The power of lyrical storytelling to break the societal mould:
why Joni Mitchell is a source of creativity and solace for Junior Designer, Emily Evans
When asked who inspires Emily, she chose a figure whose music – and the famed attitude to life that heavily influenced her art – has brought her comfort in the years since she discovered her. Even more so she has presented Emily with an opportunity to, at times, ask herself some challenging questions. This woman is Joni Mitchell.
Emily seeks solace in music because of its ability to change how you feel, change your senses, change the way you think. And for her no-one does this more beautifully or in a more challenging way than Mitchell.
Seventies music proves to be a favourite genre of hers. However Mitchell stands out from the crowd for Emily, due to her ability to express in such a different way to any other artist and create something that had never been heard before.
“Her unique sounds struck a chord with me, but also her storytelling and the depth and complexity of her lyrics resonated with me. I've always just found solace in connecting with her lyrically.”
Beyond the lyrics, the way in which she crafted music led to Joni being a stand out figure of her generation. Unable to afford a guitar during her teenage years, her first investment in a musical instrument was a ukulele that she saved $36 to buy herself. It wasn’t until art school that she was able to get her hands on her first guitar and teach herself how to play with the support of an instructional record, and a weakened hand left to her by a bout of polio in her childhood years. It was here that she taught herself her own way of playing chords.
Mitchell was once quoted, “Chords are depictions of emotions. These chords that I was getting by twisting the knobs on the guitar until I could get these chords that I heard inside that suited me—they feel like my feelings. I called them chords of inquiry. They have a question mark in them. There were so many unresolved things in me that those chords suited me.”
Emily learned how Mitchell was mixing different chord progressions, tuning the guitar in a different kind of way, “no one had ever done that before. She inspires me to play music myself. I try to play the guitar, I used to try and write songs, I’m not going to be the next Joni Mitchell by any means. But what is amazing about her is how she inspires you to explore creatively across different artistic fields, whether it be music or graphic design. It is almost like a link between them all, an attitude and how you go about things.”
The ability to tell a compelling story and convey complex emotions in a music scene which was not only dominated by men, but also where Mitchell’s approach to music regularly was teased and ridiculed by men, is a topic which Emily as a young woman in graphic design finds particularly interesting.
“While she pushed boundaries with music, she also pushed boundaries in a sense of what was going on in the world. Her ability to highlight social and political issues through her art, mixing and matching different genres like jazz, folk and rock, is something which I think was incredibly brave and must have been quite a challenging thing to do, especially if there weren’t many people – especially women – doing it.”
Joni Mitchell is undoubtedly a beacon for many women, whether they excel at or struggle to break free of the social standards women continue to be held to. Mitchell’s career spans decades, but her ability to speak her truth, even when it might be difficult or uncomfortable to listen to, has never wavered. She acts as a beacon for every woman who has ever felt silenced; it is possible to recognise that many of Mitchell’s successes have come from her ability to look beyond the criticisms of men in her life, both personally and professionally.
For Emily, there was something truly special about her becoming such a prolific icon within the music scene at such a young age. Breaking boundaries, mixing genres, and ultimately telling a story – it was so much more than her having a really unique voice. “As a graphic designer I want to be able to tell stories in a really unique way that has never been done before, and go about it in an attitude of bringing new things to the world and pushing boundaries.”
Beyond her professional life, Emily harks back to Joni when she seeks calmness and guidance. “I’m a deep thinker, I like to get in my feels a lot. If I’ve got a lot on my mind, I like to escape into her music and find myself interpreting her lyrics in a way that they might not have been written for. If I need to make a big decision or I’m feeling particularly reminiscent or emotive, she’s a really good one to listen to, because amongst really complex lyrics you can listen and interpret them in your own way.”