Today, California-based indie songstress and self-proclaimed “technological maximalist” Roo debuts her first ever single “Glo,” which she co-produced with JJStewart. “Glo” is an experimental dark pop tale about toxic relationships and the struggle to navigate queer romance.
Opening with frosty coldwave synths and static white noise, the track envelopes the listener in a ghostly sonic embrace that could easily go toe-to-toe with Portishead’s Dummy. Before Roo herself even utters a word, the song will already have the listener hooked and stopped dead in their tracks. Roo pulls absolutely no punches in this grandiose artistic introduction to the world, and what an opening statement it is.
The lyrics show Roo laying bare her emotional vulnerability and pleading with the subject of the song to do the same. “How could I be enough,” she keens in the second verse with a Bjork-style cadence over eccentric production, distorted and accentuated telephone-filtered vocals, coarse basslines, and spiky 808s, adding a distinct R&B groove to this experimental synthpop masterpiece.
I had the privilege of chatting with Roo about her artistic introduction to the world, how her computer science degree has been a valuable asset in her experimental production, and what she anticipates for future career moves.
“Glo” feels like an amalgamation of trip-hop, neo-psych/soul, and dream pop, which I loved. How did the process of building a sonic landscape for the single come about?
My approach toward production is about play and intuition rather than rules, which is what gives me my genreless sound. My genius friend JJStewart created the original composition, then we went through transforming pieces to achieve the feeling we wanted. I did some pretty off-the-wall vocal production on this one, trusting my ear and pushing things further and further out of the box. It was a blast.
How has your computer science background and affinity for technology informed your music?
A lot of experienced producers I’ve met don’t understand the nitty gritty of how their plugins work – but I do. And I’m pretty nimble with signal routing, which is how I achieve some of my more experimental sounds.
Also, I taught myself to produce over the past year. So much of coding is teaching yourself new skills, so I’m good at that – especially because production/mixing is really technical.
I ask everybody this because I’m always curious to know; what are some records that you’ve heard throughout your life that changed everything for you?
I’m very inspired by Vōx; Swim Good is one of my faves. The vulnerability and use of emptiness contrasted with the heavy bass and grit – it’s something I’ve never heard before.
Reconstruct by Photay is another one that ends up on repeat all the time. His composition is so off-the-wall, so clean, so effortless.
And all of Miss Anthropocene by Grimes. She was hugely influential to me before I learned about her relationship with Elon. The dystopian techno-fantasy universe she built completely blew my mind.
How has songwriting helped you traverse your individual experiences related to romance and identity?
I process experiences through songwriting that I couldn’t hope to in my journal. It’s a direct lens into my intuition. Sometimes I won’t even understand what I’m feeling until I sing about it, or I’ll figure out what to do next through the creative process.
Glo is about toxic love that I experienced while learning to navigate queer romance. My journey into queerness is a huge driving force in my music. I can’t wait to share more of that with my audience.
What is your current number-one played song on Spotify or Apple Music?
This is my first song out, so “Glo!”
What artist–living or dead–would be your dream collaboration?
SOPHIE. Rest in peace. A true visionary. Her enormous, mind-bending sounds with my haunting atmospheric flavor – a tasty futuristic blend.
Since Glo is your first single, what is the number-one thing you’re anticipating once it’s finally out to the public?
I’m really just excited to get on the map. Expectations will certainly be created based on this one project; I can’t wait to break them.
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.
Music fans all over the world were collectively shell-shocked after receiving the news that experimental avant-pop artist and trans pioneer SOPHIE had passed away on January 30th of this year. SOPHIE was constantly challenging peoples’ pre-conceived notions of what pop music could sound like, pushing pop into the ether with elastic, hyper-industrial production and catchy, anthemic melodies. Her work was sacred to many LGBTQIA+ music lovers, myself included. Millions of young queer kids who looked to her as a guiding source of light are still reeling from the loss.
But SOPHIE’s mission to push pop to its most exaggerated, bold, and bright state, is not finished. Just look at the legion of protégées she’s left behind. Maximalist hyperpop acts who followed in her wake, like 100 gecs, Black Dresses, and several artists on the PC Music roster, have all released game-changing records and amassed large cult followings over the past couple of years.
However, the most exciting new bands are the underground acts bubbling to the surface, ready to take the world by storm. Enter Goth Lipstick: a duo on the rise made up of two friends, Francesca and J. The duo has released two full-length LPs and an EP over the past year. Their newest album, crystalline corset, is a syrupy-sweet masterpiece with sporadic production that delves into themes of self-doubt and queer liberation. The watery, crunchy synths and infectious pop song structures are juxtaposed against devastating, angst-ridden lyrics, narrated through various characters Francesca has created from her imagination. With songs like the sugary “catgirl goes to college,” and the menacing and masochistic “10 years,” the album takes the listener on a journey of self-discovery through the musings and personal failures of a young queer person.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Francesca from Goth Lipstick, and we discussed a myriad of topics ranging from her love of classic jazz, to her favorite anime characters, and idolizing Joy Division and the 1975.
Izzy: Let me just tell you how obsessed I am with every single track on this project. It pretty much encapsulates everything that I love about the way that pop is progressing. I would love for you to walk me back to the moment when you and your bandmates decided to make a full project and release it. What drove that motive?
Francesca: After we had put out our first album, Decidere, I was actually really disappointed with it. I had been going for this deeply-emotional concept and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Then I decided that I had to do something that I would ultimately be proud of. My first idea was to write a concept album about dystopia. I wrote the song “10 years” in one afternoon. I hadn’t [yet] conceptualized the album, but that was the starting point. From there it was just a matter of writing instrumentals that I liked and trying to tell stories through songs that were unrelated to each other.
Izzy: I was reading that you had created different characters based on your favorite anime to represent your own personal experiences. How have these characters breathed life into these songs for you?
Francesca: So the idea of the album is that there are three characters: the catgirl, the transhuman, and the witch. They all represent parts of myself, but they are each based on a different protagonist from different anime that I’ve been loving lately. The transhuman is based on Genos from One Punch Man, who is a cyborg. I wrote the song “witch on a broom,” after watching Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is a Ghibli film about witches. [The song] “catgirl goes to college” is the most removed from this idea, but the ethos of the catgirl character was based on Aqua from an anime called KonoSuba. [Creating these characters] was a good way for me to emotionally detach and feel more comfortable with writing really personal stuff.
Izzy: The album is all over the place stylistically, which I love. You and I are both really big fans of Black Dresses and SOPHIE, and I can tell that they both influenced the project. I’m even detecting some emo and pop punk influences, especially on “past life / succubus.” Are there any specific artists you were listening to that you feel might have bled into this record?
Francesca: As you mentioned, Black Dresses, SOPHIE (rest in peace to a legend), 100 gecs—I feel like it’s almost cliché to cite 100 gecs as a hyperpop influence at this point, but I was listening to them a lot. Lots of nineties emo for sure. A band that I absolutely love is Saves the Day. I love their guitar tones and pop song structures. Also, the Pixies. When I listened to Surfer Rosa, I felt like I truly understood the value of mixing your drums really high. With tracks like “10 years,” I was blasting the drums to the top of the mix, and that was inspired by the production on tracks like “Gigantic” and “Where is My Mind.” [I was listening to] a lot of slowthai as well.
Izzy: I was very drawn to how you were able to synthesize these lyrics that are very confrontational and also vulnerable against the backdrop of this incredibly sweet, bubbly hyperpop instrumentation. I hear queer euphoria, pain, ecstasy, and catharsis. What is the writing and recording process normally like for you. What does it do for you personally?
Francesca: Usually when I sit down and decide, “I’m gonna write a song today!” it just never works. And then if I end up coming up with anything at all, I’ll just scrap it and maybe save a line or two for later. The best lyrics usually come when I’m least expecting them. The song “witch on a broom,” is a track about feeling like a disappointment and a failure. I wrote that track after I went on a long walk alone. I passed an apartment complex near my house and I immediately wished that I was independent and capable enough to have my own place.
I sat down at my phone and typed out notes about how I was feeling, and those lyrics ended up being the metaphorical basis for the character of the witch. The instrumentals are very [upbeat] and contradictory to the [grim] lyrics, which was inspired by the band Third Eye Blind. They write incredibly devastating lyrics, but they’re always set to the most danceable guitar tracks. So that was a very conscious [artistic] decision.
Izzy: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “synthetic girls.” I especially love the glitchy, chaotic, noisy breakdown. How did that song come about?
Francesca: That was actually the toughest song to master. I came up with a great chord progression and a catchy melody, but I couldn’t decide which synthesizer to use. It took a couple of months to develop, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to sing over a track that was so noisy. I’m ultimately super proud of how the song turned out, because of how complex it is. There isn’t one chorus, it’s just a hook and a verse and then the breakdown. My hope is that people who listen to it will want to burst out dancing once that climax hits. That track was heavily influenced by Black Dresses.
Izzy: So this is a two-part question: I was browsing your album topster the other day and was very impressed with how eclectic it is: we’ve got everything from hyperpop to classic rock, indie rock, emo, shoegaze, hip hop, jazz, post punk, the list goes on… Who are your top three musical heroes and if you had the chance to collaborate with any artist (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Francesca: I would say my biggest hero is SOPHIE. Obviously both of us are trans women; and to have that positive representation of somebody as creative and powerful as she was is very special. She was the person who inspired me to start making music in the first place. Also, Ian Curtis from Joy Division. I just admire his lyricism so much. Lastly, this is kind of an out-of-nowhere pick, but I love Matty Healy from the 1975. I feel like he is a bit of a controversial figure among music nerds, but I just think he’s really funny and clever. And his presence as a frontman in a band is what I aspire to be like. He’s just a funny guy who’s willing to be in the spotlight and have a good time with it. As for collaborating, I would love to collaborate with Miles Davis. I just think he’s a complete genius and I can’t imagine how wild a track that fuses glitchy noise pop and classic jazz would be.
Izzy: Last question: if you were assigned to teach a music history class, what is the first record you would send your students home with?
Francesca: Oh wow… I feel like this is such a boring, by-the-numbers pick, but I would probably just go with some Gregorian Chants. [If you’re teaching music history], you’d have to start far enough back to contextualize everything else. Unfortunately I only know of Pérotin, who was a composer of Gregorian Chants. But I don’t know if anybody has actually assembled any of his work into an actual record. If there was maybe a compilation, like “Pérotins Greatest Hits from the 1100s” or something like that, that would be it!
Goth Lipstick’s newest album, crystalline corset, is now available to stream on Bandcamp.