Ruth Medjber: ‘This song was one of those moments when music changes you in a few minutes’
Soundtrack of My Life: The photographer on the music that has got her through lockdown
Ruth Medjber: ‘There’s immense comfort in knowing that people are feeling the same way as you.’ Photograph: Colm Moore
This year has been an emotional roller coaster, as I’m sure it has for everyone, and it’s also been a career-changer for me. Towards the end of 2019 I had just finished the Hozier tour and had a few shows with David Gray planned. I’d also booked to go to my first Australian exhibition, in Sydney. I felt that I could legitimately call myself a music photographer – and then, of course, everything changed, and I had to say goodbye to that career.
I threw ideas at the wall to see which ones would stick, and a project where I took pictures of people in their homes at twilight stuck. I’d always wanted to have the freedom to do a project unrelated to music, so I went hell for leather doing that. Knowing that I got through 2020 made me realise that whatever the world threw at me, I was going to be grand.
I listen to The Huey Show at the weekend – it’s such a good weekend vibe and so sunshiney and cheery, even if it’s miserable outside
Radio has had a massive resurgence in my life during the pandemic. Early on, I got an Alexa device. I live alone and I found myself talking to it as if it was a person in my house, which is great, because otherwise there would have been days when I wouldn’t have used my voice.
My most frequent command is “Play BBC 6 Music” – I’ve just become addicted to that radio station. I suddenly feel like I’ve got all these DJs in my life, and I listen to them every single day. I love how Mary Anne Hobbs takes us on a wild ride – you could be listening to Metallica one minute and lovely orchestral pieces the next, and she makes it flow so seamlessly.
I listen to The Huey Show at the weekend – it’s such a good weekend vibe and so sunshiney and cheery, even if it’s miserable outside. I like Cerys Matthews: she has an amazing take on world music.
I’ve been listening to all these tunes I would never even have heard of before. Then I put those songs into Spotify and let the algorithm do the rest of the work, and listen to randomly-generated playlists on Spotify.
In April 2021, we’re hearing songs that were written from April 2020, and there’s immense comfort in knowing that people are feeling the same way as you. Musicians put it in such a way that I can’t even grasp – it’s consumable poetry to which you can have a bop in your kitchen. It’s just so gorgeous.
She’s my best mate, but Sinéad White wrote a song, The World Stops Spinning, early on in the pandemic. That was what I would put on when I was driving around for the windows project. It’s about your family being taken away from you and being in isolation. When I heard her sing that I was, just, “Oh, you’ve got it: you’ve actually got what I’m feeling right now.”
Another song I listened to while doing that project was Your Sniffer Dogs Are Shite by Kneecap. They’re a Nordie band, and the song is all about talking to gardaí. I’d pass about two or three checkpoints a night, and I’d get so tired of having to say the same thing to the guards every night. But if you put on Kneecap it makes it so much more enjoyable.
I think Jehnny Beth’s French Countryside was written during the pandemic as well, as was AA Sessions’ I Just Wanna Lie in Bed and Drink My Wine. Even though James Blake’s You’re Too Precious wasn’t, there’s a lyric it it, “I’ll be your bubble”, and I like to think it’s James Blake saying we can bubble together.
You can read what you want into songs. That’s the case with Billy Nomates’ Heels, which I think is about never getting back into heels after this. I’m going to be living in my cosy pants and my slippers for the rest of my life.
I was on tour and walking around Copenhagen, and Spotify threw on Bad Weather. It was one of those moments when music changes me in the space of three minutes
There’s also a track on the playlist from Orlando Weeks, who was the lead singer in The Maccabees. In 2019 I was heartbroken and going through a really rough time. I was on tour and walking around Copenhagen, and Spotify threw on Bad Weather. It was one of those moments when music changes me in the space of three minutes.
I heard this song and I needed to hear more, so I found the album The Gritterman. I had to stop it halfway and take a moment, like you might have to when you’re watching a movie that’s too intense. I didn’t know where the album was going and whether I’d have the emotional ability to stay with it.
The song Bad Weather is hopeful, though. It’s about how even if you’re going through a bad phase, it’ll pass because it’s only bad weather, and bad weather passes. So there’s a lot of inspiration to be had in it, among the sadness. To me, that sums up the year we’ve just had. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra