In summer 2018, she went to Nashville for ten days of intense writing sessions. “I threw myself in at the deep end. There were a lot of tears, and days where I felt, ‘I can't do this’. Then I had a turning point and wrote this song that I was incredibly proud of: When You Love Too Much. And it just flowed from there.”
The song, a country-inflected ballad about being emotionally vulnerable, was the first to be written for Imbruglia’s sixth studio album, Firebird. “Sometimes in life we just need a little reminder of who we are and what we're capable of,” she says of rediscovering her voice. “When you get back in touch with that feeling, you attract more of that. Then I was on a high.”
Creative floodgates now firmly open, the rest of Firebird came together over the next two years. The title track was written with Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers and, Imbruglia explains, it’s all about the juxtaposition of strength and fragility. “Finding a balance between those two things has been a lifelong journey for me. We often try and push down our vulnerabilities and put a tough face on it but, actually when you embrace that fragile side of yourself, that's where you find true strength.”
Maybe It’s Great - a summery, attitude-packed earworm - was co-written with The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr and his longterm producer Gus Oberg at Byron Bay’s Rockinghorse Studios in early 2019. “We’ve been friends for a long time, but I was really nervous to work with him because I’m also a massive fan,” admits Imbruglia of Hammond Jr. “We had talked about working together in LA, but I was heading to Australia for Christmas so he was like, ‘Why don't I just come there?’ Rockinghorse is in the hinterland of Byron Bay, so you could not get a more magical setting for a writing session.”
Although the album was written in an array of international locations, it was almost entirely recorded in lockdown. Not that Imbruglia minded being confined to her Oxfordshire home. In October 2019, she announced the birth of her son and was quite happy to spend the first 18 months of his life hunkering down.
She describes her path to parenthood as “the best decision I ever made”, adding that she has wanted to be a mum for as long as she can remember. “It brings into clarity what matters, so you no longer sweat the small stuff,” she says. “Becoming a parent gets you in touch with love, in a very different way. Unconditional love. It’s given me a sense of peace, a sense of balance and perspective. It impacts your life in so many ways, and 100% in your creativity, so it’s definitely inspired a few songs. I won't say which ones because it's nice that each song can be what it needs to be for each person that hears it.”
Now Imbruglia feels truly ready for the challenges of parenthood. “I've lived such a big life and had so many experiences and travelled the world. All of the things that might have frustrated me if I was younger, or felt like they had trapped me, are things I welcome now. I’ve got more patience.”Other lyrical collaborators on the album include KT Tunstall, with whom she wrote the rocky, self-assured Nothing Missing. “That song is a celebration of independence,” she says. “I spent years after my divorce trying to fix myself, or fill a void with the things that society expects: meet the guy and have the family. Obviously my path was a different one but, even before Max was born, I realised there was nothing missing, ever. It was a massive epiphany, and very empowering and it took a long time to realise that, actually, I was fine all along. I just needed to relax into that and be okay with it.”
It’s this sense of confidence and ease that makes Firebird the perfect soundtrack to this summer. One of Imbruglia’s favourite tracks on the album is the instantly hummable On My Way, written with regular collaborator Eg White, with whom she wrote 2005 hit Shiver from her third album Counting Down the Days. “On My Way is so effortless, I can imagine listening in the car with the window down,” she grins. And this joyful spirit captures the mood of a nation emerging from a difficult year.
Imbruglia talks frankly about difficult times in her life but, rather than break her, the peaks and troughs of her career have been galvanising, and helped her grow. “You come across people in the industry who've gone from strength to strength, and never had those struggles, and it can be quite damaging because you end up with a warped view of yourself. There's nothing like a sense of self when you’re on your way down,” she laughs. “To be able to use difficult times and make music out of it is the most satisfying feeling. It’s almost like therapy.”
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