Bournemouth is quite an unsuspecting place, isn’t it? Pebble beaches, rock (the edible kind) and fish and chips, if you please. It’s definitely not known for being a music homeland, but that’s precisely from where songstress MHAIRI hails. At the tender age of 20 and with many influences [NB. You can find a playlist that MHAIRI curated of her favourite artists below!], she has led many musical lives including her electro pop wunderkind, folk singer-songwriter and… YouTube cover artist?
“I was sixteen when I uploaded my first video onto YouTube,” she says. “That Temper Trap cover will never see the light of day again [but] I think I really underestimated what a powerful platform it can be. I was intent on wanting to share music with other people, but also overwhelmingly terrified of playing in front of my own parents, never mind anyone else.” Her computer became the perfect buffer and before she knew it she was collaborating with other musicians and performing at local gigs. “It’s also how my manager found me[…] It’s pretty mind boggling that one site can yield so much opportunity; it’s certainly paved a creative path for me.”
Having only ever written songs on her own at that point, she found collaborating with Yoad Nevo – the producer behind her debut blog hit ‘Crystalline’ and her new single ‘Clarity’ – unbelievably daunting. “[I] had no idea how to go about including someone else in what was such a reclusive channel for me at the time. Bringing those introspective methods to more of team was a challenge and a learning curve, but I’m grateful that I’ve been pushed to do it.” It’s a challenge that has definitely paid off, as ‘Clarity’ is a focused and smooth slice of electro-pop offset with Mhairi’s soaring vocal, however when she first began experimenting her voice had a very different purpose.
“It sounds pretty silly now but I remember tapping pens on tables and using layered vocals to emulate synths. My knowledge of production was virtually non-existent at the time so I making sounds myself and recording them into something like GarageBand just to try and actually bring my ideas to life.” She also used to record herself ripping paper. “It seems counter productive, and maybe I should have thrown myself into Logic a little earlier than I did, but I think it actually spurred my creativity! Even now I think I still figuring out what the limits of my sound are, and I’m really keen to experiment more.”
It was this desire to experiment that led Mhairi to electronic music. “When I first began uploading music on YouTube, it was mostly acoustic/folk covers and at the time I thought that was my niche. I gradually started experimenting and after sending my manager a few demos that were more on that vein, there was a more resounding, “let’s do this”. This led to the aforementioned ‘Crystalline’; glitchy and brooding, the success of the song took her by surprise especially because the subject matter is “pretty personal and a little dark”.
Despite the confidence within her music however, Mhairi didn’t explore singing and songwriting until later into her teens as she was so shy at the time, yet despite this she is determined to create a rounded experience for her audience. “There’s something so undeniably epic about bringing these songs to a live setting, and the feeling I get after performing them is unlike any other. We’ve worked hard to try and recreate the atmosphere conjured up by the recording on stage, but throwing in some quirks and surprises here and there has been interesting too – it brings a whole new dynamic to the songs I’ve put so much heart into.”
Two songs in and an audience that is clearly eager for more, it begs the question of what we can expect from the young artist in the near future. Surely there’s an EP in the works, right? Well, perhaps not. “My mum always said don’t open your presents before Christmas Day.” It transpires that we may be waiting a little longer than we hoped after all…
MHAIRI PICKS… HER INFLUENCES
Damien Rice – ‘Eskimo’
My dad played me this song when I was probably nine or ten. I distinctly remember it being the first time a song had actually made me feel something, goosebumps and the like. I can’t count how many times I must have listened to it since, but I still get the same feeling every time.
BANKS – ‘Bedroom Wall’
I heard this song for the first time when I was figuring out what kind of songwriter I wanted to be. The whole electronic genre was still pretty foreign to me seeing as most of my favourite artists are the time were folk/acoustic. I didn’t know what she was doing or how she was doing it, but she was killing it (and still is), and I liked it.
Massive Attack – ‘Angel’
I’d been tip toeing around atmospheric/electronic artists with varying levels of interest for a while, but as soon as I listened to Massive Attack for the first time I was totally consumed by their dark, cinematic sound. A lot of my song writing is introspective, and an idea I’m pursuing almost always links back to a sound or feeling I’ve sourced from one of their songs.
M83 – ‘Raconte-Moi Une Histoire’
One of those songs that makes me feel like I’m flying. Dreamy synths and playful vocals, what more could you ask for?
Volcano Choir – ‘Dancepack’
There’s something about Justin Vernon’s voice and a song filled with angst that go incredibly well together. I’ve always admired Vernon’s lyrics, across all his projects be it Volcano Choir, Bon Iver, Gayngs… But this song has one of my favourites: “Take note, there’s still a hole in your heart”
Kate Bush – ‘Cloudbusting’
I underestimated Kate Bush for a long time until my manager encouraged me to really listen to her music in depth. Her influence on my song writing ever since has been undeniable, particularly her adventurous vocals.
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Vesuvius’
The phrase ‘genre hopping’ has never been more appropriate, and I will never understand how so much weird and wonderful music can be produced from one brain. Sufjan’s diverse style shows that an artist doesn’t have to stay in one particular box, and that really resonates with me.
Sharon Van Etten – ‘Love More’
This woman, and more specifically this song, showed me how powerful it can be to lay your self totally bare in a song. It’s so simple, but the harmonies and affectivity of her voice make it so intense.
S.Carey – ‘In The Dirt’
I’m so in awe of this guy. Every single melody, riff and rhythm seem to be so perfectly crafted and each time I listen to his music I discover something new. His expansive blend of sounds encouraged me to reassess how I was using instruments/production, and definitely made me strive to be more adventurous.
Nils Frahm – ‘Sol’
I grew up playing classical piano, so there’s something very comforting and relaxing about remembering where I’ve grown from musically.