Arts & Crafts: She Makes War Interviewed

Musician, filmmaker, blogger and distance runner: She Makes War packs a lot of pursuits into her time. She spoke to Val Phoenix about her new album Little Battles

In preparation for the release of her second album, Little Battles, Laura Kidd – aka She Makes War – ran the Berlin Half Marathon, explaining on her blog that the training and discipline would prepare her for the struggles ahead. Perhaps that’s taking the perspiration/inspiration binary to extremes, but it certainly speaks to her commitment and discipline in pursuing her art.

A totally DIY artist, Kidd writes, plays, and co-produces her music, books her tours, shoots her videos, and blogs prolifically in word and image about her travels and travails. She also tours in unconventional fashion, climbing on the Megabus for a house party tour, for example, or playing office gigs in support of World Water Day in March.

A native of Salisbury, Kidd studied classical music, before settling in London at 18. She has gigged with artists from Viv Albertine to Tricky and also plays in The Penelopes, but intends to make She Makes War her primary creative outlet. The first She Makes War album, 2010’s Disarm, established her trademark gloom pop sound, all flowing melodies and melancholic lyrics. She also displayed a literary bent in retelling the story of Daphne, Cupid and Apollo in ‘Olympian’. This was complemented by highly stylised videos, influenced by Michel Gondry, but with a quirky English sensibility.

The follow-up, Little Battles, which was funded via Pledge Music, is out via her Bandcamp. Co-produced by Kidd and Myles Clarke, it extends her artistic reach to encompass ambient interludes among the more conventional pop sensibilities.

Though she usually performs solo, live-looping ukulele, guitar and vocal parts and singing and playing over the loops, in the week of the release of Little Battles, this most singular of artists treated herself to a full band performance. Gathering a troupe of musicians dubbed The Olympians behind her, Kidd was able to concentrate on doing only one or two things at a time. A while range of instrumentalists marched on in a range of combinations, making for a very busy stage indeed. At the centre of it, Kidd was visibly enjoying the spectacle, grinning broadly, high-five-ing bandmates and generally drinking in the vibe.

Then she was off to join Chris T-T on tour, promising on her blog: “I’ve got my Thermos, lunchbox and industrial strength megaphone at the ready.” At another support date in February, as she released the album’s first single, ‘In This Boat’, Kidd spoke to the Quietus in the noisy confines of the Hoxton Underbelly loo. Inured to such distractions, she set about her pre-gig ritual of applying eye make-up, ensuring her glitter was on straight and then checking which sailor dress to wear. Flushing loos, recalcitrant sequins and slamming doors could not deter the warrior from her mission.

So, you describe yourself as gloom pop. What is gloom pop?

SMW: Gloom pop is pop music, so pop melodies with gloomy lyrics. That’s the idea. And I want it to sound quite mystical-magical. Someone described me as pastoral recently, which I really enjoyed reading. People get different things from it. What I am definitely not is folk, which someone described me as the other day. I think they didn’t listen. I sometimes call it dramatic gloom pop, ’cause I don’t like the theatrical thing. I wouldn’t call it theatrical, ’cause I can’t be bothered to take costumes with me to gigs. So, it’s dramatic, rather than theatrical.

So, the drama’s in the music, rather than in the presentation.

SMW: Oh, definitely. Though I do wear glitter. In fact, I have to put some glitter on right now.

When you released your anti-Valentine’s Day single, ‘In This Boat’, you turned your hand to a bit of crafting with it. I was impressed that you are actually making hand-designed sleeves. So you are quite the multi-media DIY queen.

SMW: Oh, thank you. Since I was a kid I’ve been knitting and sewing. Not to any great level. The craft element comes out of everything being quite digital in this world, and especially in the recording. Everything I recorded was done digitally, and I want to bring analogue back into things. I really want to have a mixture of the two things, because I think they’re important. And so to do the crafting thing, basically, this project gives me an excuse to do crazy things I always wanted to do, like, make 50 Valentine’s cards to put a single out. [Loo flushes and she returns to make-up] In make-up I’m very inspired by the band Alisha’s Attic.

Oh, really?

SMW: Yeah. Well, they wrote stuff about fairies, which is a bit too far for me. I don’t want to write about fairies. But, I really loved them so much. I met Shelly Poole once, which was one of the most exciting moments of my life. She was really nice.

Was that early ’90s? I’m trying to remember them.

SMW: It was mid-’90s. It was after Alanis, ’cause they sounded like the British Alanis, didn’t they? I liked Alanis, as well. She got me into guitar music.

Everybody has to start somewhere.

SMW: Exactly. Then it was the Smashing Pumpkins, so it’s not a bad transition. I don’t like it anymore, but it was mainly the guitars, I think, and the pounding drums and the fact there was a girl bassist. It gave me something to aspire to.

Did you start with the bass?

SMW: Yeah. Well, I started with guitar but I didn’t properly play it ’til I was about 18 or something like that.

What were we talking about? Ah, the ships! So, you hand-crafted some ships to go with ‘In This Boat’.

SMW: I realised, as I was doing them, the boats are a little bit of a tribute to my late granddad, because he used to make actual boats. Not for a living, but he used to do it for fun; he just built little ships and things. And so I suppose it runs in the family somehow. And I wanted to type lyrics onto the boats, so they’re origami paper boats, with lyrics on one side and either patterned paper or maps on the other side. And I typed them all out on my granddad’s typewriter, so it’s all very inter-linked. I never do anything randomly. Everything has to have a lot of meaning for me to do it. It doesn’t matter if people don’t know about it. But, I think they’ll get the strength of it anyway in another way.

So, you’re leading up to your second album, Little Battles. How would you describe it?

SMW: The second one is more detailed and I think it’s more purposeful. My friend said that she thinks I sound really sure of myself on it, so that’s nice. Again, they’re all very personal songs and they’re a lot more fresh and raw, ’cause I only wrote them recently.

So, is your new record gloomier or poppier?

SMW: I think it’s both. Some of the songs are really pop. And some of the songs are really gloomy. There’s a song called ‘Delete’, which I am really worried that people will think is about suicide or considering suicide. But, it’s not at all. It’s about not wanting to make a decision. And also there are references to stuff about online. The main chorus refrain is: "I’d like to delete myself / Don’t like to repeat myself". It’s supposed to be kind of a joke about looping, ’cause it’s a completely looped song.

What is your tattoo, if you don’t mind me asking? You have one on your wrist.

SMW: [Holds out left wrist] Ah, this means "focus" in Kanji. [Holds out other wrist] And this one means "perspective". I was going through a tough time, on tour a few years ago. I needed help.

They also have a photographic meaning: perspective and focus.

SMW: Oh, yeah, totally. And I’m not kidding: I didn’t even think about that ’til they were done. It’s like, "Oh, I make videos and things. How relevant."

Well, you said everything you do has a meaning.

SMW: Yeah, it does, but sometimes I don’t know the meanings ’til later. It all pops out. Like with ‘In This Boat’: it just came. It was quite an easy song. And then all these other layers of meaning just presented themselves to me. Like, on the first album, I thought ‘Olympian’ wasn’t about me at all. I thought I’d written a story song about characters. And that’s what this tattoo is [rolls up right sleeve], the girl from ‘Olympian’, Daphne from the story of Cupid and Daphne and Apollo. And so I wrote the song about that, thinking "Oh, I’m writing a song about them", and it was all about me. I’ve now accepted it’s all about me, but people don’t need to know exactly what it is. I prefer to let people come up with their own meanings, really.

For more on She Makes War, visit her website.

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