Exclusive Interview With PATHS: One-Woman Synth Pop Newcomer

PATHS, the one-woman, electronic, synth pop newbie, just released her debut single, “Neoprene” and she’s already got the backing of BBC Radio 1 DJ, Phil Taggart.

“Neoprene” is minimalistic with catchy percussion and intrinsic grooves, but it still somehow manages to sound big and it’s already easy to imagine it being a crowd favorite at a big outdoor festival. It’s an interesting combination of electronic music and synth pop and PATHS clearly has a good sense of how to balance these two genres without sounding too robotic. She effortlessly incorporates vocal samples and guitar hooks and they really push the song to a whole new level.

Her immersive sound was inspired by the likes of Jamie XX, St. Vincent, and HAIM while her songwriting was developed through the production efforts of Rory Friers (aka Thrash Hat). 

PATHS is also known for making the visual aspect of her live show a huge part of what she does. She’s been described as “a one-woman, audiovisual live performance”, using synchronized custom LED lighting on stage.

She has two new tracks, “Right Beside You” and “Last One Standing”, coming out on February 23rd and I had a chat with her to find out about how PATHS started, her influences, her sound, new music, and more.

How long have you been playing music and how long have you been working on PATHS?

PATHS: I’ve been playing music my whole life; piano as a kid; then self-taught guitar on my dad’s acoustic, but very quickly wanted an electric guitar to be able to play the indie rock music I was listening to and loving at the time. PATHS has been a slow burner. It started off as a bunch of demos, just using my electric guitar about two years ago. I had just got a brand new Fretking DBR and found the range of sounds I could create with it to be really inspiring. I brought the demos to Rory Friers of post-rock band, And So I Watch You From Afar. He was working on his new electronic alias, Thrash Hat, and had a wealth of ideas as to how to bring the songs to life.

How did the name PATHS come about and did you ever consider just using your own name?

PATHS: I wanted to have a name that would become my musical identity, that I could separate from myself. A kind of invisible guise that I can jump in and out of for my performances. I wanted a name that sounded like an entity as opposed to a group of people, e.g. Shura, Sia, etc. PATHS seemed to fit all the criteria and it was a name I felt suited me and my music.

Your debut track, “Neoprene” reminds me of groups like The XX and even a bit like Pet Shop Boys. Where did your love of synth pop and vocal sampling come from?

PATHS: I think my love of synths came from listening to lots of dance and trance music. I love dancing and feeling the music make you want to move. I’ve also dabbled with lots of music software over the years and chopped up vocals and guitars for fun. When I started production with Rory, sampling was just one of the techniques that we both had an interest in. We thought samples would really spice things up and we ended up creating some really unique sounding “instruments.” I also used to DJ quite a bit, mostly playing electro glitch remixes, which have loads of sampling going on, so synths and samples feature highly in a lot of the music I would listen to.

Your sound is inspired by the likes of Jamie XX, St. Vincent, and HAIM. Do you often find yourself listening to music while you’re writing or is it a completely organic process? 

PATHS: Listening to music really does inspire me, but when I’m in a writing and recording phase, I try to not listen to music intently. My initial demos were like the skeletons of the final songs, which we fleshed out organically after recording all the guitar parts. The lyrics to a few songs were even written while we recorded, as I felt so inspired by the music and energy of the moment.

You worked with producer, Rory Friers, under his new electronic alias, Thrash Hat. What have you learned from working under the guidance of a producer?

PATHS: When I first produced my own demos, I went to Rory to ask if he would help me record a few songs properly. However, as we got into the recording, Rory moved into more of a producer role and began re-working the tracks with a more electronic vibe that would suit the style of performance I was wanting to achieve. We ended up producing an album’s worth of material. Through the process I’ve learned loads of new production techniques and gained enough confidence to be able to produce tracks by myself in the future, although Rory will always be on speed-dial! I’m now also starting to dabble with remixes, which is a lot of fun.

Your website displays the words “Guitar. Synth. Lights.” Is that meant to be a good three-word description of your sound and aesthetic?

PATHS: Yeah. I’m a massive fan of having really good lights at a show. I believe they can completely change the vibe and energy of a performance. For me, the lights are an important part of the PATHS entity and performance. I wrote and recorded the guitar and in a similar manner, I wrote and recorded the lights. They just happen to be a visual instrument. The movement and colors not only dance to the song, but are programmed to emotively react to different parts of the music, e.g. when the song goes high and fast, the lights often go bright and frantic, but equally there are subtleties where colors might follow an underlying sample or instrument that is less obvious.

I really like how the music video for “Neoprene” reflects the track’s electronic, minimalist sound. What was the inspiration behind the music video?

PATHS: Again, the lights are a big part of my whole performance, but also launching as a completely new artist, I wanted to create a performance video that also captured the essence of what my live shows would be like. We found an old Victorian swimming pool near where I live, which provided a great location for the shoot. The old tiles in the pool created the perfect medium to reflect my light show.

You use synchronized, custom LED lighting on stage and you’ve been described as “a one-woman audio-visual live performance.” Were there any musicians in particular who inspired you to emphasize the visual aspects of performing live?

PATHS: I’d seen LED tube lights being used locally, but only as background lighting, as opposed to being programmed and timed specifically to each song. Normally only the headlining bands would have the full lighting show, and it would completely transform the vibe of a performance. I wanted to be able to capture that feeling myself, and be in complete control of it. There’s a cool band called Purity Ring, who actually use midi triggered globes that light up as they ‘play’ them. I’d love to have a go at something like that in the future!

Your first performance as PATHS takes place in February at Output, Northern Ireland’s annual music showcase and conference in Belfast. Prior to PATHS, do you have much experience performing live?

PATHS: I’ve been performing in various bands for the past 15 years or so. I made my pocket money as a 16-year old playing rock covers in bars around the north coast. I earned way more than my school mates and their clarinets, never got much academic credit though (laughs)! Then I moved to Belfast and progressed into writing and playing original music, mainly indie rock style bands. I was also one half of an electro-synth band named Nakatomi Towers, after the building in the Die Hard movie! We were fortunate enough to support The XX back in the day and I’ve had some great live experiences over the years including playing Bestival. I’ve always been in bands, but had a desire to have a go at doing my own music. It will be quite a strange experience walking on stage by myself though!

What’s it like being a solo musician? Do you sometimes wish you had other musicians to collaborate with in the studio or in a live setting?

PATHS: Yes and no. It’s been quite a liberating experience as decisions don’t have to be run through several people and therefore can be made quickly. Being able to give answers and make decisions straight away is great when you’re talking to anyone in the industry. However I also have to pay for everything myself, so it can be expensive. Music/studio wise, Rory taking on the role of a producer, has felt like a collaboration of minds over the past year, so I haven’t felt that need to work with other musicians yet. As for being solo in a live setting, well that’s going to be a completely new experience – ask me next week!

Your track has been supported by BBC Radio 1’s Phil Taggart and Clash Magazine said “PATHS could well be the complete package.” How does it feel now that your music is beginning to connect with people?

PATHS: It was so cool to hear my track being played on BBC Radio 1. It was a real milestone for me. Phil is so supportive of new music. It feels fantastic to finally have my music out there and to be getting people’s reactions, comments, and feedback. It feels like we’ve been sitting on these tracks for so long now, so it’s great to unleash them! I’m actually pushing out another two releases this month, a quick turnaround by traditional standards, but I think people want to hear more than one song. I know as a listener of music, I want to hear more; one track is rarely enough to connect with an artist.

At what point would you consider your music career a success?

PATHS: I think success for me would be getting to play all the festivals that I love and have enjoyed over the years. And playing fun shows to real fans. Being able to afford to keep doing what I love doing and make a reasonable living off it would be an amazing measure of success in today’s music industry.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming releases and is “Neoprene” indicative of what’s to come?

PATHS: My future releases have the same basis as “Neoprene” in that they started life as clean guitar tracks with delay. There’s more looping of guitars, lots more synth, but I feel each song has its own identity and vibe. As I said, I’m pushing out the next two tracks pretty quickly, so you’ll find out soon enough! I’m also a fan of co-creation and freedom of creativity. We live in a fantastic world where people can take things and make them into something completely new. So, I’ll be putting my tracks on Metapop, a site recently used by Moby for a remix. Through this site, anyone can freely download the stems and create their own reworks. I’ve already had a great remix of Neoprene by a producer called LOTUS, which will hopefully be available in the usual outlets this month.

For more on PATHS, you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify, and you can check out her website here.


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