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Aldous Harding: Spellbinding Folk from New Zealand

Aldous Harding by Harriet Were
18 January 2017

Photo by Harriet Were
This wispy willow of a singer-songwriting hails from the port town of Lyttelton, New Zealand and has recently caught the attention of indie heavyweight Flying Nun Records. When asked about that connection she confesses, “I have a few friends that work for the label/are on the label. I’m lucky to be part of it.” Impressed enough by her work, Flying Nun reissued her self-titled debut LP, (originally released in 2014 on homegrown Lyttelton Records). Her darker take on folk is as compelling as it is vulnerable. Her beautiful compositions are self-described gothic fairy tales. Looking back, she offers little reflection on her debut LP, “I find it a little exhausting trying to look back on that record, not because it’s painful or I’m ashamed just because I have an acute focus and its pointing in the opposite direction.”
Her progressive approach does offer her some retrospect though, at least in a lessons-learned context. On the incorporation of unconventional instrumentation to accent simple folk structures (use of a bowed saw on “Two Bitten Hearts” for example), she offers, “I feel like I overdid it on a few of those songs. I was so nervous that it would be unlistenable without outside help. Wish I’d just left them alone, they didn’t call for a lot of that stuff.” When asked about track sequencing for the album, she is just as forthright, “I don’t find that it flows. To me there are so many hard tracks that seem to just stab any kind of flow to death. It will always be harder for me to hear what you hear.”
Often being compared favorably to 1960s folk singers Linda Perhacs and Vasti Bunyan, Aldous separates herself with a record full of desolate, sparing melodies, some religious themes and little room for positive endings. She confesses poignantly, “I was just terrified of Satan at that time in my life.” When asked about her influences she responds, “I don’t really want to write a thank you speech for my inspirations because they know what and who they are. It grows everyday. Film, literature and music are in a separate place these days. My family are musical, my friends are musical, I am musical.”
Aldous Harding live by James Broscheid
Photo by James Broscheid
Harding does wear her influences on her sleeve when performing live however. Known to cover Nick Drake, Édith Piaf, Joan Biaz, and Robbie Basho, her rendition of Roy Orbison’sCrying” captured the attention of an otherwise chatty audience in Denver, (you could hear a pin drop by the end!). Opening for Deerhunter on her first set of dates in America this past fall, her impressions of U.S. audiences remains positive, “First time and the crowds have been so kind to me. I haven’t played a single show I haven’t enjoyed. They’re quiet, they cheer, they joke with me; it’s beautiful.”
Known by her birth name Hannah up to her days in Christchurch country outfit The Eastern, she took up the name Aldous shortly before recording her first solo outing, “I love the name, it’s nice to stay behind Mum’s dress in a way,” she says. Catching the ear of fellow New Zealand musician Anika Moa while busking on the streets of Geraldine to raise money for a ticket to Moa’s show, Aldous ended up opening the show instead. She was already in the process of recording her debut album after being discovered by musician Delaney Davidson and Ben Edwards (of Lyttelton Records) from her role within The Eastern so the move to the stage as a solo artist was an organic transition.
Out on her own meant being more exposed to “the business” along with its reputation of how some women are treated. Aldous is not oblivious to this infamy. “I have not experienced this kind of treatment but I’m aware of it and appalled when I hear about it.” Although relatively new, her awareness transcends her few years of experience. “I will say one thing though.” Harding concludes, “I’m tired of watching any musician put aside their boundaries for people who are under the illusion that we are public property. I’m not your girlfriend. My boyfriend isn’t your gymnasium.”

Aldous Harding is back stateside in the new year for SXSW and a string of other dates:

March 10-17: SXSW – Austin, TX
March 19: Casbah – San Diego, CA*
March 20: Constellation Room – Santa Ana, CA*
March 21: The Regent – Los Angeles, CA*
March 22: The Chapel – San Francisco, CA*
March 24: Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA*
March 27: Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT*
March 28: Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO*
March 30: Rough Trade – New York, NY