Juanita Stein: A Snapshot Of The Heart
From the depths of despair and the pain of grief, Juanita Stein turned to what she knew best to get through a dark period of her life. Out of the darkness has come light in the way of a truly stunning piece of work.
That wonderful beautiful haunting voice, with personal heartfelt lyrics, makes Snapshot an inspired thing of pure beauty. A lyrical memory of her late father, you know single every word comes from the heart, is there because it needs to be and takes you on an emotional journey through the sorrow of recent times. At times you feel as though you are intruding on personal suffering and tragedy.
Her father Peter, also a musician and songwriter fell ill suddenly in 2019, the writing process a way of coping, a form of therapy to deal with the immense sadness she was feeling knowing she was about to lose the rock and inspiration in her life:
“It was probably my therapy really, there was no other way for me to get a grip of what was happening other than for me to write music to process what I was going through, the emotional heartache.”
Stein, born in Melbourne and raised in Sydney, now resides in Brighton, an emigration for the love of her craft. Her band the Howling Bells are no more and she released her first solo album, America, in 2017.
Snapshot is the 3rd solo offering, and Stein says the title track is a way of clinging on to what she has left of her father in her mind. Despite the undertones of darkness, the record offers a magical feel in the perfectly crafted songs. The 8 months of writing and producing have resulted in near perfection, real depth and meaning, surpassing anything Stein has given us previously.
Lucky was the first song written for the album, and in many ways was the start of the grieving process that was to follow:
“The first song Lucky was written the day he first went into the hospital. It was really me stamping the beginning of a real journey. I had to get it down somehow on paper.”
Hey Mama, for me, the stand out track, Stein calls it the anchor of the record, written when she was at her lowest.
“It is literally me just talking about my wonderful mother and thinking about the weight of this on her. They were together for a very long time, it’s just a very immense thing for someone to be left to grapple with. So that song was born out of my love and concern for her.”
The closing song of the album, In The End, feels and sounds like a chapter being closed, and letting people know it is ok to feel pain, to grieve, embrace even, what is felt inside, to let it all out and not drown in a tsunami of emotions:
“It feels like a very matter of fact kind of song to me. It is is just me sitting down telling a story, to close down the story, the record. It is just a summary of everything I was feeling and going through. Also acknowledging that it is ok for me to be feeling how I am feeling because essentially we will all lose someone in the end and I found solidarity in that.”
In The End doesn’t have the downbeat tempo you would expect from such a song. The uplifting feel of the song, ends the album in a surprising manner, but like the rest of the album, it feels just right:
“When you have written a song or an album about grief you immediately expect it to be really depressing and wallowing in sadness. But there is a myriad of other things you are feeling along with sadness. You are feeling anger, confusion, frustration and anguish. So a lot of those things are what you are hearing on the record.”
The process of writing anything is hard, but dealing with one specific subject especially something so personal and laced with inner turmoil made the writing easier as well as being incredibly therapeutic:
“I was so fuelled by so many different emotions so the songs just fell out of my mouth. So when you are feeling something so intensely, or for me personally when I have been going through something that’s uprooted me I find it a lot easier to write music. It is a bit of a struggle on a hot summers day when the barbecue is on when there is not much to write about.”
You hear songs that carry very little, no meaning, little substance and where this album stands out is that you know it means everything. It is something special, very poignant and quite breathtaking at times. The songs gravitate you to listening to the lyrics, tension runs through the entire album, and tension Stein feels is needed to make a good song:
“Tension and melody to me they are the two things. I need a good melody to be happy with a song I have written and as soon as I feel the tension I am intrigued. That’s why I struggle to sit down and listen to a lot of the top 40 because there is not a lot of tension, I am just being given something on a plate, I want to work for it. It’s nice to take a left-turn.
“I have evolved as a songwriter, especially on this record. I have been able to open up which is something I haven’t always been very comfortable in the past. I’ve always felt very private and to stand up on a stage and give something that is deep inside of you is a whole new level. But on this record, I felt as though I didn’t really have a choice but to open up that vault. So I feel that is an evolution for me.”
Despite the high quality of her previous work, including the 4 studio albums with the Howling Bells, nothing comes close to Snapshot. A deep personal touch of remembrance, the strength of pain and suffering obvious to all. You can feel the pain, hear the love, the words and vocal unite in harmony to form a body of work that will remain relevant long after the grief subsides.
Snapshot was written to help Stein heal from the emotional scars of a premature death of a loved one. It helped her, and it will undoubtedly help many others. It is quite simply the perfect homage.