Things You (Possibly) Didn’t Know About Aldous Harding
By Triple R volunteer writer Katherine Smyrk
People seem to have a hard time pinning down 29 year old New Zealand musician Aldous Harding. Her first, self-titled album was described as ‘gothic folk’. Then Party hit the airwaves and people scrambled to pin its sound to the ground. One Guardian reviewer labelled it ‘mesmeric, folk-adjacent’. Now, her third album, Designer, is out to thwart your attempts at classification again. And yet, her music is only becoming more and more popular. Maybe listeners like that she is undefinable; maybe they like that she can be a jazz crooner, Kate Bush and the Wicked Witch of the West in one album.
It’s no surprise, really, that she is our Album of the Week artist. What is a surprise is how little most people know about her (to be fair, the enigmatic artist doesn’t make it easy to figure her out). So, we’ve done the work for you! Here are some things you may not know about Aldous Harding. And, no, there will NOT be anything about Marlon Williams in here, we’ve heard enough about him.
HER NAME ISN'T ALDOUS
The real name of the Kiwi chanteuse is actually Hannah Harding. Aldous is a pseudonym she adopted for her musical act. She told NZ magazine Under the Radar that she liked the sound of Aldous, a bit like a ‘manly Alice’. And, in a long line of pseudonym tradition, the name acts as a barrier of sorts. It’s not only a way to keep the professional from the personal, but also of protect her from herself.
‘Of course my personality changes when I go by that,’ she told Beat. ‘It is just a name really, but I do find it easier going under a different name and it makes me feel like I do have someone with me, helping me through the songs, battling with the person that tells me I can’t do it.’
SHE DEBUTED AT 13
With two successful musicians for parents, Aldous carries the heft of musical heritage. Her first recording was the song ‘Exactly What to Say’, which she wrote and recorded with her mother, Canadian folk singer Lorina Harding, at the tender age of 13.
SHE DIDN’T WANT TO BE A MUSICIAN
When she was younger, Aldous apparently wanted to be a vet, but decided it would be too emotional. She wasn’t keen on music. As she told Radio NZ: ‘I always resisted, when I was younger, because I associated it with being poor, and separated, and not being home, you know?’ But when she was 20 or 21, her father had a guitar made for her, and she started messing around with it, writing songs. Now, at 29, she has three albums, so….
SHE WAS ‘DISCOVERED’ BUSKING
One day, visiting her mum in the small NZ town of Geraldine, Aldous decided to do some busking. She saw that musician Anika Moa was playing that night, but needed some money for the ticket.
‘I was busking outside the bakery and [Anika] came past and put heaps of coins in, and I didn’t really notice it was her,’ she told Under the Radar. ‘And then I looked up and said “oh cool, I’ll see you tonight” and she was like, “I love your sound, why don’t you open?” So yeah.’
She opened for Anika that night, and was offered some free studio time.
She is clear in the interview, though, that she had already been playing music, was already making a record with Ben Edwards of Lyttelton Records and musician Delaney Davidson. She wants it known that they were really the ones that ‘discovered’ her.
BONUS FUN FACT: Aldous actually hates busking. She finds it terrifying, but did it to make quick money when she was living in Christchurch and didn’t have a job. ‘I just kind of started playing the guitar, so I think people pitied me more than anything and gave me money.’
SHE HAS THE SAME PRODUCER AS PJ HARVEY
John Parish is a UK-based musician and producer, and has produced both Party and Designer. He is best known for working with PJ Harvey, producing seven of her albums, and co-writing two of them. He’s also worked with Tracy Chapman, Eels and Melbourne’s own Laura Jean, who Aldous toured with. It was Laura who brought Aldous and John together, thinking that they’d make a good pair. And she was right.
Aldous told The Guardian that working with John was ‘the best thing ever’: ‘Every now and again we’d rub up against each other like two old porcupines about stuff but he’s so gentle and patient.’
HER FAVOURITE MOVIE IS CLUELESS
‘Nothing bad actually happens,’ Aldous told the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s probably more accurate to characterise it as her go-to flick, her screen-based comfort food, along with Howl’s Moving Castle and It’s Complicated.
When she was on her very first European tour, she had an Italian manager named Elisabetta, who would protect her from the scrum after gigs.
‘I'd finish a gig and I'd be struggling with the language barrier and having people fall all over me, and she'd just tell everyone I was tired and take me to where we were staying,’ Aldous told SMH. ‘Then she'd tell me, “I've bought you a pack of cigarettes, and I've got Clueless loading on the laptop.” She thought I was the weirdest thing in the world.’
‘I'm actually hilarious,’ she told NZ news website, Stuff. She says that most reporters sit down and expect her to be intense, hard work, but she likes to crack jokes. When the reporter at Stuff talked about the video for single ‘Blend’ being ‘jammed midway between sexy and awkward’, she was very happy.
‘Blend was funny, right? I'm glad you noticed that. I came up with the idea pretty swiftly, based on that bit in Apocalypse Now, which is my favourite movie. Then I got the outfit made and spent, like, eight hours dancing on a lazy susan.’
SHE HATES TALKING ABOUT WHAT HER SONGS MEAN
‘We’re expected to be able to explain ourselves,’ she told NPR. ‘…and have purpose in a little bag that you carry around everywhere, but I don’t necessarily have that in me.’
On top of not always knowing exactly what the songs mean herself (‘There are some that I listen to, and I think, where did that come from?’ she told The New York Times), Aldous also doesn’t like to ruin the imagination of the people who listen to her music. She explained to the Sydney Morning Herald that she once told a friend what her song ‘Stop Your Tears’ was all about, and regretted it. ‘Now she has to distract herself and look elsewhere when I sing the last verse about being at the river with the baby, because she knows too much.’
She also wants to keep some things to herself. ‘The thing is, maybe when I’m 45 and sober and I’m doing my comeback record ’cause I’ve pulled my shit together, when I’ve dyed my hair red and I’m wearing leopard print and all that, I’ll be willing to talk about where all this shit that people find so fascinating comes from,’ she said in an interview with The Brag. ‘But I’ve still gotta like, work out my own secrets myself. This is a business of mystery and longevity; of keeping things interesting.’
Katherine Smyrk is a Melbourne-based writer of fiction and non-fiction, and the Deputy Editor of The Big Issue. When she's not reading or writing, she is usually eating cheese, playing footy or dancing to Beyoncé. Find her on Twitter.