Katherine Priddy: Records That Changed My Life
Singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy, whose new album The Pendulum Swing (Cooking Vinyl) is out this month, shares the records that changed her life
Song to a Seagull, Joni Mitchell
It’s hard to sift three life-changing albums from the albums I adore, but this is the one that sprang to mind immediately. Song to a Seagull forms my first memory of actively sitting and listening to a record, start to finish, and completely falling in love. When I put it on now, I’m instantly transported back to lying on the carpet in my parents living room in front of the record player, reading along with the lyrics. The melodies and vocals are completely enchanting, but it’s the pictures and stories she paints that really pulled me in back then.
"When I put it on now, I’m instantly transported back to lying on the carpet in my parents living room"
I particularly liked "Michael From Mountains", written from the perspective of a child about their imaginary friend—an unusual subject, but the lyrics are so descriptive and capture an innocence and nostalgia perfectly. I particularly love the ending, where the child falls asleep after a long day playing: "There’s rain in the window / There’s sun in the painting that smiles on the wall / You want to know all but his mountains have called / so you never do". It gives me goosebumps every time.
Now listening to the album as an adult, my favourite track is "Cactus Tree". It speaks of a woman who lives and loves passionately but ultimately refuses to compromise on her freedom. It’s melodically beautiful and lyrically empowering. I place a great deal of emphasis on the lyrics in my own songwriting, and I can trace that right back to the influence of this album. One other thing I found really inspiring was that she did all her own artwork, so much so that when I released my first EP, Wolf, I designed and painted it all myself. If it’s good enough for Joni, it’s good enough for me.
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel
This album was a bit more of a slow burn and it took me a fair few encounters to really appreciate it, but over the years I’ve always found myself returning to the songs. I think one of the key things that makes this album so great is the way it doesn’t shy away from imperfection. It’s really raw, partly in the low-fi recording, partly in the way that Jeff Mangum’s voice leaps from seductively calm to raucous, and partly in its very visceral, sometimes borderline uncomfortable, lyrics.
"I have to listen to it all the way through"
I can never just listen to one track—I have to listen to it all the way through, and I think that’s the best way to appreciate the dynamics. There’s some wildly jubilant moments, like the brassy climax of "Holland, 1945" or the heavy fuzz and distortion of "King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3", but these contrast beautifully with the slow and somewhat unsettling "Oh, Comely", or the stripped-back, dry vocals in "Two-Headed Boy".
It’s a really unique album, both in terms of sound and instrumentation but also songwriting. I’m still not sure what some are about, but quite a few seem to focus on the physical aspects of what it is to be human, in all its guts and gristle, and I really like how direct and unflinching it is. I’m also a big fan of the general noise on many of the tracks—there’s so many interesting atmospheres and sounds going on and I feel like I hear something new every time. Overall, I really admire how impulsive and unrestrained this album feels. It’s angsty, sexy and infectious.
Five Leaves Left, Nick Drake
My parents are big Nick Drake fans, so I heard his music quite a lot growing up, but it wasn’t until I first listened to this album in my own time that I fully understood the magic of his songwriting. I remember I was on a school orchestra trip to Germany which involved an overnight coach, and I was pretty anxious about the whole thing, but this album came up on my MP3 player and I listened to it on repeat for the entire journey. I found it incredibly soothing, and I think that’s in part because of how intimate the whole album feels. Perhaps it’s the warmth of the tape recording, or the breathiness of his vocals, or maybe it’s the almost confessional nature of the lyrics…but I remember how everything faded away and it was just me and Nick.
"That’s what this album is to me—a self-contained little world that I can escape to every time I listen to it"
"River Man" remains one of my favourite songs of all time. The string arrangements are stunningly restrained and subtle, and the lyrics are incredibly moving. One line that has stuck with me is “When she thought of summer rain / calling for her mind again / she lost the pain / and stayed for more”. I think this album taught me how personal and vulnerable songwriting can be, while still somehow keeping the listener at an arm's length. It never reveals everything, but it reveals enough to feel as though you’ve been let into a little private world. And that’s what this album is to me—a self-contained little world that I can escape to every time I listen to it.
Katherine Priddy’s new album The Pendulum Swing (Cooking Vinyl) is out on February 16. She tours the UK and Ireland in May: https://www.katherinepriddy.co.uk/
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