Annie Booth on stripping back her sound for Spectral

We talk to Annie Booth about the inspiration behind her new EP, Spectral, and what led her to strip back her sound

Feature by Amy Hill | 06 May 2019
  • Annie Booth

Annie Booth is a busy woman. Since releasing her debut album, An Unforgiving Light, in 2017, she’s been bouncing around the Scottish music scene both as a solo artist and as a member of prolific four-piece Mt. Doubt. And on top of that, she’s been back in the studio recording a new EP, Spectral, to be released this month.

When we catch up with her, she seems relatively unfazed by it all. "I was so pleased with the reception that An Unforgiving Light received, both from the press and radio," she says. "But I am still in the lucky position where I’m relatively unknown. That takes the pressure off a bit."

Hailing from Auchterarder, Booth grew up playing covers and listening to indie-rock. "I was really into people like My Chemical Romance and Villagers," she says. "It was listening to this stuff that I would really think to myself, 'Wow, this is amazing'. These bands made me want to write songs. I’d always been into writing little poems and stuff, and eventually I moved away from covers and started making my own music."

Booth moved to Edinburgh five years ago to study music at Edinburgh Napier University. It was on this course that she met the band for An Unforgiving Light and the roots of her first album began to grow. "They all had an eclectic group of influences – electric, post-punk, country," she says. "It was nice to combine it all together."

The album was artfully produced by Mark Morrow, who Booth had met while working on projects with Mt. Doubt. "He was great to work with," she says. "I don’t think he’d worked on much folky/acoustic stuff before, and so it was a cool balance of a cleaner pop production married with my tendency towards a more intimate acoustic sound. We were really happy with the finished product – it sounded really slick and polished."

For Spectral, Booth wanted to do something different, and from listening to her first single, Magic 8, the change is palpable. "I wanted to go for something a lot more sparse, and kind of stripped back," she explains.

We ask what’s influenced the change: does she feel like she’s changed or matured as an artist? "It’s a few different things. One more obvious would probably be my listening tastes. I was really into a lot of indie-rock before, while still having my folk influences in there, and you can really hear that in my earlier music. But nowadays, I’m listening more to singer-songwriters – King Creosote, Kathryn Joseph, and Phoebe Bridgers. There’s something about their outputs in that their songs are quite bare. The lyrics are exposed. They’re really masterful in conveying emotion, but not in a way that’s self-indulgent. It’s universal, but it’s still really personal. That’s inspired the EP a lot."

To help achieve this new sound, she started working with producer and musician Chris McCrory of Catholic Action. Having met Booth while she was recording a song with Glasgow’s wojtek the bear, McCrory got in touch and asked to collaborate. Inspired by the work he’d done with artists like Siobhan Wilson, Booth decided to go for it.

Now, with Spectral ready for release, she’s very happy with the way it worked out. "When I booked the recording I hadn’t actually written most of the songs yet, but I knew what I was going for," she says. "By the time I reached the studio I had the bones of the songs, but the finished product really happened while we were recording. This was a completely different experience from An Unforgiving Light where we pretty much finished the whole project before we went in. And that really worked at the time. With Chris, we experimented on the spot. He’d just sort of hand me random instruments and be like 'play that'. It was a really cool way to work."

Booth and McCrory split the instrumentals in half on Spectral, with Booth primarily taking on the acoustic and electric guitars and Chris coming in on bass and synths, as well as making atmospheric sounds using a Monotron. When we ask more specifically about how she wanted the EP to turn out, Booth muses: "to have a more dream-like feel.

"As I grow older, and I know I’m only 23, I’ve started to realise that I really don’t know that much," she confesses. "It’s like the older I get, the less I think I know. This EP is about those unanswered questions and unfinished statements. Less obvious parts, more atmosphere and reflection. It’s like it’s an admission that I don’t know everything, and that’s fine."

Although Booth self-effacingly insists she’s not hit the big time enough to feel the pressure of that "second album syndrome", it feels like exciting things are on the way for her. With Spectral having been released on a limited edition purple vinyl on Record Store Day, and with an album launch at Henry’s Cellar Bar to mark the official release on 10 May, she’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Spectral is released on 10 May via Scottish Fiction

Annie Booth plays Henry's Cellar Bar, Edinburgh, 10 May