Much of Radio Red, the first full length album Laura Groves has released under her own name, was written, produced and recorded by Groves in her studio, watched over by two radio transmitting towers. “I became very drawn to them and they became like symbols to me; they were always awake, sending their messages, the red lights always came on at night and watched over whatever was going on in my life.” The album deals with themes of communication - missed and intercepted signals, chance meetings, synchronicities, the channels through which we try to express our true feelings, the outside interference that can get in the way and the joy of letting go and allowing the messages to flow freely.
Working its way through years of Laura’s life as an artist - early experiences of releasing music, live performance, touring, build up and breakdown, the record was a way to tune in to the many, often conflicting signals of fragmented memories. “I’ve always been very sensitive and open to what’s happening around me, and also struggle with the sheer amount of noise sometimes. There was a radio tower on the hill opposite the house where I grew up - I would look out at the network of streetlights winding up towards it and it all had a sort of mystery to me. It was a kind of escapism and a comfort, with an undertone of melancholy that was hard to put into words. I think that glow, that strange feeling, is what I’m always searching for and exploring through making music and artwork.”
This is the wavelength Laura is tuning into and trying to pin down in “Sky at Night” and the “faraway feeling” that she talks about being consumed by in the hymn to miscommunication and determination “Any Day Now”. This faraway feeling makes itself known as the need to open up and show emotion in the chord voicings of “Synchronicity”, true friendship, togetherness and isolation in our online world in “Sarah” and the heartbreak that can come with the breakdown of communication in electric piano love song “I’m Not Crying”. The “Silver Lining” of the final track, which returns to Laura’s early love for fingerpicked guitar, leads us back to the power of the redemptive love that always seems to show up just when everything seems lost.
Self-recording and production is a core part of Laura’s songwriting process. “I remember years ago getting hold of some basic recording software and being instantly drawn in. The idea of being able to layer up my voice was a dream, like building an orchestra out of what I had at home.” The passion for home-recording, using the resources available at the time, working through limitations and capturing textures through layering, forms the foundation of Groves’ experimental and off-centre pop music and electrified folk music. The sound world of Radio Red is made up of echoes and snapshots of half-remembered pop songs, piano ballads, chopped up TV theme tunes, ambient synthesised sounds and electronic music; tuning in between channels without fully belonging to any one of them, with the comfort, familiarity and strangeness that can come with hearing voices on the radio.
“There was always a lot of music in the house growing up. Everyone had their own musical passions so there was a range - jazz, classical, pop. My mum gave me her Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac records and I discovered New Order through my stepdad who made a lot of compilations. I was always interested in the different technology that came and went and the effect that had on the quality and character of recorded sound. When I started to go out and then left home, I discovered a whole other sonic world, and that expanded even further when I moved away from Yorkshire to London.”
Music was always present at home for Laura, but that also meant her relationship to it became complicated. “Making music hasn’t always been a straightforwardly cathartic process, because it's so deeply embedded in my life and everything that comes along with that. Writing and recording songs often feels like a type of time travel, where I’m sending messages to myself that I can read back later to help make sense of things where there's been silence or confusion.”
A singer all her life, Groves has spent over a decade developing a practise as an autonomous multi-instrumentalist and recording artist as well as a collaborator (Ragz Orginale, Darkstar, Sampha, Jamie Leeming), releasing EPs on DEEK Recordings and the 2020 EP “A Private Road” on Bella Union. Much of the creation of Radio Red was solitary, but a small group of people helped bring it to fruition. A meeting with mix engineer TJ Allen (Portishead, Adrien Utley) through her work in Bat for Lashes’ live band led to an important creative relationship. “Working with Tim provided me with a safe and nurturing studio environment in which to finish the record. It also means a lot to have Sampha’s voice on “D 4 N” and “Good Intention”, because we first met near the beginning of this journey and so much has happened since then - singing together again feels like coming full circle in the most positive way and a reminder that there are constants running through it all.”
“Everything I saw and heard growing up - including the geography of West Yorkshire, which can be lush and green but also harsh and unforgiving - that’s how the album feels to me. I can find a lot of beauty in that contrast. The amazing thing is that music allows me to tap into something bigger that can be shared, and that's where the catharsis starts to come into it. I walk a lot and feel like I can see the layers of the city all built up, remnants of other people’s stories merging with my own. The magical part of it all is finding out how to listen and learn from that, transform it into something and share it with others.” Somewhere in the process, the red lights of the towers on top of the hill turned from the warning of danger to the soft and comforting glow of love - that’s when the connections could be made and the signal could truly start to flow.