I’ll just say it, you guys. I am a total Lydia Ainsworth stan. Currently on tour with TR/ST, the ultra-talented Canadian artist will be taking the stage at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere tonight and tomorrow, followed by stops at Philly’s Underground Arts Saturday and DC’s U Street Music Hall Sunday, and it should come as no surprise that I’m going to strongly urge you to grab tickets while you’re able. In advance of the shows, she was kind enough to hop on a Skype call with me to talk about her forthcoming record, Phantom Forest, which is out next Friday, May 10th; we got into her creative process, how the dismal state of the planet actually helped shape the narrative of these new tracks and more, so without further adieu, let’s get into that conversation right now:
BYT: I love the video for “Can You Find Her Place”, and you worked on that one with your sister again! How’s that ongoing collaboration been going?
LA: I love working with my sister! Whenever we can work together, it’s just always so much fun. I actually just finished writing a film score for her first feature; she just made a documentary, so that’s what I’ve been doing the past month. Hopefully we’ll get to do another video. But she’s great, because we can be very critical of each other in a way that won’t hurt each other’s feelings. We just know how to get the best out of each other without saying too much. It’s nice working with her.
BYT: So that’s a clear area where you’re collaborating with this particular project, but you are at the helm for the songwriting process. Do you ask others’ opinions once a song is finished, or even while you’re still working a song out? Or do you tend to know inherently when something is ready without needing that extra voice?
LA: Interesting…I don’t usually play my songs to too many people. My vocal engineer is going to hear everything, and my family (I send things to my dad and my sister), and I had one show in the middle of last year where I hadn’t decided that the album was finished, and I didn’t know what songs I was going to put on it, so I did play a few songs, and one of them, “Can You Find Her Place”, was the one that everyone was dancing to and asking me about afterwards. So that signaled that that should maybe be a single, and that actually really helped in the process, to play that show. But beyond that, I don’t share my songs too much. I’m pretty private, and I’m pretty sensitive, too. If I send something to someone and they don’t respond right away, it’s just hell for me. [Laughs] So I don’t even do it anymore. I just keep it to myself until I know it’s ready.
BYT: And when your work is finally out in the world and existing, what does that feel like for you? Especially when there’s the sort of unavoidable forum of the internet, where everyone’s got an opinion and wants you to know about it? I think we actually touched on this the last time we spoke, because you brought back the Island To Island songs on Soundcloud, which you’d taken down for some time. (I was so happy when you brought them back!) But I guess what I’m getting at here (badly), is that I imagine certain songs crystalize versions of yourself; how do you relate to this digital age of permanence but also temporary attention?
LA: Well, I have to feel really satisfied with the songs before I can commit to putting them onto a finished album, and at that stage I’m proud of them, and I’ve pretty much exhausted all other options for how they could play out sonically. I’m pretty set on how I want them to sound by that point. But I haven’t experienced putting out something so far that I’ve thought, “Oh, I really wish that I’d done this differently.” It’s more just a lesson that I’ll take onto the next album, I guess, of wanting to explore different territory with different sounds or different ways of recording or different ways of writing. I don’t know. And then they live on in the live setting, and I can change them up how I want in that way, which is fun to do. It’s not too stressful to have them out and not be able to change them or take them down, because I’ve spent so long working on them, and at that point I’m okay with them.
BYT: In terms of this most recent record, what would you say your headspace was like when you were working on it?
LA: I wrote it in different places over a period of two years. The songs kind of revealed themselves to me gradually as taking place in this ghostly forest that represented our disappearing natural world. It’s taking place in three perspectives – I’m singing from the perspective of Mother Nature on a few songs, I’m singing from the perspective from myself, and then also as kind of a Greek chorus reflecting on what’s happening in the forest as this metaphor for the terrible tragedy of our environment. My headspace, I guess, was…I guess it revealed over time that I was kind of creating this world of characters.
BYT: And what was the decision to close out with the Pink Floyd “Green Is The Colour” cover?
LA: Well, I loved the melody, I loved the words and the imagery that it evoked of this landscape of lush colors. To me, it was almost kind of like an abstract, vibrant way of describing the Earth in full bloom. I thought it was a hopeful ending to the album, which was a lot about the catastrophe of what human kind has done to the planet. It’s ending on the beauty of nature.
BYT: On that note, what are your feelings about about this crisis we’re in right now? Are you feeling at all optimistic?
LA: I mean, it just feels like we’re in a downward spiral. I don’t know if we can stop it now at this point, but we have to do something. In my song “The Time”, I wrote that when I was living in LA and we had fires. It was just like, “Wow, we’re in this hellhole armageddon. What are we doing? Can we stop it?” And I don’t know if we can. It’s just kind of an observation.
BYT: Absolutely. And not that human existence hasn’t always implied difficulties, but it just seems that this time we’re living in now is especially trying. How do you deal with that on a personal level? What do you do with those feelings of, “We’re kind of fucked…” and then go about your day? I’m sure creating is a form of self-care…
LA: Yeah, writing the songs is, I guess, a coping mechanism. [Laughs] It’s a way to try to make sense of things. Writing music is cathartic, and it is a form a self-care for me, I think. Being creative, having that outlet is helpful for sure.
BYT: And sort of ending on that note, if you had to sort of neatly package the writing and the sound that does come out of this project (not that we’re trying to box you in, but just for the sake of curiosity), what would you tell someone who’s maybe never heard it before?
LA: I’d just say it’s left of center pop with electronic and orchestral elements. And that I like to perform with strings and dancers. [Laughs]
Featured photo by Bryan Huynh