Interview: Pickle Darling on their album 'Cosmonaut'.

Interview: Pickle Darling on their album 'Cosmonaut'.

"Sonically, I wanted the song to be a strange, lopsided introduction to the album," Pickle Darling says of 'Achieve Lift', the opener to their sophomore album, 'Cosmonaut', which was released last year.

The album follows up 2019's 'Bigness', and sees the Christchurch multi-instrumentalist's sound ascend to a new dimension both literally and metaphorically, with the nods to space seen in the visuals for the project, and songs like 'A Deep Breath' with the lyric, "Planet declares defeat / The missile ascends."

We spoke with Pickle Darling - real name Lukas Mayo - about their new album, songwriting, the difficulties of long-distance communication, and more...

CDM: Congratulations on your album ‘Cosmonaut’! How are you feeling about the album’s release and the reaction to it?
PICKLE DARLING: I feel good about it. I can listen to it now and enjoy it. I don't just hear mistakes in it now, and I think people seem to like it.

CDM: Do you find it difficult to go back and listen to your music sometimes? I know artists who will just outrightly refuse to listen to anything they've ever done. It's can be hard to come to terms with because you want to be able to enjoy what you make?
PICKLE DARLING: Yeah, part of it is that I get more excited about the new stuff that I'm writing. When you make an album, you finish it, and then it's six months before it comes out. By that stage, you're already in a different headspace and working on new stuff and then you've got to talk about old stuff, but it's nice. Once it's out, it's a good reminder of the songs. I can hear them as just a listener now.

CDM: When did you first start working on the album? What was the block of time that it was written in?
PICKLE DARLING: Because it takes so long for an album to come out, I started it before my first album came out. I think I started it halfway through 2018. I slowly chipped away at it. So it was probably from 2018 until maybe around three-quarters of the way through last year. I really can't remember. I measure my life in albums now, it's how I mark time.

CDM: About the album’s opening song ‘Achieve Lift’, you’ve said: “The core of it is basically about the final night you spend with someone before they have to leave town for a long period of time. Sonically I wanted the song to be a strange, lopsided introduction to the album, where it kind of tumbles in slowly and messily.” Why do you think that struggling with distance can be so tricky for humans, even in the age of technology where you can keep in touch online?
PICKLE DARLING: The core of the album was written over the first year of a long-distance relationship. I guess because of the nature of the situation we were in, without going too much into it, there wasn't a huge amount of communication that was available. It was really sporadic and spaced out, mostly letters and spaced out video calls with really shitty internet. When you can only see someone through 480p, and shitty internet, it's really strange. They're just another thing on the internet.

CDM: I guess it's something that people have probably become a lot more understanding about as well in the past year, where everyone has been forced to move their lives online, and realise that communicating through a screen whilst people have figured out how to work and stuff, it's still not the same as having an in-person conversation, or being with another person.
PICKLE DARLING: Especially in an intimate relationship, because so much of communication is all the really subtle things where you understand their quips and their sarcasm and stuff like that, and having to learn that over text messages and not hearing the tone, there's an extra layer of confusion and distance. It's not just the physical distance at all, it's also talking past each other and not seeing the facial expression when they're saying something, or not knowing how busy their day is so not understanding, "Oh, how come they haven't replied in a while?" Lots of tiny things that tick away at you.

CDM: In your music making, do you think that you spend more time working on your lyrics or the musical components of it?
PICKLE DARLING: The music comes more naturally to me. I'll work on music and lyrics independently of each other. I'll be writing music and recording stuff as I'm writing, then I'll be taking notes on my phone and coming up with phrases or seeing interesting words and writing notes. Eventually when I'm like, 'Ugh, I guess I have to put words on the song now,' I scroll through my phone and try to piece stuff together in a way that makes sense. It takes ages. I can't sit down and write a song. I can't write songs about something, I think they're more just pieced together thoughts that end up being about something. Some songs I can finish in a week and some songs take me six months, because I'm chipping away at them and slowly tweaking them until I don't hate them.

CDM: Is there a song on the album that you feel most connected to at the moment or any particular lyric?
PICKLE DARLING: At the moment, I really like the last track. I think 'Everything Is Flammable', I'm not sure why I like it. It used to be the song on the album that I was embarrassed of.
CDM: Why was that?
PICKLE DARLING: I don't know, I think I thought it was too cheesy. Actually, I think maybe my favourite one is 'Rosary' because it's short and to the point. You can actually figure out what it's about, sort of. I think that's one that I'm quite proud of.

CDM: In that song 'Rosary' you say “I’m willing to put the work in.” Is love is something that you need to be constantly working on?
PICKLE DARLING: Definitely. I think you hear so many songs that are about being out of control of your feelings, and the initial feeling or the spark, but that's 1% of a relationship. It's working stuff out and working out problems and talking and I haven't heard many songs that are about what happens after you're together. It's not a fun subject. Even a lot of movies - the movie ends when the two people finally fall in love. They could have broken up the next week.

CDM: ‘Blushing’ is one of my favourite songs on the album. I really like the lyrics: “I can love til my heart aches but Why can't i share in what's sacred / You found god in my self hatred” in ‘Blushing’. What was running through your mind writing those lyrics?
PICKLE DARLING: That song in particular is hard to talk about because a lot of it is very personal. It's one of my favourite songs. There are so many lines that are really literal, but are just for me. That was the first song I wrote for the album. I think there's a lot of specific stuff in that song that is purely me working stuff out in my brain that is impossible to articulate.

CDM: Do you find that songwriting helps you process what's going on internally sometimes for you and figure out what how you feel about something?
PICKLE DARLING: Yeah. I can't write a song about anything, I have to put all my thoughts and the way I'm thinking into the lyrics. I think you're hardly ever feeling one emotion, you're feeling all these different emotions at the same time, you've got intrusive thoughts, and then you're thinking about the fact that you're feeling those emotions, and all this is happening at the same time. I think putting that whole thought process into the song is how I do things, as opposed to writing a song about something. It would be hard for me to say what any of the songs are about, but I can say the headspace I was in when I was writing the songs.

CDM: At what point in the album creation process did you notice that the space imagery starting to re-appear? In songs like 'Deep Breath', when you have the lyric about "Planet declares defeat / The missile ascends". Was that something that popped into your brain out of nowhere or how did that come about?
PICKLE DARLING: I wanted to do that pretty early on. I always wanted space imagery for an album cover. I think because the album is loosely about a long-distance relationship, a lot of the themes in science fiction are about distance, communication, loneliness, and literal spaces between people. So that made sense as a theme that I kept in the background when I was writing the album. It's the anchoring point of the album, whenever I'm writing songs, I try to pull everything towards that, either in the production or where I sequence the songs. I had the title pretty early on in the album.

CDM: I love that you got to have a literal spaceship for your music video!
PICKLE DARLING: Yeah, it was crazy!
CDM: What happened to the spaceship? Did it get deconstructed?
PICKLE DARLING: My friends, Karin [Yamasaki] and Keria [Paterson] directed the video together, and I think Keria has given the spaceship to their nephew, to have in their backyard or something. I think it exists somewhere, at least part of it. I wanted to have it on stage but it's too big.
CDM: That would be tricky to travel around with. I'm imagining it strapped to the top of a van.
PICKLE DARLING: I wanted to have it just in the Auckland show and just have the band in there.

CDM:  What do you think has been the biggest lessons that you've learned about music-making in the years since you first started?
PICKLE DARLING: Right from the start, the whole project of Pickle Darling was about me making really broken-sounding music because I never felt like I was good at music, and never felt like I was good at guitar, or recording, or singing, or writing. So instead of trying to be good at all the things, I make music that sounds like me being bad at all those things, and not hiding any of that. Just making really clear and transparent and honest feeling music. I think a lot of people, maybe when you're first starting to write good songs, you start thinking of music that you think sounds good. And you're like, 'Okay, the key to doing it is to not allow too much of myself in and try and make it sound good.' You eventually find out that that letting your flaws into the music is what makes it interesting and unique. I think not being self-conscious about your own taste or making stuff that other people might think sounds bad, but doing it because even if it is bad, at least it's you.
CDM: I always feel like listening to music where you can hear that it's an imperfect song, it feels inherently more human because it's not just slick and polished.
PICKLE DARLING: I think making music is not about trying to make yourself look impressive and make other people look at you, you want to make music that is observant of other people. If I hear a musician that's being themselves and putting all their flaws on display and making humble music that's not showy and it's not them trying to look cool, you feel listened to as a listener. There's genuine empathy in the music.
CDM: Is that what you want your listeners to get from listening to your music?
PICKLE DARLING: I think so. I don't want people to hear it and be like, "Woah, this person is so cool," because I don't think that. I would rather someone feels like they can make music now because they hear me being bad at it. And then they're like, 'Oh, I guess I'll do it!'

CDM: The shout out to Mousey on ‘Everything Is Flammable’ is so sweet (“I’ve been isolating myself, then i saw Mousey play, she’s gonna be Famous one day”). I saw she's in your band as well?
PICKLE DARLING: Yeah! She joined the live band way after I wrote that song as well. So I was like, "How do I play that song now?" We've been friends because she went to jazz school as well and we had weird similar experiences at jazz school. She's probably one of my closest friends.

CDM: The album art is really beautiful too - I saw it was a painting by one of your friends. I love that you work on all the creative aspects of your music with your friends, like your videos too. Do you enjoy being able to collaborate on stuff like that?
PICKLE DARLING: My friend Heather did the painting on the cover. She has also done all of my album covers, the EP cover, and the painting on the 'Bigness' cover. I like having my friends do it. That was also something that I decided from the start, I want it to be something that I do with my friends and only work with people that are my friends, pretty much. It's less about making connections in the industry, and just keeping it in the friend group.

Pickle Darling's album 'Cosmonaut' is out now - watch the 'Achieve Lift' music video below: