Victoria Girling-Butcher's pleasure and pain

By Scott Kara

Victoria Girling-Butcher says her illness has changed her perspective on life. Photo / Supplied
Victoria Girling-Butcher says her illness has changed her perspective on life. Photo / Supplied

Victoria Girling-Butcher almost called her new solo album Tinctures, Elixirs, and Drink. She'd tried all three tonics to help her fight Sjogren's Syndrome, the same rare, auto-immune disease tennis player Venus Williams also suffers from.

"It's the sort of thing that's really frustrating, because it's not very visible and suddenly my body stopped being reliable," she says of the condition she was diagnosed with in 2009.

Among other things it causes fatigue and arthritic complications, the latter of which is a big blow for a songwriter who plays guitar and piano.

In the end though she thought better of the album title because "it doesn't really roll off the tongue". And besides, while the album has its dark and reflective bits, there are no woe-is-me moments here which is why she settled on calling it Summit Drive after the album's uplifting centrepiece.

Still, the line "I've tried tinctures, elixirs and drink" is a poignant moment from Mirror Mirror, a song that deals directly with her illness.

"It's a story about trying everything to make you better but there really is no cure," she says.

The singer and songwriter, who for 10 years fronted critically acclaimed dreamy blues pop trio Lucid 3, says through medication and lifestyle "management" the disease is under control.

"I'm not one to look at the gift of having an illness. What gift? F*** off," she says with a wry laugh. "But there are all sorts of lessons in it, and I do look at life very differently now, and pace myself, and I'm getting very inventive about how I can make myself more efficient without falling apart."

While she can't play the piano much any more, she says playing guitar is "vaguely" therapeutic. "Because it's not a heavy muscle tensing instrument, and if I play well, in the right positions and shapes, it is therapeutic."

Since Lucid 3 decided to take an indefinite break four years ago Girling-Butcher has worked as a journalist and researcher as well as playing in bands for Dave Dobbyn, magical multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andrew Keoghan, and pop-rock troubadour and her old flame Lindon Puffin ("He was my boyfriend. We're [still] great friends.") who she plays with at Auckland's Backbeat Bar on November 25.

And while the release of her solo album has taken a little longer than anticipated because of her illness, she is chuffed to have Summit Drive finished.

It is made up of a diverse mix of songs from cheery and bright opener Night Scout, the simple and plaintive country tune St Christopher, and it's at its best on darker and more volatile sounding tracks like first single The Taxidermist and Ice Sheet.

The darkness of some of the songs doesn't stem from having Sjogren's Syndrome, but more from her love of darker, "woozier" music by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins.

"That music defined my teenage girl years and so it was an idea to revisit my musical influences and that swooping woozy dark feeling," she says.

Her band on the album is made up of guitarist Jol Mulholland, drummer and producer Wayne Bell and Keoghan, and she recorded it with good friend Olly Harmer, who won best engineer at the Tuis for The Naked and Famous' Passive Me, Aggressive You as well as being nominated for Keoghan's excellent Arctic Tales Divide from earlier this year. Harmer's contribution in warping, twisting, and, as Girling-Butcher puts it, "f****** the songs up", also played a big part on smouldering and menacing tracks like The Taxidermist.

"The song theme is pretty dark too. A tale of promiscuity," she smiles.

"No, not really, more like preserving the ghost of love lost perhaps," she jokes.

She admits Lucid 3 always had a wider audience in mind when it came to writing songs - but this time around she wrote songs that she wanted to write.

"I think Lucid 3 always made the music we wanted to make, but we also wanted to make music that had an audience. On [Summit Drive] I really wanted to make a musically fulfilling album without thinking too much about who was going to buy it."

For example the obvious choice as first single would have been Night Scout but instead Girling-Butcher chose The Taxidermist. "And it's so rewarding to make a decision that is musically interesting to me. And I do think about the fact it might not get a lot of air play, but I guess I'll just have to live with that," she says with laugh.

LOWDOWN

Who: Victoria Girling-Butcher, singer-songwriter formerly of Lucid 3, now solo

Playing: Backbeat Bar, Auckland, November 25 with Lindon Puffin

Latest album: Summit Drive, out Monday

Also listen to: Lucid 3 Running Down the Keys (2002); All Moments Leading To This (2004); Dawn Planes (2007)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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