In her very first interview, Queen Of The Meadow’s Helen Ferguson talks about her video for The Bride, coping with past traumas and being a late bloomer. “If someone had told me I would someday write songs and release an album, I would have laughed in their face!”
French songstress Helen Ferguson (34) plants one foot in Arcadian folk balladry and another in the feverish introspection of Elliott Smith. She does so with a poise and deftness that would suggest she’s been churning out songs for a good two decades or so. Fact is, Ferguson has picked up guitar at the fairly ripe age of twenty-seven.
While some would say that’s relatively late, we’d wager that Ferguson’s musical prowess caught up with her life at exactly the right time. Learning to play guitar and expressing herself through song under the moniker Queen Of The Meadow became a natural lightning rod for Ferguson to divert past troubles and inner despair.
Indeed, Queen Of The Meadow’s debut album Aligned With Juniper tackles some heavy themes like depression, alcoholism and abandonment. But ultimately her music instills a soothing and tender aura, meeting the listener with a winsome and warm embrace. In her very first interview, Ferguson opened up about her new video for The Bride (which you can check out above), coping with past traumas and being a late bloomer.
Where was the video for The Bride recorded exactly?
Helen Ferguson: ‘The video was shot in a special place very dear to me. It’s an old country house where I spent many summers with my grandmother. As a child, I had a lot of imagination and I created stories and characters in my head, something I still do in my songs. The huge rooms, the spooky staircase, the old furniture, grand piano and high ceilings were so perfect to stimulate the imagination and I thought it was the ideal place for The Bride. Although I can’t take all the credit for this specific character, since she was inspired by Mrs. Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I still made her my own, and she was inspired by my own painful experiences.’
Have you thought often about making an album or performing music before
picking up a guitar? Or did you have other goals in mind before then?
‘If someone had told me I would someday write songs and release an album, I would have laughed in their face! A lot of my friends were musicians, I went to a lot of shows, I was fascinated by the creative process… but I was so convinced that it was not for me. I knew I could sing in tune, but I was certain that my voice was dull. So I focussed on other goals. Becoming an English teacher was one of them, and of course the most important one, raising my two daughters. Music was for the ones who had talent, a special gift.’
A lot of talented musicians met their tragic end at the age of 27. For you, that age represents a new beginning. Tell me about this sudden urge to write songs. What drove you to write initially?
‘Most of my musician friends seemed to be born with a guitar in their hands. They all had started in their teens. It took me a bit longer. I just wanted to learn how to play a little for my pleasure, so I took a few lessons from Julien Pras, who’s now my partner on stage and in life. My actual goal was to learn how to play Yo La Tengo’s cover of Speeding Motorcycle by Daniel Johnston. When I reached it, I stopped taking lessons! But I never stopped playing, as I suddenly felt the urge to write music. I was going through a really troubled time in my life. With the little chords I knew, I started singing and I couldn’t stop. It was totally therapeutic, once a song was written and sung, I felt relieved and at peace. It is sad to say that deep despair is what drove me to write these songs initially. But what matters is that it had a positive outcome. It was like taming and framing a painful feeling in a beautiful little box and putting it aside.’
Why did you opt to write these songs in English as opposed to your native tongue?
‘Although French is indeed my native tongue it was obvious to me to write in English. I’ve always loved this language, and have never listened to French music, and I mainly read in English as I am passionate about American literature. But I think it was also a way to hide myself. My songs are so personal, it may be reassuring to think that the audience doesn’t understand everything.’
Would you say Aligned With Juniper is an accumulation of past experiences?
Or are these songs still very palpable in your everyday life?
‘It took several years to put it together so Aligned With Juniper combines both past and present experiences. Several songs like Evil Queen or Old Captain refer to my childhood: past traumas which could not be forgotten, but could be put in a ‘beautiful little box’ as I mentioned earlier. But something for sure, no matter how old the songs are, or how old the events they refer to are, when I sing them – even just for practice – the feelings are very vivid. I relive the experience, the moment when it was written. It’s like opening a diary. Even if you’ve grown, if you’ve matured, when you read it, the feeling is still strong. It all comes back to you…’
You tackle some deep-cutting subject matter on this record. But the
music generally sounds very pleasing to the ear. Was that your intent?
‘Well, I didn’t really have an intent at first since I had no idea I was one day going to play these songs to people. But I think you’re exactly right. It just came this way to me, it was so obvious. To make beauty out of ugliness. Whether I spoke of child abuse, alcoholism, or fear of abandonment, I had to make (the music) soothing and beautiful, sometimes almost naive. Then, it was a victory. A victory over the violence of the feeling I had experienced. And I think it suited my personality as well. I hate conflict and I am definitely not a screamer. It’s interesting that my favorite female artist, Shannon Wright, is so different from me on that matter. Some of her songs are so raw, aggressive, and grab you by the guts. Well, this way I was never tempted to imitate. Mine are soothing to the ear, but simply deal with issues we can all relate to, even if they’re mine.’
The song A Friendly Host sounds like a wistful church hymn, only with
these eerie, beautiful overdubs. Has singing in church during your formative years influenced this album in any way?
‘Ha ha! This church thing is following me, I never should have told my label ! I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings but as a child, I was really bored in church but singing was the one part that I enjoyed, specially at Christmas, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo being a big favorite. Because you could do all kinds of harmonies. So yes, church is the place where I discovered and developed my love for choirs and harmonies. That’s why it was so important for me to add many layers of vocals to my songs. Church is the first and only place where I could sing as a child and I am thankful for that, since I had to wait until I was twenty-seven to dare to sing again…’
What are your plans for the future? Are you going to tour with this
album? Or would you rather pursue different interests altogether?
‘I haven’t played a lot of shows yet. All this is very new to me, I am shy and suffer from severe stage fright. However, the few times I played I always felt a great pleasure sharing my music. And when you’re the one on stage, some people want to come and talk to you at the end and that’s very nice, you get to meet some very sweet people. So yes, I would like overcome my fear and tour more, specially in Holland, home of my wonderful label Tiny Room Records. As for future plans, I hope to write more music, but I’ll let the songs come to me as I always did. They come at the right time, when I need them, when I have something to express.’