AN album of straight-up love songs. This is how UK singer Tirzah describes her debut Devotion.
A rising star of South London’s fertile arts scene, the singer recorded the album with childhood friend and longtime collaborator Micachu (aka Mica Levi aka Meeks) over several years in houses, warehouse spaces, and even Kate Tempest’s studio in West Norwood, London.
“There are so many places, that’s why it’s such a blur,” she says.
Here are Tirzah’s notes on Devotion’s 11 tracks of wonderfully sparse, lovelorn R&B.
‘Fine Again’ was written in Mica’s (Micachu’s) studio in South Bermondsey [London], maybe two years ago. It was the one that she shared with [London singer] TØNE, which was a warehouse, all sectioned-off into little spaces. It’s quite a positive song, in a way, because it’s trying to make someone happy again. We didn’t want it to be dreary because who wants that? The album is not delivering anything other than straight-up love songs, so why start with something that’s kind of gloomy?
That was recorded at Loughborough Junction, at Meeks’ (Micachu’s) old place. She had two rooms in that house, actually. It was towards the end of when she was living there and it was still that very much basic set up of keyboard, laptop, speakers, that’s pretty much it. Then there were pre-existing sounds that she played around with, coming into the track. I feel like that one was a loop set up that we used a couple of times with other songs. It might even have been on the What’s the Time mixtape we did a while ago, when she was in the shipping containers; a bunch of studios in India Quays.
‘Gladly’ was recorded while we were borrowing Kate Tempest’s studio in West Norwood. We did a bunch of those all together and I think ‘Basic Need’ was one of them that was recorded at the same time. They all have a similar sound to them. In my head, I think of them as this group of tracks that were done then because of the feel of the room. It was quite high up and they were nice, bright spaces. Quite often, I was writing in that room after work. I would meet Meeks there because that’s when I was living around the corner. I feel like we did quite a lot of writing there.
"It wasn’t inspired by Kanye West, although now that I’m saying that I’m like, 'You liar!'"
I think ‘Holding On’ was either recorded in Loughborough Junction, or that studio in West Norwood. It has a similar feel to ‘Gladly’, which makes me think it probably was recorded then – similar sound, similar feel to it. There’ve been so many when I think about it. We were using Raven’s studio – Giles’ (Kwake Bass’) mate Rave – for a while. I can’t remember what the name of the place is but it’s kind of outer London. We were recording there for a bit.
That was recorded in Dan Carey’s Mr Punch studio in Streatham. That was really nice. ‘Affection’ was recorded there, as well as a bunch of other ones, and they all have a similar feel to them because of how Mica set up the loops and colour-coded them all. We spent a couple of days in there, just banging out a couple of tunes, basically, and she would set up some rolling loops. She played them consecutively and I would do a run through them all and see what came along first. That was a first take, which is pretty much as it is but then it’s been changed a little bit from Meeks’ edits and playing around with it.
‘Basic Need’ is not that new, in terms of time, like three-and-a-half to four years ago, something like that … It also had many versions and in the end it became one, sort of merging them all together. They all sounded familiar but not – although there was another version of that which sounded completely different.
‘Guilty’ was written in Lewisham, which means it’s old, yikes. That was also another one, which was a first take with Mica setting up a bunch of loops, a bunch of beats, and I’m just improvising over them, basically. We set up the Auto-Tune, which is just really fun to play around with. No, it wasn’t inspired by Kanye West, although now that I’m saying that I’m like, “You liar!”
‘Devotion’ was recorded over another beat so it sounded like a completely different song. Then Mica was like, “What do you think of this?” and put over that piano line underneath it. I was like, “Yes, yes!” Coby came along when it was still the old version so it existed as a track with a different beat with Coby’s vocals over it. Then it became something completely different and better for it. I don’t know why people thought it was my voice. I guess they just thought it was mine pitched down or something. It’s got a great quality to it and also the fact that it’s so close up; it’s so near to your ears in sound.
‘Go Now’ is the oldest track on the album. It was recorded here, there, and everywhere. It’s an edited, a different version to what we did at school, in choirs and stuff. It was recorded at Purcell, and it probably was also recorded at Guildhall and probably also was recorded in Clapton. I think altogether there’s probably been about four versions of it so I can’t remember exactly where it’s been recorded.
I know that ‘Say When’ was a first take but I can’t remember if it was written then and there. It was at Dan Carey’s Mr Punch studio in Streatham and, like ‘Affection’, I don’t know if it that was actually one of the runs of playing a consecutive amount of beats but that was definitely a first take, which exists pretty much as it is, with some tweaks structure-wise but I remember singing and it just kind of fitting into a chorus-verse thing that just happened.
‘Reach’, that was in Meeks’ studios on Silver Road, the ones in Lewisham. That was also recorded at the same is time as a track called ‘Sunny Side’, which we didn’t end up putting on the album. I can’t remember if those lyrics were written at the same time, I feel like they were but I can’t be sure. Silver Road is pretty much around the back of the leisure centre in Lewisham.