Lydia Ainsworth is a pretty magical musician. The talented singer, songwriter and producer has been steadily making great music since her first album, Right From Real, debuted in 2014 and now only a few years later she has crafted one of the best records to be released in this new decade, the magnetic and exhilarating Sparkle & Debris, which is out now. The Toronto born artist has seemingly taken all that she has learnt throughout her lauded career and with it fashioned something truly special.
Sparkles & Debris is songwriting and production at their finest. A sprawling gorgeous collection of material that revolves around longing in all of its diverse forms. Longing from love, longing to be free of oppression, longing for inspiration. It may be a broad concept in which to write about but, on this album, Ainsworth succeeds in not only lyrically describing how these emotions have hit her from time to time but also makes the listener feel them exquisitely. Sparkles & Debris marks the first time Ainsworth has also sought out collaboration from other musicians. Here, she has left behind the solitary pursuit of creating music with samples and drafted a wonderful ensemble of players to help flesh out her ideas. The result is definitely one of her best albums and one of the best released so far this year. When we catch up with Ainsworth, from her home in Toronto, she explains to us what her creative process looked like for this record, how collaborating with other musicians felt and how she allows little bits of magic to seep into her everyday life.
“I found that these songs fit together, that they all had this common element of longing,” the thoughtful and articulate Ainsworth explains over Zoom about the themes she found in Sparkle & Debris. “Whether it was longing and love or longing for the muse of inspiration to show up, or this kind of unrequited longing and all of them longing to be free from oppression. The songs kind of evolved to have that common element.” When asked if this was a deliberate choice Ainsworth made when writing the album she says that it wasn’t and she just discovered that these themes were popping up throughout each track. ”It is pretty Mercurial,” Ainsworth says of her songwriting process. “It is frustrating, but more of a joyful frustration of uncovering this mystery. I just trust that the songs will present themselves and that I’ll find songs that fit together in a sonically cohesive way. We’re reflecting our surroundings and experiences, always and my art isn’t separated from that from my life, I guess. Even though the lyrics and everything can be so fantastical, I’m still, I’m a sponge of my surroundings, and it’s going to be projected in what I do.”
Fantastical is a great descriptor for Sparkle & Debris. Musically the album is texturally dense, full of colour and feels so amazingly realized. Right off the top, with the single “Parade”, Ainsworth catapults you into her world. Allowing you to really relate to the emotions she is singing about. Making her personal journey wonderfully universal. Ainsworth had the idea for the song one night in New York after a long tour concluded. She was caught in a Halloween parade while trying to make it back to the friend’s apartment she was staying in and she says that, in this mass of people, she found herself feeling utterly alone and homesick, even though she didn’t really know where home was anymore. “I hope that this song is kind of an antidote to that loneliness a little bit,” she says, “It’s something that I guess a lot of people can relate to these days, especially. I’ve gotten a lot of comments that it also feels very nostalgic. It reminds, someone said, it reminds them of visiting home, like at Christmas. It’s nice that people are having the same reaction to the song that I intended to produce. It’s really beautiful.”
Another new thing the producer did for the album was bring in a crew of musicians to help her realize the sonic tapestry she heard in her head with these songs. “I never had that live band kind of feel. So what I wanted to do with all of my songs on this album was to take not all of them, but a good amount and have them recorded with guitars, bass and drums and have them play together in a room. I really wanted to get that band kind of feel. This was a different approach for me on this album and it was a nice way to glue everything together with the programming that I do. I just gave the direction of what I wanted from the band. For “Parade” I really wanted the drums and percussion to sound like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and Mark (Kelso, who played drums on the album) really got it. Then on a song like “Forever” I really wanted some kind of Beatles-esque guitar parts and Neil Chapman, who’s played with Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, added some great melodic guitar parts at the end of that song that I loved and that was so new for me. In general, I had the idea of where I wanted the parts to go and how I wanted it to sound. It was awesome to have the players playing together in the same room so that they could see each other and play off of each other to really build up the tracks.” When speaking about the writing of the album, Ainsworth says that she added some spells into her lyrics. Things that have helped her in her daily life. “I was reading some spell books and when I was also on tour, a lot of my fans who come up to say hi after the shows would talk about spells and give me their own and, and I guess I was inspired by these. They kind of gave me a sense of calmness and control over chaos in the world. It’s really a way to kind of centre yourself and so I wanted to include these as kind of an antidote for any longing people are feeling. There are a few charms as well. There’s a love charm. Different spells and charms kind of peppered in for everyone.”
When speaking of meeting fans after shows on tour, we get to the subject of what things have been like for Ainsworth now that she has been stuck in one place for so long over the last year compared to being previously always on the go. “In a way, it’s a welcome change,” Ainsworth says positively. “I’ve been film scoring a lot this past year and yeah, haven’t been able to play any shows, I will be doing a live stream in a few weeks time but yeah, not playing any shows, especially on an album cycle is so strange. It’s definitely different from what I’m used to,” she says with a laugh, “but it is what it is. I’m looking forward to playing again. That will be wonderful.” While Ainsworth and the rest of us patiently await the return of live shows, it’s great to have this magical record she has made to help balm and soothe the aches we are all feeling from loss this past year. Sparkles & Debris is a huge step forward artistically for this talented human and one that everyone should immediately dive into.
Sparkles and Dust by Lydia Ainsworth is now out via Zombie Cat Records. You can order it HERE