- Words Ryan Cahill
- Photography Tom Dream
From Margate to Minneapolis, Art School Girlfriend is ready to go global.
Margate is undeniably a majestic hideaway from London. It’s near enough to visit, but far away enough to feel like you’ve escaped from the over-drive of city life. That being said, it’s also the perfect place to anchor yourself if you’re and up-and-coming musician with a taste for the melancholy – and I guess that’s exactly how you could describe Art School Girlfriend, or Polly Mackey, as she’s otherwise known.
Serving up endearing, otherworldly beats with a majestic vocal to match, Art School Girlfriend has quickly found herself a burgeoning fanbase, all intent on soaking up her ethereal offerings. Over the past year, she’s toured with The Japanese House, and is set to do the same on a major US tour later this year. She’ll also take to venues across the UK for her very own headline tour, which includes dates at London’s Omeara and Soup Kitchen in Manchester. All this in spite of the fact that she’s yet to release an album. The tracks that we have been lucky enough to hear showcase a new, raw talent whose musical prowess seems to be ever on-the-up.
As she continues to work on her debut album, we managed to grab a moment with the Margate maestro to find out everything from the origins of her moniker, to her very own seaside bookstore.
How did you first become involved in music?
I started playing the drums when I was eight. I was a skater and would spend all my time watching Kerrang when I got home from school. My friend and I used to play Nirvana covers in my room, but I wanted to sing as well so he taught me the guitar.
Where does the name “Art School Girlfriend” come from?
It was my girlfriend’s DJ name for a very short while (she went to Camberwell) and I stole it.
You’ve got a bookshop, right? Why did you decide to open a book shop?
I love books. In Margate, you can do whatever you like. Everyone has a hustle.
Do you utilise literature as a source of inspiration? If so, what kind of writing?
I love literature where there doesn’t necessarily need to be much of a story arc, but the narration is intensely thought-led and poetic. The most formative books when I was growing up were novels like The Bell Jar, Mrs Dalloway and Lolita which I guess are three classic examples of that. You could say there’s a parallel with my lyrics; there’s never a story, more a musing on a feeling or moment, trying to pull it apart in order to process it.
What’s the music scene like in Margate?
Strong! It’s crazy how many musicians there are in one town. It’s very inspiring.
Tell us about your track ‘Come Back to Me’, what are the key themes?
It’s about learning and being out of control of your own desire, but kind of enjoying that uncomfortable feeling. I like to think of it as the lyrical inverse to my first track, Bending Back.
"Come Back To Me" by Art School Girlfriend
What else are you working on right now? Is an album impending?
I’m finishing loads of tracks that have been floating around for a while, which feels good. But I’m in the middle of moving house and touring, which means I don’t have a studio for the next few months, so I’m confined to my laptop and sometimes using a studio in London. I’ve fallen back in love with London after spending 3 years away, so it’s putting me in a slightly different headspace which is having an interesting effect on my writing.
If so, how do you see this album evolving? What will it be about?
I think a lot of my previous output has been quite melancholy and had a sense of malaise running through it because the tracks all fit together as a piece of work. So I actually have a few songs which are different in a direction that I’m looking forward to releasing. There are a few things I’m working on which are quite pushed in the production and using a lot of compressed distorted synths; I like that creating an album will allow for moments like that.
You’re going to be supporting The Japanese House on tour in April. How does that feel and how did that come about?
I supported her with a solo setup on her UK tour back in November and was lucky enough to be asked again for the US leg. I’m really looking forward to it; she’s very talented. Also, our dogs have become firm pals, which is nice.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Stretches and a drink.
You’re going to be appearing at a lot of dates with The Japanese House, how do you handle the juxtaposition between the tranquillity of Margate and the harsh reality of life on the road?
Touring with The Japanese House isn’t very harsh – they’re a lovely group of people. But I do miss my dog and my girlfriend when I’m touring. I find coming home hard; it’s difficult to adjust back to normal life. You get addicted to the adrenaline of performing every night that it’s hard to feel a sense of purpose without that. But the beach and friends help. Plus Margate has a hedonistic underbelly, for when you’re feeling a bit too tranquil.
Finally, tell us a bit about what you’re hoping to achieve.
I’m not sure. I feel like I’m always chasing something but never quite sure what it is. Obviously, a huge success would be nice.