Analogue Music | Neighbor Lady

Neighbor Lady

By Matt Conner

If you caught the first seven songs from Neighbor Lady, you'll know why terms like "innovative" were applied the first time around.

The Georgia-based quartet released their self-produced debut album, Maybe Later (Friendship Fever), in the spring of '18. While the banner of indie rock was applied for the sake of the marketplace, those tasked with longer descriptions were taken back by the flavors and forces mixed within.

Emily Braden, the band's vocalist and principal songwriter, possesses a stellar vocal ability, steeped in her deep Southern roots. It's an ideal centerpiece for the imaginative melodic approaches of the band. Even just seven songs in length, Maybe Later gave the band permission to explore a number of future corridors.

Now hard at work on the finishing touches of their follow-up (yet still without any official timeline), we caught up with Braden and guitarist Jack Blauvelt to reflect back on their debut and the perceived pressures of making that sophomore record.

Analogue: Last year was a big year with the debut and lots of touring. This year, not so much. Can you bring us to the present?

Emily Braden: Yeah, we've been taking a break from touring for the first part of the year. We've started recording the new record and I'm finishing up writing the new songs. For the most part, we've finished up all of the demos. I just have to finish up a few things and then we'll start working with it and touring more, which I'm excited about.

Jack Blauvelt: We've got a tour coming up from the middle of September to the middle of October for about a month. We're excited about that. We love playing the live shows.

Emily: We got to record two songs for Athens Resonates and they're putting out a 7" we get to bring on tour with us and proceeds go to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Athens. So that was pretty great. That's a fun little thing to have to sell on tour.

Analogue: How is it writing and recording with the debut already out there?

Jack: All of those songs off the first record were songs that Emily had for years before that record even came out. A lot of the new material had already been written immediately as we put that last record out. When Emily was writing those songs, she didn't feel like she was trying to sound like this or that. I don't think it's hard to write new songs to sound like the old record. They just come out sounding like Neighbor Lady. There's not much of an influence that we're pulling from, you know?

Emily: For me, in the writing process, there's definitely no end goal of a sound. It just comes and we work with it. I guess we don't really look for a certain sound or to make the record sound like this. All the songs just sound like they will work together and work toward our sound, which people will respond to. If they don't, that's really sad, but at least we're doing what we know and what we like. And we think they'll like it, too.

Analogue: Are there voices you have to keep at bay now that you're writing for an audience?

Emily: I think those pressures will always be there, but I know that I like what I write and it's been working out so far. I don't think that deters me from wanting to write more.

Jack: As soon as you start writing for another person besides yourself, that's when you start making bad songs.

Emily: It's just about enjoying the process. If people aren't on board with that, that really sucks. But as long as you're doing what you like, as long as I'm happy and taking my time... This record writing the new songs, I'm a really slow writer. If I'm not happy with it, I don't want to put it out. I can't force myself to put out music just because I know people are waiting on it. That just makes it even worse, and then I become really unhappy with myself and the band as a whole. You just have to go at your own pace and figure it out for yourself so you're not writing for other people. Those pressures are always there, but you can't let it overtake everything.

Credit: Chelse Kornse
Credit: Chelse Kornse

Analogue: Jack, you mentioned earlier that the first songs were ones that Emily has had for some time. How collaborative are the newer songs?

Emily: With the first record, I came to the band with these songs completely structured out. Now it's where I come to the band with most of the lyrical and structural ideas, but then everyone puts their ideas into it. Jack especially will say, 'What if we did this here?' and it makes everything better. I'm coming to the band with less now because we all understand my writing process. We're all very open. If we don't like something, we will say it. It just makes everything so much better, I think.

Analogue: Are you surprised by what the collaboration brings out?

Emily: I think so. It's still similar to the last record, but I think they're a little bit more interesting, more thought out.

Jack: There's more attention to detail. We're figuring out the best ways we can make the songs fit into that four-minute box that we have to work with.

Emily: Everyone has an understand of what we think sounds nice. It works really well, I think.

Analogue: We're talking about lessons learned on the songwriting end, but what's the growth curve been like for you on the live performance side?

Jack: I feel like every time you go on tour, you just get better as a band. It forces you to practice playing live in front of people. You can sit at home and run the set in your head a thousand times to no one and feel good about it, but when you're on stage, you have to read the audience, you have to play to them, too. Writing, recording, and touring are three different art forms. It's funny, because people will generalize it and put it into the stereotypical box of everything. They're really three different things.

Emily: I perform completely differently than I did on the first record. We spent the last year touring for most of it. Now I put different inflections on different parts of the songs and now I think, 'I wish we would have recorded it this way.' The cool thing is that some of the new songs, we've had them for so long and have performed a few of them. It's nice to let a song take its own form through performing them. Then when I sit down to record, I know exactly what I want to do or don't want to do.

Analogue: What were early Neighbor Lady shows like? Do you remember those first days?

Jack: It's funny. When Neighbor Lady first started, we kind of approached it in a really chill way. We actually all sat down for the first show. Nobody was standing. We thought it would be this slow-going, folksy kind of sound, but the songs had a louder sound and we started playing them louder. If you start playing bigger stages, you also don't want to sit down anymore. It's funny how it's evolved into a rock group now instead of the country/folk thing it was when we started.

As soon as you start writing for another person besides yourself, that's when you start making bad songs.

Emily: That's what I am. I am not a rock and roll gal in no way. Then having performed these songs singing so much louder and bigger, it's changed me. We toured so much with the Futurebirsd last year and their crowd is...

Jack: Rowdy.

Emily: Yes! They do not want to hear the slow songs and they'll talk right through them. But that made me stronger, I guess, having people talk through half of our set. I know I like the songs and I'm hoping there's a handful of people who are listening over the crowd. Just the fact that those people might be enjoying it makes things all the better.

Analogue: You used the present tense to say you are not a rock and roll gal. So even after all those shows, you would still say you're not that?

Emily: I don't think so. I definitely get taken away when I'm singing, but if you hung out with me for 10 minutes, you would know that I am...

Jack: Not wearing the leather jacket. [Laughs]

Emily: I'm over in the corner with my ball of yarn. [Laughs] It's been a nice experience coming out of my shell, having to be around all these people all the time. It's been life-changing and I cannot wait to tour this next record and to be out all the time. It's really nice.

Jack: In a leather jacket.

Analogue: We've been discussing the new songs, so is there a timeline?

Emily: Not quite yet. I'm not completely comfortable and, as I said before, I have to be in order to move forward. I am my worst critic. But we're very, very close.

Jack: With the last record, too, we recorded at our home and that's where we're doing this one. It just gives you the freedom to not have that pressure of time in a studio. I feel like sometimes when I've been in the studio, there's the pressure of time and you can't try all the ideas you need to. I feel like you're most creative when you feel like no one is judging you. That's why we've been recording these at home and they're much more intimate that way.

VISIT: Neighbor Lady