The Clearing

The Clearing

Musician and actress Alison Sudol's latest album, 'Still Come the Night', explores the grief of miscarriage, isolation, and personal evolution. On the dawn of her new music's release, she spoke with her partner, Tom Cullen, about finding creativity amidst loss, their journey towards parenthood, and of their shared and individual experiences of losing a pregnancy.
Violet Issue: Violet Book Issue 18
Published: 2023/05/04
Updated: 2023/05/04
Amy Ryall
Tilly Wheating
Tom Cullen

Tom Cullen: This feels special and slightly weird to be interviewing you, because I’m your partner, but that is also why I'm interviewing you. We will be talking about your new album, 'Still Come the Night', and the personal story behind it. But before we get into that, I just want to give those reading who are perhaps unfamiliar with you a little bit of context as to who you are and where this album stands within your life. 'Still Come the Night' is your first full album in ten years. You were very successful making music throughout your twenties, under a different moniker—'A Fine Frenzy’. You released your last album as A Fine Frenzy in 2012. Since then, you’ve taken a hiatus and you moved into a very successful acting career, which is where I first came across you. I saw your brilliant performance in [the series] 'Transparent'. In 2017, you released the first EP under your name Alison Sudol, and over a period of two years, you slowly released new music. The new music was a departure in sound and texture, a deepening of your previous work.

Could you tell me about the break that you had making music and why you decided to start releasing music under your own name?

Alison Sudol: A Fine Frenzy was a pseudonym—it was a name I took to hide behind, I guess. I wasn't comfortable with being focused on at that time. I was 21 and very freaked out by the world.

At 21, I’d just learned how to tie my shoelaces.

[Laughs] You’re still working on it!

[Laughs] I'm blown away by young artists of that age who really know themselves.

I both did and didn’t. The music industry was brutal for a sensitive, emotional sponge of a person like me. Especially back then when I had no tools for protecting myself or working through complex emotions; and after three albums on a label that kept being bought out by one corporation after another, I felt like a cardboard cut-out. At 27, I just couldn’t see how I could carry on making music the way I had been. I needed to take a break, recover. So, hilariously, I went into acting—another brutal industry. But it's a bit more structured, a little bit cleaner. Mainly, it wasn't telling my own story. I could go into projects and be other people.

Music is arguably the most transparent art form, if done well.

Ultimately, I realised, through taking a break, how much I still need needed music, that I couldn't leave it behind. I needed to change the way that I related to the industry, and that I needed to take care of my mental health better—well, that I needed to take care of my mental health at all. That’s been a huge journey in and of itself. There was so much I had to learn about being a human that I might have learned when I was younger, but I was too busy making records, and so for a period of time, after putting A Fine Frenzy to bed, I just tried to get to know myself better. I didn’t work a lot. I cried a tonne. I read 'Women Who Run with the Wolves' [by Clarissa Pinkola Estés] cover to cover and shook in my boots. When I went to England to film 'Fantastic Beasts', I decided I was ready to make music again, and met with Ali Chant, who is a music producer, songwriter and lovely person. He was up for experimenting with me. Up for going on a ride [with me] and working out what the new music would sound like in a way that many people just weren’t interested in doing. So many people are afraid of investing like that. The process of discovery and trial and error we went into subsequently was exactly what I needed—that’s where those EPs you mentioned came from.

It must have been really thrilling to find him.

It was, but I wasn’t exactly in the headspace to feel it. I was going through a lot of heavy stuff, personally, that I wasn’t coping with well. Divorce, family stuff... Oof. I spent many nights in the bathtub of this terrible hotel that I was staying in where the rooms were the size of railway bunks, and the wallpaper was peeling off... They had a big thing for sherry in this hotel—I don’t particularly like sherry; but man, I hit the sherry in that bathtub after those sessions. I'm sure they were shocked by the amount of sherry that I went through. My friend nicknamed me ‘Sherry Bath’.

Such a grandma drink. My grandma loved sherry.

[Laughs.] I love grandmas. Sherry was there for me, bless her. There were lots of tears, and so I don't think of that time as being the most joyful or exciting, but it was needed. I was trying things out. I was experimenting and seeing what felt right. Those two EPs are very different sonically: there was sort of a more 60s, sort of spangly, dreamy side to Moon, while Moonlite was darker and had a bit more rhythm to it. I started performing them live, which is around the time that you and I met. That music allowed me to try out what it felt like to sing in different ways, to explore my voice and my body through the music in front of an audience again after years of not performing live. I loved it so much. I started to have fun again. That really set the tone for where I moved into with this album. I felt more in my skin than I had in a long time.

It’s amazing that even in a time of a lot of personal pain, you went into a room and were so brave and experimental and asking yourself big questions. Those EPs are beautiful and expansive, and hearing you talk about it, you can really hear all that you were going through. And now, your new album, 'Still Come the Night', which you released on September 30 of this year, was born out of a period of grief—grief that we shared together.


And a few months later, you wrote this album. Is music in some ways a tool for you to process emotion? I'm intrigued to know whether you would've written this album if we hadn't had that experience.

It's so strange, isn't it? I don't want my creative process to be wrapped around pain and large life transitions.

What's wrong with that? Why?

Because I don't want to have to depend on something terrible happening to write an album.

I remember one of the first times we hung out. We were driving in the car, and you suddenly got really quiet and upset. And I asked you what was wrong? And you said, ‘I'm worried that I'm never gonna have a breakup again.’

[Laughs.] Because I knew you were it for me. I was mourning the fact that I wasn't going to have anything more to write about.

I was a bit like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We've just met.’ [Laughs.] Also, what a hilarious thing to be sad about.


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Shirt MIU MIU.

[Laughing.] I know. But, to answer your question, I had been in the midst of writing another album with Ali Chant and was having trouble finding where I stood with it sonically and thematically. Then we had the miscarriage, and I knew I needed to make an album about it. I knew I would know what it would sound like when I was doing it. Having something as impossible to process as losing the baby hurled me into writing, because I felt awash. Time felt impossibly long and grey. And the thought of making something out of it to keep and to hold, because that's the thing that like... [Starts to cry.] Oh man, sorry. It's like, no matter how much you process it, it just still hurts.


Having something tangible—in this case, an album—so that little spirit, that being, and what they gave us wouldn't just disappear, you know, wouldn't just get eclipsed in the process of trying again, felt necessary. That experience was so important to us in terms of the family that we are now. It completely changed us—we were so new [as a couple] at that point, and though we were caught off-guard by getting pregnant so early on, we were still like, yep, OK, let's dive into this. Then when we lost... The degree that it hurt showed both of us how much we wanted it.

It was such a shocking, surprising and intense grief. There wasn't a lot out there to cling onto for help. I hope that this album can reach some people, and offer them a hand to hold, and for them to feel less alone.

I feel very privileged to have watched the growth of this album from its first seeds. The album spans the width of grief from its deepest, foggiest, unknowing, to this unexpected sense of hope that emerged from it. Personally, I can't think of another album that has managed to capture such honesty in its translation of grief. The title song, ‘Still Come the Night’, for example, was written in our bed together in the days after the miscarriage. I was still in a lot of pain, and even listening to the album now, I have to skip it. It's just too much because it captured that feeling.

I have watched you perform it live and seeing the effect that it has on an audience is incredibly moving. We don't talk about grief enough, and we certainly don't talk about miscarriage enough. It still baffles me that women are told not to tell anybody before 12 weeks in case they lose the baby. I'm like, ‘Well, actually, you should tell the people closest to you, in case you lose the baby, because you need help and support if you do.’ There is this antiquated, Western idea that you should grieve alone and privately.

It should just be more supported. And a choice.

In the days after we lost the baby, I reached out to friends and tried to share my grief. We held a ceremony. In the days and weeks after, I saw this being that came to us as somebody to teach me a lesson. We were relatively new in our relationship when you fell pregnant and both of us were processing a lot of other external stuff. I was both excited and terrified about having the child. I felt like I wasn’t necessarily pulling the levers on my life, and that scared me. I sometimes wonder whether I would have carried those anxious thoughts through if the baby had been born. But in my grief, it was like the curtain was pulled down. As the initial fogginess of grief cleared, I could see everything so clearly. I’m so grateful for that being, for that lesson. What a gift that lesson is: to look forward and to love fully with what's in front of you, and it taught me how much I wanted to be a dad and how much I wanted to have a child with you. Even in the hardest moments, there is beauty. That was my way of grieving. My way of understanding the pain and processing. And you made the album, which was your way of handling the grief. But it has been challenging at times for me because when it comes to the public sphere, I’m quite a private person. But watching you perform ‘Still Come the Night’, in front of a group of strangers, not really knowing what they’re coming to watch, be moved to tears, by the music, our story and your extraordinary, raw performance—my grief was universal and shared. It actually made me feel less alone. It was powerful. And helpful. A spiritual experience. So thank you for that.

Thank you for your support. I couldn't do it without you.

It's October and we just passed their due date. I have this low, vibrating sadness and depression around this time, and I can't help but imagine who they would've been or what they would've looked like or smelled like, or laughed like, you know.

It's hard. I don't think that's ever going to go. I still think of that being as part of our family.

Definitely. Always with us. In the aftermath, you spent a lot of time writing songs and writing poetry and reflecting. It was amazing to witness, especially with what was happening in the world at the time. I feel very privileged to have witnessed you create in that space. Can you tell me what was going on for you at that time?

I want to just thank you before I do. What we found going through what we did was that there isn't a lot of the partner’s experience that is shared in terms of going through miscarriage.

No, there's next to nothing for men.

A lot of the attention was put on me and what I was going through.

Well, understandably.


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I was going through the deep physical grief. Mentally, emotionally wrecked. But you lost as well. It was traumatic on so many levels. You went through it with me, unable to fix it, to make it stop. I think it's very brave of you to talk about your experience. That's why I'm so honoured that you would do this interview about the album with me. You are in every single song.

Like you were saying—and this is complex—I’m not sure what it would've been like had that baby been brought to full-term. I think I would've found my footing, but I was so fearful during that pregnancy, so full of anxiety, so controlling, trying to get everything right because it caught us on the back foot. So then I was like, ‘Hurry, cram all the prenatals [supplements] into my mouth and make sure that I don't eat this kind of cheese and, like, make sure that everything is perfect.’ I got very rigid.

So much fear pushed me to the edge of my sanity, it pushed my limits that were at that time so beyond what I could have felt I had the capacity to hold. And then the thing I feared most happened... And from that place of being cracked open, all of this old grief from other things in my life came pouring out as well. It was as if my womb, my most secret place, that as a woman had been my secret storage unit for sexual trauma, for all kinds of horrible emotional junk that I hadn't been able to process, had just been jammed in there. Secret feelings about myself, about my abilities, about my ability to mother. All of this stuff was just in there. The loss of people I love that I couldn't process. I couldn’t contain it anymore.

You’d had a significant loss six months earlier.

Yes, I lost a family member as well. That was a tough loss to process also because it was a complicated relationship. All this stagnant, heavy, painful energy that I had never wanted to deal with was moving through me, like my hormones were moving them out. All my grief that I could no longer repress, which I've been succeeding at repressing my entire life. And this very physical experience of miscarriage just kept pushing it out, pushing it out, pushing it out. I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t repress it anymore. I think that there was also something to be said for the fact that it was lockdown. That we were in a cottage with no wi-fi. We had so much space. Quiet. I could roar into the night.

We were incredibly lucky.

Incredibly lucky. And nothing was pressing in terms of work. Everything had been postponed indefinitely. We were safe. We had somewhere to be, we were around people who were loving. Also us as a unit, we had a lot of space just on our own. So I could go through this messy process fully. And you also held space for me so beautifully. You were going through your own grief, but you allowed me to be an absolute mess.

Well, I've experienced grief before—

You're not scared of it.

Oh, I am, I'm terrified of it.

But you don't stomp it down. You didn't make me feel bad for it.

No, I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of. I lost one of my best friends, James, a few years ago, and the one thing that I learned from that was that grief is its own person. Its own monster. It tells you how you feel. When I lost James, I'd be making eggs and I'd just find myself crying. What would happen if I'd suppressed that? I think it would've come out as anger—not in a good way. I’ve suppressed a lot of grief in my life and spent a lot of my formative years incredibly angry. So I just think, you have to let it out in all of its ugliness and, you know, understand that it will be a complex journey. It’s not all softness and sometimes you're gonna be an asshole—

I was.

You weren’t, actually [laughs].

I had moments.

You're going to be angry, you're gonna be a mess. You're gonna have feelings of self-pity. Those five stages of grief are very fucking real. It's important to not try to control or harness any of those feelings. I do think that we are fundamentally fucked-up in that sense in Western society. We just do not talk about it enough. We don't talk about death. We don't talk about loss. There is an inherent embarrassment about it. There's an inherent embarrassment about emotion.

What you helped me with so much, in the processing of this grief, is that you didn't try and fix it. I immediately wanted to try again. You were the one that said, ‘Let's wait and let's repair our hearts and let your body recover. Let’s have a little bit of fun. Let's be in a space of joy before we go back onto this ride.’ It was so wise, and it was like, let's give this the time that it needs. We need to fully feel this and not just run into it again.

So what was able to happen was I was able to write the songs and feel everything and be falling apart constantly. And then sort of have moments where I was fine and joyful and having a good time, and then fall apart again. There wasn't a pressure to get fixed by a certain point or to sort myself out. I wanted to take the time to really honour what we had gone through, make something that would feel true and felt like it could speak to the myriad colours of this experience. Also to open a new door in myself as an artist. It opened up a vastness in my internal landscape that I hadn't really had access to before. It was like, this depth of loss sort of broke down partitions within myself, where suddenly I could see much farther, and feel much deeper.

I think that's what I meant earlier, but you’ve just said it in a much more articulate way. Grief really can offer incredible insight and clarity. It flushes you out, doesn't it? It puts a lot into perspective.

It does. And even if this album just gets through to a few people that need it, then I will have done something that I can be proud of. Music has helped me so much. So to be able to do that for anybody else is a real privilege. What's been so brilliant since the album has come out is that it seems to be resonating not only with people that have gone through specifically what we've experienced, but just grief in general. It's been such a hard period for all of us. And now we’re just supposed to be OK. But are we?

We are in a kind of universal grief, aren't we? But we're just powering through. I think we could all do with taking a little bit more time to check in. A little bit more softness, a little bit more connection, a little bit more reflection, openness and love. Ali, it's been really lovely to talk to you about this. I do hope that some people reading this will appreciate us sharing this experience. Thanks for reading. All right. Love you all. [Laughs.]



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