I Wanted to Write a Memoir. I Wrote It in Music First.
December 8, 2022 § 5 Comments
Had I written the essays as personal therapy, or did they belong with the work?
By Buick Audra
I walked away from my solo music after the release of my second album in 2011. In the years that followed, I gained clarity around the decision; I just had to figure out how to share it. I took workshops about writing memoir and personal essay and wrote down everything, even the parts I didn’t understand or agree with. I could sort that out later. I was gathering wisdom and experience; I was grateful for all of it. But some people talked about how their memoirs had taken a decade to write. I didn’t have a decade.
* * *
Up to 2019, I’d gladly given all of my time and creative energy in a Metal band called Friendship Commanders. But my solo work had called me back in a recurring dream over the years, and I had finally taken the call.
The idea to make my first solo album in nearly a decade came from five songs I’d written in a wildly transitional season of my life that held a divorce, the incarceration of my only sibling, my relocation from Brooklyn to Nashville, a record deal, and two Grammys. The songs told those stories more or less, but I’d never properly recorded them. I’d left them in demo form for my future self, like a time capsule waiting to be rediscovered. I thought that giving them their due might serve as amends to my former selves, cauterize a wound I’d grown all too used to. There was only one problem: I was no longer the woman who wrote them. I didn’t even sing like her anymore. It would be like cosplay to render and release the work with no qualifiers, no notes. So, I sat down and wrote five songs in response, updating the stories. One for each of the original five. An answer for every question. I had been waiting to tell these anecdotes for years, and now I could. The result was satisfying, healing—and easy. It poured right out of me like I’d been planning to do it all along.
I would write some essays to further expand on the narratives in the songs, I thought. I’d simply round them out and release them together. The memoir in songs was already in place; what was a handful of essays?
As the shutdown changed plans and lives all over the globe, I accepted temporary defeat. 2020 would not be my release year after all. I would have to be one of many disappointed and frightened people and wait. In the meantime, I would work on the essays. Classes, talks, and groups all moved to Zoom. I signed up for any I had free access to, and a few that I paid to attend.
I started with a paragraph about the human voice. My singing voice had gotten bigger since I’d written the original batch of songs, and that intrigued me. As drafts and versions unfolded, that paragraph remained. Months marched on, structures emerged and were abandoned; ideas that had once seemed brilliant dulled in the harsh light of a new day or week. Over the course of eighteen months, I wrote a few drafts with too many feelings and too few conclusive points, the last of which was fifty-five thousand words. And then I put it away. I had to return to my other band. We had tours to do, an album to record. The solo album and its essays could wait. Again.
When I came back to the writing, I was overwhelmed. Some of the manuscript, I loved. Some of it was off-track. But off-track from what? I had taken a memoir structure class online. It hadn’t solved the riddle of what belonged and what didn’t. I was still on my own with my tales and tangents. As my music team started to nail down the solo album release timeline for 2022, the pressure increased. Had I written the essays as personal therapy, or did they belong with the work?
The album. I had drifted away from the album. There was the structure. She stood there, waiting, like a dress form waiting to serve as an armature for something else. I scrapped all of my clever chapter titles and replaced them with the song titles. I faced the working draft and cut, just like I would cut any length of fabric that didn’t belong there. This project was just another piece of art. I knew how to make those. I had briefly forgotten.
I created a new Scrivener project and called it “One More.” And then I followed my gut. When my gut had questions, I followed the songs. The songs never faltered. They knew the way. After all, they had paved it.
By the time the album was nearing its release, the essays were ready. I couldn’t have planned the timeline if I’d tried. Acts of god had been involved, and I had merely used the time. The two projects were released on the same day, as I’d always hoped they would be.
Conversations with My Other Voice: Essays is my first memoir in prose, a book that I can now hold in my hands. But it’s based on my first true memoir, and that’s the one that I wrote in songs. I wrote the first version in my first language: music.
Buick Audra is a Grammy-award-winning musician and writer living in Nashville, TN. She is the guitarist and primary songwriter and vocalist in the melodic heavy duo Friendship Commanders Her new album, Conversations with My Other Voice, was released on September 23rd, 2022. The album is accompanied by a memoir in essays by the same name.