FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: DEATHBED CONFESSIONS BY HANNAH ROSE PLATT - TRACK BY TRACK
A diversion from the customary F3F format today as we focus on the wonderful new album, Deathbed Confessions, from native Liverpudlian and now Bristol-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and storyteller, Hannah Rose Platt. I was particularly stuck by the diversity of the three singles released ahead of the complete album, yet how they were deftly linked thematically. In Hannah’s words, the full album explores themes of “death, love, the afterlife, murder, regret, the uncanny, the kindness of strangers, and the downright bizarre!” Her imaginative storytelling is richly balanced by her expressive vocal range which equips her to fully embrace the character of each song.
Hannah’s third studio album is out today. Hannah has worked alongside renowned artiste and producer Ed Harcourt on Deathbed Confessions and it comes across as very much a union of kindred spirits. It is one of the finest records I have heard this year to date and I heartily commend it to you. Hannah was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share some personal reflections on the individual songs and here they are, track-by-track.
Photos of Hannah Rose Platt are by Ester Keate
Dead Man On The G Train
Just before the pandemic hit, my partner Freddie (who plays bass on the record!) and I went to New York. So much of New York seeped into the record, and this was the first track I wrote and recorded for Deathbed Confessions. Our friend Dale Krevens (of awesome effects pedal company Tech 21 NYC) took us out for dinner. We’d been to Brooklyn that day, and she was talking about how much she hated having to go there because it’s really far and a hassle in terms of transport: “You’ve got to get on the G Train. Who even knows where that goes! It’s often full of really strange people. I think there was a dead man on the G Train once…” My little songwriter brain just started twinkling. I saved what she had said in the ‘title treasures’ section of my phone, and when I sat down to write on my return to the UK, the lines “a pistol in his pocket, a kickdrum in his chest, there’s a dead man on the G Train he just doesn’t know it yet” popped into my mind… followed by very vivid images of 1930s New York and a ‘hit gone wrong’ that took place on the train. This was a really fun one to write - figuring out how to introduce the twist was the tricky part!
I began writing this by delving into the backstory of the female character in “Dead Man On The G Train”. I had it in my mind whilst writing “G Train” this was a strong woman worn down by being trapped in an abusive marriage with no means of escape (a woman could not file for divorce in New York in the 30s without indisputable evidence of adultery). She’d snapped and switched into a cold murderous state of mind. I started imagining what she would have been feeling earlier on in the relationship and also drew on my own experiences of being trapped in abusive relationships. I wanted to tell the story of a woman still in the phase of accepting the behaviour of their partner as ‘the way things are’ – dissociating, editing reality to make things seem ‘acceptable’ (I very much did this myself in my own experiences of this dynamic). I’ve a picture of Hedy Lamarr on my wall, and I remember doing the hoovering (a task where lots of ideas present themselves, haha!) and spotting the picture, and it hit me, Hedy Lamarr - misunderstood scientist, inventor, actress – the frustration she felt at never being truly ‘seen’ was the key to finishing the idea. I focused on the parallels between the two situations and imagined a character convincing herself she had the power in the situation because she was ‘just playing a part’ like Hedy Lamarr. This It allowed me to be very playful with cinematic imagery and the language of ‘film’. I sent a draft of this to Ed, and we finished the song together. This one is really special to me.
Home For Wayward Dolls
This song almost wrote itself, after I watched a twelve-minute documentary on Amazon Prime about a couple in Kentucky who collect dolls and doll parts from the woods around their home, and display them around their house in a sort of DIY museum. It was so strangely fascinating. One of the things the owner points out is that many of the dolls had been deliberately mutilated or injured before being discarded, and he posed the question ‘what would drive someone to do this?’ I decided to write from the perspective of one of the dolls trapped, pinned to the wall, bringing in ideas of society’s dismissiveness and punishment of ‘wayward’ people, (and particularly women) who ‘stray’ from the ‘right path’. Are they dolls, or are they lost souls? The listener can decide…
The Mermaid & The Sailor
During my research of ‘ghosts in song’ I learned that back into the 1600s Samuel Pepys documented and categorised the songs of balladeers frequenting the Elizabethan taverns, and all of these categories featured ghosts. I was very excited when I noticed there was a group titled ‘Sea & Gallantry’ and used this as a motivation to write my very own sea song. I immersed myself in Rogues Gallery, a compilation featuring several of my favourite artists including Nick Cave, Louden Wainwright III and my producer Ed Harcourt. It is a collection of sea songs for Pirates of the Caribbean, produced by Hal Wilner. I realised it was the haunting ‘sailor’s laments’ I was attracted to writing, over the raucous sea chanteys. This inspired me to compose a song about the ‘siren call’ of addiction, framed as a conversation between a mermaid and a weary sailor as she lures him to his doom, and ultimately his self-destruction. Ed features on this as the ‘sailor’. I adore his growling, haunting vocals on this song!
The moment I knew Ed was the perfect person to produce the record was when we were having a conversation about new songs and I said I really wanted to write a ‘comedy cannibal Christmas song’. Rather than being disturbed, he roared with laughter and told me to go and watch Ravenous (a ‘horror western’!) I immediately did so and learned all about the myth of the ‘Wendigo’ – a monster, part deer, that instils the insatiable desire for human flesh into anyone who is unfortunate enough to hear its ‘cry’. My partner Freddie came up with a 12-bar blues bassline, and I wrote the lyrics (a little too quickly!) telling a story of a misguided college boy who takes a wrong turn in the car to give him more time with his crush (who is unaware of how he feels) and it all goes very wrong… I remember googling ‘can you kill someone with a pair of tweezers’ and thought, ‘OK, it’s official -I’ve gone to the dark side’ hopefully there’s enough dark humour in this to make it ‘palatable’, Ha Ha. (Ed describes this song’s sound as ‘if PJ Harvey had a wedding band!’).
Inventing The Stars
This is an interlude rather than a song, I wanted to give people a pause to gather their thoughts; an ‘end of act one’ to change the mood from the dark comedy of “Wendigo” and reset the tone to romance for “The Kissing Room”. We took the melody and themes from “Hedy Lamarr” and the talented Alex Palmer rearranged the piece for strings and brass. We hear this again (in full) at the very end of the record performed by the Budapest Film Orchestra, to give the impression of rolling end credits.
The Kissing Room
This is another song inspired by my trip to New York and my fascination with Grand Central Station. I learned that there was once a room nicknamed the ‘Kissing Room’ or ‘Kissing Chamber’ and during the war it was used for couples to say their goodbyes when men were going off to war, or families reuniting upon their return, to keep public displays of affection contained and enclosed so as not to upset other passengers. I found this endearing, a sign of the times, moving and was totally obsessed with the idea of the ghost of a room itself (there is now a kiosk and a flower stand where the kissing room once stood). I had this image of the ghost of a young woman in 1940s dress, waiting decade after decade for her love to return, as time moves all around her, and the kissing room is no more. This is the tearjerker of the record. Ed’s stunning piano playing gives the flavour of a 1940s wartime ballad and we kept this track minimal in terms of instrumentation to give a sense of space. When I listen to it, the image that comes to my mind is sun beaming thorough the windows of Grand Central Station, illuminating flecks of dust in the beams of light, and a shimmering ghost wandering the empty station.
Ah ‘The Gentleman’! I LOVE this character. This is the jangly, upbeat number on the record about a benevolent spirit, who was so kind and loved in life, that he continues to help people in seemingly mundane everyday ways in death. Things like finding a lost cherished item, finding lost keys back in your coat pocket etc. Next time you go to take the bins out and you realise it‘s already been done, don’t dismiss it as if you did it without thinking…maybe it was ‘The Gentleman’?
Tango With Your Fear
This is a song about the ‘dance’ we can find ourselves in with our fears and anxieties (it was inspired by the tango scene in Frida). I started thinking about the seductive nature of fear and how we can often let it drive us, but ultimately, we are the ones in control. This was so much fun to write. I did some research into the tango, the moves and steps, and used a lot of dance vocab in the lyrics (for example, ‘thought the traffic of your every sin’ - the other dancers/couple on the floor are known as the ‘traffic’). I adore the moody subdued, smoky feel of this track.
Feeding Time For Monsters
This song was first inspired by the notion that in symbolism, the psyche is often represented by a ‘house’. So, if the house or the mind is ‘haunted’ what would the rooms look like? I went through a lot of my personal ghosts and memories of traumatic experiences in order to write this song. Ed and I wanted to create a sense of woozy chaos – in the song, a night in a haunted house means a night with your worst fears and memories, sitting in it, processing it until the relief of the light of the morning. There is a stunning stop motion animation to accompany this song by William Davies that fans of anything Tim Burton will love!
Dead Man’s Reprise
Another interlude. This time we are back where we started, on the G Train. In my mind, this interlude is where all the characters, and the ghosts we have met, are held in a train carriage unaware of each other. Over the course of the album, they have revisited key points in their lives, significant events, regrets etc. and faced their fears in each song. They are about to move forward to ‘the final stop’.
For The Living, For The Lost
This is the closing song about acceptance, death, grief, change, renewal. Moving towards peace. In the literal world of the characters, they are letting go and, on the train, now moving onto whatever the next phase of the afterlife may be. For myself (and hopefully for listeners) it’s a metaphor for releasing unhelpful patterns and overcoming dark periods in our lives, the acceptance that we have moved through shadows, and we are ready to let go, move on to the next place, the next thing. A goodbye to the old ways of being.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to write a commentary for these songs. It has been a joy and also cathartic to revisit how each of them came to life!
Deathbed Confessions by Hannah Rose Platt is out on 19 May, available to stream, digitally download or physically own on CD or vinyl. Find it HERE.
Hannah Rose Platt: Discography
1954... And Other Stories (2013)
Letters Under Floorboards (2019)
Deathbed Confessions (2023)