“I don’t think I’ve done an interview in about ten years,” says KatieJane Garside, chatting via phone from somewhere in the south of England. “I’ll do my best with these answers.” On the line to discuss Geiger Counter, the new release from her latest musical project, Liar, Flower, which arrives 1 May, the veteran musician warms quickly to conversation. Ostensibly a new iteration of Ruby Throat, her longtime project with multi-instrumentalist Chris Whittingham, Liar, Flower nevertheless retains its own character.
Rock ‘n’ roll fans love to discuss artists who’ve undergone rapid transformations in sonic and visual identity, but most of them, be it Bowie or Madonna, have still clung to the core of their personhood. Garside is among those who have thrown caution to the wind, seeing or sensing the limitations that inevitably walk hand-in-hand with longevity. Whoever you are when fans meet you, that’s who you are likely to remain.
Liar, Flower is another bold step forward, one that traverses light and dark, levity and gravity, with ease that only someone with Garside’s rock ‘n’ roll CV could manage. Having first burst onto the scene with Daisy Chainsaw, she has also recorded/performed with Queenadreena, Hector Zazou’s Corps Electronique, and the aforementioned Ruby Throat.
Garside’s vocal diversity is front-and-center here, from the impossibly delicate “I Am Sundress (She of Infinite Flowers)” to the sort-of anthemic, but undeniably raucous “My Brain Is Lit Like an Airport” to the guttural guts of “Mud Stars” to the funereal dance floor bit “Even the Darkest Clouds”. It’s possible to recognize the material as coming from one artist, but the emotional and musical breadth contained across these dozen songs makes it nearly impossible to imagine, whether we know better or not, that one artist could contain such multitudes.
What’s more, Geiger Counter sounds unlike any other record you’ll hear this year. Though even veteran artists offer occasional clues to their influences, crumbs of what lies at the center of their musical DNA, this is something that seems to have appeared virtually from nowhere, unaffected by contemporary sounds or concerns and yet entirely of them. Poet Ezra Pound once commanded, “Make it new!”
Garside and Whittingham have responded with something that is shockingly bold and shockingly, indeed, new.
You’ve worked in a variety of musical settings over the years, and they all seem to have a finite life to them. This seems like another rebirth. It’s it a matter of you saying, “I’ve done what I can in that setting and I want to move on” or is it more organic than that?
I think you’re right in the sense that things do have a lifespan. They let me know when they’re done. We were just finishing a Ruby Throat record last year. It was a summing-up record. A best-of. When we were coming to the close of that, I wanted to add some songs at the last minute. They got stuck onto that record as an extra CD. I felt like I’d left off some important songs. I called that Liar, Flower. That just arrived by writing in a book. I liked the way that resonated. That became stronger and stronger and stronger. I realized that that was what was going to happen next.
We’d been away, sailing on our boat for four years, and the nature of that dictated the nature of the music in the sense that a lot of it was done on a five-string ukulele. I hadn’t made any noise for so many years. It just became that that was going to happen again. She called herself Liar, Flower. It could be an alter-ego, but I’m not sure I’d call her that. It’s just a shifting perspective.
How did you determine the direction? It would be easy to say that this is an angry record, but I think that, too, is an oversimplification.
I think I’m too close to it to make that call. To understand it, actually, at this point. But I’ll try. I’ve always thought that you can’t really tell what you’re doing until about ten years later. You might have some chance of objectivity.
I have a few different voices, some different voices. I know them all. I talk to them all, but I don’t use them all or hadn’t been using them all, not since I left Queenadreena. I just allowed everyone to have a say. It did become important for us to make a noise. That was down to me, allowing that because that’s always there. I’d very consciously not allowed that after Queenadreena. It’s been a ten-year hiatus, and I allowed that voice back.
We recorded a lot of this through improvisation. Chris would come up with a drum loop and a riff. We would just play against the drum loop and record for an hour or hour-and-a-half. Songs like “Mud Stars” and “My Brain Is Lit Like an Airport”, they are actual improvisations. Then Chris did a little bit of chopping around. There were a couple of little fixes, but it was all there. I take a sense of happiness from that because there’s always the raw real that comes out in the initial writing. That’s so hard to recapture when you’ve known the song, and you’ve rehearsed it a hundred times, and you’re taking it into the studio for the fifth time. This was allowed to live in its conception. I was never really keen on the word cathartic, but I think there’s a sense of release. That word would not sit too uncomfortably with me.
What strikes me about this record is that it seems to exist in isolation in a sense. Sometimes I can hear what an artist has been listening to in the cycle of making a record. I don’t get this with that album. I sense that you don’t listen to a lot of music.
No, we don’t. That is a source of regret because I have a little girl, and I would love her to be in a world with music. We are always in the process of making music in a form of isolation. We’re both always of the mind that we don’t want to consciously to be influenced by the things we loved. I meditate. I’ve meditated since I was about 18, not consistently, I write post-meditation, stream-of-consciousness, when the brain’s not so sure of who she is. From there, we improvise. I’ll have some sheets of paper scattered, and I allow the words to pick themselves and randomly grab at them. “Broken Light”, I worked it out, played it a few times. More than a few times. It still comes from stream-of-consciousness, but I have refined it rather than it being a release.
I think it’s healthy to have art that is not over-explained.
Once it’s made, I claim no responsibility to it. I accept no responsibility! [Laughs.] It’s not mine anymore.