Before she answers each interview question, Aldous Harding takes a measured pause.
In those extended silences, you can hear the wheels turning for an artist who’s uncompromising in her creative vision and willing to contemplate the perceived meanings of her art.
The New Zealand folk singer released her sophomore album “Party” in May. The collection of haunting, spare ruminations on love and addiction has earned rave reviews from critics and helped introduce Harding to a wider audience.
‘Party’ is Harding’s second album, and her first for British record label 4AD.
Harding brings her dramatic live show to New York on Wednesday night at Bowery Ballroom.
Ahead of the show, Harding spoke with the Daily News over the phone about working with legendary producer John Parish, switching between personas and what she’s planning for the future.
New York Daily News: Why do you think that you write songs?
Aldous Harding: At the start, I felt like I needed to. And now the need’s just redirected. I mean, it’s my job, but it’s also something I enjoy doing. I don’t enjoy writing songs so much as having written a song, you know? The process can be a bit spooky.
I don’t know. I write songs for the same reasons most artists write songs -because I have to, whatever that means. Because I want to talk about myself or have demos that need to be sent off. I like doing it. It’s my job and I like doing it. For the most part, it’s pretty easy for me.
NYDN: When did you first start writing music?
AH: Songs that I’m proud of?
NYDN: Maybe both when you started and when you later felt more comfortable with your music.
AH: Probably when I was about 16 or 17 I started writing. I wouldn’t call it poetry, even though I’ve referred to it as poetry a couple times. But I don’t think that’s right. It was more scribblings and stream of consciousness.
The first song that I wrote that I was proud of was probably “Hunter” from the first record. But I listen that now and I don’t know. I mean, it’s got a good hook, but still. I’m proud of it. I’m as proud as I can be of all the ideas, but I think “Party” showed a maturity that I don’t think I had on “Aldous Harding.”
NYDN: What was it like working with John Parish on “Party?” What did he bring to the record?
AH: Genius. Passion. Years of experience. Maturity.
He reminded me that I could take my time working out how I wanted to deliver things or what I meant by how I was delivering things.
We worked really well together. It was never really a struggle that I can recall. We’ve spent time together since then and we’re still close. It was a wonderful thing and I think we did a good enough job, if we’re having conversations like this. People are interested.
NYDN: On “Party,” it feels as though you inhabit different characters across the record. While there’s a through-line that is Aldous Harding, even your vocal delivery seems to change with each song.
AH: I think they’re all me, I really I do. At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about it too much. It was just like “These are the songs and this is how I sing the songs.” The only “character” that I agreed to hold back was on “Horizon” because it’s such a performance. I kind of let that one go a little bit.
But as for all the other stuff, I sing what I think works. It probably could’ve been a lot more popular had I reigned in some of those quirks or qualities, but I don’t think that would’ve been the right thing to do. They just are what they are. That’s how I put them together and how I believe they should be performed.
They’re all me. I’m not really trying to sound like anyone. I just think I recognized that I wanted to try different things with my voice and I put those differences where I thought they’d fit from song to song.
I definitely have a stage persona. I don’t walk around scowling at people too often (laughs).
I struggle to talk about music, but I did an interview in Norway where I kind of summed it up by saying, “I wouldn’t sit at my coffee table in the morning with my partner and sing ‘Horizon’ just like I wouldn’t stand on stage and have a cup of coffee.” There’s a time and a place for everything, and whether I’ve got that right, it’s up to other people. I’ve already made my decision because “Party” sounds how it sounds and I still deliver “Party” the way I do.
Music’s the only thing I’m not worried about, in terms of my approach. I don’t think you can really go wrong because it’s your thing. It’s no one else’s thing, and whether people get it, it’s up to them.
I’m sure a lot of my friends would tell you that I can be five different people, five different ways every day, but it’s still part of the same thing. I think that goes for the writing and the characters, as you say.
NYDN: Let’s talk about “Living the Classics,” an exceptional song off of “Party.” Where did that song come from? What were you going through while writing this song?
AH: I wrote that while we were recording. I wanted a couple of extra songs to work with in case, for whatever reason, they weren’t happy with anything. It’s basically saying that I’d like to write a classic, I’d like to do something credible. It’s not saying that I believe that I can. I’d like to try it and know that I’ve done well. It’s more like, “Okay, I’m making a record with this producer and I really want to do well.”
I’m pretty honest about the things that I want to see out of it like taking my mom on holiday. You know, make a life for myself, but I wanted to deliver it in a way that was light-hearted. Like, “whoop-de-whoop, I’m going to give it a go” (laughs).
It’s pretty straightforward, really. It’s a song about chasing your dreams, I guess. But that’s going to sound awful written down.
NYDN: As you tour this record and play for bigger audiences, is there anything you have in mind in terms of goals for the future? What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to recording the next record and being able to play the new stuff with a band. Because [my live show] is so intimate, I’m looking forward to having a group of people do it with me. I have Jared [Samuel], but it’s just the two of us. It’s intense stuff (laughs).
‘It probably could’ve been a lot more popular had I reigned in some of those quirks or qualities, but I don’t think that would’ve been the right thing to do.’
I wasn’t the one who decided it was intense, but that’s what it is. So it will be nice because I think the next record’s going to be a lot less about me and more about just stuff.
I’m looking forward to making more art.
Aldous Harding plays Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday, September 13 with Aerial East and Ancient Ocean before continuing on a tour of North America.