3 Apr 2017

Take a sad song and make it better

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 3 April 2017

We’ve all been there. After a bad break up or a painful loss, you put on a gloomy song and have a little cry on the couch.

Julia Deans and SJD

Julia Deans and SJD Photo: Festival of Colour

Musicians Sean James Donnelly (aka SJD) and Julia Deans have cast their ears over the past 50 years of musical melancholy and will be performing some of their favourites alongside their own songs of sadness, in what Donelly describes as a “melange of sadness of various shades”.

As the pair started working on the project and choosing which songs to perform for upcoming shows in Waimate North and Queenstown, they found that 75 percent of sad songs were love songs.

A broken heart is a shared human condition that is immediately relatable, Deans says.

“Music is the perfect medium for expressing sadness and as a songwriter it helps to get it out of your system. It’s like diarising it.”

Donnelly agrees.

“They come out and they make you feel better and generally the way they come out is they are frequently your best. They are with me anyway,” he says.

“You have to take your guard down and be honest in order to connect [with the audience] and to express the feelings that you are singing about,” Deans continues.

A lot of the best sad songs also have an element of hope to them, she says.

“Even though you have just been shat on, you can still hold out hope that things are going to be a little bit better the next time around.”

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Photo: RNZ/ Jeremy Ansell

Listening to a melancholic song helps to mitigate any feelings of isolation and reinforces to the listener that they are not alone in their sadness.

“The song hears you and resonates with you, which I think can be a very encouraging experience when you are feeling that low,” Donnelly says.

Donnelly and Deans list Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton and Billy Bragg as some of their favourite songwriters of sadness.

They will be performing their version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey that’s no way to say goodbye’ in the shows, and they also performed it live on Nine to Noon.

Donnelly was vocal about his love of Cohen’s songwriting.

“I just think he has the ability to get inside feelings with the images that he uses. It’s got an incredibly beautiful, incredibly simple melody. He’s stripped it back to its essence and he’s encapsulated a moment in time. A moment in a relationship when people together have that realisation that something is finished. I think his ability to take you straight into that place is pretty hard to beat.”