10 things Daniel Johns can teach us about creativity

Daniel Johns 29 May 2015 at the Sydney Opera House, image by Rebecca Howden
As an artist and as a person, Daniel Johns has long been my biggest inspiration – and he just keeps getting better and better. Whether or not you like his music, it’s impossible to deny this man’s creative talent. Like all the best artists, he’s complicated and confounding, with a flair for the eccentric and a tendency to divide people. But he’s also brilliant, with a unique vision and a tireless dedication to his art. And I think there’s a lot that any creative person can learn from him.

For 20 years, he’s been exploring different sonic landscapes, from grunge to orchestral rock, to electronic pop to art rock. Always full of strange ideas and a thirst for experimentation, he approaches music with just the right blend of serious workmanship and playful curiosity. Now, he’s found a new sound – one that’s lightyears from anything he’s done before, and yet somehow feels exactly right.

Following the release of Talk, his slinky, sensuous solo record, he’s been opening up to the media more than ever before about his creative process and what it means to be an artist. These are a few of the gems of wisdom we can take. (more…)

Andreja Pejic – the coolest girl in the world

Andreja Pejic by Patrick Demarchelier for US Vogue, May 2015

The sultry black and white photographs show a girl with the kind of coolness that can’t be defined. She’s iridescent, and effortlessly stylish – all quiet composure and impossible cheekbones, a classic trench coat slung over her shoulders. At 23 years old, she has the serene smile of a young woman who really knows herself, and is comfortable in that self. If you didn’t recognise her, you’d never guess that a couple of years ago New York magazine named her “the prettiest boy in the world.”

Andreja Pejic has been in hundreds of fashion shoots throughout her career, but this is her first time in American Vogue – and it’s the first time a transgender woman has been featured on those hallowed glossy pages.

To the more cynical among us, it might seem like a small milestone. But it’s one that matters, dovetailing with a larger movement in popular culture towards acceptance of gender and sexual differences.

Whether you’re interested in fashion or not, Vogue still has incredible authority over what’s cool, what’s desirable, and what’s acceptable. For a cultural influencer on that scale to make a gesture towards diversity, that’s a sign of something pretty cool happening.

It’s less than a year since the Melbourne-raised model publically came out as transgender. The four-page Vogue feature, appearing in the May 2015 issue, relates Andreja’s story – from a childhood in a Serbian refugee camp, to ruling the Paris runways in Jean Paul Gaultier – and takes it as a starting point to explore the growing cultural and political acceptance of transgender identity. “There are just more categories now. It’s good,” Andreja says in the interview. “We’re finally figuring out that gender and sexuality are more complicated.” (more…)

The fragility of love / Image, music, text

music videos Taylor Swift Style and Daniel Johns Aerial Love

On Style, Aerial Love and the kaleidoscope effect of music videos.

Two of my favourite people in the world (in terms of, you know, people I’ve never met and never will) released new music videos this week. Daniel Johns’s Aerial Love and Taylor Swift’s Style are both really interesting, carefully crafted pop songs, more complex than you’d think from the first listen. In both cases, a lot of money and thought has gone into creating a video that doesn’t just illustrate the song, but adds new layers that completely change the way you read it. And it got me thinking a lot about the relationship between visuals, sounds and words; the way they kaleidoscope together to create meaning, and more importantly, to create a feeling.

A lot of the time, music videos can’t help but irrevocably change the way you experience a song. It’s like seeing a film adaptation of a book you love. You’ve created your own visuals for it in your mind – the colours and mood and aesthetic of the song, what it means to you. Sometimes that will be reflected back at you in the video, but sometimes it will completely change your interpretation. And that can be annoying, or it can be really cool.  (more…)

We got this aerial love

Daniel Johns Aerial Love artwork

Or, Bec and Daniel forever.

If you know anything about me, you’re probably aware that Daniel Johns is my soulmate. Or at least, it felt that way when I was sixteen. And seventeen, and eighteen. And okay, maybe while I was at uni too. Whatever – it’s still true. It’s probably only fair that I let any potential lovers know right now what they’re up against.

The one thing we all know about Daniel Johns is that you never know what to expect from him. This is a guy who went from raw, teenage grunge to sprawling orchestral rock to joyful, absurdist pop all before he was thirty. Each album he’s released since Freak Show sounds lightyears away from the one before. And I don’t know what I thought this new song might sound like, but it definitely wasn’t this.

Aerial Love is smoky, sensual and stripped back; all breathy vocals over slow, pounding beats. ‘Minimalist’ is definitely not a word anyone would have used to describe Daniel and/or anything he’s done the past, but the influence of producer Joel Little (best known as Lorde’s co-writer) is clear in its pared back electro vibe and long reverbs. It’s reminiscent of Chet Faker and Frank Ocean and, weirdly, even Justin Timberlake. I can’t believe I just said that, but come on, it’s true – and I mean it as a good thing. It’s soulful and super-smooth and it feels somehow more adult than music he’s done before. And it’s undeniably sexy.


How Jean Paul Gaultier changed fashion

Jean Paul Gaultier at NGV Andreja Pejic Cage Dress Frida Kahlo Dress

Or, why you should see JPG@NGV before it closes.

The world of Jean Paul Gaultier is one without boundaries. It’s sexy and witty, blending high and low culture, using materials in unpredictable ways to graft together unique statements, often about gender and sexuality. This is a designer who says “why not?”; who approaches his work exuberance and zest, and uses his creative energy to question, provoke, and make people laugh.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk has been on display at the National Gallery of Victoria since October, and there’s now just a sliver of time left to catch a glimpse before it closes on February 8. And if you haven’t been down there yet, I really think you should. (more…)

‘Transference’ and ‘On The Skin’

Two of my short stories are featured in Tincture Journal, issues 7 and 8.

A story of mine called ‘Transference’ is in Issue 7 of Tincture Journal, and another called ‘On the Skin’ is in Issue 8. These two stories are closely linked and form the beginning stages of what I’m currently trying to cobble into a novel.

A lovely writer on Twitter described ‘Transference’ as ‘silvery’ and I think that’s just about the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me and my work. Then I was pretty humbled to read this review by Gerhardt Himmelmann on Goodreads:

“…That same feeling hit me even more strongly in the story I liked most of all in this issue: Rebecca Howden’s “On the skin”. In a sense, this is already part of a larger work; the characters and situations are clearly related to Howden’s story “Transference” in the previous issue of Tincture. While that story didn’t do much for me, this one certainly did. Maybe it’s the shift from third-person to first-person, or perhaps the innate sensuality of the perfume motif, but I was thoroughly engaged this time and felt a real jolt when the story ended. I felt that I really got to know the protagonist–narrator, Faith, and became invested in her emotional life. To the author, I say, “More, please!” (more…)

We might be hollow but we’re brave

If I could have one wish, it would be that Lorde had been around when I was a witchy, seventeen-year-old weirdo.

Obviously, Lorde is an infinitely cooler, smarter, more talented and more self-possessed witchy seventeen-year-old weirdo than I was. But I see enough of myself in her – or maybe of her in me – that I wonder sometimes, when I’m sitting up at night, listening to Pure Heroine on repeat like a teenager, how different I might have been back then if I’d had someone like dear strange Ella Yelich-O’Connor to look up to. Someone young and weird and creative who was proof that a different kind of coolness and brilliance was possible. Someone who showed that there were different ways of being a girl and killing it – even if you didn’t look or act or feel the way they said you should. (more…)

Swifty on feminism, feelings and not being cool

Taylor Swift
Three things Taylor Swift said in this Guardian interview that make me think I’m not completely insane for wanting her to be my best friend.

(Also, I love that she and Lena Dunham became friends because Lena sent her a message on twitter saying “Can we be friends please?” It makes me wish I had an HBO show so that kind of friend-making strategy would work for me.)

On feminism:

“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all. Becoming friends with Lena – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realise that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”


I am inked


“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” –  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Actually, apparently some editions say “bray”… which does kind of sound a little more Plathian I guess. My copy says “brag” though. But whatever. The point is, I got my first tattoo, and I LOVE IT SO HARD.

Haters gonna hate


It’s like I got this music in my mind, sayin’ it’s gonna be alright.

It goes without saying I’m crazy in love with Taylor Swift’s new song. I mean, obviously; in all likelihood I’d find a way to love it no matter what it was like. But I really, really love that she wrote a song like this.

It’s true, I have an affinity with the classic Swifty songs. Yeah, the ones about boys, where she reveals her neuroticism, her longings, her obsessions and temper. I mean, I relate to that kind of craziness. It’s familiar to me, that tension between her hyper-romantic yearnings, and that crushing hurt and frustration when things don’t turn out to be a fairytale. When people turn out to just be disappointing, flawed people. To me, there’s something cool about the way she’s not afraid to be so terribly uncool with all this. It takes a kind of bravery to reveal yourself in all your complete messiness, and I’ve written a lot about this before.  (more…)

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