New Zealand singer Aldous Harding at Feeërieën
Aldous Harding (© Justyn Strother)
On Party, Aldous Harding combines gripping emotional delivery with astonishing vocal precision. Something the New Zealand singer will demonstrate at this year’s Feeërieën festival.
The very least you can say about the live performances of Aldous Harding is that she uses every fibre of her being to express the many directions that her emotions go in. The range of her emotional world seems to be perfectly aligned to her fascinating voice, which likewise opens up every possible register and which was recently described as “phenomenal” by her producer, John Parish.
But her penetrating eyes, which she can make bulge so much that they make you feel uncomfortable, also left a lasting impression on the diffident and empathic audience at Huis 23. On that AB stage, she recently presented a well-received foretaste of her upcoming Feeërieën show and autumn tour.
“It was a little bit like performing in a mortuary,” she told us a few moments after the concert, a little bewildered. “It’s true that I don’t really play danceable music, but people do let themselves go more in New Zealand.” Confronted with her expressive delivery, which was most enchanting and astonishing in the intense “Horizon”, she says that she genuinely also feels what she sings and does.
“It isn’t only a performance, it comes from within. And I am not even conscious of what I am doing with my eyes. My songs just happen to hop from one emotion to another. I just try to keep up.”
The rest of the world is now trying to do the same. Flattering comparisons with classic songwriters and Sixties icons like Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan, and Nico are being made all over the place, but Harding adds in her own emotions and imaginative world, which is just a tad darker. That is why her colleagues put her in the gothic folk box and think the title of her album, Party, is ironic.
“If there is a party, will you wait for me?” we hear her beg on the title track, which appears to veil her heartache. Elsewhere too, there are wry emotions and raw arrangements – “I prefer to add something than take it away” – on what is actually her second album, the first to be released on the prestigious 4AD label. “But ironic? In my view, it is a triumphant, powerful record full of positive things,” she says surprisingly.
Perhaps, she admits, it is related to her self-confidence, which has increased since she released her debut in 2014. That album focused on earlier mind-expanding experiences with drugs and alcohol. “I left school at seventeen,” the now 26-year-old singer says. “I was bored and didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started travelling around Europe. I met a lot of people and discovered that things are not always as they seem. But more than anything, I discovered a lot about myself: the fact that I love mystery and…that I have an addictive personality.”
When she got home, she started busking – songs by Neil Young, Chris Isaak, Joan Baez, and occasionally a composition of her own – and she changed her name. “My name is actually Hannah Harding, but I was so sick of that name. It sounded like I was a country singer. Aldous sounds a bit more masculine.” It matches her voice, which sometimes descends to low registers, like on the moving “Imagining My Man”.
“Initially, I only used a small part of my vocal range. It was only later that I learned how to develop my vocal power, and now I can do whatever I want.”
Or perhaps not entirely: “John Parish did have to rein in my voice in the studio. He asked me to limit the outer emotions in ‘What if Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming’, and ‘Horizon’, and only to focus on the vocal parts. Everything had to be employed only in service of the songs. People couldn’t see me anyway. But nothing changes live. I don’t perform to feel good, but to share genuine emotions. I don’t care if it makes people feel affection or repulsion, as long as their feelings are genuine.”
This is a striking statement from somebody who looked for words hesitantly during our conversation. “I used to be very open, but I couldn’t show it onstage. Now that I can, I am much more shy. Sometimes there is a lump in my throat all day and I don’t even want to speak to people that I love. So you can imagine what it must feel like to have a personal conversation with somebody I don’t know at all.”
> Aldous Harding. 24/08, 19.00, Warandepark/Parc de Bruxelles, Brussels