AntiHana: Rewriting The Rulebook of Indie Pop

Pulling from glittery dream pop, disco and new wave, R&B, and the boisterous DIY ethos and aggression of punk and garage rock, the considerably impressive catalog of 23-year-old musician AntiHana completely transcends any label or categorization.

From the airy dream pop soundscapes of “WANNA SEE U CRY,” to the slinky bass on “Do U Want It,” and the simmering talking breakdown on the deliciously vengeful “Call Your Mama,” AntiHana does not disappoint when it comes to writing and recording deeply introspective and personal pop tunes that are incredibly fun to dance to.

I had the pleasure of speaking with AntiHana last week, and we discussed a myriad of topics including the beautifully sporadic nature of crafting different song stories, the liberating experience of channeling one of her most beloved rock icons for a music video, and the unmatched euphoria of nailing a songwriting session.

Q: What is the writing and recording process normally like for you, and what part of creating do you enjoy the most?

A: It’s truly different every song. Sometimes I create a beat and go from there, sometimes I’ll start with guitar, or bass, or keys. Sometimes it starts from the vocals – I’m constantly jotting down lyrics and recording little voice memos of melodies that pop into my head, so sometimes I’ll try to build something around that. And sometimes it comes from playing around with another person.

My favorite part of it all is when I feel like I’ve cracked something, when I’ve hit my stride with a song. Kinda corny, but it really does feel like it’s this thing coming from inside me and it’s just pulling me somewhere, like I’m barely even trying, it’s just pouring out of me. I get a legitimate buzz from it, like I’m high. That feeling is so precious to me that I actually have a bit of a fear that one day it’ll go away.

To be able to synthesize the confusing mess in my head and heart into something outside of myself, and that I can share with others, definitely brings some peace sometimes.

– AntiHana
Photo by Lukas Markou

Q: Would you say that your songwriting comes from personal experience, crafting fictional narratives, or a little bit of both?

A: Definitely a bit of both! Sometimes I write things that aren’t literally true but feel true, if that makes sense. I guess sometimes I play around with writing from different perspectives, or from the perspective of a persona. And sometimes it’s total nonsense that just sounds good.

Q: Your attitude and voice in so many of your songs is very commanding and incredibly fun. The talking breakdown on “Call Your Mama” is one of my favorite parts of the song, it reminded me a little bit of Robyn’s “Body Talk.” Would you say that writing and singing about exactly how you feel in ways that you might not always be able to articulate in daily situations is a cathartic process for you?

A: So cathartic! To be able to synthesize the confusing mess in my head and heart into something outside of myself, and that I can share with others, definitely brings some peace sometimes.

Q: What is the number one thing that you hope listeners will get out of listening to your music?

A: Dang such a good question. One of my favorite things I get out of music is when it makes me walk a little taller and strut down the street, fills me up with this feeling like no one can fuck with me, or when I’m driving in my car and it makes me and whoever’s in it dance or belt it out at the top of our lungs. If any of my songs could make anyone feel like that, that would make me really happy.

Q: Who would you say some of your biggest inspirations are songwriting and sound-wise?

A: Oh man there’s too many to list, but to name just a few: Blondie and Gwen Stefani, not just in their sounds but in their performance styles, are go-to’s for me. I grew up listening to David Bowie because he’s my dad’s favorite. The Strokes were the first band that ever knocked me out and made me go “wait someone else feels that exact way too? and they put it in a song?” Missy Elliott’s music was some of the first to give me the feeling I described in the last question and never fails to pick me up when I’m down. ABBA – I mean coooome oooon. Mitski – I’d love to hang out with her and brush each other’s hair you know? And what I would give to have Selena’s stage presence, to bring the same emotion to my voice, and oh my god to be able to dance the way she did on stage – pretty sure that will never happen for me though. I just don’t have it in my body, try as I might.

 One of my favorite things I get out of music is when it makes me walk a little taller and strut down the street, fills me up with this feeling like no one can fuck with me, or when I’m driving in my car and it makes me and whoever’s in it dance or belt it out at the top of our lungs. If any of my songs could make anyone feel like that, that would make me really happy.

– AntiHana
Photo by Tao Antrim

Q: Something you and I have in common is that we’re both massive Strokes fans, and I understand that they were part of the inspiration for “Heart in a Cafe.” I really loved the pulsing urgency in your voice/the production on that song (the music video is also immaculate). If you don’t mind, I would love for you to walk me through what creating all of that was like for you.

A: Okay so my last semester of college was in LA. I was at the 101 Coffee Shop, sitting at the counter, and, in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall, I happened to see Julian Casablancas walk by. I turned around just to see him leaving. At first I didn’t want to bother him but then I was also like what are the chances and when else am I ever gonna have the opportunity to tell him how much he means to me, so I ran out to see if I could catch him, but he was gone. They’ve been my favorite band since I was old enough to have a favorite band, so I got really excited and unexpectedly emotional, like some actual tears welled up. 

And then for my final project in one of my classes, about LA as a character in film, we could either write a paper or do a creative project. I definitely wasn’t trying to write a paper, so I wrote Heart in a Cafe. I didn’t end up getting the best grade on it because my professor was like wtf does this have to do with LA? But I hit a stride with the song and I just had to keep going, writing more about my feelings for Julian than about LA. 

Our last week in LA, me and my friends Emme, Tallulah, and Morgan were bored and itching to make something. We had just watched Dominic Fike’s music video (the original one) for 3 Nights, and felt inspired by that, so we decided we were just gonna make something. We came up with the concept of throwing clothes at me, and me sort of becoming Julian in some way, or like an ode to Julian, fostering the masculine rock star living inside me (and dare I say in us all?). We drove up to the Hollywood Hills and did two takes, but that’s a joint I’m smoking, so after the second take I was… not fit to film another. The take we ended up putting out was the first one anyway. It was so fun. 

At the beginning of this month, the 101 became another tragic casualty of the pandemic. For me, a little piece of the 101 is immortalized in Heart in a Cafe. I hope it rises from the dead.

Q: Has quarantine changed the creative process at all for you, or has it remained more or less the same?

A: I’ve been using my extra time cooped up in my room to try to get better at guitar. Wouldn’t it be so cool if one day I could rip a solo on stage? Maybe one day…


The Emotional Timelessness of The Strokes

What I never expected during a year of total isolation was all of the nostalgia-fueled musical journeys I’ve been on thus far; whether it be reflecting on how My Chemical Romance provided an outlet for my queer awakening in middle school, or finally shedding my “not-like-other-girls” mentality and admitting to myself that I’ve always kinda liked Taylor Swift. 

But nothing could have prepared me for the rabbit hole I would fall headfirst into the minute I picked up Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of the garage rock renaissance that blew up in New York City at the turn of the 21st century. 

All of those bands mirrored certain turning points in my life. Karen O’s magnetic vocal performance on “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was a healing balm that soothed and comforted me through the emotional turbulence of starting puberty. Interpol’s “Evil” was the first dirty bassline I ever heard when I was five, and it changed my world. And the sorrowful “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” by LCD Soundsystem was comforting to listen to whenever it felt like New York was crushing me.

But there’s one particular band whose discography I always return to every few months. And that is a little old band called The Strokes.

When I first arrived in New York, I was convinced it would kill me. The mythology I had internalized about the city being the place where people with “big dreams” go to “make it,” was immediately upended the day I arrived. It felt like having my soul sucked out by a demon. Everything was expensive. The smell of piss, garbage and tainted molecules permeated my senses every day, and the MTA was always late. I absolutely fucking hated it. And yet, that romantic mythology was, and is, still alive in me. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. The Strokes’ very first record, “Is This It,” was the soundtrack to my transition into college life, constantly in the backdrop of my excursions around the city from borough to borough.

Since the beginning of lockdown in March, I’ve been stuck in my childhood home in the armpit of suburban Massachusetts. It’s been exactly ten months and a total of 309 days; the longest I’ve ever been away from New York. As a result I’ve suffered from crippling depression, sleeping day after day with zero semblance of a routine except for school work. The only thing that’s been keeping me somewhat motivated to stay active and do something has been music. And the closest I’ve gotten to putting myself back into the spirit of when my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed self first arrived in New York at eighteen, was in April, when The Strokes released a record for the first time in seven years. The album cover was a Basquiat painting and the lead single “At the Door,” was a melodic, almost operatic departure from their typical classic rock sound.

What is it about the Strokes that makes me so emotional? Well, the appropriate answer would be everything, but especially the way that the band uses intervals. I think Regina Spektor put it best when she said that the band’s riffs mirror that of a classical symphony, where the intervals compress and pulsate until they finally reach a climax and release, eliciting an emotional response from listeners.

Lead singer Julian Casablancas’s rough, husky vibrato, Albert Hammond Jr.’s ascending leads, and Nick Valensi’s iconic intervals trigger these physical and emotional pangs in me that are hard to describe. The band is the very definition of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts. When they start playing, they transcend space and time. And the writing is sublime. The lyrics on a song like “Someday” are so melancholic and regretful. Casablancas references his fears coming to him in “threes,” breakups, and becoming an adult and quickly realizing that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The narrator is forced to work overtime just to survive, and like clockwork, he immediately wishes he could reclaim his youth; the “good old days.”

Is it possible to only be 22-years-old and already feel like “the good old days” are behind you? I’m about to graduate college without the experience of being on campus. I won’t be able to commemorate the experience with friends. I can’t see live music and I won’t be able to go out to my favorite spot in the city and get wasted one last time before I have to face the soul-sucking pressures of adult life. I still don’t have a clue what I ultimately want to do or how I’m going to survive. 

But by some miracle, every time I listen to The Strokes I feel like I’m being reassured that somehow things are going to turn out alright. I can’t quite put my finger on the pulse of what exactly it is about The Strokes that draws that response out of me, but they took so many sensibilities from many of my other favorite bands (The Velvet Underground, Guided by Voices, The Cars) and carried that invigorating sound and spirit into the modern age.

People often argue about The Strokes’ legacy, and many people are quick to diminish their impact. But nothing can take away the raw timelessness of a record like “Is This It.” And the fact that they released a sublime new record in April was a damn good silver lining to find in this dumpster fire of a past year. 

I haven’t been setting any goals or resolutions for 2021. The most activity I’ve done is weep in my childhood bedroom while looping the song “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” as I continue down the path of figuring things out for myself. And that makes the idea of moving forward feel strangely comforting.