Early last year, slowburner alt-pop artist Ainslie Wills was given time off to think. Put up in a Sydney hotel for an APRA AMCOS SongHubs workshop, she returned each night alone after songwriting sessions with an unlikely pair, Wrecking Ball co-writer MoZella and producer and multi-instrumentalist Bram Inscore.
“Where is my life going?” she wondered, coming face to face with herself in the hotel. “What am I doing?” Taking the deep feels back to her LA co-writing crew, new song Society soon came tumbling out, expressing the pressure she now feels as a woman in her 30s in the music biz, contemplating exactly how and where having kids might fit.
For years, she’s worked hard at her career, studying music, learning the craft, creating intricacies in her sound. Since her 2013 debut album You’ll Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine, Ainslie has undeniably built an enviable reputation as a poised and powerful songwriter and performer with a smart cult following. But bang, she’s now hit up against that cast-iron cultural imperative of motherhood, and it’s keeping her awake at night. “The non-conventional path we take in the world as female musicians isn’t spoken about,” Ainslie says. “I didn’t see it coming, but Society came straight from this struggle. Having the space to think allowed these anxieties to emerge through the song.”
The non-conventional path a woman may take is rarely celebrated or affirmed in our culture. Step off the patriarchy-approved path of school, study, job, partner, house, marriage, kids and you’ll find yourself trudging murky waters with a branding of ‘selfish’ hovering near.
“I was talking about it with MoZella and Bram – the question about kids is never placed on the man,” she continues. “Women want to be fulfilled in ways meaningful to us. But, if we want children, we’re told we have to be selfless and put our careers on hold. It’s a massive can of worms. I want Society to be a testament to that.”
She’s made halting attempts to ask other music industry folk for advice on how they juggle their careers and children, but she’s yet to feel safe enough to really try. So, unsent emails stay put in her drafts folder, waiting for the right moment to reach out. It hasn’t come yet.
It’s not surprising. Beyond the mummy blogs and Facebook group chats, the way a woman in her 30s should navigate career and motherhood isn’t a comfortable issue to discuss. It throws an awkward spotlight on our cultural failure, 50 years post second-wave feminism, to support women to thrive in all their diverse roles and aspirations. Listening to Tina Arena’s keynote speech at BIGSOUND 2017 , Ainslie was also reminded of that particularly shaming question no one should ever be asking – if you’re a woman over 30, are you even relevant anymore?
Her forthcoming 2019 album All You Have Is All You Need delves a little further into the murkiness. “I have a song on the album that talks about the motherhood-career question more specifically, and when I hear it, I know it might turn some people,” she says. “Because I’m questioning, ‘Do I actually want children, or am I just following everyone on the path around me?’”
While she doesn’t yet have the answers, and isn’t judging anyone for their choices, Ainslie’s found a way to speak up through her songs. “I just want Society to be a gentle reminder that everyone’s feeling the same pressures,” she says. “This song, and Running Second before it, are about me finding the courage to be honest and say, ‘This is where I’m at and I’m okay with it now.’”
Since Ainslie’s been so steadfastly successful in gaining momentum, fans and a great deal of respect for her striking body of work, capped off lately by her 2018 APRA Song Of The Year nomination for Running Second, she’s now happy she can share what power she has to generate awareness.
“In the past, I haven’t spoken up, but when it comes to social change, we have to make our voices heard, even if it sometimes offend people,” she says. “The platform I’ve built isn’t huge, but I can still help, and that’s powerful. We need a collective awareness of what’s really going on for women, and we can’t being afraid to start the discussion. Like songs, when you speak the truth, you have the power to connect directly with people feeling the same way.”
If you’re a woman over 30 feeling the anxiety yourself, Society will offer you a moment of peace and solidarity. You’re not alone. Ainslie’s got your back as you work through your own struggles with motherhood, career, identity, choices and constraints.