Mining Human Emotion, Margaret Glaspy Shines

Her ‘Echo The Diamond’ tour stops in Austin

By Jeff McCord

Possessed with a vibrancy and keen self-awareness, Margaret Glaspy’s songs relay life like a conversation at a party. She’s a master at distilling complex emotions and stepping away from them, getting out of her head to see we’re all in this together.

“Once I thought I was the only/

Oh I was so lonely/

When you’re only thinking of yourself/

You’re missing out on everybody else”

Those lines are from “Get Back”, a highlight from Glaspy’s third, and finest album, Echo The Diamond. The song opens: 

“Once I had it all, or did it all have me?/

When you’re dripping in your privilege/

You don’t know the difference/

Between what you want and what you need”

Not to be dramatic, but it did feel like breathing on some level, it needed to happen in order for me to be okay.

Margaret Glaspy on making “Echo The Diamond”

Such incisiveness is uncommon, particularly in a flat-out rocker like “Get Back”. Glaspy inhabits the song with ferocity, it’s thrilling performance. And a mission statement. Her second album was an over-produced affair that felt like a misstep. Echo returns to the declarative storytelling that made her debut Emotions And Math so appealing. Produced by Glaspy and her partner, guitarist Julian Lage, and backed by bassist Chris Morrissey and Bad Plus drummer Dave King, the new songs crackle with a loose intensity. Glaspy seems to have turned a page on the way she sees the world. 

And it starts with the album’s title.

I think it takes on a lot of different meanings,” she tells me. We’re sitting in Studio 1A after her session (which included a surprise appearance by her friend Britt Daniel). She’s ¾ of the way through a long tour, but very alert, eyes bright and focused, in the moment. 

“Shine bright and you know, be brilliant, yes, but it was just a phrase that came to mind and it seemed to kind of wrap up this body of work. I do not think of diamonds as necessarily polished and perfectly cut. I think of them in a natural state, having a lot of different qualities. The record is about a lot of different things, but it is tapping into my life over the last few years.”

Even without directly identifying the sources of pleasure and pain, her writing feels more immediate. 

“I had to write it on some level, Glaspy explains. “Not to be dramatic, but it did feel like breathing, it needed to happen for me to be okay. It feels like it happened to me, the music, in a way, because it had no choice other than to be made. It was very immediate to write. It was immediate to record, and playing it on tour feels pretty immediate. There’s not a whole lot of like,,, thought that goes into it. And what I mean by that is I’m not scratching my head to understand where things should go. They kind of play themselves in a weird way.” 

“I think there’s a spectrum of fantasy to reality. I was struck by a lot of fantasy when I was young, films or TV or music that make you wish that your life were different than it is. As I grew older, I started to see that some of these things were affecting my ability to perceive my own reality. A lot of the stories that I had been told up to that point were not really what was going to happen in my life. But [now] there is a quality to some art that I gravitate toward that embraces reality a little bit more. I think Elliott Smith did a lot of that for me in listening to his music. I started to see that this was a songwriter revealing to me the less exciting parts of life at times, but also being at peace with them and not necessarily wanting to change them, just declaring, you know, that something is hard or that something is not ideal. Most of the music that I write is just sitting down with a guitar, acting like I know what I’m doing, you know? And then something is made at the end. The biggest thing that can get in your way is just like, you know, self-hate and saying, this is garbage and I don’t like it. So I just convince myself that they’re good and put them on a record.”

Songs like “Act Natural” revel in life’s unexpected joys; while “Female Brain” humorously calls out male privilege (“Your life’s an all-inclusive cruise”). And “Memories” lays out visceral pain. 

“Memories feel like a disease/

Or some kind of bad infection/

Spreading in all directions”

For Glaspy, it’s all part of the package.

“I enjoy investigating these territories quite a bit, more true to life experiences,” Glaspy explains. “I’ve realized that there are two things. One is that I do like to fly a flag for understanding what life actually is. The other flag that I find myself flying these days is just to create music that has some kind of risk involved in it; to say that we can get together, me and my friends, and make music with the instruments in our hands and it can fall apart at any point. There’s nothing propping us up. There’s no click track, There’s no grid that we’re locked to. And that feels really thrilling because it can go north or south at any given moment.”

Why does she crave this?

“I think we all do, that spontaneity, twists and turns in our lives and in the art that we enjoy. The television that we watch, and the music that we listen to, I think we’re looking for what could happen next. We like [when] things happen that we didn’t expect. I think as a performer, any night that, you know, an amp dies, a string, breaks, a plug gets unplugged by accident – on paper, that’s a disaster. But somehow when it actually happens, it creates this really special moment that we all share together. And to know that can happen and there’s nothing else that will save us is really beautiful to me. It gives us a job for sure.”


Artist: Margaret Glaspy        

Set List:

“Get Back”

“Irish Goodbye”

Album: Echo the Diamond (ATO Records)

Musicians: Margaret Glaspy – vocals, guitar; Scott Colberg – bass; Lee Falco – drums; Special Guest: Britt Daniel – guitar, vocals

Credits: Producer: Deidre Gott; Production Assistant: Confucius Jones; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman, Rene Chavez ; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman ; Cameras: Nastassja Collak, Ivy Fowler, Renee Dominguez; Edit: Renee Dominguez; Host: Laurie Gallardo

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