IN CONVERSATION WITH MOLLY PAYTON
WORDS RACHEL EDWARDS - PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SILENCE AITKEN-TILL
Whilst 2020 has most of the world desperately holding onto their last few marbles, 19 year old singer songwriter Molly Payton has kept her head firmly screwed on. It’s already October but for Molly the year is nowhere near over as the indie sensation prepares to release her latest EP ‘Porcupine’.
The singer, who draws inspiration from rock and roll bands of the '60s and '70s, quite literally flew onto the London music scene three years ago when she moved from her hometown in New Zealand with just her mum and a dream of making it as a musician. Two years later and she had her first EP under her belt and had begun to establish a place for herself on the indie scene by supporting alt-rock bands like ‘Palace’.
Her deep, rich tones mean that you’d be forgiven for assuming you’re listening to the voice of someone twice her age but pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll soon be drawn into the world of teenage angst, friendship, love and heartbreak typical of girls her age. In essence, she writes as a type of cathartic release as she navigates the precarious space between adolescence and adulthood.
We caught up with the latest BBC introducing star ahead of the release of her new EP to talk lockdown, heartbreak, and her plans for the future!
LISTEN TO HOW TO MOLLY'S LATEST SINGLE 'HOW TO HAVE FUN'
Rachel Edwards: Hi Molly! Congratulations on the new EP. Where did the name ‘Porcupine’ come from?
Molly Payton: Well the official story is about defence mechanisms but around the time that I was writing the EP last summer I had just dyed my hair dark black and - because it had been bleached before - all of my hair broke off and I was left with spikes...
R.E: Everyone had a hair disaster over lockdown but you got in there way early!
M.P: I was in hair recovery over lockdown - when everyone else was giving themselves horrible haircuts I was like ‘I’m not touching it’!
R.E: So you said you met your producer Oli and you clicked straight away when you were writing the EP. How was that? What was the process like working together?
M.P: So at the time I was a bit nervous about doing writing sessions. I came in and I was really stressed and he was like ‘Hey why don’t we just jam for a while?’. So we just plugged the guitar in and used lots of distortion and we wrote ‘Warm Body’ in a day. We ended up using some of the vocals from that original writing session on the final version of the song because the mic we were using had been dropped a few times so it was that really crunchy, almost gorilla sounding kind of stuff. And almost exactly a year after we wrote ‘Warm Body’ we went back to the studio and wrote this song called ‘Going Heavy’ and we loved it so much that we’re squeezing it on and releasing it as the next single.
R.E: No way! I read that ‘Warm Body’ is about looking for comfort in people when you’re lonely. Would you agree?
M.P: That was a polite way of saying that I was sleeping around a lot and I was lonely. I’d just finished high school and gone through a break up and I think when I wrote the song I felt a bit frustrated because [in the past] I’ve felt like I can’t say certain things because I’m a teenage girl and these things are a bit too vulgar. But a lot of my favourite artists are really vulgar - when I think back to bands from the '60s and '70s like Mick Jagger who is one of my biggest icons - I’m like ‘I want to write a song like Mick Jagger’ so ‘Warm Body’ is a song about sleeping around with as many people as I could.
R.E: I love your raw honesty, it’s refreshing. How did you deal with feeling lonely during lockdown?
M.P: (Laughs) Well I can’t obviously sleep around anymore. That was definitely just a time in my life when I was feeling a bit mad and going out a lot. I now approach everything in a very different way - I’ve calmed down a lot in the last six or seven months. I’ve got really great friends so I spend time with them when I can.
R.E: Did you find that during the intense lockdown period you were still able to be creative?
M.P: God no! I had writers block for the first time in my life. Before lockdown I was writing two or three songs a week and then during lockdown I think I wrote two songs over three months. I was sitting on my second EP and I had six or seven songs from the States so I felt no pressure at the time to be creating a lot and I just let myself sit in my lack of creativity for a while. And now I’m back to it and it feels great...
R.E: Do you miss playing live right now?
M.P: I miss it a lot! I got to the point where I was comfortable with gigging and I was really enjoying it because for a while at the beginning it was the most terrifying thing in the world. But I’d finally started to enjoy it and then of course lockdown started. I just miss that feeling when you finish a set and put your guitar down and everyone’s going crazy...then you walk backstage and it’s quiet and you still have all of the adrenaline.
R.E: Do you have any rituals before you go on stage?
M.P: I usually have exactly two pints and a shot of tequila before I go on stage and I don’t eat dairy. I think I quite like the feeling that every gig’s different. If I had too many rituals it would start to feel like a job.
R.E: Do you have a favourite gig that stands out to you?
M.P: ‘The Roundhouse’ for sure. When I moved here I was 16 years old and I went to my first ever big gig at ‘the Roundhouse’ and then when I was recording my first EP in 2018 I was recording in the student studios underneath ‘the Roundhouse’, so when I got to support ‘Palace’ there last November... being on that stage just felt weird!
R.E: Wow! What does a typical day look like for you at the moment?
M.P: To be honest it feels like normal life. I’m either at the studio during the day or I see my friends. It’s nice for me to be able to go to the pub, go to the studio and do all the good things.
R.E: I get the sense that you remain so level-headed and down to earth and I think that realness is why people relate to your songs so well. You seem wise beyond your years.
M.P: (Laughs) I promise I’m a very nuts 19 year old girl deep down.
R.E: I personally love the video for ‘Warm Body’ because it’s got a really retro, dreamy feel to it. How was it to create that video?
M.P: Smelly. The amount of fish heads I had to cut off was grim! I was worried I was going to get in trouble for wasting meat. But it was fun. At that point I was still uncomfortable in front of the camera because I grew up in a very sporty family back in NZ so things like trit-trotting around in a bikini is a bit awkward for me. It’s a weird thing - I like doing live performance videos because I feel like I’m earning people’s attention but sometimes I’m uncomfortable if I’m trying to look pretty because I feel bad asking for people’s attention for those sort of things. I’ve gotten used to it now but at the time I was still kind of getting used to being on camera.
R.E: You’ve predicted my next question - when you were growing up did you always know you wanted to work in music and were your family encouraging?
M.P: Well, in NZ it's not really a viable career option, you know? I think the only person I knew of as a teenager was Lorde, so it never really seemed like something I could do. But I always loved it. My parents started me off on classical piano when I was 3 years old. And I did that until I was about 12 or 13, so 10 years of that and then I swapped over to learning how to compose. At that point, I was writing sheet music to play for children's books. I can still play one of them which was background music for this book about a duck dying...
R.E: Oh my God. That’s sinister for a children’s book isn't it?
M.P: (Laughs) Yes, it’s really dark. I didn't actually start singing or really pick up the guitar until I was 15.
R.E: And is that when you realised you could sing?
M.P: It was when I realised I wanted to, but I had to get about two years of singing lessons before I could actually sing well. I'm not naturally a good singer! I had a really good singing teacher. So I definitely didn't think of it as like a career option until I'd been doing gigs here at least for a year and a half. When I met my band and started recording the second EP was when I was like ‘Oh, this is actually good music and this is actually something that people might want to hear’.
R.E: And when you moved to London at 16 years old was that kind of an impulsive decision?
M.P: My mum's company asked if we would move over here because they needed someone to be based in the UK. When my parents asked me if I wanted to it was an instant yes because I wasn’t happy at school and in my head London was this place from the movies. I was like ‘God I could live there, that's crazy’.
R.E: So do you have like a specific process when you're songwriting? And are there certain things which you think inspire the lyrics?
M.P: Sometimes a song literally just pops into my head. Not to be cheesy but I go on long walks and don’t listen to any music and I sit down somewhere in the middle of Heath with my dog and let him run around while I write lyrics. I kind of view EPs like diary entries, you know? It's like a boy makes you sad and you write a diary entry and then you think maybe some other 16 year old girl out there could be going through the same thing with her boyfriend so I should put this in the song and she can be sad with me.
R.E: It must be it must be such a rewarding feeling when people resonate with the lyrics. I also love your track ‘How to Have Fun’ because it’s a bit more upbeat. Do you think that people find it harder now to have fun and live in the moment because of social media?
M.P: I guess so. I know it's a lot harder for me to dance when I'm out now because I'm like, fuck someone could be videoing me…cos I'm a horrible dancer. I've got too many limbs to be a good dancer. But also I think at this point everyone has been inside for so long that there is so much pent up energy and people are frantic to get out and go back to how things were that I think people are almost a little bit more willing to lose it a bit.
R.E: And what's your relationship like with social media?
M.P: The only social media platform that I really use is Instagram. I think it’s good that that’s the only thing I know how to use. I used to see it as like a real form of validation and check it every five minutes. Now the only thing I find hard is that I cannot I cannot leave messages unread. I hate having notifications. I've started texting my close friends and asking them to call me if they need me. I only text my manager and my mum so a lot of people have gotten upset with me recently for not responding
R.E: It’s old school! It's nice to talk to people on the phone. So how do you have fun when you're not working?
M.P: I'm a good Kiwi girl - I like to drink. There are no pubs in NZ - there are bars and people like to drink on the beach but there are no pubs, not the same as it is in England.
R.E: Do you ever go for a roast dinner?
M.P: Oh my god, yeah. I went for one a few days ago, it was the most glorious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I think I have fun a lot easier than I used to. Since lockdown seeing one friend in a park is enough to make me feel like I've had the best day ever, you know?
R.E: I definitely think we all appreciate the little things more now. So your voice has been compared to the likes of Julia Jackson - who did you grow up to listening to and who would you say influences your style?
M.P: Um, strangely, I listened to way more male voices than I did female. I grew up on Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley as well. Oh and Joni Mitchell. In terms of bands - Happiness were a big one for me as a young teenager. And Alex G - I love the way he combines kind of folky instruments. I only realised in the last few months how much I favour much deeper voices.
R.E: Yeah, you have such a rich voice as well, it almost sounds like you are older than your age. Do you hear that a lot?
M.P: I appreciate that, it's very nice thing to say. I've always wanted my voice to be deeper. I think I write in a specific way and my singing teacher trained me to use my soft voices from the back of my throat to make my voice sound a lot deeper and richer. It’s all technique!
R.E: (Laughs) you’re letting us into all of your secrets today! Do you have a favourite track on the EP?
M.P: I do. It's most recent one - ‘Going Heavy’ which is the next single. We shot the music video for it on Saturday - it’s easily one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. But then also I really like 'Rodeo', which is kind of the quiet track of the EP - I was very honest and fragile when writing it.
R.E: I can imagine your favourite track changes as well depending on the time you’re asked?
M.P: For sure. I mean, I hated my first EP for a while, but I always end up coming back to ‘No one Else’ and ‘Corduroy’. Those ones stand the test of time or better than more produced ones with a full band. People get over being happy but there's always gonna be someone out there who’s sad.
R.E: That's such an interesting observation. Sometimes I'm in a good mood, I just make myself feel sad by listening to sad songs. And I’m just like, I just want to feel sad now.
M.P: People love to be unhappy. Honestly, my most self destructive behaviour is to put on ‘Stranger in the Alps’. I’ll be having a perfectly fine day and I’m like ‘oh let’s make myself sad’.
R.E: It’s so funny how we do that. And if you could choose to collaborate with one artist in the future who would that be?
M.P: I’d probably say Alex G probably because he’s a God. I opened for him at The Lexington last year and I played a really bad set because I feel like that’s the only time I've ever been starstruck in my life.
R.E: But you are on his radar. So you never know, this collaboration could happen!
M.P: I don't think he remembers me. I was sitting in the green room at one point and he came back with a bottle of whiskey was like ‘do you want some?’ and I was like (whispers) ‘yes please’. But I think being being a fan is the best thing in the world. And I'm glad I haven't lost that. I was worried that like being becoming a musician myself and doing gigs I would lose the teenage excitement but I’ve kept that joy.
R.E: I feel like a lot of your songs epitomise different stages of love and heartbreak. What is some advice you give someone who's going through heartbreak?
M.P: Just give it time. There is no cure for heartbreak - I think the only thing you can do is just give things time and try not to drink or smoke too much and look out for yourself. And remember, the best best revenge is being happy - that's the only thing you can do.
R.E: It's so true. The more you focus on yourself the better, after something goes badly wrong.
M.P: The best advice I can give is that when you're with someone, make sure you don't make them your whole life. I'm really lucky. Music makes me so happy. So now when I'm with someone and something goes wrong it’s okay because I'm going to the studio. So it’s finding things that make you feel like you have a purpose when you're separate of someone, you know?
R.E: Yeah, I think that's really good advice. And do you have any big dreams or goals for the future?
M.P: Just to keep doing music. Everything’s a bit uncertain at the moment because I'm kind of in the process of thinking about moving out and trying to find somewhere to live. I've been lucky that I've been able to stay with my mum for so long. She's the most supportive parent ever. I love her very much. I guess my goal is just to earn enough from music to make it my only job, you know, so it can just be all I do. And then there’s the whole I'd love to be famous and go on tour. But bare minimum, you know?
R.E: You’re so humble. I can see big things happening very soon for you anyway. So last question…what is your favourite F word?
M.P: I’m going to go for the classic because it can mean so many things- we love a good fuck you, fuck me- it’s great…it’s half of my vocabulary.
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