In 1789, Romantic poet and painter - William Blake, published his first work; Songs of Innocence (the poetry collection - not the U2 album). Having little money and little time, the release of Songs of Innocence was anything but typical. A DIY project of sorts, Blake used his talents as a painter and printmaker, to carve his words delicately onto the hot metal plate that pressed down gently onto the literary blank canvas. This literary blank canvas would with time become his most famous poetry collection. Upon completion of this all encompassing DIY project , Blake had a total of five hand - painted and printed copies of the 19 poems that he would fittingly call; Songs of innocence. Upon his death there were no more than 50 copies of his collections in circulation. This was not only made up of copies of Songs of Innocence but also his later work; Songs of Experience (also not the U2 album), which he began to print with one another as requests were made to him.
When he’d finally finished perfecting his poetic masterpiece, Blake's book began to circulate like red hot rumours in a girl’s locker room. Among Blake’s artistic friends were the poets that would define the Romantic era, not only by their poetry but by their lifestyle and insidious charm. Having been passed from person to person and from poet to poet, Songs of Innocence started gaining quite the underground reputation. Suddenly there were lots more than five people jumping at the opportunity of owning their very own copy. The mystic of the collection had resonated so perfectly with crowds like a baby’s gentle cooing resonates in a church where the ceilings reach up to heaven itself.
Fast forward to 1991, where a cassette tape is the new A4 page, MTV is the new post office of artistic delivery and underground music is breaking out from the grotty basements that it once inhabited so amicably. Among the most underground of underground artists was the mysterious ‘Girly Sound’.
A feminist take on DIY and lofi music, Girly Sound is one of the best examples of powerful and sparse song-writing as well as a defining example of a bedroom sound that has become ever so popular and acclaimed in this last decade. With the ease afforded by advancing technology these days, bedroom pop/rock is infusing a equitable hole in the music industry’s ‘industry of cool’ (as Lester Bangs says so poignantly in the 2000’s classic; Almost Famous). The rate at which music technology with recording and production has been advancing recently has been like a formula one car in a Grand Prix. But for Liz Phair and her musical persona - Girly Sound, there seemed to be more limitations than possibilities when it came to recording and producing her three earliest collections of songs on tape. With each collection, only two tape recordings ever made it out of Phair’s possession and into her musical friends instead. The number of tracks was unimaginably limited as the original tapes used to record was only a 4 track tape. It’s safe to say, Phair had to be somewhat of a picky eater when it came down to deciding what to record and what not to. The sparse arrangements in each song in the Girly Sound collection create an eeriness and a realism in the sound. With these production limitations and the resulting sparse arrangement, Phair had to become well acquainted with creating catchy melodies as well as devising durable guitar riffs that can carry the weight of her striking and ear - catching lyrics.
From these collections Phair has quite the catalogue of work to choose from if ever she finds herself wanting to rework or re- record anything. With a public library’s worth of songs, Phair can maintain contact with a younger version of herself and as well as maintaining ut with a sistering music that lacks innocence in lyrical content but pours out a quality of untouched honesty and sonic purity in its unique sound.
Passed from person to person in a deep sea diving coral reef of underground music, Girly sound and the infamous cassette tapes (of which bootlegs were made) were crucial for Phair in opening musical doors previously closed or kept unknown. Similar to Blake, Phair - with a talent for writing and a DIY can - do attitude, made it possible to share her music in places not limited to the four walls of her bedroom. With a strong determination to create regardless of the circumstances in which it is done, Blake and Phair were able to create some of their most well known and well - loved works. The reputation of underground artistry has always extended beyond garages, beyond the last two centuries and beyond just music. From Blake to Phair, there is a beautiful mutual history about how works are shared, how they are cherished and how they then become so deeply enrooted in the very community that takes care of them.