‘I’m Sorry’: from speech to song
Melbourne musician Suzannah Espie's song 'I'm Sorry' is based on a highly intimate speech read by historian and author Clare Wright at the Wheeler Centre's 2014 event, Epic Fail. Their collaboration came about in an unlikely manner – it took place entirely through Facebook messages, as the two had never met.
The pair each reveal their side of how Wright's confessional speech became Espie's confessional song – and share their correspondence with us.
Suzannah and I had never met, though we live in the same ‘hood and I had long been an admirer of Suzannah’s music. A few years ago, my husband, furniture designer/maker Damien Wright, struck up a friendship with Suzannah after being introduced by a mutual friend. Damien made Suzannah a dining room table; she wrote a song called 'Mr Right'. In August 2014, Damien asked Suzannah to sing at the Melbourne memorial service of his aunt and godmother, Sister Philomene Tiernan, who was killed in the MH17 disaster. I was unable to attend the service.
Damien later encouraged me to get in touch with Suzannah, who had much younger children than ours, as he knew she was coming to grips with some motherhood issues. I had recently given a talk at a Wheeler Centre event called Epic Fail, in which eight professionally ‘successful’ people discussed a moment of personal failure. I had used the opportunity to ‘come out’ about my battle with postnatal depression.
I had mentioned in passing to Clare’s husband Damien that I had decided to write an album about my struggles with motherhood, and coming to terms with all that entailed as a creative person and a woman in these times. Straight away, he said 'you need to talk to Clare' – and then a link to Clare’s Epic Fail talk at the Wheeler Centre arrived in a message from her.
I was struck by so many things that Clare said about the way she felt, and by how similar my feelings had been – but above all what spoke to me were the words 'I’m sorry, I’ve failed'. That pretty much summed it up for me; it was the root of so many conflicting feelings – confusion, anger and loneliness – I was experiencing as a new mother.
That phrase became the bones of the song, and ultimately very little else was added – the words of Clare’s talk helped me to distill an idea, a sentiment that I knew I wanted to express. I’m not sure I would’ve got there without Clare’s words.
Months later, and after our collaboration finished up, Clare and I had a cup of tea. We got down to the nitty gritty pretty quickly. On one level, we knew each other quite well given that we’d never met. I wish I could have had these kinds of conversations back then; things may have been very different.
Hey Suzannah. Sorry I missed you at Auntie Phil's memorial service. By all accounts you did the most beautiful job. Several people have told me that if funerals have a 'highlight', your music was it. The family are all incredibly grateful. Would love to get together some time. My life is a tad mental at the moment but hopefully we can find a window. Clare x
You might like to have a look at this: ‘The Year my Brain Broke’: Clare Wright’s Epic Fail
Dear Clare, thanks so much for that, it's really fantastic, how did it feel to deliver? How would you feel about me having a go at putting your words into a song? xx
Thanks S. I felt fine delivering the talk. Lots of people said it was really brave etc, but it didn't feel that way. Brave was choosing to live and get well. But if you watch the video of the talk, perhaps you can interpret my body language or vocal tone to gauge if I am kidding myself.
I'd be honoured for you to put the words to music. The talk clearly struck a chord with people. I've had an enormous amount of positive feedback, from men as well as women, wanting to tell me THEIR story of depression. Think there's a lot of it going around...
Suzannah posts a video of her recording session to her timeline; she's singing in a shed with a chorus of women. Clare clicks 'Like'.
And guess what we were recording Clare Wright... our co-write! Haven't sent you anything because there wasn't anything to send until my concept was realised (yesterday) so as soon as I have something in my hot little hands I will send it over. Bloody hope you like it, it was quite an undertaking but a magnificent day! Xx
Thrilled for you. Clearly so much power and energy and love in that room. Only good can come of it!!
Yep, so lucky to have all these incredible women in my life.
I'm mixing my album next week, as soon as is done I'll send you a copy of our song :)
No worries. Can't wait to hear album.
Hey Clare, how are you? I've attached a clip that was made for the song "I'm Sorry".
Are you an APRA* member? I was going to make the songwriting credit a 50/50 split, are you happy with that? Also are you happy with me talking about you when I talk about the song? Hope you like it!!
PS It's a long way off being public so please don't show it to anyone (except Damien of course!)
Hey Suzannah. Finally got the link to work. I'm totally blown away. Speechless and fighting back tears. What an amazing thing you have done. I feel nothing but privileged that my talk spoke to you clearly and truly enough for you - and all those magnificent women - to turn it into song.
That's the soul side of it. Re the business side of it, no, I'm not a member of APRA, but I am also not concerned about sharing rights. It's all yours honey. Re the promotion, yes, by all means you are free to mention me and the Epic Fail talk as background. YOU ARE AMAZING. xx
I'm so glad you like it! I'm doing a single launch for this song in July, maybe you could come and do the talk again there, what do you think???
It would be an honour. Let me know what date you're thinking about. I showed Damien the clip and he loves it too! xx
It's yet to be confirmed but it I'll let you know asap. It's about time we met! x
Clare Wright and Suzannah Espie met for the first time on 25 June 2015. They drank cups of tea and ate custard doughnuts at Clare’s kitchen bench, and discovered striking similarities in their childhoods and upbringings.
Suzannah Espie launches the single 'I'm Sorry' – from a forthcoming album about motherhood called Mother's Not Feeling Herself Today – with a string of shows beginning this weekend.
Clare Wright will reprise her speech at the first of those (this Sunday 12 July at the Post Office Hotel in Coburg).
Sunday 12 July 2015:
* APRA – the Australasian Performing Right Association – is a copyright collective that manages songwriting and performance royalties.
(Images and video of Suzannah Espie by Chris Franklin)