Tirzah's 'Colourgrade' welcomes interpretation

Oct 1, 2021
Originally published on October 1, 2021 5:09 pm

To color grade a photo is to alter its hues — to make them brighter, bolder, more or less detailed — in order to create a particular effect. That's what English singer-songwriter Tirzah does with reflections on her life in her sophomore album, Colourgrade.

A lot has happened for Tirzah since her last album, Devotion, in 2018: She quit her job as a textile print designer, had a second child and wrote a whole new album. But going back into the studio? She tells NPR's Ailsa Chang that was old hat:

"It's like meeting up with one of your closest friends," she says. "You just kind of snap back to who you were with them. It's very easy, in a way."

Although the record is informed by her personal experiences, she says its meaning is up for interpretation. "If it makes you feel anything at all, that's pretty magic, I think," Tirzah says. "I can't really ask for any more than that."

Listen to Ailsa Chang's interview with Tirzah in the audio player above, and stream Tirzah's latest album below.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A lot has happened for the artist Tirzah since her last album in 2018. She quit her job as a textile print designer. She had a second child. And she wrote a whole new album. But, you know, going back into the studio, it was easy to flip back into that mode.

TIRZAH: It's like meeting up with one - you know, one of your closest friends. You just kind of will snap back to who you were with them. It's very easy in a way.

CHANG: Well, it helps if you are literally meeting up with one of your closest friends. Tirzah makes music with her longtime collaborator Mica Levi, who produces under the name Micachu. The two of them would craft melodies from long improvisations, with Tirzah singing lines of her poetry on top. The result is an album of atmospheric and experimental songs called "Colourgrade."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINK IN")

TIRZAH: (Singing) It's where I found you. May not sound true.

CHANG: When she reflects on the album, Tirzah doesn't want to define the meaning of any of it, at least not right away.

TIRZAH: Sometimes a poem's kind of got to fit subtly into the phrasing and how you've sung something.

CHANG: Right, yeah.

TIRZAH: And so it can quite heavily dictate what you choose. So, you know, you start the puzzle, and then the rest of it kind of follows quite quickly.

CHANG: I wish radio stories unfolded like that - once you start, it just writes itself quickly (laughter).

TIRZAH: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINK IN")

TIRZAH: (Singing) I am sinking for that feeling.

So you're not necessarily sitting down to write something about someone or to someone.

CHANG: Yeah.

TIRZAH: So then it's only natural that later on it's connected with you because of an experience or because something just is connected and you see something in a certain way and just thinking, oh, OK (laughter) - that's what it means to me now.

CHANG: You know, that makes sense to me. It's like, you don't want to be imprisoned by a story that's supposed to dictate the rest of the way that the song unfolds.

TIRZAH: Yeah, yeah.

CHANG: But it's fascinating because a lot of artists seem to start the songwriting process, you know, with the personal story.

TIRZAH: Yeah.

CHANG: And they very much want to communicate that personal story.

TIRZAH: Yeah.

CHANG: But you let it sort of, organically, free-form evolve into something else, however it may be.

TIRZAH: Yeah. That's my preference, anyway (laughter). Yeah.

CHANG: And when people try to interpret your songs, they try to interpret maybe the personal meaning, the personal story behind a song. Does it kind of bother you? Like, what does that feel like to be asked about - what does this song mean, Tirzah? Tell me about the story. What led you to write the song? What do you think of questions like that?

TIRZAH: (Laughter) To be honest, it's just really - I really love that it takes on its own life once it's, you know, left the confines of the file box. It's out of our hands. I might be feeling something, and it might not be how someone else perceives it, so it doesn't really matter how I intended it to be read; it's in the hands of everyone or anyone that happens to listen to it. And that way, it's kind of - it means something different to everyone, which I think is how it should be, really.

CHANG: Yeah.

TIRZAH: You know, obviously, I listen to music that - you know, the message is clear, or it does feel like it's got a particular message and then others that, you know, might feel more ambiguous. But in the end, it doesn't matter as long as I enjoy it and I love listening to it. It doesn't really matter, you know, what it was intended to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Well, then, that makes me think the answer to the next question is, it really doesn't matter, Ailsa, because...

TIRZAH: (Laughter).

CHANG: ...What I was going to ask you is, what was the overall intention behind this album? Because it's so atmospheric to me, but there are all these different shades and moods. What did you want me to feel or to think about while listening to this collection of work?

TIRZAH: I think, really, for it to be honest and no frills or no decorations. If it makes, you know, you feel anything at all, then that's pretty magic, I think. I can't really ask for any more than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIRZAH SONG, "BEATING")

TIRZAH: (Singing) In knowing you...

CHANG: Tirzah's new album is called "Colourgrade."

Thank you so much for spending this time with us.

TIRZAH: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEATING")

TIRZAH: (Singing) It's beating. Grow as we are. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.