The enigmatic Aldous Harding: “I’m like the Jim Carrey of the independent world” | The music

“Part of what I do is to draw the line between flow state and dissociation — being present and being elsewhere,” Aldous Harding says thoughtfully in a video call.

For the duration of our conversation at least, the songwriter is present. She’s bundled up in her mother’s backyard in rural New Zealand, puffing on a cigarette as she stares at a lawn, a shed and a ball of ginger fur that looks like a cat.

“He’s a dog,” Harding corrects me. “It’s not your fault – she looks like a cheap wig.” Her name is Jessie, she’s a Pomeranian, she’s a nightmare.

The cadence of his New Zealand accent lends an eerie, familiar poetry to the words “cheap wig” – it’s just the kind of sharp, slightly nonsensical imagery you often find in his lyrics.

It was here that Harding finished writing the bulk of his fourth album Warm Chris, reuniting with Jessie and her mother, Lorina, during the first of the 2020 lockdowns, before heading to Monmouth in Wales to record with John Parish, her longtime producer with whom she shares an almost silent relationship. (“Our gifts have a really nice way of communicating without us,” she says of Parish, who also worked on the Party and Designer albums.)

A week before the release of the album, she is back home. Birdsong echoes loudly in the long, full spaces between words as Harding thoughtfully coaxes each sentence – some people speak just to fill the silence, Harding is happy to sit there.

“Waiting for the sound can be louder than filling it all up.” Photography: 4AD

“I feel like I’m often asked the question that my songs have a lot of space and there’s a lot of silence in my music,” she says. “And I don’t hear it. But I think it’s because I think silence can be stronger than all these other things. Waiting for the sound can be louder than filling everything.

Harding often speaks with a sort of half-apologetic resignation. Now in her fourth album cycle, she presses like she’s Bill Murray halfway through Groundhog Day, anticipating the questions that have derailed past interviews before I’ve had a chance to address them.

If there’s a seductive opacity to his public statements, it’s in tune with his words. On Warm Chris, she vacillates between evocative, light-hearted comparisons (“Time opened up like a birthday card,” she sings on second single Fever) to more obscure musings (“Here’s life with his leather whip”), but even more so than her previous albums, it’s less about what the words mean and more about how they feel when Harding sings them.

“For this album, I was much less focused on ‘poetry’, as I understand it,” she says. “I was more focused on phonetics, pure phonetics. Leaving isolated sounds like poetry on their background, just the sound of the word, rather than people knowing it [the meaning].”

On his new album, that “background” is populated with rubbery basslines and booming piano chords — learning to play the piano was another project during that first lockdown. There’s a buoyancy to Warm Chris that’s a far cry from the maudlin folk of his previous work, and a sense of playfulness as Harding rolls those words and phonetics to every corner of his mouth.

“I use my voice as a language or clothes,” she says, of the slipperiness of her voice. “I get it’s really interesting for people…I’m kind of like the Jim Carrey of the indie world or whatever.

“I use all the sounds I need to fill in the gaps in my musical universe. I make songs that I want to hear, the way I get there feels really entrusted to me.

I wonder aloud if part of people’s fascination with his inscrutability — in his lyrics, his stage presence, his surreal music videos — stems from the authenticity that listeners usually expect from singer-songwriters.

“Authenticity is I don’t know how to be authentic,” Harding explains. “I’m the one who’s authentic. It would be equally inauthentic for me to resist my gifts and the need I feel to spend time with these voices, to spend time with these people. I don’t know what it’s like. “my voice”.

Towards the end of the interview, I ask if staying with her mother, herself an award-winning folksinger, has affected her songwriting.

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“She would go out with a cup of coffee or a story about work – to be honest, I’m one of those horrible kids who’s pretty private,” she says, mimicking herself kicking her mother out of her room like a teenager .

“Because I think my mom was thrilled that I was who I am now, before I was, and I resisted it for a long time. She bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was seven or eight, and my stepfather at the time owned a guitar store and the music was everywhere.

“But I didn’t want what they had. I think some kids want to do what their parents do, and other kids want to do something else. I was the latter – I had other plans, I had big plans.

“Unfortunately, this is as close to a gift as I received. I don’t see the point in resisting anymore.”

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