Beams is Anna Coddington’s fourth solo outing, and her first since the acclaimed Luck/Time dropped in 2016. We asked her to explain what’s changed since then, and what inspired this new batch of songs.
1. Motherhood (Part 1: Sleep Deprivation)
Before I became a parent, I thought I’d be okay with being tired. I’m a musician, I’d already had a few late nights. But sleep deprivation was (and is) a big problem for me. I felt like I was going crazy and got emotionally very low. ‘Magnesium & Coffee’ refers to this – I was tired so I’d drink coffee, but it made me feel too wired so I’d take magnesium to settle my nerves. I felt quite broken for a very long time. Years. You can’t fathom that until you experience it.
Then came a pretty unplanned series of events: I fell pregnant four months after meeting my partner Dick and naively thought I’d be the exception to the rule and continue to make music while my baby slept. Ha! I think I had post-natal depression, but I was very busy trying to fake it till I made it. I’m only able to talk about it now because I’m through the worst of it.
In hindsight my last album was, in places, me trying to buoy myself up. There are songs there that I can see now are me telling myself “be grateful, you have a beautiful life” and that was true, but I was still feeling low. ‘Do I Exist?’ was written when my eldest son was a baby. I think I chose not to include it on Luck/Time because I wasn’t ready to face how I really felt. But I am now. Because I don’t feel like that anymore. Or do I? Just joking, I don’t.
2. Motherhood (Part 2: Aroha)
For all my chat about motherhood being hard, of course, I love my kids! They are the best and most important thing in my life. I went through a period of not wanting to make another record because I felt like being a cool musician and a mum couldn’t go hand in hand. Mums aren’t cool; we use terms like “mum” and “aunty” as soft, endearing insults. And I didn’t want to pretend to be something I wasn’t.
In the end, I just made a record about what I am and what a lot of my friends are: loving parents trying to balance family life and art, and doing our best with both these things. Aroha comes into this record under many guises, but for me, it all boils down to love for my kids and any generation that come after them. There’s a song about climate anxiety, ‘Pirouette’, which I wrote because I love my kids and don’t want them to have to live through that.
‘Beams’ started out in one place but ended up being about my love for my family. ‘Remember Me’ and ‘The Saint (with stains)’ both weigh up the struggles and ordinariness of domestic life, but ultimately they’re both about acceptance too. Like, don’t remember me as the grumpy, bedraggled woman folding laundry all the time, but also do remember me as that because that’s an act of love and it’s part of our life. And I hate folding laundry so yeah, I’m grumpy when I do that, but I do it because I love our whānau.
When I put my son into kōhanga reo, I felt like I was at a crossroads. Take this path and you’ll have to go take night classes to learn te reo Māori and support his journey, and you’ll put your son in this waka and he’ll travel in that until he’s an adult and that will shape him. Or take the other road and it’ll be easier because you won’t have to learn this language and you can just do what 90% of the country does and it’ll be really straightforward and you won’t have to face the intergenerational trauma that’s down that other path.
Of course, things are more fluid than I tend to perceive them, but in some ways, it felt like I had to either grab that thread of myself and my kids or let it go forever. I grew up quite close to my taha Māori because my Mum grew up basically on our marae and took us back there a lot. But I grew up in Raglan, three hours from there, so my connection is not quite as strong as my Mum’s, and my kids are growing up in Grey Lynn! It’s not very Māori around here. And we don’t make it down to my marae anywhere enough. So that decision to put Arlo in kōhanga feels pretty pivotal to my life over the last four years and, therefore, to this album.
The song ‘Night Class’ sums all that up. I could write pages trying to explain everything that’s in that song, but you want me to write 150 words for each of these and I’ve already gone well over that! There’s another song, ‘We See You’, which was inspired by events at Ihumātao and the protectors there, but ended up also feeling relevant when the Black Lives Matter movement began and everyone started just saying “Enough!” Enough with this racist, bigoted shit, we can all see it happening and we’re not having it.
With Ihumātao though, it was interesting to me that it was women at the front of it. I see women doing a lot of heavy lifting in life generally and also in reviving te reo by putting their kids in Māori education, then going to night classes after parenting and working to make it all come together.
Community has been very important for me both in navigating the things I’m talking about here (the dark times of parenting, learning te reo etc) but also in actually making this album. I asked Steph Brown to produce it because she’s an old friend and a weapon on the keys, but also because she’s a mum. She and her husband Fen produced it together, and it was such a nice time making music with them. They just got it.
I also asked Greta Menzies to do all the art because she’s a mum, and I asked Anna Duckworth to direct the video for ‘Do I Exist?’ because she’s a mum. And we assembled a mum team to make that. It all felt so easy. I didn’t need to explain things, they all just knew what to do. My friends are also a real pou for me as a mother and as a musician. I have an Auckland and a Christchurch coven of musician and musician-adjacent friends, many of whom are mothers, and a group of friends I grew up with that’s still very tight. I just couldn’t live without that.
5. Pop Music
This might sound weird because Beams isn’t really a pop album, but I’m very interested in pop music and pop songwriting. I love good, tightly composed, succinct pop music and it fascinates me when someone (or a group of people usually) is able to make something within such strict boundaries that’s still interesting and fresh.
I was obsessed with what made a good pop song for quite a while: I was listening to podcasts about it and trying to write these songs and co-writing with people. But when it came to writing stuff for my actual self, I was conscious about letting all that go and not trying to adhere to those structures. To just write what I felt like writing. I think the result is that there’s still some of that influence in there, but I’ve always been a wordy writer.
I always have too much to say – even when I wrote a 40,000-word thesis I was having to edit it down. I’m just wordy. So I tried to let go of that pop music thing and just write what wanted to be written and I tried to be direct and honest. It leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable, to be honest, but I didn’t have it in me to write anything else.
Anna Coddington’s new album Beams is out now on Loop Recordings. The album, like this story, was created with the support of NZ on Air.