Listening to the latest album by Lala Lala–the brainchild of Chicago-based indie rocker Lillie West–is like listening to a once-cynical adult reverting back to their childlike wonder and learning to play again. It’s a manic trip of bombastic synth-infused ballads that transports the listener to another dimension, with lyrics that invoke tragedy, mortality, and joy and despair with intricate gospel choirs, wigged-out production, and lush vocoder-layered harmonies.
Lala Lala’s previous album’s The Lamb and Sleepyhead, were introspective bare-bones indie projects that West had recorded with a three-piece band. Her forthcoming album, I Want the Door to Open, is a much more sonically adventurous project with a lengthy personnel of collaborators including Yoni Wolf of WHY? on production, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on drums, Benjamin Gibbard on guest vocals, Adam Schatz of Landlady and Sen Morimoto on saxophone, and many others.
The record is a loose concept album that tackles mortality, the labor of living, and the occasional highs we garner from being alive. On “DIVER,” West invokes the greek tragedy of Sisyphus of Ephyra, who was punished by the gods for wanting too much, forced to push a boulder up a mountain from Hell for eternity. It sounds like every instrument is battling each other for domination in the mix, production that’s guaranteed to leave every listener reeling. “Lava,” “Castle Life,” “Beautiful Directions,” and “Bliss Now!” each contain enchanting vocal loops and ethereal gospel choirs reminiscent of the styles of FKA Twigs and Kate Bush, both of whom West cites as major influences on the album.
“I want to be the color of the pool/I want to hold the fire part of fuel,” West yearns on the cinematic “Color of the Pool,” illustrating the violent desire that most humans feel to control the ways that they are perceived. “How can anyone else know who you are?” West asks. “How can you know who anyone else is when all these different avatars or personalities or performances are happening simultaneously, in different places.” Featuring an unhinged layered saxophone solo by Adam Schatz, the sonic landscape that West built around the song is just as urgent as the lyrics themselves, if not more.
This desire to mold one’s self-image into an avatar that doesn’t fit them is echoed on “Photo Photo,” where West traverses the pervasiveness of online digital spaces and social media. “There it is again, A flicker of pleasure/I didn’t take a picture, I guess I’ll have to remember,” she laments.
The closing track, “Utopia Planet” is a four-minute otherworldly pop opera with cavernous synths, amorphous production, and a blossoming saxophone solo by Sen Morimoto. The song closes with a voice-recording of West’s Grandma Beth, closing off the album on a lighthearted note.
“I tried to imagine a great expanse, abundance, an open door. It’s an invitation to surrender. I used a recording of my grandmother to take you further into another world.” It is the quintessential album closer, illuminating how acceptance of one’s circumstances is the only way one can truly reach a sense of peace. The door may never open, but we all must learn to fall in love with the labor of pushing the boulder up the mountain.
‘I Want the Door to Open’ will be released on October 8th via Hardly Art.
Blending elements of ‘60s British classic rock, post punk, grunge, and psychedelia, New York-based art-rock outfit Silver Relics have never been the type of group to paint themselves into a corner.
Silver Relics was formed in 2017 by Alex Sepassi and the group’s former drummer Justin Alvis. Sepassi started singing and writing songs at the tender age of ten, and has an uncanny ability to incorporate his unique assortment of influences into his writing while maintaining a distinctly modern post-digital sound.
On their newest single, “Tails”–a brooding ode to primitive animal instincts produced by Brian Young (Fountains of Wayne)–Silver Relics echoes the grittiness of Alice In Chains while pushing themselves far down the Nine Inch Nails spiral (Trent Reznor is a personal hero of Sepassi’s). The song marries the psychedelic overdrive of Spacemen 3 with undulating guitar riffs that sound like a B-side off of Throwing Muses’ The Real Ramona.
I spoke with Sepassi about the recent single, working with the evolution of the band, his most omnipresent influences, and much more!
What is the first song you can remember learning to play when you started out as a musician?
“Tom Dooly” by The Kingston Trio. It was the very first song in this vintage guitar learners guide book I had. I think there are about four chords in that tune. I still remember it.
What was it that initially drew you to the psychedelic realms of classic and indie rock?
When I was in college I started to understand what psychedelic music really meant to me. After listening to bands like Pink Floyd and The Zombies, I knew there was plenty of space to experiment with tonality along with expression and composition. After that, there came a point where I just started to define it for myself.
Not long after your first European tour you’ve worked with legendary talents like Mark Crozer and Brian Young. What was collaborating with them like?
Brilliant! We’re in the process of working on our sophomore album together. It’s been an amazing experience honestly. We all work well together. We have gone through a big and lengthy adjustment period, but Mark, Brian, Hitomi and I have all aligned on the soundscape, which has allowed for a great deal of fluidity in and out of the studio. And I’m thrilled to work with such strong talents.
What are some of your favorite periods or eras in music history?
So many. I’ve grown attached to the late ‘60s and the ‘70s. There were so many new bands sprouting in America and the UK. It’s all encompassing when you think about the number of genres that were created during that time. I believe that template is still prevalent in music today among rock bands. It’s a history lesson any way you look at it. Punk is a great example of what evolved/unfolded towards the back end of the decade. What’s not to like about that?
Your music echoes many of the great periods in rock history, but it is also very modern and current with the digital elements you incorporate in production. Would you say that maintaining that balance is a strong priority for the band?
First off, thank you. That’s exactly it. Brian’s production style is strong and unique. We bind the two together and put the emphasis on the songs. In other words, the songs dictate the style and production. And yes that does call for modern and digital elements at times. Especially in post-production.
If you could collaborate with any artist (living or dead) who would it be?
I would absolutely love to write with Trent Reznor. I’ve always appreciated his style and the way he approaches his songs and production. And how they tend to have a prevalent cinematic quality to them. Anyway, just let us know, Trent!
In “Tails” you explore the abilities that humans have to identify “the instinctive aspects of humanity and the nonverbal communication we use daily.” I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about this concept and how it unfolded in writing sessions?
“Tails” explores the possibilities of forming an understanding of another individual/person/animal/stanger through our own and unique body language. It’s important to have the lyrics and music interact and also fit in the same space, and it became a collective effort rather quickly once the lyrics were finished. Mark’s bass articulates the depth of what the bottom end can really be. And Brian’s emphasis on certain phrases truly accentuates those moments.
If you were to go on a trip to another planet and could only bring one record what album would you take with you?
Ah! I’m glad you asked. I’d like to take The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” to Neptune if they’re accepting visitors. Thanks so much for having us!
Hailing from Dallas, Texas, alternative rocker Zoe Zobrist has already cemented herself as a music industry veteran at just 23 years old. Raised on classic rock records and Laurel Canyon desert-folk, she started playing piano as soon as she could walk and began writing songs at the age of seven before many children have learned how to read.
Zobrist has received heaps of praise in publications like FLAUNT,Under The Radar Magazine, and Culture Collide, and has also graced the stage at legendary venues around the country including The Troubadour and The Viper Room in LA. She also recently appeared in John Mellencamp’s 2019 touring documentary.
Now, Zobrist is on the brink of return with her forthcoming single, “Oh Baby,” a gentle acoustic open letter to her unborn child. Stepping into parenthood can be a challenging endeavor that can trigger uncertainty but also genuine joy and elation.
I spoke with Zobrist prior to the release of “Oh Baby” to discuss her blossoming career and stepping into this new chapter of her life.
You’ve spent the majority of your life writing songs, and I was wondering how you have evolved or learned from past triumphs and mistakes since the beginning?
Yes! I started writing when I was 7 & have used songwriting as a tool to sort through my experiences since then. Something I’ve learned and continue to remind myself is that at the end of the day I write because it makes me genuinely happy. Not every song has to be “good.” It’s just about getting out of your head and creating, not putting a bunch of pressure on yourself.
Having a child is a very exciting chapter for both your life and career. What are some of the most significant things you’ve discovered about yourself as an individual and a public figure throughout the process?
I’ve grown so much over these past nine months. Literally and figuratively hahaha. Emotionally though, it’s been really good for me. I cut out drinking, vaping, caffeine and made a lot of lifestyle changes in general. The discomfort this brought ultimately helped me reflect on things I hadn’t in a long time and heal.
Were there any specific records that influenced the new single or—since it was much more personal—did it come together more organically?
I think some of my favorites that I was listening to regularly were Phoebe Bridgers, Elliot Smith and Bon Iver. In general I tend to write in a very diary-like way regardless, so personal is the goal.
How have the past 18 months of the pandemic affected the way you listen to music? Have you found more comfort in the familiar, new discoveries, or both?
The past 18 months have really given me gratitude that we have access to all of the online platforms that we do. It would have been an even more isolating experience otherwise. I found a lot more music online & enjoyed playing some virtual gigs. (Although I’m very excited to get back to live shows/a combo of both.)
Are you hoping that other women (as well as non-binary femmes and trans folks) living through pregnancy will be able to see themselves positively represented in your work?
Absolutely! I think that regardless of where someone is on their fertility/pregnancy/parenting journey – the changes and challenges you go through are huge and I’m so amazed by people’s strength. I hope to foster an inclusive community where people can really relate to what I’m sharing.
What is the earliest time, place, and situation when you can recall music changing your entire world?
I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember, but I went to a festival with my mom around age 5 where I saw a girl singing on stage and realized “I want to do that!” And that was that haha.
What are some of your favorite records that were released in the past year and a half?
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers and Orca by Gus Dapperton
How does a change in location affect your songwriting, whether it be in LA, Dallas, or Georgia?
It’s all different inspiration which is great. I’ve felt a bit isolated in Georgia because we’re living near a military base and there’s not much to do. I’m looking forward to moving back to southern California over the holidays. Anytime I feel creatively blocked a change of scenery is a great move even if it’s just a quick road trip!
Lily Arminda is making the type of endearing indie pop that enfolds the listener in an atmosphere of soft pink lighting and black lipstick as she spills her innermost secrets over darkly serenading dreampop instrumentation. Proclaiming herself as a “soft-spoken songstress” early in her career, Arminda migrated from making intimate folk songs on her first two EPs The Hourglass (2016) and Mismatched Poetry (2017) to effervescent bedroom pop on her 2019 sophomore project, Neighborhood.
Now with her forthcoming studio EP, DTR (Define the Relationship), which she worked on with Dan Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz of the beach goth band TOLEDO, Arminda continues her onward trajectory of embracing bolder, more ambitious sounds. Combining the echoing guitars of Galaxie 500 with the sweet and sour lyrical vignettes of Soccer Mommy, Arminda unfurls the incessant self-questioning that comes with being in a relationship where other party isn’t as invested as you. “It hurts to think I love you when you don’t see me like that/I can’t afford to spend my life wide-eyed,” she laments on the title track.
I spoke with Lily Arminda about this exciting new chapter, signing to an independent label, obsessing over pop stars, and finding comfort in the familiar.
If you could sum up this project in one word what would it be?
What sorts of records have you listened to over the course of recording DTR?
My listening is always all over the place – I listened to a lot of indie rock/pop which definitely translates over to this project (albums like Clean by Soccer Mommy and Pang by Caroline Polachek) but I also listened to country albums (lots of Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton’s Trio II album) equally as much. There’s a moment on “I Miss Knowing the Extent of Goodbye” near the end where I sang something that one of my producers Jordan Dunn-Pilz deemed my “Kacey Musgraves moment,” so maybe the country influence comes out a little bit. I was also really caught up on Guerilla Toss and Kate Bush as well as Roméo Elvis who is this great French rapper.
What was it like working with TOLEDO on this project and how did you initially link up with them?
A couple friends of mine went to college with Dan so I met him and Jordan through them right before the pandemic. We put the recording part of the project on hold until September 2020 but I sent them songs over the summer so once I got to the studio they already had so many ideas for production. Dan and Jordan are best friends so it was cool to see them play off of each other while we’d collaborate and they were super welcoming to me as well. Their studio was right near me in Bushwick so I got to walk over there a few days a week for a couple months and work for a while. Since we were working long hours we would always go get deli sandwiches and just hang out in between recording.
From what I’ve read, this record sounds like it’s been years in the making. What part of unveiling this project are you most excited about?
I’m excited that this EP is my first studio project. I’ve put out a lot of bedroom projects which are special in their own ways but I like that this one feels more polished. I haven’t put out any music since 2019 and my sound has definitely evolved a lot since then so I’m excited to put out a project that feels much more “me.”
My favorite part of this project was the lush and dreamy instrumentation. How did you and your collaborators initially arrive at this stylistic touchstone?
I was listening to a lot of indie rock and pop around the time of making this project so I was just really inspired by what I was listening to. I feel like my soft vocals are supported well by the kinda dream pop sounds we incorporated into this project.
Who are some of your most seminal vocal inspirations?
Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy has been super inspiring to me in many ways and I especially love her voice. Her vocals can be kinda soft like mine and that’s cool to see because I used to be a bit insecure about the power of my vocals. There have been so many times when audio engineers at venues have begged me to sing louder when if I do it makes my voice lose its unique tone and magic. It’s reassuring to see her be so successful as someone who sings like me. I’m also inspired by Adrianne Lenker and particularly the cry to her voice – it’s inspired me to play around with singing more.
How do you feel that your personal growth has been showcased in this project?
Songwriting for me is usually done to process something or memorialize something, so writing these songs helped me work through lots of feelings. I’ve been writing songs my whole life but it’s cool to see that I am always improving at expressing myself and understanding myself.
Something that I’m always curious to ask artists about is how the pandemic has expanded their record collections. Were you able to take advantage of the extra time at home to discover more music, and if yes, what are some of the most valuable new discoveries you’ve made?
There are so many artists I could list but to name a few, I got really obsessed with pop stars like Mariah Carey and Katy Perry (in her Teenage Dream and One of the Boys eras). I found this disco inspired duo called Ultraflex that I’m still super into. I found a lot of specific songs that I fell in love with like “Sorry You’re Sick” by Ted Hawkins, “Onie” by The Electric Prunes, and “Blue Flower” by Mazzy Star. My favorite album to come out during the pandemic was Death of a Cheerleader by Pom Pom Squad. I listened to a lot of old favorites during quarantine as well because I think, like a lot of people, I wanted to feel comforted by the familiar.
What artist (living or dead) would be your dream collaboration?
I’ve always wanted to make a country album so I think working with Glen Campbell (if he was still alive) would be my dream collaboration. He has one of my favorite voices of all time.
Upon first meeting each other at a writing session and instantly clicking over their shared love of music, Kat Hamilton and Emily Huslander of the LA-based country rock duo Guyville immediately knew that they would be working together for a while. Taking their name from the iconic 1993 Liz Phair album Exile in Guyville, the duo formulated their very own unique blend of roots rock and country.
Now with a steady supply of songs in their arsenal, Guyville is ready to unleash their magic and take the world by storm. Their debut single, “Nothing,” a powerful condemnation of toxic relationships and ode to self-love, flaunts the group’s effortless knack for seamlessly blending the cutting razor-sharp wit of Liz Phair with the twangy sass of early Shania Twain.
I chatted with Huslander and Hamilton about their songwriting roots, their undeniable chemistry, and their forthcoming debut record.
You two have very palpable chemistry. What would you say it was that made the two of you click during your initial sessions?
Kat: Absolutely! We connected in this natural way almost immediately and the songs came just as easily. That’s really rare, especially in LA. When you find that kind of collaborative ease with someone, you hold on for dear life!
Emily: I think Kat and I just have incredibly similar taste in music and songwriters. We just “got it” and our sessions had a great creative flow between us. One of us would bring in a melodic or lyrical idea and the rest of the song just worked itself out seamlessly and easily, always resulting in a finished song.
What were the first songs each of you learned to play on an instrument?
Kat: I consider guitar my first instrument even though I was in piano lessons many years before. The first one I learned to play was “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.
Emily: I was singing songs from “Les Miserables” as a three year old in the bathtub lol. I taught myself guitar at 13 with a Beatles songbook that had little pictures of the guitar chords in it, and I was so familiar with the songs because they were always playing in my household. My first violin song was probably “Ode to Joy” or something in the Suzuki book.
What are each of your top 3 Liz Phair songs?
Kat: “Why Can’t I,” “Fuck and Run,” and “Extraordinary.”
Emily: Oh man! Only 3?? “Go West” from Whip-Smart, “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Exile in Guyville, and “Only Son” from WhiteChocolateSpaceEgg. I got to meet her at a book signing/ concert for her Horror Stories memoir.
How did “Nothing” initially come together, and what were each of you listening to when you started composing the single?
Kat: The idea for the chorus and the concept kind of fell out of our brains. We wrote most of our record together over FaceTime and the rythymn of the chorus “Na Na NA NA NA NA Nothing” was the start.
Emily: I think in a session we were talking about how amazing it feels to be over an ex. Not just over, but truly indifferent. I started strumming out “I feel nothing” over an E chord and it just started to come out. We are super fans of Maren Morris and her first album ” Hero” is a big favorite of ours. I think we wanted “Nothing” to feel like an upbeat/rock-country tune off the bat.
How has working as a duo allowed each of you to develop as writers?
Kat: I’ve learned a lot from Emily. She has a knack for melodies and is a real perfectionist around the work. She’s always listening critically to make sure the melodies flow and nothing is awkward. I can be overly verbose and less attentive to the shape of a melody.
Emily: Kat challenges me in the best ways possible. She gently nudges me out of the proverbial “pop box” of “everything must rhyme, simplify etc.” and pushes me lyrically to tell a story no matter if it rhymes or not. She’s an amazingly talented songwriter and her lyrics have such an emotional gut punch to them. Co-writing is like dating. The chemistry is there or not, and with Guyville we just captured lightning in a bottle and I’m so grateful for our collaborations. These songs are some of the best I’ve ever written and I’m really excited to release them.
What are you most looking forward to with your introduction to the world as a band?
Kat: Playing shows! We got songs on songs.
Emily: I’m just really proud of our upcoming record. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone. 90’s inspired grunge rock, alt-country/roots rock, beautiful singer/songwriter balladry with acoustic elements, etc. it just runs the sonic gamut yet in a cohesive, focused way. Our voices blend together really well and we ‘re really in tune with each other as artists when we perform and in the studio. Our producer/engineer Mitchell Haeuszer was such a gift to work with and with the addition of Taylor Robinson on drums, we played every single instrument amongst Kat, Mitchell and myself. I can’t wait to play it live!
What are your favorite additions–old or new–that you’ve made to your record collections this year?
Kat: I’ve paused building my collection a bit, but my most recent was “Same Trailer, Different Park” by Kacey Musgraves!
Emily: Oh man, I listen to almost everything. I love the latest Sarah Jarosz album World On The Ground. There’s a wonderful Danish jazz duo named Bremer/McCoy whose album Utopia has been on loop. One of my favorite records of all time is Flutterby by Butterfly Boucher. I’m constantly adding music to my collection. Always getting inspired by other artists!
Taking her name from the children’s book, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter and a fell of mountains in the Lake District of England, dreampop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Catbells invites her audience to immerse themselves in her wistful world of mature introspection and childlike wonder. This was on full display with her first single, “Fade (Rainy Day Demo),” which juxtaposed the melancholy fatigue of heartbreak against sullen detachment with velvety-smooth vocals and lush instrumental soundscapes.
On her newest single, “It’s Not Hard,” Catbells delves into the deepest recesses of human emotion to explore the pensive nature of escapism, comparing her life decisions to boarding a flight; once you’re on the plane, there’s no getting off of it.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Catbells about how the song came to fruition, utilizing her mysterious aura to keep the focus on her art, and finding solace in her childhood memories of New England.
What was the biggest thing that gravitated you to the dreampop/shoegaze space?
I have always loved music that makes you feel something, a feeling of nostalgia or something familiar that brings back memories. Dreampop and Shoegaze are both genres that put a listener into another world and really overtake the senses.
I’ve always loved when artists build a mystique around their persona and output, and I was wondering what made you decide to take a similar route as Catbells?
The mask and Catbells kind of found me, I can’t say I had great foresight or a plan into things. But the name Catbells really resonated with me when I first heard it as a name of a beautiful mountain in the Lake District of England. And then honestly I just felt that the cat mask would give me the artistic freedom I was longing for… I have always loved when an artist is an artist for arts sake, where the focus lies on the art they are making rather than focused on themselves as a person. I have loved too when artists and musicians transform into something that becomes art in itself, like Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, or the amazing magnetism and mystery of Orville Peck, or the creative cartoon genius of the Gorillaz. And it’s a lot of fun too!
When is the earliest you can recall having an inkling of wanting to pursue a career in music?
Music as a career was never my focus, music as a life choice is more the way it is, I am not sure I can say it is a career in the sense of a job, but more so a life path and just a part of who I am. And that probably was something that was there as a young child and just took time to develop.
How did “It’s Not Hard” first come to you and what was the creation process like from there?
Many songs come to me in the form of one phrase or lyric and then build from there. “It’s Not Hard” started with the verse and the memory of a strong urge I had once sitting on the runway with the plane moments from taking off… in that moment being trapped, unable to turn back, no longer able to get off, no longer having any control, not wanting to go where I was going, but also not wanting to go back to where I’d come from… and seeing the rain pouring down outside the window and wanting nothing more than to literally break out the window and go lie in the rain and be free from it all… But ultimately the plane started rolling and then it took off and that was that. And that is how the song came to be.
What is one record that never fails to alleviate frustration and angst for you?
I think Split by Lush is a record I could listen to over and over when I am feeling that way.
I read that your vocal stylings and sound were inspired by the likes of Hope Sandoval and Nico. Would you like to tell me a little more about what they mean to you, and any other musicians that you really look at as pioneers?
Hope Sandoval brings goosebumps when I hear her voice, she has such a calmness and sadness when she sings, and well. Nico brings a sullen yet matter of fact almost emotionless or numbness tone to her vocals that really makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear her voice. I also love, like I mentioned above, Lush and the harmonies between Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. And lately I have been listening to lots of Portishead and just enamored with Beth Gibbons’ voice.
Something we have in common is we’re both New England kids. I was wondering how your songwriting has allowed you to reflect on your childhood hometown memories and how that has been beneficial to you?
Ah New England is such a special place!!! I think being from a place so amazing, with all the seasons and the scents and images that go along with each of them, makes feelings like nostalgia and longing something easier to tap into when I am writing. Thinking about the way the air feels there, and how the trees look, or the smell of the first snow about to fall, or the muddy fields after it rains, all of that really fuels my lyrics. Every month has its own special characteristics that feed the senses. I miss it terribly.
Today, indie electronica mastermind Cassie Marin debuts her new single, “Busy Body,” which explores the voyeuristic thrills and pitfalls of being the watcher and the watched in the digital landscape of social media.
On “Busy Body,” Marin’s melodically ethereal vocals coast along effortlessly wavy synths, delivering reflective stanzas unpacking our culture’s obsession with with follows and likes in a time where social politics have become hyper-digitized, reducing one’s social life to a hollow shell of what it used to be.
I was fortunate enough to speak to Marin about the single, her initial forays into electronic music, social media, pushing boundaries with her production, and much more!
How did you initially get into making electronic-pop music and what was it that gravitated you to that specific field of music?
I think electronic-pop music is a genre I’ve been listening to since I was very young. The sonic direction I’ve taken over the years has been entirely unintentional. Ultimately, I think I blend many of the genres I listen to regularly into my music. It happens somewhat naturally.
You seem to have a serious knack for tackling hard-to-navigate experiences throughout modern life? Would you say it comes from both personal experience and people you’ve observed as an outsider?
I mean, I do like a good challenge! My life, like anyone else’s, has had various ups and downs. I think it’s important to learn from every experience and make the best of every situation so you can help others who may face similar challenges in the future.
If you could cover any song throughout music history, what song would it be and why?
“Moonriver” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. This song is very special to me because it transports me to a time (before easily accessible technology) where music was all a person could need. It wasn’t about fame or a successful career path, it was about feeling good in your own company with music to aid you.
What is the process of sculpting these unique soundscapes in your songs like?
Each process is different, depending on whether I’m starting the song from scratch on my own or collaborating with another producer. But, usually my mood defines the atmosphere of the song as well as the musical elements I choose throughout the writing process.
Do you model your vocal stylings after any specific influences or would you say that you came up with your style of singing on your own?
I’ve admired and learned from many vocalists growing up. Most notably I would say, Hayley Williams, Anthony Green, The Weeknd and Jesse Rutherford.
What is the most difficult part of having to live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to have a social life without having an online presence?
I think the most difficult part is the lack of real connection. Communication and behaviors can be easily misconstrued while interacting online. You never know what a person could be going through based solely on what they reveal to you on the internet.
What was one of the most valuable and useful discoveries you made when you first taught yourself to produce?
That I could push myself beyond my own boundaries, surprise myself and experiment to my heart’s desire with my own sound design.
Today, California-based indie songstress and self-proclaimed “technological maximalist” Roo debuts her first ever single “Glo,” which she co-produced with JJStewart. “Glo” is an experimental dark pop tale about toxic relationships and the struggle to navigate queer romance.
Opening with frosty coldwave synths and static white noise, the track envelopes the listener in a ghostly sonic embrace that could easily go toe-to-toe with Portishead’s Dummy. Before Roo herself even utters a word, the song will already have the listener hooked and stopped dead in their tracks. Roo pulls absolutely no punches in this grandiose artistic introduction to the world, and what an opening statement it is.
The lyrics show Roo laying bare her emotional vulnerability and pleading with the subject of the song to do the same. “How could I be enough,” she preens in the second verse with a Bjork-style cadence over eccentric production, distorted and accentuated telephone-filtered vocals, coarse basslines, and spiky 808s, adding a distinct R&B groove to this experimental synthpop masterpiece.
I had the privilege of chatting with Roo about her artistic introduction to the world, how her computer science degree has been a valuable asset in her experimental production, and what she anticipates for future career moves.
“Glo” feels like an amalgamation of trip-hop, neo-psych/soul, and dream pop, which I loved. How did the process of building a sonic landscape for the single come about?
My approach toward production is about play and intuition rather than rules, which is what gives me my genreless sound. My genius friend JJStewart created the original composition, then we went through transforming pieces to achieve the feeling we wanted. I did some pretty off-the-wall vocal production on this one, trusting my ear and pushing things further and further out of the box. It was a blast.
How has your computer science background and affinity for technology informed your music?
A lot of experienced producers I’ve met don’t understand the nitty gritty of how their plugins work – but I do. And I’m pretty nimble with signal routing, which is how I achieve some of my more experimental sounds.
Also, I taught myself to produce over the past year. So much of coding is teaching yourself new skills, so I’m good at that – especially because production/mixing is really technical.
I ask everybody this because I’m always curious to know; what are some records that you’ve heard throughout your life that changed everything for you?
I’m very inspired by Vōx; Swim Good is one of my faves. The vulnerability and use of emptiness contrasted with the heavy bass and grit – it’s something I’ve never heard before.
Reconstruct by Photay is another one that ends up on repeat all the time. His composition is so off-the-wall, so clean, so effortless.
And all of Miss Anthropocene by Grimes. She was hugely influential to me before I learned about her relationship with Elon. The dystopian techno-fantasy universe she built completely blew my mind.
How has songwriting helped you traverse your individual experiences related to romance and identity?
I process experiences through songwriting that I couldn’t hope to in my journal. It’s a direct lens into my intuition. Sometimes I won’t even understand what I’m feeling until I sing about it, or I’ll figure out what to do next through the creative process.
Glo is about toxic love that I experienced while learning to navigate queer romance. My journey into queerness is a huge driving force in my music. I can’t wait to share more of that with my audience.
What is your current number-one played song on Spotify or Apple Music?
This is my first song out, so “Glo!”
What artist–living or dead–would be your dream collaboration?
SOPHIE. Rest in peace. A true visionary. Her enormous, mind-bending sounds with my haunting atmospheric flavor – a tasty futuristic blend.
Since Glo is your first single, what is the number-one thing you’re anticipating once it’s finally out to the public?
I’m really just excited to get on the map. Expectations will certainly be created based on this one project; I can’t wait to break them.
Raised on a diet of Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, pop punk powerhouse Caroline Romano, a self-proclaimed “loudest sort of introvert,” has had a whirlwind of a past few years. She first caught the attention of the public with her debut single, “Masterpiece,” in 2017, combining the iconic lyrical zingers of Taylor Swift with the dark anti-pop drawl of early Lorde. A year later, she achieved a Top 3 hit on Radio Disney’s chart with the commanding and ultra-magnetic single “Ready,” and later went on to work with one of the most in-demand producers in pop music when she teamed up with DJ R3HAB for a remix of her song “I Still Remember”—all at the tender age of 20.
And while it may seem shocking to some that she’s already achieved this level of notoriety at such an early age, it’s only natural; Romano has done this her entire life. The Mississippi native first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and started playing at open mic nights in Nashville—the songwriting capital of the country—when she was just 13. One of her most recent singles, “PDA of the Mainstream,” has received critical praise for her witty, cerebral songwriting that captures youthful Gen Z angst with a distinct pop punk flair.
Today, Romano unleashes her latest single, “The Hypothetical,” a gritty tongue-in-cheek punk-pop banger where she ruminates on her innermost fantasies involving a romantic interest. “I wanted to capture that feeling of being so infatuated with a crush that it’s borderline a state of psychosis… even if it’s only in your head. It’s just hypothetical,” she said in the press release.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Caroline about the new single, as well as her upbringing and her first trip into Nashville.
Was there anything specific (an artist, a song, a movie, a friend, etc.) that initially sparked your interest in starting to play the guitar?
I’d definitely say my affinity for guitars started with my love for Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. “You Belong With Me” and The Hannah Montana Movie both came out the year before I turned 9, and I was physically addicted to both. Particularly, I think my interest in guitar stemmed from the “You Belong With Me” music video. It was one of the first music videos I remember ever really watching. It was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I think it was the first time I realized that Taylor Swift was just a girl too. I wanted to make noise like that, and I knew a guitar was what I needed to do so. I remember holding my first real guitar for the first time. My hands were too small to fit around the neck, and my arm was cramping from trying to strum. Despite my inability to reach the E string, it still felt inexplicably right. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, 9 year old me knew exactly what she was doing with that guitar.
What are some of your most vivid memories of your very first trip to Nashville and how have you grown as an artist since then?
I’m convinced no trip or vacation or beautiful place will match the wonder I experienced my first time in Nashville. I begged my parents for weeks to take me on that trip. I made a PowerPoint presentation to try to convince them that I was ready. I researched all of the best places to try to play, and I planned our entire week around trying to do as many shows as possible. My mom and I would wake up super early in the mornings at our hotel to call different venues and try to secure a spot for that night. The first night we got there, I played an open mic night at this little outdoor college bar. I was the youngest person there by nearly a decade, but I felt so certain that it was where I needed to be. With my mom and dad and little brothers in the audience, I got up there and played one of the first songs I’d ever written. It was called “Chase Your Dreams” (very creative title), but that’s what I knew I was doing in that moment. I was literally chasing after my dreams. It was happening. I played shows every single day that week, while exploring the city I’d one day call home. One of my favorite memories from that trip was when I played the Bluebird Cafe. That was the big one, the place I’d dreamed about since I first heard the name Nashville. While I was there, I happened to be in line behind a kid and his mom. He was very kind and he shared that inexplicable, silent fire that I also felt for music. It was a silent understanding that we were both going to give this all that we [had]. I played a show later with him in the week, and I told my mom that he was going to be a star. [That kid was] Jack Avery from Why Don’t We. I hold those memories close.
You seem to have found a sweet spot between extremely catchy pop hooks and head-banging rock instrumentation. Has combining pop and rock sensibilities always felt natural to you?
I’ve always felt a natural inclination towards the punk-pop space. It’s what I listened to to get me through middle school, and I find it’s the genre I turn to in the most intense of my feelings. I don’t like rules, and alternative/rock pop feels like a giant F-you to the rules of musical genres. I’m all about words. I simply cannot get enough of them. When I write, I often just word-vomit onto my paper. I like things unedited and raw and far from perfect. What I love about punk-pop is that you work to fit the music around the lyrics, instead of the other way around. The less edited and manicured, the better. There’s so much passion to it as well, combining pop and rock. I am not a lukewarm person. I often want to feel the extremes of everything I experience. Punk music is so dramatic and I love it. It’s always the end of the world. I can scream and whisper and jump up and down and lie on the floor all while performing the same song. It’s awesome.
Do you find that songwriting can be like having a conversation with yourself?
Songwriting started for me as writing journal entries after I’d get home from school in the 6th and 7th grade. I’d write about my day, or whatever 6th grade tragedy was occurring. I could always understand it better if I wrote it down. Once I started putting those journals to guitar, there was songwriting. I spend a lot of time in my head. I can’t say I like it there, but I’ve yet to find a way out of it. The only way I can really cope with my brain is talking to it through music. I’m always having a conversation with myself, whether that’s a good or bad thing. I am incredibly self-aware and self-conscious. I’ve never grown out of that feeling like when you’re twelve or thirteen and you’re at the popular kids pool party. You feel like everyone is staring at you, and no one likes you, and you definitely should’ve worn a different color swimsuit because everyone is judging you. In reality, none of that’s true, but I think a lot of us go through life like we’re still at the 8th grade pool party. Though it’s terrible, putting it into words makes it so much less terrible for me. It makes it kind of pretty in a way. Through me publishing these internal narratives I have with myself, I’ve come to find that most of us feel the same way. I don’t have much to write about when it comes to love or parties or kissing a boy behind the bleachers. Those things are not my field of expertise. But, I’ve been with myself for as long as I can remember, so I thought I might as well write about it.
How did the collaboration with R3HAB first come about? Was he the one who reached out to you or vice versa, and what was it like getting to work together?
I had written “I Still Remember” back in 2018 with some friends of mine. I knew it was a special song from the moment it was written, and I knew an opportunity would one day come along to do something special with it. I had the opportunity to reach out to R3HAB in late 2019, and I was ecstatic when he said he was down to remix the song. However, this was occurring basically at the start of lockdown/quarantine, so we basically sent him the song and said “do ANYTHING you want to it.” The first mix I got back from him is extremely close to what ended up being the final product. He’s a genius, and it was such an honor to get to work with him.
What I really loved about “The Hypothetical” was how relatable the subject matter is. It’s very common to have a fantasy play out in our own heads, and I was wondering how the song initially came about?
I’ve always said that I’m not much for reality. It’s just not as fun there. I’m fascinated with the scenarios and romances we create in our heads. You can imagine an entire wedding after an interaction with a hot stranger at a Target. In these little worlds our brains create, the only thing impossible is impossibility. I love that, and I try to take a bit of that mindset out into reality with me when I’m there. I wrote “The Hypothetical” with two of my good friends in Nashville, Michael and Chuckie Aiello. They are both well aware of how my brain works and my aversion to the limitations of reality. Michael came in with the idea of letting me build a hypothetical world for a song. We had way too much fun, as again, the laws of reality simply did not apply to this song. We took it to the extremes, in a psychotic Barbie sort of way, and I love it.
What is your favorite part of being a songwriter that you wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else?
Sometimes I still can’t believe that what I write in my lowest moments, or through tears in my childhood bedroom, is heard by people. I get to tie up my experiences and views on the world as they occur in little bows of poetry and ugly emotions and guitar strings. And sometimes, crazy things happen, like when someone reaches out and says that my words have helped them in some way. There are people out there who understand what I’m trying to say through my music, even when I didn’t at the time of writing it. It’s the loudest form of communication, often to people I’ve never spoken a word to. The thing I hate the most about myself is that I’ll never be able to put it into words. Words don’t exist for that innate whisper of a calling deep down in my bones that begs for me to make music. I must sit at my piano and thumb through my brain for words, or I will simply die. It is as simple and complex as that.
Despair. Elation. Regret. Relief. Rinse repeat. These are the feelings evoked in the initial listening stage when you hear the opening crescendo of synthesized drones and faded hums on the opening track of Bailey Baum’s debut EP, Over It. The title track smoothly transitions from despair into hope as she croons, “Over and over and over, till I’m over it,” over cushioned basslines and dreamy laidback orchestrations, ruminating on the constant cycle of post-breakup recovery, trudging through the five stages of grief until finally landing at the stage of acceptance.
To say that Bailey Baum is having quite the year would be an understatement. Her 2019 single “Simple Feelings” is approaching 2 million streams on Spotify and she has also been praised for her “reflective lyrics, stirring soulful vocals, and clever pop melodies,” in publications like Flaunt Magazine and UPROXX.
Baum released her first EP “Over It” today through Next Wave / Ultra Records. Her most recent single off of the EP “Bad For Me,” is a synth-laden lamentation on the constant tug-of-war between her common sense and the part of her that wants to go back to the way things were before the fatal impact of her first heartbreak.
This new EP is an incredibly clever subversion of the typical heartbreak ballad. Instead of dwelling in the sadness, she goes on a trajectory to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She expertly weaves the ethereal high-register melodies and lush harmonies of BANKS and Lana Del Rey with the razor sharp wit of Guyville-era Liz Phair on songs like “Thinking Bout Me,” and “Not Missing You,” (“Don’t wanna go back/Finally your gone and it’s clear that I’m not missing you”).
“I want the EP to help people feel empowered to get ‘over it,’ while also acknowledging how important it is to let yourself feel everything deeply,” Bailey said in a press release. “No emotion or thought you have is invalid, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel of heartbreak. We all deserve to find happiness and peace and fulfillment and that all starts within yourself. I’m still learning and growing from my experiences, this EP is all about that process.”
I caught up with Bailey over email to chat about the new EP, how songwriting has helped her heal, and what she’s most looking forward to in this new phase of her career.
What are you most excited for listeners to experience once they finally get their hands on this EP?
I’m most excited to see how people resonate with my music. This project is one that came from a really vulnerable place in my heart and sharing it with everyone is definitely scary in a lot of ways but I’ve had so much support from my team and everyone I work with and I’m confident that this project is something that can help other people get through similar situations and feelings of heartache.
What was the first piece of music that made you feel empowered to pursue life as a musician?
I always was always listening to music around my family or on the radio so from a young age it was always a very organic discovery process. I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old and started singing “White Christmas” and told my mom I wanted her to hear it because I thought I could really sing. I stood up on the fireplace in front of my whole family and sang my heart out and that was the moment I knew this was what I wanted to pursue. I started voice lessons soon after that and never quit.
Fiona Apple once said that it’s important to make art that scares you. Since this is a very personal record, were there any personal revelations you had that scared you?
I woke up a few months ago in the middle of the night freaking out because I was so scared for this project to come out. It’s so scary to be open to the world with your emotions and feelings, but the only way I know how to process how I feel is by turning it into music. Sharing my most personal feelings with the world is daunting, hoping that everyone perceives them in a positive way, but I know this is something that so many people can relate to at any age.
You said in your press release that you want this EP to help listeners on their journey to recover from heartbreak while also allowing themselves to “feel everything deeply.” How has music played a role in your own individual quests?
Whenever I feel literally ANY emotion, music is the first thing I run to. Music evokes so much emotion and even though I don’t project it in front of most people, I love feeling deep emotions. Music is that escape for me. I love driving around the city listening to different songs and just singing as loud as I can. It’s not always easy to let yourself feel things, so if you can find an outlet like music has been for me then it truly is the best feeling and the best way to heal.
You’ve been praised in Flaunt and UPROXX and I also noticed two of your songs on Viral Hits playlists on Spotify. How does it feel to see your music doing this well?
I’m so grateful for the support I’ve had on the music. Every little message, article, or other kind of support helps push me to continue going and not give up. There’s so much more I dream to do and accomplish but it really is the little things that help validate my journey and realize that everything I’m doing is reaching people in a positive way.
I really resonated with ‘Bad for Me.’ It feels like a universal experience to feel drawn to people that we know are toxic. How has writing about this allowed you to traverse this particular phenomenon in your life?
I think writing this helped me process the emotions I was feeling, and helped me acknowledge honestly to myself that the situation I was in wasn’t healthy. The truth is that I’m still learning and I haven’t totally figured everything out yet, I’m still making mistakes as I go but I’m forgiving myself at the same time because I know it’s all part of the process.
Something I really enjoyed about the progression of this EP–specifically on a song like “Not Missing You”–is how you seem to come to a genuine sense of closure as the EP goes on. Was that sort of progression intentional?
It was intentional in the way that once we had all the tracks ready for the EP we decided on the best order for them that felt like a progression of a relationship. However, when I was recording the music I wasn’t thinking that I was going to make songs for each stage of a relationship. Everything fell together as I was feeling it all. I recorded these songs at different times over the course of a few years and once I knew that this project was next for me I handpicked the ones that felt the most right and wrote and recorded the last few tracks based on emotions that I was feeling at the time and those just happened to be the last two tracks on the EP that give a feeling of “closure.”