PREMIERE: Polly Scattergood Found Inspiration in Emojis for “Saturn 9” Video

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Right before COVID-19 forced the world to lock down, Polly Scattergood had settled into a new recording studio. The warehouse space had been prepared to make and record music and, for the first time in a long time, her synths were all in one place. “It felt super exciting,” the British singer recalls on a recent Zoom call. “Literally, about a week later, lockdown happened.”

Fortunately, Scattergood was able to collect a few key pieces — speakers, a laptop, a keyboard and a guitar — before the U.K. shut down. As the pandemic closures persisted, she also released her third full-length album, In This Moment. While there was some promo to handle, it wasn’t the usual album cycle’s worth of activities, for obvious reasons. So, Scattergood retreated to her studio, now at home, and got back to making music. The result is her forthcoming EP, In the Absence of Light, out on September 15, made with collaborators Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Grinderman) and Glenn Kerrigan. 

Today, Audiofemme premieres the second single from In the Absence of Light, “Saturn 9.” The title is a play on the word saturnine. “Saturnine means gloomy and so we decided to write a song about emerging from this kind of darkness, this kind of gloomy heaviness, looking forward into a bright, hopeful positive space,” Scattergood explains.

“I wanted the video to represent the music in a way that everyone would understand and there were a couple of key lines that jumped out to me,” says Scattergood. One was “The hieroglyphics of our soul/We keep on moving/Time evolves.” The lyrics stuck with Scattergood as she tried to figure out how to represent them visually. 

She found inspiration in an emoji. “The smiley face emoji came into my head,” she says. “That represents the modern day hieroglyphic. It’s what we all send to each other.” Scattergood also wanted to incorporate dancing into the video because it was a song written during the lockdown. “I liked the idea of a group of friends being out, having fun, dancing together and looking to the future,” she says. “That’s where I went with it.” The clip, which she also directed, interjects the smiley face emoji, a symbol that could also serve as a reference to the rave heyday of the early ‘90s, between scenes of aerobics dancers cutting loose to the bouncy, synthpunk track outside in ‘80s workout garb. 

The rest of the EP came together over Zoom sessions between Scattergood and Sclavunos. “We would log onto our computers and just leave them running. Sometimes, I would go get lunch or do things and we would come back,” she says. “It was the closest that you could get to being in the room with somebody.”

The method gave way to a fruitful collaboration. “We wrote it all by the power of the internet, which is just a crazy concept, but it fed into the sound of the EP, I think, because there were these kind of glitchy moments of frozen screens and awkward interactions where you accidentally talk over each other,” she says. “That all added to the feel, I think, of this record. “

Thematically, they looked out into the universe, drawing inspiration from astronomy as well as the mythology that’s related to the cosmos. They wrote more than the four songs that will appear on the EP and, in fact, are continuing to write together.  

As for the recording, Scattergood says, “It was quite DIY, but I tried to embrace that.” 

Living near the sea posed an interesting dilemma for recording vocals. “You have to time it right because seagulls make loads of noise in the morning and the evening,” she says.

But, the ambient sounds may have impacted the EP in subtle ways. Scattergood notes that part of her process is recording sounds on her phone to help generate ideas. “I’m not classically trained in any way. I think in textures and layers. I will hear the hum of the road and use that noise to build upon,” she says. “I love soundscape, and in many ways, if we’re doing a vocal and a seagull squawks it’s annoying, but in many cases, when we’re just recording, I love those sounds.”

Scattergood says that the EP isn’t a major departure from her last album, but the nature of the collaboration with Sclavunos, who co-wrote two songs on In This Moment, evolved. “For this EP, it was very much a project that we embarked on together just to see what would happen,” she says. 

The collaboration has been a learning experience for Scattergood. “I think that having his involvement was very key because I needed somebody to stretch me in terms of the language I use,” she says. “He’s like a walking thesaurus.”

She adds, “I think that was really an interesting thing for me, having his input on the language side of things.”

Follow Polly Scattergood on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates.

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