Image: a still from Aldous Harding’s video Horizon.
It seems entirely natural for Aldous Harding to sign with the renowned British record label 4AD. As purveyors of artists who do things differently from Camera Obscura to Grimes – and all the way to Scott Walker – 4AD represents a collective of creators that are just that little bit left of centre – where Harding is an ideal new addition. Folk music forms the core of her sound, carved out by warm, swampy piano or the dry breeze of an acoustic guitar. Each song is heartfelt, an outpouring of emotional release and sombre reflection. An excellent example is the newest single ‘Imagining My Man’ from Harding’s forthcoming album. The song is a haunting ballad like the tearing of so many heartstrings as Harding opens up about the strange and unexpected realities of love. The track is also delightfully unconventional – as the song is cut open by a sudden and unexpected exclamation in each chorus that is as startling as it is comforting, these seemingly disparate elements are drawn together to make a song both dreamy and affecting.
Of the signing to 4AD, Aldous Harding speaks openly and is equal parts thrilled and humbled. ‘It’s amazing that I’ve popped up anywhere for them – that’s cool. It really is an honour, I mean that. I get along with the team really well, it’s been really pleasant, they’re really supportive but they’re also keen to see me continue to do what I’m doing and just do it.’ She adds that the new album reflects well where she is in life at the moment. ‘I feel more or less pretty strong, and just keen and free and excited and in love with what I do. I couldn’t be better really, I’m quite tired – but there’s worse things, you know?’
Her new album ‘Party’ was produced in Bristol by John Parish, having worked with the likes of PJ Harvey amongst numerous others, and whose affinity with leant a free-flowing quality to the album. ‘It was great – he’s so kind and so clued-in to stuff. He was really good at taking my ramblings and helping me figure out what I was trying to say, which was really helpful. It felt easy, I can’t lie. It felt natural. There were times when it was a bit odd – just finding your groove – but it was more or less just easy.’ The free-form nature of their collaboration then informs the rippling production of the album as the songs flow into one-another. Drily, Harding sums up the hard work that went into producing the record in two sentences: ‘Wake up in the morning, go for a coffee, drive to the studio, stay there for nine hours, get it done, leave. Repeat, until album is recorded.’
Deeply romantic, the album centres on Harding’s newfound love and gives an honest view of her experiences and current circumstance. But rather than getting lost in the other person, Harding uses her relationship as inspiration to look deep within herself and utilises it as a means in which to grow and strengthen independently. Reflecting on the muses of love and despair, Harding remarks that love definitely makes things easier. ‘You can sort of forget yourself when you love somebody that much, and then you can get over yourself, re-build yourself, or just have a better look. A slightly kinder look at yourself and at everyone else – people that have hurt you – and then with that, comes all this freedom to do whatever the hell you want, because you’re not bound by any rubbish. Not any rubbish, but a lot of it’s gone, if you let it pull you that way, which I did.’
Harding’s visceral performances lend an extra layer to her music. Live, Harding plays the part of the conduit,, enlivened and emboldened, her performances both captivating and cathartic. But to Harding, it never felt that straightforward. ‘It’s funny, I never really used to enjoy performing. I didn’t feel like I was bottling things up. Now, if I don’t play, I get – not moody, but – it’s quite clear that I’d like to play. So I guess it’s far more important now than it was in the past.’ She also notes how much more aware of her need to play guitar now that she is in a healthier mindset than in the past, when playing music would have been much more curative in anxious times. ‘It’s interesting, I feel like I need it now when actually I feel fine. The time when I probably could have looked at music as a medicine, and gone ‘oh, this is actually really good for you’, I saw it as a real drag and I didn’t want to really be doing it.’
This shifted for her because she is now writing and singing about how much better things have become and that she sees catharsis in a new light. ‘I certainly need to ‘get it out’ now, but it’s a positive thing.’ She also adds that in the wider sense, she is grateful for the platform that being an artist affords her. ‘I feel really excited and honoured to be able to make a living doing this, and that people even want me to do it. I just want to make stuff that I’m proud of and that I can stand back and go, yeah, that’s good. And just not need anything else – that’s what I’d like.’
Aldous Harding’s Party will be released on Friday 19 May via 4AD!
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