We recently spoke to Maz O’Connor about her new album, The Longing Kind – and, as she had lots of interesting things to say, we decided to make our editing job easier by splitting her interview into two parts. Click here (or scroll down) to read part one of our interview with Maz, in which she discussed songwriting, Sondheim and her search for identity. Part two of – which covers ‘first world problems’, what it’s like being young under the current government, and how she likes her whisky – is below…
Folk Witness: The album touches on youth and your experience in “trying to figure out the difference between mistakes and regrets: to enjoy being young without being stupid”. What’s it like as a songwriter to address that – do you have to distance yourself from those experiences in order to write about them? Is the album’s final act a result of having had to ‘grow up’?
Maz O’Connor: Yes I think that’s exactly right. I know it’s a first world problem, but coming out of education and into the big bad world is tough for everyone. Add to that a couple of failed romances and traumatic housemate experiences, moving house three times in one year as I did, and re-negotiating familial relationships as a so-called adult, plus having real responsibility for the first time, and you’ve got a lot to figure out. And then there’s trying to make a living, of course, and in the worst economic climate for young people there’s been since I was born… and an unfathomable student debt. It’s tempting to regress to childish behaviour, stay out too late and drink too much. I knew my friends were going through the same thing so I wanted to give voice to that.
It wasn’t hard to address it because it’s all that was happening; it would have been hard not to address it. But it is hard to share it sometimes, particularly given the accusations of ‘navel-gazing’ that are levied by some people when you write anything vaguely personal. The way I see it, we are living with a government that is systematically destroying opportunities for young people, so it’s really important that we tell our stories as they truly are.
You worked with Jim Moray on This Willowed Light. Was it always the plan to get him to produce this album too? What’s he like to work with?
I think it’s really important for me to work with someone I know really well, because, especially this time around, the songs I write are very close to my heart, and I wouldn’t trust just anyone to bring them to life. I really liked what he did on the last album so he was the obvious choice when it came to this one. Jim and I know each other well enough now to be able to be honest with each other, trust each other’s wacky ideas and take risks. We recorded the basic tracks really quickly, maybe in two or three days. He brings lots of things that would take too long to list, but he also plays, like, everything, so that helps.
Musically, there some new things – I’m thinking of the pedal steel on Crook of his Arm, and the electric guitar ‘rocking out’ bits on Greenwood Side. Were you looking to change your sound and add these elements, or did you add this as you went along?
I knew I wanted to try out new things as I’ve grown in confidence as a musician since the last album, but there weren’t any more concrete plans than that as we started out. We took each song at a time and thought about what would suit it, and we were lucky enough to be able to achieve the sound we were after. The core group of musicians is the same as last time (me and Jim, Beth Porter on cello, Matt Downer on bass and Nick Malcolm on trumpet) but we’ve added some extra. It really felt like building on what we created with This Willowed Light, which is creatively very exciting.
Did your work on the Sweet Liberties project have any influence on the album?
I had written this album before getting the Sweet Liberties commission. I could have included some of those songs time-wise, as I wrote a couple of them quite early in 2015, but I felt that they wouldn’t fit on this album, which was always supposed to be more personal and intimate. They might expand into an album of their own one day!
FW tradition dictates that we’d ask what your favourite sandwich is, but seeing as you’ve clocked up two albums on the trot that reference whisky [Awake Awake on This Willowed Light, When The Whisky Runs Dry here], let’s find out about that instead. So… what’s your favourite whisky, and what’s the best way to serve it?
JD and Coke doesn’t count does it?!