Interview: Molly Payton on her mini-album 'Slack'.

Interview: Molly Payton on her mini-album 'Slack'.

"Enjoy the highs and take the lows / You got to learn to let things change," Molly Payton sings earnestly in 'When Skies Were Always Blue', a self-reflective moment in a song she describes as a learning experience: "It was me trying to give myself a bit of hope and reminding myself that things would get better with time.”

Having shared two EPs in 2020, Payton's effort for 2021 comes with 'Slack', a mini-album of 8 songs which showcase her growth as a songwriter - with moments of self-reflection, acceptance, and romanticism strung together. Currently on a UK tour supporting Oscar Lang, and garnering fans in Arlo Parks (There was just this sense of rawness and earnestness that really reminded me of things that I’ve lived myself," says Parks), Payton and 'Slack' is getting the audience that it deserves. Let's hope it brings her back to New Zealand for more shows soon.

We spoke with Molly Payton ahead of the release of 'Slack' to chat about the album writing process, missing New Zealand, accepting change, and more...

COUP DE MAIN: What’s it been like getting ready to play the new songs at your upcoming live shows?
MOLLY PAYTON: It was so fun. We almost played the whole album. I wrote those songs to play live, so I'm just taking every opportunity I can to play them now. I'm so excited to keep gigging and get better and just share these songs with everyone.

CDM: 'January Summers' is such a perfect, carefree-sounding song. I love it. Are there some people singing backing vocals on that song?
MOLLY: Yeah. <laughs> We recorded it just before I went back to New Zealand and there was some big rush to get that song done - I think I thought that was the first one I was going to release. So we booked in one day and we were wanted to record it from scratch, like, redo everything. We were in from 10am to 11:30pm. We got to 9pm and I just finished doing the final vocals and then I looked at the band - for some reason there were three bottles of red wine in the studio and they'd just started drinking it out of these little espresso mugs. They were all a little tipsy and I was like, "Guys, would you do some BVs?" And they looked at me like, "What?!" I was like, 'Just come with me,' and I made them all stand in a room and we all just went, 'La la la la la,' and then Olly was in the control room yelling, "Go more football! You're at a football game, just picture it!" It was lad-esque, I love that. I love how it ended up because that song is an ode to being young in New Zealand.

CDM: Can you tell me about any specific memories you have of New Zealand summers in January? For people who have never been to New Zealand, how would you describe it?  
MOLLY: That's a really good question, because everyone here [in the UK] thinks 'January Summers' is an edgy title. For me, up until this last trip I'd only get one month in New Zealand; January was the one month I'd get to come back. I'd always go to my family's shared lake house in the South Island. It's at this beautiful lake called Lake Rotoiti, outside of Nelson. It's this house that was built in 1970, it's got flowery carpets and wallpaper, it's like a time capsule. It's so simple, you can do nothing and be entertained for ages because there's no reception out there. No one goes on their phone, you play board games and you go down to the lake. We have an old boat, and we go waterskiing, and make little picnics and go on walks, and have picnics at the beach. But there's the other side of New Zealand summer which I think is a bit more common, which I've only had in the last couple of years, where you hop in a car with your mates, go driving to Piha or somewhere, and get horribly sunburnt and go swimming.

CDM: What are the three main things you miss about New Zealand when you are not here?
MOLLY: I miss my mum a lot. My mum, my family, and my two best mates live in New Zealand. It's hard being away from them. And the nature! Even in Auckland, you can walk ten minutes and be at a beach. The beauty of the South Island too, I just miss nature so much.

CDM: "One second I need you / and then I'm running away again," you sing in the chorus of 'Honey'. That idea of being pushed and pulled in different directions when falling in love is a really relatable concept. Why do you think that diving into needing someone can be a scary concept, that makes people want to run away from?
MOLLY: I think it depends on the person. For me, having been let down a lot by someone in my life growing up, and going through that cycle as a young person of disappointment and belief, and then disappointment again, entering into relationships was quite hard for me, and they tended to go wrong for the first few of them. It's hard to build trust when your first example of someone that you should have been able to trust let you down. But I'm better now - you hit a certain age where you start to realise what you're doing and that you're running away when you don't need to, and that the person that you're seeing isn't this other person. Once I started to do that, I guess I learned to figure out when I was setting boundaries - sometimes you are running away for a good reason. So I'm learning when I'm reacting based on trauma, versus when I'm reacting based on an actual situation.

CDM: I really like the lyrics in 'When Skies Were Always Blue' when you say: "Enjoy the highs and take the lows / You got to learn to let things change." Do you think that people naturally never want things to change?  Why is accepting change so hard to do?
MOLLY: I find it hard to make a general call on something like this because I only know myself, but I think growing up in this age where you're leaving home and leaving your first relationships... between 17 and 20, that's such a formative few years and it's hard not to get stuck in one thing. I think especially for me when I moved to London, I was instantly in my dream place. I met my best mate and I was like, 'This is awesome. This is it now, I'm 16 and this is how it's going to be for the next four years,' and obviously that's not how life works. Things are going to be good and things are going to be bad and you just have to learn how to kind of flow with that. I've had the biggest ups and downs - stuff that I couldn't even imagine happening to me - both in a good way and in a bad way. The only way you can cope is just to realise that things will never be the same as they are right now. So enjoy how things are now, but also be okay with things being a little different in a week or a month's time.

CDM: Your vocals and the piano in 'How Things Change' are haunting. What was it like recording that song? It's so sparse.
MOLLY: That song was written and recorded in four hours. I had a writing session with Josh Crocker and it was the week before I left England. We went into the writing session and I'm pretty sure I was late. So I got there at 2pm, and we had to leave at 6pm, and we just wrote this thing. He was playing piano and I was sitting on the couch coming up with stuff, we recorded it, and that ended up being the finished song because I just wasn't able to re-record it, and I was fine with it. I think with more stripped-back songs, I'm okay with them not being perfect. I actually get uncomfortable about my vocals on that song. They're not what I'd call polished or perfect, but because it's such an emotional song, I feel like the fragility of them works. I was coming up with things on the spot, so I was being so honest in those lyrics, I wasn't thinking about it at all. I was saying whatever was coming to mind. I was going through a messy breakup, ending something with someone at that time, so it was really honest and straightforward.

CDM: Do you find that when you're writing songs, that will often happen - lyrics will just start coming out of your mouth? Or do you find that sometimes you have to sit and be with your emotions and then write?
MOLLY: I think more when I was younger, the first EPs, they all popped out of me. I'd have an idea and I'd sit down with my guitar or on the piano and it would be like, 'Bam; song!' I think the more I learned how to deal with my anxiety and my depression, I was having less intense reactions to things, so songwriting wasn't my main coping mechanism anymore. Now when I'm writing a song, I actually think about what I want to write about and I sit down, it's a much longer process, but it's also way more thought out, and I much prefer it that way because it's like I'm making something and it feels like there's actual skill involved. So  that's why I'm so much more nervous about 'Slack' coming out because I put so much more time into writing these songs and so much more love into them. They feel like things that I've actually built.

CDM: Is there a lyric on 'Slack' that you feel most proud of at the moment?
MOLLY: I don't know if it's lyrically the best song out of the ones I haven't released, but 'While You're Driving' is my favourite. It's a little dumb in the chorus, but there's so much joy and energy in that song and I love it. The end bit - which is such a bitch to sing live - I don't know why I do it, but where it's just a massive flow of words - "Sing to me in the car / Keep one hand on my leg / Tell me it’s not that far / Drink coffee with the dregs / You always say what I  / Need to hear  / Drum on steering wheels  / Eyes shut / My hand in your hair / While you’re driving" - I have to sing it all in one breath. It's just this massive outpouring of love and just describing this really simple scenario of driving with the person that you love.

CDM: What was it about 'You Cut Me So Much Slack' that made you want to name the full mini-album after it?
MOLLY: The album was originally called 'Like A Child' for the first few months. I was thinking about the meanings of the songs and what the general themes on the album are, and 'Like A Child' didn't quite feel right because it's about growth and loss and bigger things than what that album name suggests. Whereas 'Slack', when you say slack it sounds like it means lazy or dumb, but when I named the album that it was more like... I just love that phrase: 'You cut me so much slack.' It's not that deep, I just love the idea of giving yourself a second - because that's the whole album, it's about self-reflection, and learning to let yourself grow, and learning how to deal with loss, and cutting yourself some slack is the biggest part of all that.

CDM: In 'January Summers' you say, "I want to feel things like I used to." Do you think that the way people experience and feel emotions changes as they go through life?
MOLLY: 100%, I think it gets so much more complicated. I had this conversation with Benjamin Francis Leftwich who I wrote that song with, about how it's very rare to feel simple joy, with nothing else mixed in. It's really pure - and that's what that song does, it lists the first time you hear your favourite song, the first time you smoke weed, the first time you go to a party and tell someone that you like them - all these feelings. I feel like as you grow up, things just get sullied a little bit by all the things you've experienced. I can tell someone I love them, but it's affected by a bunch of other relationships I've had now, and my relationship with my parents, and all of this stuff that you've figured out. Whereas when you're 13, you tell someone you like them, literally because you think their eyes are nice and blue. <laughs> Do you ever think about how you just wish you could see your favourite movie again for the first time? It's that, but with emotions. I'd love to just feel, have a crush for the first time again, or, I even miss the anxiety of being 13 a little bit. I have anxiety now, but a different kind of adult anxiety. I miss the anxiety of going to your first social, the first school dance, being literally fucking terrified to talk to a boy.

CDM: What is your #1 favourite thing about writing and sharing your music with your fans?
MOLLY: I like being with other people who love music as much as I do and hearing them talk about it. I don't even need to be involved. I just love hearing people who love music talk about music. When my boyfriend finds a new band that he likes, he will talk about it for three days straight. I find so many bands that I would never listen to just through my friends and people that I've met a couple of times who will just be like, 'Oh look, I found this band and I love them, and this is why, and this is a song, and listen to this bit of the song.' That's just the best thing about music, it connects everyone.

Molly Payton's mini album 'Slack' is out now - watch the 'How Things Change' music video below:

[Made with the support of NZ On Air]