In her previous work—solo as well as with Australian underground favorites like Straight Arrows and Circle Pit—Angela Garrick’s musical approach has consistently been raw, loose and punchy, and brimming with melancholy agitation. On her newest solo LP (as Angie), Shyness, she strips that sadness down to its barest components—no less earthy, but with less of a rock framework, with piano as the central instrument rather than guitar. The result is almost uncomfortably intimate without revealing too many personal details—minimal and breathtaking in a similar way to Cat Power or Shannon Wright (though she’s no sound-alike).
We caught up with Angie to learn about her stylistic turn, her poetry, writers she loves, and making room for different approaches to making music and playing live.
Why did you choose to center your work on the grand piano? What about that instrument attracted you?
My decision to make a record on piano was the result of a combination of spontaneous or serendipitous situations. I do have a background in piano—I learned it when I was a small child—but rejected it all once I became a teenager and I become enamored with electric guitar. I wouldn’t go near a piano for years until by chance an old out of tune piano turned up in a share house I was living. Occasionally, I would tap away at it when I was sure no one was home and record small things into my phone.
More recently, I became intrigued by the process of improvisation on piano, and attempted to learn Erik Satie’s infamous Gymnopedies. It was at this time I revisited those demo improvisations, and when I was trying to replicate them, I found it impossible as they were written on a piano that was completely out of tune. I hired a piano teacher to help me notate the recordings in a way that I could perform and develop them on a normal piano. Those tracks became the core of Shyness.
Is your metaphysical lyricism a reflection of your thought process, or a way to mask inner feelings?
I gave a collection of my poems to an elderly man who comes into my work, and he came back a few weeks later telling me that he found my poems to be “fragmentary realizations,” in the sense that they are a kind of mundane, but also expressive everyday revelations that allude to darker presents and pasts without ever really revealing their origin. If words can come out of me, it’s a very natural thing that’s hard to explain. At this moment in time, I have no words. I have no music either, it’s a bit listless. As for an explanation of their place of origin, this is something that I also cannot quite clearly explain. It’s something ephemeral, something beyond yourself.
The combination of music and lyrics are distant, but in such a personal and profound way. How do you balance that?
I suppose I’ve never been one to really be too ‘present’ in my work. There is a definite sadness, but it’s a kind of muted sadness, like a sadness without language. Perhaps this explains why the record is partially instrumental. I don’t want to dictate to the listener. I want them to create meaning for themselves, which is what the best instrumental music can do. Words often act as a thematic guide, which is also a very wonderful thing. In regards to that fragile balance of distant and personal, I would say it is my musical style; it’s just something that comes with my creative territory, not something that is wanted or forced. You want to give, but you don’t want to give too much away, like almost everything in life!
Are there any artists, authors, poets who inspired your lyricism?
Of course, there is an abundance. I am so enamored by poetry—the fact it exists, trapping thoughts, is in itself a wonder. My most influential force for Shyness would be without a doubt the Brazilian and Czech author Alejandra Pizarnik. Her two collections translated into English—Extracting the Stone of Madness and A Musical Hell are definitely big influences. Maggie Nelson’s poetry collection Bluets would also be an influence at the time of recording.
Some of your previous power pop-inspired work is so energetic, which is jarring when juxtaposed with the mellowness of Shyness. Why was there such a sharp shift?
I would say that it is a stylistic shift. As far as I am concerned, I’m just doing the same thing I’ve been doing for almost 15 years—making music and making art and making things. I perhaps have slowly gravitated towards more ‘relaxed’ sounds, and perhaps that’s a symptom of getting older. Also, the songs could have been executed with electric guitars, but the choice to use piano was kind of just something that happened. At that time, I was working somewhere where there was a piano, so I would play away on my breaks, and revisit those old demos that I made. At the same time, my friend Yoni mentioned that he could record me at this studio that had an amazing huge piano. So these two factors kind of came together, it just made sense, but it wasn’t something that I really sought out to do.
What is it you like about narrowing in on a musical theme to such an extreme degree?
I never thought about it that way, but I suppose it is! I like it because I see it as a challenge. I also love electric guitar so much, that almost eradicating it entirely has forced me to see things outside of my comfort zone. I found recording really, really difficult. It was a real challenge even trying to keep the timing right and consider my notation, and I couldn’t rely on anyone else because it was just me there. It was a challenge but the best kind of challenge.
Is the name Shyness to do with your personality or how you were feeling when recording the album?
I often become fixated on particular words, and at the moment of recording, I was enamoured by the word ‘shyness.’ It is just a beautiful word that never gets much attention! I love how it both starts and ends with S’s.
Regarding the thematic link, people always kind of tell me I needed to come out of my shell, or express myself, and always say to me when they see me playing live that I need to do this and that. But sometimes they do not consider the fact that I might be perfectly okay with the fact I’m not a natural performer, or I’m ‘shy’ or I’m not a ‘showman’ or whatever. There should be spaces for all kinds of performers and they should make music, perform it, sing it, tour it, exhibit, etc.
Sometimes the things that people perceive to be a certain frailty or weakness perhaps are not for [them]. I often become inspired to write things when I’m in these kind of conditions, and I would think a lot of creative people would experience the same thing. Sometimes these kind of characteristics are what makes you you, and in this strange flat world of screens and ‘hits’ and less engagements with objects and people but with pixels, it is nice to consider things like emotions, frailty, poetry and piano.