Núria Graham on music as a collective experience and her journey with her latest album, ‘Majorie’

October 4, 2022

Photos and Interview By Alyssa Goldberg

I arrived at the Bardot, a local nightclub off Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, on a Monday evening, which despite being surrounded by chain restaurants and tourist attractions, has maintained a sense of authenticity and old-school Hollywood charm. The venue – decorated with Renaissance paintings and tiled mirrors and doused in dim gold lighting – is filled with the melodic sounds of Núria Graham on the piano. The Spanish singer-songwriter is just finishing sound check before a full night of music hosted by School Night, where she’ll be joined by a group of artists from all over the world – including acts from New York, London, Armenia, Spain, and Canada. The relaxed nature and small size of the venue promises a much more intimate set than her performance on the main stage at Primavera Sound LA the previous day, where strong afternoon winds set the soundtrack for the show with a consequently self-playing harp. 

In between sound check and the night’s first set, Núria and I are able to find a secluded corner of the lounge to talk about her journey with the songs on her latest album, Majorie, and reflect on her creative process – one that often feels like a mystery, even to herself. 


SoS: How has your relationship with music and with creating music developed over time?

GRAHAM: It has changed a lot. But I think that it comes from the same need. Because when I was very young, I think that I started making music, not because I loved studying or anything, but because I wanted to say something. I started creating sounds or writing songs. For some kind of personal need more than musically. I mean, I was interested in music, but I never thought 'Oh, I want to make songs,' or I never saw myself as a musician in that way. It was just a way to open up, like a way to express myself. Like, in a spiritual way, I guess. I didn't know that at the time, but, I guess, when you're a teenager, especially when you're like 16, there's a lot of things that go on inside your body that you don't understand. There's a lot of changes. I found music at that time, or I found the craft of making songs right by the time I was going through this process. I could even say that it was hormones or big changes in life. I felt kind of lost. And then I was like, 'Oh, there's this. I can do this.' And then it just, it kind of happened. I never thought that I was gonna do this.

SoS: When you first started making music as a way to process your emotions, did you think that you were going to actually produce a song and put out music? Or at first was it just a self-expression thing of writing for yourself?

GRAHAM: It was definitely a self-expression thing. I didn't even know what producing was, I just kind of put sounds together when I bought my first computer and I was trying with a music program. I was producing already, but I was just following my instincts. I didn't even know what producing was, you know? That was the fun process because I think that my relation with music is that it has to be always like a game. Even with music and with writing lyrics, which is the same process, it has to be like a game with myself. It has to have a bit of mystery. 

SoS: Is it a mystery for yourself, like there's things that you still haven't figured out even while writing about them, or is it that you want to leave a little bit of room for your listeners to interpret it themselves?

GRAHAM: There's a lot of mystery. Even just in how I make songs, I still don't really know the process. I don't have a method or anything. I play a lot and I look for ideas in my head. But then how the song actually comes to a full song, I don't even know how I do it. It's like a mystery to me. So that's what keeps the process so fun … because I cannot let the other Núria do all the work. The one that already knows what's happening, and then is doing things on its own. But I think there's two Núria's there working together.

SoS: Yeah, I totally can relate to that sense of looking at my own writing and thinking, 'I don't know how I did that.' Like, I don't know how these words came to me. And I feel like it's similar with music when it's coming from a place of self-expression. Sometimes looking back on the process, you can’t put it all together because it just came naturally. 

GRAHAM: Yeah, sometimes you feel like you're being sent some kind of idea and then you just put it in a beautiful way, but the raw idea comes from somewhere else. And you don't even know where it comes from. Like, it came from somewhere inside of you that sometimes you don't listen to. You leave it there, but then it eventually comes out in the songs. I don't think I could even express my emotions by talking. Like, sometimes it's hard to even know how I'm feeling. But then when I write the song, and I listen to it after a few years, I'm like, 'Okay, now I understand completely what was going on.' But at the time, I was so confused. But the song, it's not confused. The song knew what was going on.

SoS: Yeah, it's like the song feels it before you know what you're feeling. 

GRAHAM: Yeah. It's like, a few months ahead. 

"I think that's the reason why I make music, because once you share it, it becomes a collective experience. I think that's the point of doing something, right? To share it, and to make it become something new."

SoS: Looking back, are there any songs of yours that have taken on a new meaning for you?

GRAHAM: A lot of songs, and especially the last record. One of the reasons that I needed to stop touring [for one year] is because for the last record, it was a very big process for me. It was an attempt to talk about my father's family from Ireland. There were some songs that talked about my grandmother. For some reason, I was trying to look for something there. I don't even know why at the time. But then, the songs took on a lot of meaning once the years had passed, because even the first song of the record that is called "Connemara" is a song that talks about a history of death that is connected to the wilderness, beauty, and nature of the region. The video for it was recorded in Connemara where my aunt lived. And then last year, she passed away. So afterwards I felt like I needed to step back from singing the songs on that album, because once a song takes that kind of a big meaning, you're kind of scared of it. I don't know, it was such a painful process. Obviously, that doesn't happen in all of the records. But with this record, when you put up a part of yourself that is so big, and when something like this happens, you need to try to understand things that you're not even capable of [understanding]. 

SoS: And you need to give yourself the time to be able to process that. Like, it would make sense to take a step back and be there for yourself rather than touring. Have you felt like you're in a place where you can revisit that album now, now that you're going back on tour? 

GRAHAM: I've been trying to process a lot of things during this last year that I've suffered. A lot of things have happened not only in my family life, but in the world. So I guess instead of trying to just go past it and go on with my life, I wanted to try to observe things or see through things. The songs on my last album are trying to do this exercise of fully seeing through something. I still don't know what the songs talked about, but it kind of talks about seeing a disaster from many perspectives. I still don't know if that talks about the past, or if it talks about some kind of future, but it talks about a natural disaster that you see coming. 

SoS: Is it like the anticipation of the storm? So like, the anxiety before the storm? 

GRAHAM: Exactly. It talks about the thing, but not in a very sad way. I think it just describes a natural thing. But yeah, I've been thinking a lot about stuff like this, because you put yourself in a very weird position when you're thinking of things to write a song. They come to you, and then you write about them. They confuse you in a way. They can mess with you. So, it's a weird process to be honest. 

SoS: I know you're saying that when you're writing the songs you don't even know what it's about because it's just coming from a place deep inside you, but when you perform them, how do you feel? Like when you played [at Primavera Sound LA] yesterday, what was the emotion going through you?

GRAHAM: Well, it was very emotional, especially because two years [have passed since] recording the songs, and now I'm just starting to play them. So now they are starting to make sense. Because when you play them live, and you play them for people who have never heard them, they just become something else. It's new and it's not yours, it's just everyone else's, too. And I think that's the reason why I make music, because once you share it, it becomes a collective experience. I think that's the point of doing something, right? To share it, and to make it become something new.

SoS: It can be really powerful when you have something that was so heavy to work on, to be able to then bring it to people and see it in a new perspective. Does that help you reframe things or help you with healing?

GRAHAM: Definitely. After all, I think that we're all trying to, apart from trying to understand things, I think that we're just healing our things, and even people from our surroundings, we're just healing together in a way. So, I just have this feeling with the record that I was trying to heal. It might sound catastrophic, what I'm talking about in the record, but then it's really not. It's just trying to understand the ways of nature. And when I say nature, I say your own nature. You have your own ways, and it's good to take care of yourself and to respect yourself. 

"The same way that I cry, I write songs. And that's the way I let everything out. If I didn't do both of these things, I don't know what would've happened."

SoS: So in the year that you've taken off touring, was there any music or artists that you turned to as a source of comfort?

GRAHAM: Oh, yes. There's three records that have been with me this last year. One was Blake Mills and Pino Palladino's last album that for some reason just came to me and I was like, that's what I needed right now. Because … I don't know. And I listened to Arooj Aftab's last record. It also came to me, and I was like, 'This is how I feel.' And Pharoah Sanders and Floating Points last album [Promises]. There's not a lot of lyrics, for example, in Promises, but what I was feeling at the time was very well explained with the sounds of this record. It's amazing. It's such a trip, you know. And in my last record, I also visualized a trip, like it's a trip in a circular way. So, maybe things like that have inspired me.

SoS: Now that you're back to touring, what are you doing to take care of yourself while on the road?

GRAHAM: Well, I try to breathe a lot, because, for example, one week ago, I had my first show. And I was nervous, but I always get nervous, but I was a bit more nervous than usual. So I woke up the morning of the show, and I was like, I can't breathe. My stomach hurt a lot. And I went to my yoga teacher, who's also my neighbour, and she saved me that day. She showed me some breathing and helped me calm down. So when I'm on tour and I don't have time to be by myself, I try to find a moment to just kind of breathe. But yeah, because I stopped for a year, I've been one year taking a lot of care of myself. And that has been easy. But now that I'm back at it, some things from the past come back, because I get stressed very easily. I've had some anxiety attacks on a plane or, well, when I’m very stressed, I get panicked very easily. So, for example, yesterday, after the show, in Primavera, we had a lot of sound problems. And it was very stressful. So when we finished the show, I was like, I have to make a big effort not to snap.

SoS: Yeah, it's like a build up of anxiety from the performance because so many little things were happening.

GRAHAM: Yeah, like when things are kind of working, it’s like I'm skating down the road and it's so easy. But sometimes when you're out in the other part of the world and you've been out all day, you have a lot of expectations and pressure with a lot of things. So, it's nice to try to take care of yourself and find a direction that works for you, rather than just putting more pressure on yourself. Obviously, there's times that it's difficult because it's just a stressful situation. Everybody handles [stress] in a different way. I don't know, I cry a lot. Which, it's better because I just get it out. All of my bandmates have seen me cry like, a million times. But that's good, because it's my way of [getting it out]. 

SoS: Yeah, you gotta let those emotions pass through you. 

GRAHAM: The same way that I cry, I write songs. And that's the way I let everything out. If I didn't do both of these things, I don't know what would've happened. 

SoS: It's almost like when you're falling like, you know, when a stunt double does a stunt? And you fall off a building, but you know there's a net to catch you? 

GRAHAM: Exactly. 

SoS: It's like music, and the crying, can be that safety net. 

GRAHAM: Yes, but especially the people I have by my side too. Friends and family for me is the most important thing, a lot more than music. And it's good to value all these things, because sometimes when you're out and you're a few weeks away from home, I suppose it's easy to forget about these things. But I think that the most valuable thing is friendship for me. It's what keeps me going sometimes, if I can call my best friend. For me, it's the reason to live, in a way.

GRAHAM: If you heal yourself, I think that good people come by your side. I think you will attract good things too, in a way. 

SoS: Yeah, like you get what you give. 

GRAHAM: Yes. Everybody says that, but I think it is true.