Helene Greenwood wants first album to take you on an unexpected journey


singer - Credit: Archant

The emotional intensity of life transitions such as birth and death can often be the greatest sources of inspiration for singers. For Hampstead-based singer-songwriter Helene Greenwood, it was the loss of her mother and arrival of her daughter in the same year that drove her to return to making music.

Make no mistake; there is a substantial knowledge of music hidden behind Greenwood’s unassuming, charming and soft-spoken demeanour.

First she attended the Royal Academy of Music to study contemporary composition and later finished up at Royal Holloway. It was during this time she had a break, became a teacher and had her first child before feeling the need to sing again.

Greenwood describes her rediscovery of music as a “sort of therapy” after experiencing different emotions in the midst of life’s upheavals.

And yet music has always been a constant for the 41-year old, who was captivated at an early age. She explains: “I was composing before I went to secondary school and had an amazing music teacher who encouraged me.”

Fast forward to 2013 and Greenwood’s debut album Collectable You is just released. Interestingly, it was never her goal to make an entire album.

Singing at the Green Note’s open mic nights in Camden, which she informs me is “really good for songwriters starting off”, was simply a space for self-expression. It was after one particularly impressive gig that somebody approached her and asked why she didn’t just compose a whole album.

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Balanced life

Spurred on by the rush of performing, it was now striking the perfect balance between motherhood, writing songs and finding time to practise singing that was the “ultimate challenge” for Greenwood.

“Time goes very quickly when you have your children. You see them grow up and you think, ‘Oh my goodness, I really need to do what I want to do in life.’”

Looking across at the large rainbow-coloured abstracts that hang in her living room, which she delightedly tells me her husband painted, it is clear that family is extremely important.

Currently in progress is a song featuring recorded sounds of her daughter playing with water. Already written is a song about her husband which has been referred to as her Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus song.

An artistic quality runs throughout Greenwood’s music which she confirms stems from a love of visual language. The video for her first single In the Sunshine was shot on Hampstead Heath by multimedia artist Rebecca Lennon. With images of the singer covered in green translucent sheets of plastic, silky satins and mysterious stacks of black and white Polaroids, it is certainly something the Surrealists would approve of.

Greenwood also collaborated with Lennon to create the album cover, which is inspired by Victorian cabinets of curiosity and Freud’s idea on how collections of objects can reveal a great deal about a person’s unconscious mind. Ingeniously, each object on the cover relates to a particular song and is meant to evoke a different emotion. “I want the songs to be like little melodies and fragments of poetry which might communicate with people and other people’s subconscious,” she says thoughtfully.

For the future, Greenwood speaks of playing more gigs, composing new material and possibly exploring what foreign waters have to offer.

“It would be amazing to perform in America. I love the singers there: Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens have really inspired my singing,” she said.

With the unconventional path Greenwood took to make this album, it is not surprising to learn what she wants her listeners to take away. “I hope that it takes people on a journey. I hope if they follow through the lyrics, they will sense a kind of yearning and a real need to communicate. Ultimately I hope they arrive in a place where they didn’t expect to.”

Collectable You by Helene Greenwood is released by Washaway Records on Monday.