Sunday, 19 July 2015

GIVE ME 3 | Charley Stone + Jennifer Denitto + Tegan Christmas


Three influences from three women influential in underground music 1990-current + exclusive news and a lot of whittering about Melody Maker, Linus, Frantic Spiders, Lida Husik and novelist Martin Millar. 


Charley Stone 
Jennifer Denitto
Tegan with Eli, new album and cakes













We like to hear about what influenced the cool folk. Last week for the app Electronic Sound I talked to Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) about his influences, one being the landscape (August issue). I have also talked to A Guy Called Gerald and more recently ex Moloko vocalist and solo artist Roisin Murphy for the same feature. Murphy talked about the musical scenes and people that have influenced her creative life - to which I relate. It led me to think about the people and musical scenes that have influenced me and then find out what delights they recommend. 

Maker, Novelist Martin Millar, the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophones
I was never neutral at the Melody Maker, my ears were always tuned to what was on offer, not in the sense of free beer and tee shirts but in the context of what to read, what music, art and films to try out. I wasn’t building a career I was building my personality.  It was joy, freedom and a lot of what do I think/why do I think that?

Bands, artists, boys and girls, would always wax lyrical about books, art, music in interviews or at the backstage parties. They can't help themselves. I would literally take notes and later investigate, making up my own mind and finding that I generally got something for myself from those passed on by the girls. 

That said, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, whose silly name hides a deeply political and ground breaking band for their time, like me, had discovered Lux The Poet. The book is set during the Brixton 80's Riots and written by Martin Millar, cult writer back then, now a mainstream seller with Neil Gaiman a fan. We adopted Martin/Martin adopted us. I went to a lot of gigs with Martin. We talked about writing, alongside topics like speed freaks, greasy hair, ancient battles, Greek theatre and poetry. He had a life-sized cardboard cut out of Shakespeare in his Brixton flat. Lysistrata is still my favourite play. (Martin tells me there is a lot of Greek theatre in his latest book The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies and the character Lux apparently, makes an appearance.) It was a fun litmus test for boyfriends, taking them to a version of Lysistrata rather than some cool sold out gig, which I suspected they wanted. The man who became the father of our daughter MAVE, sailed through a lesbian version, with strap-ons (not him, the actors); able to get how cleverly the Greek theatres liking for giant phallus' as a comedic feature had been turned upside down (especially because Greek theatre did not allow women on the stage or in the theatre). 




Linus
Linus the band have been a massive influence in many people's lives yet they're probably the most lo fi, in terms of attitude, out of all the Riot Grrrl bands. Initially it was the music that was the attraction, the first time I heard them being on the Linus 7" vinyl EP (Bone Records, 1993). But when I followed that up by seeing them live what I got was more than a great gig:

There were more girls than boys; girls running the show; girls at the door; girls doing the PR thing; girls on stage; girls giving fanzines. And they weren’t scary like the others – by which I mean I wasn’t intimated because they were ready and I was getting ready, which I often felt. Linus didn’t make me feel like that. I think they were the great levellers of that period. To get a really good idea of the scene at that time read Linusland and Andy Roberts’ run down of 1993 – makes you dizzy. They played with legends like Bratmobile and UK faves, Huggy Bear but would also step out with the new kids on the block, like UK Riot Grrrl band Skinned Teen.

Skinned Teen, like Frantic Spiders (see below), were pure, that is they didn’t come from being in another band or part of any scene but they were inspired, girls, and up for a revolution, even if they didn’t know it. The story goes that Layla Gibbon’s *mum took her to a recording of a Bikini Kill video, being filmed by Lucy Red Shoes, the artist and film maker and daughter of feminist lecturer and writer Professor Pat Thane. Kathleen Hanna said to them: are you in a band? The girls looked at each other and just replied: Yes. Then went home and wrote a song. (You can read Layla Gibbon at MaximumRockNRoll where she is now contributing editor and where she has recruited many more women writers into the citadel of macho hardcore music.) 

Jennifer Denitto was the bass player in Linus but is now also acknowledged as a great drummer. In current band, The WI, she changes instruments. Jen left Linus in 1997, and was replaced temporarily by Charley Stone - who was on the Linus 12" 1998 EP - and permanently by Deb Van Der Geugten (also now in The WI). It seems likely that Charley will work with The WI on their first recordings, in the studio and I see a new era taking shape. (Exclusive!) Cassandra Fox (vocals, bass) and Melissa (vocals/cornet) make up the rest of The WI. 


The WI 2015

I asked Jennifer Denitto what were three of her biggest influences? She came back to me with the answer in minutes.

Jennifer Denitto (Linus, The W1) Top 3: 

      Angry Women (Research, 1991) was a huge influence.

The Velvet Underground, both musically and because they had a woman drummer, Moe Tucker. 


Venus In Furs, the Velvet Underground and Nico (Mo set the pace for the track)

The Dead Kennedys. 


Holiday in Cambodia, The Dead Kennedys 

I was thrilled with JD's input and equally with the brief answers and lack of subjectivity or the gossip (goes red), which to me follows that thread of Linus being not in your face, except for the music, yet being so totally active and influential in the background.

Angry Women, Lida Husik, Melody Maker
Seek out Angry Women if you are ready. This book helped me understand what I was reading (Kathy Acker, Andrea Dworkin) and what I was watching (Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, L7) at the time. It was also something I hid from my daughter during the crazy years (12-17) because I suspected it would be misinterpreted and used incorrectly as a champion for behaviour/actions which were not in the same feminist spirit as the work of say, Lydia Lunch. Now she is a spoken word artist, unravelling the political from what is deeply personal, I would gladly loan her the book, but after I have finished pouring all over it again. I have never met anyone who knew this book save for Lida Husik a Shimmy Disc artist from the 90s who gave it to me when she came to stay at my place in London once (from US).

She wrote inside my book:




Her sound is anything but angry, but we needed to be angry to be artists, because that was an energy which beat all the odds, the assumptions, the teasing.
Lida Husik Whirlybird

At the Maker, Tuesday editorial, the day of distribution and its arrival in a bundle at the offices, the day you collected your records and tapes (later CDs - we threw CDs around the office a lot by the way): 

“You talk about her (Lida Husik) all the time. Are you girls…? An item?" 

It was standard if I, a woman, was excited about the talents of another woman. Ditto if I enjoyed their company, without a fella in sight. I am bored with boring you about this but it IS significant in the history of women in music and is bound up in the role of women writers in music publishing. The fact is, it was great to have a friend who didn't reply to an invite with: I'll see what my boyfriend is doing. 
Lida Husik and Ngaire Ruth on the way to Highgate Cemetry
Frantic Spiders, Toxic Shock Syndrome
One Tuesday at The Maker I got a tape in an envelope from a band called Frantic Spiders. We all got around 50 amateur tapes a week plus white labels from PR’s and record companies, in both tape and vinyl formats – no CDs at this point. We would have an editorial, then go to the pub for too long, especially if the PRs had got wind of our local and were buying, then stumble home on the underground carrying heavy vinyl in thick cardboard envelopes, and a plastic bag full of tapes rattling, clanging painfully on legs.

The Frantic Spiders tape was scrawled all over in bright colours, it had been a channel for pure joy and determination, and in the big bag of tapes it stood out, like it was exuding light.

I trumpeted loud and long about Frantic Spiders. I wrote about them in the Maker.



They released the When You're Dead EP in 1993 and everyone started to like the FS.

Ronnie and Charley were two particularly motivated young women and I was in awe of them because they were younger than me and yet they had no fear and each other, even when new members came and went and the band split mutating into equally fabulous Toxic Shock Syndrome the support and friendship among them was before their time (this includes Jo Gate Eastley). I knew that they were going to be active in the creative arts for some time, which was and is very important to me. I knew this because I had fun, fun, fun when I was with them while at the same time the world always shifted its axis just a little bit more towards a woman’s world in the process – you felt it.

As Toxic Shock Syndrome, I performed with them at some Riot Grrrl bash at the Bull & Gate. Well Ronnie said: Put this on. Hold this doll. Kill it when I give you the eye.

TSS with Ngaire Ruth Bull & Gate 

I am long overdue to ask Charley Stone what are three of her book/musical influences? She was also quick with a response and talked about influential reading in terms of the cultural press, alongside the musical influences, which again pleases me because it reflects the personality I think I know, and the reason why that tape in the bag was so impossible to resist, like a diamond in the rough. And I think it’s funny that they probably sent one to Taylor Parkes as well, who no doubt ditched it. Taylor and I are very nice to each other now at Maker gatherings, but we hated each other back then.

Charley Stone (Frantic Spiders, Spy 51, Gay Dad, Salad, Abba Strikes, Ye Nuns, Joanne Joanne, Keith Top Of The Pops) Top 3: 

      The David Sylvian double album "Gone To Earth" and a David Sylvian interview in Blitz magazine I think in approximately 1987 where the interviewer said something I like "I want to tell him that the incurable romantic is hopeless" and asked him "When will we learn to live life unhesitantly?" to which David shook his head and smiled and said "I don't know".




The Stereolab album "Transient Random Noisebursts (With Announcements)"; Taylor Parkes (I think) review of the album in Melody Maker where he began by saying "Culture's lost it" and said something like "this album will, in time, become important".




Throwing Muses, early Throwing Muses / Ablaze! fanzine number 5 (I think) where Karren wrote about the Muses and Pixies and Sonic Youth and said "The reason: Fire" and "read Ursula le Guin books" in the endnotes.
Go to http://mittenson.com/about-karren-ablaze/

Tegan and Kris, The Ethical Debating Society Top 3: 
I was introduced to The Ethical Debating Society last year and immediately wanted to be their friend. Tegan Christmas has awesome vocals and a pure and focused attitude that will not bend to fit in. With singer/writer/guitarist Kris and hardcore punk drummer Eli they are a force for the future (see Why Do Bands Hate Labels? in this Blog). 


Then Kris from TEDs introduced me to Thee Faction, (my political band to replace Carter USM in 2015.)

Kris gave me three books recently: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Note from Underground and The Double and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, two books which have been an influence, particularly the latter, on all the good men Left. (Yes, with a capital, double-barrelled meaning.) It’s also an insight into the history of unions and the working men’s political parties – and some of my family history is in there, which is an extra. The third book is a classic, Silences by Tillie Olsen, her first non-fiction work, which talks about the things that obstruct or silence woman’s creativity, and a helpful reminder at the time.




Tegan is both inspired by Riot Grrrl and slightly intimidated by the academia of it all – although she understands it and studied the French feminists at university. I’m sure Kathleen Hanna would be horrified to know people felt that they had to go get a degree to be in the gang but it would not have become a political movement and genre if the clever girls had not taken it on and got organised. Still, I relate to Tegan on that. 


Tegan calls herself Head of Yelling for TEDs 
Tegan: “Mine would have to be The Collector, by John Fowles, (if you've never read this, please do, immediately). Pussy Whipped by Bikini kill, (heard it when I was very young, and it did something to me, BIG time) and...Can I say fashion? As in, without being able to wear the clothes and things I often do, I would feel decidedly less "me"? In particular, I think, the ethos behind the punk movement, although that's not necessarily my look, most of the time, but definitely the politics behind it."



Footnote:
So thanks to Martin Millar for seeking out my address in Somerset some years ago and sending me a copy of his latest book at that time, Kalix Curse of the Werewolf Girl, and reminding me I had an identity beyond mum, teacher, cook, cleaner, cashpoint and therefore applying for the position of Live Editor at www.thegirlsare.com 

So thanks to Lucy Red Shoes mum, Professor Pat Thane, who put her money where her mouth is and gave us solitary safety in her cottage in north London during Christmas 2012, a time of mighty oppression and need of protection (but no family and forgotten). She had just published the book Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth- Century England.  I wouldn't be merrily typing now were it not for that practical intervention. 


*I am very particular about calling women by their names and not their role: see Layla Gibbon's mum, but in this instance I know the woman does not look kindly on being mentioned by name and wishes to be anonymous, except to her friends. And I would like to stay one. 

It is intentional that only the girls have a voice in this article. Kris and Martin won't mind.  


The WI be part of the We Shall Overcome weekend in October. 




Thursday, 9 July 2015

Roisin Murphy | Clothes, Music, Boyz

I recently talked to former Moloko singer Roisin Murphy for the Under The Influence feature in the app Electronic Sound Magazine, June 2015, Club Edition, to mark the release of ‘Hairless Toys’, her first album for eight years



In the Under The Influence feature well known artists talk about the influences that have affected their artistic lives - mostly a book is in there, often a person, in the case of Guy Called Gerald the 808 was included. Here is the Roisin Murphy interview in full. The July issue of Electronic Sound is out now.  


MANCHESTER
One of my first influences was all the incredible gear (vintage 60’s women’s fashion) in my aunt’s attic, back home in Ireland. She was a beauty queen and married to a well-known musician.
   Another influence when I was little was the film Calamity Jane, featuring Doris Day and Howard Keel (Warner Bros). I just loved it, loved seeing this amazing tomboy. I still adore her to this day, also Ginger Rogers for the same reason: witty boyish girls.
   After that we moved to Manchester, from Ireland. Imagine living in a small town with one baker and a butcher (no candlestick maker but you get the picture) where everyone listened to AC/DC and heavy metal, and then moving to a city like Manchester, where’s the sky the limit? It was hugely influential. By the time I was 13 or 14 I was going to shows. The first one that really changed me, and my style of writing, was Sonic Youth. I sat on the stage for most of the gig and watched them as they picked up Kim Gordon repeatedly and threw her into the audience. I was open-mouthed: the experience, the excitement, the music, the vibe between the band, it ALL just blew me way. Next day I went straight out to the record store with my old U2 records and exchanged them for “Daydream Nation”. It set me on a path (Jesus And The Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, The Pixies). I realised that I didn’t have to be in the mainstream and that was a great liberation for me because I suddenly felt good, not crap about it.


SHEFFIELD
Next big influence, of course, was moving to Sheffield on my own where I ended up starting Moloko with Mark (Brydon) after that famous chat-up line “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body?”
   The club scene was very influential. There was a feeling of change in the kind of mix of people, not just weirdoes but also kids that looked like they might have just come off the football terraces. I was too young to realize it’s connections with Ecstasy and I think that the club scene is more than just about hedonism. It has aspirational value. Like Northern Soul is sometimes called the music of the kids of coal miners.  The fact that you’ve found yourself here, dancing, means that you are not going to be a cog in that machine after-all. “You stick me in the machine I’ll break it!” (That’s what I always think about Mark E Smith, another huge influence but as a lyricist. He was supposed to go into the factory but he broke the machine. For example, The Fall’s fifth single, “How I Wrote Elastic Man”, where did that idea come from? He is so unique.)
   Suddenly, in Sheffield every person you met in a club was a producer, writer, artist or in a band and it was a real melting pot of musical tastes. It was truly creative and therefore very influential because now the boundaries were down.

MOLOKO
My first record with Moloko was never about launching my career but the beginning of a relationship. Obviously Mark was totally influential. He taught me a lot about writing songs, about studios and also about having high expectations. So, when I was writing a song he might say, “There are too many you’s or me’s in those lines,” or when we were recording, he would stop me and say, “You didn’t quite get the note right there.” He taught me to push the levels all the time. To this day I make sure this resonates in my work: to be experimental and have fun. But… at the time I was more of the influence there because I was an opinionated cow and he’d just made a record for acid jazz and was quite downhearted about it that night, because the record had just been deleted, and I came in and I was like “I fucking hate acid jazz anyway, it’s stupid.” (Although I can appreciate it these days.) I brought him back to his experimental roots.




GRACE JONES
After the success of Moloko I was nervous about becoming a solo artist, so seeing Grace Jones live was a powerful, good influence. There were no on-stage explosions, fireworks or crazy lights, just an innate drama, an understanding of The Show, which so obviously came from her, not some clever artistic director. She totally inspired me, although I had already discovered there was a natural performer in me by then, by accident, when Eddie Stevens, (keyboardist, composer and arranger) and Moloko’s live musical director came into our lives. 
   He was a massive influence because although Mark was a brilliant producer he was not a natural showman. Eddie spruced all that up and showed us how we could have tremendous fun, because at first it was really hard to translate from being a studio band to a live act.

MATTHEW HERBERT
Working with Matthew Herbert on my first solo album, “Ruby Blue”, was a big influence, both in terms of his method of working and the attitude, or structure of working and that with discipline, comes freedom. (I used to sit around for hours waiting for inspiration to come before that.) This still influences my method of working in the studio today – perhaps even more expertly for “Hairless Toys”. He doesn’t use sound that’s created from synthesizers he does it himself. He uses samplers. He would ask me to bring in objects from my home. He would use the sound of me dancing or the sound of the rain outside and they ended up sounding like drum beats. It seems a bit academic. He’s written theses about these things and influenced more artists and producers than just me, but ultimately his biggest influence was putting me on a sonic pedestal. He was able to do something with whatever sound I made. He was just so paternal, warm, funny and sweet. Coming out of Moloko and being pretty scared about what I was doing he turned out to be the absolute perfect person to do it with.





PETER COOKE AND DUDLEY MOORE
The latest album, “Hairless Toys”, the follow up to “Overpowered”, has a recurrent theme of flamboyancy and creativity as a reaction to oppression, and of creating a safe space from the mainstream, particularly “Gone Fishing”, which is influenced by the documentary film Paris Is Burning, about the history of house music and black, gay culture.
   Another major influence on the making of this album, would you believe, is  “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore Present Derek and Clive Live”, a favourite thing that also had an enormous influence on me when I was growing-up. I always wish to have that level of fun; you couldn’t pick me up off the floor the first time I heard it, I was laughing so much.
   I actually listened to it every day before going into the studio to work with Eddie (Stevens). Eddie and I have a great comedic relationship because we’ve known each other for so long through Moloko, we crack a lot of jokes, but I had never worked on an album with him before.  I wanted to remember that sense they have (Cook and Moore) of making it up as they go along. It takes all your defences down and you’re laughing at things that you shouldn’t be laughing at and you kind of end up purer. It’s like a cleansing.


BOOK
If I had to choose a book that has influenced me it would be Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theatre. The protagonist is a gruesome character, a dirty old bastard and when I first read this, in my 30s I was so shocked. I re-read it last year and surprised myself at how my levels of resistance to shock value, have gone down. It is absolutely brilliant and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


This interview and the Roisin Murphy album review of "Hairless Toys" is in last months edition @ Electronic Sound  or  i tunes for one off copies or reduced subscriptions. 



Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Lady Lamb | it's a need to know thing

Writes like a young Kim Deal, sounds as sweet as the Dum Dum girls. You need to know about Lady Lamb.

This piece was originally published in the girls are.


FEATURE | LADY LAMB

LadyLamb_1_byShervinLainez25
Calling herself Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper seemed like a good idea at the time. To Aly Spaltro, anonymity was all-important: she was working right next door to the record store where a stack of her homemade CDs were on the counter.
She’d made fifty to be given away free – and they were snapped up. So she made more, selling them this time. They went just as quickly. People were comparing her music to Patti SmithThe BreedersP.J. Harvey and Sharon van Etten, and for Aly, who was living in a small town in the US state of Maine, it was totally unexpected.
Her first official album, Ripley Pine, was an oblique, rambling record of sublime indie-folk; the sort of music you want to keep all for yourself. Now, though, she’s ditched the ‘and the Beekeeper’, and moved away from the form-defying, aimlessly wandering tendencies of her previous album to take a different, more carefully plotted direction. Her new offering After retains a poet’s eye, exploring both the inner and outer self, but it has the pop sensibilities of, say, Dum Dum Girls.
The musician beams from ear to ear at the comparison. “I find it really difficult to write a chorus which is why I wanted to write some – to be formulaic. I wanted to be excited about this album,” she says candidly as she meets TGA to promote her new release.
Spaltro explains, “With the first, my influences at the time were writing really long songs – of MontrealJoanna Newsom and The Fiery Furnaces – and I was really drawn to that. I think I had a subconscious desire… a feeling that I didn’t have to edit. So the songs were more meandering, with different movements and tempo changes, and I didn’t stick to a formula.”
By contrast, new album opener ‘Vena Cava’ has an elevating chorus, with a shift in key and tempo – as if you’re climbing a tree almost, and you’re reaching for the highest branch with a bold swing and a whoop.
In ‘Spat out Spit’, meanwhile – a song that ponders how strange we all are (“I could be cracked open like a cartoon watermelon/Then you could see the solar system suspended in me/It’s the same one in you”) – the chorus snaps into place with an uplifting offbeat drum march.
Whatever Spaltro may say, ‘After’ shows that Aly hasn’t actually given up her wilful, artistic nature. She’s simply demonstrating an appreciation for the existence of a desire for – and joy of – ear candy.
You could say her musical progression mirrors her physical journey. Five years ago, she moved from Brunswick, Maine to Brooklyn, New York and hasn’t looked back. In that time, she’s amassed an impressive roll call of live dates and tours both past, present and future – she’s due in the UK this autumn.
It’s given her the opportunity to fine-tune her talent, and her flair for songwriting is getting noticed. Comparisons to Kim Deal wouldn’t be remiss. Hold on to your heart for ‘Dear Arkansas Daughter’ – it has a boldness and a bite as dynamic as anything The Breeders or Pixies have produced.
Aly says, “I worked with the same producer [Nadim Issa] as my last album, in his studio near my apartment in Brooklyn, but I co-produced it this time and did a lot more of the instrumentation. Last time we recorded it live with the band and played all the songs and then I layered them. This was a very concise project where I arranged everything in my apartment first.”
Of course, it makes total sense when Spaltro says she’d like to produce other artists one day. “That’s what I would love to do.” She also wants to be entirely autonomous when it comes to producing her next album: “I feel at most I need an engineer to help put the mics where they [need to] go. I very much know what sound I want to go for. I like to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.” She’s even considered starting her own label.
So far, so in control. The song ‘Atlas’ declares: “Honey, I know where I’ve come from.” Such self-assurance, but does Aly really feel she knows herself?
“Yes I do! I put that [song] at the end of the album because I feel that it’s a good book end,” she enthuses. “The song is about taking responsibility for myself and staying true to myself. It’s something I struggled with on the last album, which was more about what I wanted from other people. This one was about having the power in myself to be happy.”
She’s always had the power within herself to be happy, just as she’s always had a keen self-awareness and a curiosity about life. Rewind to a normal weekday in the still of the Arizona landscape; dry, arid, dusty. It’s playtime at Aly Spaltro’s school. She is that little girl sitting on the huge rock on the edge of the noisy playground, listening to the White Album by The Beatles on her headphones – you know, their weird record. “I had such a beautiful childhood – happy, loving, memories of eating juicy watermelons on baking-hot days. There was absolutely no reason for me to have deep feelings at such an early age, but I do remember sitting on that rock and looking up and thinking: ‘Where are we? What is life?’ And it’s carried on and I find ways to express it in my music.”
It’s an example set by her mum, a strong influence in her life: to remember the past through a child’s eyes. The song ‘10’ is about how her mum keeps a diary of childhood memories. “When she remembers something from when she was little she’ll write it down for us to read later, and it’s written from her child-self viewpoint. She’s a really wonderful woman. Doing this is so intimate and special – she’s given us this story of her life; little fragments. Sometimes they are the most simple things, like a memory of my grandmother’s hands. Other times, it’s a stand-out memory, like when she saw an eagle with a fish in its mouth.”
Spaltro’s dad was in the US Air Force so, as a child, her family moved about a lot. That’s how she ended up in Maine, where her need to write drove her will to learn how to play guitar.
“I learned two chords first and just wrote a song with two chords,” she says. “When I was ready I added a third and painstakingly taught myself. It took a lot of patience and free time to achieve but I was working the closing shift and so I was able to find the time. When a little kid comes up to me with their mum and says how they are learning guitar, I always tell them that they are one step ahead of me because I had to teach myself and I didn’t start ‘til I was 18.”
LadyLamb_3_byShervinLainez
Aly is a contemporary example of grrrl power. Not only is she in control of how she conveys herself lyrically and musically but she’s also in charge of how she’s represented visually – as well as in business. And though she was unaware of it in 2007 when she started making music, she has since drawn inspiration from the riot grrrl movement. “I think I was a little young when it happened,” she says. “Now I have found respect for Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill). I think a lot of people always presume there’s a man in the background sorting out everything and that you can’t do it without some insider knowledge. But that’s just not true. You can do it for yourself.”
And do it all for herself she really does – down to designing the album covers and developing concepts for photographs. Total artistic control.
“I’m really interested in the visual aspects,” she says betraying a multifaceted creativity. “For this album I made two lyric videos – ‘Spat out Spit’ and ‘Billions of Eyes’. ‘Billions of Eyes’ [I created from scratch] and ‘Spat out Spit’ I took from former stock pictures of the Sixties, but I edited it.”
She is even self-managing. “I’ve been managing myself for almost six years,” says Aly. “I love the organisation side of it, keeping on top of things and speaking one-on-one with my publicist, booking agent or record label. I’ve found it’s important to understand what’s going on – knowledge is power. Because I’m in the forefront and answering the team, I am representing myself how I want to be represented – instead of someone else speaking for me. It’s fine if you are an artist and you just want to focus on the songwriting but I want to go and have meetings with my record label about what do next – be involved in the strategy, understand what a publishing deal is and so on; the inner workings of things. I really enjoy that process but I do find it difficult when I’m on tour.”
You might call her a control freak but for Aly, it seems simply to stem from a desire to channel her creative vision and express herself honestly. She’s passionate and wants to be understood. That’s perhaps why she is always ready to offer up a narrative of each and every track on After. She’s a poet and wants her words to mean something.
It must be hard being a poet in the 21st Century. “Yes and no,” she says. “What I’m intrigued by lately is the way that we are looking at our phones all day long and are having trouble connecting with each other – and how special it is to connect with a stranger, when normally you think it’s scary. It’s easy to keep your head down and not look up and experience people. I find that when I connect with a stranger in any way I feel refreshed by it. I feel like I have a little more pep in my step.”
‘Billions of Eyes’ is about that, she says. “It has a lot to do with anxiety and feeling a little bit overwhelmed. I was thinking, ‘What about when I’m in my room looking at my phone and there’s six million people doing the same thing, but differently?’ When you think sometimes your head spins a little bit and suddenly I’m taken into these existential topics.”
A theme of duality is evident in After. The elegant and smart ‘Sunday Shoes’ whispers of a death, but in fact it’s a response to the childhood feeling she recalled on hearing about the oncoming birth of her new baby step sister: “’My parents are never going to get back together,’ I thought. In some weird way, writing about it helped me to reconcile that.”
Often in these songs, there is a twist to the tale, such as with ‘Heretic’ and the peculiarity that strikes her about sleeping soundly as a child, in Arizona, while the most talked-about UFO sighting ever (now known as the Phoenix Lights) was going on.
She laughs. “I’m intrigued about this sort of thing. I thought it was really funny that I was sleeping as they allegedly passed overhead.”
All her recent writing reflects memories of family and friends, both direct and ambiguous yet always loving. These musings sit beside more random thoughts: seeing someone yawn – but suddenly, as if for the first time – on a train on an ordinary day spirals into a song (‘Billions of Eyes’).
“You see someone yawning every day,” she says. “But for some reason my perspective shifted on that day, I saw it happen as if I was not used to seeing it and I looked and I thought how odd we all are,” she elaborates. “That epitomises the whole record, which is much less a break-up album (like the last) and more about family, friends, things I’m afraid of or thoughts. Like, I see something and, as naturally happens with thoughts, they turn into deeper thoughts and suddenly I’m dwelling on existential topics, wondering if this is all a dream.”
Perhaps that explains Aly’s dreamy vocals, then. What’s not a dream, of course, is Aly’s success. Writing, recording and performing: Aly may be fulfilling a childhood ambition but it’s very real. And she loves that what she’s achieved inspires others.
When Lady Lamb tours this autumn, you’ll most likely see her at the merchandise stall, talking to fans. “On the last US tour, I went to the merch table every night,” she says. “Someone would always come up to me and say something amazing, like how they travelled to get there or how they’ve started to play music because of me. It [feels] silly to verbalise now but at the time, especially after performing, it’s so moving. It never gets old.”
She ends with this parting shot: “I feel very lucky. I’m fortunate to write music that really connects with people and stays with them. To me that is what it’s all about.”
After is out on 29 June 2015 via BB*Island.
Catch Lady Lamb live across Europe this September/October:
Thu September 17 – The Grand Social – Dublin, Ireland
Sun September 20 – Incubate Festival De Harmonie – Tilburg, Netherlands
Mon September 21 – Bitterzoet – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tue September 22 – Merleyn –  Nijmegen, Netherlands
Wed September 23 – Botanique, Witlof Bar – Brussels, Belgium
Thu September 24 – Blue Shell
– Cologne, Germany
Fri September 25 – Reeperbahn Festival – Hamburg, Germany
Sat September 26 – Berlin Independent Night – Berlin
Mon September 28 – The Lexington – London, UK
Wed September 30 – Broadcast – Glasgow, UK
Thu October 10 – The Castle – Manchester, UK
Fri October 02 – The Hope – Brighton, UK
Sun October 04 – La Peniche – Lille, France
Mon October 05 – Pop Up Du Label – Paris, France
Tue October 06 – Bogen F – Zürich, Switzerland


Ngaire Ruth