HLN meets the musician: Cortney Dixon
We sat down with the South Shields singer-songwriter to chat about life on the North East’s music scene, her everlasting love for Kate Bush and being involved in the local Women In Music Production project
Now we’ll never know this for sure, but we’d imagine that if Kate Bush and David Bowie had a musically-gifted child together, sprinkled her with Geordie charm and appointed Stevie Nicks as her fairy godmother, she’d have turned out something like Cortney Dixon.
The South Shields singer-songwriter/guitarist/producer performs with that old school rock ‘n’ roll glamour in bucketloads, but with a little added kick of modernity and rebellion. Kind of like the musical equivalent of an Old Fashioned from Billy Bootleggers.
After being tipped by BBC Introducing in the North East as one of their Top 10 to watch last year, Cortney has fast become one of our favourite artists on the local music scene. And, we can safely say, one to keep our eyes on going forward, (you might want to wear your sunnies though – her future’s looking pretty bright).
We sat down with Cortney to chat musical influences and long-term ambitions, life on the North East’s music scene and her debut EP, which she mixed with Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Lowe, (who’s also worked with Taylor Swift, Stereophonics and Beyoncé, FYI). Belter.
Where did your journey in music begin?
Singing has been something I’ve done ever since I was little. I was always singing and dancing when I was a kid but, you know, I was absolutely crap! As you are when you’re a kid!
I always knew that I enjoyed performing and being onstage, so I ended up in dancing and drama schools doing musical theatre, but it was never what I wanted to do. I never felt like I fit in there. And then I picked up the guitar, and as soon as I did I just felt like that was it – I’d found my thing!
How did that turn into you releasing music?
There was a recording studio at the bottom of my street called The Cave. When I was about 12, I used to pay 50p every Monday to get two hours of studio time! It was so much fun and really gave me a taste for that side of things.
From then I just concentrated on doing as many gigs as possible to grow my confidence and learn my craft. As every performer probably does, I started off with open mic acoustic nights and then started putting my band together. I also started collaborating with other writers.
It was Autumn 2019 when I finally decided to put my own stuff out into the world. I’d built up the courage by then! And I’d spent a lot of time experimenting with different sounds, styles and genres, so it just felt right.
When did you first know you had a talent for music?
I didn’t! I feel like any kid could continue down the musical path. I wouldn’t really say I was a naturally gifted singer from the outset, it was something I had to develop and practise. There are so many naturally gifted singers around – I remember going to school with loads – but it’s about having that drive, dedication and true love for music. Really getting the bug for it and, once you’ve got that bug, talent aside, it comes down to practise, dedication and knowing that’s what you want to commit your life to. It’s definitely easier to get dragged down other paths, but I think there’s something in you where you just know you really want to create things for the rest of your life.
Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
I absolutely love Kate Bush, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac. At the minute, I’m really into PJ Harvey and Sharon van Etten, and I love Bon Iver. Oh, St Vincent as well! She’s a legend.
You released your debut EP at the end of last year. For those who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe Our Intuition?
It’s quite eclectic. I’d built up the songs on Our Intuition over a period of three or four years, when I was experimenting and collaborating and finding my feet as a musician. Then they were produced by Jim Lowe. It was my first time going into the studio with such a big name so I was really nervous, but he was so humble. I learned a lot from working with him and he really involved me in the whole production process.
Some songs on Our Intuition are quite upbeat, almost like alt-pop, but then others are more like ballads. ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Half My Heart’ were added to the EP a little later, and they brought in more of the rock elements, which is definitely where I feel I’m going next. So I like to think of Our Intuition as a bit of a chronicle of the musical journey I went through to gain the confidence to release my first EP. Now I’ve released it and let it go, I’ve been able to figure out where I really want to be going in the future.
The pandemic has been a bit of a mixed bag for musicians. What’s been your experience of lockdown?
It has been quite up and down! I’m usually away a lot with work, so when lockdown hit I actually thought it was lush to be able to sit down in one place and write. Obviously under really bad circumstances! But we didn’t have to live our lives anymore for a bit, and I think I’d been craving that excuse to lock myself away and write. So I went into total hibernation! I didn’t have any FOMO because no-one else was doing anything anyway, so I ended up being really productive. For about three or four months I just went into this complete writing and production frenzy.
How would you describe the North East’s music scene?
The North East’s creative scene is absolutely amazing. There are so many really talented creatives, so it does just feel like there’s a real vibe here. And the great thing is, all these creatives are on each other’s doorsteps, so we can all collaborate and help each other out.
If you go down to London, or Manchester even, everyone always asks what the music scene’s like up North, expecting it to be a bit grey with nothing going on. But when you’re here, there’s a real buzz about the place. So I think everyone here is extra supportive of each other because we want to prove to everyone else that there really is so much going on, and that they should come to the North East and pay attention to what we’re creating up here. Because it’s really good!
Can we expect any new music from you soon?!
Yes! I’m in the process of recording some of those songs that I wrote at home during lockdown, so I’ve been busy recording at Blank Studios. I want to get three or four recordings finished and then look at them as a whole and decide how I want to put them out. But I’m super excited about it! Hopefully, they’ll come out later this year… I say ‘hopefully’ – they will come out this year! I’ll make it happen!
What advice would you give other women in the North East who may want to pursue a career in music?
Take control. Don’t ever feel under-confident or like somebody could do something better than you. And learn to write own music, play your own music, record your own music and produce your own music. It sounds like a lot, and I’m not writing off collaborating – absolutely collaborate with as many people as possible and learn from them all – but have a skillset of your own.
I’ve found one of the hardest things about being a solo musician is not being able to communicate what’s in your head properly to a producer. Now that I’m producing my own music at home, even if I don’t end up using that as the final cut, I can take it to someone else and it’s a way of communicating exactly what I’m wanting from a track.
Also, don’t be scared to step out and try different things, and don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. There’s no secret to success – it all comes down to practise, dedication and having the confidence to succeed. And loving what you do! I’m such a strong believer that if you don’t love what you do, you can’t expect anyone else to. So keep working on a track until you absolutely love it and can stand behind it proudly.
We’ve spotted on Insta that you’ve been involved in the Women In Music Production project, headed up by Blast Recording Studios Manager Lisa Murphy. Why is it important we celebrate women in music production?
As a young artist – especially as a young female artist – I’d only ever worked with male producers. And there’s that thing, isn’t there? If you don’t see someone who represents you in a certain role, you just assume, deep down, that it’s not something you could do.
I think if we can shine a light on the women who are currently producing music so that other female artists and musicians can see them, it will hopefully inspire more women to get into music production and let them know it’s a route they can take. It also allows female artists to have more control over their own music, which is so important. I know I’d love to work with more female producers!
What’s your ultimate career goal?
To create music every single day and be able to make a living out of it! As well as being a singer-songwriter, I’d also love to write for other artists and produce other people’s music in the long run. So my ultimate career goal is to be a self-sufficient musician living an all-round creative lifestyle, basically!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Where’s your dream gig?
I’d absolutely love to do Glastonbury. I’ve never been and I’ve always said, ever since I was a kid, that I don’t want to go to Glastonbury until I’m playing there! I don’t particularly care what stage I’m on, I just want to play there!
Who was your first gig?
Busted! Supported by McFly, I think!
Who would you most like to duet with?
What album could you listen to on repeat forever?
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
Which other local artist should we keeping an eye on?
There’s a local band called Lyras, who I think are going to do some really cool, fun, interesting things. They’ve only released two singles so far, but they’re really talented and have some amazing ideas, so I’m excited to see where they go.
What’s one song you’d love to record a cover of?
‘Gasoline’ by Haim. I’m absolutely obsessed with that song at the minute!
And what’s one song you really wish you’d written yourself?
‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do once we’re properly out of lockdown?
I’m going to go out and play some pool!