Rebecca Cant first caught our glowering eye at Brisfest last year, playing a set that by her own admission caused the audience to fall so silent you could have heard a pin drop. Lurking in the shadows of Bristol’s music scene, Cant has continued to carve a name for herself as a singer-songwriter to be reckoned with – as much for her humble attitude as her unbelievably beautiful melodies.
Ready to play Bristol Ladyfest’s acoustic fundraiser at Halo on June 23rd, Cant spoke to DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels about starting out, moving around and settling down.
You lived abroad for a while, didn’t you?
I lived in South Korea for the best part of eight years. I went travelling in between. I founded a performing arts festival over there which was all women, so I’m attracted to things like [Ladyfest]. That was really important in Korea because they kind of have emerging second wave feminism, so it’s still about establishing that being a woman is good, rather than getting into gender issues. It’s important over there because there’s a lot of domestic violence and women aren’t taken seriously. We did this really lovely celebration and it was really cool, so I was really interested to find out what was going on here.
Was that a while ago?
It was in 2008. I moved [to Bristol] in 2010.
Have you been playing music all that time?
I started playing music in 2004 or 2005, but only in the UK for the last two years.
Threads is out; is that the only album you have available at the moment?
That’s the only CD I have, and a friend helped me to record those tracks, he’s a really good producer. We did a home studio job. I’m really keen to record some of my new stuff, because I feel like it’s a lot more mature. Even though I love those old songs and they’re really important to me, and I still love playing them, I feel like some more relevant stuff has come out of me recently and I’d love to record it. But the best I would be able to do is one of these live sessions, and I want to do a proper studio recording.
Do you find that quite frustrating?
It’s frustrating only to be able to give [fans] the stuff on a CD, or to send people links to it, because I want people to know I have new material. That’s why I did some YouTube videos which was good.
Would you think about doing a live EP?
I could do that, and I guess that’s the only option, that I’ll have to some lo-fi solo recording, but I would love to be able to put piano in and stuff with multi-recording, because that’s the style I really like. I play piano too!
How much has your music changed over the years, since you started? Has it changed in style?
I think I’ve changed as a person; just the events in my life have changed. The sound and music I make hasn’t really changed since I was a kid. I used to make up lots of songs when I was young. I feel like I have melodies inside of me which are quite consistent. My emotions have stayed the same for almost my whole life, it’s just the details and events have changed. Lyrically I struggle, but I feel like that’s what improving gradually as I go.
How many songs do you have, if you’ve been writing but not recording?
There’s a lot of songs that never make it out, because they’re little sketches and I’ve got quite an inner-senser, so there’s quite a lot that doesn’t make it out and then there’s stuff that I’m ok for people to hear. In total I’d say probably twelve, fifteen songs. I don’t write a huge amount which is why I’d never be given a record deal, because I can’t write a lot of music. It comes out slowly, two or three a year basically.
Do you find that travelling abroad inspires you?
I find movement really inspiring, so I travel a lot and I think of songs more when I’m on buses and trains, moving around. There is a difference to living in one place all the time, but I still want to write.
You lived in America for a while too...
I’ve been in the States for a bit, but at the most it was two or three months at a time. I did write a song over there. It is influential too, because I love [American] music, I’ve always been pulled towards Americana and the blues, and country in general. So being there’s wonderful, because I get to feel like I’m really there [in the scene]! I did write a country song when I was there in January.
So you play live most?
Yeah I play live most, that’s what I do. And I love playing live, I feel really great when I’m performing, even though I sometimes get a bit embarrassed and close my eyes, I essentially really like the act of singing a lot. I find melody and harmony really soothing, so I just enjoy playing and it’s a bonus if people want to listen! My favourite thing to do at a party is to sit around and play all night; that’s fun for me, even if it’s not a performance, jamming basically.
If you’re not that productive, what’s your touring agenda?
I can play a lot, I’m just a disorganised musician! And I do a lot of other stuff; I have a zillion interests, music’s just one of them. I teach yoga, I work in the community, I’m trying to develop workshops around emotional literacy for kids, I go in and out of volunteer roles; I worked on a helpline last year. I always have a million little fires burning and music’s just one of them. I guess I don’t prioritise it because part of me’s shy about it, part of me doesn’t really feel like I’m a musician...
Do you find it difficult to define yourself?
Yeah, it’s not like I only do music but I love it, and I’m so thrilled when people want to hear it.
Is that a downside of using the internet? That it’s hindered people from calling themselves a musician because it’s so easy to get your music out there?
I think it’s great, I think it makes more people want to call themselves musicians. When you look and see 4000 people have listened to a track, you can’t believe it! I think it’s democratised music and music production. The simplicity of recording, from someone who hasn’t got around to it, if people know how to do it...
Is there a common theme to all of the interests you have, that ties them all together?
Yeah there is, I’m basically interested in human connection and empathy. Yoga helped me tremendously. The song “Lorna” for example is about a friend of mine who was anorexic, and I had massive body issues when I was younger and it’s been a massive struggle. I’ve experienced depression, I’ve had people around me get really ill and desperate, and yoga has helped me tremendously in learning how to be myself and stay centred. And then working on the helpline is basically helping me to understand people better. Music is quite a direct way to share emotion. But essentially yeah it’s all about wanting us to get along!
Do you have quite a connection with women especially?
Oh definitely, I love teaching yoga to women, I love doing workshops with women. I find it a really safe space. I never really had that when I was younger, and my Mum was great, but I always thought I preferred boy’s company. I was quite boyish, and I went to an all girl’s school which was really competitive, so it actually divided us. There wasn’t much sisterhood, there wasn’t much support or community, and then when I was out of that really competitive situation I did loads of yoga with women and I found it really rewarding. And I love female audiences [as a musician]. It doesn’t have to be all female, but it’s the women in the audience I connect with while I’m performing. They’ll be the ones that cry! Listening to female singer-songwriters hasn’t always been there for me.
Who did you listen to when you were younger?
The first albums I ever had are a bit embarrassing! I had the Greatest Hits of Cher and Belinda Carlisle. But that’s when I realised that I love listening to women sing, and then I got into grunge like the Cranberries, and then I got into Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch. My iPod is full of female singer-songwriters. It’s so special. When you’ve got your headphones on it’s such an intimate space, and people put their whole experience out there. I really admire that. I think what I’m trying to get to is a level of honesty, because when I listen to people really open up I wish I could do that. But I think that inner critic prevents me. I want to get to that point of honesty that’s also poetic.
I feel like my songs are sparse [at the moment]. One guy joked, he put a video of one of my performances up, and he wrote “Rebecca Cant sings a bunch of really short songs”! My husband’s a poet, so I always feel inadequate because he’s such a wordsmith, he’s so amazing with words. I’m really articulate when I want to talk about politics or things that are very factual, but when it comes to songs for some reason, because I want to say something that people will appreciate, I guess I get really self-conscious.
Would you ever collaborate with someone?
I find that really hard! Because I’m really precious about what’s mine. I have co-written with Jeremy but I’ll be like, I can’t say that! They don’t feel like my lyrics. It needs to have a certain resonance. I’ve never spoken so much before about my music!
I can’t believe you’ve not had an interview before...
No, no one’s ever asked me.
You’ve played some high profile shows before, though.
Yeah I played Brisfest and Harbourside, and Shambala. I’ve played as many festivals as I can. Until recently I’ve felt like I’ve been chasing a lot of gigs, but then recently a few people have invited me to play. I rarely get paid, I think it’s hard to think of yourself as a professional when most of the time people want you to play for free, and it’s difficult because there are a million talented people out there. It’s a very crowded market. That’s why I decided not to think of it as a profession and just to enjoy it.
Would you class yourself as a DIY artist?
I don’t really have a choice! I make all my own CDs, design the labels, do it all, because no one’s going to do it for me! I wish I were better at that stuff. I’m kind of embarrassed. People just five years younger than me are better at design and branding. I can’t use photoshop or anything. I’m really impatient as well. The reason I like playing a guitar and singing is because it requires almost no equipment. Whereas recording, all the cables!
Do you think the paid aspect of making music is reliant on reaching outside of the city you’re based in?
I played one gig in London and I sold more CDs than I’d ever sold in Bristol. The people that mainly like listening to my music are women, and it’s usually women who are involved in some inner journey. So I have to think about who I play to. I don’t play in pubs anymore because I feel obliged to do upbeat covers. I’ve played in bars where no one listens – because my songs are so personal, it’s a bit demoralising.
There’s a narrow divide between easy listening, background music and thoughtful acoustic music.
To be honest I don’t really know where I fit in, I just keep doing it, because I love it. I don’t really have a plan! [Laughs]