Kathryn Williams releases a brand new album of songs inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: ‘Hypoxia’ will be released viaOne Little Indian on the 15th June.
The project’s origins came in 2013 when Kathryn received a call from New Writing North asking if she would accept an open commission to write something about Plath for the Durham Book Festival’s celebration of her life and work, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of The Bell Jar’s publication. Excited, but also somewhat intimidated by the prospect, Kathryn quickly realised that trying to write song lyrics for poems without using the actual poems or referencing them was going to be nigh on impossible, and – as time passed – what had seemed like a gift of making her own brief, turned to dread and foreboding as she desperately tried to find a way into the material.
Momentarily stuck, Kathryn began what was to be a revelatory re-reading of The Bell Jar (which she hadn’t read since her teens): “What I wasn’t prepared for was the muscular writing. The shocking, brutal honesty. The modernness. Thinking about a woman writing this 50 years ago was astounding.” Struck by the book’s protagonist, and with a note of relief, the brief to write about the characters and themes in the book came into clear focus.
In October of last year, Kathryn performed five original songs inspired by The Bell Jar at Durham Town Hall – alongside writer Andrew Wilson reading from his (then forthcoming) book ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song – Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted’ – “it was a surreal experience to share these songs that felt like secrets,” she says of the show.
But things didn’t end there – Kathryn found she was unable to escape the lure of the book’s characters and continued to write songs ‘for’ the book over the next year (“This strange little cuckoo that had pushed my other records out of the way was demanding to be fed.”). Finally, with 8 songs ready, Kathryn enlisted the help of friend and collaborator Ed Harcourt who produced and engineered the album, also co-writing a ninth song, ‘Cuckoo’, into the bargain.
Sonically the album utilises textures first explored by Kathryn on her Adrian Utley produced project, ‘The Pond’ (2011). There are surprises to be found here too, like the dramatic glam rock guitars that suddenly erupt in lead single ‘Mirrors’ and in Kathryn’s deliciously idiosyncratic lyrics & delivery – her gentle voice loaded with an underlying edge that was always there but has never seemed more apposite.