The experience of watching On Dead Waves's video for "Blue Inside" is emotionally similar to what I felt the first time I heard "Honey" by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Cinematic, lush, and dark, the lyricism of Polly Scattergood and her bandmate James Chapman's debut single left me in awe. Listening to Scattergood sing transformed me back into the listener that I used to be, a listener willing to get lost in the lines of a song without hesitation. Although it might be difficult to determine which singular aspect of On Dead Waves's LP makes it so haunting, it is easy to pinpoint the album's multiple strengths, one of the most obvious being the dark poetics of Scattergood's lyrics and arresting vocals. I spoke with her on a rainy day about the first album she fell in love with, what it's like to be a poet and a songwriter, and the inspiration behind her band's new track "Dead Balloons," which we're premiering here for you!
Dianca Potts: In addition to being a songwriter, you identify as a poet. What is your earliest memory of being drawn to the page?
Polly Scattergood: My first real memory of getting into music was when I discovered a record by Leonard Cohen. My dad gave me the lyric book which went with it, and I remember thinking, Wow, [because the songs] blurred the line between music and poetry, and I found that fascinating. It was my first taste of lyrics that pulled me in. I became a little obsessed, and now I'm a huge fan of writing my own [poetry] and reading other people's.
DP: Can you talk a bit about how poetry has shaped your songwriting?
PS: The writing process for onDeadWaves was very different than my previous albums. We didn't write the album intending for it to be an album. I traveled up to James's house because he was a friend of mine and on my label. We had intended to just hang out and do some writing, but there was no real pressure on finishing or even starting anything. He picked up a guitar, started jamming, and the songs just came out in a very natural way. It happened very easily, which is very different from my previous albums. I felt completely free, you know? We didn't even realize it was an album until we had written eight songs. We were just two people who got together and just started something for no real reason other than their love for music.
DP: What was most exciting about getting the work in with someone else after having worked on a solo album?
PS: The most rewarding part of working in partnership and doing a collaboration is that you get to have somebody who you 100 percent trust to bounce things off of. It's a lot less lonely process, because when you write on your own, you have nobody to springboard off, and it's not like other jobs where you can go into an environment and throw ideas out there. It's more like you put your neck on the line, and then it comes out and you see what people think of it, but in a collaboration, at least the one that we had, the pressure was shared.
DP: How did you know when the album was finished?
PS: When we wrote "Winter's Child," we knew that it was the end. It was like waving the album off and saying good-bye. We had no idea where the end or the beginning was, but when we wrote that song, it felt like everything I wanted to say had been said, and I was happy with it.
DP: I love the way that "Blue Inside" juxtaposes dark imagery with dream-pop instrumentation. Did working on the video for it change the mood of the song for you?
PS: We started an Instagram because we felt like we were drawing a lot of inspiration from visuals. Sometimes when we were writing, we would look at an image, or watch a little bit of a film. So when it came to working with [director] Lukasz Pytlik, we had quite a lot to share with him. He took [the images] and worked with them. We had an honest conversation about what the song is about, and what we wanted it to say.
DP: Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind "Dead Balloons"?
PS: It's one of the darker songs on the album. We wrote it very late at night. James has a studio in his house, and so we would work until the early hours usually, and then sleep a bit. It's about the struggle of constantly trying to reach for something or someone that you love and want but lost, [and] can't get back. It's about love and the madness that you sometimes go through when you're trying to fix things, like in the lyric from the song "to turn the coins beneath the moon." I used to live next door to a man who used to come outside of his house and turn his coins in his pockets on a full moon because it's thought to be lucky. It was amazing seeing him literally standing beneath the moon and turning these coins. He was a really old man; he used to be an admiral. It was a very striking image to me.
DP: How do you balance the different types of writing that you do in your life?
PS: For a long time, I tried to do lots of different things, and then I realized I wasn't fully doing anything. I focused 100 percent on trying to make sure this project is the best that I can do in this moment. I would love to be one of those people that can jump from one thing to the next, but for me I find that I'm either in one head space or another. I find it very hard to be two different people.
DP: As a poet and a songwriter, what does creativity mean to you?
PS: I'm not very good naturally at expressing myself when I'm speaking to people, so I find that music is a great way of getting everything down. I would be very lost without it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Dianca Potts is an assistant at Lenny Letter.