“The Heart Ain’t Afraid”
Nadia Reid on the unflinching power
words by tom johnson
We tend to think of break-up albums as a story of their own, a snapshot of time that starts with heartache and ends in some form of resolution for the protagonist. Nadia Reid’s ‘Preservation‘ does not follow such a path, however, closing with the repeated, somewhat crushing words: “I ain’t got you. I ain’t got you. I ain’t got you.”
Perhaps then its title is pulled from the catharsis found within simply laying everything on the line. By confronting the most ugly and difficult truths we’re forced to acknowledge them, forced to confront the sadness that burns, the mistakes that happened, the choices that were made and missed. It’s in these realisations that we find the strength to begin again, to move forward, to find a way to preserve what we have and who we are – and there isn’t a record that sings such things as beautifully as Reid’s latest effort; released earlier this year through Spunk Records and Basin Rock.
“It’s a really rainy day here,” Nadia tells me, as we chat ahead of her forthcoming European tour. “It feels like its eternally raining at the moment…”
While such a turn of phrase could well be taken in a metaphorical sense, especially when applied to her aforementioned work, here it’s a literal statement, the Southern Hemisphere winter sitting at odds with the hottest day of the year which is currently hiding behind the curtains of my own room. “It’s beautiful where I live just now,” she soon adds. “It’s half an hour from the city and we’re in this bush. It’s full of native birds, and really green.”
If the aforementioned “I Ain’t Got You” didn’t really offer a glimpse of salvation, then it’s pleasing to know that in real life, the writing and recording of Preservation helped lift a huge weight from Nadia’s shoulders, while also furthering her flourishing reputation as a distinctly striking songwriter. Finding some kind of peace in the outskirts of Auckland, Reid is currently enjoying some down-time ahead of another distant trip overseas, the first in support of her latest album.
“I just discovered Andy Shauf and I’m so obsessed with him,” she tells me excitedly. “I go for big walks during the day and will listen to it like four or five times over. I love getting totally consumed with a record. I’m also really in to sugary pop music at the moment. I’ll often put my Spotify on private and listen to some John Mayer or something.”
Talking of heartache and pop music, I ask Nadia if she’s a fan of Lorde; another New Zealander who’s reframing heartache in to something strikingly personal. “I love that she’s a Kiwi, and that she’s a strong young woman, it’s so good for our country,” she says. “It’s not really my sort of thing, but I think it’s more about what she represents within the industry that’s important. It’s obvious she writes her own songs and really isn’t trying to please anyone that much, and we need more of that.”
Written strictly and chiefly for herself, above all else, Preservation is a wonderfully consuming record, one of those rare records that speaks so personally but still manages to infiltrate the listeners own world, offering new takes on the age-old woes. Written at home following the breakthrough success of previous record “Listen To Formation…”, the record’s blurb talks of the impact that travel and distance had on Reid’s songwriting.
“When we did our first tour to Europe it was my first time leaving New Zealand. I’d also moved a lot around New Zealand before that, living in mostly every major city, and I feel like that environment does tie in with my ability to feel creative – and it certainly ties in to my songs,” she confirms. “The strongest memory for me when I’m playing songs is where I was when I wrote them.”
Despite such assertions, Preservation doesn’t sound like a document of the road. Its songs feel crushingly of static, indoor places; of daylight creeping in through the gaps in the curtain, of the empty spaces in a home that were once filled by someone else.
“A lot of the writing is done when I’m back home, when I can find the time to reflect,” Reid says of her own process. “I like the long periods of traveling – driving in cars, traveling on planes – but only some of that makes its way in to the songs. The songs on Preservation were all written here in New Zealand. My experience of going overseas tied in to them a little bit, but they really are songs from my home.”
So, while not a direct influence on her work, the traveling she does in her role as a musician offers another way of examining her own story. “I think it’s really important that we get those chances to take ourselves out of familiarity,” Reid says of the mental space you find yourself in when so far from home. “And it’s not always pleasant. There are moments where I’m pinching myself, of course, but there are also moments of extreme loneliness and tiredness – but that can really be good for me too. These last two records have come out of me doing things that were extremely uncomfortable,” she continues. “If I’d never done anything that was remotely frightening, or even just potentially frightening, then I wouldn’t have had anything interesting to say. I really need to be doing things that scare me to keep the fire going.”
My dreams were full last night
Full of what we would could have been
I have visions in my head of
The people that I have known
I come home to you
I come home
Even in its bleakest, most faint moments, that fire is a pertinent piece of Preservations puzzle. From the tender strum of a song like “Hanson St Part 2 (A River)” to the gently swelling “Te Aro”, with its crashing guitars, these songs burn with a desire, unmatched across most other records that 2017 has delivered thus far.
“This sounds kind of weird but I really don’t consider anyone else when making a record,” Reid says of the way the record came together. “There are moments on Preservation which really and truly are heartbreaking. These songs are about relationships beginning and ending, and that’s just what it is.”
Exemplified by the crushing title-track which opens the record, the unconsidered nature of the writing is perhaps what allows this record to really reach beyond a simple collection of pop songs. “When we recorded the song ‘Preservation’ it was around 11pm at night and Sam and I were in this dark living room-come-studio and it was really intense for me. The version you here on the record is only the first or second take and there’s a real sense of rawness and emotion to it. It can be a difficult listen sometimes but I really think it can be healing to hear that kind of stuff.”
About to embark on another trip across the ocean, Reid is already focusing on album number three, one she thinks might be even more informed by her time on the road than her previous efforts. “I’m really proud of Preservation. It still makes sense to me, and also things are looking up a bit, you know? We had a practice last night and we have about six new songs. Two of them are more songs about falling in love but there’s a bit of joy in there. Then there’s this other song which is about my family, and it’s kind of angry, and I was really pleased that I could still do that because I don’t think people need another love record from me, it’s good to be able to find a balance.”
Visiting Scandinavia, lots of mainland Europe, as well as a long-stretch of time across the UK, Reid admits she’s very excited to be back playing shows on the other side of the world. “I find touring incredibly inspiring,” she attests. “I think a lot of people find it quite separate from the creative process but I find it a really good time to reflect and observe my life; to stand back a little. The two times I’ve come back from a European tour I’ve felt changed. I think a lot of people feel that with travel.”
I ask Reid if she feels a distinct difference between the writing side of her work and the performance that inevitably follows, and she admits that there the two are very distinct facets. “I love touring and playing shows a lot,” she says, “but writing and making a record is for me. It’s something I have to do as a creative outlet, to try and feel normal, so it takes on more importance. If I wasn’t able to do it I would feel so different. Writing songs is a way of exploring the processes of my life, and trying to learn more about myself,” she continues. “The fact that people want to listen to that is a bonus. I need that engagement to be able to carry on as a working musician, but this creative outlet for me is like therapy. It really is.”
‘Preservation’ is out now, via Spunk Records/Basin Rock
You can buy it here
European tour dates:
– Buy Tickets Here –