Interview: Margaret Glaspy

The moment Margaret Glaspy starts to play you’re instantly transported into a world of dazzling refrains and sharp lyrical witticisms.

On debut album Emotions and Math (out today), the California-born, New York-based musician gives that world to a dynamic lease of life. Through everything from fiery cynicism to crippling fear, she spins a web of words so tight it’ll leave any listener reeling. Expressing sentiments with near-analytical precision, Glaspy’s matter-of-fact tales are an artistry unto themselves.

“I like to have song writing be more of a craft, or a process, rather than something emotive,” she reveals. “Usually it starts with a feeling, or a very small idea, or maybe it’s actually a very big idea but it’s very simple. From there, the rest is about 99% work.” Refraining from revealing the meaning behind any of her writing (“I think it’s good for people to have their own ideas of what the songs mean”), significance is left subject to the interpreter. “The album is not mine any more,” she says.

Margaret Glaspy talks us through the process and power of her debut record. Read our Q&A below.

Emotions and Math is released today. How long has the album been in the works?

I essentially wrote the record a couple/a few years before I went into the studio, and then started to demo the songs, all twelve of them, on an iPad. It sounded drastically different from what the record sounds like now. After that, I went and bought some recording gear and I recorded the songs again in my apartment on the Upper West Side. Right when I was finishing that project of wanting to record it at home and release it myself, ATO Records got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to make a record. So then I went into the studio and I recorded again. It kind of feels like I made the record three times.

How has the album changed since those early demos?

I felt like a lot of it was serendipitous life timing. When I recorded the record in my room with all the recording gear I knew that I was excited about it, but I also knew that this could be better if I had better resources, essentially: more money to be able to accommodate more space and to put drums on the record, and things like that. I knew that I wasn’t quite 100% happy with what I’d done. Then when ATO called, I knew this was going to be the last time I record this record. Three times is enough. So I went and did that. That process was so planned out. I scheduled the whole thing day to day. I knew that I wanted to do it very quickly so that people weren’t tired of the songs. Some of the takes for the record were the first takes that we recorded. It was a very quick process. That was intentional, so I knew that we’d be very brief and finish up quickly. I predetermined when I would be done, so it kept me on my toes.

Having worked on the album for so long, how did you pick the songs that were going to be on the record?

I think the through line that I keep finding with the record is that all of it – including the recording process and the instrumentation and the songs themselves – feel like the intention was to boil them down to their very fundamental state. With the instrumentation, it’s four people total on the entire record, so it’s pretty minimal. With the song writing process, there were a lot more songs but I stripped away the rest to find the songs I felt were going to contribute to the record. With the lyrics in the songs it felt the same way. The songs were very different before they got recorded on the record because I would whittle them down constantly to find all the things that were relevant to the songs themselves. I was making it so there wasn’t anything extra anywhere. Only leave the parts that really matter.

How do the songs shape up against your expectations when you first started working on them?

I don’t know if other people will like them, but for me, they’re they best I could do, and the tip top of the work I was making. That’s where I drew the line between the songs that were going to be on the record and the ones that weren’t. It’s a total process for me. It’s all pretty objective in a certain way. I think I like to keep song writing that way. It sounds so analytical when I say that. I guess songwriting to me feels like 2% of an idea and a concept, and then the rest of it is working away in my room. It’s trying to fit all the puzzle pieces together and writing out guitar riffs to be paired with songs. I record them all, and then I’m able to come back to them and plug in different things into different songs and keep the personal arc out of my own ideas, and then mush them together to make complete ideas.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give as a musician?

Make good music. Make the music your priority before trying to make connections or anything like that. Work on your songs. Work with your band. Make as much music as you possibly can. That’s the real priority there in terms of gaining any respect or popularity or what have you. I don’t really care if a band are good at marketing themselves or emailing people, I just want to hear really good music.

Now that the record’s out, what are you looking forwards to next?

I’m most looking forwards to exploring new places and playing the record for the most people possible. I only started touring under my own name this year. It’s been pretty full on. I’ve been touring non-stop since January. It’s a little crazy. It kind of went from zero to a hundred pretty quickly. It’s always such a thrill to travel and to see different terrains. I’m so fond of the UK’s taste in music. It feels like kind of an honour to play in London and elsewhere in the UK because I feel like you guys are renowned for having good taste. I’m really excited. Hopefully we’ll get back into the UK and Europe again into the fall.

And I’m working on songs for the next record right now. Just pecking away, keeping busy with that. Then trying to sleep at some point too.

Emotions and Math is released today (17 June) via ATO Records.

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