Is It Light Where You Are

Art School Girlfriend

Is It Light Where You Are

Art School Girlfriend’s debut album is the sort of dreamy electro-pop that transplants you to another place. However, Is It Light Where You Are is entirely rooted in the real world for Polly Mackey, the British producer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter behind it all. “Most of the time when I’ve written, it’s been quite abstract lyrics,” Mackey tells Apple Music. “Whereas this time, it was actually opposite: It was the first time I was like, ‘I need to get these [feelings] out, otherwise it’s just going to swirl around my brain and not make me feel very nice.’”
Mackey was going through a breakup and sleeping on a friend’s sofa in London, feeling unanchored and dealing with mental health issues, when she started going to the studio for 12 hours a day as a means to focus her energy. “It was a nice way to just give those feelings some purpose and actually think, ‘I can get something out of this, I can turn it into some music,’” she says. The LP documents both the heartache of a relationship ending and the euphoric rush of a new one beginning—it’s an album that comes full circle on itself by the end. “I don’t think I’ll ever write an album like this again,” says Mackey. “It is a really particular time of life and learning and age. It’s been quite an intense process, but really good overall.” Let her guide you through the collection, track by track.
“In the Middle” “The ending of this track is supposed to mimic those feelings of a panic attack, so all the distortion builds up and up and up, and gets to the point where it’s a little bit overwhelming. And then, when it breaks, there’s all this kind of beautiful sound underneath that’s been there the whole time, which I think mimics the idea of a breakup. The idea is that after you get over those mind-melting feelings, you can see what beauty was there underneath. It was really important that this was the first thing that people heard, because it summed up a lot of the themes lyrically—and also, sound-wise, this duality of harshness and beauty and lightness and happiness.”
“Is It Light Where You Are” “After we get that distortion break and feelings of a panic attack, the first line on this track is, ‘I lost my head there for a minute’ and all the synths are quite soothing. That’s how I felt: I’d lost my grip on my mental health in a way I hadn’t before, and this was a song about getting back on track and moving on. These were some of the easiest lyrics I’ve written—I couldn’t get them out fast enough. The night before, I’d been on a phone conversation with someone who was on the other side of the world, and they also sounded quite happy and content, and it struck me how they were mentally and physically in quite a different place. It ended up, again, being the themes of the album—lightness and darkness, lightness and heaviness, and how I wanted to get out of the dark and heaviness and into the light.”
“Softer Side” “I think everyone’s been there, where you project an ideal onto someone quite early on in something and then end up searching for this person that actually doesn’t exist. It’s a really strange thing, because you end up constantly disappointing each other. The lyrics were basically pulled from the diary that I was keeping that year. When you look back on a time that you were struggling and you’re out the other side, it’s quite nice to look back on.”
“Give” “This is possibly my favorite track on the album. There’s only a couple on there about the new relationship, those first few weeks of falling for someone and getting to see behind their curtain of armor, which I think everyone has. There’s some quite sweet, personal lyrics in this song, which I don’t think would make sense to anyone else, but that’s why they’re some of my favorites. It’s just about having feelings reciprocated and knowing it’s the real deal. The album is super electronic and expansive, and there’s a moment on this where it’s just my voice and a piano. We made a decision to not use any compression, any effects, anything that you would, like, normally even just apply to raw song recordings. It’s a really pure moment in a track that, production-wise, is quite strange.”
“Low Light” “I rarely write songs on the guitar, but this is one that came quite easily that way. It’s an homage to Chet Baker’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well.’ I’ve kind of stolen one of his lines about kidding the moon. It’s just an homage to that and situations where it triggers you back into not feeling OK again.”
“Colour Me” “It started as a demo on my laptop, and then I worked on it with Tom Furse from The Horrors and a duo called St Francis Hotel. That was back in late 2018, but then the lyrics were done during the making of the album. It’s about laughing about how pathetic humans can be when they’re infatuated with someone, how malleable you can be.”
“Helm” “The album was really close to being finished as we went into lockdown, and then I ended up writing this. It was done way quicker than anything else on the album, from writing to finishing the track, probably because I had a deadline. There’s some really interesting crunchy drums on it and there’s a Moog Grandmother on there as well, which sounds really cool. It’s just a really simple song about loving someone.”
“Good As I Wanted” “It’s about being on the precipice of a new relationship and not really knowing whether they feel the same. A lot of communication during that time is kind of done during eye contact and there’s a few light lines about that. I refer to someone looking at me and it’s like taking a punch, and then at the end I say, ‘Spin me out so blue.’ I feel like there’s like a sweet, teenage-like excitement in this track, which I quite like.”
“Bored of Myself” “This is the one that I think the title sums up. One of the things when you leave a long-term relationship is about getting used to spending time alone. But then also, when you’re spending time alone is when you really annoy yourself and you don’t like yourself that much. It’s wanting to be away from your noisy brain, but wherever you go, your noisy brain goes with you. I listened back to the demo of this recently, and it was a lot dreamier and we ended up taking it in a bit more of a punchy direction. And I maybe wish I’d kept the dreamy vibe because it makes it a lot sadder, but maybe that’s a good thing.”
“Eyes on You” “This was written before I’d even thought about Art School Girlfriend as a name, and I’d always wanted to save it for my album. It’s interesting that this song has now been put on a breakup album because it’s obviously quite the opposite. It’s had quite a few different iterations over the years. We stripped it back to me and piano and some drones; it just allowed it to breathe as a song. It feels right to have this as the last track on the album because it feels like a circle closing. It feels nice to me that it marks the end of a chapter by it being the beginning.”

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