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Lydia Ainsworth
Lydia AinsworthPhotography John Michael Fulton

Watch Lydia Ainsworth sink into the blue in her new video

The Canadian musician premieres her new video for ‘Into The Blue’ and talks to us about about coming from a creative family and why recording studios are so important

Lydia Ainsworth’s debut album Right From Real was one of 2014’s unexpected breakthroughs. Despite its relatively low-key release on Montreal independent label Arbutus Records (home of Sean Nicholas Savage and TOPS), fans slowly drifted towards the Toronto vocalist, composer, and producer’s music, drawn to her experimental vocal, ethereal production, and cinematic orchestration. Ainsworth toured the record around the world, and it ended up receiving a nomination for Electronic Album of the Year at Canada’s Juno Awards that year.

Last month, Ainsworth returned with its follow-up, Darling of the Afterglow. The album sounds like Right From Real multiplied by ten: her vocal is pushed upfront, the sound is richer, the songwriting is more vivid and daring. At the centre of the album is a gorgeous cover of Chris Isaak’s eminently coverable “Wicked Game”, a song that Ainsworth had been performing at her live shows with just her voice and a simple synth. In fact, this cover was the initial catalyst for Darling of the Afterglow, inspiring the confidence to put her voice front-and-centre in her music.

One of the album highlights, “Into the Blue”, now has a music video. Directed by Lydia’s sister Abby Ainsworth – who previously helmed the videos for album tracks “Afterglow” and “The Road” – it shows Ainsworth in an aquarium tunnel, quite literally sinking into the blue. Watch it below, and read on for a conversation with the artist about working with a sibling, the benefits of coming from a creative family, and why traditional recording studios are so important.

Tell us about your ‘Into the Blue’ video. It was directed by your sister, right?

Lydia Ainsworth: It is my sister. We worked on this video with the same team that we worked with on ‘Afterglow’ and ‘The Road’, so the same choreographer, Iain Rowe, who is wonderful, and two of the same dancers who have been in both of the other videos as well. It’s just become a really great natural process with these people – especially my sister, who I just trust completely. We are almost always on the same page about things, and if we’re not, it’s not a big deal to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t like this idea at all.’ You don’t have to worry about hurting someone’s feelings. So that’s the same for this video ‘Into The Blue’. What else can I say about it? I dunno. I don’t wanna say too much – it’s more of a mood piece as opposed to following a strict narrative like in ‘The Road’. I think it really complements the song.

The rest of your family is quite creative too. What was it like growing up in that sort of environment?

Lydia Ainsworth: It’s funny. My mum was a set designer – she designed sets for Frazzle Rock and kids’ shows; she designed this awesome set for Oscar Peterson at CBC, which is a Canadian network. I was surrounded by things she had made. And I was surrounded by paintings all my life – my grandmother was a painter. My dad is a musician, and he’s very supportive. We actually worked together on this album! He helped me produce some live elements – drums, bass, guitars – he was really helpful. My sister has been directing for the past few years. I guess growing up, I was just always in my room listening to whatever I could get my hands on. I played cello growing up, so I would play all of the parts to Nirvana, The Beatles... I was just a loner – I would come home and I loved to get lost in music. That’s all I would do every day.

Tell us about recording Darling of the Afterglow.

Lydia Ainsworth: I worked on the album in different places, but I brought all of my inspirations and demos back to Toronto and recorded it all in the same studio for the most part, at a studio called Phase One. It’s the oldest studio in Toronto, but I just got the news a few weeks ago that it’s gonna be closing. It has a beautiful Neve 70s console and a great live room. I recorded some of my first album there and then decided that would be the place I’d do Darling of the Afterglow. I really love tracking my vocal (in that studio), so I’m kind of sad that it’s closing. It’s such a historical place here in Toronto.

With so many studio closures, I often wonder whether musicians will be able to make albums that traditional way in the future. I feel that the actual skills of working in a recording studio are being lost.

Lydia Ainsworth: Yeah, I know. It’s a tradition. I don’t know if it’s dying – maybe because of technology now, everyone has access to Pro Tools and it’s not as difficult to learn it and create your own studio at home on a smaller scale budget. But the studio system of having engineers and their assistants, that whole setup – I hope it still exists. I love going into a studio and having that all set up, but it’s also great to have the flexibility to do it yourself.

How did you approach the album differently to Right From Real? 

Lydia Ainsworth: Well, I had never gone on tour before Right From Real was released. I hadn’t really performed very much – only at very small clubs in New York with five people in the audience, kind of working out the structure of the songs along the way. When the album (Right From Real) came out, I was given opportunities to perform for larger audiences, and experiencing singing for bigger crowds really taught me a lot about my voice in a way that I had never depended on it before. I think bringing that newfound confidence into the studio is the major difference on this record.

How did you use your voice differently on this record?

Lydia Ainsworth: Well, on my first album, I layered it a lot. I was recording in bedrooms, trying not to upset the neighbours. I think I was using my voice more as a texture and a tapestry as part of the production. Now it’s more upfront and in the mix. Also, I started to sing ‘Wicked Game’, which I’ve included on this album – I would sing that at the end of the set. It would just be me singing and a keyboard with a very simple synth, so the only thing that was driving the song was my voice. I found that just by covering that song, playing it for people who knew the song and really trying to convey the emotions of the song through my voice alone, just inspired me to really focus on that for this album.

Did it change the way you actually sing?

Lydia Ainsworth: Yeah, totally. On Right From Real I’m not singing very strongly on a lot of the tracks – I’m layering it up. I feel like there’s more muscle in my voice on this album. 

More muscle, as in physically?

Lydia Ainsworth: Yeah. Just having the experience of singing live has taught me and built up my vocals, I think. I hope!

Lots of artists have covered ‘Wicked Game’ – it’s taken on a life of its own since it first came out. Why were you drawn to that song?

Lydia Ainsworth: I had no idea that so many people had covered it when I chose to cover it. Stereogum made a list of all the best covers and I was just so surprised to learn of all these artists that were drawn to it. I think it’s because of its universal message – so many people can relate to it.

It’s funny when I play it at a show and people latch on to it, realising that it’s a cover. They recognise the song and there’s an immediate sigh of, ‘Yeah, I love this song!’ I was drawn to the melody and the fact that I could carry the song with just my vocals. I wanted to have that challenge. I think it also kind of feeds into some themes that I was exploring on this album and in general in my work: loneliness, isolation, wanting to communicate and trying to find ways to communicate, and the way we censor ourselves, our internal dialogue... It felt right to put it on this album.

Check out the dates or buy tickets for Lydia Ainsworth’s UK tour here