Margaret Glaspy doesn’t mince words or deal in excess. Clocking in at a brisk 34 minutes, the singer-songwriter’s debut, Emotions and Math, made several best-of lists in 2016 with its blend of bluesy riffs and pared down rock ’n’ roll.
“I do like things boiled down to their kind of most distilled nature. That was a big priority for me in making [Emotions and Math],” Glaspy says. “I don’t like wandering around. I like getting to the point, for sure.”
There’s no beating around the bush on the record’s single, “You & I,” which opens with the grab-you-by-the-throat declaration, “Tonight I’m a little too turned on to talk about us / And tomorrow I’ll be too turned off and won’t give a fuck / About you and I” with the qualifier tacked on almost as an afterthought. It’s the pinnacle of a record wrought with tension: The push-pull between her analytical side and her emotional side on the title track; between desire and independence on “Somebody to Anybody”; and between who she is and who others want her to be on “Pins and Needles.” While Glaspy’s lyrics are written from the first-person perspective, the “she” in question could be Glaspy herself or a fictional character whose point of view she’s taken on for the song.
“The process is mine, for sure, in making the record—that’s not something that’s shared with the audience. …And then once I release it, it’s totally theirs and I can’t really claim it anymore,” she says. “Those songs mean something completely different to me than they do probably to everyone else. I like it to be kind of without baggage for a listener to just enjoy it and have it be theirs whether they love it or they hate it.”
Glaspy got her start in the third grade playing the fiddle, and transitioned to the guitar as a way to further accompany other fiddle players. When she was in high school, she began playing shows steadily, which led to a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music for one semester. Afterward, she spent time working and performing in Boston before making the leap to New York, where she’s been for the past six years. It was in her bedroom in New York that she first recorded Emotions and Math with an acoustic guitar and upright bass. She was planning to release it on Bandcamp when ATO Records reached out.
“I [recorded] on an iPad first. The second version was on my computer with proper microphones and pre-amp and recording equipment. And then the third time, by the time I was just about to finish the second version, ATO called and asked me if I wanted to make a record,” she says. “So then I went into an actual studio and it kind of felt like I was covering my own songs.”
Glaspy self-produced the ATO release, and she says her methodical approach to production led to the record’s title, as she vacillated between both emotions and math.
“Essentially when I was making it, I made a lot of rules for myself and that was the more analytical side that really helped me get the record done and also not mull over it too much and have it released in a raw state where I wasn’t quite sure if it was done or not, but I said, ‘These are rules, I’ve gotta just keep going,’” she says. “So that part of it was the analytical. And the emotional was obviously just going through the process and the thoughts and heart that were put into the songs. That kind of made those two come together.”