Lisa McCune and Jane Harber

Feature | Creating Glitter Witch

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We had a chat to Composer and Sound Designer Russell Goldsmith about how he approached the composition of a fictional song.

In the first act of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play Gloria, a fictional popstar named Sarah Tweed dies suddenly and the cast go down a rabbit hole of memorialising. Jacobs-Jenkins stage direction says, ‘a moody song, made up mostly of moaning’ plays. So Sound Designer Goldsmith set about composing an imaginary song, from a fictional artist, that the actors could sing along to. Lisa McCune, who plays Gloria and Nan, and Jane Harber, who plays Ani, Sasha and Callie recorded the vocals on the track.

Who is Sarah Tweed?

Writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has included reference to a fictional songstress called ‘Sarah Tweed’, whose death forms part of the narrative of the play. This involves the characters in the play listening to one of her works at a number of points throughout the show. The initial reference to her, in a stage direction, includes the description of the song. The timeline of the play, and the characters connection to Sarah Tweed, helped us determine that the song in question dates from the late 90s to early 2000s, and sits comfortably in the company of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Ani DiFranco.

What and why is the name of the song Glitter Witch?

The provided title of the song is ‘Glitter Witch,’ and it is initially confused for another fictional Sarah Tweed song called ‘Ophelia Street’. There is a quick reference to another Tweed composition called ‘Styrofoam Girl’. It was pretty clear to me what Branden Jacobs-Jenkins was listening to when he wrote those titles. I took the Smashing Pumpkins/New Order route, and decided that the title of the song would not feature in the lyrics at all, which I’m glad about.

How did you set about composing this track?

By listening to many of the artists that I believed the playwright was referencing, and who ultimately ended up in the preshow mix I made for the show. I worked closely with a great session musician who really understood the style we were going for, and the track evolved from there.

What emotions does the song try to evoke?

It is definitely a sorrowful song, for a sorrowful moment. It’s dripping in angst and melancholy, and is entirely designed to ape music from a period that achieved all of those things too. It’s the kind of song that countless people gravitated towards in moments of their lives filled with sadness and heartbreak.

How did you come up with the lyrics and how do they tie into the play?

The lyrics were almost entirely written during the second week of rehearsals, on two train trips I took between Melbourne and Bendigo. Heartbreak on a VLine train! I really wanted them to obliquely reference events in the play, and ensure that it achieved the level of depression and gloom that Sarah Tweed’s music needed to stand for in that moment. As it turns out, I’m quite comfortable wallowing in both cliché and angst-filled female alt-rock of the late 90s!

Gloria plays at Southbank Theatre from 16 June.

Photography by Brett Boardman.

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