Vivienne Boucherat on The “Know Your ‘Crazy’” Book Project And The Acapella Choir Cover “Hold Your Head Up, Woman”
Vivienne Boucherat is the multimedia artist and musician, as well as author, behind the book project Know Your ‘Crazy,’ which is currently available. The book curates many of Boucherat’s diary-like paintings over time making observations about life from a female perspective that ranges from humorous to insightful, incisive, and very necessary social commentary. The project has evolved to become a website also, with potential as a resource bringing women together from across walks of life and national boundaries to discuss meaningful subjects, some of which may be labelled taboo.
During the crowdfunding for the book Know Your ‘Crazy,’ another related collaborative project came about, an all-female a capella performance of the classic Argent song “Hold Your Head Up, Woman,” originally written by Rod Argent and Boucherat’s husband Chris White. Along with the recording, a video was made of dozens of women participating in the recording of the song as the “Know Your ‘Crazy’ Choir,” a testament to female solidarity and determination on a global scale.
We spoke with Vivienne Boucherat about the evolution of her artwork and the book Know Your ‘Crazy,’ her multi-disciplinary life in art and music, and the experience of arranging and recording this very special version of “Hold Your Head Up, Woman.”
Americana Highways: I was very excited to hear about this visual art book as well as the musical release as someone who works both in books and in music myself. It’s a great crossover.
Vivienne Boucherat: It’s a favorite area of mine, too. Any way that visuals and audio can cross over is a good thing.
AH: What was the first project that you worked on that incorporated both art and musical elements?
VB: A long time ago, my background was nursing. When I went as a mature student to do art and music at college, the first thing that I attempted myself was “musical kites.” I made kites that had all sorts of things hanging off them. Writing music for other peoples’ little videos was something I did while I was still in nursing, in the 80s. I’m married to Chris White and we met in 1990 through looking for session singing work. I’d done a few sessions for other people, and there was crossover with theatrical work and music for theatre.
In a way, it’s only when you look back and talk about it that you realize that an awful lot of crossover has happened. When I went back to do art and music at college, for my thesis, I did a piece on Richard Long’s work. His “walk” is his art, and he walks all over the world. He ends up with a map piece or a word piece. I took two of his pieces of work and made musical scores out of them. I suppose everything wraps around trying to combine the two without any of the projects ever really living in the same world.
I was lucky more recently with Cindy daSilva at The Rocks, who manages the touring Zombies. I was doing backing vocals for The Zombies when they were doing their Odyssey and Oracle gigs, between 2007 and 2019. After the first USA tour, I was gobsmacked by America, traveling around in a bus with The Zombies. When I came back, I wanted to express all of those experiences, and I started by doing a massive collage. It wasn’t really working, so Chris [White], who was also an artist in his former years, said, “Concentrate on the music.” So I took the twelve songs of Odyssey and Oracle and made little “singles” out of them, doing 7 inch by 7 inch collages for each song. When Cindy saw them, she had them animated for backdrops for the Odyssey and Oracle shows in 2017. That was, again, a lovely crossover, without realizing it was going to be one.
AH: Though many artists run into the issue of expense, using visuals really can enrich how musicians feel about their projects and what fans can get out of it. It’s so refreshing to hear about how these elements can work together.
VB: Absolutely. The singer who we got to do “Hold Your Head Up, Woman,” Bianca Kinane, is someone we worked with in the past with more filmic visual music and she has a huge vocal range. There, the visual element wasn’t as possible because of expense, but with technology improving, it’s getting to the point where even I can use it.
AH: How did the book come about originally?
VB: The book comes from a different source, titled Know Your ‘Crazy.’ People often ask if it’s spelled wrong, but no, it’s “know your own ‘crazy’” rather than “know you’re crazy.”
AH: It’s like that saying, “know yourself”?
VB: Yes, exactly. It’s something that Cindy said after seeing the pictures, “Know your ‘crazy,’ right?” I thought that was hilarious. These are drawings that were done in all sorts of media and I’ve done them over the years in response to an event to try to identify sometimes really uncomfortable feelings in myself. Sometimes I like to use a bit of humor, so that pops in every now and then. I quite like to express difficult emotions with a drawing. I’ve always done this, actually, probably since my late teens.
There are three creators of the book. I’ve done all of the drawings, but it was Cindy’s thought to get a book together, and Rene Harbison got them printed over in Texas. We all have different recollections about how it all started, but I remember a drunken conversation after one of the Odyssey and Oracle gigs in Nashville where I showed Cindy a couple of drawings the morning after on my iPad. We made a selection of about one hundred drawings and whittled them down. We also added a couple that I’d done in the process of making the book, so obviously those ones related to Covid were created then. But they could have been created anywhere over the past thirty years.
AH: That time span is amazing!
VB: There were plenty of drawings and lots of them get thrown out. I don’t know if that means there will be another book. But if this does take off, I’m sure it’ll develop into something else.
AH: Was there any temptation to try to make the drawings more uniform even though they spanned so much time? Or were you able to let them just stay in the form they needed to be?
VB: I think “needed to be” is a good one. I certainly didn’t ever think these would ever end up in a book. Creating them, I didn’t have the intention of making a book, it was just my way of reading myself. My style is pretty eclectic anyway, as well as the materials that I use. There are some watercolors, there’s some collage, and sometimes it would depend on what would be to hand. Some of them are done on match boxes with eye pencil. Some are done on sandpaper. I have always tried to avoid drawing on gig tickets!
AH: Did you expect other people to ever see these drawings?
VB: Absolutely not! They were done in between doing other things, but seeing them all together, I can see why they resonate. I’m just really happy with them. There’s a monthly book club, now, also that’s turned into a kind of therapy session for us. It’s opened up a lot of really frank and honest conversations about taboo subjects. Some of the subject that people are finding are taboo, I hadn’t actually realized were taboo at all, so I don’t know what that says about me!
People have asked me if doing this project has made me a bit more vulnerable, but funnily enough, it’s the other way because people have really connected with it and realized how universal these things are. They want to talk about it. We’re all allowed a bit of light and shade, we’re human. In the upcoming book club, I will be interested to hear peoples’ stories about “blind rage” because, as women, we aren’t supposed to have that. Then there are things like hot flashes. The menopause is being talked about very openly now, and it certainly wasn’t even five years ago. I would love for the Know Your ‘Crazy’ project to become a bigger resource for people to be able to talk openly about mental wellbeing. On the music side, it would be lovely to work with some female engineers. It all sounds so radical, but it shouldn’t be. Why should that be radical at all? There are still such low numbers of women in professions like [music].
AH: Did that have any bearing on wanting to bring music into this project, thinking about the disparity in the number of women working in music?
VB: I suppose I’ve become more aware of the lack of females working in music having been working in music full-time over the last twenty five years. Funnily enough, it was during a bit of crowd funding for the box set that the music came about. There’s a box set for Know Your ‘Crazy’ with little 8×10 prints, like a little exhibition in a box. To do that, we needed to do a little crowd funding. Chris [White] and I had been working on some little acapella cover versions of some songs that we’d written.
The first two we’d started on were two of his with Rod [Argent], “Hold Your Head Up, Woman” and “I Am The Dance of Ages.” “Hold Your Head Up” had become a kind of mantra for me during the difficulties of working on the book, not being able to meet in person. That gave us the opportunity to throw it into the crowd funding field and get other women to sing in a virtual, remote choir. I arranged the vocals, sticking fairly close to the original, which was the Argent hit in 1972. There’s a key change and slight variations on chords that Rod and Chris have been quite happy with.
Part of my background in vocals is actually Bulgarian singing. I was in the London Bulgarian Choir for a bit, and I call it “shouty, crunchy singing.” It’s wonderful stuff and very, very deeply moving, that’s Folk. They were under thumb of the Turks for a long time and a lot of these songs were passed down, mainly through the women. The Bulgarian choirs are totally female, though the London Bulgarian Choir uses men also. Given more time, I’m sure I would have added more Bulgarian essence to the song! It goes very well with Rock music.
AH: I’ve come across Bulgarian Folk a little bit. It’s like a kind of Metal Folk without the instrumentation, right?
VB: Absolutely! We did acapella, though we had to use the bass drum. I thought it sounded really powerful with just the women. Also, the theme of the song is pretty much about the encouragement and empowerment of women, and a nod to our resilience, I think.
AH: It sure is. Did the idea of having quite a number of women involved in the song come from your love of Bulgarian music?
VB: I had the intention of doing some arrangements for the London Bulgarian Choir. That may happen one day. I suppose it’s to do with that community of the choir on the song. In the end it worked out that the song sounded better with a crowd. One of the women who joined also brought her daughter and granddaughters, too, which was lovely. It would have been lovely to have a crowd in the same room, but I think we didn’t do too badly for something that was over lockdown.
AH: That’s the incredible part of managing to put this together during this time. Was making the video another layer of work, or did you all capture the video at the time of recording the parts?
VB: Well, everything needs a video. For the ones recorded in America, the video was recorded at the time of singing, but I think for all of us in the UK, we were miming over stuff that we’d already done. We hadn’t thought that far ahead when we were recording. The girl who put the video together was actually an intern at The Rocks, The Zombies’ management company, Jaclyn Cao. She did brilliantly and appears in the video, alongside all the other interns who worked on it.
AH: There’s something about seeing the faces behind the voices that really adds to the theme and idea of the project, too.
VB: It’s so nice to see the diversity of women who are all working in these creative fields.
Find more about the work of Vivienne Boucherat here: https://www.vivienneboucherat.com
Discover other interviews on our website, here: Key to the Highway: Nicki Bluhm