AcoustiCity: reviews

Polly Paulusma - Scissors in my Pocket (One Little Indian)

When so many female singer-songwriter recordings tend towards expression stifling overproduction or mawkish Eva Cassidy slush, Scissors in my Pocket is a quiet revelation. Polly Paulusma's confessional writing draws the listener into a series of highly personal intimate vignettes & internal monologues. Lyrically, nearly all human life is here from the joyous to the heart wrenching: death, catharsis, existential contemplation, religion/fate, love, immortality & suicide. The wordplay is lively, playful, even whimsical in places & sprinkled with literary allusions & metaphor. Polly deals with complex issues without fuss or excess.

Often built on Polly's insistently strummed acoustic guitar there is a refreshing, light touch to the arrangement & production. Playing throughout is exceptional, restrained & never swamps the songs. Core band members Oli Hayhurst & Rastko Rasic provide rich jazz-inflected electric/upright bass & intelligent percussion respectively. String, horn & backing vocal arrangements by Polly herself are tastefully employed for substantial dynamic emphasis. Polly's vocal ranges from low, breathy & conspiratorial through plaintive to soaring & celebratory with more than a hint of Mowtown zeal. While distinctly original & English in diction, there are hints of Carole King, Joni Mitchell & Janis Joplin.

All this said, the album is underpinned by the strength of the highly melodic, McCartney-quality, songs and it is these which will provide its lasting appeal. As with all great albums, additional layers of texture & meaning are revealed with repeated listening. Scissors in My Pocket could take up its rightful place on many shelves alongside Blue, Blood on the Tracks, Pink Moon & The Kick Inside.

James Hibbins - February 2004

The Nature of Tea at Abbey Road: Interview with Polly Paulusma. February 2004.

Tell me about the extremes between recording in your home built studio "the
shed" & the mastering at Abbey Rd.

Polly Paulusma: They were both amazing experiences in different ways. At home in my shed, I was on familiar turf and able to just make my music in my own time, on my own terms, with no one watching me if I made a mistake. I was able to explore ideas that perhaps I wouldn't have felt able to if I was paying by the hour, ideas I could abandon after a few hours without any sense of guilt, ideas which sometimes became pivotal parts of the record (those banks of backing vocals are one such experiment that turned out) - but there were others that didn't work so well.  I was also able to invite soloists over and record them in the garden, with cups of tea, and the cat hanging around.

The whole experience was one of organic creation, and it was a real joy.
There were times when the lack of technology or soundproofing were frustrating; waiting for the planes to pass each day (I live under the Heathrow flight path in south London), and every day having to stop at 5.30 while the daily Concorde thundered past (something I miss now), having to find new ingenious ways of dangling my homemade pop shield from the mic stand without laddering the tights from which it was made. But I'm not sure
I could have made this record anywhere else.
Taking it to Abbey Road for mastering was a real contrast.  Tea was brought by a young work experience intern. Photos and gold discs lined the corridors. The ghosts of all my heroes called out to me as I walked.  I was
grateful I was mastering 'Scissors...' there. The master took 2 days over all, and involved sitting on a sofa listening over and over again to the songs, making minute alterations to the sparkle or tone, adding space, removing noise but still maintaining the homemade scuff. It's a painstaking process, and Abbey Road is exactly the kind of place you want to be to do something like that, working with really experienced people to get the best out of the recording, making it sound 'real' without removing any of the shedness that makes it what it is.
I don't think I'd want to record in Abbey Road and master in the shed!
There are some eclectic influences on your sound, how do you feel about being pigeonholed as a "singer-songwriter"?
PP: I think people need help sometimes approaching new artists. I do sing and write my own material. So does Madonna but I don't think we're doing the same thing. I think of myself in the same room as contemporaries like David Gray, Damien Rice, Travis, Coldplay - their songs feel familiar to me, like old friends, but always twisting and turning, showing up something new. I love Wilco and Sparklehorse, and those songs pouring out of the
scene in the States.  And then I can go back in time to Van Morrison, Nick Drake, Joni, Carole, Bob Dylan, all the people who cared about the lyric and its relationship to the melody. I don't mind being pigeonholed with these
kinds of people. I think I'd like to be pigeonholed with people who care about songs.   
In contrast to a lot of songwriters' work many of the songs are very positive; was this a conscious decision?
PP: No; I just write observations about life, and perhaps because I'm largely a positive person then the songs come out that way. I've always considered myself very lucky indeed - perhaps that's why.  But having said that, I don't think 'Mea Culpa' or 'Perfect 4/4' or 'One Day' are particularly positive. And you haven't heard the second record yet. It's going to be much darker.
To what degree are the songs autobiographical?
PP: All the songs are either about something that's happened to me, or something that's happened to someone close to me.
Did you plan the light touch to the album's arrangement?
PP: I'm glad you think it's light, and no it wasn't planned. I can always hear certain things off the bat, certain things just present themselves the moment a song is written. But other things were just able to grow out of the
loose recording process. I just think it's very important to try lots of things out, and to try not to by hypercritical of any one idea until you've given it a shot. Sometimes you can imagine something is wrong with your head, but when you try it out your ears tell you something different.
What developments do you have planned for the future? Will you be taking the core band for this album on tour?
PP: The core band (Oli Hayhurst on double bass, Rastko Rasic on percussion) will play some dates, and others I'll be playing solo acoustic. I think variety is the spice of life, and each setup is very different; as a player I get so much out of each format, and I think the audience gets a different experience out of each format too. So we'll be mixing the pot a little I think. We've also got some shows coming up featuring some of the soloists from the record, including the dulcimer player, trumpets and strings. So there's lots of scope. I'm just really looking forward to getting out and
playing again. I love this work - you're just getting a bit tired of recording when it's time to get out on the road again; when you're looking forward to being at home it's time to write (and I always do this in kitchens for some weird reason); when there are lots of songs it's time to record them. And so on; like crop rotation. It's the best job in the world.
James Hibbins - February 2004


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