I'm a freelance writer who likes writing about cultural things (am a big film buff, bibliophile, and muso, who's obsessed with old films stars , Julie Delpy, Alfred Hitchcock, Coen Brothers, Kat...[more]
Laura Kidd, aka She Makes War, is a formidably multi-talented artist/one-woman cottage industry, designing album packaging; crafting handmade zines to give out at shows; filming her own music videos; and creating her own DIY artistic collective (My Big Sister), as well working as a session bassist, music industry speaker and social media reporter. Did I also mention that her latest album, Little Battles, released earlier this year, is one of the most genuinely exciting discoveries, combining attitude with ingenuity, catchy melodies and conceptual songwriting which dissects broken relationships with acute perceptiveness. And you definitely need to catch her live.
Good thing she had time to speak to us then, chatting generously at length about everything from being an independent artist and feminist to the awfulness of shows like The Voice.
You recently filmed a music video for upcoming single 'Minefields'. Which video have you most enjoyed doing?
I really enjoyed 'Minefields' because there were other people involved, normally it's just me. 'Slow Puncture' is my favourite video so far, I think the story is the strongest. I really like how it looks and came together, and there are some really beautiful things that had happened like it had just been raining, so there are lots of reflections on the road and we didn't plan that. And all the people in the video aren't extras, they're just walking along so we got some really great people reacting to what I was doing. Stormtroopers showed up which was really, really random and unplanned. But I also really loved doing the 'Scared to Capsize' video because of all the different [people dressed up as] animals in it who are all my friends. And Judy Jacob did an amazing job directing it.
I'm sensing the influence of directors like Michel Gondry in that last video?
Definitely, people who like doing strange effects, but in reality, so he does a lot of things with paper and card and building models, rather then effects afterwards. Because I can't afford effects, I have to think a lot more cleverly about what I'm doing.
What was your experience of using Pledge Music to fund Little Battles?
The Pledge Music thing was quite incredible. I was not expecting it to be so successful, so I originally wanted to raise part of the money because I didn't really think that the fans should pay for all of it. I thought that it would be nice to get some help so I could do extra days in the studio, and it turns out that they ended up paying for everything including mastering, which is a massive help. I also knew that people were itching to hear the album which was quite nice. I was very careful though, to not let that effect how I was recording or force the songs. Because some people did say "Oh, I really like this first song on your album, can you do more like that?" I can't listen to that because it's not up to people to prescribe what music I make.
You started the She Makes War project in 2005. What made you wait until 2010 to release your debut?
I wasn't really waiting, what it was is I was doing a lot of session work so I was touring with Tricky and Alex Parks and Lil' Chris and doing these little pop gigs for work, which was a great learning experience in terms of doing song arrangements. I was writing songs as well. I did start recording an album with some other people which didn't work out. There was a false start, and after that I was so gutted by the whole experience I didn't do my own music for about a year. The guy I was going out with at the time was really helpful in kicking me up the arse and saying "Laura are you going to record an album ever?" Because I kept talking about it but there's nothing to listen to. And I was so pleased with how it came together and believed strongly in what I was doing, I haven't stopped since.
How was your experience of being a session musician?
I really like doing session jobs, because it's a great privilege to get paid for what you do and to be rated enough to get play with these amazing artists. It's a wonderful learning experience in seeing how someone-else does their thing. From Tricky, I learned a lot about atmosphere, the alchemy of pulling people and different influences together, that was cool. Playing with Alex [Parks] was great; she's got such a beautiful voice and she's such a nice girl, we got on so well and her crowd were really warm. And I'm open to more session work, but there's not loads of work around at the moment and I'm not fighting to get any. Exciting things come along when you least expect it.
I love the intro sound montage on Little Battles. How did you come up with the idea for that?
I've been lucky enough to travel to lots of different really crazy, far-away places for some of the work I've done, music and video work. And I just always record bits of sound because I just think it's really beautiful. So there are [church] bells on there from Mexico City and Buenos Aires, and breakdancers in New York for example. I just think that having a bit of atmosphere that's not from the studio is good and because it's all a document, it's like a diary. And I wanted the first track on the album to be a bit of a diary of where I've been inbetween and centering me and then going into the nitty gritty of what I've been up to elsewhere. I'm pleased with how it came about, and it's in 7/4 which makes me happy..
Could you explain more about the concept behind the song 'May Our Daughters Return Home'?
I read an article about this awful situation of young Mexican women being kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered last year and was horrified to discover that very little is being done to investigate. And It seems that anyone speaking out is also in danger of being killed, so I wanted to dedicate my new album to the mothers of Mexico because I feel this should be a problem that's being talked about across the world. Just because we live in a different country doesn't mean we're not in some way responsible for what's going on, in however small a way, and more to the point I have an issue with peoples' lack of empathy for the struggles of people far away. So in the song the line "They are all our daughters too" sums that up.
Who are the female artists that really inspire you?
I do listen to a lot of female artists, I try not to let it seep into what I make because that would just be too easy. And it's already bad enough that I only get compared to other women anyway, that's lazy journalism. I've been listening to Carina Round's new album which is really brilliant. I sang with her last year. Hanne Huckelberg I love; I really love Cat Power, her older, scratchy stuff, and that was a big influence on me starting to record my own demos actually, because for some reason it made it seem achievable. I'm not slagging off her playing, but it just seemed a bit more ordinary. And Juliana Hatfield's album Peace and Love; I was really inspired by that because she recorded it on her apartment and you can hear things happening around.
You berated The Voice at a recent gig. What do you think the impact of shows like that is on music?
I don't like that shows like that become music culture because it's not, it's a talent show, it's so irrelevant. My worry is that people will watch those things and think they've watched the music that week, and really they've watched someone doing a talent show. I just think it's hard enough to get people out to gigs and if people are going to be so fucking lazy they can't even go out on a Saturday night or tape it, then just don't bother. It's just really annoying. It doesn't affect my world. I just don't understand why people like it.
You've been involved in a lot of female-lead events like the Feminist Fightback gig. How do you think discrimination against female musicians shows itself these days?
It's such a thorny question because I think it's really important to have those events and I'm always going to be involved with them. So Clit Rock is the main event I'm supporting at the moment which is about Daughters of Eve, an organisation which fights against genital mutilation. So that's really important, doesn't matter what gender you are, and it's mainly female bands involved. And also Redress which is about female musicians as well. The thing is, I think we have to have that alongside pushing into other things. So I don't want to be sidelined as a female musician that only gets to play female music nights. We do need to redress the balance, but the nights I'm putting on at the Herne Hill Half-Moon pub are really very mixed, because what I'm trying to do is just trying to be a musician, not be a female musician - being a woman is not a genre. I have no problem with saying I'm a feminist, I will always go on those woman in music panels, even though I think it's ridiculous there aren't more woman on the other panels.
I'm always fighting that fight because I've had a lot of that shit over the years. I think mainly it's ignorance and it's people being frightened. If a boy's not used to having a girl in a band they can react really negatively. But I think all you can do is be graceful and be good at what you do.
She Makes War plays the Half Moon Pub, Herne Hill on Sept 21 and her single Minefields is available for pre-order. See her website for more details: http://shemakeswar.com/