(Post by Nicholas Joseph)

Greetings from sunny Arraiolos, Portugal. I’m here on an artist residency with Cortex Frontal.

Arraiolos is not so hard to imagine if you’ve ever seen a picture of a Portuguese village. Picture blue and white houses, orange brick roofs, everything tiled, sloping cobbled lanes and lush green countryside. In a word, it’s quaint. There’s a castle and a garden filled with orange trees. The village clock tower chimes as I write. The beauty is almost comical.


A week before taking the 24-hour trip out here I recorded an album with my friend Arden Tanner-Dempsey and new homie (and producer extraordinaire) De Stevens. I think of it as a reluctant rock record. There’s a lot of electric guitar. We made it in four days at Bagnall Hill, a small studio just a short drive from my home in beautiful Te Pahu. De and I really burnt the candle to finish the record. I hope to write more on that process later.

All that’s to say, I’d thought I would be craving a break from the guitar. I had planned to come to Portugal to make an album of piano music but alas… it’s the acoustic Fender knock-off with ancient strings that’s been speaking to me since I arrived here. And who am I to refuse it!

It’s a lesson I seem to be relearning a lot lately. How to navigate the delicate chaos of making music. Whenever I try to enforce conditions or outcomes on a creative project, the world seems to laugh back. At the beginning of my second week, resisting writer's block, I began playing some old ideas on the piano. They went nowhere. The arrogance of trying to bring my old ghosts into an 18th century building pregnant with its own secret history!

Beyond the confines of my little dungeon, I’m grateful for the company of my fellow artists in residence. Five people from different parts of the world pursuing their projects in different corners of this labyrinthine house. We bonded quickly. It’s reassuring learning how they grapple with their creative processes. How their projects also reveal themselves in their own sweet time. How we all scurry to the safety of our studios to recharge after a night of socialising. How encouraging to be around similar brains. There’s so much to learn through conversation and so much that just seeps in as we go about our daily lives.

A few thoughts on imposter syndrome and eating the tall poppy.

When I applied for the residency it was in the mind of someone pretending to be an artist. I could only make it through the process of pitching my project by making light of it. Just the thought of taking myself seriously as an artist - even as a musician - bristled me. Cringe!

In Europe though (and maybe in the US also?) it feels more valid to think and live like an ‘artiste’. Maybe it's the history. It feels like it comes with an acceptance, even a respect that gives it more weight and somehow makes it feel lighter. As a New Zealander (says so on my passport anyway) I wonder how much I’ve internalized our invisible tall poppy syndrome. Hard to know how it happens but it just does.

Alas! Thomas asked me to write a few words - instead he got a thesis.

In the jet lagged fever dream of my first week in Arraiolos, a song came to me. It’s called ‘Atonement’ and it felt like it was just waiting patiently to be conjured up from the wallpapered walls of my studio.

I’m hesitant to say more but the music will speak for itself in due course.

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