One of my top-8 friends on Myspace thirteen or so years ago was an accomplished Scottish musician called Alasdair Young. I can’t remember how I came across his Myspace page in the first place but it most probably had something to do with the fact that we basically had the same taste in music, with a specific focus on female singer-songwriters. We eventually met IRL after he moved to London and a couple of years ago he messaged me to invite me to a gig by a mate of his from Glasgow, whose music he thought I’d be really into.

I couldn’t make the show but, on the basis that I trusted Alasdair’s recommendation, I checked out his friend, Kathryn Joseph’s debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled. I was instantly, overwhelmingly affected by it. Written in the aftermath of the death of her infant child, this record makes for a brutal, compelling listen and justifiably won her the Scottish Album of the Year award.

Its follow-up, From When I Wake The Want Is, comes out this week and will similarly wreak havoc on any listener’s heart. Whilst the majority of the set’s 12 songs don’t even try to pay lip service to a concept of happiness or redemption, for Joseph, releasing an album written in the depth of despair after the breakup of her relationship, is much more about grasping how lucky she is now, rather than dwelling on the pain. For, you see, towards the end of the writing process she and her partner found their way back to one another and circumstances changed once more. Sonically, From When I Wake The Want Is takes the raw, minimal nature of its predecessor and adds a different, fuller edge to it with what Joseph describes as a “metallic” layer. It’s stunning.

I catch Joseph on the phone to talk about the new record. She is gregarious and bright and, at the same time, confesses to being paranoid about how her songs may be perceived (she needn’t be). When I tell her about how I first discovered her music, she is evidently delighted to hear mention of Alasdair, whom she refers to as one of the dearest people to her. Later she’d confess to trying to get him to agree to support her live one day. We have the sort of conversation that, from an interviewer’s perspective, is the best kind: easy-flowing, inspiring and – most importantly – makes you immediately want to go back and listen to the album it concerns. Which I then duly do. Again and again.

From When I Wake… brings together new songs with other material from the past ten years. How did that mix of old and new shape the record?

I remember someone saying to me “do you not want to make another record?” and I was, like, yeah I do, actually. And I realised that I had already written some things that still made sense to me and then came a year where I wrote a lot because I was in a frame of mind where I was unhappy and missing someone. When life is not very good, suddenly you have a lot to write and sing about. So, yeah, it was just very handy for me to have my heart broken at that point [laughs].

When you are writing, do you visualise your audience or your listeners and how songs would impact on them?

It doesn’t ever cross my mind that anyone will ever hear what I’m doing when I’m writing it. It’s a completely self-obsessed, safe place to be in. I still feel like I have a really bad concept of what other people think, you know? I am still totally surprised when someone likes what I do. I’m, like, “really”? It’s such an odd thing – it seems so personal to me, so I find it odd that other people would react to it, other than feeling uncomfortable or think to themselves “oh dear, someone is having a nervous breakdown”. So, no, I have no awareness of that, certainly not at that point.

And once you finish a song, who do you play it to – is it the same person every time or does it change?

Oh. I have never thought about that before. I don’t even know… who do I even play them to? [takes a moment to consider]. With most of this record, I guess people had not heard them before Marcus [Mackay, the record’s producer] did. Claire [Mackay], who was my manager for the last record – her opinion matters probably the most, to me. But she and I were in very different situations with this record because she wasn’t managing me anymore – she didn’t want to hear it until it was on vinyl. It was lovely that she was able to be excited about it and happy to wait for it. So this time I don’t know who I would have played them to… I think it would depend on who was in the house [laughs] or happened to be visiting and I’d be, like, “sit down, listen to this shit”. I think I don’t like people hearing them until they’re really finished and then it’ll just be one or two people… I mean, even my partner, who some of the songs are about – he probably didn’t even hear them until they were completely finished.

You’ve been open about this album emerging as a result of your breakup with your partner and I understand that, by the time the last couple of songs on it were written, the two of you got back together, so things came back around full circle, as it were. Did you decide to subsequently release the songs on an album as a document of how you had felt previously or because their sentiments still resonated with you?

When I’m writing the songs, that’s the only thing that can make me feel better. It’s not about documenting what I’m feeling but more… this is the only thing that I can do to turn things around. We’d got back together and then split up very briefly just before I recorded the songs so even then it was, like… [sighs]. And, listening back to my vocals, I feel I could have done them better but I also know that that’s exactly how I felt at that point, so that is the truth of those songs at that point. And now it’s like a strange reminder… it reminds me, you know? Now I am safe and comfortable and happy again but I like that I have this reminder of how bad I felt, you know? And of how lucky I am to come out of it. To me, it’s not really about being heartbroken. It’s about knowing how lucky I am.

So when you listen back to certain songs on the record now, the feelings you had at the time of writing them come bubbling back?

They do have that power over me and I am definitely going back to the past feelings a lot more, you know, the paranoia can be quite raw again. I’ve been rehearsing for the Cryptic tour [for Glasgow’s art and performance company, Cryptic] this last week and I was crying at the end of a song, every single time. I’m so ridiculous about it because I find it ridiculous that I do that but it’s this weird schizophrenic thing between being part of the song when I am playing it and how I am now in real life. It definitely affects me.

Is there a song on the record that you found particularly difficult to complete because of how bad you were feeling at the time?

Yeah. ‘Weight’ and ‘From When I Wake…’. Those two are quite similar – they’re probably the worst of times that I was writing. And they took a long time. I knew the shape it was going to be, I had the piano parts but then it just took a long time. When I am writing something I don’t feel very well. Like, it’s turning around in me so it makes me feel sick. But, you know, now I probably love them the most on the record. Definitely ‘Weight’ – I think it’s my favourite. The vocal part for that took a long time to come as well and that was probably the last thing we recorded. That part just took the longest to make sense of in my head.

What are the most significant changes you’ve noted in your writing and the way you create your music since working on and recording your debut album?

I think I am much more sure, sure that what I hear might make sense. I felt much more sure and strong about what I wanted this record to be and sound like. Or what I felt I was able to do. The first record feels like I was more afraid of a lot more things. This one doesn’t sound like that anymore.

How would you describe working with Marcus Mackay?

He has a very certain way of working. I finish the songs and then he takes them and works on them – he needs to be on his own with them. He then lets me hear what he’s done and with most of them on this record I was, like, instantly in love with. My hands were sweating – it was kind of like… this is perfect. And then there’s a couple where I was… “no, I don’t hear that” and he’s brilliant at not letting ego get in the way of what we are making. He’s very particular and he has a lot of energy to do what he does. He is also much more affected by things than I am – everything he does, he is very, very involved in. And he makes things very beautiful.

And when you gave him the songs to work on, did you accompany them with any particular instruction as to what you wanted?

No, that’s what’s so strange about it because I knew in my head I wanted… I had words in my head like “more metallic”. I wanted it to have a harsher, more electronic sound on it but we never discussed it and he did exactly what I heard in my head, what I had imagined. And that’s basically what happened when we worked together on the first record, as well.

So there’s an intuitive connection there.

Definitely. I blame it on the Highlands [laughs].

And how do the two of you approach the rehearsal process for live shows?

Marcus has two boys and I have a young daughter so we don’t have much time to get to rehearse things. And so he will often rehearse on his own with the tracks in the background. It take a lot of effort for him, I think, in terms of – he has made this record and now he has to learn the sounds, whereas for me, I’m just doing the same thing all the time and he fits into that. Again, I’m just so lucky he’s so good at his job.

I’ve read a lot of other people’s opinions about who your musical influences were. What would you say your musical influences were?

I’m really bad at answering that question. Someone said that Phil Collins was one of them and that’s just not true. Phil Collins isn’t a huge inspiration to me. I did like one of his songs one time but… yeah [laughs]. I was a total Tori Amos fan. The early Tori Amos material I was obsessed with. But I was playing music before that as well so I don’t know – I mean, I’ve been writing since I was 18 and I don’t know who it was that made me want to write songs. Carole King’s music was on in my house when I was little and I loved it. Joni Mitchell as well. Later on it was PJ Harvey and Björk and all of those amazing women. Someone once sent me a tape of Joanna Newosm, saying that I reminded them of her and I was just not hearing it. I didn’t understand that at all. Because I’m so old, I’d already been writing for ages before all these amazing women were doing their thing. But the Tori Amos thing is definitely… - I loved the shape of her songs and the way that she looked and all that.

Now that the record is finished and you’re having to tour and do promo, is the writing process paused in terms of creating new work or are you continuously writing more songs?

I am not writing now and not even thinking about writing now. I am just thinking about coping with all the things I have to do at the minute. I’m quite overwhelmed by the busy-ness of everything at the moment and also by how lucky I am to do all those things. I have always written very on-and-off. It feels like a totally different frame of mind that I need to be in to function and to speak about it and think about it… and get to places on time [laughs]. All of those things that I am not very good at… The only thing I am really doing at the moment is rehearsing, playing the new songs over and over so there’s no time for writing.

Is the thought of what people will make of the record something that’s important to you?

Yes. I just hope people will like it. I don’t think past ‘please don’t let me have written shit songs’. But my problem is that when people say nice things I don’t believe them. I’m gonna read one bad review now and that would be the one that I believe. But I feel very lucky to make another record and to be on Rock Action [her label] and get support from the likes of Mogwai and all those guys – it’s just amazing and I am really proud.

From When I Wake The Want Is is out on Rock Action. For more information, including tour dates, visit Kathryn’s website at