Interview with B.C. musician White Poppy
Soothing ambience-conjurer White Poppy returned this past summer with her third full-length album The Pink Haze of Love. This time, she sought to challenge herself seemingly more than she had on past releases: by writing songs that are more stripped down while retaining nuanced textures, by presenting clearer vocals, and by emphasizing her lyrics which, for the first time, centre on love, specifically love addiction and sickness. Even her recording process largely changed from analogue to digital.
Vancouver Weekly caught up with the BC-based artist to discuss these new approaches and more including writing with a vision in mind for the first time (at least on an album scale); letting go of perfectionism, and the influence old romance novels had on The Pink Haze of Love.
Vancouver Weekly: Although The Pink Haze of Love was the first time you began writing a full album with a vision in mind, you ended up letting many of the songs unfurl naturally. How did you compromise the two processes? How much of the album ended up being true to your vision, and how much of the album conformed to your natural inclinations?
White Poppy: I think a lot of it deviated from the initial vision, but I did manage to capture an overall essence of what I intended. I am learning to reframe my initial idea as the starting point from which to expand from instead of it being the reference point that I keep trying to get back to. You can miss out on a lot of spontaneous magic and creative growth if you hold onto your initial idea too rigidly, which I tend to do. I think it speaks to an approach toward life in general. It’s beneficial to let go and let things unfold as they will, to get out of your own way and give up some control or need for structure and certainty.
VW: The album features a few songs that you recorded completely digitally. Why did you move from tape? Did you find recording digitally more freeing or limiting in any way?
WP: I’m a little sentimental about tape. I was afraid to move toward digital recording and lose the tape sound that I love. But it was beginning to become quite frustrating to record to tape, and I was finding myself becoming bored of my old process. It’s easier and more freeing when I record digitally. That being said, I still intend to incorporate my tape machines, and I find sneaky ways to get the sound that I desire.
VW: The album also features your clearest vocals and greatest emphasis on lyrics to date. Did you enjoy the challenges of writing with a vision in mind, focusing on your words, and recording some songs completely digitally?
WP: The songs were written spontaneously over many years, so I didn’t actually write them with a specific theme in mind. It was more like I noticed that I had this growing collection of demos about love and loss and matters of the heart, so I then set out to compile them together and record them in a specific and cohesive way.
VW: You’ve described yourself as having been “anti-love song for a long time” and “kind of a curmudgeon about it.” Did that attitude ever influence your decision to make mostly ambient music?
WP: No, I don’t think so. Making ambient music was not so much of an intentional decision. It’s just where I ended up one day.
VW: This past summer, you graduated from school in mental health work. Did being in school help you learn how to better balance leisure, work, and creativity?
WP: When I was in school, there was no balance. There was way too much school and not enough time for other things, particularly creative pursuits. It helped me learn that I want to have balance, and that is something I am working at.
VW: Back in April, you commemorated White Poppy’s fifth anniversary by sharing a new song, “Runaway I & II”, on Facebook. In the same post, you recalled a simpler, spontaneous time when you were teaching yourself how to make music on your first four-track recorder and drum machine, a time when you were free of the burden of pursuing perfection. Bittersweetly, you acknowledged that “there’s no going back” to that period, so you “try to find new ways to access that magic place when everything feels new and exciting.” Did letting go of perfectionism on The Pink Haze of Love help you recapture those feelings?
WP: Unfortunately no, I was not really able to transcend my perfectionist restraints. However, the making of The Pink Haze of Love felt like an important stepping stone to get to a place where I can be more free and playful again. In terms of recording and creative processes, I basically learned what not to do and what doesn’t work for me which was very valuable.
VW: We also discussed your decision to unveil more of your visage on your self-titled album’s cover art with a picture of your face in profile. You’ve gone a step further on Pink Haze by showing your entire face head-on, an appropriate choice for your most transparent album yet. Were you consciously creating a theme?
WP: Yeah, for me this album was very much about challenging myself to be vulnerable and visible. To take up space and share myself though it makes me uncomfortable. On a deeper level, it relates to the work I’ve been doing on self-acceptance and self-love. Aesthetically, I also really like the look of a lot of older records that are just a close up of the artist’s face on the front. Nico and Joni Mitchell album covers come to mind.
VW: Can you tell me about your font and composition choices for Pink Haze’s cover art? The cover’s strikingly different from your previous ones not just insofar as you’re staring directly at the viewer. Structure blends curiously with softly obfuscated edges that frame your gaze.
WP: I was looking toward old romance novels and new age tapes for font and style inspiration. I was quite obsessed with making the font actually. I really wanted to have it printed with gold embossed lettering, but it was way too expensive. I wanted it to embody that sort of cheesy dramatic look. Though the image is more visible, I still do prefer a dreamy look to things, and I also wanted to portray being within the pink haze. I like the way that you put it though, because I feel like that sort of encapsulates the style of the music on this album, structure blending with soft obfuscated edges.
White Poppy plays a free album release show for ‘The Pink Haze of Love’ at the Lido tonight, September 26th, 2017.