Interview: Art School Girlfriend, the mysterious force on the indie scene

An exceptionally warm Edinburgh evening intoxicated the city and headliner Art School Girlfriend’s gig at Sneaky Pete’s elevated that warmth to incredible heights. Art School Girlfriend was supported by Super Inuit and Stillhound, two Edinburgh based bands that fuse electronic and indie music with ambient sound. Super Inuit hypnotised the audience with its haunting and trancelike sound. Meanwhile, Stillhound performed in an energetic and eclectic manner that seemed to flow smoothly and gleefully from one song to the next.

Polly Mackey, the driving force behind Art School Girlfriend, entranced the crowd with her minimalist but powerful stage presence. Her dark and mysterious sound was deeply rooted within all the members of the ensemble. Art School Girlfriend’s set ranged from favorites such as ‘Outside’ and ‘Bending Back’ to new material. Afterwards I chatted with Polly outside the venue in the early hours, an environment often summoned in her work.

What’s the story behind the creation of Art School Girlfriend?

I started out in a shoe gaze band [Deaf Club] with our guitarist back in London. After the band had run its course and disbanded, I started experimenting with self-production in my bedroom; just listening, recording, mixing. I was lucky enough to meet with Paul Epworth, who is one of my favorite producers. I really admire his work and was thrilled to get to connect with him. He gave me access to a studio for about a year where I was able to come in regularly and just record, which is how my EP came about.

How would you describe your creative process?

I don’t really sit down in front of a piano and write some songs. For me, the process starts with small sounds, things I notice or listen to. It could be a certain sound on the synth, stuff I like or something else. Melodies and lyrics come from those moments. I’ve also moved from a singular process and have become more open to collaboration.

Is collaboration a change in your artistic style?

Collaboration has shifted the way I work, which is something I’ve grown to appreciate. With my process, I’m also lucky that my current record label gives time to develop and create material, whereas usually you have to constantly produce material. Wolf Tone gives you the space to create your label and your sound.

How does your environment influence your work?

Two and a half years ago I moved from London to Margate, which has made me slow down and be more mindful of what I do. A lot of the stress from living in constant commotion goes away, like not worrying about the rent or money. There’s a really nice creative community there which has impacted my work.

London to Margate must have been a big change.

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a change, but more like going back. I grew up in a small town and there was never much happening there. So we had to be more independent about what we did. It fostered a kind of DIY environment that I now see in Margate, which I love.

A lot more down to earth then?

Much more down to earth. It’s a lot more reminiscent of grassroots art. There’s a person for everything. If I want to get some shirts silkscreened, I know someone in town for that. Margate also has a lot of people that moved from London a couple of years ago, so everyone’s in the same mindset.

Have you always found yourself in artistic communities?

My girlfriend went to art school (hence the name) so art is a part of my life. I would always hang out with musicians, which is how I got started on the indie/guitar scene. The indie scene used to be male and white, but I think it’s expanding its boundaries and becoming more diverse.

How has art, outside of the music world, influenced your life?

Music is definitely more influenced by art world, especially nowadays. Our world is becoming more visual, which I think sets the bar higher for the art and music being created. Even with things like Instagram, it’s a visual medium so you have to put effort into cultivating your aesthetic. Art has inspired me in ways I didn’t even expect when I was producing this EP. I ran out of time to do proper vinyls, so I had the idea of making limited edition RICO prints, which is more unique.

Who’ve you been listening to lately?

Lauren Auder is one, I’ve been listening to her a lot lately.

What’s next after the tour?

I’m going to take this winter to write. Next year’s gonna be hectic. I’ll be sampling stuff and producing, so I’m going to focus on creating during the winter.

Image: Tom Dream via Pomona UK

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