Five years ago, Auckland’s Catherine Walker released her charming debut EP ‘Magenta’ as The Low Low, admittedly very much on the down-low. She is only now following it up with a second EP, co-produced by the artist herself with Tom Healy (Tiny Ruins, Bic Runga, Pacquin) at The Lab in Auckland. ‘Birthday At The Beach’ is an unpretentious and almost autobiographical second offering, full of clean harmonies and well thought-out arrangements in the shape of quiet, timeless classic pop. NZM asked Walker to run us through some of the stories and thoughts behind the songs, and she kindly obliged.
There was a period in my teenage years where I spent a lot of time in church. I was right into it. I was devout. It was a regular practice of prayer and worship. Every Sunday was an opportunity to ‘get right with God’. Moving through life and relaxing my grip on a solid, sharp-edged faith is something a lot of people I know have been navigating. To the kids from Pentecostal days of yore, this one’s for you.
I was dabbling with different reference points and considering how to write more rhythmically on the piano. An old boyfriend of mine was obsessed with the posthumous Buckley album ‘Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk’. While I’d always loved the slow, sexy groove of Everybody Here Wants You, it was Gunshot Glitter with its persistent, dissonant, lo-fi driving guitar that rang in my mind while writing I Had The Thought.
A real slow-burner. The initial spark for Birthday At The Beach came when I was listening to bFM circa 2012, and a Dear Time’s Waste song was playing. The lyric ‘we’re both trouble and I knew it since you told me the date of your birthday,’ surprised me and drew me in with its specificity. I started reflecting on the promise of these landmark occasions in life and how they often serve to magnify melancholy. The verse finally cracked when I took a sort of nursery-rhyme-narrator approach to it, and somehow it reminds me of one of my favourite childhood books, Peepo by Janet & Ahlan Alberg.
I’d moved to Queenstown and was living a quiet, secluded life; a bit of a self-imposed writing exile. It was a strange time. Everyone around me was having these insane adventures, overdosing on thrills while I’d lock myself away with my keyboard. Drink It Down muses on feelings of separation from that world.
This song is always the hardest to play because it’s pretty heart-on-sleeve sort of stuff, and it’s easy to feel insecure about being ‘a girl with a guitar, three chords and a lot of emotions.’ I wrote it on an old beaten up classical guitar that had been gifted to my mother when she was 15. It has a beautiful sound and boasts five out of six strings.
I write mostly on keyboards, but there is something about the immediacy of playing an acoustic instrument that is kind and quiet to flatmates’ ears that feels enjoyable in its effortlessness. Said flatmate might tell you that I was listening to Are You Alright by Lucinda Williams probably at least three times a day at the time of writing this song, up there with Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You in its utter sadness – I like to think that subconsciously rubbed off on me.