Melody Pool is a young artist with an old soul…
After delivering one of the most acclaimed Australian debut albums of recent times, Melody Pool returns with her stunning second album Deep Dark Savage Heart (out 29 April 2016).
Deep Dark Savage Heart is Melody Pool’s story, taking the listener to a deeper, darker place: “I feel like I’ve really stood my ground with this record. I didn’t ever expect to make an album filled with pop hits. It’s always going to be me playing guitar and singing the truth.”
“I’m really proud of this album,” Melody says. “It really shows where I’m at – or where I was at – and how I wanted it to turn out.”
After the success of The Hurting Scene, Melody moved to Melbourne from Kurri Kurri NSW, her first time living away from home. She also toured with The Milk Carton Kids through Europe and performed two massive shows supporting the Eagles, before returning to Nashville to make Deep Dark Savage Heart with producer Brad Jones, an American who has worked with several Australian artists including Ben Lee and Missy Higgins. “Brad’s like a nutty professor in the studio,” Melody smiles. “He’s always up for trying new things.”
Melody Pool had a profoundly disturbing experience on stage in 2014. While touring in New Zealand with Kiwi singer Marlon Williams, the young performer from Kurri Kurri in NSW decided to close the show with a new song she had never performed before. By the time she was done, Pool was in a traumatic state — shaking, on edge, fearful.
That song, the centrepiece of the 24-year-old songwriter’s new album Deep, Dark Savage Heart, is called Black Dog, and that New Zealand performance of it was a coming out for Pool, a public declaration of the illness that has plagued her since the early days of her music career in 2013: depression.
On it she sings: “People often say there’s no time in a day, but there’s way too much time for me. I’m empty and aching, my whole world is shaking and the black dog has sat at my feet.”
“Emotionally I felt so vulnerable,” Pool says of that pivotal performance. “I felt naked on stage singing it for the first time, but it also felt awesome, like I was doing something meaningful and people would comment about it. It was the song that struck them.”
That cathartic moment and a decision to focus her new album on the demons she has faced have brought Pool to a happier place, she says, but only after years of suffering, misdiagnosis, not knowing what was wrong with her and a difficult, alienating relocation to Melbourne. She wrote that song not long after moving there in 2014, while living in a house where she didn’t know anyone.
The future, however, is looking bright for a singer who only a few years ago was a complete unknown. Pool came to the public’s attention in 2013 when she released her crowdfunded, Nashville-recorded debut album The Hurting Scene. That debut, featuring songs such as Henry, Xavier, Pretty Little End and the title track, is a vaguely country-roots collection with Joni Mitchell undertones, marked by the maturity in the writing and singing of a performer barely out of her teens and by the emotional strength and depth of its subject matter, much of it based around a bitter, real relationship breakup. It enjoyed critical praise, including in this newspaper.
“I achieved what I wanted with The Hurting Scene,” she says, “because I recorded it independently and I didn’t really expect anything from it. It got a lot more attention than I expected.”
Unfortunately, following the album’s release, Pool began to have more down periods than she’d had before. She says she can trace signs of her depression back to her early teenage years, but that it only began to manifest itself more acutely in her 20s.
“Through my teenage years it was quite mild,” she says. “There was a bit there, but just before I wrote The Hurting Scene, which was about that guy, that just triggered it. From then on, for maybe the past 3½ years, it was quite severe and a lot of that time I didn’t realise exactly what it was. I thought that it was heartbreak or something. I went to a few doctors and their response was quite bad. I was told to get over it and that it was a test of my character. These were small-town doctors, although I have an amazing GP now in Melbourne. It was also helpful that I had friends around me who had also suffered from depression, so I was able to recognise what it was rather than taking the doctors’ advice. I could see that there was something wrong. I’m much better now than I was.
“Part of the reason of being so open about that was knowing that recording this album, I would have to speak about it. Part of depression is feeling alone and feeling like no one knows what you are going through, where in fact lots of people are going through it.”
Today, sitting in the Sydney office of The Australian, talking about her new album and the recording of it — again in Nashville — Pool is happy. A lot of positives have accompanied her battle with depression. On the back of The Hurting Scene, Pool has toured on her own in Australia and locally and overseas with Williams and American duo the Milk Carton Kids. Last year she opened for the Eagles on their Australian tour, a gig that exposed her further to a new audience.
“They gave me more confidence, especially those Eagles shows and getting praise from them,” she says. “That’s still nuts to me. It helped me with all the self-doubt.”
Pool grew up in Kurri Kurri, in the Hunter region 40km west of Newcastle and was involved in music from an early age. Her father, Alby Pool, is a professional musician and his daughter got her first taste of being a musician singing in his band, when she was nine, and later playing guitar. She was a regular fixture at his shows as a teenager and also worked with a handful of country artists, including Lachlan Bryan and Kirsty Akers.
She got her first big break when she won the Telstra Road to Discovery talent quest at the home of Australian country music, Tamworth, in January 2013. It was clear even then, however, that country music wasn’t her primary calling. “I grew up, obviously, with country music,” she says. “I didn’t think The Hurting Scene was all that country, but now when I look at it, I guess it’s a bit more twangy than Deep, Dark Savage Heart. I feel like I’ve grown into who I really am, but there are still going to be those inflections. I’m still going to get called a country singer, which I think is hilarious.”
Any self-doubt Pool might be wrestling with isn’t reflected in the quality of her songwriting. Deep, Dark, Savage Heart is a step up and sideways musically from her previous outing. It was recorded with producer Brad Jones, who also worked on The Hurting Scene and who has produced albums for other Australian artists such as Ben Lee, Bob Evans and Missy Higgins.
Pool, who signed to Melbourne-based label Liberation shortly after she made The Hurting Scene, says she “dabbled with a few producers in Australia, who were awesome, but I just had my heart set on Brad. I knew how I could work with him and how well we work together.
“Also I like the isolation of being in a different country and being disconnected from my life, to be able to focus on something that is purely creative.”
The new album has more of a folk and rock element than its predecessor and has lush moments too thanks to the addition of strings, most strikingly on How Long and Mariachi Wind. Pool has performed live for the past few years alongside violinist Hayley-Jane Ayres and cellist Madeleine Becker, who will join her again for her Australian tour next month.
“I have such a love of those girls and their playing,” she says. “I feel like I shaped the songs that way because they are part of my songwriting.”
While the “black dog” rears its head on several of the 11 songs, including the title track and City Lights (“I feel as if I could disappear into the night”), she addresses other issues. Old Enough focuses on the journey from being a girl to womanhood. In sharp contrast to Black Dog, the song that follows it, Romantic Things, is a rather buoyant salute musically to one of her favourite bands, Fleetwood Mac.
“That song was written as a songwriting exercise,” she explains. “I wasn’t writing anything, so I thought I’d just write a Fleetwood Mac song. I didn’t plan on recording it at all, but I played it to Brad and he said we needed that song on the record. It lifts the album up.”
There are also familiarly blunt observations on relationships, with some graphic imagery and language thrown in. Current single Love, She Loves Me, boasts the line: “She f..ks me like a demon / she’s a poet when she’s high.” The song is an example, first heard on the raw, angry ballad Henry on The Hurting Scene, of Pool painting a vivid picture of love gone badly wrong. “I write to vent,” she says with a laugh, “so it just came out because that’s how I was feeling. When I get riled up I can articulate things quite well. Not when I’m not. I like to emote. I like to write songs the way I would speak, which includes a few choice words.”
Pool might have had few expectations of her first album, but she’s hoping to build some momentum with the new one. “I want a natural progression with this record,” she says. “I want it to grow, my audience to grow, as we all do as artists. I have goals. I don’t want to play stadiums particularly, I just want to have a successful life in music.”
And she is hopeful that there will be no return to the darkness she has had to go through to get to this point of her career. She says her illness, in some ways “actually helped me to perform. I threw a lot into performance and still do. That was beneficial, but everything surrounding it was harder.
“I haven’t performed that much since it got better,” she says, ”so I guess we’ll see how that goes on the tour.”
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