…all of the songs on my debut EP and my upcoming album were written while I was working as an archaeologist in Christchurch, New Zealand. So my experiences there, the people I met, the homesickness I felt… all of that fed into the music.” –Helen McCreary
Let our readers know who you are and where you come from? How long have you been creating music?
My name is Helen McCreary, I’m a folk-pop singer songwriter and archaeologist. I’m originally from a tiny town in upstate New York called Cazenovia, but I moved to Florida when I was sixteen, then went to college in Connecticut.
I started playing music when I was four – my parents really wanted me to sit down and be quiet for more than ten seconds at a time, so they signed me up for cello lessons. Cello was a huge part of my life until I was nineteen, and that training really helped when I started playing guitar a few years ago.
I started writing songs in December 2013, when I was home in Florida after seven months of bumming around out west, working for backpacking companies and archaeology firms.
It’s funny, at the time I was utterly convinced that I was hopeless at songwriting. Lyrics were the real sticking point – I couldn’t think of any words that seemed important enough to merit notes to go along with them. My brother suggested that I try writing a tune to an already existing poem, and within ten minutes my first song was born – Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allen Poe.
A lot more poems received the same treatment, then I started coming up with things to say (one of my first attempts at lyrics was an ode to cake), and now here I am, many songs later, putting out an EP!
How have your experiences and travels as an Archaeologist around the world influenced your sound and style?
Well, almost all of the songs on my debut EP and my upcoming album were written while I was working as an archaeologist in Christchurch, New Zealand. So my experiences there, the people I met, the homesickness I felt… all of that fed into the music.
I think both the EP and the album have a chilled out, reflective quality to them that might be a product of the relatively relaxed, happy lifestyle I had in NZ. The songs I’ve written recently – while living in Brooklyn and being on the road – are edgier, there’s more bite to them. I spent six months in Brooklyn, overly caffeinated and overwhelmed by life, so the change in sound makes sense.
As for how my experiences as an archaeologist have influenced the music… well, I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I think any artist will tell you that literally everything you do feeds into the subconscious part of your brain that occasionally spits out creative ideas.
You really have to live for a while before you have anything to write about. Traveling and working around the world has definitely introduced me to music, people, and cultures that I have and will continue to find inspiration in. Living in NYC certainly gave me a lot of songwriting fodder. My archaeology friends keep bugging me to write a song about life on an excavation – “we dig in the mud and find lots of cool shit, then we go to the pub and get a brew to sip…” Hmmm. The possibilities there are endless.
Tell us about your new project. You captured the New Zealand atmosphere very well in these songs.
Thank you! I wrote most of the songs on the EP while I was living in Christchurch. Funnily enough though, the title track ‘Kaikoura’ – which is named after my favorite town in NZ – was written in Brooklyn.
I was sitting in my apartment this past winter, looking out at the mountains of snow, and feeling intensely homesick for a country I’m not even from. It was such a strong emotion that I almost felt like I was back on the beach at Kaikoura, watching the waves hit the shore. And that song was born.
The second song on the EP, ‘The Lovely Days’, is about my childhood in upstate New York. I had a real Tom Sawyer upbringing – running around the woods barefoot, pretending to be Robin Hood with a homemade bow and arrow. For me, that song is about missing simplicity, and accepting the fact that growing up often means moving on.
The lyrics for ‘As the Bark to a Tree’ are half mine. The second half are part of a letter written by a man named Amos Humiston, who was a soldier in the Civil War. He wrote those words to his wife, and several months later he died in the Battle of Gettysburg. My parents are huge Civil War buffs, so I’d known about this quote for a while, and one day I got home from work, sat down, and just sang it.
Out of the places you’ve traveled and visited, which is your favorite and why? Do you like a particular region’s music more than another’s?
I’m always going to love New Zealand. It’s such a beautiful country – the landscape, the culture, the people… I really felt like it was home. I’ll be going back at some point soon, hopefully for a tour.
But I’ve gotten the opportunity to work in some other incredible places through archaeology. In 2011, I spent several months working in Mali, which is one of my favorite places in the world.
West African music is AMAZING – seriously, go listen to Habib Koité, Amadou et Mariam, Tinariwen, the list goes on. I would love to incorporate some of those styles into my music. It’s gonna take some serious study and practice though!
What was the last song you listened to?
Misterwives’ “Our Own House”. It is the best pump up song in the world, makes me feel like I can do backflips. Which is just untrue, it would be disastrous if I tried.
Do you tour or gig? Where can we see you live?
My schedule is very much up in the air at this point. I’ve been on a tour/roadtrip for the past few weeks, playing gigs in Florida, Virginia, and most recently Boston. My full album is coming out in late October/early November, and I’ll be doing another tour to promote that. Sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll let you know about gigs as soon as I’ve got it figured out! As you can probably tell, the life of an independent musician is never boring ☺
Where can we connect with you online? Keep up with your latest news?
All of the places! Seriously though, social media is taking over the world. You can find me on:
Any last thoughts? Shout outs? Words of wisdom?
A huge shout out to my producer, Alessio Romano of Studio 42 in Brooklyn, who has helped me create an EP (and soon an album!) that I’m really proud of.
As for words of wisdom to other indie artists out there – just keep swimming! That’s what I’m doing, maybe I’ll see you around ☺
Thanks so much to the team at Mid Tennessee Music for the interview, and for everything you do for independent artists!