Posted January 19, 2017 by Jeff in Tunes

Margaret Glaspy Never Stops Learning

©ATO Records Margaret Glaspy Photo by Ebru Yidiz
©ATO Records Margaret Glaspy Photo by Ebru Yidiz

Since releasing her debut, Emotions and Math, earlier this year, singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy has been in high demand. Acts such as Lucius, Blind Pilot and M. Ward recruited her to be their opening act on recent tours. In 2017, she’ll play a slew of dates with the Lumineers. Glaspy’s embraces a “grungy, raw aesthetic” on the album’s title track, a mid-tempo pop/rock tune that puts her woozy vocals up front. We recently spoke to her via phone from Northern California where she was visiting friends and family.

You’re originally from Red Bluff. What was it like to grow up there?
It’s about two hours north of Sacramento. It’s inland off of I-5. It was good to grow up here. It’s a nice place to grow up because it’s close to the mountains and the ocean. California is a beautiful state. It was cool. I was lucky to have a good music program in my elementary school. Everybody in my family plays guitar and likes to sing. I’ve always grown up with guitars all over the house. No one else has chosen to play music professionally but they’re all great musically.

What do you consider to be your influences?
My siblings and mom and dad were both big music fans. I had a lot of records growing up. I was a big Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell and James Taylor fan. Those are records I got from my parents. My siblings were fans of music that was popular at the time. They had good taste. They were listening to No Doubt and Weezer and Lauryn Hill. My brother was a big rock ’n’ roll fan. He had Deftones, NOFX and Rage Against the Machine and liked bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones too. Music was a priority for all of us. That trickled down to me.

Elliott Smith was a huge influence too. I got his records from my brother.

You self-released your first two albums. What was that process like?
It was cool. The first EP was called HOMESCHOOL. I made that in my apartment in Brooklyn on my laptop. I taught myself how to record music on my own. The second one I released with a small label in Manhattan. That was a studio EP so that was more official and not so lo-fi. It was a good process. That very first record was the first time I ever released anything but it was monumental for me in my own way. I liked making music at home and making demos and that’s what that first EP is. The second time was working in a studio so that was a big step on its own. This new one is my first full-length record with an actual band.

How’d you end up in New York?
I was living in Boston from 2007 to 2010. I was in Berklee very briefly and kept writing songs and was learning how to play the guitar. It was a natural progression to want to live in a bigger city where the standards were higher. I craved to be there for sure.

How did ATO find you?
I’d been living in New York for nearly six years and just playing locally like crazy. I was playing at Rockwood Music Hall. I posted two demos on a SoundCloud page. Between the shows that I was playing and the demos, they got in touch and within a month, I had signed a deal.

When did the songs for Emotions and Math start to come together?
There are a few songs I had held on to a very long time like “No Matter Who” and “Anthony.” Those are six or seven years old. The rest of them I wrote closer to the release. There were some songs that I decided wouldn’t go on the record until I had a proper release because I knew they were good and I wanted to wait. I started to demo things more and more and got really into that process. That was right around when ATO got in touch. My process had changed. To me, there’s a different sound for the older songs. Those are nostalgic for soul music or Motown. The ones that were closer to release were inspired by Elliott Smith since I was listening to so much of his music and soaking in that music. The album’s more compartmentalized but works as a whole even though it has different inspirations from different times.

What was the studio experience like?
It was great. We were at a historical venue in Hell’s Kitchen. Sonic Youth and Yoko Ono and a bunch of bands have recorded there. It’s more of a jazz studio now, but monumental rock bands and avant-garde stuff has been recorded there. I just liked the room a lot. We did it quickly. It was three days with the band and then a 12-hour day for vocals.

How has your vocal delivery evolved over the years?
When I was a little girl, I would yell when I sang. I didn’t have that much control over my voice. As I’ve gotten older, it’s about understanding subtlety and dynamics and knowing how to be silent. [It’s also about knowing] where things need to go and when things need to happen. I’m keen on staying in shape vocally. I’ve never had proper lessons. I’m thinking about getting vocals lessons more regularly. I think you can never stop learning. I have a ways to go. I want to learn how to get quieter.

Talk about the title track. Did something in particular inspire it?
I don’t like to talk about the song meanings. I like to leave that to the listener. But I think it’s a good title track for the record. Those words fully encompass everything. My brain works on that level. I learned that about myself while making the record. It’s not all analytical or all emotional. It’s a mixture of both.

Given that you’ll be touring a lot this year, do you anticipate having time to write new tunes?
I’m always trying to write new stuff. I’ve been trying to keep writing while touring but it’s hard. This year was a really heavy touring year. Next year will be a little lighter. During the time I’m blocking off to not be on the road, I’ll be working on the next album.

Do you have any idea what direction things will go in?
No, I do not.


©ATO Records Margaret Glaspy Photo by Ebru Yidiz


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.