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Cordelia Gartside Is Building A Discography Of Limitless Promise

1. "27" explores a powerful blend of anthemic indie pop-rock with poignant lyricism. Can you take us through the creative process behind this track and how the collaboration with producer Sean Woodlock shaped its distinctive sound?

Yeah absolutely. 27 started life as a fingerpicked sad girl indie-folk song, but the more I played it the more I realised that I wanted it to be more than that. I wanted it to be angry and I wanted it to be big. I was also really conscious at the time of pushing my own musical boundaries. I've done my time being shoehorned into this image of a kind of wistful folk fairy, and I knew I wanted to snap that perception quite radically. Sean was incredibly supportive of this (he was the first person to ever call me a rockstar :')) and we spent a long time thinking about how to make the track sound big and angry with the limited time and budget we had. 

It ended up being pretty piecemeal. Toby Couling and Tom Ironmonger laid down the amazing punch drums and power bass live. Chris Matthewson recorded the guitars in his home studio. Sean and I spent a ridiculous hour fiddling with a synth, and a few weeks later I laid down the vocals. It was a really different process from some of the other tracks on the album, which were recorded in live full-band takes, but I like the disjointedness of it. I think it works with the message of the song, which speaks to that feeling of disconnectedness and dissociation from a younger version of yourself. Sean mixed the whole album on a desk so even though all the elements are super clean there's a really lush analoguey warmth in the song too.

2. The lyrics of "27" read like short stories, delving into personal experiences and observations. What inspired you to infuse such vivid storytelling into your music, and how do you approach translating complex emotions into tight, impactful lyrics?

I'm convinced the world's made up of two types of people: music listeners and lyrics listeners. I've always been a lyrics person, and I've always been a story person too. I love reading, I love losing myself in other worlds, and I love hearing other peoples' lives and perspectives. I think, because of that, I naturally turn to storytelling when I'm writing. It's almost the only way I know how to get into an emotion. 

But that's not unique. Storytelling is such a huge part of the human condition. There's that Joan Didion quote "we tell ourselves stories in order to live". It's like the world's too big to understand if we don't impose some kind of order on it, and the best way we have to do that is to make it fit into a narrative we understand. Even with 27, the process of writing it really helped me understand what exactly it was I was trying to say. I had this kind of chaotic whirl of impressions and experiences when I started it, and it took a lot of revisions and editing to really crack the final message of the song. That's what's so wild about songwriting, how symbiotic it can feel. Like you and the song are working together to try and make sense of the world.

3. The song reflects a mix of wry nostalgia and disgust when revisiting your teenage hometown. How did this trip influence the creation of "27," and how do you navigate the complexities of revisiting the past through your music?

Yeah. What I find so bizarre about visiting my hometown is the feeling of like... infinite versions of yourself. I was walking from my parents' house to the station, and it's like I was suddenly superimposed onto all these previous versions of myself walking that exact route: 15 dumped and heartbroken, 17 on my way to my first job, 16 crying laughing with my best friends, being a kid and walking to school with my parents. It's all there under who you are in that moment, and it really spun me out. I was also just feeling mad at the world that day – at a friend's shitty mum, at the town itself – and the verses of the song just mushroomed out of my brain. I've still got my like covert breathless voice note of me singing them into my phone on that walk, trying to not look like a weirdo. 

There are a few songs on the album that deal in nostalgia. The past is really rich territory for songwriting because it's always in motion. You can always come at it from a different perspective depending on where you are in the present. So, for example, 27 reads the past through a sense of disillusionment, because that's where I was in the moment of writing it. But my first single, 16xo, looks at the past from a place of protectiveness towards my younger self. And another song looks back from a place of forgiveness and compassion, where in the moment there was resentment and a lack of understanding. The distance – like I write about in 27 – really helps. You can see some things much more clearly when some time's passed.

4. The anger in "27" seems directed at elements beyond our control—decay, pain, and the past. Can you elaborate on the themes that fueled the song's emotion and how you channel these feelings into your music as a form of expression?

Yeah, definitely. Decay is there all the way through the song, starting with the very first lines: "in the town I grew up, everything is peeling off, and now there's nothing to it". So that's very literally about the way a place looks, but it's also about the feeling of seeing through something that used to hold glamour, or at least normality, to the grossness underneath. That sense of unveiling the true, unchangeable nature of something is really present throughout the song, whether it's about a person – e.g. a parent you realise is a raging narcissist – or trauma and its effect on your life. Pain's also present implicitly from the beginning, but it's not named until the last verse: 

"I used to think we'd make it / if we hit 27 and the hurting hadn't happened / like pain was in the distance / and we could just outrun it"

When I was a teenager I used to think mental health was like being a Victorian child reaching a certain age without catching TB. Like now they'd definitely make it to adulthood! That was what I thought about mental health: if we could just get past that line – let's say 27 years old – we'd be safe from all our trauma. And so much of the emotion in the song is directed at the realisation that, of course, that's not how things work. It's definitely not how trauma works. And that's so infuriating, and so unfair.

So yeah, anger is the unifying emotion in 27. I'm definitely getting better at anger. Quite a lot of the songs on the album inhabit a space of, or adjacent to, rage. It's really liberating. I spent a long time writing sad songs, and I think that's what people have come to expect from me. But there's more that can be done with anger. It can be a really productive emotion, and a catalyst for internal and external change, where sadness in isolation feels quite limiting. 

5. You mention in the lyrics the profound sense of unfairness that comes with adulthood, a sentiment many can relate to. How important is it for you to address universal themes and emotions in your music, and what do you hope listeners take away from the raw honesty of "27"?

I don't think I ever go into writing a song thinking that I want to address something universal (I think I'd absolutely crumble if I did). But if you're writing emotionally about emotions I think mostly people respond to that. And I think there can be an element of universality in almost any song. Even if it feels profoundly personal, or profoundly mundane, there can generally be an access point for a listener. People will take from it what they need in the moment, even if it's not what the songwriter expected or intended. It's like any kind of communication. You can never know exactly what another person means, but you try and understand, or you understand in your own way through your own experiences.  

What I'd hope people get from 27 is the catharsis that comes from acknowledgement. It's like someone saying "look, this thing happened, it's really fucking unfair, and you're allowed to be angry about it". It's not fixing anything, it's not making the past into a teachable moment, and there's no neat resolution. But that acknowledgment's still powerful.

6. The synthesis of 80s synths, overdrive distortion, husky vocals, and tight lyrics in "27" creates a distinct sonic experience. How do you approach blending different elements to craft a sound that aligns with the emotional core of your music? And can we expect this sonic diversity in your upcoming projects?

Thanks! Yeah, Sean and I really spent a lot of time thinking about this. We wanted there to be cohesion in the sound of the album as a whole, but also wanted every song to work on its own, and within its own emotional world. That's led to some pretty diverse sonic landscapes. 

My first single, 16xo, is really different to 27, for example. It's a slow build, and it sounds much more spacey and loose than 27, which is essentially a really tight indie-pop song. And December, my next single (out 29/12), has a really lo-fi grungey sound that came from us running random samples backwards through a tape machine. 

We were careful not to get carried away with a full band sound, too. There's always the temptation to stick drums and bass on everything, especially when you're working with brilliant musicians. But we were really strict with ourselves about being as true as possible to the mood of each song. So there's one track that's just a live take of me playing acoustic guitar and singing and nothing else. It's definitely a challenge to hold back in that way, but I think it can be really impactful.

And what's wild is that, even though the songs are quite different, there's definitely a cohesive sound and feel to the album overall. Some of that's in the songwriting, but a lot's in the mix and the master. I mentioned before about Sean mixing the whole album on desk. (King). But Nick Howells, who mastered the album, did beautiful work with the tracks, and really brought the album together. I can't wait to share it as a complete piece.

Cordelia's next single, 'December', is out 29/12/23.

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