Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Poppy H, UK musician/producer whose debut Nothing is Perfect, Everything is Perfect is out now!
In mid-July 2023, following the pain and shame of a music project of mine dying on its arse, I went into a kind of trance and found myself somewhat unwittingly making an album about the various times I’ve nearly died physically, mentally, emotionally. Barely two months later NOTHING IS PERFECT, EVERYTHING IS PERFECT was released. In spite of some well-meaning people advising me to up my production game, I went the opposite way and doubled-down on the lo-fi/DIY nature of my writing and recording. My process in my makeshift studio is this: drum machines, synths, Korg, guitars (acoustic and electric), live drums etc etc are all played through amps, next to which sits my phone openly recording. I then mix on GarageBand and master on the same device. I don’t use mics (vocals are just sung out loud with the phone gently wrapped in a Weyes Blood t-shirt), nor a laptop or any fancy programs – I may do someday – but currently that feels a million miles away from how I want to create music. Afters was one of the last tunes I recorded and, as with a couple of the other dancier tracks, I was running several instruments at once and recording them all down onto one single track – a big mistake if you want a shiny polished sound with your highs, mids and lows suitably separated of course. But what a buzz it was. The room was literally shaking. It was like a live set and what you hear on the song is almost all improvised. This is mostly how I want to make music. The piano part at the end – the comedown – is a sample of track three on the album, I love a mix of vibes – an attempt to evoke several feelings in one sitting, as opposed to ‘this is the one where you feel this one exact emotion’.
This post-punk(?) track recalls a shitty experience in a great city in a previous life. I loved getting the old Epiphone SG out – and I mean ‘old’. I’d lent it to my mate many moons ago and it came back just this year with the top E missing and sounding a little jaded – I know the feeling – but I like its world weary turn on this track. New York Knife is a good example of my penchant for music that almost falls apart at the seams. I get a kick out of non-quantised tunes that hang by a thread rhythmically and melodically – will it make it to the end or fall apart altogether? Again, I know the feeling.
I took up piano about 18 months ago – it was the trigger for me to begin recording music. Not being able to read music and never having had a lesson, I play piano 100% through instinct, sometimes it works out, sometimes not. My specific influences on the instrument include Ben Watt’s ‘Another Conversation With Myself,’ ‘The Lonely Man Theme’ from The Incredible Hulk TV series, any time Nina Simone put finger to ivory, Duval Timothy, Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru to name a few.
Around the turn of the 2010s, a couple of my mates and I got heavily into experimental jazz, dubstep and aligned genres – this was at a time when I was living in Dalston, London, a stone’s throw from the Vortex and Café Oto – two venues that hold such good memories for me – I get a bit choked up when I’m around them today to be honest, as I’m a damn nostalgic fool. This era of discovery was a real awakening for me musically and informs more of the album than I perhaps knew when making it. As with the opening track, I’m running several instruments at once here and flying by the seat of my pants. I’m also kind of channelling legendary lawless percussionist Chris Corsano (he almost felt like a neighbour in those days) in the overlayed drums – getting a kick out of it slipping out of sync with the main rhythm. I get a little buzz out of it – if I may – when they fall back in line with the beat.
Set in the care home I worked in about 14 years ago – often sleeping there on nightshifts – this is an anti-racism, anti-Conservative government song. The Tories have been tearing Britain apart bit by bit for many years now and it is always ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and the working class who suffer most acutely. I saw it in action through the residents at the care home. I still think about them all most days. Everyone and everything we hold dear is in danger from this government and I wanted perhaps the catchiest and clear-headed track on the record to be about our uncompassionate leaders.
Recorded on my phone in a manically busy Liverpool Street Station at rush hour. It was a lullaby to myself really to combat the mayhem around me. I struggle in these situations and always turn to music to see me through. I am never without my headphones, the thought of enduring such scenarios without tunes genuinely terrifies me. Being able to record and mix on the move has been incredible for me – means I can work really quickly in almost any scenario outside of the day job which is incredibly demanding. With each subsequent layer of the repeating melody, this track, whilst meant to be of comfort, became quite eerie and unsettling – in part, I lovingly blame the late, great Angelo Badalamenti for this. He and David Lynch are never far from anything I’m doing creatively and Angelo’s subtle subversions of sweet sequences creeps into my music frequently.
I adore Brian Eno – the B-side to Bowie’s ‘Low’ is possibly the greatest music ever recorded – but Eno’s recent output has also been outstanding. He pushes all the right buttons for me in every sense. In this track I tried to channel his masterful control over time and space – something of a lost art these days and something I’m working on but miserably failing to achieve – space really is the hardest thing to write and perform. Cards on the table, as it were, this song is about gambling and alcoholism – two things that combined in an incident on a train a few years ago. Trains and travel in general feature heavily in my music, I didn’t really know that until now. I think I like the sense of momentum and flow. It’s clear I’m no singer, but here you get two vocal performances for the price of one, as my background wailings are actually recycled from a track that didn’t make the album. I am prone to lifting parts and moments from songs and experimenting with how they might sound on other tracks that appear at odds with the vibe. I am fairly happy with how the distortion cuts through the serene ambience – but in doing so, I failed in my Eno sonic space endeavours.
As the spoken word at the end suggests, this is about my most enduring and vivid dream – one involving my mum and I in a car crash, the impact of which turns her into two lion statues. I took that dream into another trance-like live set where, yet again, I was running several sounds simultaneously – drum machine, synth, korg etc. Me and the room were buzzing. The Korg Volca has been a godsend for me – once I’d worked out how to use it. Since releasing the album I have had frenzied sessions on it, layering up various live sets (this experimentation can be heard on Bandcamp through the single ‘Stigma (Live)’). The ambient half of this tune ran far longer initially but I showed restraint in the end following advice from my mate. However, I was keen for the record to have the forementioned time and space where there isn’t necessarily much happening – I think we (or certainly I) need a bit of that in life and music. Take the new Laurel Halo album for example – it is just absolutely sublime and probably my album of the year.
As the title suggests, I was signing on and dying a little bit inside everyday. Nothing wrong with claiming benefits, but I had a breakdown on the way down to the job centre and I thought that was it – signing off instead of signing on. This is perhaps the straightest ambient, neo-classical track on the record and it almost didn’t make the cut. I’m glad it did because I feel like it’s reaching down into my soul and in a no frills way sort of lays me bare more than any other track.
The biggest tune in terms of composition and individual tracks – I wanted to be unashamedly epic on this song about, yes, death – or more so, the life you lead before death. It may sound corny but it is about making the most of it, not rushing, but making moments count. I had fun with the arpeggiated synth here which called to mind the 80s. It becomes apparent by this stage that I don’t like a lot of lyrics, a few choice words repeated tends to be my way of going about vocals. The angelic choir hits in this were something of a bold ‘who does he think he is’ choice, but fuck it – you have to have fun with the process, even if the theme is ultimately death.
A little over a decade ago I had a job shooting and directing appeal videos for a Muslim charity, this took me and a group of British Muslims to Pakistan following a devastating flood. The people I was with were all donors, good folk, keen to help out in their ancestral home. They were welcome, I was too in the main, apart from in the eyes of a gun-toting biker who took a dislike to me because I was white. So, he threatens me and tells me I’m not wanted there and it all gets a bit lively. The rest of the group were in the minibus unaware of the situation but eventually I somehow talked my way out of it. Of all the guitar parts I’m probably happiest with the little runs on this track, subtle as they are. My friend urged me to make more of this track and it does have potential to be beefed up but, nah, get in and get out if that’s what you’re feeling. Very much like the situation that inspired the song.
It's just gone midnight in the UK and to mark the release of my debut album on all platforms, here is a brand new video to 'Pak Petrol Predator' – directed by the brilliant @petridisch @Bandcamphttps://t.co/Qs934sgCBU
— Poppy H (he/him) (@poppyhproducer) October 12, 2023
The chilled closer. I now wonder how could this possibly bookend the album with the opening track? I really don’t know, but far from going out with a bang I wanted to conclude things on a melancholy note. Maybe the record is too up and down, inconsistent in terms of mood and vibe? It is what it is now. This is about the death of summer, recorded as the nights began to draw in, ushering in Autumn – perhaps the best of all months but one that brings certain darkness. As mentioned, I am not really a singer but I gave it my all on this one and reached notes I didn’t think were possible for me. The rhythm of the spoken word at the start was a little out of my comfort zone but I think you’ve got to go for these things in the moment if it feels OK, someone somewhere might connect with it…