Singer Nadia Reid gets frank on her bold new album

Photography by Meek Zuiderwyk

Photo/ Meek Zuiderwyk

With her bold new album, Nadia Reid opens up about breakups, depression and her bright international future.

New Zealanders sometimes have a funny habit of waiting for international audiences and critics to applaud a local artist before getting behind them at home. We wait for the glowing reviews and blog posts from foreign media, the successful international tours, and the confirmation of a fan base overseas, and then we say “Oh yes, they’re brilliant!”

That’s how it was for Port Chalmers native Nadia Reid. She first released her debut album Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs towards the end of 2014, and had been touring locally and releasing EPs for four years before that. And it wasn’t that nobody was listening – there were dedicated fans (enough to support a substantial crowd-funding campaign), and several reviewers impressed by Reid’s voice and song writing. It’s just that once Mojo, Uncut, The Guardian, NPR, Pitchfork, and several other international voices started praising her talents, and drawing comparisons with Gillian Welch, we all started paying a little more attention.

“I’m not quite sure why [New Zealanders] do that,” says Reid, as she embarks on a New Zealand tour to promote her new album. “I think maybe because we’re so small, and we’re so removed from the world – and I don’t mean that negatively, more just as a matter of fact. It’s a tricky one because there were definitely some key people in the early stages for me, who got behind me and really supported me 100 percent and still do. They can celebrate with me now, which is awesome.”

Indeed they can. Reid has just released her second album Preservation, at the ripe old age of 25, and the response has been similarly glowing. She has been described as a saviour of folk music by Billboard, and her tracks praised as “perfectly crafted statements from a blossoming talent” by The Guardian – all of it well-deserved praise for a second album that is even better than her first.

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Music and performance were part of Reid’s life from the beginning – her mother is a singer and keen theatre actress. But it was witnessing a performance by Mahinārangi Tocker at a folk festival when she was 14 that really gave her the song-writing bug. She decided to move to Christchurch after high school and began writing and performing her own songs, encouraged by friends in bands like The Eastern. She recorded her first EP about six months after the 2011 earthquake and formed a bond with engineer and producer Ben Edwards (who has also worked with Marlon Williams, Tami Neilson, Delaney Davidson, and many others), who she credits with helping her to develop each record.

It has been two years since her last release, and Reid has managed to wrap all that experience up in the album, which was recorded and produced at The Sitting Room studios in Lyttelton, again with Edwards. Writing guileless, arresting lyrics, she has also pushed the sound palette even further on Preservation, with a touch more experimentation, and wider instrumentation. “The biggest difference making this record – it was the same producer, same band, but for me, it just felt like I knew I could do it this time, and had more confidence that it was the right thing to be doing,” she says. “I think Ben also had a vision and we were all on that same page of, ‘Let’s not just do what feels really easy, let’s do something interesting that makes us all feel a bit excited. Let’s push ourselves’.”

Reid has never been one to take the easy path with her lyrics, and on Preservation she’s laid out her life experiences with startling honesty and clarity. She was in a romantic yet melancholic state on her last record, but on the new one you can hear heartbreak and indignation melding with a growing sense of self-assuredness and strength. “I feel like a different person to who I was when we made the first record,” she explains. “A lot of change happened, a lot of growing happened. I went through a relationship breakup, and that’s quite a big presence on the album, and is probably very obvious to most listeners.

“But also just life – dealing with loss and working out who I am in the world, and what’s the point, and what’s the meaning of doing this, and working through some mental health stuff. I mean, I went through quite a depressed stage in life, more so probably than ever before.”

It was this episode and a desire to be open about it that fuelled much of the frankness on the new record. “I think who I was on the first record was someone who was kind of ashamed about those feelings, and felt like I had something wrong with me,” she says. “Now there’s this person, today, who has realised that yep, it’s a thing for me, and you’ve got to get out and do stuff otherwise you get depressed.

“But also it’s okay to feel like that some days, and it’s really common for people to feel blue, and let’s just talk about it and be real about it. And turning that darkness into art that connects with people, helps me feel like I’m doing something constructive.”

Reid recently returned from her second marathon European tour, and is now heading out to perform nine dates around New Zealand with her full band – a trip she’s greatly looking forward to. “It’s a good change of energy,” she says.

It may have taken a few years of hard graft, but Reid says the pace of her ascent feels just right. “I feel like everything has happened at the right time, in a way. If I’d had a whole lot of attention immediately when I put the first record out, it wouldn’t have done good things for me as an artist, I don’t think. You see people that have an ounce of talent, and they get swept up by a record label, and there’s all this attention and fuss, and then that fizzles out and you don’t see them again. I had to really work for each little success, and I still have to really work, but that’s a good thing, and I feel like I’ve earned it.”


Nadia Reid’s Preservation album release tour comes to Auckland on Saturday, 8 April, at The Tuning Fork.