The festival season is already starting to seem like a distant memory but one particular highlight that is impossible to forget was Margaret Glaspy‘s incredible opening slot on the Main Stage at this year’s excellent Green Man event. Her record Emotion and Math is one of the best releases of 2016 and AMBY were fortunate to spend a few moments with the Californian before she hit the road again to discuss the recording process of her amazing debut record, along with her love for all things 90’s, including The Spice Girls!
AMBY: Welcome to Wales Margaret! Did you enjoy your set this afternoon?
Margaret Glaspy: Yea, it was really, really good fun! I had a really good time. It was really beautiful watching the sun come out as we were playing. It was cool! It was a good vibe for sure.
AMBY: When did you arrive here?
Margaret Glaspy: We flew into London yesterday morning and arrived in Wales last night, stayed in Newport and then came over this morning.
AMBY: And, are you going to stay the night?
Margaret Glaspy: No… I wish that we could! I really want to see Belle & Sebastian so much. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I was young, but that said, I’m going to finish press today and then we’ve got a four hour drive to the next show.
AMBY: Yea, you’ve got a bit of a long tour coming up over the whole of the autumn period, taking in the continent, back to the UK and then the States. Is there anywhere that you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
Margaret Glaspy: Well, you know what, this is my first time properly in the UK and Europe. I went on a short trip when I was younger with another band but this is the first time really visiting all these places so it’s kind of all a delight and really fun to meet all kinds of different people. I’ve never been to Germany… we’re in the Netherlands and I’ve never been there, Ireland… and being in Wales, it’s so beautiful. It’s really gorgeous here at this festival, so all of it’s really exciting to me.
AMBY: You’re from California originally…
Margaret Glaspy: I was born in Sacramento and I moved to Boston when I was eighteen, went to music school there for a short time and then after a few years in Boston I moved to New York City and I’ve been there for about six years.
AMBY: So, was that a musical decision to move to New York and what has this added to your music that Boston and California didn’t?
Margaret Glaspy: Oh gosh, the style of living is a lot different. It’s obviously very expensive. In order to stay there you have to stay on top of what you’re doing.
AMBY: It makes you work hard?
Margaret Glaspy: Exactly! So I’m in that kind of environment a lot and there’s lots of different kinds of people, it’s a lot more diverse and there’s just so much art and music going on there… I really like it, it’s for me, it’s very communal on one hand because there’s a lot of people working on stuff but it also has an edge to it at the same time. People like to work, work, work and keep their head down and I like that a lot about New York City, for sure!
AMBY: Would you say that New York has influenced you and your mindset and the music?
Margaret Glaspy: Yea, totally! New York influenced this record we just put out. I feel like living there, and this is also just my personality, but I like to distill things a lot and make them real fundamentals and I think in New York a lot of it is about cutting off the excess, even in your apartment because you’ve just got to have the things you need because there’s no space. In terms of communicating, keep things to the bare minimum, don’t take too long to explain yourself, get what you need and move on and I feel that was a big part of the way I wanted to make the record, you know, don’t take too long, make it and just keep the parts that you need and don’t try and create parts that aren’t necessary.
AMBY: With this long tour round the corner, I was wondering if you’d had any Spinal Tap moments on the road so far?
Margaret Glaspy: Well, we passed Stonehenge! That was literally a Spinal Tap moment but also so gorgeous, gosh, that was amazing! There’s moments where I’ve played in venues where I’ve gotten lost below the basement and there’s funny things that happen in the green room. Spinal Tap is always in my mind and in my heart where things happen and that movie really describes a lot of the business and the job, for sure!
AMBY: When did you realise that you had this real, kick-ass voice!?!
Margaret Glaspy: Hah! I’m always trying to be better and I think that it’s a process but when I was young I sang but I was kind of a yeller. It was real loud but there wasn’t much of a dynamic range so ever since I’ve been trying to carve it down, trying to find my own style. I’ve been singing since I was thirteen, fourteen years old and it will continue to be a kind of journey with it I suppose and it seems to keep evolving and I think it will for ever.
AMBY: Describe what it’s like playing the new songs off the record.
Margaret Glaspy: It feels a bit like covering your own songs because you play them so much, but I find that the important part is actually having really great players because the songs in a certain way are pretty straight forward and since they are so distilled, the excitement comes out of the way that we play them, so I feel really lucky! Chris Morrissey is playing bass for me and Tim Kuhl is playing drums and they are really exceptional musicians and so, as a unit, I feel we really bring things to life and I feel that the chances we take, that’s what is exciting about it. I know the songs real well, so the songs themselves and the way they get interpreted and played, that’s the really fun part about playing live.
AMBY: The record seems quite personal so is playing the songs live a cathartic thing or is it difficult at all?
Margaret Glaspy: No, not at all. I think of songwriting as a craft and it’s very objective in some ways. Obviously it’s very emotive in a sense that you’re writing something but the title of the record resonates on that kind of level. You’re taking emotive pieces and you’re putting them together and it’s very process-driven with lots of emotive pieces so Emotion and Math essentially!
AMBY: I recently went on a distillery tour in Scotland and they teach you about how they add all the tones and textures to their whiskey and I was wondering what you intended on adding with those tones and textures on the record… I’ve read reviews comparing you to Crazy Horse or the grunge era and I’m not getting that… I’m hearing a bit of soul and blues…
Margaret Glaspy: It’s funny because for me, I don’t know what I did in some ways because there isn’t a genre of music that I was trying to tap in or anything. I mean, I have certain influences but I wasn’t setting out to make a rock record or a soul record but I do think, thinking about that distilling process, in terms of making a record there are these stages that it kept going through and I made it a few times going through different processes and so the production process was kind of a really long one and in terms of actually making the record it was three days in the studio, it was very short but the time it took before it, to really mull it over, scrape away all the excesses and do it again, that was a really big part of the record because every incarnation of a song was completely different, so the way that it ended up, again, it almost felt like covering my own songs because they were already so prepared and at that point I was like ‘choose really great people’ and I wanted it to be only a few, and just play the record, from top to bottom, essentially live and that’s how it kind of came out. But I have to say, I was excited to kind of rock out in a certain way because I hadn’t really had the opportunity to play with a full drum kit for example because I’d been demoing songs for so long in my room and there wasn’t a chance to use a full drum kit to record so I thought ‘well, if I’m going to get money to do this in a studio, I’m going to really do it!’ so that was a big part in terms of just having maybe more on the rock end of an experience, that’s what it felt like for me.
AMBY: If you were stuck in a musical decade then, which one would you choose?
Margaret Glaspy: Oh god, I love the 90s!
AMBY: For some reason I knew you were going to say that. The fact that you chose the Bjork song to cover along with an essence of Alanis Morissette that I’m hearing as well…
Margaret Glaspy: Yea, I like a lot of different eras of music… the 60s is a big deal for me too but I love classical music also. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tchaikovsky lately so I feel that much older music is something that I’m excited about at the moment. I was in a project before that was essentially a study of Alan Lomax’s material and his archive which is all 30s and 40s along with the field recordings that came before then, so really, really fundamental folk music, but also very early blues I’m into also, so there’s a lot of things that resonate with me, but aesthetically I do love the 90s quite a bit!
AMBY: So, what were the first records that you really remember obsessing over when you were younger and have these records found their way into your own material?
Margaret Glaspy: I was really into Michael Jackson at a young age. Thriller is just amazing! I really liked Louis Armstrong and I’d try to impersonate his voice all the time when I was young. I was a big Spice Girls fan! I’m a big pop fan, I like mainstream pop music, I like Justin Bieber’s new record a lot, I like some Rhianna stuff. There’s certainly that in my world quite a bit. These days especially, I get into the songwriting process and I like understanding how the songs were written and at the same time there’s a lot of older, more tasteful things that I like too so these were the things that I really held on to. I’m a huge Weezer fan, I really like No Doubt a lot. Elliot Smith is a really big part of my scene, but really early, like when I was a little child I remember lip-synching to Michael Jackson, Louis Armstrong and The Spice Girls!
AMBY: What a mix!
Margaret Glaspy: I know, my family would always joke that Margaret was the only little girl that liked The Grateful Dead and The Spice Girls at the same time
AMBY: Finally then, what’s up next? Have you got your eyes set on your new record already?
Margaret Glaspy: Yes, I’m starting to work on it. I’ve been writing a little bit and trying to get the gears turning but it’s hard because I’ve been touring a lot this year so it gets hard to stay creative when you’re working a lot but it’s going to come and I’m processing it right now. With all the car hours, it’s hard to write and I also get really car sick so its hard for me but I’m working it out and you learn how to write on the road, you make the time for it and do it!
Thank you Margaret Glaspy, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto