Thanks! Yes, thanks.
First question: in a way, you are quite the veteran in the NZ scene now – but you’re still so young. Has music always been your focus, and what have the last couple of years been like in between Me & Moon and now?
Since I was 15 I knew that I wanted to write and perform and do music. And so music has always been number one in my head. From that point at school I would sit in the back of class, writing poetry, and doodling, and feeling all my feelings too much, and trying to deal with it, and be creative with it.
From that point it’s always been right at the front, and growing up things kind of took a sideline. I found it hard to focus on other things. I had always been quite intelligent and good at things across the board at school, but I just stopped working. The last three years of high school I stopped doing homework, didn’t put any effort in, just because I was fixated on music.
Haha – I can relate.
It’s kind of been like that in my life as well. I didn’t go out and get a job. I wasn’t very driven with anything else. So I think my development in my life wasn’t a priority because music was in the front of my head.
So I left school, and in my own ways, in the ways I knew how I was pushing music and trying to find my way in music. Working twenty hours a week or so for a few years; still living at home with my parents. That just went on for years. The whole process took way longer than I envisioned it happening.
One day I realised I was twenty-six and living at home and that I was like “screw this, I want to be independent and develop areas of my life that I have been neglecting”, like moving out of home, developing skills that aren’t music.
I guess I’ll never put music down but…
You were looking for more balance?
Yes, I was looking for more balance. Wanting to be a person, not just a musician. It took a friend of mine saying “I think you’d be really good at making coffee” for me to change. I did a one-day course, got a job in a café, and they trained me to make coffee. That was the end of 2012. Since then I’ve been working making coffee.
It’s not just the skill of making coffee that has made me a way more comfortable, and confident, balanced content person. There are so many reasons that having a job like that is good.
I’ve seen some comments you have made on social media – short stories and observations you’ve made from working at a café. It must have been great material for writing.
There are so many people that come into work, and you have these amazing conversations, and I felt like my brain was way more active while I was working. I was absorbing all this cool inspiration.
But then I didn’t have the time or energy to be creative with it.
I got to this point where I realised I needed to write again, to get it all out.
By that point you’d done two EPs and released Me & Moon. In light of the fact you’ve had this life change, and done something different, is the new material going to challenge listeners in a way – is it more upbeat, quite different?
It’s funny for me – even just saying ‘I got a job, my life changed,’ may sound stupid’ –
Not at all.
For me it feels drastic. The feel of it. When I played these songs to Nic Manders, who’s producing this album, he said that the songs felt buoyant.
It was quite cool. I like that word. It’s how I feel in life these days. So I think that’s cool.
When you’re recording with Nic do you find that, with heaps of ideas flying round, that the songs change much?
A few of the songs when I went in were half written. There’s one that’s a poem that I wrote maybe four or five years ago that I’ve held onto in my brain because I love the sentiment of it. But it never became a song.
The day before I went into the studio I realised I want people to hear it – I want to put it out there and express it and it feels like the words sit in with the rest of the songs that I’m writing at the moment.
There were some that were fairly solid but most that have been in the air.
You ran a Kickstarter campaign recently, towards your new album. It went really well – you had a lot of buy-in. I guess that gives you a lot of confidence for doing something a little different, or to approach things differently?
Yeah, yeah it does. Yeah. I felt in the Kickstarter video I expressed myself pretty clearly, that I felt like I put where I’m at, on the line to people. And I put a demo of one of the new songs on the background of the video. I felt that, yeah, people are on the page with where I’m at. I found that encouraging.
It’s funny, I weighed it up going into the Kickstarter – that this is going to put pressure on me. Like I deal with anxiety on-and-off and stuff, and I knew that it could be quite a hard thing to deal with in the studio. And it has been. Like I really didn’t want it to be, but there have been pretty heavy times.
It’s a big move in a sense. Songs are very personal things – it’s not always but it can be like opening up your journal. You’re putting out your personal thoughts, not only that but you’re putting a public display of how much backing you have. Did that make you anxious?
Yeah. It’s public.
You have these songs flying around and there’s probably a theme in there – could you tell us about that?
I’ve noticed words pop up in a few of the songs.
Rebirth maybe, renewal? Changing seasons?
Seasons. Yeah, there’s a lot of references to summer, winter… Yeah, it’s way more, compared to my older stuff… broad. Like it’s not just ‘he broke my heart’ – it’s about the world, about how things work.
I guess I’ve learned heaps, from what I was talking about before, about working in a café, being around people, learning about life. And about myself.
Even the stuff I don’t like about myself, I’ve come to terms with a lot more. I feel way more content, that I have got better perspective on myself and life, and that I’m not panicking my way through what’s happening to me. I’m not as passive as I used to be… like I was just fielding what life was throwing at me, and kind of panicking and stuff.
[Instead] I feel like I understand myself better, I understand life better, I’m kind of rolling with how it comes, and choosing my own path a bit more and enjoying it.
In your last album, Me & Moon, you had a number of songs that were quite personal – “heart out on your sleeve” – and there was the theme of hibernation. They were introspective. Do you feel your experiences have made these songs more outward looking?Yeah. Mmm. It’s all affected it.
Some of these songs that I’ve been playing that have been older ones, today and yesterday at Festival; I’ve been singing the words and smiling, because I’m like “oh my gosh, I’m not there anymore”. And it feels really, really good.
And I think I’m really happy that I felt that instinct within me, in 2013, that “I’m going to stop playing, I’m going to have a break, and I’m going to come back really natural, really gradual…”
I guess I was listening to what I needed and following that, and I’m glad I had a break because now that I have come back and I can play these old songs and – because I’ve had space – I have the perspective to see “oh, my gosh, I’m different”. If I’d just kept playing and not taken that time I wouldn’t have learned so much.
I heard Luke Thompson in his set last night talked about a very similar thing; he’d gone and taken a year off, and worked at a cafe. It’s good to have a renewal, a break year, or whatever; it’s almost like you have an overworked field and you’re resewing a crop.
Yeah. Totally, that’s the whole seasons thing.
I’m learning not to fight where I am, or where I’m not, or where I want to be, or what I hate or love about my life right now. What’s more important is just feeling the emotion that’s coming at you, and identifying where you’re at – and then once you’re experienced it you can progress.
But if you’re just fighting your life it’s not as good. I’m way more patient with people because I’m more patient with myself. And I know people go through stuff and… that’s fine.
A bit of a change of tack… Last night with you and your good friend Luke Thompson getting on stage and singing ‘Water’ during his set, it was interesting because you’d both been through a similar time, a fallow period – it was a beautiful moment. And then him announcing he was leaving for Australia. It must have been hard?
It’s funny, the last couple of times I’ve seen him play I’ve felt like I’ve started grieving. I guess, because there was maybe eighteen months or two years where we did do a whole run of shows and tours together. We are kindred spirits; friends on a narrow road of what we’re doing.
He’s a gift to me, a gift of encouragement on what can be a super lonely, weird road. And that, I think, our friendship and our musical collaboration where we sit with each other has changed, and is changing.
So to sing ‘Water’ last night…
It was an emotional moment?
I missed notes because I was in that moment of I guess realising that, and grieving that while I was singing this song I’d sung so much, and knowing that we’d kind of both changed.
Something’s already shifted. Just identifying that and saying, “ah, that’s sad, [but] it’s great”, it’s life, it’s great. He’s moving on to bigger things, or different things, and so am I.
And just being grateful for what we’ve had. And we’ll still be close.
It was a particularly poignant moment, and one of my favourite from this festival.
I’m glad. That’s the beautiful thing about music – and about that song, I think. There are always lots of emotions when we sing that song. That’s the cool thing about music, is that people can feel.
While I was singing I was looking out at people and seeing that they were feeling it, and that’s a crazy thing.
Fraser Browne from folk group Paper Cranes 折り鶴 interviewed Lydia Cole at Festival One. You can find Lydia’s first single, Dream, from the new album here.