New Zealand artist Aldous Harding creates music that is a genre unto itself. The Guardian describe her as ‘bewitching’ ‘deeply affecting’ and ‘a folk artist whose performances strike that rare balance between fragility and full-blown possession.’
Recently signing to 4AD, the label who has given us The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Grimes and many more – Aldous is set to release her new album ‘Party’ in May. I spoke to her about working with PJ Harvey’s producer John Parish, what happiness is and Frank Zappa quotes.
Congratulations on the album, it’s incredible, my absolute favourite release so far this year. Did it turn out the way you hoped?
Oh thank you. Yeah, totally. I’m happy with it, thank you. You know, I put a lot of thought into it.
You can tell! I’m have this book called Daily Rituals and it’s about how artists work. I’d love to know if you had a schedule for how you worked on ‘Party’? Or did you wait for inspiration to arrive to start working?
Do you mean writing?
Yeah, did you have to labour over it?
No, most of the songs I had had for at least a year before we started recording except for ‘Imagining My Man’ and ‘Living The Classics’ and a couple others ones that I wrote while I was recording. I can write wherever I am and it can go either way. It can be a sort of, I need to write a song or it can just be there is a song. You know, I don’t really have a method really. Unless I need one or am forced.
So it’s more, almost just how you live or have to survive I guess? Just by writing all the time?
Did you write the album in Lyttelton?
I actually wrote most of it while I was on tour in Europe. ‘Party’ and ‘The World is Looking for You’ and even ‘Swell Does The Skull’ I think. They were all written while I was on tour.
You’ve said before that a lot of your music is motivated by fear? Was that the case with this record because it seems really strong?
No, not at all. That was first the record, this one is a lot stronger, I mean I feel like the music is stronger but what I mean is the content is stronger. You know the stuff I’m talking about, well there’s not too much fear in there really. It’s not the case now.
Horizon is powerful and there’s so much strength in that song. Where did that track come from?
Where did it come from [laughs]
Yeah, did it just come out of nowhere or what were you feeling?
That was actually the fastest songs I’ve ever written, which is why it’s pretty repetitive, there’s not a lot of thought, well not that there’s not a lot of thought but I didn’t have to arrange it really.
There’s three or so chords?
It’s actually four, but yeah I wrote that in a hotel room and yeah I don’t know where it comes from to be honest. You’re either thinking about it or not thinking about it and there’s a balance, I can’t really remember which one it was. I think I was just feeling pretty intensely. I don’t even remember what I was feeling at the time, but you know, it must have been pretty strong to sit down and write a song about it.
I know you don’t like talking about what your songs are about but in ‘Party’ you sing that ‘I was as happy as I’d ever been.’ What does that happiness look like for you?
Well I don’t know. My idea of what makes me happy changes all the time. And I don’t know, maybe at the time I was referring to balance. Having an anchor in somebody, which is kind of beautiful in a way but false you know? You can’t just hang on to a boy your whole life.
What was the experience like recording with John Parish? Did he bring out something you didn’t think would happen with the record?
Yeah, certainly we did lots of surprises on the record. But we walked away from it feeling like we’d put the surprises in the right places. He’s obviously a master at what he does, he’s very patient. I just kind of road his coattails and put in my two cents all the time.
I heard you do a lot of things with your voice that I hadn’t heard you do before. Was that him pushing you to emote different or was that something that’s just come from so much touring?
You know what, it’s funny. It’s actually got nothing to do with physical strength of my voice, it’s more that I’m not – I don’t feel limited, I don’t want to write songs like I used to. I don’t feel like that and the songs that I feel like writing now make me want to sing differently. You know? They make me want to sing how I sing, however I choose to sings depending on how I’m feeling or what the song’s asking for.
Your mum is a folk singer as well. Has she heard the record yet?
Yes she has, not all of it.
What does she think?
Well she’s proud as punch obviously. Yeah she likes it.
I’d also read, with your parents being musicians that you’d always resisted being a musician when you were younger – when did that change?
Probably when I decided that I wanted to make a living from music, when I was 19/20. And I just thought, ‘I’m not that good at anything else.’ I actually just sort of fell into it actually, when I think about it.
Did you learn performance off anyone, is there anyone you’ve seen and thought, ‘I could take something from them?’
I think I just do it naturally, of course there’s people I admire however I don’t take specific – you know I’m not really a fan girl and I don’t know. I just try to do my own shit and take pride in that, and that’s all I can do really. It’s all I want to do for now.
I was watching this Bob Dylan documentary and he was talking about how he studied performers and what he learnt from them is that a powerful performance is all in the eyes, you know the sincerity of a performance is all in the eyes.
Yeah and he also said ‘Remember you know something they don’t’ – pretty sure that was him, maybe don’t quote me on that, it’s been so long since I’ve heard from Bob Dylan.
And that’s why you don’t like to talk about your songs? [laughs]
No, not at all! I just don’t like to talk about them because… Here’s a good quote for ya, Frank Zappa said, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about Architecture,’ you know that’s kind of how I feel. Not to be rude or anything, this is fine, this is part of what I do, I totally get it. I’m far less eloquent when I speak and especially when I speak about the parts that people find eloquent of me. It’s difficult to stand next to that, I’ve been given all the space in the world to think about these questions and they’re essentially the same questions and it’s funny because I go, ‘I should really take some time and think about it and try prepare’ and every time it comes around I don’t. I haven’t done it and I don’t know what to say! I haven’t even figured out a lot of these questions in my own head.
[laughs] Yeah and I think that’s the beautiful thing about you as well, it’s not so – it’s just real and I know I really like that. Well thank you so much for talking to me.
You’re welcome, I’m glad you like the record and I’ll see you in Australia?
Definitely, I’m such a big fan. All the best Aldous.
Party is out May 19 on 4AD