Photo: Henry Redcliffe

Interview: Grand Pax – The London songwriter opens up about her vivid and intimate music

This past Friday saw the release of Wavey, the second EP of the year from London’s Grand Pax. Rob Hakimian called her to discuss her process, the way she envisions songs, and what’s in store for the musician.

When I speak to Grand Pax aka Annie Pax, she and her girlfriend have just moved into a new place in King’s Cross. “It’s been so stressful, and I haven’t been in the studio for like a month and I just feel horrible,” she tells me. Although, it’s not all been bad, she’s enjoying the painting and DIY – “all the shit I’ve never done before,” as she puts it, “I’m very tired, but it’s very interesting.”

Pax and her girlfriend are ‘property guardians’ – people who occupy shared living spaces in vacant buildings at a significantly lower rent than they would otherwise have to pay to live in those areas. Pax started the year in a former book warehouse in Clerkenwell, which she shared with about 15 people, but is now in an old hospital with around 20, although there are around 90 rooms by her estimation – “definitely the weirdest place I’ve ever lived in my life,” she says.

You’d think that, living with so many people around, Pax would feel the need to do all her music writing and experimenting on headphones, or at a low volume, but she prefers to play it loud – “really loud,” in fact. “I don’t know if I’m selfish, but I do what I want,” she comments, matter-of-factly. Perhaps this volume is not a desire, but a necessity, as it lends itself to the experiential nature of her songs, which enclose like sonic cocoons where Pax’s voice and vulnerabilities can thrive.

She’s decided on “trippy pop music” as the short reply when asked what kind of music she makes. “It’s a little bit mellow, trippy infused, but I would still call it pop music,” she explains. “Because it’s not that left-field, although it definitely has those influences coming in.” Indeed, while ‘trippy pop music’ certainly applies, it does sell short the myriad influences and styles that are enfolded within her music – not to mention the originality.

Although, she’s still early on in her career, and has limitless potential to grow and evolve. With this year’s tandem releases of two three-track EPs, June’s PWR and last week’s Wavey, she has doubled the amount of officially released Grand Pax songs to a grand total of 12. It’s not that she’s slow though, she’s thinking about words and melodies constantly, but she has a level of quality control to maintain – so far she hasn’t released a single ounce of filler.

With countless images and fragments occurring all the time, it can get a little overwhelming for Pax to try to keep up with her mind. “I’m always fiddling with ideas, I struggle with how much I’m always narrating in my head,” she comments. There’s a desire to try to preserve every idea; “On my laptop there’s a thousand text edit boxes open with little ideas,” she says. But she doesn’t always understand them later: “if I get drunk then I read them to my girlfriend and she’s like ‘what the fuck’.”

This may be due to the fact that much of Pax’s lyrical themes deal with more abstract concepts relating to relationships and interaction, rather than the literal ‘woe is me’ heartache of many songwriters. “I try and write songs more about a situation,” she comments. “I try to write about the shapes, colours and feelings shifting in a more inventive way. I’m trying to paint a picture, and there are certain words, certain ways of saying stuff that jump out to me in a way that makes sense.”

The subtle details in her words come from a deep interest in human interaction, trying to capture ephemeral moments of attraction or electricity. “I think I do notice that a lot about people; the way they move and the way they talk,” she says. “I am always watching people, I’m a bit of a creep.” I suggest that ‘observer’ might be more appropriate. “Yeah, you can call me an observer, that’s better,” she laughs.

These kinds of unspoken interactions are rife throughout PWR and Wavey. From “PWR”, where she requests “Give me the space and give me the time to react to you now”; to the salacious chorus of “One of Us”, where she announces “I wanna be more than a move / be more than just a quick ‘think about it’”; to “Trip”, where she observes “your mind’s in bloom and silence fills the room,” Grand Pax’s music is full of quiet musings like streetwise incantations. These words come wreathed in regal blues and endlessly deep blacks, pierced through with polychromatic melody, each element pulling you into a shrouded atmosphere where private thoughts are expressed with abandon.

From these short but vivid glimpses into her thoughts and feelings, we get an impression of Pax as a person and artist – deeply emotive, contemplative, always looking for a good time, but wary of emotional anguish. It’s not a surprise to find out that these EPs come from “a very intense time” in her life: “the last couple years I’ve been really insular,” she admits, “very condensed feelings.”

At times, she has taken solace in watching films – often the same old films over and over. She’s found an affinity for Vincent Gallo’s Billy Brown in Buffalo ’66 (“he’s super strange, but the girl loves him anyway”) and, more unexpectedly, often returns to Coyote Ugly, a film she first saw as a young child; “fuck me, when I saw that I decided I what I wanted to do with my life,” she laughs. “That’s me in a film; working in a bar writing songs on rooftops.”

This visual understanding of the world is evident in her songs, which she envisions as shapes rather than tones, and in her lyrics, where colours and movement are constant tools used to grasp at indefinable notions. “Things resonate with me, feelings and sounds, periods of time where you’re having a good time, or having a bad time, and they’ll have a colour, they’ll have a feel, and then they kind of stay with you marinate with you,” she explains. “And then it comes out into a piece of music.”

It sounds easy when boiled down like that, but translating these inchoate feelings into music is some kind of alchemy to those non-musicians among us. Even just managing to come up with and hold onto the ideas seems impossible. “I feel like I carry a lot with me, and if I have my home studio set up then I can save them there,” she says. “But if not, then I wait until I go to the studio and I explode.”

Luckily, she’s not alone in these moments of explosion, where she needs to get her expression captured in music. In the studio, she has recently been collaborating with the Stoke Newington-based production team Exmoor Emperor, who have also worked with some others of London’s pop experimentalists like Jadu Heart and Bellatrix.

“I basically see shit in my head and try and say it in a way that is poetic and unique, and the guys just facilitate that,” she explains. “They’re really musical, they’re really cool, and it’s just really easy speaking through each other.” Considering the introspective nature of Grand Pax’s music, it’s a little surprising to hear that she has more fruitful recording sessions when working with others. “You can do it on your own, but I find it easier with somebody else in the room to just encourage me,” she says. “I’m quite closed otherwise.”

The results speak for themselves on the exquisite PWR and Wavey, but at this point it’s expected of an artist to start thinking of bigger things – aka The Debut Album. “I’m writing with that in mind,” she admits. “I want it to be a body of work, so it’ll be all new tracks.” And, never one to let herself off easily, she’s got grand ambitions: “I want it to be as good as Blonde. That’s my go-to… that’s why I haven’t written it yet.”

On the next page, Grand Pax takes us track-by-track through PWR and Wavey.