Currently resident in Melbourne but originally from Te Kuiti, Kerryn Fields is an award-winning folk singer-songwriter with a distinctively deep, soulful voice and a penchant for confessional, storytelling songwriting. Her sophomore album ‘Water’, launched in July, is a veritable deep dive into the human experience, highly personal lyrics set against the backdrop of intimate picked guitars and lush harmonies. As she tells, Nur Lajunen-Tal, Kerryn sorted through more than 200 songs to find the 10 she’s packaged to tell her own story of life after love.
One of the defining characteristics of Kerryn Fields’ newly-released second album is how it was recorded.
“The process of recording ‘Water’ was very different to a studio-recorded production because we captured most of the record in three days, under a full moon, live to reel,” Fields explains.
“We moved the entire studio into a house and moved the band there and then just completely captured the rest of the record… My performances are live, the drums are live, the bass is live, and we all just locked it into this beautiful little time capsule. It was really magical. I love magic… we captured it under the full moon, and the ocean was raging out there in the distance, and I was like, ‘This is what magic is! This is what it is to be like a wizard of art as much as it is to be a songwriter.’”
Sophomore albums are often criticised for losing the sense of raw authenticity as a result of being more slickly produced than the first album. Fields took the opposite approach with ‘Water’ however.
“We could have done it perfectly, we could have squeaky-cleaned it, we could have made everything amazing and done take after take after take, but… I didn’t want to spend two years meticulously fine-tuning every song, which is what I did with [first album] ‘Rascal’. I was very particular with how I produced it and with ‘Water’ I just wanted to get in a house and just smash it out. Deliver it.”
The album was engineered, produced and mixed by Fraser Montgomery.
“Fraser’s a very big, golden part of this because, not only did he produce and engineer and mix the record, but he identified the importance of capturing it in that particular way,” says Fields. “Fraser has an incredible studio in Melbourne (the live music capital of the world). He’s created this studio over eight years and fine-tuned every part of it, and then to take it all and go into a house that we’ve never seen before, and risk recording it there, just showed the faith that he had in me as an artist, and also the faith I had in him as a co-producer, to do it this particular way.”
Fields wrote all the album’s songs and says the lyrical content stemmed from personal experience.
“My very long term relationship ended at the same time as I released my first record and so I guess that sparked off the inspiration for songwriting… I moved to Australia with my NZ partner and so when everything finished for us I just felt like, ‘What am I doing in this country? I’m not even from here and now my relationship isn’t working!’
“It was just such a horribly lost, heartbroken start to the record… It’s a very personal record this one, so a lot of storytelling and a lot of exposing deep wounds, but at the same time, finding light in the darkness and joy in life’s funny little things. It definitely, for me, covers the full spectrum of human emotion. I wrote over 200 songs to find the 10 that really tell this story of life after love.”
One of the most powerful songs on the album is closing track Fifteen, which tells the story of Fields’ parents’ divorce after her mother came out as lesbian.
“At the end of the record, the really beautiful part for me, the part that I love the most, is that I face my parents’ divorce, which was a surprise to me,” Fields says about the song. “It just came out, none of the songs were contrived. I didn’t go, ‘I’m gonna write a song about this’ and then go for it… these songs just came, as they do…I realised that, while I was dealing with my own ending of my marriage… the heartache of my own parents’ divorcing was still in there inside of me, and it was still hurting. It was something I was still angry and upset about… I was just 15 years old when my mum came out and left my dad.”
As the chosen title suggests, water and the other elements, provide an important background across the album tracks.
“There’s lots of elemental love. Mostly water. Water’s the dominant theme, which is why I chose ‘Water’ as the name of the record,” she says. “Water is so precious. And spiritually, when you speak to the water, you speak to the world, ’cause water’s been everywhere, it’s touched everything, it’s been in all of us… Coming back to the source of life, standing at the ocean and crying your heart out, kneeling down by the river and drinking from the stream, standing in the rain and letting the storm wash you clean, all those themes come through in water, loud and clear. Everyone’s got a connection to it and it’s up to us artists to remind them how important that is.”
This emphasis made the timing of the record auspicious – even ironic.
“White Island erupted the hour I started recording,” says Fields. “ And at the same time Australia was on fire, and we were just heading into a pandemic. So at the moment of recording, all of that is captured in those three days under that full moon – the wild, ferocious temper of Mother Nature… fire encompasses everything, it takes everything in its path, it doesn’t care.”
There was another reason for calling the album ‘Water’, a piece of advice Fields received from a friend.
“I’d gotten myself into a state, I think, a hyper-anxious, heartbroken, miserable mess, and she said to me, ‘You know what? You just need to put all this shit in a bag and you need to send it down the fucking river and just let it go!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah! That’s exactly what I wanna do! I just wanna take everything that hurts and just give it to the water.’ Because once it’s in the stream, it can be gone. It can be transformed into something beautiful… So this record is me putting all that in a bag and giving it to the water!”
Fields, as you will have gathered, is very passionate about the protection of water and the environment, and calls our long-held priorities into question.
“We really value gold in this society, we really value what’s in the water, but… water is our most precious resource, right? We’re made of water… [we’ve got to] reprioritise what we think is important. The cover of the record is framed in gold, because, ultimately, we’re heading towards a world where nature may be something we frame on a wall and are unable to access anymore because we wrecked it.”
Ultimately, Fields reminds us of the importance of being vulnerable and authentic human beings.
“Most of the people that love the music and are creating the shows that I come to… come for that striking honesty and that ability to just be really real about life. Part of that work that I do as a performer is to just be like, ‘If I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there. If I’ve experienced this, you’ve probably experienced this.’ And the more honest I can be with myself, the more honest you can be with yourself, and the more you can find yourself inside this song. Ultimately, once you release it, it’s not your song anymore. It becomes other people’s song… It’s been my record, my personal journey, for so long, and it’s your time now.”