Lydia Jenkin talks to Taite Prize finalist Nadia Reid about why she was in no hurry to make her debut album.

The title of Nadia Reid's debut album, Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs, also feels like an oddly apt way to sum up her career thus far. The richly emotive folk-singing Port Chalmers native has taken her sweet, slow time to release her debut album to the world, but if you listen to the formation of her songs and look at all the signs of international accolades and attention, you can tell it's been worth the wait.

To be honest, making a debut album wasn't really all part of the grand scheme for Reid - she's always writing songs, but the album came about because other people kept suggesting she should make one. The great thing about taking her time to agree, was when she did eventually head into The Sitting Room studio in Christchurch, she felt good and ready.

"Because there had been such a long time between having written some of these songs, that first inkling of wanting to make an album, and other people wanting you to make an album, and then actually getting into a studio to record, we'd been playing the songs so much and I was just so ready for it all to happen. The songs were there, I knew exactly what I wanted them to sound like, and so it felt right."

That might be why Listen to Formation has been called "remarkably assured" and compared to the work of Gillian Welch by international press.


But markets outside New Zealand might never have heard Reid's music if it weren't for a chance encounter with music promoter, booker, and general unsung hero Matthew Crawley.

"So I was just going to put the album up on Bandcamp, and we were gonna play a show, and that would be that. But I was talking to Matthew about it, and he said, 'No no, don't do that, don't just put it online,' and I was like, 'But I'm already doing it, it's happening!' And he said, 'Give me 12 hours, and let me send it to some people'."

She did put the album up on Bandcamp in the end, and didn't expect to hear anything further. But one of the people Crawley emailed was Aaron Curnow, founder of Australian label Spunk records. Several months later Curnow emailed Reid, out of the blue.

"He said, 'I can't stop listening to your record. I didn't really want to put out another female folk artist from New Zealand [the first being Tiny Ruins], but I really like your album, and I would like to put it out.' So yeah, it was a matter of Matt planting that seed. I guess."

That record deal then led her to sign deals in Europe and the United States, and all of a sudden, international media were interested. Mojo, Uncut, The Guardian, NPR, Pitchfork - she received glowing reviews from them all, as well as mentions on Best Albums Of The Year lists, and she's been named a finalist for the upcoming Taite Prize.

She's been pleasantly surprised by the resurgence of interest in the kind of thoughtful, inventive, and frequently rocking folk she's making, and credits Hollie Fullbrook, aka Tiny Ruins, with helping to start the ball rolling.

"I don't know exactly what happened, or how it works, but three or four years ago, this kind of folk influenced stuff that I'm doing, and stuff that Hollie and Hannah [Aldous Harding] are doing, it just didn't seem like it would ever be cool or popular. You know, I never thought that Laneway would ever have me play, or Hollie play.

"And I guess it's how trends work or whatever, but I also feel that Hollie has done so much work in paving this way, so that I can sort of follow on. I mean we're different, but people always want to talk about her, so I feel like she's made people ready to receive this kind of music."

Reid's songs draw on heartbreak, confusion, loneliness, and all good turbulent aspects of human relations, but she's also full of warmth and wonder, and is keen to avoid misconceptions of herself as a tortured artist.

"The Pitchfork review was interesting, because it was a very complimentary review, she gave it 7.2, but she totally misunderstood.

"It was just the wording, you know, she sort of painted me as this down on love, down on other people, down on happiness, grave, bitter sort of woman. And I can see how that might've happened. But to me, and I think to other people as well, there are still currents of hopefulness and uplift in the music, and it's honest. And I don't know, I just felt a bit uncomfortable I suppose, with that description. But it was an interesting thing for me to read."

There are still currents of hopefulness and uplift in the music, and it's honest.


She does like to draw directly from her own life in her songwriting though, so she has considered the question of whether it's possible to be content and happy, and still find material to inspire her music.

"I don't know the answer yet," she laughs.

"It's funny, because a lot of the songs off the last album are about falling in love with this person, and riding through that, and then breaking up with them.

"And I think I do that best, eh, the break-up song. But then I am moderately happy at the moment, in a relationship, and I think I'm like, 'Hmm, I guess I have to keep things a little bit fiery' - whoever I'm with will need to be prepared for that. But I would also like to keep my boyfriend. I don't want to have to keep finding new ones!"


Nadia Reid


Listen To Formation, Look For The Signs

Where and when:

Performing at the Kings Arms in Auckland on Friday night, and at Meow in Wellington on Saturday, alongside Anthonie Tonnon and Darren Hanlon.