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May/June 2021

by Sam Smith

Pickle Darling: The Power Of Twee

by Sam Smith

Pickle Darling: The Power Of Twee

Bedroom pop has proven to be the perfect music style for a pandemic. The affordable ease of recording from the confines of any small room at home makes the format appealing to up-and-coming musicians worldwide, leading to a boom in equipment sales. Lukas Mayo is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s foremost bedroom pop exponents. This year, the Christchurch artist, who goes by the stage name Pickle Darling, released their second studio album, two years after finding local success and critical acclaim with the album ‘Bigness’, which notably featured internationally as album of the day on Bandcamp. Sam Smith posed the questions.

A lot has changed in the world since 2019, but in the musical world of Mayo things are relatively the same. They are still making music at home, and still making music that combines minimalist production with lo-fi dead-pan vocals that many fans here in Aotearoa can’t help but find loveable.

Music been a passion for Mayo since childhood when they would raid their dad’s CD collection and borrow copies of NME and Q Magazine from the library. They started learning guitar at 15, eventually going on to study the pop course at Ara Institute in Christchurch.

“I was a pretty shit student. I remember going there and feeling it was like going to the gym where everyone else was practising scales and I was incapable and too lazy to do that. Me and my friend Marcus Burton, we had a project called Tin Toy Army. I also had a band called Step Children which lasted two shows and then faded away. That was with Emily Browning and a few others.”

Despite, or maybe rather because of those early experiences of being in groups, Mayo felt early on that a solo music career was going to be the best fit for their musical ideas to flourish.

“In every band I had been in before it was really hard because I felt like my ideas were really specific to me, so getting other people to perform them or to sing them, there was always a weird thing going on.”

And so Mayo decided to focus on their own solo project and Pickle Darling was conceived.

“Every band I had been in, I had suggested it as a name and everyone thought it was dumb. Now I had my own project, I was like, ‘Yes, I can finally use it!’”

A 2016 project of Beatles’ covers preceded their first EP of original material titled ‘Spring Onion Pancakes’ a year later.

“I put it out on bandcamp not wanting anyone to listen to it because I was embarrassed.”

Even at this early stage, Mayo’s music was forming a particular style of twee-inspired bedroom pop, subsequently perfected on ‘Bigness’.

“Broadly speaking, people call it bedroom pop. But I think all music is bedroom pop because so many people make music in their rooms. It is kind of a meaningless term now. I guess some people call it twee. I think I am influenced by a lot of country music, and I think when I translate that into my sound it sounds twee.”

Now signed to Slovakian indie label Z Tapes, Mayo’s second studio album is badged ‘Cosmonauts’, but don’t assume that name matches the musical content or intent.

“I think the production is more confident. I wanted to push into more extremes, so I bought a banjo for this album. And I wanted to make the twee stuff even more twee, but also the electronic stuff way more electronic.”

Although the country and folk influences are still there in the form of Wilco and the like, Mayo also added more pop influences such as Kacey Musgraves and Charli XCX.

“I feel every song is a mixture of different influences. I listen to so much music it is hard to pinpoint it.”

Work began on ‘Cosmonauts’ before ‘Bigness’ had even come out with some of the material even dating back to their first EP.

Blushing was the first song I wrote for the album which was a few years ago, and that felt like the definite start of a new thing because I felt it was so different from anything I had done before.”

In a definition of lo-fi Mayo wrote and recorded the album using just one microphone and playing all the instruments, although did find helping hands for some aspects of the process.

“There are a few songs involving others. On Blushing my friend Marcus Burton sings harmonies. My friend Alayne Dick has a poem on one of the songs, my partner Christiane Shorty sings backing vocals on one, and Matt Gunn does the mixing.”

Some of the material on ‘Cosmonauts’ is already causing a stir, including internationally with music website Stereogum featuring a write up on the Blushing single release, something that excited Mayo.

“The Stereogum feature was crazy. That was really cool, I don’t know how that happened. I just hope that momentum continues I guess.”

Despite this sort of international press, Mayo is quite content in further developing a cult following locally.

“A lot of my favourite artists are people who cultivate their really small fanbase. The Microphones are someone I look up to, or Mount Eerie, R.A.P. Ferreira – they just have their own cult following. That is the sort of career arc I want to have one day. There is no reason you have to be massive.”

As for the future? Well, Mayo is pressing on, having already started working on a new album, and yes it will be under the name Pickle Darling.

“I’m really excited about the next album now. I think a lot of artists channel their energy into trying to fix old things all the time, and they never put anything new out. I have a lot of friends who struggle to put music out because they keep seeing the flaws in it. But that’s part of it, it’s always going to happen, so just channel that energy into something new.

“I imagine myself doing music until I’m like 80, even if it doesn’t get big, it’s just fun for me to do. A lot of the processing in my life gets done through that and I think it’s a nice way to cut my life up, into chapters, and give myself the illusion that I have made life progress. I can’t imagine stopping making music.”