Since releasing her debut album three years ago, Katherine Priddy has been busy, not just with the usual level of promotional duties that one would expect from an emerging artist, but by always seeming to be on the move. Whether it's performing at festivals across the globe (throughout the UK, the US and Australia), or on tour, either by herself, with John Smith, or supporting the likes of The Chieftains, Loudon Wainwright III, Vashti Bunyan or, most recently, The Unthanks. She’s been away from home a lot…
I don't know which cities or time zones Katherine Priddy wrote the words for her new album 'The Pendulum Swings' in, but I sense that for all the touring and travelling, thoughts of home were never that far away. It feels like it is a topic that runs throughout her writing at present so, when Birmingham’s favourite singer-songwriter was back in town, we decided that this would be the first question that we would ask her…
Outsideleft: 'The Pendulum Swings' feels like a step forward from the first album. Lyrically, there are themes of family and home running throughout it. At what point did you realize that this would be the basis of the album?
Katherine Priddy: Thank you! I feel like I’ve matured and progressed a fair bit since 'The Eternal Rocks Beneath' and I wanted this to be a step up in terms of sound and the songwriting, so it’s nice to hear you felt that when you listened to it. In terms of the theme, it wasn't something I set out to do, but it became obvious when I was listening to the initial studio demos that there was home and family running through a fair few of them. It makes sense - the majority of these songs were written over the last couple of years, during a time where I moved back in with my folks over lockdown, then moved out, then tried to work out what I wanted to do and where felt most like home to me. So, it seems only natural that the songs would tend to reflect those concerns and anxieties. I think albums are a great way to summarise a life chapter, and this feels like an accurate reflection of the past couple of years for me - an endless cycle of leaving and returning, like a pendulum swing.
OL: 'Father of Two' has been in your live set for a while now, have you been able to play any of the new songs live yet? If so, what has the response been?
KP: Yes I’ve had a chance to play a few of the new songs live which has been great fun! I tend to find that I need to play my songs live a few times before they fully settle and sit right with me, but it’s always nerve-wracking playing new material. Thankfully they seem to have gone down well so far. It’s such a special thing - you sit with these songs for so long and they can feel so personal, but when you play them live they’re no longer just yours, they belong to other people. It's really freeing and cathartic.
OL: 'The First House on The Left' may be my favourite song here. How much of it is based on the house you grew up in? And how much is ...poetic license?
KP: Thank you! There isn't actually any poetic licence in this one. I grew up in a little old house that had been many things over the years, including a shop and a place where prisoners would be kept on the way to the jail. And as a kid, I would dig up so much old china and horseshoes and bits of clay pipe in the garden. I loved living in an old house, which had had so many stories in it before ours. It’s just another little terraced cottage from the outside, but to the people who’ve lived in it, it’s a whole universe. I wanted to write this song to celebrate not just my house, but to make people think about what their home means to them, and what it might have meant to people before them. They’re such special places.
OL: Your songs have been autobiographical in the past, but here even more so as a couple of them are about specific people ('Walnut Shell' and 'Father of Two'), that are about your brother and your father. Have you had any response from either of them regarding the songs? Are you able to share what their responses were?
KP: Yes, this album on the whole does feel more personal - or at least, it’s more obviously personal to listeners I think. I wrote 'Walnut Shell' when my brother made the move to New Zealand a year or two ago. He’s my twin, and I was really torn between feeling incredibly proud of him and wanting him to have a wonderful time, but also feeling very sad to let him go. I wrote this as a birthday present…much cheaper than shipping something over at any rate! He loved it, and approves of this album version too. 'Father Of Two' was also written as a gift for my Dad and he cried when he first heard it. I actually got quite emotional the first time I tried to sing it live too, but I suppose that’s not a bad thing. There's just a whole lot of feelings wrapped up in that song, and even though they’re personal to me, I hope others can take those feelings and relate them to their own relationships when they listen to the track.
OL: And…Amongst the ambient sounds on the album, a young child is singing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'... Is that you?
KP: Yes! My parents had a little cassette tape of my brother and I chatting to my parents when we were about 3. I digitised it and used that little clip of my Dad asking me to sing a song to start the ‘Father Of Two’ track…it felt like the perfect way to really capture that nostalgia and love.
OL: I'm interested by the song 'Selah'. Kanye West, Lauryn Hill and Emile Sande have all recorded songs called 'Selah' - their songs have some element of faith to them. What does the word 'Selah' mean to you?
KP: Whilst I’m not religious, I’ve done a fair bit of churchgoing in the past, and this biblical word always appealed to me. It’s used in psalms, and is thought to mean something along the lines of ‘pause for reflection’. As this is a love song for the moon that borders on worshipping, I thought this word would be perfect, as of course, moonlight is just a reflection of the sun. Plus, I like the idea of introducing pauses for reflection within the song where people can sit back and float away on the instrumentation. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly spiritual, but I’ve always felt quite drawn to the moon.
OL: Last year you were involved in the fascinating 'The Endless Coloured Ways' project of new interpretations of Nick Drake songs. How did you get involved in that? And why did you choose 'I Think They're Leaving Me Behind' ? It’s not a well-known song.
KP: It was such an honour to be involved in that project. Cally Callomon, who runs the Nick Drake estate, has been a great supporter of my music and knows that I love Nick Drake’s music, so he and my publishers thought I’d be a good fit. It was actually Cally’s suggestion to sing that song…it was perfect, as the original never really made it beyond a demo, so is incredibly stripped back and low-fi. It was like having a blank canvas to work on, ready for shading and colour. I built it up in a way that I saw fit and tried to capture some of the feelings I feel when I hear the lyrics. The whole album is wonderful - it’s great to hear how other artists hear and interpret his songwriting, and it just goes to show that great songs remain great songs, however they’re sung.
OL: Finally, ‘Ready To Go’ is a fabulous duet with George Boomsma. You've sung with John Smith, Guy Garvey, the chaps in Slow Jane ...who else is there you'd really want to duet with? (Just one or two or an entire albums worth? whichever you’d prefer)
KP: I would love to sing with Johnny Flynn - his new album with Robert McFarlane is excellent and I’ve long been an admirer of all that he puts out. There’s also a band called Alt-J who I’m a BIG fan of. Their production is so interesting and so varied, and no song is quite alike. I think they’d be really interesting to collaborate with. Who knows, maybe one day!
'The Pendulum Swings' by Katherine Priddy is released on Friday 16 February
You can order it here⇒
Photograph of Katherine Priddy by Damien Hyde