voice on the verge #15: polly scattergood
Times have never been kinder to singer-songwriters with unusual voices, and with a magical childlike fragility not a million miles away from Katiejane Garside in her less ferocious moments, stardom surely awaits for 22-year-old Polly Scattergood. After emerging without much fanfare with a lone single in 2005 and disappearing just as quickly, she’s spent the last three years carefully piecing together her debut album (due early next year) with the encouragement of label Mute Records, home of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Goldfrapp.
The brilliant first single ‘Nitrogen Pink’ was released late last year and marked Polly out as a promising new kid on the block who wields poetic, disarming lyrics with startling candour and a trace of black humour. Fearlessly tackling intensely personal issues in a voice that’s often halfway between a purr and a sob, Polly has been winning over fans in droves with memorable festival appearances. Expect another influx of (teenage) converts after tomorrow’s set at the Underage Festival in London’s Victoria Park. Polly is pulling out all the stops with her stage set, creating a room filled with all manner of wonders and playthings. We’re too old to be allowed in (boo!) so we sent her our questionnaire to make up for it. Here’s what she wrote back…
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What’s your earliest memory?
I remember being in the attic of our old house as my mum had her art studio up there. I was trying to crawl into the rafters (as you do!) but it was full of yellow insulating foamy stuff. I also remember being maybe three and wanting to go to ballet lessons, so I would get out of my bunk bed every morning and tuck my vest into my knickers and do a little dance in my dad’s room to wake him up so he could see I was good enough for lessons!
What were you like at school?
Bored, depressed, frustrated, probably a complete pain.
What did you listen to when you were growing up?
I listened to lots of Leonard Cohen. I was drawn to him as his voice is so mesmerising and his words just make you want to know more. But in general I used to listen to everything I could. I was constantly making little mixtapes of the top 40 countdown!
What did you want to be until you decided to become a musician…if you ever did ‘decide’ that is!
When I was really young I wanted to be the tooth fairy. That never worked out though.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever worked and what was so bad about it?
TKMaxx in Croydon was pretty depressing as we had to stay late into the night sorting out all the clothes that people throw everywhere. I also worked in an ice cream factory under some escalators, which sounds quite fun but when you get hungry and are surrounded by ice cream that you’re not allowed to eat…it became quite frustrating!
What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you could go back in time?
To have a bit more self-belief and be a bit tougher. I was and still am (but hopefully slightly less so) haunted by my own insecurities.
What’s your favourite poem and how much of it can you recite from memory?
What makes a poem?* My all-time favourite line is:
“Like a bird on a wire,
like a drunk in some midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free”
Leonard Cohen, ‘Bird On A Wire’
What’s your tipple?
I love a mojito on a sunny day and a good red wine when the clouds are grey.
What’s your top household tip?
I don’t have one, I am the worst. I am naturally messy. I can’t cook and I am even bad at washing up!
What’s your biggest fear?
Spiders, being alone, dead birds, witches.
What’s your favourite quote?
It’s an obvious one but “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it”. I think the world would be a much kinder place.
What are your views on feminism?
I admire the women before me that fought for our rights so I am lucky enough to be able to say I live in a society where I feel completely free. I hate the idea of being judged on anything whether it being gender, creed or colour, it’s just wrong. When you strip it down we are all just humans.
Which artist would you most like to work with – your dream collaboration?
I would love to work with Gregory Crewdson. He is such a beautiful photographer. His photos are quite surreal and have a very fucked up suburbia vibe which I am constantly drawn to.
Which female musicians have most inspired you?
Joni Mitchell is amazing. Her lyrics are so descriptive and beautiful, and she just always seems so effortlessly cool!
Tell us about your favourite instrument…
I was recently given a theremin, which I love. I am just leaning to play it and it’s driving everyone mad though. The neighbours thought the fire alarm was going off the other day, but it was just me practicing it! One of my Myspace friends suggested I check out Clara Rockmore. She is amazing, she makes it looks easy!
I also love the old rickety, slightly out of tune piano at my mum ‘n’ dad’s house. Oh, and my red Fender Strat that I got when I was 15. Lots of memories have been played on its strings.
Do you have an instrument you’d still like to learn? What’s stopping you?
I would love to learn to DJ. My brother Sam DJs. I played on his decks once – he just laughed at me. I don’t think I was very good! I would also love to try an electronic harp. Cutting the lasers would be amazing!
If you had to pick one song from your repertoire to represent your entire body of work, which one would you choose and why?
That is hard as my songs are all quite different. If I had to choose I suppose ‘I Hate The Way’ as it has a little bit of a few things in it, and it has been through many different journeys with me and is still standing strong.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
I did a gig in Kilburn and I knew [record label] Mute were coming as they had come to maybe six gigs before that. They then invited me and my manager for a drink after the gig and said they would like to sign me. I couldn’t believe it. It was a good moment…after that the fun began! The whole album process has been pretty incredible.
What’s your funniest studio memory?
There are so many. My producer Simon [Fisher Turner] sometimes came into the live room, once apparently to ‘conduct’ me. But as lots of my songs speed up he just ended up twirling around to the music! That was quite funny to watch
How would you describe your new album in 10 words or less?
Noisy whispers, dark, light, words, suicidal, happy, experimenting, layered, honest.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
Hmmm…does staying up till 1am answering all your bizarre questions count?!
Tick tock, tick tock. What you waiting, what you waiting for?
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* in answer to your question Polly, to quote the great Robert Frost, “a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
Pollyworld: two short films by Polly and Tom Henry Jones
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