This story originally appeared in the Black Lagoon Volume 2.
Photo: EBONY LAMB.
Almost two years after Nadia Reid’s 2015 debut, Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs, the Dunedin-based singer songwriter has quietly, yet decisively, raised the bar.
Her fine-as-filigree vocals are laid neatly next to and amongst guitar arrangements, sometimes soft, sometimes sonorous. And there’s more grit and gall in the girl this time round, a quiet confidence that subtly makes its mark.
The newfound fortitude came about while working on the latest record, which was a time of huge personal growth for Reid: “It was about me learning to sit with myself a bit better.” She also went through a relationship breakup, and a gained a better sense and appreciation that her music mattered: “The first record kinda surprisingly had quite an affect on a lot of people, which I didn’t anticipate at all.”
The pressure artists usually feel with the second album didn’t manifest for Reid, mostly something she didn’t pay much attention to. While the writing and recording process were largely the same - including band members and working with producer Ben Edwards – there was a different commercial reality for Preservation. “[Last time] I didn’t have label support,” she explains. “I’ve had to work really hard to get attention here in New Zealand; I couldn’t get NZ On Air funding for years, and was kind of banking on that. It meant I could only see so far. Now the world seems much smaller, and I have higher goals I guess.”
Reid’s sophomore effort is a luminous singer-songwriter folk album, imbued with strands of country and even some electronica (thanks to some savvy synth lines). This is in part due to Edwards’ guiding hand, but also an organic studio process. “Lots of it is Ben, but also just the band serving the song. It’s a collaborative thing working on an album.”
A warm-blanket-of-an-album, Reid shares stories of heartache, of looking for, and coming home. Underpinned by a wistful melancholy, there is also a sense of strength and defiance. And while the stories offer insight into Reid’s journey over the past two years, they are not strictly factual: “I like to keep the lines of what’s completely true and what is made up… I like to keep them blurred. I don’t need to give everything away”, she says with a hint of a smile, “and I want the songs to speak for themselves.”
Whatever elixir of truth of ficton she employs, there is something very genuine about the album. It’s something many listeners and reviewers connect with, something that also comes across in her live performances. And it’s a good balance for Reid: “I think the way I’m doing it now is something I can continue doing, and it actually gives me a lot of joy.”
Title track ‘Preservation’ is a gentle caress, like someone coming up quietly and taking your hand. With sparse production, Reid’s harmonies rise and fall effortlessly. She describes the song as the most relevant to the album: “It’s not necessarily the song most people will like, or radios are gonna play. But it’s the most intimate and personal to me. It’s like I’m singing it about myself and for me, like a bit of a mantra.” Reid pauses, searching for the right word. “No. Not a mantra, but kinda like that.”
A particular favourite for fans is ‘Richard’, which is about her ex: “It’s interesting, ‘cause I wrote that song as a response to that relationship ending, and it was a huge kind of healing thing for me to do. I didn’t intend to name it Richard, or for it to be scathing or anything like that. It felt true to myself and the song with that title.” The lovelorn allegory is both gentle and abrasive in equal measure, intimate and cathartic. ‘Richard’ speaks of redemption, with lyrics like, “Taking back the hand that is mine.” Reid also muses on the fact that as time goes on, the song is becoming less about him.
‘I Come Home To You’ is the fourth track on the album, with a twanging musicality, awash with electric guitar, drums and synth. “A lot of that was Ben. It was really nice to experiment a bit, not to just do what we’d always done.” And it works, the jangling sonic textures adding strength to the vocals, never detracting. An emotive, inspired and perfectly crafted four minutes and 12 seconds. “We see things in a different light / I’m looking outward into the night / I wanted to be like you / Take me home, smoke me out”.
Many of the songs on Preservation envelop and cocoon the listener, but ‘Te Aro’ strays far from this formula. Stripped back vocals and eerie production lead to jarring percussion, creating a definite sense of discordance and discomfort: “Yeah, Ben described that song as like having a panic attack.” Reid continues to explain the desire to push beyond their comfort zone, resulting in something quite unique:“The structure of that song is like the opposite of what someone might suggest a song should be, there’s no verse or chorus. It’s like an expression, and really fun to play live.”
“Playing 20, 30, 40 shows in a row, with sporadic days off, is really hard. It’s kinda like running a marathon.”
After a much-needed break in May, Reid is back on the road this month, before returning to Europe for summer. She concedes there are lots of highs when it comes to performing and touring, but is quick to add: “Playing 20, 30, 40 shows in a row, with sporadic days off, is really hard. It’s kinda like running a marathon. All the hard work that goes into it, and training… but when you finish…” she ends, letting the silence speak for itself.
The upside for Reid is the people. With a name that is garnering more and more attention, she’s still genuinely surprised by the reactions: “It all gives me a sense that it’s kinda right. And I start to think about this, about music, as something I want to do for a long time.” She also knows there’s been a shift in perspective towards said people: “For a long time I had the mindset that this music was totally for me. Now… sure, writing and playing is really therapeutic for me, and it’s a still personal thing. But without the people who support me, there’s not much reason to make records.”