Margaret Glaspy is Listening to Björk, Missy Elliott, and The Mandalorian

Published April 3, 2020

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. This time we check in with equal-parts-bark-and-bite singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy, whom we last got the chance to obsess over in 2016.

Margaret Glaspy’s sophomore album, Devotion, feels like reassurance to a lover who listened to her previous record, 2016’s Emotions and Math. Back then, the California native, in her twenties at the time, spun guitar-heavy power ballads out of self-effacing adoration towards some lovers, while warning off the ones who fell too hard for her. Back then, Glaspy was suspicious of feeling anything too intensely, ending romances that kept her from focusing on her craft, and growing afraid when she discovered potential heartache on the horizon. 

On her new album, the 31-year-old musician has held on to the feisty sincerity that defined her earlier work, except this time, the New York-based Glaspy has grown more comfortable with codependence. A lot of that has to do with her relationship with jazz musician and composer Julian Lage, a life change that can be heard all over Devotion. While the lyrics evoke an ecstatic release from uncertainty, its soundscapes skew more digital, with Glaspy’s  emotion piercing through the synthetic sound. Here, she speaks with Interview abou the new record, and everything she’s been listening to, from Joni to Missy.

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RUBINSTEIN: Who have you been listening to? 

GLASPY: I’ve been listening to Vespertine by Björk. To DAMN., by  Kendrick Lamar. I’ve been listening to the self-titled Bonnie Raitt album. Those are like three of the top ones.

RUBINSTEIN: Do you listen to Grimes, and have you heard her new album?

GLASPY: I’m acquainted with Grimes. I know some of the music. I have not listened to the new album yet. I haven’t listened to that music in a little while, but I’m an appreciator. I respect what she does. But I don’t really know the music super well.

RUBINSTEIN: Who would you say was the earliest musician to influence you? 

GLASPY: I was playing a lot of Joni Mitchell when I was very young. It would definitely have to be Joni.

RUBINSTEIN: When I was young, she was the person who articulated what I imagined being a young woman, and experiencing the world, was going to be like. Do you have a first concert memory?

GLASPY: I can’t remember which came first, but there were two concerts that came very early for me. My dad would take me to Yoshi’s, which is a jazz club in San Francisco. I’m from Northern California, and so he would take me to shows there. I saw 98° when I was in the fifth grade or sixth grade. I don’t know if you know 98°, the boy band.

RUBINSTEIN: A boy band I don’t know! Tell me more.

GLASPY: They were in a similar vein as Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, these bands. So I was there, and then I also saw, around that same time, the K-Ci & JoJo concert. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with K-Ci & JoJo. Are you?

RUBINSTEIN: I know of them.

GLASPY: [singing “All my Life] that was like a big song at that time.

RUBINSTEIN: Oh yeah! Future sampled that. 

GLASPY: Those are my first memories of going to shows. Very different experiences.

RUBINSTEIN: That’s a well-rounded education. Do you have a favorite piece of instrumental music? 

GLASPY: I really love Ryuichi Sakamoto. He’s a Japanese minimalist composer. There’s a song called “Bibo No Aozora” that’s amazing. I always return to that. There’s also Ravel String Quartets, I really love them. I love my partner Julien Lage’s music, which is instrumental. 

RUBINSTEIN: Do you have a song that you could go into battle to?

GLASPY: There’s a few. The Kendrick Lamar song from the Black Panther soundtrack, featuring The Weeknd. “Pray For Me.” That one makes me feel pretty amped. And then there’s the Björk song “Earth Intruders.” That one always makes me feel kind of battle-ish as well.

RUBINSTEIN: What song do you listen to when you want to cheer up?

GLASPY: When I want to cheer up, I listen to Mary Margaret O’Hara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Mary Margaret O’Hara, she’s Catherine O’Hara’s sister. Catherine O’Hara. She had a record called Miss America and there’s a song on that called “Anew Day” that really makes me feel better.

RUBINSTEIN: What song do you listen to when you want to indulge a bad mood?

GLASPY: If I’m not feeling very well, I would say “Everything Means Nothing To Me” by Elliot Smith.

RUBINSTEIN: How about road trip songs?

GLASPY: When I’m on the road—not touring but road-tripping—I like listening to Trouble by Ray LaMontagne. I find that when I’m in the car and driving for long periods of time, I like to listen to things that feel a little more organic. Somehow I always go back to Laurel Canyon-sounding music.

RUBINSTEIN: Which songs remind you of your teenage years? 

GLASPY: There’s definitely certain eras of Missy Elliott that I link to my teens. Lauryn Hill was big for me in those days. And Dashboard Confessional. Those are three that remind me of high school. 

RUBINSTEIN: Is there somebody you really want to collaborate with? 

GLASPY: Missy Elliott. It’s my dream. She’s one of my favorite contemporary musicians and she just keeps on making work that is really amazing. Her videos have always been insane. She makes music to dance to in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else. 

RUBINSTEIN: Is there an instrument besides guitar that you want to learn?

GLASPY: I grew up playing the fiddle for a long time when I was young. But I think my next venture is to really learn how to play the piano and to write a record on one.

RUBINSTEIN: Do you have a theme song that you would soundtrack your life with?

GLASPY: I would do “Undo” by Björk. That sounds the best for a theme.

RUBINSTEIN: Do you have a favorite soundtrack?

GLASPY: The score for The Mandalorian is so great. They did a really good job on that. It feels cinematic. Ludwig Goransson is the composer for The Mandalorian. I want to make a record with that guy someday. 

RUBINSTEIN: Talk to me about releasing your album Devotion. Aside from that, are there any recordings that you haven’t released that you want to in the future? 

GLASPY: There are a couple of things that I have never released before that I think we’ll release down the road, or write for someone else. And then there’s a lot of demos that I’ve made for music that has been released already, but I think at some point we’ll put those out, so people can see where things started. 

RUBINSTEIN: Did you have a specific way in which you wanted to differentiate Devotion from your last album?

GLASPY: The goal was to make something that felt like it pushed my own boundaries, and also to be able to do something that felt earnest. I’m so proud of my first record. But it’s fun to be a little bit older and make something where I think I care less about certain aspects of proving myself. I’ve experimented more than I ever have sonically, and songwriting-wise, and just all across the court. I think it’s a good portrait of me, being pretty vulnerable, pretty earnest and also just pushing my own boundaries a little bit.

RUBINSTEIN:  I remember reading an interview in which you talked about songwriting as more craft than therapy, something  abstract from yourself. So it’s new to hear you say that vulnerability is the main or one of the thrust of the new album.

GLASPY: I felt like the theme of the first record is that I’m in control. And on this record, there’s a little more of a vulnerability and an openness to just not being in control. That seems to be a theme.

RUBINSTEIN: I’m thinking about “Somebody to Anybody”; that’s the most defiant song on the last album.

GLASPY: There’s a lot of that on that record, where it feels like just wanting to be by myself. This is a different phase of my life: being in love and caring for my family, too, and not really having anything to defend or be afraid of. It’s kind of scary to know to be vulnerable sometimes. Especially when you start to realize more as you make music that people are looking at you—the listeners are looking at you to gain something. Hopefully when you watch a TV show or you watch a film or you listen to a record, you’re different afterwards. And if anybody gained anything from this record, I hope that they were okay with themselves afterwards. Maybe they gleaned a little bit of just the ability to be okay, no matter the weather. That’s how it felt for me, to follow love in whatever form that is, and to take the bad with the good.

Listen to Margaret Glaspy’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.