Suzannah Espie’s striking new album Mother’s Not Feeling Herself Today tells the story of motherhood. But it’s not the usual sanitised one that you might expect. This is an album that explores a woman’s sense of failure, as it bravely navigates the territory of post-natal depression, isolation and disconnection.
Espie’s single release I’m Sorry is breathtaking, and features a 13-strong all-woman gospel choir of Alison Ferrier, Georgia Fields, Kerri Simpson, Sarah Carroll, Kylie Auldist and more.
For Espie, making this album was both cathartic and healing, as it’s a story that seems to be reaching out and touching women everywhere.
‘I was never diagnosed with post-natal depression,’ says Espie. ‘I never couldn’t get out of bed, I still functioned. My kids are nine and four and it wasn’t until two years ago that I realised I spent most of my time feeling despondent. The writing of the album was an exploration for me, and as it turns out I have only just opened Pandora’s Box!’
The landscape for women has changed in the past few decades, where as women of the past focused primarily on family, these days women are expected to have careers as well, which leaves many struggling to balance work and family life and then feel happy at the same time.
‘I was determined in talking about my experiences that I was going to keep it personal and not get political,’ laughs Espie. ‘In fact I think I am learning more every day about myself and how I fit into the world as a woman – we are told we can do it all but it’s not true, the world still isn’t set up for it and we pay the price.’
Suzannah attributes pushing through with her project to the fact she’d received a grant.
‘I had thought about the idea, but I wasn’t actively writing when I decided to do it. I got a grant, which made all the difference. I put in the grant application and said that I wanted to write an album about motherhood. I got the grant and then I had to do it! Having that practical real support is what got me through. All the while I was thinking I don’t know if I should put this out there, I don’t know how people will judge me… but I had to keep going. I had this responsibility to people who funded me because it wouldn’t have seen the light of day otherwise!’
The single I’m Sorry was inspired by a talk given by author and historian Claire Wright at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre to the theme of ‘My Epic Fail’. Wright spoke of her battle with post-natal depression. She talked about driving home from the doctor after being diagnosed, chanting ‘I’m sorry I failed’. That became the root of the song.
All in all Mother’s Not Feeling Herself Today is a concept album; the title track is a honky-tonk country song. There is another song set in the park, a mother and her young daughter in the park feeling very lonely; I wrote that as a nod to a book called A Divided Heart by Rachel Power about creativity after motherhood – how 99.9 per cent of the time your mind is elsewhere! I have always worked hard at being present. I used to woonder what the hell is wrong with me?!
Suzannah Espie performs at Club Mullum on Sunday 18 October as a double album launch with The Stetson Family and Mullum Music Festival 19–21 November. Go to www.mullummusicfestival.com for ticket and program information.