Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Where do the songs come from? Polly Paulusma in interview.

So which comes first, the music or the words? Does she have one particular way of writing, emphasising one over the other? “It tends to be that the music and the words come out together, as if they were siamese twins wrapped around each other. Sometimes it comes out in 20 minutes, sometimes in weeks. I don't keep a notebook, I'm rubbish like that. Every now and then I stop somewhere, and I'll have to grab a napkin to write something down. I've got lyrics written on doughnut bags with greased sugar, so it tends to be just reaching for the closest thing. Lots of utility bills have my lyrics on them [laughs]”.

She is erudite and well read, but most of her inspiration comes from her close friends and family, she insists: “It's mainly from the lives of my family, friends, and my own, of course. It's usually from the experiences of people that I love and that I'm close to. My poor friends![laughs] There's one friend in particular, who's 'Oh no, not again', as all her dirty laundry makes its way into one of the songs!”. While there are literary references peppering her songs, she's wary of taking too much inspiration from art in general: “You have to be careful about what inspiration you draw from other art, because art is like a lens through which you view life, and if you get inspired by the lens, you're kind of double lensing life and the further away you get, the more distorted things get. You're better off going to the source, really”.

It's been informative touring around Europe, for someone who has always valued the meaning behind lyrics to see the reaction of audiences who may not hang on every word. “I've always been one of those people that listens to the words. Growing up, as a teenager, with my friends, I'd be saying 'Wow – what a great line', and my friends would just look at me[laughingly]. Loads of people don't listen to the lines, I know, and I know maybe I'm a bit of a weirdo”[more laughs].Certainly, judging by the reaction of the Bologna audience, her blues/folk tinged voice and music carry across language barriers, but Paulusma has niggling doubts. “I've been quite educated over the last couple of weeks touring, seeing what people do get out of it, without necessarily understanding 100% – but, she proposes – If I ever have some money, I'd like to give people who come to the gigs a card that has a translation of all the lyrics on it, so they have the choice to opt in. I think it's bad to give English-speaking people a privilege like that that other people don't get”.

It's interesting to consider how money could affect the music she creates. For example, with the right budget would she consider disappearing into the studio for a prolonged period, rather than the almost live approach she took for Scissors in my pocket? ”I think I might, it's just a different way of skinning the same cat really. I love playing live, so that will always be a part of it, but with this record the live playing was as much out of necessity as anything else. I think it's important though to have real instruments. I'm a bit of a Hitler about having it all in one take. I like it being one performance, rather than a patchwork spliced together from a number of different takes, which is the normal way of doing it. Little things like that, I suspect I'll always keep with me. The next album, we're going to try something different, it's going to be a lot darker”. And would she be averse to having a big name producer, at some stage? “I'd like to work with a producer for three tracks. I had a look at The hour of the bewilderbeast by Badly Drawn Boy, which is a work of genius, and he did that. He worked with Ken Nelson on a number of tracks – and there's about 20 tracks there, but there are these cornerstone tracks, done with a producer, and then it was filled in with great, home-grown, skanky, passionate recordings”.

One reason to work with a big name producer is to learn the tricks of the trade – something in itself that she's eager to do. “The big problem that people like Damien [Rice] and I have had is that radio is a closed door. Because there are certain frequencies that you have to have. While the songs may sound nice, be beautiful in their own right, if they don't have that certain treble, the radio remains closed. It's just a matter of science. It's physics really, it's just wave forms that cut above the noise of a car engine. That's just modern life – she says resignedly – I've heard various remixes of Canonball [Editor's note: Damien Rice single] for example, going through various guises of poptastic radio glory!”

As showtime approaches, and the talkative Paulusma exhausts my list of questions, I try pushing slyly to get some lyrical insights, referring to a review that suggests her track Something To Remember Me By is more than a little influenced by Shelley's Ozymandias. She smiles, as she has read the review in question. “He's right that there's a reference to Ozymandias“. She’s not in full agreement with the review, though she’s highly complimentary about the reviewer and his approach. “I think It was a really interesting review though, he'd really thought things through”. She had wanted to respond to the review, but, and here’s the interesting point, she didn’t feel she had the right to contradict an interpretation of one of her songs. So, even when she feels someone has misinterpreted her song, her golden rule applies? “Yeh, even then. It's out there, on its own. If I have to put the little piece of paper, giving the explanation, then I've failed as a songwriter”. The songs stand for themselves.

Polly Paulusma live on KCRW’s morning becomes eclectic show

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