We previously interviewed the insanely talented Polly Scattergood in January of 2014 after naming her electro-pop masterpiece Arrows our Best Album of 2013. Now she’s back but this time she’s delivered something that’s practically the exact opposite of Arrows, onDeadWaves, a very organic sounding, psychedelic folk record made as a duo with James Chapman, aka Maps. Their self-titled debut was just released on May 20th via Mute and it’s certainly going to rank high on our next best of list. If you love folk music, prepare to slip into something that feels like putting on your most comfortable sweater. onDeadWaves music envelopes you, wrapping you up in its subtle guitar hooks, downtempo beats and Polly and James’ breathy, often ethereal vocals. It’s an album that is laced with high doses of melancholy, which is the sort of thing Polly does best in our opinion. So, if you’re looking for an uppity folk album go listen to First Aid Kit. (Nothing against First Aid Kit, mind you. It’s just that this is almost their exact opposite.) Of course, not all of the songs mellow; “California” is very up-tempo with a lush arrangement that grabs you like a great pop song. That said, if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find that it’s one of the deeper California songs you’ve ever heard. Another wonderful thing about this album is how prophetic it feels. When they sing about angels on “Hollow” you’d swear they’re reading a story that takes place during the proverbial end times. There’s a very otherworldly quality to their songs, too. Suffice to say, they’re quite the trip. You really need to listen to the album from front to back, too, as the songs are like puzzle pieces that only reveal themselves once you’ve put the whole puzzle together. Likewise, you should read this whole interview to get a clear picture of Polly; she’s a beauty!
Our questions are in plain text. Polly’s answers are in bold. Here we go!
I understand that you and James Chapman, aka Maps, first met when you performed each others songs at Mute’s Short Circuit festival at London’s Roundhouse back in 2011. Which of his songs did you perform?
‘You Will Find A Way’ and ‘So Low, So High’.
Which of your songs did he perform?
‘Colours Colliding’ and ‘Bunny Club’
Did you perform any songs together?
We played them all together. It was a joint collaborative project where we both interpreted each other’s songs and then performed them together.
Did you talk about collaborating on an album that night or did you discuss that later? If it wasn’t that night, when did you first discuss working together?
We spoke about working together after we played at the Roundhouse but we were both in the middle of making our solo albums (We Can Create and Arrows) so it took a while to actually happen.
The sound of onDeadWaves is pretty different from what either of you do on your own. How did two largely electronic artists decide to make a folk album together?
We never really decided to make an album, we just picked up a guitar and started writing. It wasn’t even for an album it was just for us. We don’t really feel the sound is folk, more a kind of psychedelic journey into more organic sounds! It’s still electronic, we just used the electronics in more of a subtle, cinematic way. We used a lot of raw, ‘earthy’, atmospheric sounds for the textures and layers. We learned a lot whilst making this album.
When did you first start writing the album?
Did you write all of the songs together or did you write some songs alone and he wrote some songs alone – how was that done?
We wrote everything together.
Did you get together to write the songs or were they written via Skype or e-mail or some other method?
We didn’t write via Skype we wrote everything together in the studio. We didn’t go out much – we ate there, we slept there. For us it was just two friends hanging out, enjoying every day and creating something new.
What studio(s) did you record the album at?
James’s home studio in the countryside, and then we mixed it at Ken and Jolyon Thomas’ studio, also in the countryside.
What program(s) did you use to track the album?
Are the beats on the album live drums or were they programmed?
It was a mix of both programmed and live drums.
Who produced the album? Who mixed it? Who mastered it?
We produced the album, Jolyon Thomas and Adrian Hall mixed it, and it was mastered by Jason Mitchell at Loud Mastering.
From when to when was the album recorded?
Spring 2014 until, I guess, winter 2015 – but we are always writing and recording. We just recorded something new yesterday.
Who were the artists that inspired the album, if any?
Low, Jefferson Airplane, Deerhunter, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen.
Aside from other artists, what inspired you when you were writing the album? For example, were you inspired by a certain place or type of movies, etc?
Mainly films – we both enjoy the cinema. We also both like the art of Edward Hopper and Gregory Crewdson.
I’ve never heard an album by a duo before that reminded me so much of isolation. Was that a deliberate theme when you made the record or am I imagining that?
We were very isolated when we wrote the record, but it was deliberate isolation. We didn’t want to see anyone when we were recording. We didn’t even send it to our label at first. We both just needed some time on our own to work out what we wanted, without any outside influences.
I think it’s safe to say that the album is very dark. Did you set out to make such an album or did it just wind up coming out that way? If it just turned out that way, why do think that’s so? Were you in a dark place when you wrote it?
I think we started the album in a darker place than when we finished. I think it’s written from a place of reflection and calm, and for that reason we feel it’s sending out a strong positive vibe. It almost felt like this album allowed us to let go, and find some peace.
One of your songs is called “California.” Have you ever been to California?
‘California’ was actually written about a caravan park on the South East coast of England – also called “California”. It’s kind of a strange, beautiful and slightly ironic place. So we put it in a song.
Was onDeadWaves conceived as a one-off album project or did you decide to form a more permanent duo?
We haven’t decided yet. We have lots more songs, but we both just take every day as it comes, no pressure. I think that’s when the magic happens, when you just go with a feeling.
How have the fans of James’ and your solo material been reacting to the record?
Really well! A fan flew over from France the other week to watch us DJ in a random pub…he seemed to enjoy himself – that’s dedication!
I love the onDeadWaves cover art. Whose idea was it to photograph you walking in opposite directions like that? Who photographed the cover?
Our manager Roland Brown and our label both individually suggested we speak to Cat Mook – when we met him we realised why. He just understood the aesthetics of the project intuitively, and really created the perfect visuals for us.
Whose idea was it to write your name as onDeadWaves as opposed to On Dead Waves?
It came from our friend Paul who works at Mute. He has worked on artwork with some incredible bands and he suggested it as an idea. We both loved the way it looked and decided it was more interesting than just three separate words.
Will you be doing much touring behind the onDeadWaves album? Where do you currently have plans to play?
We will be touring – we have a gig on the 7th June at ‘Birthdays’ in Dalston, and more UK dates will be announced shortly.
I understand there’s going to be a limited edition vinyl version of the album. Where can people order this?
From any good record store, and we have listed the specific stores which are stocking our fanzine on our Facebook page as well.
Vinyl has been making quite the comeback during recent years. Are you a fan of vinyl?
Yes of course.
If so, roughly how many records do you own?
I don’t own loads, just a few really special ones. I have quite a few Mute ‘special editions’, which I treasure.
What are some of your favorite albums to listen to on vinyl?
One of my favourite records is Bowie’s Low album, which I bought from a record shop in Montreal when it was snowing a few years ago. That’s probably one of my most treasured.
Do you use streaming services much? If so, which one(s) do you use?
I have a subscription to Spotify, as it’s good for finding new music when I DJ.
What are your thoughts on streaming services in general? For example, do you think they’re going to save or completely destroy the music industry?
I think it’s good to move with the times – streaming is obviously a great way to discover new music, which is a good thing, but my concern is how artists earn a living from music without people paying for it.
My worry for the future is that less and less artists will be given the opportunity to experiment and push boundaries because financially people just won’t be able to invest. So long term that could leave us all pretty fucked.
After making such an organic album with onDeadWaves are you itching to make another electronic pop album or do you think your next solo album will be more in the onDeadWaves vein than Arrows was?
I’m not sure. There will be another Polly album at some point, and James is working on a new Maps album, but at the moment we are in onDeadWaves world and loving it, so who knows.
Have you started writing songs for your next solo album yet?
I constantly write, it’s an ongoing addiction. I never stop.
When do you think you might release your next solo project?
No idea. I’m all about onDeadWaves at the moment, and I’m feeling pretty good, so I want to stay here for a while.
When I interviewed you before, I asked who you’d love to tour the world with and you said Bowie. How hard did his death hit you?
Such a unique and beautiful artist. The world lost someone special that day.
What are your favorite Bowie albums? Which was the first one you ever bought?
Might you cover a Bowie song on your next solo album? If so, any idea which you might do? Have you thought about doing an EP of Bowie covers? (I think that would be super awesome!)
Sweet idea, it’s something to think about.
You also mentioned being engaged in our previous interview. Are you married now, if you don’t mind my asking?
I am. I married Glenn Kerrigan. We wrote Arrows together and I fell deeply in love with him during that process. We got married shortly after it was released.
What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Not to judge yourself against other people, because it will always make you feel like a failure.
What is your favorite holiday and why?
I travelled through Bali a few years ago. The energy and spirit of the country was very special. I think about it most days.
What is your biggest pet peeve
Margaritas without salt. It’s like the sky without the sun.
Much thanks to Polly for taking the time to do this interview! Thanks also to Mona at Mute for facilitating it!