Carla J. Easton’s third album, WEIRDO, starts with a romantic proposition that will be familiar to any pop music fan: “Let me take you far away.” Formerly known as Ette, the Glasgow singer might not yet have been crowned the queen of literally everything, but the pulsating synths and soaring, breathy chorus of opener ‘Get Lost’ call right back to the pure pop escapism of Carly Rae Jepsen’s classic ‘Run Away with Me’. The follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Impossible Stuff, WEIRDO carries with it that same euphoric feeling throughout, but Easton augments it with a touch of those darker influences that have yet to materialize in Jepsen’s music: the pounding drums on the otherwise sugary ‘Heart So Hard’, the wobbly synths on the entrancing ‘Beautiful Boy’, the distorted guitars on the thrilling, Honeyblood-featuring title track. But such inventive flourishes only make the bubblegum sweetness of ‘Never Knew You’ or the exuberant maximalism of ‘Over You’ all the more irresistible – at the end of the day, the strangest thing about WEIRDO is that not everyone in the entire world is listening to it. That’s fine; after all, this is an album that builds its own neon-lit cinematic universe, and Easton ensures that whoever is lucky enough to stumble upon it has one hell of a time. Because if you’ve ever enjoyed pop music, you’ll know how good it feels to get a little bit lost.
We caught up with Carla J. Easton for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
It’s really hard for me to say. There was always music playing in our household courtesy of my big brother (10 years older than me). His bedroom walls were covered in so many posters that you couldn’t see the wall, and there was always Melody Makers and NMEs lying around. I have early memories of jumping up and down on my bed with a tennis racket guitar and being obsessed with the animated series Jem and The Holograms. When I was 5, my mum dressed me up as a ‘pop star’ for halloween. I had thick purple eye shadow and stars stuck on my face. She sprayed my hair in rainbow colours and I remember having a neon orange scalp for days afterwards at school. Fast forward to today and, usually after a show, I have remnants of glitter everywhere.
What are some influences that inform your music, and how have they evolved over the years?
My record collection is varied. My brother taught me to embrace all genres of music from a young age. Added to that I played saxophone in my school band and had classical piano lessons between the ages of 9 and 13. Playing in a band helped me learn the ways lots of different melodies and parts can fit together. I’ve always loved pop music – be that Teenage Fanclub or Kylie Minogue. I can switch from listening to Beethoven and BMX Bandits quite easily and am obsessed with the Brill Building songwriters. I love the immediacy of Northern Soul and the harmonies of Girl Groups, the synth sounds from dance and Italo and the drama of Spector productions. I guess it all feeds in to what I do in some way. I went to art school and it’s only with each album I make that I realise the influence of art school education on the way I produce music. My demos are sketches to take into the studio and they change into fully formed finished works that are then ‘exhibited’ via live performance. Venues are my galleries.
WEIRDO marks a clear sonic shift from 2018’s Impossible Stuff, leaning more towards the sound of your first record as Ette. What led you back to that path, and how was your approach different this time?
I like to look at the people around me making a record and create a sound specific to the studio environment I am in. With the Ette record, most of it was written whilst I was staying with my mum for a bit. I had a minimal set up that consisted of an old Casio MT keyboard and a Korg Minipops Drum Machine. When it came to recording it was just me and the producer Joe Kane playing all the instruments and recording the album in an old lock up converted into a rehearsal space. Impossible Stuff was recorded in Hotel2Tango in Montreal with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire/ Leonard Cohen) and I had access to amazing musicians and instruments. That album was mostly recorded live off the floor – each song was captured at just the right point where, playing as a band, we had learned the song but couldn’t overthink our parts so it was spontaneous. I’d written most of those songs on the piano so it became the instrument that everything else fit around.
With WEIRDO – I guess it’s the sound of my having fun and exploring my synth more. Delving deeper into electronic drums. I co-wrote a lot of the tracks with Scott Paterson (Sons and Daughters) who had just come back from touring with The Kills as their synth player and my live band has 2 members of the electronic/dance band Sun Rose. Working with them meant I could push more into synth scapes and electronic drums and combine that with elements of Impossible Stuff. I never really know how a record is going to sound and for me that’s really exciting! Some tracks maybe only have 2 or 3 of us playing on it and some will have 5 – it’s never rehearsed before recoding because I like going into the studio to record with an open attitude. Everything is subject to change. I’ve been working with Producer Stephen Watkins since 2015 and over the last 5 years this is the method that suits us.
Could you talk us through the process of writing and recording WEIRDO? What was it like working with Scott Paterson?
I wrote and recorded the track ‘Thorns’ in 2017 before going to Montreal to record Impossible Stuff. As soon as Stephen sent me the final mix I knew it would be the closing track for the album after Impossible Stuff. I still think it’s one of the best collaborations me and Stephen have made together. It was then over a year before we would begin more tracks for WEIRDO as I was on the release and gig schedule for Impossible. In 2019 I performed a lot of gigs playing synths for The Vaselines (one of my all time favourite bands) which is how I met Scott Paterson who was playing bass for them. We played Belle and Sebastian’s Boaty Weekender and it was after that Scott said come to his studio and let’s co-write together. ‘Get Lost’ was the second song we wrote together and it was quickly followed by ‘Heart So Hard’, ‘Never Knew You’, and ‘Over You’.
Working together has been great as we both love writing and are good friends – I guess what I enjoy most about co-writing is the social aspect of it as writing can be quite isolating at times. The track ‘Weirdo’ was written quickly one afternoon when I was in my bedroom with nothing to do and frustrated about being labelled as ‘weird’ in a derogatory way. ‘Coming Up Daisies’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’ were written at the Banff Centre For Arts and Creativity in Canada where I was attending a writers’ residency in March 2019. I’d hiked up a mountain with songwriter Kim Richey and we were so high up I felt I could pick the sun out of the sky and swallow it down. It made me think about manmade monuments versus natural monuments. At the top of the mountain was an old shack where scientists had been studying cosmic rays and it was lined by old wooden fences that tourists had scrawled there names on, which made me remember a visit to Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris and how it is now protected by perspex because it was starting to crumble with the weight of pilgrims kisses.
‘Catch Me If I Fall’, ‘Signing It In Blood’ and ‘Waves That Fall’ are all the results of walking around Glasgow and getting melodies in my head. I find that walking provides an ‘inner drumbeat’ and writing to drum machines has always been a tool for me.
How did the collaboration with Honeyblood come about, and what do you feel Stina Tweeddale brought to the track?
Me and Stina became friends after collaborating for a performance for the SAY Award longlist party in 2018. She’s not only become a great friend but also an ally and peer which is important. As a solo artist, it’s brilliant support to have someone you can trust and speak to about projects you are working on. Honeyblood were rehearsing in a studio not far from La Chunky Studio where I was recording with Stephen and my band. They came round to see how the session was going and it just happened off the cuff and very naturally. I think that’s what I love about this album – to me it’s a record made with friends! As soon as she sang the lines on ‘Weirdo’ I knew that would be the bit everyone would want to sing along to (myself included!). With a song like that, and a message of celebrating and embracing your weirdness, I think having Stina on it solidified that – come together, collaborate, create, have fun, be yourself – there’s a celebratory girl gang element that wouldn’t have existed without her involvement.
What do you hope listeners take away from the album?
Pop music can be interesting and fun and sad and happy and euphoric and intricate and clever. It can be lots of different things. It can be dirty as well as shiny. It’s OK to be weird. It’s OK to make mistakes in life and learn from them. You’ll fall in love and crash out of it but you’ll survive. The origins of the word weird originally meant ‘having the power to control destiny’. I like that. This record was therapeutic for me to write and record.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope that one day I can tour this album live and blast it out in sweatbox venues! Until then, I’m writing new music with plans to record shortly. The WEIRDO album has gone to repress and I am so excited to have collaborated with Jim Lambie on the artwork for it for the Wild Rose Jim Lambie Edition. There aren’t many left and the support from everyone has been incredible and means I can keep making music and that’s my favourite thing to do in life.
WEIRDO is out now via Olive Grove Records.