Molly Payton chats her new mini-album, ‘Slack’, the process of achieving maturity, and reconfiguring a perception of home
Earlier this year, Molly Payton released her mini-album, ‘Slack’. Since the ripe age of 18, Molly has been praised for her mature and unique approach to songwriting. Known for her evocative lyricism and distinct vocal palette, Molly established a cult like fanbase across her debut EP, ‘Mess’ and her 2020 follow up, ‘Porcupine’. Now, her new record, ‘Slack’, compromise none of her edge, proving yet another exclusive and personal offer into the quickly changing and transformational period of her life over the past couple of years.
The record is is focussed on honest, deep and hopeful reflection, one focussing on the need to look backwards in order to move forwards. It was written alongside frequent collaborator Oli Barton-Wood and Grammy-award winning producer Jimmy Hogarth after the London based artist returned from a long stint in her homeland of Aotearoa / New Zealand. The tracklist opens with ‘Honey’, The track’s introspective tone hints at a coming of age, a moment in a relationship where the honeymoon period is over and realising each individuals personal contribution into the decay of the relationship. ‘When Skies Were Always Blue’ and ‘January Summers’ deliver even stronger cruisy alternative rock from Payton. They centre on the themes of vulnerability and self-reflection, wrapped up in a gorgeous 90s grunge aesthetic. Molly uses candid lyrics to emotionally charge her vocals, creating the tracks’ distinct intimacy.
On the recording process, she comments; “Slack is a collection of songs from 2019-2021, about growing up and self-reflection and the things you learn from losing someone. Because of the pandemic, I went back to New Zealand for 8 months at the beginning of this year and ended up having to record the mini-album working remotely with Oli Barton Wood producing from London. We did four or five days where I’d go in with my friend Reuben Scott (who did the drums, bass, and lead guitar) and we’d record from 10am-8pm and then Oli would wake up at 6 or 7am London time (6/7pm for us) and listen to what we’d done and then work on the songs while we slept. It actually ended up being a really productive way of working because we were doing almost 24 hour days between us. It was intimidating approaching recording songs that I wrote years apart from each other, but as most of them revolve around similar themes of loss and growth it ended up being the most connected and meaningful project I’ve worked on to date.”
To get to know the project better, we chat to Molly Payton about her coming of age moments, moving cities, her changing relationship with the concept of home and a whole heap more.
Parry: What’s been the most rewarding part of releasing ‘Slack’?
Molly: It’s always just getting people’s reactions to it. Getting messages of listener’s emotional reactions to albums is also really special, people saying they’ve listened to a song 20 times a day and they’ve reacted to it is so special. That’s always the best thing as an artist.
Parry: When writing a project over a couple of years, do you feel like you lose that connection and reward of the more celebrated and rewarding parts of releasing music?
Molly: When it takes that long between release and writing a song, it gives a new meaning to you. When I wrote ‘Slack’ it started as just a love song more than anything, two years later, looking back at it, it became a song about my anxiety and how I responded to relationships. I really thought I was acting normal as it was before a lot of realisation. Now looking back I realise how a relationship affected me. So in the end it’s really beautiful finding time with the songs and finding their new meanings.
Parry: You returned home from London to New Zealand after writing this project, and finished the tracklist off at home. What specific memories, tribulations or even friends triggered that new creativity when returning. Were there specific moments upon returning that were extremely eye opening and creatively triggering?
Molly: The ones I wrote in New Zealand, like ‘While You’re Driving’, were really triggered by being back in my childhood home. That was a big one for me. Being around all my friendships over there from when I was quite young brought up childhood feelings of joy and almost anxiety. That pre-teen angst. That rush of doing everything for the first time in a song like ‘January Summers’ also reflects those feelings. Being back in my family house definitely led me to writing some of those more joyful songs.
Parry: On the flip side of that, how important do you think that moving to London, dropping everything at the age of 16 and starting again was for your overall vision as a creative and artist? Did the shock to the system work with your maturity?
Molly: There’s no way I’d be doing music if I hadn’t moved. I was pretty young to be rushed into a new place. When I was younger I was really closed off and scared to do anything, and then moving to London and going to an intense school, and just so much change led me to go through maturity way earlier than I thought I would. I went from one world to another world, and being around creative people convinced me that I could really do music seriously and write real songs, and record them.
Parry: When you leave like that, as an individual. How does moving away at an age like that reimagine your idea of what home is? Does it romanticise New Zealand, do you forget how beautiful it is?
Molly: It definitely romanticised New Zealand. I have these crazy emotional reactions when I go back. My family shares a shack in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, and whenever I go back there I get deeply emotional because I miss it so much. Home has become a real safe haven for me. It represents peace and being with my family.
Parry: The record was recorded between two time zones, which means the record was pretty much being worked across a 24 hour period. It says a lot about the trust you have for Oli who was writing in London while you slept. What do you trust so much about his songwriting ability? How did you develop that trust?
Molly: Before we went into the week of the 24 hour days, we planned out what we wanted for the songs. Before he started for the morning/my evening we’d jump on a call and we would go through each other’s work. We would literally write plans on pieces of paper. It was the most nerdy way to record an album. He really understands me now after doing my second EP. It’s quite easy to do when you’re clear with your references, I had a heap of playlists showing what I wanted.
Parry: Thematically there are a lot of heavy topics on the record. I think about ‘When Skies Were Always Blue’. Where in the healing process does music come in. Is writing music where you do a lot of healing, or does the writing part come after the healing is complete and you have dealt with / tackled things?
Molly: Definitely for me it used to be the healing process. More comforting things than healing. Songwriting used to be like picking at a scab. Nowadays after actually going to therapy and dealing with my problems in a healthy way, it’s become a way of expressing myself in a healthy form. It’s always nice to capture moments in songwriting, rather than trying to work through something in a song. There will always be songs like that of course.
Parry: The music videos are absolutely gorgeous. How important were they in getting across the sentiment of the tracks?
Molly: If you had asked me a year ago I would’ve said I hated music videos and hated being on camera. I used to have full on breakdowns every time I started making them. It was a real harrowing experience. Working with someone like Taylor Mansfield, who made the ‘Slack’ mini-movie has made the whole experience make sense to me. We really sat down and ironed out the ideas for the album, and ideas in video form. We wanted to find a way to embellish the album in video form and help people connect with it on another level. Changing my perspective from thinking that music videos are about making people connect to the music, rather than to just look at me made me really enjoy it.
Parry: I feel like ‘Porcupine’ was very much about this freedom of being a young person. It was all about discovery. A lot of this project feels like more critical reflection over ambition per se. It sounds and feels like a coming of age movie. Do you see the period of life that triggered the inspiration for this project as a big coming of age moment in your life?
Molly: I feel like that project, ‘Porcupine’ was me going a bit nuts. That’s the energy in that record, no responsibility. Me just being a crazy teenager in London. ‘Slack’ is after that came out of that period that very abruptly ended. I suffered a significant loss, and it forced me to deal with my life changing very quickly and dealing with that in a very short amount of time. After that all settled I entered a new phase in my life, where I attempted to keep things steady rather than going nuts. Prioritising the fact that the people around me were ok and settled. Then I went back to New Zealand and had a lot to think about. This album came out of that, having 6 months of piece and looking back at the last three years of parties, loss and my first relationships, reflecting on it all and my place in it all.
Words by PARRY TRITSINIOTIS