Meet Kirsty McGee, an uber-talented singer-songwriter, from Manchester, England, whose new single "Sandman" was personally chosen by Danny Boyle to be featured in his new film TRANCE. "Sandman" is a dreamy, jazz-tinged, haunting number that fits squarely within the themes of the film—what is reality and what is dream?—with striking aplomb. We chatted breifly with Kirsty today about her journey thus far, from writing the song to attending the TRANCE premiere in London, and everything in between.
Where did the inspiration for "Sandman" come from?
Sandman is a dark, stalker-lullaby that ironically came from a state of trance.
When I sit down to write, I'm not usually aware of where a song comes from. It's taken me a while to figure out that often the song will know more about me than I do myself: I can look back at things that I've written and realise that my unconscious mind was already aware of things that my conscious mind was busy blocking… which is definitely interesting. I guess it's a song that's intended to unnerve - but it does so in a beguiling way. The melody's gentle and the words seem to be soothing until you actually listen and realise there's much more of a dark intention in the song.
A song is a very small thing that has to hold a lot of information - a bit like a matchbox that opens up into a TARDIS… as a songwriter, I'm determined to fit as much as I can into that matchbox, and the best way of doing that is to use words and characters that already have meaning and stories packed into them. A character like the sandman is great because he already has a history of stories that triggers a lot of memories. And the character of the Sandman works on different levels - from the innocent figure that sends children to sleep to the more sinister being that stalks comic books, lurks in corners and is much more menacing.
There's a part of me that still remembers a childhood fear of mirrors and the terror that one day I'd open my curtains and find a devil looking back at me. I guess if the song came from anywhere it came from the tangle of vague childhood fears and memories that we get caught up in in our adult attempts to make sense of the world.
Can you take me through your journey with the film, from being contacted by Danny to hearing the song in the finished product?
I've been asked many times how I became involved with the film, and actually most of the story took place without my knowing: as far as I've been able to make out, a writer called Frank Cottrell Boyce, who worked with Danny on Millions, sent him the song a few years ago and he's been waiting for the right moment to use it in a film…but I have to admit I've still not met him!
The song was recorded by a transatlantic group of players in the middle of a Kansas ice storm at Mike West's Ninth Ward Picking Parlour in the midwinter of 2007 as part of my album The Kansas Sessions (Hobopop Recordings 2008). In spite of power-outs and fallen wires that cut out the power to the rest of the neighborhood & despite studio illnesses (including a bout of laryngitis), the entire record was recorded (mainly live) & mixed in under a fortnight. A retired university Professor, Larry Maxey, was brought in to play clarinet. Larry's responsible for the beautiful and dreamy clarinet lines that weave through Sandman, giving the track a timeless, velvety, scratchy vinyl quality.
2011 was a catastrophic year for me: I suffered a breakdown that left me unable to work & that brought me close to giving up music altogether. I spent the summer in Spain, recovering with family, and it took me long months to get my confidence back, almost giving up hope of playing again. In the winter of that year, entirely out of the blue, an email came in from Fox. I have to admit that good news was so unexpected at that time that I googled the name on the email thinking that it was a wind-up! After that, I had many months of waiting, knowing I'd hear nothing till the Olympics were over. Finally we heard the song was in the film this January which was hugely exciting!
It's been interesting to be aware of the film for such a long time - looking on from the sidelines, as it were. I think even if the song hadn't ended up in the soundtrack I would have had to have gone and seen it because it very much piqued my curiosity!
How was the London premiere?
Ever so exciting!
I'd never been to a premiere before and when I got the invite I panicked as I had no idea what to wear…I toyed with the idea of high heels but soon decided on a pair of biker boots…
We arrived into Leicester Square from Soho. The square was buzzing with hundreds of people who were there to see the film stars on the red carpet. In front of the cinema was an immense Trance poster. The design for the film is so eye-catching and vivid and it really reflects the mood of excitement that Rick Smith was going for in the score and that the movie has at its heart.
There was a line of bouncers moving people along if they stopped to take photos but we managed to snatch one once we got onto the carpet. Something that took my breath away was that as we arrived, Sandman was playing! It made everything somehow more real and I have to say it made my night to hear the song used like that: songs go off and have their own lives once you've written them and this was such a perfect example of that. As we got to the cinema doors, Rosario Dawson appeared dressed from head to toe in a ruby dress, smiling for the cameras.
Before the film, Boyle, Christian Colson and the cast gave an introduction where they seemed in fine spirits. Afterwards, as the credits rolled, little pockets of clapping exploded around the auditorium as people's names slid by - that was rather nice - to realise how proud everyone involved was of being associated. Later I was introduced to the charming Rick Smith who wrote the film's wonderful score.
I have to admit that after the film I also drank far too much fizzy wine and, not being used to drinking, had a two-day hangover.
Kirsty McGee and Mat Martin (who plays ukelele on Sandman) at the London premiere of TRANCE
What inspires you on a daily basis?
Everything from HBO to old vinyl and good coffee. I'm also an obsessively keen swimmer and can't go for too long without being in the water. The light that flickers under the surface and the way that bubbles dance behind a swimmer and just the colour of water give me a rush of joy every time I swim. I was very jealous of the private pool in TRANCE.
What's your desert island, cannot-live-without record?
Although I'm a huge fan of Tom Waits, I have to admit I don't think I could live without Louis Armstrong. I'm a big fan of the Louis and Ella record, but I would settle for anything with Louis singing on it. His voice gets my heart every time.