Emilie Modaff is an impassioned, Chicago-based renaissance-woman; the artist acts, podcasts, and sings. Her latest single, “Hip Blossoms” features windy-city spoken word poet, Mykele Deville. I spoke with Modaff via Google Hangout, where the radiance of Emilie’s strength in character, her love for life, and sheer exuberance beamed through my computer screen. We sat down for an hour, discussing the parts of her history that inform the record: lyrical iconography, tribulations of overcoming substance use, and the importance of supportive friendships.
Modaff’s lead single, “Hip Blossoms” is an intimate self portrait. The track uses natural imagery and symbolism to illustrate Modaff’s journey toward sobriety. Emilie leads with soft, trepidacious vocals resting on a structure of somber piano as she describes herself for the listener,
I was a fruit tree with apple eyes and lemon lips
I was a fruit tree with blossoms hanging from my hips.
Modaff describes the lyric, “[The imagery] definitely relates to the feeling of being fruitful and full of life and potential, until a certain point. For me, [that] was the moment I found my addictions. ‘Blossoms hanging from my hips’ symbolizes this potential I had, as a woman, an artist, a young mind.”
The description of herself as that tree adds a layer of public display in the listener’s mind as they imagine Modaff’s life through addiction. There was a lack of involvement from peers in the watering process, which she tells me is, the process of finding your footing existentially and self-nurturing. She says, "People hardly think to water a tree because surely nature will run its course whereas a houseplant is allowed to grow and experience strife more privately and is almost assured that watering on a regular basis." I found this meditation on Modaff’s experience to be a poignant one, which spoke multitudes to the 26-year-old’s writing ability alongside collaborator Mykele Deville.
The single is brimming with truth and lyricism.
The relationship between Modaff and Deville is one that stems from support and understanding. Modaff and Deville worked together in a band, and throughout the Chicago DIY scene. Modaff eventually left the scene in order to protect her sobriety. After leaving said scene, consisting of bandmates and friends, Modaff was unsure if she would continue to have a support system.
“When I got sober, I had to take myself out of that DIY scene. I was afraid everyone was going to forget me and Mykele would tell me, ‘the people who matter will stick around.’”
Listening to the single, you hear Deville come in strongly after the uncertain beginning vocals of Modaff; this is the foundation of their relationship, “Mykele comes in hard and tells it how it is, unapologetically. The second chorus is where I build strength. And then we come together for that choppy, spoken word bit. I match his strength there.” Modaff says this is similar to her journey toward sobriety and regaining her own courage and voice. The artist leaned on others for direction before finding her own gumption and determination.
Modaff is writing an EP which is presently untitled and slated for a winter release this year. We can expect a collection of original songs that will continue to genre-bend, ranging from the raw sounds of “Hip Blossoms” to something reminiscent of Tegan and Sara in the early 2000s. She notes that Carole King and Paramore are two of her influences.
I finished the interview by asking Modaff what superpower, if any, would her music most accurately translate to:
“Truth serum. My music would make it impossible for anyone to lie to themselves or other people because they’d know that the truth is more powerful than anything.”