Day 51: The white noise

The White Noise is the only remnant of an abandoned experiment from 2015, shortly after my final Seafieldroad album. At the time I was looking after a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, often on my own while Laura worked full-time, and it was proving virtually impossible to spend any time with a musical instrument. But I still had some half-formed melodies buzzing around my head, so I decided it would be a great idea to record an album entirely consisting of a cappella songs, on the grounds that I could theoretically work on them while carrying a baby. I may also have been listening to Medúlla by Björk quite a lot.

As it turned out, though, I wasn’t committed enough to this supposedly brilliant idea to actually finish any of the songs. The White Noise is the only one we attempted to record, and Hamish’s scepticism throughout the whole process was conspicuous. No wonder. When I returned to the files a couple of years later, they sounded awful. The only part that really worked was the rhythm in the second verse, which I’d created by stamping and clapping my hands a lot. The first thing we did when we went back to it was start adding instruments.

Fittingly, it’s the instrumental version that has now been most widely heard, thanks to its inclusion in Danni the Champion, a new film Laura has made for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Scenes for Survival series, from a script by playwright Iain Finlay Macleod. Laura’s own song, Fois Anama, makes a much more dramatic and memorable appearance, but The White Noise soundtracks the middle section, as Danni – brilliantly portrayed by young Lewis actor Francesca Taylor Coleman in her first professional role – visits a Stornoway chip shop, gets drunk on the pier on a cocktail of vodka and brown sauce, and steals her brother’s car.

This was entirely Laura’s idea and, while grateful and flattered that she wanted to use it, I was a bit perplexed at first. The White Noise was written from quite a male perspective; it’s a song about anxiety and privilege, and the sense of guilt associated with feeling mentally unwell when you know your life is pretty good compared to a lot of people’s. The ‘white noise’ represents the static inside an ill person’s head, specifically an ill parent of young and exhausting children – I was getting around four hours of sleep a night at the time – but also the knowledge that ‘white noise’ is the only kind of noise I can make as a white man in middle age.

A teenage girl getting drunk and stealing a car, then, is about the last image I had in mind. But, as I’ve said a few times before in this diary, once a song is out in the world it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It works very well in the film, and if that brings a new audience to the song I’m certainly not going to complain.

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