I don’t have all the answers, but I am confident that there is not one answer to this question. I was awakened by an enormous wave of existential fear for the future for my own young children, but psychologists would tell us that fear and dread is not necessarily the best starting point to change a person’s thinking. So how do you communicate the scale of the threat without alienating an audience from the get-go?

Singer-songwriter Lizzie Freeborn and I chose music as our communication tool. Some time ago now I was beginning to pen a new song for what is now our current eco album, Of Blood and Star. I had latched onto a concept that I really wanted to mould into song form. It is so easy to feel powerless in the face of climate breakdown. We are not a cold law of physics; we can’t change the science, we may not be in any lofty position of political power and atop we have messy, daily life to weather. But, without meaning to go full Braveheart on you, we can choose something. And that something is how we respond. This is my most comforting and empowering nugget. I wondered if, dropped into a song, it could act kind of like a life raft. 

I am a thing possessed when I write and usually polish songs off at a maniacal rate, but this song took uncharacteristically long in the lyrics phase to weave. Ultimately the nugget became track This World, which I often describe it as ‘the hardcore one’ off the album. In general, my remit when I write is to avoid a stance that judges others, divides and alienates listeners and try instead to focus on what unites us and what makes us the best humans we can be. The initial lyric drafts earned some properly dubious faces from my husband and most brutally honest sounding board! I feared I had broken my own code.

When the song was in demo form, ready for ISYLA lead vocalist Lizzie and four wonderful session players to inject their magic, I was still really unsure. There is just nowhere to hide as the lyrics lay it bare. In essence, this song asks: Is it okay that our actions are killing people? Would my nugget of empowerment be enough to make this song at all palatable to the people who might actually need to hear it? 

I threw everything in my toolbox at the lyrics and used the songwriting and arranging to add as much sex appeal as I could. I used a little trick I have used a few times where I cast the narrator as the character that is being implicitly criticised. This makes it feel more like moment of realisation and growth, rather than an antagonistic, ‘I am right and you the listener, (or some wicked other) are wrong.’ The ‘judgiest’ lyrical element is treated very quirkily; The chorus calls out anyone disregarding the lived experience of anyone at the sharp end of climate breakdown but playfully omits the actual name calling. I think this track also has really stand out production from producer Gareth Young. The rise and fall of the build and the gorgeous shimmery effects he used on Lizzie vocal are all the icing needed on the cake of ‘climate justice made sexy.’

We think it turned out not too shabby. But in the end, our opinion is not the one that counts. I would hugely welcome feedback from you readers on my success or otherwise with this song. We are on all the socials and love to connect with people. In fact if you want, we could do a little social experiment (with the cheeky side effect of helping to promote ISYLA and our message)? If you know someone who might love our style of music (sultry, folk/alt pop) but is not yet hugely engaged on climate, send them a link to the track or the video without mention of the climate content, casually ask for feedback, and let us know their response! Let’s call it climate activism BY STEALTH – who’s with me!?

Enjoy the lyrics and lyric video included here. And if you like live music and are London or Cornwall way, come and see us next week live at the Bedford in Balham on 24th August or at Cornwall Folk Festival on 29th August.

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www.isyla.org

LYRIC VIDEO:

https://youtu.be/hsbNShbvk1g

THIS WORLD ON SPOTIFY: 

https://open.spotify.com/track/6KKzh21yH5xI44J2Oa2QIe?si=241e539945754a45

ALL LINKS to music, videos and Bedford tickets HERE:

ISYLA: Music for Climate. – Listen on Spotify, Apple Music – Linktree

This World

This world is berries that tastes like the Sundays 

when you don’t want it to be done 

Loving and trying, living and dying

This world is wonder and sex in the dark

Delicate sunrises over the park

Fail again, start again, over and over

There’s a world maybe you don’t see

Where they’re dying at 1 degree

Aren’t you saying that they don’t count

when you’re saying, yeah but they’re not me?

And if you’re saying that they don’t count?

You’re a ooh

Do you wanna be a ooh?

Cause you get to choose          

If you wanna be a  

Aah

This world is perfect now let’s take a picture

Don’t hit your brother be nice to your sister

We can get through this ‘cause we have each other…

Hating, forgiving, believing and striving

‘Get busy living or get busy dying’

Fail again, start again, over and over

How powerful is man 

Won’t I do anything I can 

For the ones that I adore

I give you my love my pain and more

But if you’re one I don’t know…

You can go                                              

Go to hell

Where I wish you well

Ooh

This world is I can’t see if it’s not right in my face

Somebody else take the heat in my place

This world’s dying of ‘making it great’      

This world is indifference, ego and greed

Ever severed from what we really need

Hardly a heart-beat from cut to our knees

It’s gonna be so spectacularly too late…

When it’s calling at my door 

And it’s calling

How powerful is man 

Won’t I do anything I can 

To keep the world I love the same

Salut my freedom like I’m free from blame

But if I am free to slay?

Am I gonna be a 

Oh

Oh

Am I gonna be a Aah?

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