I dream in high contrast, burning ice cold Melodramatic, bipolar and bold When I go light I am cheery and droll But when I go dark you will fear for my soul.
I mostly write about people. I happen to be one of the those people, but if it’s not obvious I like to be ambiguous about whether I am writing about myself, behaviour observed in others or fictional characters. In the age of social media, there is pressure for artists to more or less present their lives as an open book with their work judged as honest representations as their views, but that is extremely limiting (not to mention uncomfortable) from the point of view of the artist. Art is proposition as much as it is position – the purpose is not just to reflect life, but to explore fantastic and dark themes in the safest way possible.
In other words, I ain’t no psycho killer just because I write the odd song with dark or violent imagery. But when I do, it’s usually to make some kind of point, satirically or otherwise. I do not condone any such behaviour in real life.
The more positive side of my writing is about encouraging people to be and express themselves with confidence. I feel most fulfilled when I am able to reach people who feel alienated, misunderstood or just different to the people around them and want to be told it’s OK. I have no particularly beef with mainstream pop, good luck to everyone who finds themselves moved by it – but if for whatever reason you do not identify with what the mainstream offers as agreed identity, it’s nice to have alternatives.
Over time I’ve tried to move away from definitively explaining the meanings of songs and will often deliberately build in different avenues of interpretation via double meanings, puns and ambiguity. Partly this is to avoid writing songs that are patronising or preachy – no-one likes that – but also I’ve come to realise that once a song is out there it has a life beyond your control anyway. If someone finds a meaning in my work that I hadn’t intended, who am I to tell them they’re wrong? The only exception to this is if anyone ever tries to appropriate my work for hate propaganda or views strongly against my own, though in that hypothetical situation I would want to highlight whatever misunderstanding led to it and take any opportunity to subvert.
Musically I have three main stylistic influences: jazz, rock and DIY cabaret culture. I am a trained musician and make no apologies for deploying whatever advanced musicality I see fit for the job at hand, but I never want my statement to be “look what a good musician I am”. I like the term “punk jazz” (coined by Jaco Pastorius in the 1970s) to describe jazz and progressive music that is not concerned with being nice or institutionally valid so much as provoking a response.
Quicksand Kerry is the name and persona I settled into during the ten year period between 1998 and 2008, a time highlighted by expressions of gender fluidity, forays into DIY performance art and gothic industrialism. This album is a compilation of music recorded in various guises during that time, remastered in 2019.
1: Quicksand Kerry – Music Kept Me Sane
I first wrote and recorded this in 2001, with the Ladykillers’ ‘Electric’ James Martin guesting on lead guitar. It then went through assorted remixes, overdubs and additional programming before I settled on this final version around 2003.
This is not a heavyweight lyric. As a discussion of mental health it’s on the level of They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha, but I picked it as the title track of this retrospective because music really is one hell of a coping mechanism – there’ll be more honest expressions of my emotional foibles on the coming tracks.
2: Kerry Samson – Motorway Enui (1998)
Kerry Samson was my first recording and performing
alias (Kerry stuck, Samson did not), under which I self-released two
solo acoustic albums Playing With No Friends and Proud
To Be A Failed Waiter. I no longer have suitable master files
from those albums, so here is an early foray into digital multitrack
recording (combined audio and midi in home computer sequencers still
felt revolutionary in the 1990s).
3: T.M.O. – Desire Could Never Be More
This was the theme song for a series of messy transgender skit videos I made with a group of friends. The lyrics aren’t particularly deep, but the title was inspired by a line in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, “…neither male nor female, because Desire could never be satisfied with just one gender”. This quote came to define much of my gender identity at a time when non-binary had yet to be established as a grouping and all you could be was transvestite, transsexual or drag queen.
4: Quicksand Kerry – If Only They’d Taught
From the 2000 album “Sick Parody of Normality”, this is a sarcastic statement on the rejection of conformity. For this retrospective, I had to clean up the audio a lot on this one – audio processing wasn’t my strong suit back then and there were a lot of signal and EQ problems.
5: Quicksand Kerry – You Left Me and You Jinxed Me (2005)
Recorded in a single take on each instrument (organ, guitar and vocals over programmed drums), this is from the point of view of a dysfunctional, abusive and justifiably dumped protagonist.
I later wrote a sequel from the point of view of his aggrieved former partner – Nothing For You Here appears on the Jenni Bluish No Fury EP.
6: Excretia – Despair (2001)
Excretia (singer Felicia Devile and her guitarist
boyfriend Darrel Pthisis) was a gothic drag act and affectionate
pastiche of the witchy gothic rock I was listening to at the time. It
was very much what it was, but Felicia was my first full femme stage
persona and I still like some of the music I made under this guise,
even if the vocal style was underdeveloped. “Despair”
was one of the more serious tracks on Excretia’s mini-album “Witching
7: Devilish Deeds – The Mysterious and the
Composed as incidental music for a sword box
illusion routine with Devilish Deeds, a magic act I rehearsed and
performed with a dancer friend.
8: Miles From Anywhere – Thinking (1999)
Darkwave project Miles From Anywhere was one of my
first full scale multitrack recording vehicles, the album Ending
was distributed by Peoplesound in 1999. I was in a bad place mentally
at this time – I’d been unable to play for a while due to a bout of
tendonitis, severely affecting my livelihood. I was also developing
severe anxiety around my identity, the struggles of life as a jobbing
musician and the feeling of my music not belonging to myself anymore.
The second side of the album featured some
particularly dark moments which I’m not sure I want to revisit.
Thinking is fairly measured in comparison to those cuts, an
exploration of depression-induced paranoia and distrust of those that
9: Miles From Anywhere – Inner Child
Also from the Ending album. My progressive
jazz background accounts for the irregular time signatures that put
paid to the track being played in the goth clubs that inspired me,
but the stilted rhythms just worked too well to dispense with.
10: Quicksand Kerry – Curious (2006)
A song about the awkward and dangerous time of life when the thrill of exploring the adult world combines with childish eagerness to please and need for attention. I experienced some of this on my way out of the trans closet (when you’re made to feel your identity is wrong and fetishistic it can leave you vulnerable to predators), but I knew that my experience was nothing compared to that of the girls I’d known from the alternative club scene.
The line “she wants to know about what she’s read in all the magazines” was inspired by a young singer songwriter I saw at the Duchess of York in Leeds. In the audience I found myself stood next to the singer’s Mother, who beamed proudly as her teenage daughter sang angsty songs about rape, drug abuse and other sinister life experiences. I asked the Mother if she was worried about the choice of lyrical motifs, to which she replied, “she reads a lot of magazines and has a great imagination”.
11: Quicksand Kerry – Don’t Want to Choose
Though I have spent a lot of time presenting as a
girl, I realised early on that full transition was not my path – I
often said that had I been born a girl I would probably have dressed
as a boy. Though the term had yet to be popularised at that time,
this is non-binary identity in a nutshell.
A question that sometimes gets asked in trans
forums is, “If you could only express one gender ever, which
could you live without?”. Personally I would 1) demand to know
who is defining and policing this arrangement and 2) rebel on
“Don’t Want To Choose” is not only about
gender identity, but every instance where you are forced into
arbitrary choices to fit roles assigned by others. This is the first
recording I made of the song, I later re-recorded it for the 2015
album “Songs From the Age of Human Error”, which was in
turn was remixed for the 2017 EP “Only Robots Need To Think In
12: Quicksand Kerry – Beelzebub (2006)
A piece of silliness that came about during an
improvised rock jam at the Primrose in Leeds. As I recall, the chorus
structure and story pretty much came to me on the fly, I then went
home and wrote it out as a proper draft.
13: Quicksand Kerry – I’m Smiling (live,
First appearing on the 2000 album Sick Parody of Normality, this fanciful yarn became my signature song. I have often been criticised for smiling too much (I can’t help it, I have that kind of a face) so this is kind of a rebuke to that.
Reading it back now, I guess the “angry young man” antagonist is a personification of my own insecurities, though I didn’t give it that much thought at the time. In any case, this sums up my mission statement throughout my time as Quicksand Kerry, a period during which I dealt with anxiety, depression and alienation by embracing misfit identity and just being myself.
Never stop smiling, and don’t care what they think.