"I feel like I’ve really found my pocket you know?
I’ve found my sound."
Being a twenty-something is a beautiful painful chapter. The transition from our careless teenage years morphs into a sort of terrifying chapter of bills, responsibility, anxiety and choices. Molly’s twenties haven’t started yet - but they are bound to be different to mine and identical in others ways. For instance, I haven’t played gigs in London, rocked out with a mullet or starred in my music videos. Instead, I have faced anxiety that wakes me up in the middle of the night reminding me that I am in charge of writing my future and that my choices impact others. I think Molly and I have that in common. Molly told me about her anxiety and how it both suffocates her and reminds her to take care of herself.
Through her music, Molly shares the struggles of a young woman, trying to figure it out. Growing up and realising you’re in charge of your choices and happiness, isn’t always what our inner child wants. “Let it out and let it go” sings Molly in ‘Going Heavy’. Her song portrays late London nights where Molly was “going out just to fill the time”. She was having fun, but at the cost of feeling low. Her storytelling makes us able to hear the voice in her head. Most people who experience heartache avoid thinking about it, but songwriters must dive into these emotions instead of avoiding them. “Songwriting is often like picking at a scab, an emotional scab” admits Molly. Her honesty results in masterpiece penmanship, but all those emotions are blown up in her mind. “Sometimes I forget how to write songs” admits Molly, “I listen to old songs of mine and be like ‘how did I do that?’ Artists know writer’s block too well, but as Molly pointed out, she’s only nineteen and will figure the rest out with time. Listening to Molly is like listening to an old friend who gets it. Her deep powerful vocals echo through you, it’s heavy, immersive and personal. Her pen game is enchanting. She breaks down how it feels to indulge in questionable distractions to avoid our loneliness. She sings what I feel, but couldn’t yet put it into words. Molly’s new single ‘Honey’ sounds like the happy ending to her 2020 EP, ‘Porcupine’ where she kept people at arm's length in fear of getting hurt. The song feels like a long text to her ‘honey’ sung in a happy melody paired with epic strumming. While the song portrays Molly trying to make things work in a decaying relationship, it still has a warm feeling underneath. The sound hints that Molly is turning to a more positive chapter in her life with this new sound. “I feel like I’ve really found my pocket ya know? I’ve found my sound”, confirms Molly. ‘Honey’ shows the wonderful silliness of love and the bravery it takes to stay and resist running.
Cut to our interview. Molly lays in bed, a perfectly messy mullet falling into her eyes. We talked about how her sound has changed and is forever evolving with time and experiences. She’s sweet, casually honest and loveable. By the end of our chat, I knew I would be a forever fan. Though she moved from New Zealand to London at sixteen, she says she’s kept the enthusiasm she possessed as a kid. We caught Molly while she was still in New Zealand, her home, but not her next destination.
How are you different from the kid you were?
I think most of the time I’ve managed to keep the enthusiasm I have for things - I think you lose that a little bit when you’re in your mid-teens. But in the six months, I’ve got that enthusiasm and joy for everything back and a lot of that is because of music and appreciating the life I’ve been allowed to have because of music. I think when you move to a city like London, you obviously change a lot. But I’ve kept that joy for things that I had as a kid.
How did two weeks in London turn into two years?
It was originally going to be six months and it was for mum’s work that we went over originally, and her work offered to pay for the rest of my schooling if we stayed. I was originally terrified about that, and then I made friends and music started to become an option - something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. I didn’t even think I could sing really. So to be offered to be meeting people like Oscar Lang, who I went to school with, alongside Leo Windum, from Palace - meeting the two of them and having them tell me you’re good and you should start writing and recording and - that was the kick I needed to stay there and overcome my anxiety a little and start really giving it a go. I guess it all snowballed after that, I got settled and comfortable.
Does your anxiety ever help with performing?
I’d actually say that anxiety has probably been the biggest hurdle for music because my specific anxiety is very debilitating, it comes and goes, so I have periods when it gets bad and links to my depression so it all kind of flows into each other. I wouldn’t say it helps with shows; the one thing it does help is when it gives me an opportunity to take time for myself. Anxiety is a funny thing, a lot of the time obviously it’s annoying and fuckin’ terrible to live with but I think sometimes it’s there for a reason and it helps you know when to just settle for a little bit. I’ve had times in my life, like moving to London at the age I did, when I didn’t listen to my anxiety for a little while and I just powered through and was going out every night and get wasted. But I got to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore and I didn’t understand that I need to have a week on my own sometimes so I can be that joyful happy person again and be around people and my anxiety is the thing that tells me that’s what needs to happen.
"It’s funny, I feel like song writing is often like picking at a scab... an emotional scab."
Your sound changed so much between ‘Mess’ and ‘Porcupine’ - did life change between them too?
Yeah definitely, there were some big things that happened in my life that sent me down a bit of a spiral because of who I was hanging out with at the time. I was kind of able to go very heavy and go out a lot and not look after myself and that period of time, although it was really fun, it kind of took it out of me. After that, I sank into this very quiet period and that’s when I wrote all those songs. A lot of the lyrics in ‘Porcupine’ a lot of them are talking about having fun and going out but there’s also that really negative emotional undertone in there. When the EP came out I was kind of saying “it’s about having fun and having a good time” but it’s a really interesting thing as a songwriter to listen back to the songs a year later and be like “shit, these are actually really sad”. The meanings of songs change a lot over time. In my first EP, I was so young; those songs are like diary entries. I’d have a crush on a boy at school and write a song about him and put it straight up on SoundCloud - that’s that whole first EP. And obviously, sound-wise, I had access to a lot more when I was working on ‘Mess’, Oscar Lang produced it for me at school at random studios, whatever we could use for free. Whereas ‘Porcupine’ was after I finished working with Oli, who produces everything for me now. I’d also met my band which allowed me to write heavier songs because I had a band to play them with. I’d had more time in London and had grown up and experienced more, and that contributed to me having a bigger, fuller sound.
And you’ve just wrapped up a new project?
Yes! Some of the music is older, one song is from two years ago. I think a lot of people expected me to get heavier, just like my second EP got more aggressive. But I feel like I’ve really found my pocket you know? I’ve found my sound. And that’s not saying that I won’t continue to grow, change and get better, but I’m just really happy with how it’s turned out. We did it in a really cool way as well - Oli is producing everything from London, so we were at Roundhead with Patty Hill recording everything and I flew up my friend Reuben Scott up from Dunedin, he did the guitar, drums, and the bass - I do the guitar but he did all the crazy cool good bits. We’d go and record for ten hours, and then Oli would be waking up at 6 am UK time and phoning in to hear what we’ve done.
Where do you find your music inspiration?
It’s never the same thing twice. I’m sure most people are like this, I find it way easier to write when I’m not in a great place. I think that’s probably because I write best when I’m alone and I’m not seeing anyone - when I’m anxious or depressed I tend to withdraw from people and spend lots of time on my own and that’s when I do most of my good song writing. Which is actually quite nice because it makes you feel like it’s productive to be sad… It’s funny, I feel like song writing is often like picking at a scab, an emotional scab. Most people, when you have something upsetting you, you try not to think about it too much - whereas when I write I have this idea pop into my head and I just start picking at it, and you start writing about it and it gets worse and worse… and you might write an epic song but now this thing is bigger in your head. Music is funny. Sometimes I forget how to write songs I have three months where I cannot for the life of me remember how I did it. I listen to old songs of mine and be like ‘how did I do that?’ but then I’ll have a month where I write a whole EP! I wish I had something that always worked for me so I knew what to do when I have these block periods. Maybe I’ll find that as I go, I’m only 19, maybe that’s something I’ll figure out with time.
Listen to Molly Payton's latest mini-album 'Slack' on Spotify below:
Molly Payton is featured in Tenner Magazine's 'Discover' issue - available to order!
Words by Ruby Clavey
Photography by Oli Spencer