Atwood Magazine reconnected with Dizzy’s Katie Munshaw about the stunning and collaborative ‘Separate Places’ EP, which reimagines songs from their second LP, ‘The Sun and Her Scorch.’
Stream: “Sunflower, Are You There?” – Dizzy
What makes good songwriting? It’s hard to pinpoint.
Sometimes it’s a feeling. Structure. An expert turn of phrase. A left turn that surprises the listener who thought they’d heard it all. The courage to put everything out there. There’s no right answer, but one way to find out if a song stands on its own is to hear a new version of it – whether that be a cover, a stripped back performance, the song reimagined… Call it what you like, but when you mess around with and get to the heart of a song, you’ll know whether it sticks.
Dizzy have done this. Twice. First their Basement Covers EP, released late 2020, brought new life to classics like Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” and Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (which has gained a whole new meaning with the #FreeBritney movement). Simple and organic, the EP strips the songs and Dizzy to their essence and manage to infuse renewed energy on tracks we’d collectively heard so many times it was hard to imagine they’d ever sound new again.
Then they chose to put their songs to the test, and created the Separate Places EP, released June 11th via Royal Mountain Records. Five band favourites off their sophomore album, The Sun and Her Scorch, were tackled by Dizzy and hand-picked collaborators. Each artist lends their personal touch to new versions of “Beatrice” (“Beatrice St. E” ft. Overcoats), “Ten” (“10PM” ft. Jahnah Camille), “The Magician” (“Bird Behind the Drapes” ft. Luna Li), “Sunflower” (“Sunflower, Are You There?” ft. Kevin Garrett, and “Primrose Hill” (“Primrose Hill at Midnight” feat. Flyte). The match-made-in-heaven new players come spinning the songs on their heads and immersing the listener even further into their meaning. Dizzy took The Sun and Her Scorch on a global tour over the last few months without ever stepping foot off Canada, with new voices coming from across the world.
One listen to Separate Places and, to enhance the experience, also followed by their original versions off TSAHS, makes it clear that Dizzy is simply excellent at songwriting. Lines, melodies and structure mould themselves to different inputs and genres, always keeping the songs’ spirits alive. It’s new oxygen that reignites an old flame and burns an even brighter one, with Dizzy masterfully conducting the combustion. Collaboration sounds good, their songs always sound even better.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Dizzy’s Katie Munshaw to speak about the creative process of the Separate Places EP, what collaboration means to them, and to fangirl over Wolf Alice, though that was kept off the record.
Stream: ‘Separate Places’ EP – Dizzy
:: A CONVERSATION WITH DIZZY ::
Atwood Magazine: Congrats on so much stuff. I love how quarantine has been super productive for Dizzy.
Dizzy: Thanks! We’re trying our best, I feel like I’m such an anxious person that if I don’t do something I have multiple panic attacks a day so I need to like keep busy. But yeah, if that’s been fruitful but maybe not as fruitful. Or maybe not fruitful in the way that I thought it would be.
It’s a cool coping mechanism though because the creative process is so alive right, you control so much of it.
Dizzy: Yeah, it’s definitely very fluid, which I’m learning. You can just like make things when you want to make things. You don’t have to like be making an album or whatever. Yeah, it’s been interesting, been dipping our toes and like writing with other artists too for their projects, which has been way out of my comfort zone and something that I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to experience if it weren’t for lockdown.
I mean, the good thing about being a creative is that if you keep exercising the creative muscle, you never know what’s going to happen. I love the Covers EP, and I thought that was a treat. The “Lucky” cover, damn.
Dizzy: Yeah, that one was really fun. That was the one on that Britney album that I would just. on my little Discman that I had, I would press back and replay it. I love that song. Great song.
I remember when I discovered it, and I was so obsessed with it. I loved the lyrics because they were so deep. And now I realise that trying to understand that with a pre-pubescent brain isn’t the best.
Dizzy: Yeah, what is she talking about? And now it’s like, oh yeah!
So, Separate Places. The first thing I want to talk about was the first impression I got when you announced the EP, which is that the cover art is stunning!
Dizzy: Beautiful isn’t it? Yeah, our friend, Marty, we worked with him a couple times. He did the lyric video for “Twist” which is incredible. If you watch that, he did that all handmade and projected onto a wall, you should go watch, it was incredible. He also did “The Magician” video for us. And he’s just this really brilliant animator and also drawer, so I just made a Pinterest board of a bunch of art that I like and I was like, do something cool, and he absolutely did.
How did the idea to reconstruct a few songs from The Sun and Her Scorch come about?
Dizzy: Yeah, it came about probably late last year, we were thinking we just finished the covers and in no hurry to start writing again, I think it just came about because we didn’t want to say goodbye to those songs from The Sun and Her Scorch.Touring exhausts records in a way that you never, ever want to hear those songs again, and we didn’t get that chance to do that. So we’re kind of like ‘Well I don’t want to say goodbye to these songs, why don’t we just do a revision of each one?’ and then the idea came up. Firstly the idea came of redoing “Primrose Hill” because I’d always, always wanted Flyte on that track. They’re one of my favourite bands, they’re our friends and they’re also the people that we were with that night on Primrose Hill, so I was like it would be perfect with their beautiful voices. Then I was like ‘Well why don’t we do every track on the album?’ and then it sort of morphed into the idea of a collaborative experience and almost like touring in a way that the album got to go to different places around the world. Overcoats are in New York, Flyte is in London, Kevin Garrett in Pittsburgh, Luna Li’s in Toronto. Jahnah Camille is in Birmingham. So, it’s this really weird way that our album actually got to go on tour without us and we got to sink our teeth into those songs, which was fun.
Watch: “Primrose Hill at Midnight (feat. Flyte)” – Dizzy
I feel like you can really understand the quality of a song either when it’s covered by someone else, or when you listen to a new version of it because the songwriting stands out. Production can only do so much to cover lousy songwriting. Something I loved is that we can really feel the strength and emotion that’s behind Dizzy’s songwriting when we listen to the new versions of the songs, because some of them are heartbreaking on the album and the pop production masks that a little bit, but then now I feel like we’re almost looking at them inside out, we get to really understand how they're structured. Did you find anything out, or discover anything new about your songwriting and Dizzy songwriting process when you were revisiting the songs?
Dizzy: I mean every time we write a song we always make sure it passes like a campfire test, and that mean if you can sit behind a guitar and sing it and it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging or we need something else, then that’s when we go ‘Okay this is a good structure and this is a good song’. I think we learned that from Jack Antonoff too, I think he said that the songs that he’s produced pass that sort of test. So I guess if there’s anything I’ve learned is that sort of vetting of each song is definitely working for me and I guess working for listeners as well.
Why did you choose to go to these five songs and not the whole album?
Dizzy: Probably time. We wanted to get something out in the new year so we picked our five favourites. I think there were some that we probably would have loved to do, “Roman Candles” I think would have been really fun. It just wasn’t enough time and feel like “Roman Candles”, the way that we produced it the first time, I’m really happy with, so there wasn’t anything sticking out that I would have wanted to change largely with that one. I think the ones we chose are just my favorites.
You’ve told me about Flyte, but how did you choose the collaborators for each song?
Dizzy: We just put a list together of a whole bunch of people that we would love be on it, and some people got back to us, and a lot of our dream ones got back to us really quick and that was fun. Like Kevin Garrett that was, it was like ‘Oh my god!’, that was very exciting. We opened for Kevin in 2017, before we even had music out, and he chose “Sunflower”, he was like, I want “Sunflower”, so that was very cool. Overcoats, I love them. Their voices are beautiful, and they also have like a Stevie Nicks kind of vibr to it, which I really loved and I also had really wanted female vocals on “Beatrice”. I didn’t want that song to be like a duet between a couple. I kind of wanted it to be like two girls crying in the bathroom, or like, I’m crying but there are the two girls that I’ve never met and they’re just like, ‘It’s gonna be okay!’. So that was nice to get the female perspective on on that song, they felt kind of like my little friends on that one.
Watch: “Beatrice St. E (feat. Overcoats)” – Dizzy
Did you even consider having the collaborators write lyrics or responses or was it always going to be like the songs original lyrics?
Dizzy: No, no we didn’t do that, I feel like that would have been a lot of work. That would have been a lot to ask, but yeah it was always we just got on Zoom calls with everybody, and we’re like, ‘Do whatever you want, this is basically an outline’ but what you hear is a lot of people just improvising and sending it back and just being like ‘This is awesome, thank you!’.
Now that you said the thing about the “Beatrice” vocal dynamic, I feel like we need a remix where you can hear a club beat behind it, and everyone is in the bathroom crying and then we also get a new music video for it. Though I love the original video so much and I’m obsessed with the song, I feel like I played it on repeat last year for days.
Dizzy: That almost didn’t make the record. I hated that song, I really did, I don’t know why. Yeah, I was not into that song and we send it to my manager, she’s like, we gotta put that on the record. And then it was one of our most streamed songs so yeah, she was right.
I finished watching WandaVision this morning, and listening to “The Magician” it really stuck out to me how the song, like the show, is a meditation on grief which steers towards creating impossible scenarios in order for someone to still be in your life. On the new version of the song, “Bird Behind the Drapes”, you feel the grief so much more potently. And Luna Li’s voice! I love her, I was so happy when I found out she was on it. The emotion of both of you singing together and the new arrangement of the song makes the grief so much more alive. It almost makes the original, pop version of it, actually sound like a mask that covered the emotion. How did the experience of getting to put it all out there, in a song about loss, compare to the first time that you released “The Magician“?
Dizzy: Yeah, that’s what I love about pop music, I feel like that was so interesting, releasing “The Magician” that sounds so poppy and fun and bubbly. One of our most bubbly songs, is weirdly one of the most devastating songs to me. It was really interesting finally getting to produce that song in the way that I had initially heard it, because it started as piano and kind of morphed into what it is now, which is pop. I had always felt that was a different route to take than I would have initially. So it was nice to produce it in a way that matched the feeling of the song. And to go back to your question before of how did you choose each person – for “The Magician”, that was one that I was more specific about. I wanted it to be a female vocal, because my friend was female, and I just wanted that female presence. I love female presence, I don’t know why. And Hannah’s (Luna Li) also a friend of mine, so that was really special to have another friend in place to be on that song. So when she sent back her string parts and her vocal like, oh my god, I was just tearing up. And I sent her a message to say ‘Thank you so much. To have a friend on this is means so much’. It was a great experience to say the least.
Was it difficult for you at all to revisit the song and then listen to it in this more emotional way?
Dizzy: I feel like I don’t listen to it a lot. I feel like because the song initially was produced in such a pop way it was easy for me to brush off what I’d written. I don’t have a diary that I write in, my songs are my diary, I guess. So when they’re masked in pretty production like that I feel like it’s easy for me to be like, ‘Oh that was that’. When it’s sort of funeral level sadness that you surround those lyrics with it’s kind of like, ‘Oh man, you are very sad! I am very sad about that one thing’. I guess, it made me realize a little deeper how that situation has affected my life.
Watch: “The Bird Behind The Drapes (feat. Luna Li)” – Dizzy
Most songs on the EP feel like a subversion of the original. “Bird Behind the Drapes“ is sadder than “The Magician“ and “Beatrice St. E“ is also sadder than “Beatrice“. I feel like “Beatrice St. E“ almost belongs a little bit on Baby Teeth, with the production and vocals. Then the opposite happens with “Primrose Hill at Midnight“, Flyte's presence in the song makes it a little less sad and a little less self-loathing than the first one. How did you talk through how the revisited versions would compare in feeling to the original songs with the collaborators?
Dizzy: I mean it wasn’t that difficult because every single artist that we chose was incredibly talented, and I think each artist was pretty passionate about each song as well, which was really special and nice. What’s that meme? They all understood the assignment. They’re all very talented artists and all knocked it out of the park.
How do you think this collaborative and creative process will inform the next Dizzy album?
Dizzy: Something that I’m learning, especially from writing with other artists, is that being collaborative is not a weakness. It all starts from a kernel from somebody, so it’s not a weakness to get other people’s input and their creative minds on something. I feel like, four people in a band, we’re going to tire ourselves out really quick. I feel like in the future I’m definitely more open to working with other artists, whether that be writing or even production.
Do you feel like, and this is a guess, but this change might be because time has gone by, you’ve realised that people do like your music and you’re more confident in it and your songwriting to share this process with other people?
Dizzy: Absolutely. Because on Baby Teeth we were so young and had no idea what we were doing, we worked with a producer who was wonderful. But when we went on to The Sun and Her Scorch we wanted to do everything ourselves, and we didn’t want anybody to hear anything until it was almost finished. It felt like we were in our teenage years rebelling against having a producer and blah blah blah. We were very closed off and very close-minded and got super in our head about every single song, but now I’m like ‘Why wouldn’t I want each song to be the best it can be?’ And if that means working with a producer or sending it off to another artist to see if they hear other melodies or hooks, why wouldn’t I do that? I would be so stupid not to! I am not this all-knowing person.
To close, choose one word to describe each new song version.
Dizzy: “Bird Behind the Drapes” – depressing. “Sunflower”, that song always reminded me of video games, so video game. “Primrose Hill at Midnight”: self-loathing. “Beatrice St. E”, I’m going to say besties, like besties in the bathroom crying. “10pm”, oh I already used depressing! I suppose I’ll say distress, mental distress.
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