CECILIA DEVINE – FINDING ART WITHIN
BY KIAN WEST
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN I READ EMAILS AND I JUST KNOW THAT I NEED TO MEET THIS PERSON. THERE’S MORE TO THEIR STORY THAN THE TEXT ON THE SCREEN. THAT WAS CERTAINLY THE CASE WITH CECILIA…
We sat down at The Happy Wombat early one evening to chat about her new music, self-care and this rad tattoo on her wrist that says ‘liberty’, among other things…
So did the tattoo come first?
No, the tattoo came sort of midway through last year. I knew that I was going to get 'Liberty'. For a while I knew I was going to get it, but I just didn't know how or, you know, where it was going to go really. I was like, ‘Oh, I just want it’. Because all the fonts that they have on this website called thefont.com, they’re all really squished in and I'm like, ‘I just want them really long to go down the arm’. And that was perfect, so.
I just wrote this album just to kind of get it out of me and get out my feelings on the matter. It's quite deep, so it's not something I can go, ‘Yay, it's really a high-fallooting pop album’. It's actually really quite – it's very personal memoir. It's a musical memoir of what happened and how I sort of, in the last four years, I've been on this massive journey about healing and finding my own way of doing that, and that everybody should be encouraged to have their own personal liberty about everything in their life. That's including medicine, because a lot of the time, people with emotional and mental issues, they'll just go to the doctor and the doctor will prescribe them a pill, and that's a short-term solution. That's not, ‘Let's talk about you and figure out what the hell is going on’, and people just give their personal liberty away to a complete stranger. Even if the doctor does know them for like, twenty years, they still don't know 'you'.
So is this a cathartic experience?
Yes, it really is, and a lot of it was very spiritual as well. It kind of felt like a lot of people wanted me to avoid that completely and deny that it ever happened and I was like, ‘Well, you weren't there. You weren't there, so how can you say that shit didn't go down and get real for me?’ It was a huge wakeup call. An awakening, I guess you can call it. But I bless everything. I look back on New York and I mentioned that the authorities were heavy-handed and stuff like that, and it's taken me a couple of years to get to this point to look back on it and go, ‘Wow, if they actually hadn't have been heavy-handed with me, the likelihood that I would still be in denial right now about my own life would be a very high percentage’. Not actually knowing why it is that I had an emotional breakdown. So, without going into too much detail – I've learned a lot.
Do you think creating this album, putting out this body of work, is a healing process? And is the performance then you being able to spread that message because you've been through this and you’re able to create a dialogue to people?
Yes. When I was in New York – because, I mean, I'm a singer/songwriter first and foremost; I didn't go over there expecting to break down. When I was walking the streets of New York City barefoot, braless – I had clothes on, but there was no bra and I've got big boobs, man. Like, I rarely walk around my own house braless, it's just uncomfortable. But it was something that happened which was personal – I won't go into that – but there was something that just kind of clicked over and I kind of went, ‘I'm really done with humanity after that treatment. It's just pushed me over the edge’, and I just went walking, on a pilgrimage, for days and nights. The people of New York fed and watered me. It was almost like God and the universe were pushing me through this pilgrimage to go, ‘Yes, what happened on that day, it was horrible the way they treated you. Well, look at all these other people who are seeing you and going, ‘Do you want a muesli bar, honey? I've got a bottle of water in the car.’ And I'm like, "Yes, please. I haven't eaten for like six hours. I'm starving.’ It was just phenomenal; this massive pendulum swung in the opposite direction to show that there are really amazing people out there. When I was on the pilgrimage, I actually said to myself, ‘I have to remember everything. Try to remember as much as I possibly can because what's happening right here, now, for me is something that I know that I can write about’.
And there was one time where I was – like, I wasn't in a trance meaning that if someone came up to talk to me they wouldn't be able to communicate – it was just more that I went into one when I was walking. So I just let my eyes glaze over and I just walked. Because New York is massive. I don't even know where I went. I just walked and, while I was glazing over, in my mind's eye I was visualising the outfit that I would wear to perform. I was visualising, ‘Oh, I would so write a song about this’. And it was like, even though I wasn't suicidal – not that there is anything wrong with being suicidal and feeling that way – I wasn't at that point. I'd just given up on everything else and went, ‘Fuck you. I'm out. This is bullshit. I'd rather be homeless in New York than be dealing with any of my other bullshit’. It was more like I just said, ‘Enough is enough’. But those thoughts about doing the show kept me thinking about the future, that this wouldn't just be it here. So it was like, this is the reality, but you are projecting into the future to think about this very time. It's not the only thing that held me together, but it was something to go, ‘Oh yeah, man, this is such a good fucking song’. You know what I mean? ‘I could totally write something good about this’.
I was so scared. I was so scared over there. You hear about all the people that go missing over there. There's a huge factor of people that just go to New York and never walk out, and I was almost one of them. So it's been four years in the making. When I got out of hospital – it was about this time four years ago – I wrote the album. I wrote about seventy percent of the album in a month, and then I just went into this massive depression for a year or two. I couldn't even think about music. I could still listen to it and love it, but as far as giving was concerned… I said to all of my friends in Sydney, they were like, ‘Come and do the gig’, and I'm like, ‘Nah, I just really want to be at home and I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to be seen’. You know? Like, ‘I don't want to be up on stage pretending that everything is okay, alright?’ So I had a really good break. And I've had a few other episodes in that time where I've gone on a pilgrimage again. It was all very much a part of my healing and very inconvenient for everybody, including myself, but I look at life and I just think the things that I got out of going on pilgrimage were so phenomenal and have helped. The person sitting here today across the table from you is remarkably different to the one who left for New York four years ago. She's still the same; I'm still me, but it's just more that all of it has really formed me, and I kind of look at life with very different eyes. It's a one-woman show, so from the one-woman show – not that I have any other control over what other people think or feel – but I would really love everyone to walk away from it and go, ‘I need to look into self-advocacy and make that a priority’. Not just with medicine, not with just the medical field, but just with taking responsibility for your own self. If you are an adult, you fucking take responsibility for every decision that you actually make. Even if it's ‘I don't know’, it's perfect. ‘I don't know’ is the best response for anything, by the way. Like, if you don't know, that's great. Then let's just work out and try to find out what you do know and what you do want.
But I think a lot of people just go – like, they get a partner and they go, ‘Oh, you can save me and I'm going to get you to answer all of my questions for me’. And it's just like, oh my god. You were given a life. This is it. Live it. Don't live it according to how someone else tells you should live it. And if your liberty is to say, ‘I don't mind if someone makes your decisions’, well then that's good too. If that's a genuine ‘I don't give a fuck’, then by all means, but, if you cannot make that decision self-consciously, that's very dangerous. I do have a message. My mission is to take the show across the world and just inspire people to be independent and at the helm of whatever is in their life and take full responsibility for that. Because a lot of people go, ‘Oh, you know, I should never have done that. That was such a mistake. I listened to so-and-so and they told me the wrong thing to do’. It's like, you fucking decided, buddy. You ultimately said ‘I'll still do it’, even though you probably had alarm bells. You know, you've got to own your shit – the good and bad. That's what I think.
You mentioned that in your mid-twenties you started songwriting, and the labels you mentioned are all dance music. How did that come about?
Well, I've always loved dance music. When I was younger, when I was a teenager and stuff, obviously I loved pop. I loved all the big divas: Whitney, Celine, Mariah – who else was there? There was quite a few of them that I loved. Aretha Franklin. But they were all really pop and soul and stuff. But when I moved out of home and I'd go dancing, I loved proper house music. And to get to that point of doing house [music], I started doing a covers band first, and then I started writing with Glen Abbott, who's the drummer from Machine Gun Fellatio. He had a side project called the Drive-Through Sexual Experience, and I was the lead singer/songwriter. He and I co-wrote. We are actually just in the middle of writing.
It sounds like, while you were producing this, you had reached back out to a lot of contacts from the last fifteen to twenty years. Do you notice that everything is sort of different due to the advent of technology? You would have spent a lot of time in a studio with these people and now you’re able to do the same stuff, but never actually physically see each other.
Well, I mean, that's the beauty of it, isn't it? Because Glen is living up north somewhere at the moment, so we'll be sending MP3 files to each other and emailing and Soundclouding and shit like that. So we don't physically need to be even next door to one another. But like, ten or fifteen years ago, he would have had to send me a CD, I would have then had to play the CD and get a dictaphone, make sure I had the ideas recorded down. You know, this was before iPhones with the voice memo. I used to have a little tape recorder/dictaphone that the old journos used to use, just to get voice ideas down. And it was shit because you'd have like, a sixty-minute tape with sixty minutes full of dribble on there.
I went and got a loan from the bank to go to New York, to go on a holiday. And then, two years ago, I said to a friend – because I was talking about doing the album and shit – I was like, ‘I'm so sick of fucking talking about it, I've got to start doing it, but I don't know, the money situation…’ And then I went, ‘I'm going to go to bank and tell them that I'm going on another holiday to New York and that I just need more money and to extend my bank loan’, and they approved it and I went straight to the studio. [Laughs]
But I mean, you look at artists – just across the board, it doesn't have to be a painter or a singer – but there is no superannuation fund for an artist. I’m still owed thousands of dollars from gigs that I’ve done that I have not been paid for. And I'm talking from ten years ago. I somehow don't think that money's coming, I don't know about you. But you know what I mean? There's no safeguard. And yet we are expected – and you look at all of the major stars – and it's like somehow, ‘We own you’. And it's like, no, you don't fucking own that person. They've worked their arse off to get there and they've got a whole team of people around them, and they’ve got to work their arse off for whatever time period they've got for fifteen minutes of fame to get as much money as they can to have their own superannuation fund for when they get older or whatever.
But is it the most rewarding job at the same time?
Yes. I don't think of it as a job though, and I don't really give a fuck about the money either. You know, I've got a day job, and I'm very fortunate they understand that I'm a singer. That doesn't impact any part of my day job. But fifteen years ago it would have. I'd be like, ‘Oh, I had a gig last night, I can't come in. Sick.’ But now it's a much different story. Music is a calling. That's going to sound like a wanky thing to say and it's going to come out wanky on the page, so please don't make me sound like a wanker. Please. Please be nice, Kian. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I don't think you do.
Anybody who approaches the music industry in order to make money, you're an idiot, because that's never going to happen.
if you could teach Novocastrians one thing, what would it be?
Self-advocacy. That's it. But you know what? I'm not going to tell you what to do with your life. That's your decision. You choose.
But part of that is to own it. Choose and own it.
Take one hundred percent responsibility for yourself. Because when you do that, miracles happen. They happen because you kind of go, ‘I made a fucking huge mistake; awesome, and I'm going to learn from that. I'm not doing to do it again’. Or, from that beautiful mistake, something wonderful can happen. You know they call them happy accidents? I mean for me, in my experience, there have been definite times where I've had to point the finger and blame someone for their behaviour and how it impacted on me negatively. Blame and self-advocacy are two very different things. Blame is a feeling that you have to get through. Self-advocacy is a movement. It's a movement on its own.
You've got a gig at Central Bar on King Street. Who should come?
[Laughs] Everyone. So is there anything else that people should know about you?
Well, if you could mention that my name is Kristen Pearson… My real name is Cecilia Devine, I changed it last year. But my pseudonym is Kristen Pearson, so if people want to check out stuff that I've produced before, they can hear that.
Where can people find you other than at the show?
iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Apple Music, all the majors.
Are you all over the social mediums?
Yes, all of those. Twitter, Facebook, Insta. I'm out there.
Cecilia Devine is performing on August 12th at Central Bar. Then you can find her album Liberty across all the music platforms. Incredibly personal and beautiful music. Magical human.