In September I attended a gig at the Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch, London. It was part of a monthly showcase hosted by a promotion collective called Spectrum Gigs. Spectrum is dedicated to diversity and inclusion, with a particularly focus on female, POC, Non-Binary and queer bands and artists.
Three acts were performing that night. I was very grateful to have been introduced to both Syrra and Crisp&Classy. But the standout performance of the night came from the artist I’d originally come to see. Penny Churchill, aka The Motion.
We discussed Churchill’s single “Sleep Talk” back in June. “Sleep Talk” represented the second part of a trilogy exploring the themes of isolation and insomnia. What began with Churchill’s debut song “Hollow” has now been rounded off with the release of “3AM.”
I brought up the gig before for a particular reason. Catching Churchill live highlighted their charisma and stage presence. I’d seen it on the screen (during the videos for “Hollow” and “Sleep Talk”) but catching them live was a solid confirmation of what a spellbinding artist they are.
The videos for “Hollow” and “Sleep Talk” were set against single colour backgrounds and enhanced by glitch effects. But Churchill was the foundation, as they remained front and centre throughout. Again, Churchill has a lot of presence, but it’s the little things which really matter. Their nuanced expressions, deliberate choreography and mesmeric glances at the camera.
The video for “3AM” (which premiered on HighClouds last week) retains these characteristics, but more are added to the mix. Old family photos and recordings. Googly eyes, a water gun and a plastic goldfish bobbing around in a bowl.
Churchill spends much of the video in a darkened room with limited lighting. They’re contained, confined and occasionally harassed by glitch effects and strobes. At certain points Churchill is shown inside of an elevator, close up with only their reflection for company. They’re trapped, confronted by themselves and going around and around like, well, a fish in a bowl.
The trilogy’s themes of isolation and insomnia peak on “3AM.” Combined with this video, you get a real sense of someone alone in the small hours, reflecting on carefree times and confronting how they contrast with where they are now. Churchill has commented on this themselves:
3AM was initially inspired by speaking with someone who was in a vulnerable position, but it grew into something bigger than the both of us and became about the cliched idea of coming of age and losing control a little bit.
Here, Churchill is in that vulnerable position. Running around with a water gun and wearing googly eyes represent fun, childhood experiences which seem light-years removed from their present situation (it’s also telling that in these sequences, Churchill is outside in daylight.)
All of this meshes so well with the song itself. Churchill’s vocal delivery conveys a sense of resignation. There are no discordant bursts of emotion and this enhances what they’re going for. ‘I’m gonna be fine, I do this all the time’ they muse. It’s a curiously unsettling sentiment. You’ve grown up, you’re consumed by self-reflection and thoughts of what’s behind you. And it’s something you’ve just come to accept. But at least you can work with it: ‘It’s my only way feeling a sense of purpose now.’
In my review of “Sleep Talk”, I described how Churchill was addressing a partner. One that they’ve lost a connection with. One who only comes close to expressing what they think and feel when their guard is down. On “3AM,” Churchill’s guard is down.
There’s a lyric from “Hollow” which repeatedly came to mind while I was writing this. ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’ While you can’t boil this trilogy down to this single point, it’s clear that Churchill has a knack for wiring emotional states into bewitching, effortlessly cool music.
Churchill has hinted that their next few songs will be ‘A little more upbeat.’ I can’t wait to see how The Motion will flower from here. They’re also planning their future festival schedule and I have to say that on record, in videos and on stage: catch The Motion wherever and whenever you can.
You can find The Motion here: