Features

Hello Satellites: Into Orbit

Classically trained Melbourne songwriter Eva Popov has done a reverse Seltmann and put out her second album under a moniker. DOUG WALLEN asks why.


Music has saturated Eva Popov’s life since she started playing piano at age five. Fifteen years later, she turned away from the instrument and decided to pick up a guitar and try her hand as a singer-songwriter. After winning a young songwriters competition she released her debut Photos of the Sun* EP. Then came an album, *Me, the Sea & Stars, and the birth of her first child. Now 27, she’s helming the latest project to spring from Melbourne producer Nick Huggins and the artist-run label Two Bright Lakes. It’s called Hello Satellites, and the [debut album](/releases/2000727) of the same name situates Popov’s pointed songwriting under a wide canopy of embellishment. There are strings, finger-picked guitar, back-up singers, and piano and keyboards of all sorts, but none of that dampens Popov’s crafty pop, which dazzles on tracks like lead single ?Building A Wall?. And thanks to Huggins, every detail is rendered with refreshing purity.

Before Hello Satellites, you released music under your own name. How is this project distinct from that?
Well, I was wondering up until the last minute whether to release it under Eva Popov or another name. There’s a few reasons I decided to change it. The main thing was that it was really made as a collaboration with the producer, Nick Huggins. So instead of me carrying around an album of songs and taking it to a recording studio, it was quite an active development process that we both did. I wrote all the songs, but in terms of the arrangement and the recordings and what songs went on and the shape of them, there was a lot of help. So it just felt a little bit false going out under a solo name. Also, I play with a band now. Even though I guess I’m the one driving the project and doing the songwriting, it really did become a collective effort. And it’s a lot easier for me to have a project title to stand behind. I found it pretty confronting going under my own name and selling myself. Now I feel like it’s separate. It’s not me, it’s an album.

?For each song, I would write pages and pages of things and then cut probably 95 percent of it.?

I read you’ve played piano since age five and had years of classical training.
Up until I was 18, that was my main thing. And even straight out of high school, I went to the VCA [Victorian College of the Arts] and did the classical piano course. I did the first year, and I think by the end of it I was ready for my life. [Laughs] Ready for a life outside practising piano. I really loved writing music and other creative things, so I quit and didn’t know what to do. Six months later I started doing open mic nights as a songwriter.

And you now play guitar and piano?
Yeah. This is one of the things that changed between the previous album and this one: the other one is really guitar-based, really quite straight folk songs. This album was a return to the piano and lots of different kinds of keyboards, which made things a hell of a lot more easy for me because I knew the instrument.

When you’re writing a song using keyboards, do you have to dial back some of the musicianship that might come naturally to you?

Yeah. Because I have experience on the instrument from years of playing it. And I can see chords and harmonies and the way they travel to each other. There’s just a whole understanding of it. I feel a little bit handicapped on guitar. It’s funny that it took me that long to go back to it, but there was too much classical piano baggage.

Is it right that you also studied classical Indian singing at one point?
I went through a phase. I travelled to India when I was 21 to study classical Indian singing and then came back and practised and practised. Then I had a kid and decided to make pop music instead, because it wasn’t as hard. [Laughs] It involved less practise.

Was your first album informed in part by your pregnancy?
Kind of. It all got written before the pregnancy. That album was about mortality and life’s fragility – I think that’s what I said about it in the press kit. And then I got pregnant while I was making it, which I thought was pretty ironic. But the new album was a lot more inspired by the chapter that came after pregnancy.

How has your singing evolved since you began focusing on it?
Well, I don’t feel like a singer, to tell you the truth. I often felt a little bit disappointed when we were making the new album. No matter how many takes I did – no matter how hard I worked on it – I always sounded like myself. Singing is a default thing that I learned how to do that I love, but I sing because I write songs. My confidence as a singer hides behind the songs. The idea of myself as a singer seems quite strange.

What about writing lyrics? How naturally does that come for you?
With Hello Satellites, it was different with different songs on the album, but by the end I got really pedantic about it. I set up a computer screen and I just drafted and drafted and drafted, like I would treat a uni essay. And I don’t know if it helped, but it was nice to have a process to go through rather than get to a stage going, ?I hate this song. Why isn’t it working?? I wrote a lot. For each song, I would write pages and pages of things and then cut probably 95 percent of it. And that kind of works.

Has your style of lyrics changed much since your earlier releases?
I think maybe, lyrically, the new record’s a lot sparser. I had a computer at home where I did a lot of the recording, so I could hear things back as I was doing them. My natural tendency is to be very lyric-heavy, and I could edit myself. It still might be a bit lyric-heavy, but less so than I have been in the past. There’s more space to let music do more of the work, which is nice.

When you started playing pop music, was there a specific catalyst for that?
I just wanted to do really fun stuff. There’s some songs that didn’t make it on the album that are really upbeat. I don’t know if the album comes across as upbeat as I felt that it was while I was making it, but it was more upbeat than anything I’d made before. I just wanted to have fun and not take things as seriously as I had in the past.

Do you think there’s some lingering influence of classical and folk music?

I think so. If you look at even the instrumentation, it’s strings and piano and some instrumentals, and all that stuff kind of feeds back to it. Also, some acoustic guitar songs with just lyrics. It’s a good mishmash.

How did some of that embellishment come together, like the strings and accordion?
Well, when I was ?Eva Popov? back in the day, I had a great band. I played with [violinist] Melisa Collins for years. And [multi-instrumentalist] Cathryn Kohn’s my neighbour, so she could come over the fence and record in the back studio any time. She plays accordion and viola and violin. Because I worked with those guys really regularly, we could do a lot of demoing with strings and accordion. It was just luck, really, that it was all there. We just mucked around until we found bits we liked.

And besides mixing and producing, Nick Huggins played bass, banjo, and percussion?
But also little things. Like, he set up my computer at home so I could record and do demos. And he’s the one that suggested we make this album. Just the amount of support and encouragement – He would cut verses out of songs and cut songs I really wanted to put on and encourage other songs. I think his involvement was pretty fundamental. I would say he’d be the director of the album, really. The final product was very much directed by him.

How did you meet him?
We did the creative arts degree at Melbourne Uni. That was probably the best thing to come out of that. So we’ve known each other for about seven years. He’s worked on all the recordings I’ve done. We’ve been good friends for that whole time, really.

Has having a child affected your songwriting in any way you can measure?
Yes, absolutely. It’s affected so much of everything. It got me really focused, so it made time so precious. There was life and then there was music, which was the outlet for everything. And this album just became my project or my little world for a couple of years. I loved working on it so much. So really, it affected my commitment to it and made me feel a lot more positive about making music. It also forced me to be a lot more efficient and creative on tap rather than wait around for my life to get complicated and then write songs about it. I just had to write, even if I thought there was nothing.

+

Hello Satellites is out now on Two Bright Lakes/Remote Control. The album will be launched at a matinee show at The Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on Sunday, August 29, 2pm. For more tour dates click [here](http://www.myspace.com/hellosatellites).