Conversation: Lindsay Munroe finds her voice on debut EP “Our Heaviness”

Lindsay-Munroe-River-Billy-Holmes
Lindsay Munroe. Photo by Billy Holmes.

On June 19, Lindsay Munroe released her debut EP, Our Heaviness. Originally the album was going to drop on May 8, but like many artists, Munroe pushed back the release date due to Covid-19. While the EP is her first, the Manchester-based singer-songwriter is no newcomer to the music scene. In fact, the month-long delay of Our Heaviness is minuscule compared to two years that Munroe has spent perfecting these songs.

Part of the reason why Munroe is so careful to share her music is because of how personal the EP’s songs are. Her lyrics describe various relationships, including her relationships with a past partner, members of her church, and her own self-image. Songs like “Mirror” and “Split” describe the difficulty of accepting and loving all aspects of yourself, even when they may be at odds with other people’s ideals.

But throughout Our Heaviness, Munroe shows off a cool confidence. The EP, produced by Chris Hamilton, is filled with lush guitars, soft synthesizers and Munroe’s dynamic voice. I caught up with Munroe over Zoom to talk about writing the EP and how she found her way into music, from playing guitar at open mics to finding her voice as a performer.

How does it feel to have your first EP, Our Heaviness coming out now?

Really strange. [laughs] Very strange. The date change was necessary — I could have still released it when it was planned, which was May 8. What we decided to do was — because everything all of a sudden moved online, I think everyone is having to pander to that in different ways. So for me, it was deciding to have one more single. So that was the date change, which actually has been really nice, having more time to plan and adjust to things being as they are now.

It’ll be coming up to two years since I started working on the first song that’s on the EP. So I’ve been sitting on it for a very long time. And over that time it kind of shifted in meaning. I was really proud of it when I first made it, but then actually working on it with my producer and working on the mixing and all of that, it became a really important experience for me over the past year. 

I’ve worked out that the day on which it’s released is going to be one year since I had a really big, horrible breakup. It became this really, really important project — working on something that I had made — throughout that process. It wasn’t purposeful, but it turned out to be a really meaningful date change. 

Listening to these songs they’re definitely very personal. You draw on a lot of your own experiences, so that’s cool to hear that the process of making this album — you really lived these songs and sat with them for a while.

Yeah, I think it’s good, because the songs change as they go along as well. When I first started writing them I wasn’t working with the band that I work with. And then settling into the songs together with the band was a different process. I think sometimes it’s good having the break — you almost test the songs to yourself, like, “Oh, I still like these! That’s good.”

When did you first start playing music and writing songs? I know this is your debut EP, but when did you really start taking music seriously?

I’ve sung since I was a baby. I was a bit of a musical theater kid. But I then started playing guitar when I was 14, which is when it’s cool to play guitar [laughs]. Actually as a teenager, music was really my brother’s domain. He was in indie bands, that were really good actually. But he ended up moving into the industry side of things.

So I didn’t start taking music seriously until I moved to Manchester for university, which was in 2014. I joined a couple of university societies to play music. I actually ran into someone from a few years ago the other day, who was like, “This is so cool to see that you’re doing this, because six years ago this was not on the cards.” 

It’s not an uncommon story. It started with open mics. One of my best friends just needed someone to play guitar for her at open mics, so we started doing duets together, and then I started taking writing more seriously. 

I think a lot of women as teenagers don’t feel like indie music is accessible to play. It’s a bit of a boy’s club. So I learned a lot of folk music and I played acoustic guitar and stuff, but it wasn’t with any intention. So it was then cool to start playing open mics and almost get — not that you need permission — but to get that response of people almost being like, “Yeah, you could do this.” And finding my way from folk music into indie and more alternative. So it’s been a pretty slow journey, I would say. Because it wasn’t a career path that I felt was obvious or necessarily open to me when I was thinking about the future. But I’m glad I’m here [laughs].

I think a lot of people can relate, women especially, to that experience of feeling like they don’t have permission. I know I’ve felt that way as well, both playing music and writing about music, it’s hard to give yourself that space to say, “This is what I want to do and I’m just going to do it.” Were there any people in your life who you were playing with who helped you embody that attitude or maybe other spaces like those open mics that really pushed you to do it?

The open mics were really good, just a place to gain confidence. Manchester has a great music scene and it’s very supportive. Specifically meeting other women in the Manchester music scene has been really great. I think I’ve been really lucky in the time that I’ve started engaging with the music industry, because there have been a lot of opportunities locally in Manchester for female creatives trying to build more of a community around that.

But I think really in terms of permission — feeling like there was an opportunity to do something — I know some of the women in the band the Big Moon who are amazing — I wish they had been a band when I was growing up. They’re so good. And then they’re all friends with Marika Hackman, who I was a fan of as a teenager, but she was in the folk scene. There’s quite a few female folk musicians from that time who then moved into different genres. 

Because I’ve found that for me, folk was an accessible avenue as a woman. There was a clear space there. Then watching people explore all of these different genres, especially indie and playing raucous — having fun as a band onstage — as a teenager, that was such a lad’s thing. So I would say those female musicians were probably the biggest influence for me in terms of going, “Ah. I could do this.” No shade meaning to be thrown at the folk scene because it’s lovely, but I was like, “That looks a lot more fun. That looks more fun than me just playing acoustic guitar on my own.”

Yeah. Nothing against folk music, but like you say, it’s easy for women, or any identity to be pigeonholed and to be like “Here is your place” within music or within art, so it’s great to have the option to be able to play folk, but also to be able to play whatever kind of music you want to play. Whether that’s loud or pop or whatever it is.

And I think a lot of people are having so much more fun with that now. I think, but I also really hope, that the people who are coming up as teenagers now. There are so many amazing female bands, and there are so many more openly queer people, especially in pop music. I think that’s incredible. I’m so excited for the people who are growing up now. They’re going to skip like five years of what the current generation had to go through in terms of like, “I had to go to these open mics and realize that I’m allowed to do this.” There are going to be people growing up who are going to feel like they have that permission, as soon as they pick up a guitar or whatever. I’m really excited for that, I think that’s going to be great.

One of those songs on this EP, Our Heaviness, that really deals with some of the themes that we’re talking about of identity and giving yourself permission is the single, “Split.” I know this song talks about your relationship with religion and how that has maybe clashed with identity throughout your life. Would you mind talking a little bit about the role of religion or faith in your life growing up and how that has shaped you?

Yeah. So we’ve been laughing about this a little bit, getting some of the reviews back because in my press statement for that we tried to make it really blatant that Christianity was something that I came to quite individually, as a teenager. I don’t have a Christian background. None of my family have any sort of active, definable faith and they never have in the time that I was growing up. 

But it’s an easy story to fill in, and so there were a bunch of articles that said like, “Breaking away from her conservative religious family,” and I had to send them to my family like, “I’m so sorry” [laughs]. “I’ll defend you one day, I promise.” My mom was like, “People are going to think I’m a monster.” So no, actually, I guess it was a vaguely uncommon role. 

I’ve been told I went to Sunday school as a small child, but I have no memory of it. I guess I was raised with spirituality. Apart from when it felt a little bit cool as a teenager, I never really personally entertained atheism. I now am studying religion academically, so I entertain — it’s a well-considered standpoint, I’m not going to bash any atheist arguments. 

But I came to Christianity as a 15 year-old, through a youth camp, and sort of found my way into evangelical churches from the outset. Which was a combo of wonderful, and in retrospect, problematic. I had some really wonderful experiences, especially as a teenager. I have a really strong group of friends from around that time as well. 

But then I went to university and I studied religions and theology in my undergraduate. And actually, despite studying it really critically and academically, I ended up in an even more conservative church, which was a real struggle. I still have a lot of questions about why I stayed there for so long. I actually think that it seems like there’s a little bit more understanding about conservative evangelicalism in America than there is in the UK. But it’s a community, it’s difficult to leave. So at no point when I was there did I particularly chime or resonate with the more conservative elements of it.

When I wrote “Split,” it was actually after I left, which was a really difficult process. I wrote that song thinking, “This was months ago. I have no feelings about that anymore.” And then this monstrously emotional song fell out [laughs]. The bridge in it lists different physical feelings of discomfort. 

And I wrote it really reflecting on that, thinking back on being a part of this community where the people, to this day are wonderful people, but the atmosphere — I didn’t like being there. I got nervous every week going to our community group. I was always ready to leave as soon as it was over. I thought that was a really interesting thing to reflect on, being so involved in something and belonging to it to the point where you actually ignore — just my body itself was telling me that I wasn’t in the right place, that I wasn’t in a place that was safe for me. 

I think a lot of that, again if you’re in a contained community like that, you don’t really have the space to process that all. I definitely couldn’t talk about it. That would have caused some tensions. So yeah, writing that song in retrospect was really cathartic. It’s fun to play now, which is nice. Because for a while it wasn’t so fun. 

That is nice that it’s fun to play, and that it gives you the flip-side of that nervous bodily experience where your body is just telling you, “Something’s wrong here, I don’t feel comfortable.” Now you get the flip-side of that in this song and you get to embody that experience in a whole other way and release all of that.

Especially when the drums are kicking in, it has such a driving beat to it. It’s really fun to play as a band and to get really into it. And as well as a performer, I think I take joy in performing that song well — having worked out a way to step one foot back into that feeling but not have that be upsetting. It’s a fun challenge, playing that song live. 

That’s definitely one of my favorites from this EP. I love the way that you use your voice in that song as well. That’s something that really resonates throughout all of these songs — how you use your voice really expressively. There are moments where it’s more stripped-down and the cadence and timbre of your voice takes on more meaning sometimes than the words themselves. I know you said you’ve been singing since you were little. What role does singing play when you’re writing or performing these songs?

I know that my voice is my primary instrument. I’ve really enjoyed — I’m about to turn 25, so I was about to say, “getting older” — I’m aware I’m still young. Obviously between 18 and 24 your vocals change quite a lot. I’ve really enjoyed that, it’s been really fun exploring that. And I think that’s where quite a lot of the way that I use my voice has come from. Which is nice — it’s come from a fun, exploratory place. 

Actually when I started writing these songs, one of my little aims that I had for myself writing this EP was I wanted to use my whole vocal range. Which I now hate myself for. Because it’s really annoying every time I have to do a gig. Because I’m quite lazy with warming up and stuff, but now I have to get better at it. 

I know that my voice has always been central to the way I write. Partially because when I started writing I was moving from folk into a different genre, which meant I had to play guitar in a really different way. I’m a lot better at guitar now than I was then, but I wasn’t going to write some crazy shredding solo or anything like that. I always learned to play guitar as an accompaniment. I guess I really started from this singer-songwriter place and then developed to writing for a band.

So when I’m writing now I can have a bit more thought on the arrangement and stuff like that. But that’s pretty new to me. It’s always been vocal-central. And I still listen to music in a very lyrics-focused way. But I’ve learned a lot from the musicians who I’m a fan of in terms of how they use their voices. 

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Saturday morning vibes. X @lindsaymunroemusic

A post shared by Sharon Van Etten (@sharonvanhalen) on

I know one of those musicians who you’re a fan of is Sharon Van Etten. And I know that she gave you a little shout-out in an Instagram post where she shared the song “Split.” When did you find out about that post, and what was it like to get this shout-out?

I am a big Sharon Van Etten fan. Big fan. She’s always been my — actually that’s what’s interesting, is I think about my relationship with her music and she’s not always been my musical hero. I actually only started listening to her in 2014-15. So I discovered her through her fourth album Are We There. So I had this whole this whole back catalogue to go through. 

At that point I didn’t have a lot of faith in my musical ability. I knew I had a good voice, but that was it. And then I came across her songs. They’re so perfect in their arrangement around the emotions. She’s a great guitarist, but she chooses, it seems, often to stick with pretty simple chords and then build a song around that. 

And then also, having seen interviews of her and knowing a couple of people who have worked with her, that she’s just seems to have navigated the industry really well and be a lovely person. I’d really like to be that, if I go further into this industry. As an artist, I think it could be pretty easy to get a little bit too focused on your own ego.

So she had been this role model, in a way that went a bit beyond just musically. Obviously because of that I would have really liked to work with her at some point or meet her or know that she had listened to my music. But that was a far down the line aim. 

Actually, what happened was that on my Instagram story I had put up a screenshot of a review that compared me to her. And I tagged her in it. And she responded to it. which was very lovely. And I guess I was feeling a little bit brave, and I said, “That’s great, this is actually the song that’s being reviewed, just in case you want to listen to it.” And then she messaged me back saying that she really liked it. And that was that. I was like, “That’s amazing. She listened to my song, she liked it.”

And it was like the next day, the day after that — I remember it because I had been for a run, I was really sweaty and I was just cooking some dinner, I was exhausted, and I was just waiting for an email to tell me if I needed to get a book out of the library at my university. And my phone buzzed and I looked at it and it was like, “Sharon Van Etten has tagged you in a post.” “What is going on?” 

So it was very out of the blue. I hadn’t had any other communication with her. I put up a picture on my own Instagram the next day that my friend had taken of me, where I just — I had never been less able to process something. I just started laughing manically. And that went on for a long time.

I feel like I would have reacted in the same way.

Yeah, it took a lot. It was such an unreasonable thing to have happened. I was just like, “No.” I’m glad, but no. 

That’s amazing though that she listened to your song, and I’m just waiting now for the Lindsay Munroe and Sharon Van Etten collab. 

Me too. One day. I love that.

I wanted to ask you a little bit about the recording process for this EP and how it came together. You mentioned the band the Big Moon and I know you worked with their drummer, Fern Ford on this EP. Do you want to talk a little bit about the band and how that came together?

Yeah. So Fern isn’t in my band in Manchester. My band in Manchester is made up of some really great local musicians. My guitarist is Hannah Ashcroft, who is an amazing songwriter here in Manchester. Anyone should check out her music too. One of my best friends plays bass for me, Tom Miller. My drummer is Barnabas Kimberley, who’s in another excellent Manchester band called Diving Station.

The band for the EP was a little bit different. Fern from the Big Moon played drums. And she’s done a little bit of work with me before. That was amazing, because her playing and her style is very individual and she’s just a really sensitive player in terms of really being able to fit what’s going on in the song. Tom, who is my bass player in Manchester, played bass. But actually everything else was done by me and my producer Chris Hamilton. He is also a great musician. He did a bunch of guitars and synths and stuff. 

We didn’t actually record it as a band setup. We did one day in a studio in Manchester where we did play, me, Fern, and Tom all tracked together. So we got all of their parts done in a day. And then we left it a week. And then I went over to Amsterdam, which is where Chris lives. 

He lives in a top-floor Amsterdam apartment, just beautiful. Tiny — but we set up, he has a kitchen and a living room that are together, and so he set up all of his mixing equipment and stuff on his kitchen counter. And then we had a piano and an amp and just me and my guitar in the living room. So it was a very homey experience, which was lovely.

I feel like that can add to the sense of intimacy in some of these songs — recording in a kitchen.

I’ve known Chris since I was — we tried to work it out — I think since I was 14, so 11 years. And he made my first real demo. So that’s really great in terms of working together. Not a lot of speaking needs to happen at this point. Except for when we’re not recording. It was great — I had recorded with him before when he lived in London and it was an amazing studio, but it was basement, central London, long days, no sunlight. Whereas this was, we were in a rooftop apartment in Amsterdam and when we got a bit stir crazy we just went to the cafe across the road or the bar down the street to drink some whiskey. It was a really lovely recording process. 

I do love working in groups and with other people, but I’m quite an introverted person, so I think just working one-on-one, it’s been really great in terms of being able to express opinions and really take ownership of the record. Not that I don’t appreciate other people’s opinions, but there are some days where you just want to close the door [laughs]. 

I think that was most of my questions about the EP specifically. Is there anything else right now, either musical or it could be a food, a TV show, a plant, anything that is keeping you inspired or exciting you at the moment?

Hm. Good question. I think it’s a bit of a stereotypical answer from a musician to be like, “I’ve been really enjoying music.” 

That’s okay.

Actually my whole relationship with music has changed a lot over the past 18 months. So I’ve been really enjoying — obviously I’m not working at the moment, I’m just studying and working on music. Having that bit of free time, which I did not have before at all. I’ve been trying to engage a bit more with exploring music and sitting with it a bit more. 

I’ve been trying to listen to all of Joni Mitchell’s back catalogue, I did that recently. And then I’ve been trying to listen to all of David Bowie’s back catalogue as well, but I think you need a bit more space for that, because it goes so many different directions.

Yeah there’s a lot to get through.

Exactly. And I’ve been listening to audio books, which I’ve never done before. I listened recently to Adam Buxton’s audio book, which is called “Ramble Book.” He speaks a lot about his relationship with music growing up. Obviously he’s a comedian, so it’s a very light listen. I’ve been trying to make space to engage with media in a more grounded way, and taking time to listen to music, rather than getting caught up. Which I think is what a lot of people are doing at the moment — trying to learn how to slow down after years of trying to teach themselves to speed up and keep up. It’s a very disconcerting pace change.

Definitely. I know in the past, it’s been almost two years since I’ve really been blogging about music, and in that time it’s been really easy to get caught up in the cyclone of “What’s new? What’s coming out? What are other people talking about?” So it’s been nice to have a bit of a break and just to be like, “What’s something that I haven’t listened to that came out years ago that I want to explore?”

Yeah, definitely. And there’s just so much. And it’s the same with films, isn’t it? I’m terrible with films I haven’t seen and people always going, “You’ve never seen that?” It’s like, well now I get to watch it for the first time, or listen to it for the first time. And a lot of it I wouldn’t have appreciated as a teenager. So I’m okay that it’s taken this long to engage with the back catalogue of David Bowie.

The past you, unbeknownst to you, was just saving up for the right moment. And now you have all of this to enjoy.

Exactly.

Thank you so so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

Thanks for having me. 


Our Heaviness is out now on Bandcamp and Spotify. You can keep up with Lindsay Munroe on Facebook and Twitter.

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