No matter the year, no matter the season, classic pop never goes out of style. Martha Ffion knows this, and on The Wringer, the singer-songwriter’s third album, she embraces imperfection in pursuit of the song. SNACK caught up with Martha, Glasgow-based Irish singer-songwriter Claire McKay, to chat about live recordings, underage pints, and knowing when things are finished.
Your new album is out now: what’s it all about?
It’s called The Wringer and it was recorded in Ireland at Analogue Catalogue Studios, which is an amazing studio in the countryside where everything is recorded straight to tape. It’s nine tracks: most of what you hear is live, so a totally different experience for me.
This time, I wanted to focus on making the songs as strong as they could be, I called it ‘The Wonderwall Test’, looking to see if I could play the song stripped back on a guitar or keyboard and have it hold its structure, be entertaining and feel full. That was the challenge, not to say I hit the ‘Wonderwall’ marker, but that was in the back of my mind.
With the studio being so close to your home town, do you think that influenced the record more than if you recorded it anywhere else?
When we finished for the day we’d occasionally drive to Warrenpoint and have a pint in the pub where you’d get your first underage pint! It was good to visit that with my band, and everyone lived in the world of The Wringer at all times.
My brother Declan, who is a teacher, could come and visit the studio. He’d come after school, add backing vocals, and things like that, making it more special.
The lyrics make it feel like a very personal record – how do you strike the balance between authenticity and keeping things back for yourself?
This is the first time I’ve not held anything back. I’ve struggled to do that, part of my mind thinks, my mum is going to hear this, I don’t want to overshare. The epiphany I had during lockdown was, what’s the point in doing this if you aren’t going to lay it all out? If you aren’t going to tell your unique stories?
That’s not the case for all music and genres, but for what I wanted to achieve – an authentic singer-songwriter experience – I had to lay it all on the line. When writing, I wanted to be able to say to people: ‘I wrote this song about that story you told me’. For my dad, ‘The Man’ is his anthem, he’s cutting about the house singing that.
You say you learned lessons, good and bad, in making 2020’s Nights To Forget album – anything you can quickly summarise?
The importance of deadlines. Even if there is nobody above giving you a deadline, it is helpful for the creative process to call things done, when they’re done. When writing, I tortured myself in making the initial demos, experimenting with drum loops and synths, I went down the rabbit hole. Dave [Frazer, producer] and I struggled to call a mix finished, so I struggled to say it was done.
I’m proud of that album and Dave’s production is amazing, but the next thing for me to do was the antithesis of that.
When you recorded the album live, did you envisage the live show?
During the writing and recording, I really wanted to do a solo set of these songs. That’s possible because of the way they were written. During recording, as we had limited tracks, it was our goal because we know when we go out and play these songs live they won’t sound hugely different, which is magic.
Unlike last time, you can launch the album with a couple of live shows. Does this make the process seem different?
Yeah, it has been really different, with positives and negatives. It was so nice last time to have endless time to give to it but now, the world has reopened, you are less rich in time, but you have more opportunities to do things. It’s a very different world.
Last time, the thought of booking something a year in advance felt so risky, but now, we can be excited about six months down the line or doing a gig at Christmas. I have looked back and done a list of what we can play, and what we are definitely not playing, and it’s worrying how many things you can’t possibly play. You have to get that balance in your head of songs that were popular and that people like to hear – even if you feel you’ve outgrown them – because you have to give the songs credit for introducing you to new fans.
Beyond the July shows, any idea what’s next for Martha Ffion?
No idea other than I want to continue in this vein. I don’t want to trot out a cheesy line about finding myself, but I’m in a comfortable place if it all feels right, the way I’m writing and creating. I feel comfortable, but maybe that comes with not being in your 20s any more. I feel I’ve more to explore in this way. I feel I’ve got more gas in the tank.