Molly Payton in Paris on mini-album, ‘Slack’


Sat on a green leather sofa in the green room of Supersonic in Paris for Pitchfork Festival, I could have talked to Molly Payton for hours about her life and her music. A self-confessed romantic in the way she perceives the world, Molly was 16 when she first moved to London from New Zealand.

At 20 years old, Molly is a kind and humble artist with captivating songwriting skills way beyond her years. Her mini-album, ‘Slack’, released this year, is a deeply introspective record that explores themes of relationships, loss and learning to love yourself. 

Molly Payton at Supersonic, Paris. Credit: Alban Gendrot

Paris is the most romanticised city in the world. Would you describe yourself as a romantic?

Oh, for sure. I’m like the world’s biggest romantic. Yes and no, though. I don’t believe in soulmates and stuff like that. I’m very much a pessimist when it comes to my own relationships, just because I haven’t had the greatest run of men, I guess. But in terms of how I think, and how I perceive the world, I am very much a romantic. It might be the New Zealand thing to be honest, it might be because I grew up seeing Paris and London and all of these cities in movies, so now I’m actually here, I feel like I’m in one.

How did you adjust to moving to London from New Zealand at such a young age?

I maybe had it easier, to be honest, moving to London at 16, because I was with my parents at that point. Whereas if you’re moving in your 20s, I imagine the only way you can meet new people really is through work or if you’re actively trying to make friends. Moving to a new country when you’re going to school makes it so much easier to meet people. I met Oscar Lang at school, that’s how my career started.

This year you released a mini-album, ‘Slack’, which is so much more than a break-up record. On the opener, ‘Honey’, you sing about a tendency to run away. On the same track, you deliver the line “It’s not you it’s me, really / But I’m going to try for you” – a selfless and romantic statement. When was the turning point for you where you gained self-awareness?    

Because of my anxiety I’ve always been an overthinker and I think that’s helped me become very self-aware. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously there are times when it’s very-fucking-annoying to be overthinking all the time! But in terms of my relationships, it means every time I do go through a break up, I really learn. Because I really think about what I have done and the part I played. That’s just how my brain works, I‘ll never be thinking “oh, he did this, and he did that” or “she did this, and she did that”, it will always be like, “ok, what did I do to make this happen?”. And so I think that’s why the album came out the way it did. I wasn’t always like this, I’m no saint. I used to be a prick when I was sixteen / seventeen. But yeah, that last relationship was very much a learning experience for me. Because no one really did anything wrong, it just – it didn’t work out.

Those are the hardest kind of break ups.

Yeah, it sucks. When you are so into each other, and suddenly you’re just not anymore. And neither of you really know how to handle that. So it gets a bit messy.  

On ‘When Skies Were Always Blue’, you call yourself a drama queen and say you have a knack for tragedy. What inspired that song?

The last few years for me have been crazy. Crazy things have happened, stuff that I just wouldn’t even have been able to picture when I was younger. Good and bad. Being able to do music – and do this – is the best thing ever. But also I’ve had the biggest lows ever. I lost someone really important to me in a shocking, awful way. With that song, I’d gotten to a point where I felt like everything good that would come to me was just getting taken away. I felt so down on myself, and I wanted to write a song that was telling myself to just keep going, because something good always does come. That’s what that song is about, the highs and lows of life, and to hold out for the next high.

Would you say you are often nostalgic for the past, or good at being present?

That’s something I’m trying to work on. You know, not thinking too much about my past or future, and just living. Like, today, this is my first time playing in Paris and it’s such a big deal. But I’m already worrying about something that’s happening in three weeks time, or thinking about something that happened two years ago. I’m so bad with that. It’s good sometimes, because it can help you make informed decisions, but I’m still trying to learn how to live for now. 

As humans we are constantly learning. Is that what prompted ‘Slack’ as the album title? What do you do to cut yourself some slack?

Personally for me, I allow myself two or three days to decompress, and then I have to get back to doing things, otherwise that becomes my new state of being. But I think one of the most important things after something bad has happened, or you’re in a bad place, is to let yourself have a couple of days where you don’t do anything. And you don’t see anyone. And know that that’s ok. Give yourself some time to process whatever it is you’re going through, instead of launching yourself into keeping busy and not thinking about it. 

Do you have a bar for how much slack you can cut someone else, before it gets too hard? 

My bar has gotten a lot higher in the last year. I used to let people walk all over me. Just stuff I learned from my childhood I guess. I felt I had to give people everything, my whole self. When I was in a relationship, I’d make sure they knew that I was completely at their disposal and I would do anything they wanted. Whereas now, I’ve learned it’s very important to set clear boundaries. Figure out what you want from your relationship and your friendships – and your family even – figure out what you need to feel secure within any relationship. Make sure you put your foot down. It’s so, so important. I used to think that if I just gave someone everything they wanted from me, things would be smooth and everyone would be happy. But you just start to resent them. And that’s kind of what happened with the relationship on ‘Honey’. I just let that person do whatever they want. And I’d do anything they wanted. And I got to a point where I just stopped loving them. Because I was like, I’ve given up so much of myself for you.

The mini-album ends on ‘While You’re Driving’ with an outpouring of love that feels like growth. Was this intentional? How did you decide on the running order for ‘Slack’? 

You’re the first person that has picked up on that. It’s interesting, I wrote ‘Slack’ over such a long period of time, so some of the songs on there are from two/three years ago. I had seven songs for the record, and at the end, I was kind of looking at it like ah, this is all so down and sad. I had written ‘While You’re Driving’ days before recording and felt it belonged on there. I had gone back to New Zealand for a few months with Isaac, my boyfriend now, who’s actually in my band. We went on a road trip for a couple of weeks. This is the first relationship I’ve been in where we were all-in from the beginning, you know. We just met, and it just worked. And to have that happen to me after such a hard two years of ups and downs, to have something just work like that. It didn’t feel like a high or a low, it was just this stable, perfect thing. And that’s what ‘While You’re Driving’ is, it was just us driving at that moment in time. 

Is ‘While You’re Driving’ a sign of where you want your music to go next?

For sure. It’s my favourite song to play. When we were soundchecking earlier it felt so good. I’ve started writing more for the band now, rather than singer / songwriter songs. ‘While You’re Driving’ is one of the first songs where everyone has their moment. Being able to step back and watch Simon do his thing for like 10 seconds is so, so fun. 

Is there a song that you find difficult to perform live emotionally? 

Probably ‘No One Else’, which is interesting, because that’s the first song I ever released. It just really takes me back to an awful time. But I still love the song. And I love it because usually I get sick of songs after a year, but that one is one of my favourites because other people have also connected to it so emotionally. 

Connect with Molly Payton below, and look out for her name across festival line-ups as one of our ‘ones to watch’ for 2022.

Read our full review of the 10th edition of Pitchfork Music Festival Paris here.