We talk Time Is A Riddle, film projects and Desert Island Disks with the London folk aficionado.
You’ve said that you felt a lot more comfortable making this album, and you went for a much more intimate recording process when creating it, but did you still feel any pressure to follow The Fire Inside?
There was a bit, but I think the pressure was more from me relying on myself. For good or ill I had a lot of creative voices on the first album, so this one came more from me. I decided I wasn’t going to listen to anyone else and that was the pressure that I had going on — would it still be any good, questions like that?
Was that freeing or did you find living up to your own expectations harder?
It was definitely more freeing in the process, but I think there was a period of time where I’d finished making the album and nobody had heard it, other than the small group of people that made it, where I felt a lot of anxiety.
Obviously ‘Time Is A Riddle’ is the cornerstone of this album and decided the feel of it, but considering your experience with your label regarding The Fire Inside, did you find that past affected the way you wanted this album to feel?
Well, with the first album we were mostly just aiming for the radio with a couple of the tunes, but that felt like it ruined the flow of the record. There were all these scheduling problems with people involved and nobody would commit their time to record, so it ended up being made in really small chunks of time. With this one, I wanted to have an album that felt like one piece and really worked. So, we went away to the middle of nowhere in Ireland and just made it all in one room, and that was all very intentional, purposefully doing the opposite of what I did before. And I just really enjoyed it more than anything as well, even regardless of the end result; it was just a really fun, relaxing process.
It’s refreshing to make an album which tells a story, because a lot of people just release singles.
Yeah, and that’s the way it is; people just put one or two songs on a playlist, and that’s what the radio always was. There’s no problem with that, but I still like listening to albums all the way through and feeling like it’s a really well curated photo book, or a novel or something where you can sit and enjoy it and let it take you somewhere.
‘Killing Me’ is written from the perspective of your grandmother – did anything in particular inspire any other songs?
A ton of stuff, although nothing was quite as explicit as that. That was a proper kind of out-of-body experience; I didn’t intend to write that song, it just came out. That’s another part of the distance between this album and the last one, because with the last one everything had to mean something, and everything was intentional to the point where I didn’t really let any instincts come through. I tried to relax a bit more on this album and let some unconscious stuff through. There’s a tune on this album called ‘Rough Diamond Falls’ which literally came to me in a dream, which has never happened before. I always read interviews with people who say that, and I was like ‘Yeah course it did, nice one’. But I did actually have this sort of weird vision dream about this place and I woke up singing the chorus, and I just wrote it really quickly that morning. Stuff like that has never happened to me before.
You cut together the ‘Killing Me’ video, almost by accident, and are running your film project alongside this album release; do you find that having other creative outlets eases any stress you have, or does it just become another in the list of things you need to do?
It’s lovely when you find stuff you care about, but it is stressful, because I only really feel confident doing music and yet I’m expected to do all these other things which I don’t necessarily have the skills for. I get it, because there’s so much stuff to distract people; you can’t put out eleven or twelve songs and go “everyone care about this” and have that work, but I do wish that I could just make an album and say ‘Here you go’ and that would be enough! But it’s nice to try and challenge yourself and do other things.
Does the result of this album mean you’ll continue to work in the same way, or do you see yourself moving in any other direction?
I don’t know; this is obviously only my second album, and the difference in the process between this one and the first one has been like chalk and cheese. I’ve learnt so much from both of them that I have no idea what I’m going to do next. I don’t think it’s going to be some crazy new thing, I can probably put money on that!
Fair enough! So, obviously you worked with Tommy McLaughlin on this album; do you feel that he dramatically changed your creative ability or the result?
I think, for me, I’m quite strong on what I want and how I want things to sound. In an ideal world I’d really like to be a producer, and I’d like to make records for other people, but I wouldn’t feel confident doing that now. It’s really nice to work with people that have made loads of records before, and with Tommy especially, I think we were both very much on the same page all through this process. I haven’t really worked with anyone who has pulled anything crazy out or made me do anything mad, I wouldn’t really feel comfortable – it has to come from me. This kind of music is very personal and if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a real place… I want to work with people who respect a good song and know how to read an emotion in a song and then put the right production around it to elevate that emotion. It sounds like a simple thing, but there’s a lot of people who get it wrong.
I guess it’s hard because you’re the one that’s stuck performing it when you’re on tour.
Yeah, and at the end of the day it’s got my name on it; I mean, the producer will be on there somewhere but my name’s the biggest!
If you could work with anyone else who would you choose?
Blake Mills is one of the best producers out there. It’s a long shot but I’d love to do something with him.
Off the back of The Fire Inside and Time Is A Riddle, is there anything that you wanted to try but didn’t have the confidence to before, which you now feel you would like to incorporate into new music?
I’m not as scared about sticking to my strengths. I don’t write the chirpy tunes; we tried to do too many on the first album and even on this one there were a couple, and I love them but if I could have an album that was just full of misery and sad tunes, I would. I’m ignoring the radio because I find when you try and second guess what they’re going to play, they tend to see through that.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I don’t know, I don’t tend to look very far ahead; I don’t have very grand aspirations. Every month I can keep doing this is good. There were times I didn’t think this album would get made, so I’m just excited to start thinking about the next one. I might be doing an American tour which is exciting because I haven’t done one before. I’ve done a couple of shows over there, but no proper tour.
Is there any place you’d like to play in particular?
I’d like to go to Japan. They like their happy music though, so I’m not sure I’ll get the invite any time soon.
Describe Time Is A Riddle in one word?
That’s hard… I will say, with the caveat that this is what I intended it to be: captivating.
What has been your best or weirdest performance experience?
With an older band, we wanted to do thirty shows in a week; we played some odd places, like old people’s homes and a maximum security prison.
Like Sigur Rós’ Heima tour.
Yeah, but less beautiful!
I thought I’d finish on a fun one – what are your Desert Island Disks?
Oh, this is too hard! It’s my dream to go on Desert Island Disks. Well, it’s my dream to be someone’s choice. I’d pick ‘Late for the Sky’ by Jackson Brown, ‘Ára Bátur’ by Sigur Rós and probably ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ by Ryan Adams.By Yasmin Asif