> Katherine Priddy: The Pendulum Swing – Family, Snapshots, Catharsis, and Miles Davis (Interview) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Katherine Priddy: The Pendulum Swing – Family, Snapshots, Catharsis, and Miles Davis (Interview)

Viewing Celtic Connections as a springboard for the full 12 months is a great way to plough through the initial days of a new year, and emerging to new music is always a thrill. This is why we’re back with Katherine Priddy so quickly after chatting about her Celtic Connections performance: to get the full story about her second album, The Pendulum Swing. We discuss family, snapshots, catharsis, and Miles Davis.

Katherine, you’re on the verge of releasing your second album, The Pendulum Swing – how are you feeling?

Nervous but excited! It’s always a scary thing, letting go of these songs that you’ve held onto for so long and offering them up to an unknown fate. But I’m so proud of what I’ve created, so it’ll feel really good to finally release it and see what comes of it all. Feels like a long time coming!

New album lead track ‘First House On The Left’ also contains the album’s title. Is this a track that symbolises the whole album for you?

Yes, to an extent. It’s really tricky picking the first song to release from the album, as obviously they all have different sounds and flavours, but as the title is taken from a line in the song it felt right that this should come first. Overall, there’s a big theme of home and nostalgia running through the album, with a few songs about family members, as well as some atmospheric sounds of an old house and old home recordings popping up elsewhere. As this song is literally about the house where I grew up, though it also looks more generally at what defines a home, it definitely felt like a great starting place to introduce the rest of the album thematically.

The cliché says that artists have their whole life to write a debut album and then a short period to write a second. Has this been true for you, and if so, are there positives and negatives to this?

Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that to an extent, although there’s a few songs that were written some time ago now that didn’t make it onto the first record. On the whole, though, I didn’t have that luxury of honing the songs for years and years during live performances, plus there’s the added pressure of having a previous album to compare it to – which I definitely found a little unsettling every now and then. But it was important to get out of my own head about all that and just focus on treating this as a whole new chapter, and not as a competition with myself. In many ways it’s a good thing, as it forces you to be focused and decisive, and to go with your gut a lot of the time. It’s been a really good learning curve, and I think it’s important to feel a bit out of your comfort zone sometimes.

How was the recording process?

This album was recorded over a few months, one or two days a week, with Simon Weaver – the same chap who worked with me on the last album. I came to him with the completed songs as a lot of ideas, and together we worked out the direction for each track and called in some great musicians to record their parts remotely. There’s a big part of me that wishes we could have just got everyone in a room for a couple of weeks to do it all in person, but for a few reasons this wasn’t possible. So most of the time it was just me and Simon in the little underground bunker, going a bit crazy – but it’s worth all those long cold evenings in the end! There’s also something really magical about sending off a track to a musician you love, and it coming back adorned with their new additions. It feels a bit like opening a present on Christmas morning as a little kid.

Do you feel there’s more of a theme or thread running through The Pendulum Swing than with The Eternal Rocks Beneath?

Yes, maybe? For this album, the theme became quite apparent early on. It wasn’t intentional – I didn’t set out to write an album about home and family and that feeling of nostalgia, it’s just something that’s been dwelling on me a lot over the past couple of years and has emerged in my songwriting. I was locked down in my parents’ home during COVID, then in a house share where I was really unhappy, then back again…there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and touring and heartache and working out where I want to be and where I feel like I belong. So I think it seemed only natural that a lot of the songs I wrote in this period were around those themes. The Eternal Rocks Beneath felt more like it was a collection of songs from a chapter of my life up to that point – they weren’t necessarily thematically linked, other than the fact that they were all written when I was quite young and had provided the base for whatever came next. I suppose every album sums up a chapter of your life, in one way or another. It just depends what that chapter is.

Song titles like ‘These Words of Mine’ and ‘Does She Hold You Like I Did’ are hugely evocative, even before hearing a note or lyric. How personal a record is it?

It’s definitely personal. I’m not sure how I’d go about writing songs that aren’t personal, because it’s all those feelings and experiences that inspire me to write songs in the first place. I suppose it’s extra personal in that there’s songs about my family, and some home recordings of us all. I always like it when I listen to an album or read a poem and it feels like I’m peeking through a window and just getting a brief intimate snapshot into something, but it still remains just out of reach. That’s a feeling I tried to capture in some of these songs. There’s something really freeing about it all too, because I know that a track that encapsulates a certain feeling or event for me might trigger a different memory or emotion for someone else. As soon as these songs are recorded and out there, it becomes a shared experience. There’s an intimacy and a catharsis to that which I love.

‘Northern Sunrise’ has been around for a few years. To you, does it feel like a new album song?

Yes definitely, in that I wrote it after I’d recorded the first album and always had it in mind for the second album. It’s a track that’s always gone down well at live shows, so it was really nice to record it and build it up a little in the studio, and give it the sound I’ve wanted it to have. It’ll be nice to have it out there in its final form!

Do any other songs on the album have a similar time frame to ‘Northern Sunrise’, and what was roughly the writing period for the record?

It’s hard to define a writing period, as I have notes and memos of ideas stretching from years ago to last week, and you never know when you’ll find the words or melody or idea to turn that seed into a fully fledged song. There are tracks on the new album that I wrote this year, and others that I wrote a year or so ago, and another that I actually wrote when I was about 16 but never knew what to do with until now. Obviously that’s an exception, and for the most part they’re newer, but sometimes songs just aren’t ready or need to be paired with other songs on an album for them to really work, so I think it’s important to stay flexible.

One track, ‘Ready To Go’, is co-written with George Boomsma, who you’ve played with a lot over the years – how did that songwriting process come about?

That was a really fun one. We were backstage at a festival and George was playing this melody on the guitar, which I really liked. He said he had an idea for the chorus but wasn’t sure where else to go with it, so I said I’d have a go at writing the lyrics and harmony line, and the song was born. Co-writing is something I’d love to do more of – it gets you out of your own head and your own little box of ideas and is really creatively stimulating. Plus, it turned out to be the perfect song to end the album.

The final two tracks on the record are called ‘Ready To Go’ and ‘Leaving’, seemingly telling a tale in itself. Are the songs linked?

As there’s a theme of home running throughout the album, I wanted the whole thing to embody a place that a listener could sit down and inhabit for a little while. So I included an atmospheric instrumental intro and outro, filled with little sounds of home, to aid that sense of entering a house and leaving again. It’s always felt important to me that an album is sat down and consumed as a whole, in one sitting, at least for the first time you listen to it, and this intro and outro helps tie it all together. The title The Pendulum Swing is inspired by the urge to leave and the stronger urge to return, something I’ve done so much of in terms of home and relationships in the last few years, so it all links in with that.

There’s a few coloured vinyl options for the album. With Spotify and Bandcamp news of late making streaming seem even more depressing for many artists, is vinyl and merch becoming even more important for artists? Possibly too important?

It’s definitely always been a really important medium for me. As well as just being something I love to make, most of my income comes from vinyl, CD, and other merch sales. Streaming is a really useful tool that makes reaching new ears and spreading the word much easier, but there’s definitely not a great deal of income to be made unless you’re at the top of the ladder. I wouldn’t say physical merch is too important, as I’m not sure what the negatives would be. It’s wonderful that there’s still so many people out there who love to have physical pressings of their favourite albums, or who just love to support musicians in this way. It’s really vital. I think it’s important for artists to stay creative in what they make and come up with some cool ideas that suit their fan bases and their budgets – you can have a nice little cottage industry and do some lovely, unique personal touches that your fans would never get from streaming. I think it’s beneficial for everyone.

With your first album’s pressing, you received a version that had Miles Davis’ music on it rather than yours. Were there any ‘hilarious’ mishaps this time around and are you any closer to selling off those limited-edition versions?

Ha! That was so bizarre. I still have those test pressings safely tucked under my bed, though I’m not sure what I’ll do with them… am I even allowed to sell them if they have his music on?! Perhaps they’ll be a unique little prize one day. So far (touch wood) there haven’t been any hilarious mishaps, but there’s always time…

Are there songs on the new album of interest to your fanbase who enjoy Greek mythology, or do you hope they also like you for songs on other subject matters?

I don’t have any songs specifically about Greek mythology on this album, although I do still have some ideas for other songs along that theme ticking over on the back burner. I’d hope that the fanbase still appreciate songs that aren’t mythology-based, as they are still filled with the same level of emotion as ‘Icarus’ and ‘Eurydice’, and there’s still a storytelling element. Ultimately those myths are all about human emotions and our flaws and foibles, and these songs are rooted there too. But maybe there’ll be more mythological songs somewhere down the line!

Your family members feature near the end of the record. Have they sorted out appearance fees and royalties with you?

Haha – it was so lovely having them involved and I was so chuffed when they said yes. My brother sent his recording all the way over from New Zealand. Again, it just felt like the perfect way to end a record that they feature in so much in terms of theme, and it just makes the whole thing feel really special and personal to me, even though listeners won’t necessarily notice them unless they check the notes. It’s just nice to be able to do those things, and I’m so grateful for all their support over the years. It’s great to have them involved like that. They were excited to hear it!

You had a major joint tour in late 2022 with John Smith. How was that for you, and did it make you question the merits of touring by yourself and with another artist?

The tour with John Smith was great fun, and it was actually really refreshing to share the stage with someone every night and sing on his songs and vice versa. I loved having his company, both on and off stage, and there was a lot of camaraderie, which is something I do miss when I tour on my own. I think there’s merits to both ways of touring, but the trick is to do both as it keeps things fresh and stops you from getting stagnant. It was also really inspiring to hear his songwriting every night, rather than just playing my songs for 10 nights in a row. In a tough industry that can be very isolating and dispiriting at times: it’s so important for musicians to work together and to share their experiences with each other, and tours like this are wonderful for that.

One big moment you had in 2023 was releasing a song on the Nick Drake tribute album The Endless Coloured Ways. How was that for you, and do you feel it’s presented you to more people? 

It was such an exciting thing to be involved in, not only because Nick Drake is one of my favourite songwriters, but also because there were so many amazing musicians involved in the album. I really loved being given the opportunity to take one of his songs and put my own stamp on it. My track, ‘I Think They’re Leaving Me Behind’, never got beyond demo stage for Nick, so the recording was very sparse and lo-fi. I loved being able to build that up and pull out the emotions of the song in a way that worked for me – complete with James Bond-esque strings. It was also an honour to go and stay with Gabrielle Drake and chat to her about the project. She loved hearing all these artists interpreting his songs and said it drew out different emotions and meanings that weren’t necessarily obvious in the originals. The whole thing was fascinating, and whilst it was divisive for some hardcore Nick Drake fans, it was ultimately a celebration of his songwriting and has definitely allowed it to reach whole new generations of fans. That’s a special thing to be part of.

This is always a tough question because there are often so many things an artist can’t say, but how is the rest of the year shaping up for you?

The album The Pendulum Swing is coming out on February 16th, so that’s the big date in my mind at the moment, but after that I’ll be heading out on a headline tour in May, playing at some beautiful venues around the UK and Ireland. I’m particularly excited to be finishing the tour at Union Chapel in London…it’s a venue I’ve always dreamt of playing, but I didn’t think it would happen this soon. After that, it’s festival season…there’s plenty more exciting things to announce, and no doubt there’ll be some curveballs still to come, so stay tuned!

The Pendulum Swing is released on February 16th by Cooking Vinyl

Main image credit: Damien Hyde

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