Anna Mariko Seymour of Seattle-based rock outfits The Morning After and Destination Unknown is a multi-hyphenate — producer, vocalist, Berklee graduate, drummer. Now she can add solo act to that list as she enters the newest phase of her career under the moniker Prismia, making ethereal synthrock paeans — think Lykke Li and Santigold with a dash of Pixies — that tell nuanced stories of conflict, pain, love, and self-empowerment from a young woman’s perspective.
Upon the release of her debut EP Amongst the Emerald Mind, A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Prismia to discuss the importance of prioritizing inclusion in the arts, embracing an exploratory approach to music, and telling women’s stories on their own terms.
What is your mission statement as an artist?
To encourage inclusion and inspire limitless creativity through the power of music.
Who was the first musician you discovered on your own who you thought was genuinely really cool?
The first I can remember is Avril Lavigne. I just loved her music and her aesthetic. When I saw the music video for “Sk8er Boi” I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I fully wanted to be her. It’s incredible how many people she’s influenced.
What did you study at Berklee and what was the most valuable skill you learned there?
I studied contemporary writing and production, but beyond that I would say that the people skills I developed were the most valuable takeaway from it. The interpersonal relationships I built there really strengthened me personally and professionally.
You’re both a drummer and vocalist. What are the biggest benefits and challenges of that balance?
I was a drummer first before I started singing. The physicality of it is probably the most challenging part, especially when you’re playing a stationary instrument and having to connect with a live audience. But for me the benefits always outweigh the challenges, because I get to do what I love. I was mostly in rock bands before I went solo, and everyone’s influences are normally combined. You get different sounds with every combination which I really love.
Are there any specific references you would compare your other bands to?
I formed a band called Destination Unknown back in the day which started as a blues rock band. As members came and went the sound would always change based on what we were listening to. For example, a new bassist might join who was really into funk or certain members might be metalheads, which would lead to the band adopting more of a hard rock sound. I was also in an all-female band called The Morning After and we were really inspired by riot grrrl bands.
Your latest single “Blameshifter” is very sonically diverse. Were there any conscious inspirations for that song?
Not really. I know it’s a more fun answer to have a specific reference or inspiration, but it just kind of happened organically. When I first wrote it I wanted to add a more electronic-based sounds to my music. I’m always wondering what little flourishes I can add, whether it be a flute or a zany synthesizer. I added a lot of little vocal chops to accentuate the biting sassiness of the song. I have a friend on my team who’s also my mixing engineer. He played guitar on the song and totally killed it.
Are there any bands you loved as a kid who you still love now?
Nostalgia is real. I grew up on pop punk, so I still love most of Blink-182’s discography and that one Panic! album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. I loved how dynamic sounding it was, while still fitting into the guitar pop realm.
An important part of your mission as an artist is inclusion and intersectional feminism. For you personally, what is the most important part of telling stories from that perspective?
Women’s stories are important and need to be shared on their own terms. I’ll never claim to speak for all women, but as a woman, I’m always conscious of the content of my music and the image that I’m projecting. It touches all of my artistic endeavors. I’m also mixed Asian-American and I want to explore my own relationship to my identity through the art that I create.
What are you listening to right now that you would recommend to everybody?
There’s a rapper from Seattle named Xxngel Baby and a duo called babe.wav who have been helping me with live shows. My mix engineer Michael has an awesome psychedelic rock project called The Meltdown Committee. He produced my EP Amongst the Emerald Mind as well, so any rock artists from Seattle who are looking for a producer, I would obviously recommend him cause he’ll make you sound amazing!
Your new EP is called Amongst the Emerald Mind. What do Emeralds signify to you?
I wanted to go in a really green direction with this album because green represents growth and rebirth, which I really wanted to incorporate into my output.
Do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to plug?
I have a lot of songs that I’ve been sitting on since the beginning of the pandemic that I’m excited to return to. I’ve been setting goals to share as many of them as possible, and I hope that people can connect with how I’m feeling. That’s what music is meant to do!
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Natalie Comer — formerly known as Lydia Hearst from the experimental noise rock duo MORE GIRL — is making her solo debut under the moniker Cherry Pit. In true DIY fashion, Cherry Pit’s debut EP What a Pity was recorded in Comer’s bedroom. Partially inspired by their love of horror-based media — specifically The Haunting of Hill House and the ’60s French horror film Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) — this six-track catalog of rough-hewn punk and goth rock psalms touches on queer identity, trauma, and the persisting violence of late-stage capitalism.
LGBTQIA+ individuals have always gravitated to horror and revenge tales, frequently identifying with the monsters who represent the “others” cast out by society. On What a Pity, Cherry Pit subverts this narrative by highlighting how the most mundane cultural norms can actually be the greatest horror of all. On “Styrofoam Rosegarden,” they sing about nuclear families dropping bombs and feeling an unbearable wave of sorrow for today’s newborn babies, blissfully unaware of how unremarkable their lives will inevitably turn out as they get older (“All the babies in their cradles/No awareness life is so dull”).
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents spoke with Cherry Pit about composing these songs, their plans for the future, her favorite horror movies, and the enduring legacy of My Chemical Romance.
How would you describe your music to a stranger?
I would say it’s like music that comes straight from the body. It’s like the music that would be in my veins and is just… me [putting myself] out there as I am.
When was the first time you saw your personal experience reflected in another artist?
It was probably My Chemical Romance! I was a massive fan all through middle school and I was discovering my love of horror and playing with gender expression at the same time and it all felt so immediate. It was very freeing.
What attracted you to the goth rock space when you started creating your own work?
I really got into gothic rock the first summer of the pandemic! I was like a full blown trad goth directly after my riot grrrl phase that came right before. I get really into different genres of music and investigate them really thoroughly and take traits from my favorite bands. I really love Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Cure, and The Shroud. I love the atmosphere and performance and the appreciation for bass that we so desperately need. Goth women’s vocals are incredible.
Which of these songs is the most personal to you and why?
I think “Unfortunately, Yours” has the least performance to it. It has the least metaphor and storytelling behind it and is just a very honest piece on how I see my life right now.
How does horror inform your music and what makes horror a central touchpoint of how you express yourself?
This is funny you ask because I’m watching Interview With The Vampire with my girlfriend right now! I think horror resonates with me really strongly because I have this inexplicable fascination with the macabre and I think horror is very linked to the gay experience. Some of the movies are extremely campy like The Bride Of Frankenstein and some are really heavily coded like Ginger Snaps. I actually just wrote an essay about that!
If you could time travel and witness the gestation and birth of any record throughout history, what record would that be?
I think Disintegration by The Cure would be incredible. That album was super formative for me and it’s one of those albums I feel like I could never match, not in a negative way, I am just so in awe of that. [Also] Mirel Wagner’s work, Romantic by Mannequin Pussy, and some of Yves Tumor’s work.
For you personally, why is it important to tell stories of personal and political strife through art?
I am deeply interested in politics and filled with a lot of righteous anger over the state of things. It ties into the way music is therapy for me. I think we can’t give into this wave of doomerism, and music won’t necessarily start a revolution but it’ll give people the words for what they feel and it gives me the words for what I feel. When I sing my songs it’s like reflecting back what I feel and venting it all a little bit. I think if I can make people feel better or at least heard, and share some political messages about anticapitalism and anti-colonialism that are really important to me, then I’ve done what I need.
What else have you got coming up for listeners to look forward to?
I just finished recording an EP of four covers today! That one won’t be on spotify because of the distrokid costs but it’ll be on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. I’m covering some of my favorite punk and folk songs. (I’ve been very into 90s and 2010s folk lately.) Past that, I have about 10 original songs written that I’d love to record, but I’m waiting for when I find band members because I think my songs would benefit a lot from live drums. (BTW, any teen drummers in the Richmond, VA area, HMU.)
When writer/director Seonjae Kim originally conceived an off-off broadway play and rock concert based on the Sophocles greek tragedy Antigone, it was always the plan to make the titular character and her greek chorus into a riot grrrl band. But Kim never could have predicted how popular and in-demand the production would become within New York’s underground rock scene.
Since premiering at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in 2017, Riot Antigone has sold out 120-person theatres and houses six times, with several additional shows being added to accommodate demand. One of the production’s most popular musical numbers “Girl Riot,” was recently featured in a Marc Jacobs campaign.
The story of Antigone is a classic case of a maligned woman in a greek tragedy, in the same vein as Medea, Ariadne, and Clytemnestra. Antigone was the daughter of Oedipous, and she also served as her father’s guide into exile. Later she was sentenced to a public execution after she illegally buried her brother Polyneices.
The original Greek tale by Sophocles focuses less on Antigone and more on the glorification of the story’s male “hero,” Creon, the man who orders to have Antigone executed. The fact that such a fascinating character was so easily glossed over has always unsettled Kim, and ultimately became the catalyst for the birth of Riot Antigone.
Riot Antigone will be released as an album on April 8, 2022. The soundtrack consists of theatrical, headbanging thrashers with the distortion turned up to 11, punkifying Antigone and her greek chorus with a modern anarcho-feminist spirit. Each song poignantly tackles abuse, the inherent exploitation of female socialization, heartbreak, and vigilante justice, with vocal nods to riot grrrl and queercore pioneers like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Tribe 8.
The most chilling cut on the record is the spoken-word monologue “Free She,” in which Antigone unleashes the full extent of her wrath against all of the failed attempts to silence her. “You think I’m a scapegoat/You think I’m the cautionary tale/You think I’m the tragic heroine/But I am the writer,” she bellows defiantly, plowing through the rumbling militaristic percussion. As the ensemble erupts in cheers near the end, she continues: “This stage is my battlefield and my words are my bombs/If you try to take them from me, they’ll just blow you away.”
I spoke to Riot Antigone’s writer and director Seonjae Kim about the genesis of the play, her favorite bands of all time, her experience co-directing sessions for the album, and the long-awaited return to the stage for the full cast and crew.
How have the past five years of putting on this production evolved for you?
After the first show we put on in 2017, all of us–the cast and crew–were really hungry for more of the community we had built around this production, so we put on more shows and started raising the money to make the album. The beginning of COVID was also the beginning of the recording process for us, so we had to take a collective hibernation as we figured out the next phases of our lives.
Once we resumed the recording process it felt really great to return to something celebratory. This is a story about power and finding your voice.
As a former theater kid and a dedicated punk, I felt incredibly validated by this production. When was your first riot grrrl awakening?
Probably high school. I was a bit of a social floater that didn’t belong to one group and I was incredibly angry. I was very anti-popular culture at the time—I’m not anymore, now I unashamedly love people like Taylor Swift and Ariana—but high school was around the time I discovered riot grrrl. I was born in ‘91 and in the early-2000s riot grrrl was way past its heyday, but I really connected to the anger and the raw emotional vulnerability of that era. I really wanted to express that mentality through music and poetry. So even though I wasn’t necessarily a musician, I really connected to that sensibility. I really gravitated to the DIY ethos where you don’t have to be an expert in a certain field in order to love doing it.
What were some of the first bands you gravitated to?
Well I have to say Bikini Kill, cause there wouldn’tbe a movement without them. I really love Hole as well—some people might get upset with me for categorizing them as riot grrrl but they are to me, and I’ve always preferred their earlier stuff to Nirvana. Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, and X-Ray Spex were hugely important to me as well.
I saw Midori Francis (Ocean’s 8, The Sex Lives of College Girls) perform a chilling rendition of your “Free She” monologue at an event with the Lesbian Mazer Archives. How did that come about?
That was actually organized by Gina Young, who put together the event. We connected over social media and they were looking for riot grrrl artists and creators to feature. And obviously I said yes, because Midori’s one of my favorite actors and it was such an honor to have her perform a piece that I had written. I sadly wasn’t able to make it to that event due to an emergency, so I’m incredibly grateful that it’s been documented online.
Out of curiosity, do you even remember writing that? This might just be the writer in me talking, but I feel like I can often tell when something is composed in such a whirlwind of passion.
You know it’s interesting, because we had two premiere productions and that monologue was one very conscious change I made between those two shows. I realized that Antigone needed a moment after claiming her voice in “Girl Riot” where she actually uses it, so I decided to write a spoken word piece. So it was planned, but you’re partially right; I cannot for the life of me remember what was actually going through my head while I was writing that.
You mentioned that Antigone was a character who you deeply resonated with in high school, and that you felt disappointed with the focus of the tragedy being on the male hero. When did Antigone start to pop up in your life again?
Around when I was just starting to find my own voice as a director. I was a theater major in college and I was performing in a lot of Greek tragedies. At one point I was cast as Antigone, so before performances I would play “Rebel Girl” to get into the spirit. I was always really into the Greek classics and punk, so I decided I would combine the two. It was an evolution from being the seed of an idea to writing an original script and eventually approaching musicians to collaborate with on an original soundtrack.
I had always written, but writing a play was pretty daunting at the time. I’ve sort of expanded to writing in television and it’s a muscle I’m still training, but it’s something that I’m really proud of.
One of the standout tracks for me was “Actor for Hire.” What was the original concept behind that song?
That song stemmed from the pressure to play a role that society expects us to play as women. It felt very apt for a story about Antigone. I was very inspired by early Sleater-Kinney records when writing it. I liked that the metaphor was very on the nose because it really cuts to the core of how degrading the “traditional” role for women as mandated by society is. And being an actor in the industry is no less dehumanizing as it was hundreds of years ago, so I really wanted to push that metaphor as far as it could go and also give the performer a fun tongue-in-cheek range of energy to tap into.
What I thought was really cool on many of the vocal parts were all the subtle nods to riot grrrl classics like Tribe 8 and Sleater-Kinney. It feels like all your performers really embodied the spirit of the greats.
That’s really nice to hear. We definitely had a deep understanding of the larger diaspora of riot grrrl, and I love that you got those two references. They definitely weren’t conscious references, but they were definitely embedded in the shared vocabulary and the language of the ensemble.
I appreciated how Mori said she treated her “lack of experience” in producing as an advantage. Would you say that sense of DIY freedom has also served as an advantage for you?
Definitely. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my three decades on this earth, it’s that you just have to do things through trial and error. Trying and failing is way better than waiting until something feels right. I’ve never, ever regretted going after an opportunity. It’s always the stuff that I never tried or was too afraid to go after that I ended up regretting. Some fear definitely held me back for a long time, but the ethos of riot grrrl continues to inspire me to embrace the rookie spirit, because trying something new is always going to be scary.
What was it like to be present at these studio sessions and witness the process in real time?
That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be at the helm of producing a rock album. Mori was leading a lot of these sessions behind the soundboard, and collaborating with her was incredibly easy-going and a lot of it was done in her bedroom. The drums were recorded at a studio but a lot of the vocals were tracked in Mori’s house, which was incredibly fun and very DIY. We had the time of our lives.
Riot Antigone will be released as an album on April 8, 2022.
Anupcoming live performance of Riot Antigone is scheduled to take place on April 14 at Elsewhere Zone 1 in Brooklyn, NY.
Hailing from the South of London, frenzied post-punk outfit Scrounge is the gruesome twosome of Lucy Alexander (guitar, vocals) and Luke Cartledge (percussion). The duo have mastered the art of crafting arresting tunes driven by shrewdly compelling riffs and percussion so immediate that it’s physically impossible to ignore.
Calling Scrounge a “band” doesn’t exactly do them justice. A more apt description would be a clamoring two-piece wrecking crew with a serious knack for rhythm and melody. Lucy’s dynamic riffs and Luke’s thrashing percussion on songs like “Purpose,” and “Badoom,” craft a distinctly stirring soundscape that draws from an array of influences, from Sonic Youth to Warpaint.
Their most recent single “Leaking Drains,” which closely followed the release of their 2019 EP Ideal, ruminates on the decaying state of society with slashing guitars, primal lead vocals, and whiplash percussion.
I spoke to Scrounge frontwoman Lucy Alexander about the origins of the band, her love of Tyler, the Creator, and teaching the history of punk to primary school kids.
How are you today?
Good! I just finished teaching. I’m a music teacher, so it’s very Jack Black. My class has been making zines this afternoon. The kids are ages 10-11 and I gave them a project to make zines on radical forms of art and why music matters to them. They came up with some really cool stuff, actually.
How would you describe Scrounge to new listeners?
We’re a noisy two-piece post punk band from South London.
What was your first favorite band?
Oh god. I was listening to really terrible stuff at an early age. But as soon as I started seriously getting into music and saw Warpaint play live for the first time, I was sold. That made me realize this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
What made you and Luke initially click when you first met?
We met at Goldsmiths where we played together intermittently. Luke originally played the guitar, and I thought he was the best guitar player I’d ever seen. After we first played together we had a chat about music we both liked and we started going to gigs together. We were in loads of different bands together before we formed Scrounge. We didn’t really know what we were doing and we originally wanted to call ourselves Mint, which is British slang for dope or cool. We eventually stumbled into Scrounge because it was snappy and quick.
What attracted you to the post-punk realm?
It’s so immediate. I love the urgency of the sound and how it demands the listener’s attention. A lot of our favorite bands do that, and we’re just in awe of how effortlessly they attract attention with the sounds they produce. There aren’t many rules in post-punk, which was also a great way to express ourselves and work out where we fit into the world after leaving University.
I was out of breath just listening to “Leaking Drains.” What’s it like to play that song live?
We actually start all our sets with it now, cause it’s such a quick song and it’s a great way for us to get in the zone, especially when it’s just the two of us. It really propels us forward to keep going.
What song are you most proud of?
I would say “Purpose.” That was the first song of ours that was played on the radio. That song allowed us to go from recording in a shed to acquiring studio space and putting hours into our work. Another one I’m particularly proud of is “Starve.” That was the second song we wrote together and it’s the one moment where we actually get to relax and center ourselves in our sets.
How on earth did Luke come up with those cacophonous drum breaks on “Purpose?” That might be the most jarring sound I’ve ever heard.
Luke has a really great ear. He wanted to create the sound of two bin lids crashing together and eventually found some midi keyboard with that specific sound and just went off the wall.
What is a band you’ve been compared to that’s either surprised or flattered you?
Well, because there’s two of us people are really quick to put us in a box. One that we get compared to quite a bit because we’re a two-piece is The White Stripes, which is nice. But we’re nowhere near their level, and our sound is nothing like theirs. I wouldn’t put the White Stripes in the category of post-punk at all. It’s definitely more straight blues rock. I find it nicer to be compared to individuals rather than to other bands, because that’s how we operate. We don’t come in a package. But one publication recently compared us to Sonic Youth, which was a huge compliment.
You’ve said that your guitar playing is inspired by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Warpaint. What is it about their particular guitar parts that draws you in?
Watching someone like Carrie Brownstein play, her guitar style is so dynamic. The sounds she manages to wrangle out of her guitar is just phenomenal. When I first saw Warpaint play, they made these incredible melodic sounds with their guitars that I’m just mesmerized by. If I could make anything as good as that I would be quite pleased with myself. Whenever Luke and I are in the studio we’re able to lay different parts down that meld together so well because our brains work completely differently.
Are you a big consumer of music-based media and/or books?
Definitely. I loved reading Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein’s autobiographies. I’m a big fan of music-based podcasts as well. There’s really geeky ones like “Switched on Pop” and “Song Exploder” that I’m just obsessed with. Mark Ronson’s podcast is great as well. He recently had Japanese Breakfast on and I’ve been dying to read her book.
How does personal identity and the culture around you pour into your work?
I write from my own experience quite a lot, whereas Luke writes a lot about the social and cultural stuff. At this point in time with so much going on in the world it’s almost impossible for that not to filter into our work. This past year for everyone has been incredibly tough. That experience has filtered into our upcoming projects as well and I hope we’re able to convey our own experiences in a substantial way.
How does the way you listen to music filter into your work?
When I first started performing I was really focused on sounding a certain way, but it’s really about trying different things until we come up with something cohesive. Luke will listen to various drum patterns and find ways to articulate them in his own way, whereas I always draw from live experiences. I just saw Róisín Murphy at Brixton Academy, and she’s renowned for being an incredible performer. The one thing that blew my mind seeing her was that her guitar player played the same loop for almost five minutes, and I was just mesmerized.
I love Róisín! How was that show?
It was absolutely mad. I had actually never seen her before, but my girlfriend had seen her loads. The last time my girlfriend saw her she had the costume department on stage so she could wear whatever she wanted and would dress as different Shakespeare characters. When I saw her she started out backstage on the screen, giving the audience a tour and doing her quick changes with all these elaborate wigs and suits. It was a very cleverly structured performance and she ended her set in the corridors of the venue which was just amazing to watch. If I ever decide to put on a massive spectacle in a live performance I’m definitely going to have to take a page out of her book. If you ever get the chance to see her you definitely should take the opportunity. I’m not sure what touring in the U.S. is like n0w but it seems like it’s up and running again.
For sure. But after what’s happened with Astroworld in Texas, I’m not so sure how I feel about going to the pit at festivals anymore.
That was so awful. Horrible. I actually watched the Travis Scott documentary on Netflix last year, and from what I saw of those live shows I remember thinking, Someone’s gonna get seriously hurt. I went through a serious Odd Future phase when I was younger. I still love Tyler, the Creator dearly, but that was the most chaotic environment I’d ever been in. I could never handle that atmosphere with a bunch of entitled white boys at hip hop shows again. Looking back, that was just extremely toxic. The men there were just… ooooof. Not good. It was really claustrophobic. I remember all the men shoving to the front and a man next to me put his arm up for five minutes and my face was literally right up in his armpit. I went to the Igor tour a year and a half ago, and that environment was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There were less bros and more of a mix of people from different backgrounds, which was nice to see.
When you’re experiencing stress what is the first song you put on to relieve yourself?
I’ve been listening to so much Self Esteem. She has this amazing song called “The Best,” so she’s my number 1 at the moment. She just released an album called Prioritise Pleasure that’s topping all the best album lists. She used to be in an indie band, and this album is purely intelligent pop. It’s very feel-good but it also speaks to the female experience in a very sincere and honest way.
We’re all about discovering new music here. What should we be listening to right now?
Like I said, if you’re looking for relief, Self Esteem. And if you want some bangers to smash around to, Special Interest.
The formation of Brooklyn-based shredders Razor Braids is an inspiring story of triumph in the wake of trauma. Shortly after experiencing a fall and a subsequent head injury that left her temporarily incapacitated, bandleader Hollye Bynum (vocals, bass), decided to pick up a bass and start a band. Shortly after being joined by Janie Peacock (guitar), Hanna Nichols (drums), and Jilly Karande (rhythm guitar, vocals), Razor Braids swiftly picked up speed and became mainstays at legendary New York venues including The Mercury Lounge, Rough Trade, and Baby’s All Right.
Much like their name, Razor Braids’ gritty and eclectic sound is unapologetically feminine and sharp as a tack. It is the quintessential sound of New York. And no, not New York as an aspirational touchpoint for voyeuristic cultural tourism, but a city saturated with over-stimulation, where people in all five boroughs are forced to scrounge for crumbs and develop a backbone of steel just to survive. The place where artists can find camaraderie and solace in community, despite the flawed environmental circumstances around them.
“Here [in New York] there’s a very straightforward, rough-around-the-edges sort of ‘fuck you’ attitude that rises to the surface in our sound,” frontwoman Hollye Bynum tells me. “So I would say that our music is absolutely tethered to our experience living in Brooklyn.”
Finding strength during hard times is the hallmark of Razor Braids’ output. This is expanded on the band’s debut record out tomorrow, I Could Cry Right Now If You Wanted Me To, a dynamic ten-track album that cobbles together pastiches of genres including shoegaze, post-hardcore, folk, psych, 90s riot grrrl, and abrasive indie rock. The percussive immediacy paired with Peacock and Karande’s rippling riffs and fuzzy guitar tones, all bond like a magnet to the push-and-pull of tension and release in Bynum’s unrestrained lead vocals. “No I’m not dead, no not quite yet,” she sneers defiantly on the opening track against the stomping renegade of Nichols’ drumming. The album also contains spiky high-energy thrashers like “Don’t Stop!” which is strongly reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Date with The Night.”
But it’s the slower cuts like “I’m a Blackhole (and you’ll never get out),” “White Noise Machine,” and “42,” that hit the hardest. “Blackhole” culminates in the entire band singing together in four-part harmonies, each one of their voices on equal footing. The grand finale, “42,” is a six-minute epic slow burn with an almost operatic quality. Bynum’s warbling lead vocals and Peacock’s weeping slide guitars are guaranteed to have an undeniable emotional pull on the listener.
I sat down with Razor Braids for a chat about how their unbreakable bond as a band strengthened over lockdown, the spiritual awakenings they’ve had when performing on stage, harnessing their vulnerability in songwriting, and the evolution of guitar music on the East Coast.
How would you describe Razor Braids to a stranger?
Hollye Bynum: Our sound and our vibe is very eclectic. Jilly came up with a great short and concise description the other day that I really liked!
Jilly Karande: Well, I would say that first and foremost that we’re a rock band. But we like to combine indie rock vulnerability with a punk rock energy tied up in a little 90s DIY package.
Hollye, would you be comfortable talking a little about your backstory and how that led to starting a band?
Bynum: After five and a half years of running a dance company in New York, I started shifting my focus back to music after learning that a woman I worked with played the drums and we started a band together.
Around November 17th of 2017 I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving when I slipped and got a pretty serious head injury. After six months of not being able to do any physical activity, I took one of my last paychecks from a music video I choreographed and said “Fuck it, I’m gonna buy a bass!” I would say learning bass absolutely helped me get the wheels turning again in my brain as I went through rehabilitation. I got connected to Janie through a mutual friend who knew I was looking for a guitarist, and I already knew Jilly from an acting class we had taken together. Once Jilly joined the band we played Punk Island, where we saw a band called Space Bitch and their drummer was Hannah. So I messaged her totally fangirling over her skills and asked if she wanted to join the band. We had just let our former drummer go, so everything ended up falling into place at exactly the right time.
You guys were playing legendary New York venues like Rough Trade and Brooklyn Bowl before the big shutdown. What was it like having to constantly re-adjust through different phases of the pandemic?
Bynum: It was a little bit of a bummer for me at first. It was extremely scary for everyone because nobody knew what was going to happen next. We had all spent so much time prepping for this release and we were so close to touring outside of New York. When the shutdown ended up becoming more permanent than we initially realized, we had to adjust our expectations a lot. I don’t want to speak for everybody but I feel like the silver lining of one of the biggest errors of humanity was that we were forced to slow down and consider what mattered the most to us.
When we finally reunited physically as a band it was incredible because of all the time we had to reflect and reconnect through songwriting. But it really gave us a lot of time and space to record. Recording became such an intensive and emotional process for us and we got so much closer. We never had that time to emotionally connect until the big shutdown, so I’m very grateful for that.
Janie Peacock: I’ll tell you, it definitely made me appreciate the act of performing live a lot more. I now perform every show as if it’s my last. There’s a new sense of energy I can unleash whenever we perform, because at this point we never know when that could be taken away from us.
Karande: For me switching the gears from performing live to only recording in the studio was an adjustment at first but it was exciting to really dive into these songs and pick them apart. It was really cool to spend more time in the studio, and since live shows are back it’s been cool to find that happy medium of making the songs performable and finding a balance between recording and the live experience.
For each of you, what is the one record that made you a full-time music fan?
Hanna Nichols: I would say Penis Envy by Crass. Growing up I was a huge fan of that album and its anarcho-feminist ethos. I actually got to stay at Dial House during my first trip to Europe and I had tea time with the people who still live there, which was fucking rad.
Karande: This is a bit of a joke answer but the 1999 Grammy-nominated compilation was definitely life-changing for me. I remember being three years old at the time and thinking ‘The Goo Goo Dolls? What’s that? This is so much better than my Barney music.’ The serious answer would be Lorde’s Melodrama. That album was really cool because it was nice to see a pop album that centered young female feelings actually get taken seriously.
Bynum: I remember being obsessed with Jessica Lea Mayfield’s Make My Head Sing. I always come back to that album like it’s my first time listening to it and wear the hell out of it. The first track on the album opens with the most distorted and booming bass I’ve ever heard and then Jessica Lea Mayfield comes in with her delicate, twangy, falsetto country voice and it’s so badass. That was the first time I realized I didn’t have to make pretty singer-songwriter music all the time. I realized I could think about tone and be eclectic in my approach to my own songs. She has a song called “Party Drugs” about being strung out and making bad choices, and I’m just obsessed with it.
Peacock: The first one that comes to mind for me is Icky Thump by the White Stripes. I used to own this little iPod and I would go to sleep and wake up listening to that album. When I was ten years old I would just lie down, listen to that album, and imagine that I was Jack White. I didn’t know that was a possibility until I joined Razor Braids.
I love that! What are some of the most memorable out-of-body experiences you’ve had onstage?
Peacock: There are certain moments we’ll have onstage as a band where we’ll all make eye contact and feel this unspeakable connection. Whenever we all feel the stimulation of the lights, noise, and adrenaline, we’ll experience these [moments of synchronicity] where it feels like a higher power has overtaken us, and there’s no other feeling like that.
Bynum: There will be times when Janie will rip up her fingers and bleed all over the place without even noticing. Those are times where I can tell she’s just connected with some higher fucking power on the stage. I feel like she’s living the Jack White experience every time she’s onstage, especially after lockdown because none of us are holding back anymore.
Nichols: I feel like Janie is a cross between Jack White and Jack Black.
What are some of the most memorable experiences you had recording the album?
Bynum: Recording the album was great because we were no longer withholding anything and were really able to be present and open up to one another. I’ve never felt more connected to anybody up to that point. It really felt like everything was on the line and we were all showing up equally. There was a magnifying glass on us and we brought everything from within to the forefront. I could not be more proud of how each one of us showed up for each other and for ourselves. The level of skill and talent that each of us brought to the table as individuals was one of the most inspiring experiences that I’ll take to my grave. There was one point where Janie got electrocuted and continued to shred like nobody’s business, it was insane.
Nichols: I remember when we recorded “42,” the final track on the album. Hollye was laying on the floor and we all started crying at the end. It was one of those really precious moments that I’ll cherish forever.
Bynum: “42” definitely turned us all into a wreck. I remember us all huddled around the computer and clutching at each other.
Karande: Janie got into the booth and laid down that entire guitar part in one take. That was truly mesmerizing.
Bynum: Yeah, that was a spiritual experience. But please don’t get electrocuted again!
Peacock: It was definitely a spiritual experience because I had never felt that way while playing before we recorded that song. It was an out-of-body experience.
I definitely hear what you’re saying because listening to that song really made me sit down and reflect on a lot.
I also wanted to ask you guys about the current state of being a guitar band in New York. Do you ever feel the weight of such a heavy legacy?
Bynum: When I started the band I had just read Meet Me in the Bathroom [an oral history of New York garage rock and electronic music in the 2000s]. That book is pretty much the reason why I’m in a band now. I grew up loving those groups. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs living in Williamsburg in the early 2000s and playing loft shows was such a vibe. Then you had the communities on the Lower East Side with The Strokes and Interpol. And The East Village was booming in the 70s with CBGB and the punk scene. After becoming so aware of the cyclical phases of guitar music in New York where these incredible scenes rise and then die out for a little bit before shortly rising again has always fascinated me. I would have loved to be alive when CBGB was still going.
Exactly. It’s pretty wild that at that time CBGB was considered one of the most undesirable bars in the neighborhood, but the environment and the music was so incredible.
Bynum: Exactly, and the atmosphere often doesn’t matter. What matters is the music, the community, and how great it feels to be present, hanging out, playing shows, and just being around each other no matter the location.
That was what really bummed me out about Covid, because it felt like–just barely–we were finally inching back to building a sustainable community and scene in Brooklyn. Fortunately, we’re back there again, we didn’t completely lose it. There’s a very specific voice and community of musicians that’s being cultivated here. I think it’s so interesting to listen to an artist’s discography and then read a book where they go into how things were at the time and everything that transpired, especially since I was a big fan of The Strokes growing up.
Same here. Been Stellar said something in an interview about how guitar bands in New York should never cover The Strokes. It’s incredible how New York today is still reeling from the massive bomb they dropped when Is This It? came out twenty years ago.
Bynum: Yeah. There are certain artists that are just off limits. Because The Strokes were just so purely who they were. So much of it was about attitude and an image that could never be authentically replicated. That’s why all of the bands trying to capitalize off of copying the Strokes failed. There will never be another Strokes. Trying to emulate that is doing yourself a disservice. I wouldn’t say I necessarily agree with not being allowed to cover certain bands, but it’s definitely a heavy legacy to take on.
As instrumentalists, are there any specific musicians who have influenced the ways each of you play?
Peacock: I’d say Ty Segall was the biggest influence for me tone-wise. I really aimed to replicate that fuzzy, distorted sound similar to what Billy Corgan did in the Smashing Pumpkins. Riff-wise, I always return to Jack White because so much of his guitar work is so straightforward and simple but so catchy. I love a head-banging riff! Harnessing that power and energy is what I aim for.
Nichols: Definitely Bill Ward, the drummer from Black Sabbath. Jon Bonham too. I know every rock drummer says that, but how can you not? Ginger Baker is another one. I feel like those three really set the groundwork for rock drumming.
Karande: I played a lot of folky acoustic guitar growing up, so when I started it was a lot of Elliott Smith and the Tallest Man on Earth. I really studied a lot of the intricate finger-picking and I think it’s been really fun to translate that into our sound. I feel like Mitski walks that line really well. And I’m also obsessed with Sleater-Kinney’s guitar tones because they’re just insane.
Bynum: I started out as a vocalist and didn’t start playing bass until later to support my voice. I feel like starting out when I did gave me a lot more freedom to not follow any specific formula or emulate other people. There’s a lot of great bass lines in soul music and standup bass in bluegrass music. But tone-wise, I really dig the work that Adam Devonshire from IDLES does on bass. I’m a sucker for really thick bass lines.
How has it been prepping for the album release so far?
Bynum: I was actually lying down the other night and wondering if anything else needed to be changed and Janie really forced me to take a step back. We’ve listened to this album and performed these songs so many times, and I’ve realized after all this buildup, the release finally being here is just surreal. We basically already have enough material to put on our next record. This is only the beginning for us, so it’s such a nostalgic feeling to be back here and finally be sharing all the work we’ve put into this album. There are some songs we’ve never played live that we’re playing at our release show, and I’m ready for the loud, wild, New York energy baby!
Seattle-based punk virtuosoSofiiak’s debut EP Cowgrrrl (the revolution demos) is slated to come out on November 26 via Riot Grrrl Records. The project is a genre-bending fever dream that spans country, jazz, dreampop, and riot grrrl. The best way I can describe sound of this EP is if Le Tigre and Dolly Parton were catapulted into the 1930s to play at a jazz lounge in Kansas City with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Sofia Krutikova is the brains behind Sofiiak. They grew up in the mosh pit, which opened the door for them to work at local Seattle venues as a sound engineer. There, they quickly fell in love with the intricacies of producing, which led them to enroll in KEXP’s 90.TEEN public radio program in high school. Krutikovahas also made a name for themself as a journalist in The Stranger and as a co-founder of the Riot Grrrl Records label, whichpublishes monthly zines modernizing the riot grrrl movement.
On this EP, Sofiiak combines the searing bite of Bratmobile records with the serene tranquility of Mazzy Star and the cracked-out production glitches of hyperpop records.
I sat down with Sofiiak to chat about the EP as well as their favorite bands, their love of Rico Nasty, and the punk essence of Charlie Parker. We also talked about their obsession with the omnichord, a portable synthesizer with preset string-rhythms and bass lines that has the ability to produce otherworldly sounds.
What is the most important statement you are trying to make with this project?
That self-care is really important. It’s super easy to get burnt out in the music world and in general. I touch on this in the song “online school during covid,” but daily life can get super repetitive. Continuing to live from project to project and shift to shift is really unhealthy. It’s a really big anti-capitalist statement in favor of self-care. With the production I was really exploring pushing the boundaries of how many weird sounds I could make in Logic while sharing the invasive thoughts in my head about injustice and physical and mental burnout.
Who are three people who make up the Holy Trinity of Riot Grrrl for you?
Well Rico Nasty is up top. I love her. I think that her ethos is the most hardcore Riot Grrrl mentality I’ve ever witnessed. I would also say Bam Bam because they are grunge pioneers, and I believe that Riot Grrrl and grunge go hand-in-hand. And of course, I’m gonna have to go with the classic, Bikini Kill.
How did you cobble all of your versatile influences together for this EP?
I would say that jazz is a big influence, especially Charlie Parker and bebop jazz. I took a jazz history class during the making of this EP and the history of jazz is just insane because none of them were doing it for profit. They were playing music just for the sake of playing music. When you really think about it, the first punk bands were 100% jazz. They weren’t trying to appeal to mass audiences. They were tinkering and improvising. And I took a very similar approach in making this EP. This is music for me. If audiences like it then that’s just a bonus.
I was very inspired by Hannah Jadagu, a bedroom pop artist who signed to Sub Pop this year. I was also influenced by a lot of Russian darkwave and goth, being Russian and Ukrainian myself. There’s this one song called “Disconnexion” by La Femme. It’s a club track with a banjo, and that’s the type of chaos I’m going for. I was also highly influenced by a lot of country music, especially Dolly Parton. I’ve been loving everything that Lil Nas X and Orville Peck have been doing as well.
How important has your background as a sound engineer and mixer been to your own music?
I think it’s super important. I’ve always been attracted to the STEM field of music. I’m an engineer at several venues in Seattle and I love being in control of live sound, so being able to utilize that background in my own music gives me the freedom to create the exact sound that I want, rather than other people dictating what I get to sound like. Producing has also been beneficial to the way I operate as an engineer because it gives me more knowledge of how to apply effects correctly, depending on the setting.
How’s that search for an omnichord going?
I’m so glad you asked, because I couldn’t stop talking about the omnichord in the latest article I wrote for The Stranger. I’m still looking for one. One of my friends has one, so I might go over to their house and jam. I believe the omnichord will arrive in my life when the universe deems it fit.
What does Dolly Parton mean to you?
I love Dolly. I was Goth Dolly Parton for Halloween. I love her aesthetic, her sound, and what she does with her platform. She’s the picture of humility. She basically funded the Maderna vaccine and it feels nice to know that my vaccine is Dolly-approved. The amount she was able to accomplish in such a male-dominated field like country music is incredibly inspiring. I would love to do a goth-inspired synth cover of “Jolene” at some point.
What influenced the vocal techniques on this EP?
A lot of it has been riot grrrl approaches to vocals. I did choir for two years when I went to Russian school, but my choir teacher was hell. A lot of my vocal style comes from trying to match pitch with the records I listen to while incorporating theory into it to make sure my voice stays in key. And I’m addicted to reverb. I love how it envelopes the vocals in a blanket of echoes. I think there’s so much you can do with vocal effects that a lot of people in mainstream music don’t utilize cause they’re afraid of sounding weird.
Your lyric on the final track about dickheads who question your music taste was really cathartic to hear. Dudes who musicsplain are the absolute worst. What drove you to write about it?
I’ve worked at record stores since I was sixteen and I’ve literally had men come up to me and ask me, “Do you even buy records?” at my literal job! Like, YES I buy records sir, I’ve been collecting since I was twelve. Whatever. If these men need to believe they’re introducing me to Nirvana in order to feel special, then that’s not my problem. It’s actually pretty sad.
Did you really break your guitar while singing Angel Olsen?
Yes! I was playing “Shut Up Kiss Me,” and I broke the whammy bar on my guitar. They couldn’t get it fixed at Guitar Center so I ended up having to buy a new one. That’s okay, I still love you, Angel Olsen!
What are some of your favorite music discoveries you’ve made this year?
I love this one song called “Autopilot” by russian.girls. I’ve become a big fan of Vegyn’s production, especially the work he does with Frank Ocean. I fell into a Billie Holiday rabbit hole after watching the Billie Holiday biopic. I just love the way she wrote about her personal life in her lyrics and her vocal style. The new Snail Mail record is incredible as well. I really wanted to book an interview with her for the zine, but she’s literally been on the cover of Rolling Stone, so I never expected her people to get back to me. I’ve been listening to so much Regina Spektor. She makes me feel seen as a Russian-American musician and that Soviet Kitsch album is just incredible. That one later Miles Davis album – I think it was called Doo-Bop – is also great. That was basically a hip hop album.
From Protomartyr to black midi, Dehd, Dry Cleaning, and Iceage, an exciting barrage of guitar rock bands are finally making their way through the sludge. There’s still debate over whether the Strokes opened up a new world for indie rock or if they simply put a collective curse on guitar music after 2001. But New York-based indie outfit Been Stellar can certainly feel the weight of that legacy looming over them. “You should never cover a Strokes song if you’re in a guitar band from New York City. Never,” they told Monster Children in September. “Word gets out that you do a Strokes cover and that’s what you do.”
Crawling out of the crevices of New York’s DIY art scene, Been Stellar was first formed by high school friends Sam Slocum (Vocals) and Skyler St. Marx (Guitar). Slocum and St. Marx later attended NYU where they would be joined by Nando Dale (Guitar), Laila Wayans (Drums), and Nico Brunstein (Bass). The gritty and enticing post punk five-piece emerged last year with their initial singles, “Fear of Heights,” “The Poets,” and “Louis XIV.” The three aforementioned songs are melodic and confrontational indie rock psalms that unravel the harsh realities of growing up in a city where culture is eclipsed by corporate commercialism and American tourism.
Been Stellar’s latest single, “Kids 1995,” is an emotional unfurling of self-reflection against washed out guitars and a semi-detached delivery reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Inspired by the controversial Larry Clark and Harmony Korine film Kids, the song directly references the movie in the lyrics, with lead singer Sam Slocum reciting dialogue from the end of the film as well as the soundtrack (“‘What the hell happened?’ And then the credits rolled/’Spoiled,’ Sebadoh”). The song evokes moving images of young students smoking and waxing poetic outside at a party on the eve of their college graduation, marking the end of youth and the start of an uncertain adult life (“It’s up to you/But it’s also up to you”).
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Been Stellar for a chat about growing up, their favorite albums, and the the undesirable parts of living in New York in your early twenties.
Congrats on the new single! How’s the release cycle been treating you?
Skyler St. Marx: Pretty good. Can’t complain!
Sam Slocum: It feels pretty weird to put it out now. We wrote it around two and a half years ago, so we have a [totally different] connection with it at this point. It was also a lot of fun making the music video. We did a showing the other night and people seem to really like the song, which is awesome.
Laila Wayans: Yeah, we did write it a while ago. I would say we definitely altered the song to make it more aligned with what we’re doing now.
That’s interesting. How do you feel your relationship with the song has changed since you wrote it?
Slocum: Well we definitely connect with it, cause we wouldn’t ever put out a song we didn’t like. But it’s always a little weird to revisit an older part of yourself, especially since the world has changed so much since we wrote the song. It almost feels like I’m watching a movie of my past self whenever I hear the song. People seem to really connect with it, though.
You open the song recalling a first-time viewing of the movie Kids. Was watching that film the catalyst for the song in real life or was it something else that transpired that inspired the actual song?
Slocum: No, that was it. I watched the movie Kids in my sophomore year of college and it made me really reflect on my own life. To be honest, the song doesn’t really have much to do with the actual movie, it’s more about the internal thoughts I had after watching it.
What kind of internal thoughts?
Slocum: I guess it’s a sort of self-examination by way of another person. It has a lot to do with my own personal experience witnessing a person I was close with grow into a different person and using that as a foil to examine my own internal struggles. A lot of it has to do with the loss of innocence, which is displayed in the film — the idea of being robbed of this sort of protection [from an unforgiving world] that shelters you as a child.
I could definitely sense that, but the song also seems to contain a degree of hope. Would you agree?
Slocum: There’s one lyric in the song that goes, “It’s up to you, but it’s also up to you.” I think it can go either way because on one hand it sounds optimistic and on the other hand it’s kind of sad. I feel like you can place the emphasis of hope on either side. I don’t know if we thought about it that deeply while we were writing it, though.
St. Marx: It definitely strikes me as hopeful. To me it sounds a lot like the narrator is giving their friend some really sound advice, and hoping that the friend will take their advice to heart and do the right thing. The end of the song seems to demonstrate a sort of restored faith [in humanity] and self-assurance.
What is one album that changed the way each of you listen to music?
St. Marx: For me the first album that really made me fall in love with the intricacies of music is probably Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol or The Velvet Underground & Nico. The Velvet Underground really taught me how lyrics can really be integral to a song without seeming too complimentary to the instruments.
Slocum: For me it’s probably Kid A by Radiohead. That was the first time I listened to something outside of the pop realm and it really changed the way I thought popular music could sound.
Nando Dale: I would say Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Hearing the guitar tones and the way it’s produced really made me reconsider the formula of a rock song. I definitely carry that influence with me today.
Wayans: I’m torn between two polar opposite albums. The first is Product by SOPHIE because I’d never heard sounds like that in my life. That album shook my whole world.
The other one would be [Siamese Dream] by Smashing Pumpkins, because I’ve listened to that album since I was a kid but didn’t have the wherewithal to understand the lyrics. Listening to “Today” in my early-twenties really made me reconsider the weight of these lyrics that had previously gone over my head as a child.
Nico Brunstein: I would say Let It Be(The Naked Version) by The Beatles, because it was so interesting hearing how that record got from point A to point B — what the band wanted the album to sound like versus what the producer made it sound like. I thought that was a really interesting way to look at how music can change based on who is at the wheel.
What drew you to the realm of sound you embody in your music?
St. Marx: Well we all come from a very diverse background of influences. There’s definitely some core records that we all really like, but we all bring something different to the table. Our songwriting process is very collaborative and we tend to write as a unit, rather than one person writing everything. We’ve gone through a few different evolutions of trying stuff out that we aren’t super stoked on in retrospect. We’ve found over the years that we like the lyrics to be really clear and at the forefront with guitars that are also transparent but simultaneously washed over with sound like the Sonic Youth/shoegaze type of sound. What got us there was a lot of hacking away at different ideas. In the middle of the pandemic we got a practice space of our own, which was new because before the pandemic we would only practice at NYU facilities, which didn’t really give us the tools to thrive creatively because it wasn’t our space. Having a space of our own has helped us out a lot.
Dale: Returning to the city in the middle of the pandemic to create really enhanced our sound, so that time away was actually good for us.
As you guys know, living in New York as a 20-something is very different from the popular view of New York as this American ideal/aspirational touchstone. Is that something you often tackle in your music?
St. Marx: Absolutely. Especially the point New York City’s at now. To be our age in New York at this time is just very strange. There’s a lot of stuff about the city that we really don’t like, but there’s also a lot of stuff we’re hopeful for. We’re all really drawn to the idea of song lyrics being tethered to one place. You can always tell on certain albums that were made at certain locations that they couldn’t have been made anywhere else. That’s something that we’re very conscious of, but New York as a whole has always been confusing to us.
What was it like to go on your first national tour after everything that’s happened in the past year?
Wayans: It was absolutely crazy.
Dale: Yeah, it was definitely at the right time too. Everything was starting to open back up and we were all so eager to experience life and see the country. It was definitely the most tired we’ve ever been in our lives.
St. Marx: Yeah. For our first tour to be really DIY was weird. We were supporting Catcher at really interesting venues around the country, but the logistics of everything were in our own hands.
Dale: There were certain points where we couldn’t even hang out or have a drink cause we had to drive for seventeen hours to get to the next stop.
Wayans: Definitely. But in the same token after being stuck in one place for so long, being on the road sort of kept us sane. We were finally able to experience life after lockdown and see the country.
Slocum: We came back and for a good five days and we were really out of it. It took a minute to adjust to being in one place again.
What was the most interesting stop you made on tour?
St. Marx: Definitely Texas. Going to Texas is like going to another planet. We also really enjoyed Birmingham, Alabama and Seattle. San Diego was also cool. Not to sound like a coastal elite, but we had a very cursory experience of each city, and I still can’t see myself living anywhere other than New York.
Do you have anything else to plug?
St. Marx: We’re playing a show at Elsewhere on November 21.
Dale: We also have a music video for the B-side coming out soon, so stay tuned for that.
Despite not releasing a full-length project yet, bi-coastal duo Sub*T has already captivated a sizable audience around the world, with heaps of praise from Atwood Magazine and an Alt. Press feature to boot. Their debut EP So Green is slated to come out on November 19th. Produced and mixed by Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, So Green is a buzzing and infectiously melodic body of work that unapologetically tackles relationship naiveté, vulnerability, and the act of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.
Pulling from alternative rock staples of the ’90s like Liz Phair, Tiger Trap, and Sleater-Kinney, bandleaders Jade Alcantara and Grace Bennett’s cutting lyrical humor and deft poetic zingers perfectly meld together with their charming lo-fi soundscapes and hair-raising riffs.
I sat down with Alcantara and Bennett to talk about their self-taught/DIY grassroots approach to music-making, writing songs with found words in Marvel comic books, and prioritizing safe environments at their shows.
How did the two of you initially meet?
Bennett: We were internet friends and we met IRL at a 1975 show at MSG four years ago.
What’s it like making music on opposite sides of the country?
Bennett: A lot of voice memos and texting back and forth. We sometimes do a zoom meeting, but that isn’t always effective in sessions. We’ve seen what can happen with the echoes and the lagging feedback, so that would not be ideal.
Alcantara: Yeah, definitely. That said, writing apart is definitely not as challenging as you would imagine.
What were some of the most memorable parts of writing the EP?
Bennett: I think we need to talk about “Bruce Banner.”
Alcantara: Oh absolutely! The first song on our EP [“Bruce Banner”] was a classic case of me being bored at work and coming up with lyrics or a melody. In this case it turned into a song based on Bruce Banner [aka the Incredible Hulk]. I’m a huge fan of Marvel so I have all these superhero comic books in my house. We sort of threw ourselves into a writing session where we set a timer and started blowing through all the books to find ideas for lyrics. We do a lot of songwriting when we’re apart, but that was a cool way to work on writer’s block and engage in a creative activity together.
What were the first songs each of you learned on guitar?
Bennett: The first one I learned was “Octopus’s Garden” by The Beatles. That was the song that my teacher gave me to learn when I was eighteen, so it wasn’t really my choice, but that was my first.
Alcantara: Probably some adapted form of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.”
How did each of you initially become fully devoted to music?
Bennett: My mom used to take me to shows as a kid. I would always get so mad cause she would take me to see like, Norah Jones and I would be so bored. But looking back, I think that was what made me a genuine fan of the live experience. When I was thirteen I started going to concerts by myself. I was fully obsessed with One Direction at the time.
Alcantara: Oh yeah, me too. That was the first time I got on an airplane to go to a show. When you become old enough to travel and create your own experiences through music and the internet, it totally consumes your life in the best way imaginable.
Your sound strongly reminds me of Rose Melberg and the work she did with Gaze and Tiger Trap. What would you say influences the sonic architecture you craft in each of your songs?
Alcantara: I think we’re very inspired by a lot of the music from that era, but we also strive to make something different from what we’re used to hearing in popular music now. Even when you look at what’s classified as “alternative rock” there are a lot of similarities. And we wanted to have those undertones but also make sure it sounded fresh and new. We are also very inexperienced with making music, so we’ve never felt like we’ve had to follow certain rules. We just like to experiment with our sound and see what sounds good to us. For the most part, we’ve formed our sound by sharing sonic and visual influences with each other. We don’t necessarily [emulate bands from the past] intentionally, but it often shows up when we sit down to write and record it. And it’s really nice to hear [the Tiger Trap] comparison, so thank you.
Was the color green a symbolic choice for the project, and if yes, what does it signify?
Alcantara: When used in a song being “green” [is] a metaphor for the naive childlike perspective. When we wrote “Bruce Banner,” we brought in our personal experiences with first relationships where we misunderstood the ways we were being treated in those relationships. But it’s more about the newness and the freshness. We don’t feel like everything we’re doing has been done with certainty, but sometimes it’s fun to have no idea what you’re doing. So we’re talking about being “green” not just as a metaphor for being inexperienced, but also being able to enjoy the process of growth.
What are your thoughts on the riot grrrl revival?
Bennett: In my experience [riot grrrl] never really went away. Only those who don’t look for it would know that the movement was always around and [it’s constantly being updated]. I think what frustrates me is that in the last 5-10 years, I’ve seen feminism get commodified just to sell products, and unfortunately the riot grrrl aesthetic seems to have fallen victim to that as well. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly powerful way for women to express themselves and unleash their anger. It’s a very raw and personal form of expression and that’s what makes it so attractive to young women who have no other outlet to express themselves or have that type of urgency in their emotions. I think it’s awesome to see, and whoever wants to take part in it should.
Alcantara: Definitely. It’s really cool to be included in something like that, but that mentality is just a way of life for us. We’ve had to live with it our entire lives and we will continue to do so as we move forward. We always want to make sure all of our shows are creating a safe environment and we always strive to work [in parity] with other women.
What would you say are the most important themes on the EP?
Bennett: In these songs there’s a desperate form of escapism and wanting to get unstuck from the physical and mental places that we’re in. On the second song “Cozad,” we sing about the physical aspect of movement. With the third song “Fur on Porcelain,” we sing about being stuck in one place mentally. “Table for Four,” which closes out the EP, is about remembering. In each song we reconsider our identities and find new ways of looking at personal memories, which is a common thread among most of the songs on the EP.
Alcantara: Overall, it’s about escapism but also adventure. It’s about coming to terms with reality, moving forward, and not running from the past, but being at peace with it as we move on to the next chapter in our lives.
I found “Cozad” to be the most interesting part of the EP because it sounded very bright and fun, but the lyrics had certain undertones of rage. What can you tell me about that song?
Bennett: I was on a roadtrip with Kenzie, our manager. We drove from the East Coast to Oakland to be with Jade. That song was written in the car in the town of Cozad in Nebraska. We finished it at Jade’s house.
Alcantara: We thought that “Cozad” was such an interesting-sounding word, so we looked into the name of the town and found out that it was named after a man [John J. Cozad] who murdered someone [and was never tried for it]. I think the song stems from our newfound freedom to do exactly what we want, but there’s also layers of rage that speak to what it’s like to be a woman, where we often feel unprotected and unsafe on a roadtrip, so we end up having to protect each other. Overall the song is a buildup of raw emotions related to adventure, independence, and tongue-in-cheek ways of expressing our anger.
What predominantly inspires your lyric writing?
Bennett: I would say we focus way more on [sonic elements] in the music. I’m much more drawn to emulating the sound rather than the lyrics.
Alcantara: I agree. But if I had to pick a person who I strongly relate to lyrically, it would definitely be Kim Gordon. Other than that we’ve never followed a pre-determined formula in our lyrics.
Bennett: I remember when we started out we thought we had to follow a formula, but once we started caring less and stopped taking ourselves so seriously we had a lot more fun with it.
What are some of the most memorable shows you’ve been to in recent years?
Bennett: I had the most amazing time at a Hinds show in New York pre-covid. I also saw Dehd at the Market Hotel and I thought the floor was gonna collapse, it was insane.
Alcantara: I did Hinds’ makeup on the road for a while, and that was a lot of fun cause their fans are so cool. I also had a lot of fun at a Twin Peaks show in Chicago. The Bikini Kill reunion show was also incredible.
How did you end up getting that Hinds gig?
Alcantara: I went to most of their U.S. shows and we became fast friends. I did some Florida shows with them and all of their California shows and it was a lot of fun. I’ve always loved their energy. They’re so down-to-earth and their fans are incredible. This was at a time when a lot of people were anxious about the current political climate and there was a lot of talk about really shitty environments at shows with stumbling drunk dudes harassing women and mosh pits getting out of hand. Carlotta started crying at one of the shows because she couldn’t believe how incredible it was to tour America and see all of their amazing female fans who drove for 6 hours just to see them. And that’s exactly what we aim to do as a band. We want to create that type of environment at our shows where it feels cathartic and we have the upper hand in controlling the situation and making it as safe as possible.
What was it like to work with Alicia Bognanno on this EP?
Bennett: It was the best. I don’t think I can put into words how awesome she is as a person and an artist. She was an incredibly supportive mentor and collaborator, and it came from a place of genuine love for the music that we had sent her. She was really invested in what we wanted to do, which made for a super awesome and productive environment in Nashville. It was the best experience we could have possibly had. It was extremely validating.
Alcantara: She knows a lot about engineering and mixing, so she instantly understood the kinds of tones we wanted on our songs, not just from her personal background as a musician, but because our tastes align very closely with hers. I’m still in disbelief that she made time for us even though her schedule was packed. It was pretty insane to get to work with someone I’d looked up to for so long, and now she’s like our sister. She really understood our vision from the beginning and believed in it.
What else would you like to plug?
Bennett: We’re playing two Brooklyn shows, one one on November 21st at Elsewhere in Brooklyn with Been Stellar and another one on December 3rd with Razor Braids.
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.
There’s no doubting the fact that Goth Lipstick—the eclectic duo helmed by frontwoman Francesca Fey and her creative partner Paperface—is one of the most exciting acts in the underground DIY pop scene. Last year their debut album, crystalline corset—a trans feminist coming of age album inspired by characters from Francesca’s favorite anime and Ghibli films—found its way onto several “Best of the Year” lists on Bandcamp.
Now, with their sophomore LP formless, shapeless, Goth Lipstick has adopted a much more raw, textured, and haunting sound that hearkens back to the ghostly dance pop of Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended, while staying true to their semi-fictional introspective roots. The production takes cues from SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, clipping’s Visions of Bodies Being Burned, and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. The album is narrated in the style of the Japanese Isekai literary genre–which revolves around characters being transported to a fantasy world–to tell the story of two wraiths on the run together who are forced to survive in a parallel universe.
“After being first exposed to [Isekai] in anime, I have been spellbound by the idea of resurrection in a new world.” Francesca tells me. “The genre was the perfect way for me to reflect on what it means to be a young trans woman growing up with a vision of what an ideal existence could look like as well as on the struggles I have faced personally that have shaped my [own concept of identity].”
The titular track, “formless, shapeless,” opens with a whirring drone that is promptly followed by glitching percussion and a succession of computer-blip effects that lay a sturdy foundation for the track with repeated chants of “I wanna be your love, I wanna be your love,” and paradisiacal background vocals from her girlfriend Gwendolyn.
The following track, “wraiths awake,” is an anthemic wakeup call from the previous track’s dream sequence, with blasting candy-coated synths and head-banging percussion plucked straight from the PC Music handbook. Fey delivers the line “If you wanna find the way to my heart/Then buying me a dress is the place you wanna start,” with so much conviction before letting out a blood-curdling scream of “WAKE UP!”
“Identity thief” opens with one of the nastiest, coarsest, and bombastic basslines I’ve ever heard, which rears its head at ongoing intervals throughout the song as Francesca professes in her whispery cadence, “I feel something when you sculpt me/Shapeshifting into anything/Skin like water, body of ice/When I’m someone else, there’s a place I can hide.” These specific lyrics highlight the malleability and plasticity of an unfixed identity, a philosophy that Francesca’s hero SOHPIE has also preached on songs like “Faceshopping” and “Immaterial.”
The fourth track is a cover of the 1975’s saccharine tale of chemical romance, “Chocolate.” It is an excellent reimagining of the original work. The engaging production begins with computerized synth blips that gradually build to a climax with distorted basslines, faded background screams, and glitching android sounds, making for a much more experimental reinterpretation of the song that is far more interesting than the original.
“I wanted to write a song about [two wraiths] getting super high together and falling in love, but the only way I could truly represent that kind of experience was with a song written by people who had been through it themselves,” Francesca says before going on to say, “a good cover should stand alone from the original, and the best way for me to achieve that was to completely reimagine everything from the ground up, distorted synths, wild vocal effects, and all.”
This is quickly followed by “fangs,” a sinister rumination on recklessness and self-destruction. It’s a whirlwind of unpredictability with masochistic lyrics (“Love is grip that squeezes me like a tourniquet/Take a whip to my hands leaving marks on my wrists”), complemented by sporadic blasts of glitching machines, which are guaranteed to catch every listener off guard in the best way, making it impossible to resist the urge to violently thrash your body along to the song.
“[That song] started when YouTube recommended a video [to me] about songs composed in extremely fast tempos, and that inspired me to write these quick, glitchy drum patterns that play throughout the track,” Francesca tells me.
The penultimate track, “faceless, nameless” opens with high, fuzzy guitar overdrive that hearkens back to My Bloody Valentine in their prime—specifically “When You Sleep” off the group’s iconic 1991 album Loveless—before climaxing in a crashing, grandiose solo and closing with cinematic piano keys. The abstract lyrics and the tinkering percussive droplets over the piano at the end transition into the final track, a brief love song entitled “forever,” which is forty seconds of utter silence that hearkens back to John Cage’s 4’33.
“John Cage actually went to my college! He might have subconsciously influenced that track, but it has a completely different intention than “4’33.” The main inspiration comes from my difficulty with writing love songs,” Francesca says. She then goes on to say that her aim with the track was to write “a song that quite literally can be performed for a lover regardless of how physically far away anyone in the partnership may be, [no matter] what technology or instruments are available, or even if anyone in the partnership is alive or dead. To me, it is the ultimate love song.”
What makes the silence at the end so profound is that it leaves the listener with a pang of bittersweetness, but plenty of space to breathe. It’s the perfect ending to the harrowing, heavenly whirlwind that the album takes the listener on. It’s our favorite slice-of-life movies with a mystical twist.