Since mentions of Margaret Glaspy’s songwriting prowess first started popping up in the beginning of 2016, the 27-year-old New Yorker, alt-rocker and critical darling has rapidly transformed into one of the contemporary music world’s greatest assets in the battle to bring guitar-driven music back into the popular sphere. If rock and roll still has a chance, Glaspy is likely to play a hand in reviving it.
The positive attention has been a long time coming for the California-born singer-songwriter, who’s had her sights set on becoming a performing artist since she first picked up a guitar about 10 years ago. As a child, she grew up in a musical family and learned to play the fiddle, but didn’t try her hand at writing her own material until her late teens. And when she did, it stuck.
“I just love it, I love writing songs,” says Glaspy. “I like that it’s so multifaceted. There’s just always something new to be had.”
Like many artists who circle the fishbowl of the DIY world — which Glaspy got her start in during a stint as a student at Berklee in Boston — she was able to round up enough home equipment to start self-recording her songs, but not necessarily in a way she was satisfied with. “I always released EPs, little tiny small bodies of work, that I was excited about, but I didn’t have the resources to do it exactly the way I wanted to,” she says. As she worked towards writing a full album, Glaspy had an idea in mind of how she wanted it to sound and flow in a live setting — one that would enable her to perform completely on her own, just girl and guitar — so she shaped the record around it.
“I wanted to be able to play all the songs solo and have them stand on their own two feet in that way, so that started to make me play guitar in a certain way since I was having to play the bass parts and play lead at the same time,” says Glaspy. “It kind of pushed me guitar playing-wise, and the songs didn’t really have any extra fat on them in terms of just hoping to be pretty functional.”
It was only after she joined up with ATO that she had the means to execute the musical vision she’d been gunning for; she had previously recorded the songs that comprise her debut album twice independently — once on her iPad and a second time in her New York apartment — before an offer from the label gave her the opportunity to re-record the songs professionally.
“I was finally able to produce this album and display them the way exactly I think they should be displayed, so the record is something I’m pretty proud of, just because I feel like I finally had the chance to execute all the things that were going on in my head,” says Glaspy.
The final result was Emotions And Math, a powerhouse of a debut that received an uncommonly high level of critical acclaim from institutions across the world. In some places, Emotions And Math feels like a coming-of-age record; several tracks, like “Anthony,” “No Matter Who” and “Memory Street” were written when Glaspy was in her early 20s and still carry the sharp, heavy emotional bite of early post-adolescence. In others, Glaspy approaches love and relationships from behind a thick emotional callous, wearing wisdom and indifference instead of her heart on her sleeve. Either way, the poetic nature of her lyricism is constantly present, likely due to her exposure to poetry at a young age.
“My mom read a lot of Robert Service poems to me — the guy who wrote “The Spell of the Yukon” — and I was really into Edgar Allen Poe. It was always kind of funny because I was fascinated by all this dark poetry as a little girl.”
While there can be a lot of pressure that comes along with being a young writer on the brink of stardom, Glaspy has taken that pressure and warped it into something positive, choosing to use it as a tool of encouragement rather than a harbinger of negativity and stress.
“Being a performing songwriter, there’s this thing where you feel like the Olympics or something — you’ve got to try to sing your best, play guitar your best, write your best, perform your best, and I like that there’s so many different things that you have to try to be good at, because it never gets old,” says Glaspy. “There’s always something you can improve on.”