Margaret Glaspy Interview: On spirituality, teenage songwriting and women in music
July 1st 2016
“I think I finally have something to say in a record. I always had something to say in a song, but to put it together in a record is a bit different.”
Music has always been with Margaret Glaspy. From fiddle playing when she was knee-high to teenage songwriting and a career as a touring musician in other people’s bands, the young maestro from Red Bluff, California has made a record of her own. Alex Eugene spoke with her on the cusp of releasing her fiery debut album, Emotions and Math.
AM: I’m really curious about your vocal style, is that something you worked on consciously?
MG: When I was really young, I kinda yelled when I sang, and ever since then I guess I kept carving it down to what it is now. So it’s been a process, like anything else – if you play an instrument, you learn what your style is after a while. You kind of mimic everybody else you like for a while, then you start to make your own style.
What kind of songs did you write when you were young?
Oh you know, they were sweet songs, but I look back on them and kinda smile at them… (laughs) because I was so young! Probably 13 or so. They’re different from what they are now, a bit more refined. But there are songs that I wrote when I was young that I think about sometimes, and I think you have just as much to say when you’re a child or a young teenager as you do when you’re older. I certainly had things to say when I was young. But I think just in terms of the craft, I’ve gotten better at it… I’m better at songwriting.
When did you start writing the songs that are on Emotions and Math?
There’s a few on there that are very old. One song, ‘Anthony’ is like six years old or so, a lot of the other songs are written about one to two years around the time of the record coming out.
Were any harder to write than others?
Some of them were harder to write than others, yeah. Some of them I laboured over, other ones just kinda came out… but for the most part I like to leave them in a certain way.
‘Somebody To Anybody’, that took me a while to write. And ‘You and I’ took me a little while too. [When writing those songs] I feel like I was just starting to realise what my style was for the first time – in terms of production and lyrical stuff, arrangement-wise, guitar-wise, it kind of all clicked at around the same time.
‘No Matter Who’ came a while ago and I didn’t really know what to do in terms of releasing it, so I just held on to it for a long time. I knew that I was gonna save up for a debut album kind of thing. And I’m glad that I did, I think I finally have something to say in a record. I always had something to say in a song, but to put it together in a record is a bit different.
Did you write all the arrangements for other instruments and vocals on the album?
Yeah, for the most part I arranged all the song. There’s a couple of things that happened in the studio that were kind of spontaneous, you know, last minute arrangements, things that happened. My partner Julian helped a little with arranging some of them. ‘Love Like This’ he worked out a little more in the studio… but for the most part everything was arranged beforehand. There was definitely a heavy vibe in that studio that was very cool, other people were so cool… it just made the songs better.
Are you religious, or spiritual?
I think I am. I’d call myself as spiritual person for sure. I like Joseph Campbell a lot actually, I think he’s really great. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him or his books – but I like thinking that if you look over to the person next to you, they’ve probably been through the same things you have. Humanity kind of being the fabric of our lives, in a certain way. So I am spiritual in thinking that there’s something big and innate for sure, but I also think that we look to one another for the answers in another way too.
Would your spirituality ever come out in your music?
I don’t really know. When I write songs, I think that whatever is with me at the time is what I put into the song… so I couldn’t say. I think songwriting is essentially a kind of mythology, kind of a way for us to represent the time that we’re alive, and how we were feeling at the time.
Who are some artists that have influenced your style?
Joni Mitchell is an amazing songwriter that I’ve loved ever since I was a little girl, and I’m a big Neil Young fan, I think he’s incredible. I mean, there’s so many musicians and so many records that I adore for sure. Those are two that I really love.
So there’s been a big revival in the feminist conversation lately. What do you think of it all? Do you find the music industry a bit of a ‘boys club’?
It’s not meant as a rude thing, but my views on it are that the questions that single out women in the first place are what can kind of make the problem. It implies that women are handicapped in the first place – that’s how I feel at times.
I’m aware that it used to be less normal for women to be able to play music professionally. But if you want to get spiritual with it, I s’pose my views on it are that from a very young age, from the time that you’re born, or even your soul… we’re all musical in some way, shape or form, and it doesn’t have anything to do with our gender, or anything like that.
I’m proud to be a woman, certainly, and in terms of the music, I’m excited for a time when we’re not thinking of it as ‘women in music’ essentially. I feel like we can move past it, for sure.
Emotions and Math is out now via ATO Records/PIAS.