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Feature: Aldous Harding Discusses 'Party' And Her Newfound Passion

Feature: Aldous Harding Discusses 'Party' And Her Newfound Passion

Tuesday 27th June, 2017 2:08PM

First impressions are an interesting measure for a new body of work. Relevant? Yes. But more often than not, reactions and responses that are tempered with the inevitable familiarity of repeat listens. Every now and then though, an album comes along that stops you in your tracks and grabs you by the scruff of the neck; on the first listen, and the fifty-first. Aldous Harding’s sophomore release, ​Party​, is just such a paragon - a supremely clever collection of songs from a versatile vocalist.

Speaking on the phone from the UK ahead of the record's release, amid a myriad of early morning yawns and apologies as she gathers her thoughts, there’s an undeniable air of excitement for the new album. However, it is somewhat curbed by big-picture realism: “It feels good, but I’m kinda thinking about how big the year is as a whole. And trying not to get over-excited or anything. I need to stay focussed… I’ve got a lot to do this year.” She pauses before adding, “I’m being realistic with myself, ‘cause there’s still serious work to be done.” 

But some serious work has already been done, ​Party ​unveiling huge growth and progression since her 2014 self-titled debut. The record flaunts a tremendous range of vocal gymnastics, as the tracks traverse a carte du jour of pitch, tone, timbre and cadence. ”When I started to see what I was able to do with my voice, there were moments of, like, is this ok? Am I allowed to do these things with my voice? And then I was like, fuck no! I can do whatever the music needs, whatever the song needs, whatever I need.”

There is a certain alchemy in the sparse arrangements and production on ​Party, thanks in part to the input and direction of John Parrish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse). Describing their relationship as “easy”, Harding ponders how best to describe their studio time: “We just wanted to make a beautiful record, and the rest of it settled around that.” Delving a little deeper into the recording experience, she continues, “Sometimes I would become obsessed with space, and John would say,’You need to get a bit braver with this.’ I think there was a really good balance between myself and John. Of me knowing exactly what I wanted and John knowing exactly what it needed.”

Describing her songs as "gothic fairytales" when last speaking to​ ​UnderTheRadar​ in 2014, Harding’s first album saw her delivering lyrics full of death and destruction. Reflective of her state of mind, the chimeric memoirs were washed in archaic language. But ​Party ​doesn’t follow in those footsteps, using much more contemporary phrasing and prose. Still eerie and spectral, the themes are not necessarily softer, but there is a lighter spirit emanating from this long player.

“I think they have a different kind of feel, or intensity,” she says of the tracks on ​Party. ​”I don’t think the themes are softer, they’re just more positive.” Harding credits this to having done a lot more externalising, but is quick to reaffirm that while things might be “nicer”, they’re still profound: “I love playing music... with people, for people. I’ve loved really incredible people and I love really incredible people. And I’m an extremely lucky person. Which, ya know, when you’re young you sometimes... it can be a struggle to admit that to yourself.” 

Voice shifting effortlessly from song to song, Harding makes full use of the kaleidoscopic sonic palette at her disposal.​ Psychedelic folk gambol ‘Living The Classics’ - with a musicality that is recognisable, yet baring something distinctly new and original - is one of Harding’s favourites on the album. “The content is basically me saying; I’m into it, I’m into this music thing. And I’m gonna try and make it. It’s me psyching myself up for the things that I really believe in,” she admits, before adding, “John and I really were really into that one.”

Title-track ‘Party’ was one that came easily: “I didn’t go back and tweak it. I knew exactly what I wanted for the chorus, and when the song was written I knew I wanted to call the album ​Party.” With its unusual and dexterous charm, what begins as a stripped-back soliloquy, builds to the exultation: ​“I was as happy, as I will ever be.”​ Wanting the track to feel triumphant, but also delicate, Harding describes these emotions as ones she fluctuates between day-to-day. “There’s me knowing how to write and record and play. And not being afraid to do that - in my own way. And then there’s the other stuff, which no one ever really figures out. To go from loving what you do to the uncertainty of someone you love… it’s pretty intense.”

‘Horizon’ gets into your veins, lingering long after the music ends: ​“I broke my neck, dancing to the edge of the world, babe.” ​With its vociferous vocals and haunting delivery, Harding simply states: “That’s how that song needs to be sung, and I’ve never stopped singing it like that.” A huge song, its purview is vast, yet striking in its simplicity: “It’s just me and a piano, and it’s up to whoever is playing keys and myself to make it what I want it to be. It is exhausting, but in a nice way,” she says with a smile in her voice. “I feel like, maybe, that’s the one song I allow myself to let go. There is absolutely no restraint, because it doesn’t need it.”

With a singular magnetism and irresolute, yet strident truth, Harding is a chameleon of characters throughout the album; broken-hearted and brooding; impassioned yet impartial; fragile one minute and fighting the next; defeated in turns, but determined throughout: “I’ve recognised that music is - apart from loving another person - the only thing that’s ever made me feel like I have purpose. And so I guess, in a way, it’s like a drug; it’s addictive. I just want more of it and I want to ​give​ people more of it. Unfortunately I think I’ve turned into one of those passionate people! I mean, I’ve always had passion, but never knew where to put it really.” Sometimes absent, yet oh so present, this songstress is both everything and nothing. And despite the ever-changing mantle, ​Party is ​an articulate and cohesive body of work that’ll smack you around, before sneaking into your soul. 

Words By Ren Kirk. Photo by Cat Stevens.


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