Aldous Harding trusts the mystery of her own music

Aldous Harding trusts the mystery of her own music

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Aldous Harding talks about her album 'Designer,' the 'scariest man on planet Earth,' and trusting the mystery in her music

Aldous Harding’s music is true art. In 2014 she released her eponymous debut, in 2017 “Party,” and today, “Designer.” Her music has a melodic core and is often surrounded with just a dose of the bizarre that leaves us in awe.

“Designer” is her second album released on the record label 4AD.

Listen to the full interview below.

Interview Highlights:

Talking about her music taste and finding her sound.

“I like music to question my taste. I like, hearing music and going, ‘This should be bad, this shouldn’t work. This is corny or this is too much.’ But whatever reason I can’t stop listening.”

On what she is listening to now, which is the Bee Gees.

Harding says that Barry Gibb is, “the scariest man on planet Earth.” “It’s his voice, it’s his honor, it’s his teeth, it’s all of it. But I love the Bee Gees.” Harding recalls seeing him at a Bee Gees tribute concert and said, “I have a feeling that he’s a bit of a perfectionist. I perceived a workaholic’ rage behind his glasses.”

On the album title “Designer” and the significance behind the name.

“I needed an elegant word to finish the sentence and that’s what I thought was the idea behind the song.  And then when I named the song it went the same way with party. I went that’s what I’d like to do. I wanted it to serve as a full stop and also you know like I said before designer is very much a construct in human consciousness like anything else”.

On her aesthetic and vision on the music video for, “The Barrel.”  

“Something about this video people go ‘it’s so weird,’ but it’s actually not. What makes it weird is the delivery.” She envisioned her music video to be like an act, “I think I just imagined like, any performance you’ve got to look real. This has got to look right.”

Transcription of the complete interview follows.

Justin Barney: Hannah, Hannah or Aldous?

Aldous Harding: Hi, Hannah is fine.

Justin Barney: Okay, how are you doing?

Aldous Harding: I’m good. Is this for radio?

Justin Barney: This is for radio. It’s recorded, so we’re not live.

Aldous Harding: Okay, I’ve forgotten. I just couldn’t remember whether it was live or not. That wasn’t a good start, sorry.

Justin Barney: No, I like it not live, because it takes the pressure off me. You know?

Aldous Harding: Absolutely.

Justin Barney: And I think it just makes for an easier conversation. I think when you’re aware that something is live you’re talking to an audience, instead of talking to a person.

Aldous Harding: Yeah, well there’s sort of an element to it though. Even when you’re doing something not live. Sometimes I feel like I’m being thrown a fancy dress suitcase and a few minutes to be something. To be someone great.  Like, “you’ve got five minutes. I’m going to come back here in five minutes, and you have to have your story straight. You have to know what it’s all about when I get back in here.” But, it’s okay. It’s apart of the thing, and I should know really.

Justin Barney: Yeah, I look at it as we don’t have to have the complete story. I always think that we’re just having a conversation. You know, we just talk.

Aldous Harding: Yeah, that would be nice. Let’s try that.

Justin Barney: Alright, let’s try it.

I was introduced your music from Nabil at 4AD. He said your new album is his favorite of the year. I asked him why and he said that it is in the realm that has a sense of normalcy, but it also hints and touches on the strange. It just is outside enough to give it an edge about it. How do you make that? Is it intentional?

Aldous Harding: Well, of course it’s intentional, because it’s what I’m doing. I mean, it’s intentional, because what I made was intentionally made. Whether I was intentionally trying to make people like Nabil or people in general say that…I mean, that’s what I like when I hear music. I like being confused by music. I like music to question my tastes. I like hearing music and going, “This should be bad. This shouldn’t work. This is corny, or this is too much,” but for whatever reason I can’t stop listening. And that’s what I try to do, and that’s what I kind of naturally do, because I don’t know a lot about music. I don’t necessarily know all of the right strings to pull, but because maybe ignorance is part of the…You know, not my words, but the magical stuff going on with people. So, it’s intentional, but I’m certainly not trying to be weird. I’m trying to be interesting, because I feel that it’s getting harder and harder to do. And you know, I’m a lot of different things and I don’t try to stifle those. I give them all a chance I suppose.

Justin Barney: Yes, how do you —

Aldous Harding: Sorry, I’m seriously looking for lighter. So, I’m looking for it and not really sure where it’s hid.

Justin Barney: [Laughs] In that space of something that’s bad, but is good, how do you know where the line is?

Aldous Harding: Well, this is the thing. I firmly believe that musically, I’m able to apply this to music. I worry what people think, and you don’t want to be left alone. That’s ultimately why we worry about that kind of thing. When it comes to music, I don’t really think there is such a thing as cool or right. I just kind of trust my instinct. As tired as that may sound, I just kind of go with my instinct really. If there is a line, which I’m not sure there is, but that’s where I like the music to sit. I want people to feel that they’re hearing when I hear music. What I think is on the line. And I don’t know if they know what they’re doing to me. And I go over their mask. The sound will come in and they’ll go, “Now we’re somewhere else. Who’s in charge here?” But, I like feeling that way.

Justin Barney: Yeah.

Aldous Harding: You know, I don’t like secrets in real life, but I like music to do that to me.

Justin Barney: I like that. I don’t like secrets in real life either, and I like when art does that to me as well.

Aldous Harding: Yeah, I know. I feel that sometimes when I hear myself say things, I worry that I sound a certain way, but that’s okay.

Justin Barney: Yes, one thing that is on the line that I would say definitely a lot of people have some strong feelings about, but I personally love is, “Holy Mountain.” Which, I read that you took the inspiration for the hat for your video. Is that from Jodorowsky?

Aldous Harding: Okay, this is really interesting, because I saw that movie once or maybe twice. Once when I was quite young, and I watched it at SXSW, I was quite hungover. And I did not remember that those hats were part of that. Sorry, this is where it gets confusing. I saw a photo on Instagram, and I think it was just like a fashion site. One of those kind of, you know posting pictures of beautifully thick cables, women, hats, cups of tea, and things like that. And they posted this picture of this person, who I assume is a women in a crushed black velvet dress, but it covers her face as well. It wasn’t like a burka, but she had a pair of sunglasses over on top of them. And this hat and she was holding this little goat. And still not have gone to see whether that is a still from the film. I don’t think it is, but I think whoever put that photo together was inspired by “Holy Mountain.”

Justin Barney: Oh yeah.

Aldous Harding: So I guess, but I wasn’t trying to do the “Holy Mountain” thing. I just saw that photo, and I thought, “now that’s something pretty interesting to wear.”

Justin Barney: It’s a look.

Aldous Harding: That’s a look, exactly. And, because the idea was so simple. Something about this video people go “it’s so weird,” but it’s actually not. What makes it weird is the delivery.

Justin Barney: It’s your eye contact.

Aldous Harding: Think about all the stuff that goes on in other videos, that’s pretty tame. It’s the show that makes it.

Justin Barney: It is.

Aldous Harding: It’s kind of a victim I suppose, but yeah I’ve been getting weird private messages on Instagram. Like, “I have to know, did you lose a baby?” “Is it a condom?” “And are you okay?” You know, part of me wants be upset, but also if you put that interesting stuff out there you have to be prepared for the questions. You don’t have to answer them, but I try not to be rude about things anymore. Instead of a hard goodbye, because that’s all I want really. I want it to be affecting and make people wonder. So, I can’t really complain when it works.

Justin Barney: Yeah, I think what makes that video is your eye contact the entire time. It’s like a knowing eye contact. Which, is a difficult thing to do. You’re not looking at the camera. You’re looking through the camera, and I think that’s what translates the most.

Aldous Harding: Right, I think I just imagined, like, any performance you’ve got to look real. This has got to look right.

Justin Barney: Absolutely.

Aldous Harding: And I put all sorts of people behind the camera to get that.

Justin Barney: Yeah, the album’s “Designer.” What is the significance of designer? Why that title?

Aldous Harding: So, in one room, it’s just a classy word.  I mean, if I may I might ask you what it makes you think of?

Justin Barney: That’s great. I think it makes me think that you’re the architect here. When I say that I say that you’re the designer. This is your unified artistic vision. For me.

Aldous Harding: Well, it is everything you can think of and I know it sounds how it sounds, but it is meant to be everything you can think of associated with that word. I’m not picky  about where people go with that.

Justin Barney: Yeah.

Aldous Harding: But, when I really think about it, I wanted it to serve as a full stop. I needed an elegant word to finish the sentence and that’s what I thought was the idea behind the song. And then when I named the song it went the same way with party. I went that’s what I’d like to do. I wanted it to serve as a full stop and also you know, like I said before, “Designer” is very much a construct in human consciousness like anything else. And I wanted to make it clear that we’re all capable of that.

Justin Barney: That’s important.

Aldous Harding: Well, and I know it sounds a bit sort of dodgy, but it’s what you think, it’s what she thinks, it’s what I think. It’s not everything, but it’s all of things. And when I was writing the song, I wanted it to be a very strong, unapologetic full stop to all of the other things that were going on.

Justin Barney: It is, and it is elegant as you said.

Aldous Harding: Well, thank you, but it’s not my word. I think it was used correctly.

Justin Barney: Yes. So, at the beginning of the conversation you were talking about music. What you like in music and listening to music. I’d like to end the conversation talking about music as well. What was the last song that you got lost in and that you couldn’t stop listening to?

Aldous Harding: Probably, “Holiday” by the Bee Gees. Do you know that song?

Justin Barney: I do not, but tell me why.

Aldous Harding: Alright, I’ll tell you why. I love the way it starts. It goes very quickly from a major feeling to a minor and it has this organ. You think you’re going somewhere and then the chord changes. And then he says, “Ooh, you’re a holiday.” Over and over again and then there’s this break where the music stops and they all just sing, “de dee de de dee de.” It’s kind of spooky, I like it. So, it’s that song and another song called, “Right Down the Line” by Gerry Rafferty.

Justin Barney: Oh I know that one. For the Bee Gees, I never really imagined them as being spooky as you described.

Aldous Harding: Really? I think Barry Gibb is the scariest man on the planet earth [laughs].

Justin Barney: [Laughing] Why is that?

Aldous Harding: One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen is him at a Bee Gees tribute concert. Watching all of these artists get through his songs. I don’t know it’s his voice, it’s his honor, it’s his teeth, it’s all of it, but I love the Bee Gees.

Justin Barney: What was he doing at the concert that struck you?

Aldous Harding: I may have read it wrong, but I don’t want to be told otherwise. He just looked like, he wanted to perform, but was being made to sit and watch. I have a feeling that he’s a bit of a perfectionist, and I perceived a workaholic’s rage behind his glasses. I could feel his glutes tense as we arrived in a different section, and I could see him kind of going, “Now push it. Let it go and blow it all away.” Though, maybe he was really enjoying it. I don’t know there’s something about that song, and I like the lyrics as well.

Justin Barney: That’s great.

Aldous Harding: It feels weird, because I don’t feel any more comfortable talking about other people’s music than I do my own. I’m just so worried that it will spoil it, or that I’ll have it wrong.

Justin Barney: I think that’s great. I can’t wait to listen to that song. I’ve never heard it, but when I do I’ll think of this.

Aldous Harding: It’s okay if you don’t like it too.

Justin Barney: [Laughs] Yeah, I feel like a lot of people have been talking about the Bee Gees recently. I’ve had a rash of these where people talk about Barry Gibb, but that is our time. I don’t want to take more time than I have here. Thank you so much for talking to me, Hannah.

Aldous Harding: You’re welcome.

Justin Barney: I seriously love the album so much. I drove to SXSW from Milwaukee this past week and listened to “The Barrel” to the point where I was driving with my friend, and he was sleeping, and he woke up, and he was like, “What is this?” [laughing]

Aldous Harding: I’m so interested to know what other people hear because, obviously, I listen to it in a very different way. But, I do think about what it must sound like to other people.

Justin Barney: Yeah, driving through the middle of Arkansas last week, it just sounded very good, and he was remarking on how great it sounded and the way it sounded. And I love your voice and your delivery. So, we both love it completely [laughing].