SWIM TEAM: A Q&A with Christelle Bofale


Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin


by Anna White

Congolese-American artist Christelle Bofale’s EP Swim Team (Father/Daughter) was released in May, but it’s the perfect listen for a slow, hot summer day spent back-floating on any body of water. On the six-song debut, Bofale explores heartbreak and mental health over a bright sonic backdrop that wavers, shimmering like light patterns at the bottom of a pool. 

Swim Team is hard to pin to a single genre—artful guitar riffs in “Origami Dreams” call to mind indie contemporaries like Soccer Mommy and Alex G, while less-straightforward numbers such as seven-minute-long “U Ochea” rely more heavily on Bofale’s soft, melodic vocals, which flow and dip in a manner more familiar to an early 2000’s pop ballad. 

We spoke with Bofale about depression, skipping swim meets, and her experiences navigating expectations and preconceptions as a Black woman in indie.


Tell me about your new EP, Swim Team. 
Swim Team is a project that came together kind of half on purpose, half by accident. the name is inspired by all my wonderful friends who have been with me throughout the time when I thought I was drowning in my emotions, both happy and sad ones. It’s an ode to the people in your life that you consider to be your “swim team”, and vulnerability — being ok with feeling deeply for a minute.

 

Have you ever been on a swim team?
Yes, I have, and part of me calling the album “swim team” was kind of to redeem myself as far as my swim team experience! I was on the swim team for a while in the sixth grade, and I went to all the practices, but I never went to a single meet. My parents were really busy, and they knew when all the practices were, but it was up to me to let them know when my meets were so they could make sure I was there If I didn’t tell them they wouldn’t know where to take me, and so I would always “forget”. Looking back, I don’t actually think I forgot, I think I just chickened out or got scared. So now it’s full circle. I’ve released something called “swim team”, and I feel a little better about it.

 

I love that! Do you have a favorite song on the EP?
I really love them all, but I would say honestly my favorite [song] to play is “Where to Go”, which is the last one. I think most people’s favorite is probably “Origami Dreams”, which I love, but I like “Where to Go” a lot — It’s so spacey, and kind of seems to just pull you in different directions. I love to play that one, and I always play it live.

Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin

What is “Where to Go” about?
“Where to Go” is about my experience with depression. At the time I was taking antidepressants and I was seeing both a therapist and a psychiatric nurse, and I felt like I was being told to just take these pills and things would be fine. That’s why I say, “swallow the pill and figure it out.” When I play that song people have asked me if I was talking about molly or something, but I’m talking about antidepressants! It’s about that feeling of being lost, and feeling like I’m doing all these things — I’m going to therapy, I’m taking my pills, what else is it that I need to do to feel better? Feeling a little helpless. That definitely inspired “Where to Go.”

  

You’re based in Austin — what was it like coming up in that scene?
At first, I didn’t have a band yet, I was just playing my songs solo. I was new to the scene and people knew who I was, but they didn’t know me as a musician, they just knew me as Christelle. At that point, it felt really daunting to try to enter the music scene, or at least the indie-rock one. There are a bunch of music scenes in Austin, but like that indie rock scene seemed really hard to crack because it’s such a white, boys club. I was like, “How can I break into this, how can I fit in?”

 

I started playing shows and it feels like my fears kind of ended up being, not pointless, but people slowly and surely started to accept me and my music. I’ve heard from people in town, “It’s cool to hear something different coming out of Austin,” and while it was kind of a hard nut to crack, I think people are welcoming it with open arms because I think this is a sound Austin really hasn’t seen and adding the fact that it’s from a woman of color, a Black woman, is great. 

 

What genre would you place yourself in?
It’s weird because I feel like my music fits into so many. It has elements of R&B, it has elements of indie rock, it has elements of jazz, folk, and so it’s hard to say what genre it really is. I’ve just been saying indie, indie-rock, alternative. I don’t mind R&B at all, just sometimes there’s this predetermined idea of what kind of music a black woman is going to make, like, oh, she’s either making jazz or R&B or maybe hip hop. I’ve been trying to break out of that.

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“Be persistent. Work with a community.”

What has your experience been like as a Black woman playing indie music?
It’s been really cool! I know people that have been interested in making indie rock music, but it’s this thing that’s not really seen as Black enough or as kind of a white thing, because we’re taught, oh, rock is for white boys. Which is interesting, I feel like, because rock and folk and country were kind of started by Black people, so it’s kind of a reclaiming of guitar playing.

 

There are so many black woman guitarists that I can draw inspiration from, because I’m definitely not the first or the last, but as far as my generation, it’s me, Vagabon … It’s cool to be a part of that. I don’t know if it’s a movement, but I guess I’ll call it a movement for the time being. And it’s been cool meeting other people locally. I’ve been meeting some black local artists who make indie rock or alternative music, and we’ve been slowly building our own community as well. 

 

What advice do you have for musicians starting out who would like to follow in your footsteps?   
Be persistent. Work with a community — a lot of the time people get stuck trying to reach really high and trying to connect with big people, but just start connecting with your local musicians and start building that community. That’s what helped me — I didn’t have anything online, but I was just making friends. Be kind. There’s no formula unless you have really crazy connections with lots of money, the only thing you can do is be persistent, and don’t try to be anyone else. Create your own lane, and stick to your weird sound, whatever it is.

Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin

Click here to buy Christelle Bofale’s Swim Team on Father/Daughter.


Stream Swim Team below on Spotify


INTERVIEW: SIR BABYGIRL - ONLY A BOTTOM COULD PULL ALL OF THIS OFF



by Katie Burke

Sir Babygirl’s version of pop music feels like shedding a single tear while popping your pussy in a handstand and your ex is on speakerphone (not talking, just static) and all of this is going on inside your childhood best friend’s bedroom while she writes in her password encrypted diary and somewhere, a knife is being sharpened. Which is to say, it slaps. Kelsie’s voice reigns over DIY pop beats layered with Kelsie’s own distorted and beautiful yelps.

Sir Babygirl has seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere, as most artists do. When in reality, this has been in the making since she was a kindergartener. Recounting a childhood memory she tells me, “I was five years old having a conversation with my friend saying, ‘When we grow up and we’re movie stars,’ And she cut me off and was like, ‘I don’t want to be a movie star, I want to be a doctor.’ I was totally taken back, I thought everyone wanted to be a movie star. I was like, ‘NO YOU WANT TO BE A MOVIE STAR EVERYONE DOES.’ Absolutely born with delusion.”

Anyone who has listened to her music knows this is no delusion.

Something that I find even myself having to unlearn is that music, especially music made by women, is not just a diary -- you’re working really hard on this.

I think calculated is one of the funniest insults. Because it’s like, yeah, bitch. We’re smart. Calculated means that you did your fucking homework. I would have to pull these beats out of my own c*nt for people to give me credit.

I feel like when I first met you we were talking about Carly Rae Jepsen and you had such a good answer for why women and queer people love pop music so much...

In the time we’re in right now where everything is overtly political and overtly aware, I think pop music is the best thing to bring you to the immediate. It’s a worthwhile thing to just get to be dumb sometimes. The political can exist there -- or it doesn’t. Marginalized people deserve to have spaces to find catharsis. I can intellectualize pop music all day, but the most I’ll ever get out of it is going to a fucking show and dancing like an idiot.


How do you think that you are queering the music scene, other the obvious of being queer yourself?

This question trips me up more than anything. First off, queer has become monetized, which it never had been before. But the question is, are queer people profiting from that money? I want people to like my music because they like my music. The queerness is just there and it exists. It’s not a gimmick. We’re having this overflow where people are like, “Oh, there are so many queer artists now,” and it’s like no, we’re just allowed to exist more visibly now. I sit atop a heavy pile of privilege. I can be visible, so why not open some doors? I have no interest in being the only dyke in the room. People will ask me, “Oh, what does it feel like to be a queer artist?” and it’s like well what does it feel like to be a fucking straight artist?

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There was a large portion of my life where I denied that I loved pop music and only wanted to listen to like, Bright Eyes. Did you ever have that moment?

Oh my god, yes. My mom got me hooked on pop music when I was a kid. We listened to Christina, Mariah, and Britney. She was like, ‘these are divas and we show them respect.” That’s where I started but I totally strayed from that. Postgrad, I ended up in the Boston DIY scene and just did not fit in. I really had to assimilate. I would be writing music and hearing it as bubble gum pop in my head, but I was in this punk hardcore scene and it just wasn’t acceptable. I tried punk music, but then I was like, “Um, that hurts.” I’m way too much of a diva to be angry all the time. I just want to be mildly upset always. Dictated “hip music” just did not sustain me. Pop music keeps me alive.

A theory I have for why men hate pop music is because it evokes joy. Because something makes you want to dance suddenly it's not artistic or taken seriously.

Flirting with her”. I just want a fucking head-on gay song that doesn’t end in tragedy. I just wanted something so blatant that you could not mistake it for anything other than girls liking girls. When that song came out every review was like, “It’s a song about flirting with someone,”  We can dig in and enjoy these labels and it’s not exclusionary. We can’t engage with queer women in pop culture.

Is it ridiculous to ask you what your favorite thing about yourself is?

No, I love that. The first thing that pops into my head is my resiliency and my intuition. They’re my favorite things because I lost them for a while. The whole process of writing this album was having the determination to find my intuition and ask myself “what do I like?” because even if no one likes this at least I would still have it to dance alone in my room to. In your twenties, you have to figure out how to actually listen to yourself. I had vocal nodes when I got out of college. When I was in Chicago, I was in my deepest depression. I completely gave up. I started to genuinely believe I was delusional like maybe I can’t make music. But then I wrote “Heels” and it sparked me to start rehabilitating my own voice.


You went home to your parent's house after Chicago, was that isolation helpful?

I felt so alone in Chicago and I thought well, I’m not going to feel any worse if I’m actually alone. My parents live in the woods. People would visit me and be like, “You live in the middle of nowhere, aren’t you going insane?” And like of course, I was going insane. It was me, my mom, and my dead dog RIP. She was the reason I didn’t go off the deep end. But there was something in me that wanted me to be isolated, so I listened to that.

Most powerful sign?

I truly in my core think that Aries is the most powerful sign. Vulnerability to them is like a weapon. Like they don’t care that they just told you they’re in love with you because they just moved on to someone else. Unlike me who is like, “I’ll never reveal that I’ve been in love with you for 25 years.”


Do you feel hot today?

I do. I went to the gym and rage sprinted. I do generally feel pretty hot, I just reached a point where I was like well, it's not going to benefit you to not think you’re hot so why don’t you just start thinking you’re hot? I forced myself into a positive thought spiral.


Do you have any questions for me?

Do you think Sir Babygirl is a top or a bottom - there’s no wrong answer.

I would say a lot of top energy but surprisingly, a bottom.

Yeah, I guess only a bottom could pull all of this off.

Okay, that’s the title of the article.



It’s 9 pm on a Friday night in Chicago and Kelsie Hogue of Sir Babygirl has food poisoning. Although you wouldn’t know it except before starting “Everyone is a Bad Friend” she shouts, “I’m on an anti-diarrheal!” The crowd is studded with Kelsie’s friends from when she lived here, who she spots and yells out to. There are fans holding signs of Kelsie’s dead dog (RIP), Baby Diva, which eventually gets gently crowd surfed up to them. Between each song, there are nostalgic interludes featuring early ‘2000s culture, like a sound bit of Hilary Duff saying, “I’m Lizzie McGuire and you’re watching Disney channel” and suddenly I'm in the basement of my parent's house, in my childhood bedroom or my cousins living room choreographing a dance to songs from NOW 15. I want to play the game where you spin until you fall down.

Before her last song,“Heels”, everyone is invited to the stage to dance. Obviously, I go up. Holding my purse in one hand, while using the other to point maniacally around (dancing?), I am reminded again of the sanctity of pop music. It spans beyond the bubble of a proposed safe space, which we all know is relative. But in my chest, I feel something unwind. The simplicity of it is this - I want to shake my ass on stage next to someone I see myself in. Maybe I don’t know how to write about music. But I do know this -- a man’s opinion on pop? You can’t dance to that.

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Stream Crush on Me below

CD Digipak + Cassette available now through Father/Daughter Records


INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Helena Deland



by Mackenzie Werner

Helena Deland is an electrifying chanteuse from Montreal who released 4 EPs this year as four chapters of a series "Altogether Unaccompanied". 

I first became aware of Helena's music when seeing her perform as a solo singer-songwriter in Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 2017. I was struck by her elliptical narratives and bright, clear voice and brought her debut EP "Drawing Room" (2016) into my heavy rotation. 

In the time since she has added a full band, lush, new sounds, and high concepts to her work. Hooligan was thrilled to sit down with her before a recent show, where Gia Margaret opened. Here is our conversation: 


Helena: I had an interview the other day that I had forgotten about, a call, a phoner, and the guy …. I was in the bath, and he just called me up, I wasn’t sure who it was at first and he kind of was more of the “let’s have a conversation” style, so it took the longest time before I realized what was going on. He was like “Hey! Helena! Helena Boxing! Like that Lynch’s daughter’s movie…

Mack: (laughing) and you were like, “Okay, we’re doing this!)”

I wanna start with a question about you calling your music “sincere pop”, I know that a lot of people ask you about that, but I was just wondering because I really like that name that you gave it and I feel like there’s been this cultural shift away from apathy, where people are really craving sincerity and earnestness, and I was wondering how that shift has felt for you and informed your music (if it has), and how that’s felt for you as a creator.

Helena: I’m really afraid of it being misinterpreted. It is something that I liked the sound of; I guess it implies that pop isn’t always sincere, which isn’t what I want to do.

M: Especially because there’s a stigma against pop a lot of the time, and women who make pop especially.

H: Exactly, and I did feel like kind of disdain towards pop growing up, just because I grew up in the early ‘90s, and my mom was kind of like “you shouldn’t support Britney Spears’ message” and I feel like I was really impressed by that, like it’s not feminist to support…. Pop legends are probably not feminists, and that was a huge thing for me growing up, and I only really recently started enjoying pop in my twenties  probably and it’s been such a revelation.

I feel like your question was more about the shift in resenting apathy…

M: Yeah, I feel like maybe five to ten years ago the main cultural idea was to be apathetic

H: Yeah, and ironic.

M: Yeah, ironic, and there’s been a big push back against that recently.

H: Well, I’m happy to hear you say that, because I haven’t really noticed that honestly. But yeah, I guess it’s true.  It’s such a part of how you want to present yourself as not wanting to take yourself too seriously, but yeah, it’s a tough thing to deal with. It was such a thing in all of culture, to have that distance, which I’ve never been able to really have with my music. I was so scared at first, I’ve been validated since, and I’ve changed my perspective on it, being sincere, but I was so scared at first of making myself vulnerable. Because it’s raw. But, you know, now [I know] that’s actually what I want to do -- the thing that will be the most true, and be as sincere as possible. [I want to] embrace that.

M: Well, good job doing that, because that’s hard to do.

H: Yeah, it’s easier at first, but then for it to become public, that’s the scary part.

M: Totally. With you being from Montreal, and being bilingual, French and English, I was wondering if your music being in English, and your life in Montreal being more in French, if that gives you some sort of distance between your personal life and your performer life.

H: It did at first, for sure, it felt like such a venue to express stuff. There are so many reasons why I write in English, but that was I think one of them, at least thinking about playing those first shows in front of like 30 friends, and being like, “oh these can’t be in French…. They know.” I mean, they know anyway. There is something about, saying some things that aren’t easy to say in conversation, or face-to-face, in a language that’s not the one you use when you’re together. But I also wonder, because French is a language I’m more comfortable with, that I navigate a little bit better than English, I wonder what if English were my first language, if it would be different. Hard to tell what it would change but, I wonder if it would be easier to write in it. But maybe it also gives me a distance that’s playful, or freer in a way.

M: When you’re writing do you ever think of your lyrics first in French and then…

H: No, but sometimes I’ll hear a song.  Like, I’ve been listening to Adrianne Lenker’s album (we both make sounds of warm recognition and laugh), and oh my god, it just feels like she has nothing stopping her from writing such beautiful lyrics. It came to mind, is it kind of a detour to be French first and then writing in English?

M: And talk about someone who’s raw and vulnerable in their lyrics…

H: And seems to have no problem with that! It’s so impressive how close to her her lyrics seem, and apparently she’s so prolific and just has so many songs.

M: Yeah, I think she produces more than her record label can keep up with.

H: It’s really exciting.

M: We’re all blessed.

H: Exactly.

M: You mention Adrianne, and I want to ask you what other releases have come out this year that you’ve been really excited about.

H: Mmm, okay, Tirzah! She’s got such an angle on music that’s so refreshing, I find. She was introduced to me by my booker, it’s his favorite album this year, and I was really excited.  It really moves me. I find it so alive that it grew really addictive. It’s a specific feeling that I can’t find, when I want to listen to Tirzah it’s just automatically, that’s the only thing that’s gonna do that. Apart from that … I found Yves Tumor’s album really interesting. They are this really multi-dimensional project that, this album, I’ve been enjoying getting really familiar with it. It doesn’t feel accessible to me, but it does feel magnetic in a way. I also liked Jenny Hval’s (we toss a few guesses at pronunciation back and forth and laugh) EP that she put out.

M: And she put out a novel this year too.

H: I know! I can’t wait, I’m very curious. Did you read it?

M: Not yet, but I can’t wait to. People that I know who’ve read it have devoured it.

H: Yeah, that shift is so interesting, I find. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen more, that singer-songwriters don’t write more fiction or prose, but it’s something that I’m really interested in for sure.

M: Yeah, I just heard that Japanese Breakfast is writing a memoir, and just gave a lecture.

H: Wow! That’s crazy, that’s amazing.

M: I feel like those boundaries are being crossed more.

H: Maybe since Bob Dylan won (laughing) the Nobel Prize for literature

M: Yeah, and I think there’s less of an idea of boxing yourself in to one discipline.

H: Totally.

M: Besides music do make any other types of art?

H: Not really, I write a lot. I write pretty continuously, but I don’t have a project. I hope I will someday. That is something that I’m really drawn to, but it seems like such a tedious practice, and you really have to have a lot of time to do it. I read as much as I can, because that’s what I most love doing. I’ve noticed that in phases when I forget about reading I just feel like crap, it’s my favorite hobby.

M: Was there anything you were reading while you were writing the songs for Altogether Unaccompanied that really informed that process?

H: Yes, there were a couple, there’s this French word that means, “to take a shape and move it from one area to another.’ I don’t know what it would be in English, but there were some that made their way like that into the songs. There’s Carson McCullers’ poems, she wrote a song about, the way I interpreted it, the way I used it.  She has a line that’s, “no longer is a stone a stone”, which is one of my song titles. Also I read this novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, it’s so beautiful! It hadn’t happened for me in a while that I’ve transcribed so much, it’s an amazing way of seeing things.

M: That’s a magical feeling.

H: It really is, when you’re like “finally, this makes so much sense!” and the, I guess, just her characters feel really familiar, which is a nice feeling as well. The sentence “Altogether Unaccompanied” was taken from that. She describes this old man, the protagonist’s grandfather, how every spring he becomes a man of his own and will be outside all the time collecting small bones, and rocks, and plants, and it’s not a negative thing, but how he was unreachable during that period of time, how he was “altogether unaccompanied” (she scrunches up her face), oh, it’s just so sweet. I guess it’s about the idea of being scared of that, but trying to embrace it as well. You can hope for proximity, but it’s often impossible. In choosing partners and friends you’re choosing who you’re going to be …. No I was going to say “alone with”, but that’s too tacky. Somebody’s actual core is always kept secret, we’re all kind of “altogether unaccompanied” in these beautiful relationships. Does that make sense?

M: It does, and it reminds me of your line from “There Are A Thousand”, when you’re saying…

H: “There are a thousand of each of us here, how will we recognize each other dear?”

M: Yeah, exactly.

H: Totally, there’s this really nice Rilke idea that every person has their own secret garden, and that you have to accept the fact that you’re never going to walk in past a certain point to someone else’s way of seeing the world and existing. Basically, how you choose the people who surround you, who are able to stand guard from where things only step out dressed in fancy outfits. It’s a really beautiful idea.

M: Definitely. I was really curious, the way this release is broken up into four different chapters, or volumes, what the thought behind the way you paired different songs was.

H: It was mostly instinctive. I usually say color-based. Thematically or sonically how they seemed to pair well, but it was really easy to do. It felt way more natural to do it that way than to release them all together. I’m glad I did that too, because it feels like a debut album is such a big thing to me. I’m really happy that it’s going to be all songs that were all written around the same time, rather than bunched together.

M: I like that you did it half in spring and half in fall, because I don’t know if you do this but I think of media very seasonally. Like I’ll think “oh, I really want to read that but I’m going to wait until the winter.” Or, “I really love this song and it reminds me of summer.”

H: Totally.

M: Or like some things just feel warm, or feel cold. So, I really loved the way it was split into chapters and released so far apart. It was like returning to something familiar, but that felt more appropriate in the fall.

H: Totally, I wasn’t really thinking of it seasonally, but I agree that that’s totally a thing. But I was thinking times of day. The first two volumes for me were day and night, well they were midnight and noon. And volume three and four were dusk and dawn. You hear something and it’s like “this sounds like 4 p.m., or this sounds like April.”

M: It’s funny how those feelings can come through so distinctly.

H: It’s like slight synesthesia I guess.

M: With “Claudion” specifically, that song just sounded like October to me for some reason, I feel like it hit at the perfect moment.

H: I’m really happy to hear that!

M: Yeah, of course. I want to know if you have a particular song from this collection that you call your favorite, or one that particularly challenged you, that you’re proud of getting out there.

H: I guess the one that’s most mysterious to me in a way is “There Are a Thousand”, it’s one of the first songs I wrote, and it was so detached from any relationship I was going through.  It was much more about how I felt as a 21-year-old girl, at that time. I don’t know how to explain it, it feels like because it’s so vague, yet I find it does describe well what I was going through, I’m proud of it in a kind of puzzled way. I feel like it’s going to exist independently from me for a while somehow, because it’s just hard to describe how it happened, how I wrote it. It was a very impulsive song, it took no time which never happens to me. Songs always take much longer than that, but I sat down and by the time I stood up it was just done.

M: Do you write poetry as well?

H: No, I don’t really write poetry. I write more ideas and citations. When I write in a more continuous manner it’s more prose, diaries.

M: The last time I saw you it was just you and your guitar. You were playing more sparse, folk, singer-songwriter stuff, and now you’ve got a full band, you’re doing this lush, atmospheric, electronic stuff. I was wondering, in that transition, what were your expectations, or your hopes going into it? And now that you’ve done it, how have they been fulfilled? Or not fulfilled?

H: It’s a very, very exciting transition. I think the solo version of the project for me has always been a kind of compromise for financial, or time reasons. It’s been the easiest thing to bring forth, the solo project. It was easier to travel alone at that point, I was always aspiring to having a full band. I don’t see the solo act as less than the full band, I need to just see it as different. It’s still something that I want to do and explore, but I feel like our final form is full band.

M: Do you have full band arrangements for that first EP as well?

H: I do.

M: So you’ve brought those into this era.

H: Exactly.

M: I’ve got a couple of quick questions to end: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

H: Oh god I don’t know, I don’t have an answer to this question, and it’s a question that used to drive me crazy.

M: It doesn’t have to be practical, just anything that you’d like to be doing.

H: Hmmmm, just something that would have me reading and writing. So practically I was thinking of translation, music is so good for this, but something that would allow me to travel as well. Touring is such an odd little context to travel in, but it quells that need.

M: Can I ask you what your sign is and if you read into astrology at all?

H: That’s a fun question, my sign is Sagittarius.

M: Happy Sag season!

H: Thank you! I do, but I consider it as fun. The more I get into it the less I associate with it, but I guess it has to do with all of your planets, your chart. I guess the thing about Sag that I relate with in a bit of a masochistic way, is how fast you move from one thing to another, and get sick of things. That’s something I try not to do but definitely recognize in myself. There are other signs that pop up on the instagram accounts I follow that seem to be more accurate, but… My grandfather was a Sagittarius and he was always a party person until he was 95 and I always thought that was so cool.

(we talk about our grandpas for a while)

M: My last question is just a fun one, what’s on your rider?

H: If we can get anything we want…. I like tequila. But I’m trying to not drink at shows. Alexandre has beef jerky, that’s like his thing. There are two vegetarians and two heavy-duty meat eaters in the band, so it’s a funny mix. Nothing fun, we thought about asking the staff to bring their dogs, but we can’t hang out with it that much so it seemed irrational. But, that’s pretty much it.

(I tell her a story about a venue dog barking during a Daughter show)

M: Venue dogs are a bad idea but a green room dog is brilliant

H: As long as they get to run around!


Listen to Claudion by Helena Deland on Spotify below


Inside Issue #24: An Interview with Snail Mail

interview by Francesca Impastato
photos by A Klass

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Anyone that has ever spent time working in a studio knows that after thirteen-hour days of intently listening to music, when you finally get to leave for the night, the last thing you want to do is listen to more music. However, this past June, two days before my band would head to Baltimore, Maryland to record our own record, Snail Mail’s debut record Lush was released and I found myself not having enough hours in the day to listen to it. Songs like “Heat Wave”, “Stick”, and “Anytime” instilled a sense of queer longing I hadn’t felt since originally discovering Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous. For this reason, I was eager to have the opportunity to sit down with Lindsey Jordan at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss the in’s-and-out’s of Lush, and the lessons she’s taken away from touring thus far.



I want to start with talking about your use of pronouns lyrically. I read your interview with Liz Phair recently and you mentioned using “she” pronouns and feeling more comfortable using them but there are no she pronouns on the record -

Well there are “he” pronouns being thrown around that refer to this other guy that someone is dating. The pronouns are flowing free without there being any “she’s”.

You also refer to a couple of characters as “babe” and “my love” throughout the record and I’m interested in hearing about how you land on specific pet names to use while writing.

I think the song “Full Control”  is kind of condescending, but there are new Snail Mail songs I’ve been writing where I use “babe”, but I don’t use it very literally. I also use babe in a very loving way; I like that word a lot but that song itself is very condescending. Bob Dylan -- I’m not going to compare myself to Bob Dylan -- but he uses it in a way that’s a little bit of a bold and dismissive way. He uses “babe” in his break-up songs sometimes and I feel like I was just listening to a ton of Bob Dylan at the time and I think that’s where it stems from. I personally use babe in real life that’s not condescending.

It could be though, if some guy came up to you and was like, “hey babe” I’d definitely leave.

But I would never talk to someone I cared about like that. It’s not as warm as calling someone “your love” or “honey”. Babe, it’s just kinda cold.

Dang, that’s definitely one of my favorite breakup songs in a while.

So you said that there are new Snail Mail songs already - when you’re setting out to write a full length do you write songs and then pick the best ones, or do you write with themes and a sense of cohesiveness already in mind?

I feel like it’s more of the former, I just write and write and write until I have enough songs that I want to keep. Themes seem to crop up and I tend to stay within those natural thematic circles. But yeah, I more just write until I have the songs that I want to use and then stop.

When you were working on these songs are they usually done when you bring them to your bandmates or are they ideas that you flesh out as a group?

I pretty much finish them before I bring them to the band.

Do you give them part ideas and then they put their own touch on it?

Alex, Ray, and I are pretty collaborative when it comes to full band writing I just tweak it a lot. I usually let them run free and then critique it until it’s what I imagined it being.

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So if you had all these songs finished, what made you take “Stick” from the Habit EP and put it on Lush?

I wrote that song really close to when I recorded it, and I usually like to give songs many months to grow and to be changed.  I didn’t really give it any room to breathe. Then we started playing it live for a year or two and I noticed a lot of room in the song for cool production techniques. It just sounded way more expansive and cool. I had the idea of re-opening the conversation and working it out to see if it was usable and I sort of felt like it ended up being this whole other thing and I wanted to give it an opportunity to shine.

Since you brought it up - was Third Eye Blind an influence on your use of open tunings?

I actually didn’t know they used opening tunings until you just told me. I do like them though and this song is on our pre-show playlist.


So who did influence you to use open tunings?

Grouper records when I was in my early teens. Nick Drake and Mark Kozelek.

Not American Football?

No, I never had an American Football phase but I appreciate them.

You’ve been touring so much recently and are the only gay person in your band, do you ever feel drained not being around queer energy?

I think it’s funny because Alex and I are neighbors and some of our romantic pursuits intertwine. I don’t know how to say it, but I actually feel like I can relate to them a lot because we’re all interested in women and there’s not a lot of “interested in men” energy in the band.  Actually, in a way, I can relate to that more. Only because I grew up with Alex and Ray and Ian is my friend from home so we all grew up together in a very organic way. I really choose to surround myself with them. I hang out with a lot of non-men on tour, I have a lot of friends that I see along the way at festivals and stuff too. But as far as boy energy, I love the ones that I surround myself with.

I totally get the importance of having a really strong tour support system. I love touring with the guys in my band too.

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You played hockey, right? What was that like?

It was [formative], it was all I knew because I did it for so long and then chose to stop when I was a junior in high school because it didn’t really fit my personal interests anymore. I’ll always love it I just didn’t like being around those people all the time. You also need to dedicate so much time to it, it’s a really vigorous sport and I had other stuff to do. I just figured it wasn’t that important to my mature life but it was still a big part of my youth, and a big part of who I am.

I did street hockey in a league when I was growing up -

Yeah, I did too! In the third grade.

I did in the fifth grade and I was put on defense and someone hit the puck off off my shoe and it went into the goal which was scored as an own goal or something - and all the guys on the team made me feel so terrible about it so I never played again after that which is such a bummer, but definitely a huge character development.

It’s a really young age for that stuff to be happening, sports are hard. Young boys are super intense.

Okay - enough about sports, back to music.

Do lyrics or music come first while writing?

Music.

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So do you just have an idea and then whatever you’re feeling at the moment are what the lyrics are about?

I write the entire piece and arrange it, then write a vocal melody and lyrics which usually just come to me. I’ll start with a theme or an idea or emotion and build off of it but the whole song comes first.

I feel like a lot of the musicians I know or talk to are kind of the opposite. They’ll write a poem or something and try to attach music to it eventually.

I’ve only ever done that once.

Is it a song that’s out?

Yeah, it’s “Static Buzz.” - Man they need to turn off my playlist so I can focus.

How’d you pick songs for the playlist?

Oh man. The playlist is really long just because we have to listen to it every night on shuffle. We went on a tour with a band that only had ten songs on their playlist, and we were on tour with them for so long and it was insane. I put a lot of new bands on because I just wanted to spread the good word.

What new bands?

Well this is True Blue. Then there’s Alvvays, Dean Blunt, Princess Nokia, Sheer Mag, John Mouse, George Fitzgerald. There’s a Spongebob thing on there.

I’m happy you brought up Spongebob so I didn’t have to. Best show ever.

Totally, very formative.

I’m really bummed because I just moved here from New York so I won’t be in town for your shows with Alvvays. They’re great.

Oh no! They’re so good live, they don’t mess up at all it’s insane. We saw them at Coachella where it’s impossible to play a good set -- it’s not impossible but it’s just a weird environment. Festival soundchecks are very limited and all the bands we listened to that we knew sounded kinda off, but Alvvays was perfect and I was blown away.

You’re playing Madison Square Garden soon. Do you ever feel like you’re not taken seriously when you walk into these huge venues?

I think we are, like you mean by the staff?

Yeah. Do you feel like if you’re overly confident employees are standoffish?

I think when you’re the opener for a big band you’re not supposed to strutting like you’re really confident. We’ve made that mistake before where it really puts people off. For the most part, we get a lot of respect, it’s all about how you carry yourself and just demanding respect with your posture and being polite to the staff. Literally just being like, “this is what I’m here to do, set my stuff up, do it and then take it down” and people really respect that. As far as people in the crowd, I have no idea. I’m sure there’s disconnect because people aren’t there to see us but sometimes they are. It’s all about doing your thing and not really worrying, as long as you’re not being arrogant. I believe it’s a fine line and it’s possible to be arrogant. There’s certain things that we don’t do when we open that we will do when we headline and you know, just the way you carry yourself on stage when you open rather than when you headline is different. Being respectful when you play for someone else's audience is something and it’s a different set of manners and etiquette.


How was playing Coachella?

It was great, I love Coachella. The food is really good, the bands are really good. We got to see friends, hang out and party. We also got to be in California for the week between the two which was cool and then just did it again the next weekend. I got to see Beyoncé and got paid for it, it was sick.

see the whole issue here.

Beach Bunny and the Passage of Time


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by Meggie Gates

Beach Bunny takes the stage in a hue of pink. Lili Trifilio, the lead singer, adjusts her mic and turns to the audience with an aura of cool, brandishing a one of a kind crème colored electric guitar with a light blue patterned pickguard. As she adjusts her mic, the rest of the band fills in behind her, Jon Alvarado on drums, Matt Henkels on guitar, and Aidan Cada on bass, all of them new additions following a Battle of the Bands show in Elgin, Illinois the summer of 2017. Vocals pour out of Lili like waves on Lake Michigan and the crowd roars, gathered at the feet of their surf rock princess.

I fell in love with Beach Bunny faster than my last boyfriend. Having my heart crushed in January, my friend insisted I go to their concert. It had been a month of crying and the need to move on was apparent. I bring this up the minute I meet Lili, hoping she doesn’t remember how much I rambled about my breakup seven months prior. “Oh yeah, I remember you guys.” I reiterate how much the lyrics, “Sometimes I wonder how life would be, if you had stayed for February,” ripped my soul apart. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” She laughs.

“More people relate to February than I did. A lot of people told me that fit their timeline,” Lili tells me. Putting a timeline on the breakup process is a specialty of Beach Bunny’s. Their music hones in on specificities you may not have noticed before, concentrating on seasonal feelings. With this, the sadness becomes more visceral. No longer a cloud hanging out of reach, but more a snowflake you catch on your fingertips. Her earliest EP, Pool Party, categorizes the vulnerable safety net of summer. Lili explores the track July with such intensity, it’s as if you can feel the world melting through the sky. The authenticity of new feelings, the excitement of blossoming relationships, all of it uniquely explored only to be shattered with the reality of Crybaby.

You reach February and nothing is simple anymore.  

“I didn’t know how to express my feelings and that was Animalism. I did solo music for two and a half years and then around Crybaby I was really in my emo girl phase.”

As Lili’s music grows, so does she. There’s an understood maturity she carries herself that is envious. She makes art for catharsis, not spite. Unlike most indie pop breakup songs, where the object of desire is typically villainized, her care and compassion for the subject of her songs is incredibly apparent. “We were still good friends through the breakup. There was a time when we didn’t talk and then we became friends and now we’re in a relationship again.” Breakups are hard on both ends, and she has a deep understanding of this. “With Crybaby I was stressed because I knew the person I was no longer with would hear the songs and it was such a direct message. Even today, I’m like oh, I’m sorry about that.”

The days of Crybaby have certainly shaped Lili. Songs about crushes ghosting her are relatively in the past now that she understands relationships are not a longwinded game of hide and seek. “All the people I went for before were a challenge and the person I ended up dating, and am still dating, was someone that it was very mutual with. After that I was like, oh, this is what a relationship should be. It shouldn’t be like ‘I have to fight for this person’, it should just be easy.” This stark contrast in understanding the complexity of relationships, positioned against the hardships of her music, is soothing. “There are some people who are so incompatible realistically, but sometimes you just don’t care.”  I tell my friends this constantly, but the practice of putting it in to action is hard. Confidence is hard.

The feeling to prove yourself to someone who’s not worth it sometimes feels like the only thing that’s worth it.

Prom Queen, off Beach Bunny’s new EP, digs deep in to these feelings of insecurity. Screaming around to it in my bedroom, I couldn’t help but laugh at how much the line, “I never looked good in mom jeans/Wish I, was like you, blue-eyed blondie, perfect body” reminded me of days spent comparing myself to my ex boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, a roundabout carousel ride I bring Lili on regardless of talking about my breakup too many times now (three). It constantly feels like no matter what you do, there’s always someone better out there; the ideal woman now more accessible than ever with Photoshop. “With social media, there’s so much pressure to be perfect. The person online isn’t even real. How are you supposed to look up to this model that’s airbrushed?” I ask Lili how the internet might affect young women today and what they can do to avoid this hell trap. “If you’re going to do any comparison, compare your present self to your past self. Don’t compare yourself to other people.”  


Maneuvering the complexity of relationships is ground Lili often covers. It is a well-established mold she has laid out in tracks prior, which makes the release of Prom Queen so enticing. Exploring breakups is still there but now, the corners are sharper. Instead of asking, “if you love me why can’t we be together?” like Lili does on Jenny, the question is now, “are we something that’s worth saving?” Her confident voice is strong and passionate. Gone are days of Animalism where Lili nurtured the listener with her soft, vulnerable voice. The contrast can be mapped by her significant remastering of 6 Weeks. “I’m not constrained to this box of sad girl anthems. I can write other songs and people will like them. I got more confidence in my writing abilities and it’s been cool with the higher production and bringing the boys on.”  

Beach Bunny’s new EP further explores other themes peppered throughout the band’s history. Shoegazer, a song off Pool Party, first introduces Lili’s fear of growing old, “You’ve been feeling alone since you turned 21/ and the older you grow the more you come undone/ your life has just begun.” This adolescent feeling of loneliness finds a more mature friend in Adulting, a track off Prom Queen. Now on the cusp of graduation, Lili admits to me she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. This sentiment is mirrored back when she sings “the older I get, seems like the less that I know/Trying to be more than, ever before/It’s hard adulting.”

Existentialism has always been something Lili has grappled with. “I have an extreme fear of dying. I think about it very frequently. Turning 22 and having friends with birthdays coming up, I’m kind of freaking out. It’s my last year of college, what am I going to do with my life?” For being so young, the fear of growing older is obvious when Lili talks about her future and her family. “2017 was hard because my grandpa passed away and my brother ended up in the hospital. It was the hardest year of my life.”

Though time feels like an enemy, Lili understands that healing begins as the clock ticks. It’s a part of growing up and moving on from people and pain. “I look back and I know why it (2017) was sad but I can’t even put myself in that mindset anymore.” Despite Beach Bunny’s success, Lili has an acute understanding of what she expects from herself in the future. She is at a place artistically where she can grant herself liberty to relax. Beach Bunny’s listeners will continue to support her. It’s evident in the fact, at 22, she is touring with one of her favorite bands and about to play Riot Fest. As opposed to an interview she gave last January, where she talks about big goals she has, she’s now giving herself the luxury of enjoying life instead of burning out. “I still want to make a ton of time for friends, family, and a relationship. Even though music is my life and my dream, I don’t want it to become the only thing I do. Imagine becoming so successful that you lose everyone on the way up.”

She looks around the colorful back porch and picks a bench to sit on for pictures. I don’t ask her about touring with Remo Drive because the energy she carries herself with says it all. Excited. Nervous. Proud. As a plane flies overhead, I decide this is one of my favorite days of summer. Hanging with a woman so young and powerful, with everything before her and so much behind. “Focus on gratitude.” She tells me as we wrap up our interview. I fight the urge to ask her advice on my past relationship, again (four). “When you get existential and think about the loss of time and childhood, you lose focus on appreciating everything you have. Living in the moment is so important.”

The passage of time can hold the greatest treasures and the worst heartbreak. It can be the start of a magical journey or a terrible end. It’s never stopping, and neither is Lili.

Her life has just begun.


Stream Prom Queen below


Inside Issue #23: Longer Dives Underwater: Yumi Sakugawa’s Work Is A Deep-Sea Mission Into the Infinite Cosmic Ocean

In these turbulent times, tuning in to our needs has become an imperative anti-burnout tool; a necessary defense against the constant flow of painful events on the news. Yumi Sakugawa’s work is a window into her traversing through vulnerability, and an honest look at what healing can look like. The Los Angeles cartoonist, zinester, illustrator, and author shares practical tips, beautiful drawings, and poignant messages in books, zines, on Patreon, and on her popular Instagram account. She has explored befriending our demons, disconnecting from external sources, tending to creativity, connecting with the universe, and developing your own sense of self. Sakugawa’s work is a friendly hand offered as we dive further into the oceans of ourselves. 



Artists who create work on mental health are often cast into the role of guide, which often places them on a pedestal. Do you feel as though you are put into this role? If so, how do you navigate it? 

I don’t think so. I always see myself as an artist sharing my particular experience. [In a way it’s] a universal experience with other people who are more or less on the same journey as I am. So, I have zero desire to be placed on a pedestal. And I am happy to share what I have learned and am learning through my books, my workshops, my Instagram, and my Patreon blog. I think we are all equals on the same journey. 

What role has creativity played in your becoming and unbecoming? 

Creativity helped me find my voice during the years of childhood when I felt too scared, shy, and intimidated to use my actual physical voice and take up space with my actual physical body. Drawing and writing stories were my way of expressing myself, taking up space, articulating what was important to me before I learned how to do that with my physical voice and body. Creativity also reminds me that narratives, paradigms, worldviews, identities about myself can always shift, change, transmute -- because that is the nature of the creative force itself that gave birth to this universe. Things are always in flux, things are always becoming and unbecoming, being born and being destroyed to make way for the new as it becomes the old and dies again. 

There is a page in your book “The Little Book of Life Hacks” which offers tips for beginners to meditation. How has meditation assisted your connection to yourself and creative process? 

Meditation is my daily anchor I can’t imagine living without. I meditate for twenty minutes every morning, and it is something I must do every day as a way of acknowledging that I am not my thoughts, I am not my mental state, I am a far more infinite being and I am a crest of a wave in an infinite cosmic ocean. Meditating every day helps me connect with that intuitive, present, flow energy where things manifest with more ease and joy. I think that is how it is supposed to be once you remove and transmute your inner mental blocks. 

The term “expired pain” has appeared in your work. This term heavily resonated with me. At what point would you say pain has run its course, and is no longer serving its carrier? 

Healing has its own non-linear timeline that works more like a spiral that dips into the past, present, and future, not a straight line from point A to point B. Sometimes, it feels like it has its own intelligent logic independent of the person being healed. I know for myself, the most I can do is to be soft and compassionate and non-judgmental to myself, and to give myself permission to feel all the pain and sadness and anger fully as a way to honor my hurt feelings, and to give myself permission to take all the time that it needs, and to trust that the universe will allow for me to shed the pain when I am ready while being open to the possibility of no longer being in pain. It’s all very mysterious. 

What causes a series of your work to be made into a book? Do you typically begin a body of work with the intention of it being a formal collection? 

Usually, no. My first books came about accidentally. They were originally self-published blog posts that turned into a self-published zine, or a web- comic that I made for my own pleasure with zero intention of them becoming published books. I released the work out into the world, and then a series of coincidences and synchronicities brought the work into published book form. The universe knew better than me how to turn my work into published books. 

The Internet is a tool for connection and communication, which allows artists to share their voice in ways they choose. At the same time, social media feeds a disconnection from our daily lives, distraction, and sometimes, unrealistic expectations. Your work often brings up the importance of being present and intentionally disconnecting. How do you slow down, and find a balance with social media? 

I have specific activities during the day that are strictly offline mode. Waking up first thing in the morning. Unwinding before going to bed. Going on outdoor walks. I also like to make a habit of turning my phone off and hiding it in my underwear drawer for hours at a time. To remind myself that my default state should be offline punctuated by occasional, intentional forays into the online world, instead of the other way around. 

Of course, this is all easier said than done and takes a lot of practice. I still can’t eat a meal alone without watching something on Netflix. 

You are a prolific artist who has multiple published books, as well as many zines and also has a regularly updated Instagram & Patreon. At the same time, you have talked about how the expectation to constantly produce is unrealistic and unsustainable. How do you draw the line between meeting deadlines and paying the bills, while also allowing inspiration to come organically? 

I think you have to proactively plan for containers of time that prioritizes your creativity and your pleasure, instead of waiting for time to free up after you have done your bill-paying work. So, in the creative handbook THE ARTIST’S WAY, author Julia Cameron emphasizes the importance of doing morning pages every morning (writing three notebook pages’ worth of stream-of-conscious writing) and at least once a week going on an Artist’s Date-- a date with yourself where you go out on a solo adventure to recharge your creative muses, whether it is going to a museum or a concert or a cool thrift store. I think you have to fold into your life daily and weekly habits that are the creative equivalent of flossing or brushing your teeth -- you do them because it keeps your muses happy. So, in my case, I absolutely have to meditate every morning, go on daily walks, write my morning pages, go on artist dates, regularly feed my mind with new inspiration, and work on passion projects in tandem with deadlines and paid work. Those activities are not things I do as an afterthought or as a luxury I have to earn after doing bill-paying work, they are things I absolutely must do in order to stay sane, grounded, and inspired. 

You talk of the muse and the importance of feeding them, as well as listening to them. What are methods you use to nurture your muse? 

I meditate, I write my morning pages, I leave a bowl of water as an offering to my muses. I make an effort to experience something creatively new every week. I do a lot of walking. Sometimes I hike in nature or take long walks by the beach. I honor the needs of my body: getting ample rest, eating healthy food, taking breaks. I also love connecting with my constellation of creative friends who are all doing amazing work as musicians, writers, cartoonists, healers, and more. So being able to talk to other friends about the creative process and the obstacles we have been going through also recharges and re-energizes me. 

There is a James Baldwin quote which reads: “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” What do you believe is the role of the artist, in their own life and in the public? 

I can’t speak for all artists, but for myself, I believe my role is healing through vulnerable authenticity and reminding people through all my different mediums of the infinite cosmic magic that we are all connected to, and how we can truly heal ourselves and this world once we realize this inherent connection. 

A piece of your writing where you articulated that there are No easy answers stuck out to me. Too often people assume that an artist was born with inherent wisdom, when much of the time, that knowledge and wisdom came from a commitment to being in conversation with themselves. What has the process of finding your creative voice, and learning to listen to yourself, looked like? 

There are many layers to this process, and of course it is ongoing. So in my twenties, I did anything to get my work out into the world. Doing an art show because a friend was curating a group art show in a coffee shop, doing live painting at community events, putting together a zine for a zine convention, illustrating event flyers, and so on. Doing a lot of different things. Also: meditating, learning astrology, learning tarot, ending a ten-year relationship, reading a lot of self-help books, attuning to my own desires, practicing saying no to people and honoring my boundaries, finding new ways to express myself through fashion and make-up. 

Another topic addressed in your work is that of non-hierarchical joy. You encourage others to enjoy the mundane and rather than believe excitement can only be found in accomplishments and rare moments, cherish the simplicity of everyday encounters. What are tools you use to slow down and to appreciate each moment? 

I meditate every morning. One simple thing anyone can do is to take three slow breaths -- inhale and exhale mindfully. That, and listen to the sounds you hear in the present moment. Also, gratitude is an underrated practice. Being grateful for the abundance in my life helps me slow down and appreciate all that I have. 

There are times when self-improvement becomes presented as a never-ending project of fixing, rather than a lesson in acceptance. You have articulated that we should stop seeing ourselves as flaws to be fixed. In what ways do you think accepting ourselves as we are can change the process of growth? 

You can’t self-hate yourself into a happier person. It’s the difference between a parent who screams at her child for not being good enough or trying hard enough, and a parent who hugs her child and says I love you and you are capable of doing anything you set your heart on. 

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I saw you’re being featured at the Portland Zinefest this July! I am set to table as well. What is on your creative horizon? What projects are you working on? Is there another book coming to fruition? 

I just released my first iMessage sticker line, TEA WITH DEMONS, which is inspired by my favorite chapter in my book YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE. It’s on the App Store and you get a set of 81 illustrated stickers for $0.99 which you can message to other iPhone users. (Sorry, non-iPhone users, I hope to eventually have my work available to everyone!)  So, I hope that this will be the first of many iPhone sticker lines to come -- it’s interesting to think of how new visuals expressing specific inner states that can’t be found on the traditional emoji keyboard can transform the way we communicate with one another. 

I am also putting together the finishing touches for FASHION FORECASTS, an art comic zine about futuristic Asian American intergenerational fashion, that will be released by Retrofit Comics this year. 

I am also working on a new book and a screenplay. But those are kind of a secret. To be continued! 

What self-improvement projects-- art related or not--are you working on? 

I have been slowly easing my way into deeper dives with my creative practice. The term I came up with for myself is “deep sea pearl diving.” How can I go for longer dives underwater in the process of creating my work instead of skimming the surface? How can I go for longer dives underwater with my life in general instead of skimming the surface? 

I have also slowly been working my way through Julia Cameron’s creative handbook THE VEIN OF GOLD, which is about different creative exercises we can do to tap into our personal vein of gold in our creative manifestation while being playful and intuitive and exploratory. So I’ve done a lot of really interesting exercises because of this book. Like, make a mask, make a collage series of my life in five-year-increments, draw on a T-shirt, and so on. Right now, I’m in a chapter that is all about attuning to sound and silence, and expressing your inner emotional states through sound therapy, so I’m really excited to be working with a completely different genre that is very much out of my comfort zone which I know nothing about. 

Where are you finding joy these days?

I find joy in the simple, quiet life I have right now in Los Angeles. I work on projects that excite me, I spend time with friends I love, and I have many opportunities to share healing practices that have worked with me with complete strangers all over the world. I love the mundane days of working at home, and then the small pleasures of being able to walk to a neighborhood cafe or sometimes spontaneously going on a drive at night with a girlfriend to walk along the ocean shore. 

Keep up with Yumi’s work on Instagram or on her website . If you want regular access to what she’s making, support her on Patreon. Her books are available here; zines here

read the whole issue here

Inside Issue #21: Comedy as a Coping Mechanism: A Conversation with Jaboukie Young-White

Interview by Rivka Yeker

Photo by  Jerry Maestas  

Photo by Jerry Maestas 

In August, I met Jaboukie Young-White unexpectedly when I went to get lunch with a mutual friend of ours. He was visiting Chicago, his hometown, but was living in New York at the time. I didn’t know Jaboukie personally up until that point, but I had seen his face before and couldn’t figure out why or how. I assumed it was through DePaul, the university we both attended, or maybe just through friends’ online feeds. Later, when I got home and looked him up, I realized that he was a hilarious Twitter personality and someone I’ve probably retweeted before.

Regardless, the minute we started talking, there was an instantaneous bond that lead us to conversations about coming from immigrant families, queerness, and trying to make it. After brunch ended that day and Jaboukie was going back to our friend’s apartment to rehearse for an upcoming audition, we promised to stay in touch and I wished him safe travels back to the East coast. Over the last couple months, Jaboukie moved to LA to work on season 2 of Netflix’s true-crime parody American Vandal and has been gaining further recognition as an influencer, writer, comedian, and actor. 

Jaboukie recently appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performing a set of his that he described as, “his own material, but finessed a little bit to make it cleaner”, which blew everyone away, along with Jimmy Fallon himself. Jaboukie’s future looks exciting and filled with opportunity, and yet he remains one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. When we got on FaceTime, I felt nothing but excitement to catch up with someone I had such a great connection with the first time we hung out. This time was no different; it was a conversation that left me even more inspired and motivated.


Jaboukie came out as queer to his parents on late night television. 

The first time we spoke back in August, he mentioned that he was still not yet out and that he didn’t know if he ever could come out because his parents, two Jamaican immigrants, would not be okay with it, especially his father. 

“When your family is homophobic and you’re relying on them as your only safety net and that safety net already has holes in it because they’re broke, you’re bottomed out. You tell yourself you can do this until you’re at a point where you don’t need them anymore. So, when I got to the point of being on TV, I was like, ‘well I’ll never to sleep on their couch again, so I can do this.’”

At a certain point, there is no escaping an identity that encapsulates the way you navigate through life. Especially as a comedian, leaving out that part of yourself is eliminating an entire voice that lives inside of you, one that should be breathed into the art you make. 

I asked Jaboukie if he ever saw himself doing what he’s doing now and he said, “I never saw it happening, but I knew it was possible.” 30 Rock was his favorite show when he was 16 and he found out that Donald Glover wrote for it when he was around 22 and he thought, “Oh shit, Black people can do this.” He said, “I didn’t even know TV writing was a job, and I didn’t even know they “let” black people do that. When I saw that, I started working towards it but didn’t know if it’d actually happen.”

Jaboukie originally went to DePaul University for Political Science and then Public Relations/Advertising, and then finally Digital Cinema, to which he joked, “I slowly got lazier and lazier as the years progressed.”

I asked him if his parents ever berated him with making sure he secured a job, as most immigrant parents do. He shared a story about his mom working in an office for most of his life until one day she went back to school and got a Bachelor’s in the US (even though she already had one from the University of the West Indies) and then got her Masters here, was an intern at 40-something, student taught, and then became a 5th grade school teacher who is now thinking about becoming a principal. He said, “She totally switched gears and went to do some other thing. Coming from her, she was like, ‘You can pick the safe route and when your safe route fails, what do you do? What are you left with when your compromise doesn’t work?” So, I had the mindset that I might as well go for what I wanted to do because if I go for the thing I barely tolerate and that doesn’t go well, what would I do with myself then?”

I asked him if he thought that creating a ton of back-up plans and safe routes is an immigrant mentality, to expect change and know that anything can shift at any moment, but to prepare for it. He said, “I think the immigrant thing is two-fold. My parents were more okay with me pursuing comedy because I had shown that I was so serious about it from a young age. In high school, I did speech & debate and my senior year I won both comedic events I was in. If you show you’re incredibly passionate about something, they’ll be like, ‘okay’, but you have to be rich! As long as you’re rich. They’ll be hesitant and then when they see money is coming they’re like, ‘We supported you all along!’” 

We laughed but we know it is true because there is no generational wealth and that their concerns are legitimate. We empathize deeply, but are also confronted with conflicting feelings in how they deliver their worry and love. 

Jaboukie recently moved to LA and he’s been posting on social media about his disdain for the city. I asked him what that was all about. He told me about the first time he visited New York, and the first time he realized he loved the city. He said, “When I was seven, my cousin lived in the Bronx or Harlem and it was like eleven or something at night and I was like, ‘Oh my god Burger King never closes in NYC.’” 

He continued about LA, “The thing that gets me is that it’s so sheltered in a way where I’m in my apartment, I get in a car, I go to work, I get in a car, I go home, I go to a friend’s maybe; you're not experiencing life on the street or on a subway.

The things that you take in on accident in New York are so magical and deeply human; I’ve been transformed just by a subway ride, like ‘I just saw some shit that changed my life and I’m a different person now.’ Those little happenstances don’t happen in LA.” 

I talked about Chicago and how it can sometimes feel both isolating and vibrant, the same way he described LA and New York. But there is something good about LA for writers --  the jobs. He said, “As much as I miss New York, I’m not going to say no to not struggling. I guess I haven’t learned to appreciate that you don’t have to constantly be struggling to feel alive.”

Since we were talking about jobs in LA, I asked if he wanted to continue pursuing writing or stand-up as of right now. He said, “Both. The great thing about being in a [writer’s] room is that the room moves towards a group sense of humor, where everyone is contributing their voice to something that’s greater than themselves. It helps my stand-up at times, not that I’m writing in someone else’s voice, but it allows me to hear other funny people that can open my mind to new material.”

Jaboukie is considered an influencer, which means at one point he was treating Twitter like a job. Now that he’s working in more professional settings, his tweets are less frequent but definitely just as present. When I was at a party and talking to someone about the upcoming cover, he said that he got a lot of his political updates from Jaboukie. I told Jaboukie that, to which he joked, “When I was doing my show in Chicago, someone said ‘I prefer to get my news from someone like you than CNN or MSNBC’ and I was like “That’s so dope, but also … I’m dumb…’” 

He continued, “A lot of the stuff that I post politically is stuff that’s plaguing me, or bothering me, to a point where I need to get it out of my head, so I’m just going to turn it into a joke and then distance myself from it.” 

He said, “I do think it’s cool that it started out as as basically a selfish thing, like something that I’m trying to come to terms with, has been able to reach other people, and that’s awesome, but at the same time, I would really like it if people got their news from reputable sources straight from the source. I am a viewpoint but not the viewpoint.”

I mentioned that as someone who is automatically seen as political just by existing with his identity, it’s almost impossible to escape what people expect from you. They begin to look at you as a person who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. 

He said, “I think everything is a political choice, especially when the world is so globalized. Everything you do or say is politicized. And you can try to ignore that reality and to opt out of that, but that’s also a political choice. We’re at a time where everything is at that level of importance. I don’t think I’m moreso a political person as I am an intentional person and I just try to stay aware of actions having implications. People brand it as ‘political’, but I don’t think necessarily that I’m more political than the next person, I just try to approach my decisions with self-awareness.”

Intention is an integral part of comedy. I mentioned the different kinds of people in comedy and what people can get away with: being purposefully offensive, pushing boundaries, making other people feel uncomfortable for the sake of a joke. I asked him what he thought about that sort of culture within comedy and if it is something that will always exist in stand-up in general.

“People will say fucked up shit and aside from that being a poor moral choice, I think you’re just a bad comedian. A lot of the time, people will go out of their way to say something offensive, or accidentally say something offensive, and it’s like, clearly you don’t know how to read an audience. It goes beyond ‘I should be able to say whatever I want’ No, you’re kind of just bad at your job. It’s getting in the way of what you’re trying to say.”

We discussed how in comedy, you are writing for other people. It’s not just for you, but rather, it’s about connecting with an audience and relating to one another. He said, “It’s one thing if it’s a podcast where people actively seek whatever you’re talking about out, but as a comedian, If you’re bringing your thoughts and ideas to a group of people and you’re not willing to consider the overarching social mores and taste of the time, well, what are you doing?”

He brought up two comedy legends, Lenny Bruce & Richard Pryor, saying that they were, “at the time challenging prevailing social norms.” While they were performative in being over the top offensive, Jaboukie said, “They revolutionized what stand-up is. What made them so radical was the conservative mores that they were pushing against. It’s not that Lenny Bruce was fighting against people trying to say the “N” word, like, he was saying ‘I should be able to say motherfucker’ because that’s how people talk. Richard Pryor was bringing Black culture to a level that it had never been elevated in the American Zeitgeist before, but people like to think of his bits that were wildly misogynistic and fucked up as just as crucial if not more crucial to his legacy. The people who push against PC (politically correct) culture like to look back at those acts and pick out the parts that did not make them legends and icons and use that to justify why they should be able to say the “n word” or be misogynistic in their jokes.”

He laughed because the frustration lies in how bad these jokes usually are. He said, “If these jokes were even good, then I’d be like, ‘Well, ya got me! I don’t agree with you but you wrote a joke and people laughed,’ but what’s so annoying is that these people are just regurgitating mid ‘2000s shock humor, like this was already a South Park episode! People try to write it off as edgy, but it is perfectly the status quo. It is the American culture.

I am lucky enough to have received a liberal arts education and I have the language to dissect these things and point out what is problematic, and there are people who don’t get that.  I was also lucky enough to be young on the internet during a time where there was a huge dialogue going on, almost 24/7, but at the same time...keep up with the times.”

The topic of “safe spaces” came up as we were talking about his upcoming tour and where he’d personally wish he could do shows. Coming from Chicago where the DIY scene is thriving and active, we talked about the term and how people get angry at concepts like it. He joked, “Who doesn’t want a space where they can feel okay and not like they’re being attacked?” I laughed and said, “That’d be a good joke.” He continued, “If I don’t think I can get stabbed, then I’m not going.”

I asked Jaboukie what he thought about identity politics in comedy, since it can be filled with a lot of people, like previously mentioned above, who make efforts to be offensive. I asked if he thought it is up to marginalized people in comedy to represent their identities in their titles and in their work. 

He said, “I don’t think you can divorce stand-up from identity. Out of all the art forms, stand-up is the one that is purely identity-based. It is literally just your identity and your point of view. In a way, I think that’s what makes it such an American art-form. It is an individual, in an individualistic society, talking about their individual experience and point of view — you cannot remove yourself from it.”

I told him that I don’t believe in describing someone based on specific identities because at a certain point, it begins to sound like you’re marketing that person. 

“Sometimes I get angry when people are cherry-picking which identities they want to use to describe me i.e queer comedian, black comedian, millennial comedian. I’m always all those things at once, it’s not like I change from joke to joke. At the same time, that representation can get sticky because then you enter the territory of being the spokesperson for that identity, which! I don’t think is always a bad thing.”

Jaboukie said, “Comedy to me as a queer black kid was the only way to gain access to social capital.” 

It was a coping mechanism, “In my neighborhood I was seen as the lightest person so I was read as white and at school I was seen as the darkest person, so I was trying to navigate multiple confusing identities. Because of that, it was always easiest to say I’m funny because that’s my place — I always felt safe as the funny person.”

Being that funny person became not only a skill, but a way to combat potential homophobia or racism. It became a tactic to fit in, to be treated like anyone else no matter who surrounded him. He says for some reason people think that, “things that evoke joy are not seen as important or meaningful as things that evoke sadness of grief. People think joy is our cheapest emotion.” 

He said, “Comedy is a mass art form --- it is trying to reach as many people as possible.” In knowing that, we look at the ways comedy transforms a society and how we reflect on laughter for growth. What does it do for us in time of emotional turmoil? In political distress? In seeking happiness?

Jaboukie said, “When you laugh at something, you are accepting that thing into your reality.”

Not only is comedy a coping mechanism, but it’s a tool. Comedy guides society, it teaches people, it informs us on what is typically hard to swallow and makes it a little bit more digestible. For Jaboukie, it is how he navigates his life as someone who once used it as a way to be accepted by people he felt alienated by. He now uses it to impact others, regardless of whether his words are perceived as political, the fact that he is speaking his truths, getting positive reactions, and doing it all with intention, shows that comedy can be powerful in a time where the ability to laugh not only becomes optional, but it becomes crucial. 

read the whole issue here

The Innocence of Witnessing: A Conversation with Hop Along

Interview by Rivka Yeker

After a photoshoot outside, where the weather granted us a perfectly lit overcast backdrop, Hop Along shuffled their way through the back door into the Metro. We made our way to a corner in the green room, while the sounds of people practicing vocals and chatting serenaded us. 

I began talking to Frances about her storytelling, not just lyrically, but also sonically. In the same way a classical composition can create an visceral cinematic experience, I claim that Hop Along can, too. I ask her about the way a certain line in a song can align with the mood of the music, in a way that is synchronous. For example: “Look of Love” off the new record Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a song where Frances’ voice almost looks like it’s riding the musical notes, working alongside them like long-term partners.

Something I notice quickly with Frances is her self-deprecation. It is light-hearted, but earnest. She says in regards to her storytelling writing, “It gets in the way of the music a little bit. One thing I struggle with is how the music fits with the written content. I do want to provide narratives; I do want to get people into a physical space. I want our songs to do the same thing [as books]. But it’s a challenge, because you have a certain amount of time to build something visually, and music has its own way of doing that.” 

This is particularly interesting to me since Hop Along aggressively takes me into a space. It’s almost as if it’s impossible to leave the space once I’ve entered. They create records that you have to listen to from beginning to end or else you are missing something vital. In previous interviews and just by being aware of Frances’ savvy as a lyricist, it is obvious she has a background in literature, or a deep love for it. 

Frances says, “I wanted to be a short story writer; I never thought I’d have the attention span to be a novelist. I love writing, maybe even more than I love singing.” Which is unsurprising to some, but an obvious revelation to me, as the lyrics are so visibly poetic and personal, so much so that only someone who thinks like a writer before anything else could come up with them. 

She says, “I was into slam poetry. I remember reading this poem on stage once and a friend said to me, ‘God, your voice is so interesting that I could hardly pay attention to what you were saying.’ Which bummed me out because I worked so hard, but I wanted to be so engaging that it actually took away from the poem itself.” Frances relates this to her work after, saying, “I heard him when he said that, but I don’t think I really listened for the longest time, as you can tell in previous records. I do think at times my voice could get in the way.” 

So, do the lyrics matter? She says, “There are people who like our band that aren’t interested in our lyrics at all. I know people who are big fans of Bob Dylan, but don’t care that much about the lyrics.” Which, is shocking to me, on both accounts. But, people consume art for different reasons. People very well may be listening to Hop Along solely for Frances’ voice and the music, rather than the stories she’s telling. Yet, I am still curious about the lyrics. I will forever be curious about her lyrics because they are so vague and cryptic, yet deeply personal and strangely relatable. I want to understand how that is.

photo by  A Klass

photo by A Klass

She says, “You’re using a part of your body to convey something abstract like language and it takes a long time to understand how to use the strong parts of that. What parts of me can convey sadness better vocally?” Which makes me think once again, about the alignment of music and lyrics and how just her voice alone can provoke an emotional reaction -- even when the lyrics themselves aren’t completely understood. 

I ask Frances if she considers herself the protagonist or the observer in the stories she’s telling. She says, “I never feel like a protagonist. I never have the confidence to write myself in that way. I just don’t feel that way about myself. It feels more correct to just observe, and even that, it’s faulty because it’s through my eyes. I don’t want to get in the way, I don’t think I’m half as interesting.”

This brings up the concept of being the author of an observation. Suddenly, Frances has the ability to create a story through her lens as the witness, suddenly that story is potentially detached from reality and most likely fictionalized. This segues us into the root of the stories she is typically writing about. 

“Annie Dillard said that writers often write on childhood because it’s the last first-hand experience they had. That’s all I write about. You can never exhaust that well.”

Similar to the experience of witnessing, we are always revising our childhoods because our memories are perpetually fleeting. We aren’t reliable narrators, the same way we aren’t reliable in our observations. Yet, it is the claiming of authorship on these stories that we hold close to ourselves. It is the decision to write about them at all. 

Frances speaks about the tension between being a young person and wanting to have more under your belt and being an older person and yearning for the past. She says, “We’re struggling against it, and for it. We want to be experienced, and yet there is a terror in leaving childhood.” 

I tell her about one of my favorite lyrics from her first record Freshman Year under the moniker Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. It is in the song “Bruno Is Orange”, which Frances reveals that it is an homage to the book When I was Five I Killed Myself and the lyric is, “Did you hear about that mother? / Broke her daughter's legs in two / And said, ‘It's too dangerous out there to walk, so I had to save you.’” For me, this lyric, encapsulates the experience of being a child and being almost helpless. There is the act of being taken care of, where every choice is made for you, where your lens and perspective is taken less seriously than anyone else’s. It is the presumption that children have no valuable truth to add, that their truth is merely faulty logic. 

Frances says, “When I was younger, I daydreamed all the time and my mom who’s a very nice lady, would say, ‘You’re just bored.’ and I assumed that I must be stupid, that I’m not that interesting, that other people are way more interesting and have way more captivating stories.”

If Hop Along’s lyrics are rooted in the experience of childhood and children’s voices are belittled, I wonder if Frances is making an attempt to give those voices, especially her own, a chance to live, an opportunity to be taken seriously. There is a sort of empathy we must give to our past selves, one that is often stolen from us because of how much pressure kids have on their shoulders to figure everything out quickly. Frances says in relation to kids being rushed to be good at everything, “I think it’s too bad when kids aren’t given a shot at being bad.” 

With the newfound knowledge of Frances’ relationship with her childhood, which is planted in her lyrics, I am curious to know more about the people she derives inspiration from. She is currently reading Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer, who Frances says writes soap opera-esque novels that capture relationships and trauma in an intelligent way. While she was once inspired by Steinbeck, she recognizes that his treatment of women characters, like many white men, is flawed. She says, “The only older male author that handles women well is James Baldwin.” Which then brings us to the conversation on how oftentimes if a person is marginalized, they are more cautious with how they write other marginalized characters. We talk about the different “genre” of women’s voices and how characters are developed in literature, the reality of a one-dimensional woman character versus a well-rounded, well-crafted woman character.

The concept of women being different “genres” makes me want to ask about her most talked about feature: her voice. It is constantly deemed as powerful, and I asked her how she feels about the term. She says, “I almost envy that image, I certainly don’t feel powerful. I wonder had I been born a man, how meek of a person I would be, because I would say I’m more meek.” The childhood voice, the woman’s voice, both silenced. Where does the grandiose voice come from?

“In this record, I was worried that I was going to sound really bitter, that I was going to sound really angry.”

“What’s wrong with being angry?”

“Nothing. That’s why I said, ‘fuck it.’”

And so, the record shifted gears. Suddenly, this became Hop Along’s most intentional record. Frances admits, “This album is the closest I’ve ever come to saying what I meant.” She continues, “In this album, I was trying to address my own discomfort without making anybody feel like they couldn’t be a part of it. I didn’t want men to hear it and think, ‘this isn’t for me,’” Which, once again, comes from the instinctual tendency as a woman to cater to men, to make sure they can still feel comfortable in the presence of something made by a woman that is confrontational, raw, and powerful. With this record, though, Frances says that they have the decision to choose, that it isn’t up to her to make sure they’re comfortable anymore. She says, “that’s on them.”

That’s not to say that this is an easy act. After a life of being conditioned to be quiet, how does one speak up? She says, “Accessing your own power is a form of responsibility. It makes me uncomfortable to stick up for myself. It feels right, but it doesn’t feel good.” But suddenly the voices that were once quiet are loud, vibrant, all-consuming. 

Frances, who claims that she is not as good of a witness as she wants to be, admits to the faults of witnessing itself. Yet, this is her way of sharing her thoughts and opinions. By exposing her observations, she is relaying her truth. By reaching inside herself to provide a platform for the child’s memories, she is showing how that truth came to be. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is Hop Along’s most cohesive record to date; it is the complete collaboration of Frances Quinlan, Joe Reinhart, Mark Quinlan, and Tyler Long. Each record that Hop Along made is its own set of stories, its own revelation, whether it be everyone in the band contributing their side, or Frances translating her complicated web of memory into poetry. 

The act of witnessing, similar to the act of recalling memory, becomes fiction. It becomes a song, and then a string of songs, and then a record. This is how Hop Along pulls you in. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #23: The Progression of Jenn Champion

Interview by Rivka Yeker

photo by  Bao Ngo  

photo by Bao Ngo 

Jenn Champion first entered my life through Carissa’s Wierd, a slowcore band that originated in the ‘90s. The band was there for me in my most deepest of depressions, the sunken moments, dark and drowned in the tunes of sad people. It wasn’t until years later that I was introduced to S, Jenn Champion’s solo project, which released its first record Puking and Crying in 2004. 

While her work has witnessed the growth and decline of my life, it held me in a chokehold during my first break-up. The album im not as good at it as you became the only thing pulling me through the muck of a disastrous first relationship. Recently, I was able to talk about the record in front of an audience of people at a Chicago venue for a literary series where locals are invited to speak on the records that influenced them the most. This record wasn’t the first record I ever listened to, nor was it the one that necessarily inspired me the most, but it was one that resonated with me so deeply during a time that I sincerely believed I couldn’t ever escape.

Jenn, who is in L.A. spoke with me over the phone about the way her music has evolved, emotions, and queer visibility. I ask her, “All of your solo records have been either gut-wrenching break-up records or processing weird feelings in relation to them. You seem content and good. You have a wife, you’re teaching guitar, this album is going to be a pop record, what is the inspiration behind these songs?”

She says she writes about what is currently happening to her. She half-jokingly talks about how she’s been around “indie-rockers” for so long, how now she’s being inspired by pop, and it’s usually rooted in the actual production of it. Brian Fennell, also known as SYML, is producing her forthcoming record Single Rider. Fennell is also in the band Barcelona, but SYML is his slower, more pop inspired project. While they both come from indie rock backgrounds, they are working to put together the ultimate Emotional Pop record. Jenn says, “It’s almost like a reaction to Cool Choices” which was her most recent S record. Cool Choices was sort of the slow introduction to the pop music she’d segue into, with its quiet electronic beats and catchy choruses. 

I am curious about the transition into pop music, more so because I am all for it. Lately, there has been a resurgence of pop music in alternative spaces, where pop icons are more celebrated and it is more acceptable to like pop than it ever was before. In the music industry, she says, “It’s hard to be authentic, and I’m not very marketable.” It makes me wonder, what is marketable anymore? While she’s experimenting, not necessarily with the intention to be marketable, but mostly to play around with the music itself, she is working hard to master the art of pop. She says, “If I pissed off the punk rockers, then I absolutely made a pop song.”

Her records for so long have been deeply sad and I ask earnestly, “Do you think you need to be sad to write music?” It is not always easy to write when you are in the lowest of slumps; creative energy is often stripped from us when we need it most, and she agrees. She says, “Sometimes I have to work through it all, before I can write about it,” and then continues, “I think I’ll always kinda lean sad, no matter what I write, it’s always underlying. I can be content and say I’m also sad at times.” This makes sense to me. Sometimes sad is just what we know best, like a comfortable home in which we have always lived.

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It is impossible to listen to Jenn Champion without picking up that she is writing about queer relationships. Yet, I know identity is a confusing and strange concept to navigate. I ask her if she’d rather be referred to as a “queer musician” or to just let people figure it out on their own. She says, “Right now, it feels important to be visible as a queer artist.” I agree with her, especially as the term becomes more nuanced, more fluid, and potentially more complicated, I think since she has been a musician for a long time, let alone a queer musician for a long time, her presence is a strong one. 

I ask her about the first project she worked on at 17. She says, “We [Carissa’s Wierd] were a tight crew (as friends). It was cool to have those types of relationships growing up.” I think about being a young person in a scene like that, how it molds you and transforms you. I think about how it was always different for me because I was never part of the band, but merely the attendee, the overseer, the community member. She talks about shows with only ten people in the audience. She says, “Music that was being made at that time was so raw.”

The music that she’s referring to was this sort of sub-genre of indie and punk adjacent to the grunge scene. It was for the people that preferred basement shows and tiny venues. The late ‘90s were filled with an onslaught of early emo, slowcore, and screamo. I think of bands (aside from Carissa’s Wierd) like Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz, Saetia, and so forth. I envy anyone that was able to experience those bands at their most stripped down and fresh, barely adults who just wanted to make loud, emotional music. 

Jenn had other major influences including: Cat Power, Arches of Loaf, and Sleater Kinney. Each with their own authentic sound, their roots buried in punk and indie rock, were major icons in the ‘90s. She says that she likes the way Spotify operates as a music platform, says it “feels like MTV. It’s gotten back to this ‘unknown artist’.” The unknown artist is the artist we all spent our time searching for, whether it was via MTV or Fuse or Vh1, or it was on Yahoo music digging through music videos. Perhaps it was even when we got poor quality songs (or even an entirely different one that expected) through Limewire. Jenn even says she’ll still go to the record store and just choose any random $1 record. There is still something magical about stumbling over an artist for the first time and genuinely being taken aback. 

Jenn says, “I recently got into a subgenre of ‘Outrun.’ It’s like you’re watching a car driving in an ‘80s music video.” The name comes from the 1986 driving arcade game “Out Run” which was known for its synthwave soundtrack. It’s clear the Jenn’s most recent work is being inspired by that, since she’s taking us back to the ‘80s with spandex workout music videos and moody electronic beats.

Jenn Champion, has always stayed true to her music, producing what she wanted to hear in the world and unapologetically putting herself into it. I ask her what she could say to people who aspire to do what she does, to no matter what, not be swayed by an industry just for the sake of being marketable. She says, “You really have to deal with disappointment. Accepting disappointment and learning to not let it shut you down is the key. You have to be able to keep getting excited about things even if no one might like it. Be disappointed and move on.”

This is important for me to hear and is something I am always struggling to grapple with. It is the foundation of experimental and avant-garde art, yet somehow it feels impossible to ignore the desire to please the masses. It also doesn’t help that our success is tied to how commodifiable our art is. 

Jenn emphasizes the need to stay excited about your work. She says, “Don’t say ‘I don’t care.’ People are so afraid of being disappointed or getting their feelings hurt by the industry.” But it is bound to happen. Critics might love your work while the masses don’t and vice versa. Regardless, there will be people who love it, and that’s what counts. Jenn Champion’s fanbase is dedicated and has stayed by her side throughout the years, and I think that counts more than anything else. 

It is important for her to meet people who appreciate her work, to speak with them after shows, to engage with them over time. Jenn Champion’s aim is to create, to bond, and to put something honest out in the world. For her most recent record, and her upcoming record, it also means putting something that you can both dance and cry to, maybe even at the same time. Her work is so special because it isn’t asking you to choose. It is providing a space and expressing vulnerability, embracing emotion while simultaneously capturing the pure essence of pop; I’d call it intentional pop music. 

Jenn Champion once wrote songs about deep melancholy, abusive relationships, and toxic behaviors. All of those things are a part of her. In everything she does, she cannot detach from experiences and emotions she once had or still has, but now she is moving towards a new era. One that is filled with celebrating love, friendship, and dancing. Her work has impacted many people over many years, all of us holding her music close to our tender hearts and relating our pain to hers. It is an inspiring thing to watch a musician grow into a sound that makes most sense right now. It almost feels like we can do that, too. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #22: A Conversation with Tancred

Interview by Scout Kelly

photo by  Emily Dubin

photo by Emily Dubin

Walking through Chicago’s Logan Square, I felt slightly out-of-place, like the Tennessee kid I was when I was 15 and, admittedly, still am now. I was on my way to interview Jess Abbott of Tancred. They're set to release their new album Nightstand, on June 1st through Polyvinyl and I had spent the last few weeks revisiting their earlier records and consequently being sent down a wormhole of my teenage days by my favorite tracks like “Harvest and Holly” from 2011 and “Twelve” from 2013. I usually try to think of myself as a little bit aloof, but this was a special opportunity to me, having grown up listening to her music at some very tender ages of my own, weird adolescence. From her work in the indie pop band that got their break on Myspace – Now, Now – to her records released as Tancred back in 2011, I was gonna have to admit that I’d heard it all and most likely cried to it.

I approached the white tour van parked in the alley beside the Chicago’s own Subterranean. It was parked right underneath the train tracks; the roaring overhead was another stimulus that made me just a little jittery. The window rolled down and Jess popped her head out and yelled, “Do you wanna get in the van?”

We laughed as I crawled over a skateboard and some bags to get into the van where the band was lounging, simultaneously shaking hands and exchanging names. They had just gotten to Chicago from Kansas City, where they had their first show on a month long tour opening for Julien Baker. Jess said it went really well; it felt like a good start to performing a new record with a little bit of a different vibe than their previous 2016 release, Out of The Garden. I was a big fan of the record with its bold lyricism and power-pop guitar arrangements so I was excited to hear more about it.

 “You have certain lyrics that I relate to really, really well,” I tell her, in reflection on some of the writing from Out of the Garden.

            “Oh, yeah? ...What’s your sign?”

            “Virgo; you?”

            “Gemini. What’s your moon?”

            “Pisces.”

            “Me too!”

      
She laughs and says that, Nightstand is her Pisces moon album, whereas Out of the Garden was her Sagittarius rising album. Nightstand, as she describes it, is a little less aggressive than the 2016 release: “It’s still confrontational; there are songs on there that hit pretty hard, but it’s less vindictive.”

What about releasing “Reviews” as your first single? That’s an interesting choice. It seems like it deals preemptively with how the album is going to be received.
            
“It feels like the new album is  … well, half the songs are more downtempo; I don’t feel like ‘sad’ is the word, but not exactly as upbeat as the other half of the songs are. So, “Reviews” is almost about both. It feels like a good bridge, because it felt drive-y enough to be connected to Out of the Garden, but it has some other stuff goin’ on enough to show that this is going to be a new album.”
          
You’ve been making music for a really long time.
        
“Yeah, it sucks,” she says while laughing in a way where I can tell she doesn’t entirely mean it.
        
How old are you now?
        
“26.”

That’s what I thought. You’ve been making music since you were pretty young! I’m 25. I feel like if I had art released into the world when I was younger, I feel like I’d be like ‘OH MY GOSH.’
      
“Embarrassed?” She laughs.
        
YEAH, I mean not embarrassed but  …Yeah, maybe embarrassed.
  
“Sometimes, I’ll look at another artist and think, ‘They’ve put out a lot of albums and they all sound really different and that’s kind of weird and I’m like…’OH SHIT THAT’S ME’… Then I see people that release their first album when they’re 26 and I wonder what that’s like.’”
        
I’ve been listening to your music for a long time; I’m 25. I grew up kind of like the same time you were with YOUR music, which is kind of odd. So, it’s really interesting to be able to sit down with you.

             “ -like Now, Now?”

Yeah, but also Tancred, I mean I’ve been listening to your work for a long time. I grew up alongside those records, mostly from Myspace.

“That’s funny. It’s cool to do an interview with someone who has context for this new record.
            
I met Now, Now on Myspace. My high school girlfriend heard of them on a Tegan and Sara forum and I didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, so I wanted to order her Now, Now’s EPs and I got on Myspace to order them. So, I started messaging them and then I was somehow moving to Minnesota and joining Now, Now. What really got me into the kind of music that I make now was just everything I was absorbing off of Myspace.”
            
I think of my own creative work, and the feeling of being 25, and never knowing what’s going to happen to me next, and I can’t help but ask:
            How have you been doing it for so long?

“I think with any creative project, it’s hard  … It’s really hard to go on tour, financially. In terms of your own self-worth, it’s like, if you have a good show you know think ‘that’s why I’m doing this!’ and if you have a bad show, you’re like ‘why am I doing this?!’ Going on tour when you are in a relationship is like  …  the worst thing of all time.

Sometimes, it feels like ‘what am I doing?’ I almost got into music management. I had some opportunities to do other things, and I thought, ‘I could just do that.’

No matter what; I just can’t stop doing this. Sometimes, you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a song and it just pops off and you love it or hate it, but either way it’s a huge deal. I wonder, what did this band do to get to this point? Sometimes you hear the greatest song ever and no one gives a shit about it. And you’re like, how did that happen? It’s wild. There is no answer to it. I just knew I’d feel deeply unhappy if I didn’t do it. When I think of what music did for me as a teen, it feels comforting to know that maybe I’m paying that forward in some way. I got really into music kind of because of Slingshot Dakota. I saw them when I was 14. They played at a hardcore show in Maine, and I was like, ‘HOLY SHIT.’ I immediately added them on Myspace and asked them to come back to my hometown to play and I had no idea what I was doing. They pretty much showed up and had to take care of everything, and they were so nice about it  ... First and last show I ever put on.”
         
I mean, I know that I’ve sent people links to your music and your music video, specifically for the song “Pens” because I, like, really love that video and send it to people all the time. I don’t know; there are so many different types of success, you know? There are certain phrases in that song that stick out to me that make me love the song so much, similar to how I feel about that line in your song, “The Glow” that I adore. I’ll listen to that song over and over and over just to hear one that one line: “I want to kill myself inside your mouth,” and I’d feel like totally overwhelmed by that line. That’s a line that I wish that I had written and put in a poem, you know?
“Whoaaaa, hahaha; do it!”

       
Ha! Like Steal it? And italicize it and put your name under it as a footnote?
“No, it’s a collab! …It’s fine! Lyrics are my favorite part of music! I even hate putting reverb on my vocals when I’m playing live, which makes sense to do, but I like my vocals to be dry and upfront, because I really want people to hear what I’m saying. It’s really important to me. Guitar is fun and I love it. I mean, if I had to prioritize my skills, guitar would be first, before singing or lyric writing, but lyric writing is my favorite part of it. Playing guitar is just a vessel for me to write.“

Yeah, I mean, you have multiple songs where certain lines just punch me, and I’m like, “wow this is great.”
“It’s encouraging to hear that that’s translating.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 4.16.09 PM.png

Later that night, I got to hear Tancred play songs from their new record, and I wasn’t surprised to have my heart buckled by the lyrics and the energy. I had never gotten to see them live before, and I was happy to be surrounded by friends dancing with me and singing along. At one point, I heard a line from a new song and I turned around, sweaty, with my jaw dropped and saw Morgan Martinez and Julien Baker both nodding, understanding what I felt. Morgan mouthed, I know. She threw her arm on my shoulder and we dove into the crowd a little.
            
This past week, Tancred released a noir influenced music video for their song “Queen of New York” which embodies the feeling of a quick, heavy-handed romance that leaves you wondering when will I see them again? It’s a classic crush song and unabashedly queer. Incidentally, “crushy” happens to be my favorite category of songs. There’s nothing more satisfying to me as an adult than hearing queer artists celebrate a heart-throbbing romance. I’ve driven home from work with the song blasting as I drove through Tennessee fields and highways, shamelessly. I think of Jess, a musician who has been a signed artist for years, whose music has been in my ipod since 2012, still hoping to “pay it forward” with her music. I think about the joy of new love and the devastation that it can leave behind it when it goes away, how delicious it all is in its entirety, how grateful I am to be able to experience it alongside the right songs.

There are few things as precious to me as finding an album that rearranges time, that can make you feel older or younger, taller, bigger, more of what you are or even what you aren’t. There are few things as precious as a song that you sing along to with your friends in a crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the album, and I know good and well that Nightstand is going to give me more precious moments away from time. I know I’ll be 15 and 17 and 25 and 26 during this album. I’ll sweat to it again. I’ll sing it in my car after kissing someone or maybe getting my heartbroken, who knows. 

 

view the whole issue here.

Inside Issue #22: Fatimah Asghar

Interview by filmmaker Minhal Baig

photo by  Rae

photo by Rae

When Rivka reached out to me to do a profile on Fatimah Asghar, I could not have been more excited to interview someone whose work has affected me so much personally. Fatimah is the writer of the Emmy-nominated web-series Brown Girls, which has been picked up for development by HBO, and has a collection of poetry, If They Come For Us, published by One World, coming out August of this year. I will confess that I know Fatimah a bit personally, and so much of what I wanted to discuss were things I had always thought about asking her, but felt almost afraid to, until now. 

Initially, I was very curious about how she felt about poetry being perceived as an elitist medium. 

“When I first learned about poetry, we’re often thinking about Shakespeare, or Homer, or the Odyssey, and it’s interesting because, during their time, they were speaking in colloquialism,” she says. “Poetry exists in so many communities of color, and has such a rich historical tradition. It’s fascinating to me that that can be overlooked. A lot of authors of color are constantly overlooked. To do away with some of that, why can’t we have poems that are lyrically vulgar, or sound like me and my friends speak? My work rides that line, how [poetry] can be lyrical and everyday.”

There is a poem of hers, titled “Super Orphan” that contains the line: “What to do then /, when the only history you have is collage.” I wanted to understand, what is it like being Pakistani and Kashmiri and Muslim and living in a diaspora?

“To me, being an orphan, you’re born into questions,” she says. “Who am I? Who are my people? What are the stories that I don’t have access to? A lot of my art comes from wanting to grapple with those silences. What does it mean, to be able to invent a kind of family history?” 

I read another poem of Fatimah’s, entitled, “Oil,” and in it, she speaks about what it was like for her as a child after 9/11. “I felt a palpable difference. Where I grew up, it was super diverse. I was watching the news with my aunts and uncles and that feeling, and I remember feeling like once I realized that the people on the planes were Muslim, it was ‘oh, shit.’ The whole room shifted and it was this feeling … things are going to get bad. I remember going to school the next day. People were asking me, ‘where you from?’ in a threatening way. Being at recess, I was with my best friend Marilyn, and this boy came up to us and basically kind of like, so where is she from, and is she Muslim? My friend Marilyn said, she is but she’s cool. She’s one of the good ones. I feel eternally grateful for her saying that, but what does it mean, to be a good one?”

Fatimah has a book coming out this August, but before this collection, she also had a chapbook titled After that was published a few years ago by YesYes. A mentor had told her, “your first book is your first book”, and after a while of struggling with a collection of poems that delved into her sexual assault experience, she decided she would curate the poems and put them into a chapbook instead. The book was only limited to 400 copies. 

“It got easier to get a lot deeper to get into that story of sexual assault when it’s 400 people. And these 400 people are going to get that super intimate story, told on my terms. I actually don’t want my first book to be about my sexual assault, I wanted my first book to be about a lot of other things,” she explains. “I crafted a really intimate story and this is ‘After’ and you have it when you have it and then it’s gone. That was a really fascinating experience. The book sold out in pre-order, and that was it. It was gone. What does it mean to make an art for an audience that’s huge and for an audience that’s really small?” 

We get to the part of the interview where we talk about Brown Girls. Since there are so many interviews about where the work comes from, and what it means, I wanted to instead focus on the experience of transitioning as a poet to a screenwriter.

As she describes, “I think of poems and web series, especially as I’m developing a show from a web series. A web series is also about moments, distilled moments which you get down, which is very similar to a poem. I’d been writing a lot of poems and I was always interested in screenwriting, and this is the first time I’ve written something like this, and not even taken a class but I’m going to try.” 

Fatimah says Brown Girls was her first experience in screenwriting. “It was just really fun. Literally fun, just to try this. And now these are the characters, and where they live and how they talk to each other. Sometimes, too, because I was working intensely on my project in poetry, it was a great release to work on, just for fun, that I’m trying.” 

Her book, If They Come For Us, comes out this August. The book recently received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. “[This collection] is a deep interrogation of statehood of everything: race, religion, gender, sexuality and nationality. What does it mean to draw a border and say that this is now this thing. So that’s really what the book is about?” 

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 11.39.55 AM.png

Fatimah spoke about how she decided on the collection’s themes after her first chapbook: “After After, I started to write a lot. I didn’t touch my childhood in my writing. When I really think about it, was it as bad as all I remember? I leaned into the moments I loved as a child, and the moments I felt nostalgic for. I started writing these poems, high narrative, high nostalgia, of being an immigrant and being from an immigrant family.” 
    
Through some digging, I found out that Fatimah had written fan-fiction (and yes, for Harry Potter). A lot of writers are often shy or embarrassed about having written fan-fiction, so I was genuinely so surprised when Fatimah embraced this part of her own narrative. “Fan-fiction taught me so much. It taught me a lot about, how this is an existing world, and what are you able to play in. I wrote mostly male characters and mostly male storylines and I don’t think that’s weird. I definitely was writing slash, and I wrote a lot of darker characters. I was fascinated by the friendship of the four boys, by James and Sirius. There was a lot of richness, in the older generation, that I didn’t always find in the younger generation [in Harry Potter].”

I wanted to know Fatimah’s secrets. First, how does she write so much? And from where does she draw her inspiration? She has a good answer for that: “I’m very disciplined. Art and craft, you have to be disciplined to be good at [it]. I don’t have the time or luxury to wait for inspiration. It can be a bad draft, and that’s the thing. I write in the mornings and I write at night, that’s when I write the most.” 

And finally, we talk about what she’s working on next — a question I personally hate asking but it needs to be done. “For myself, I’m working on a feature, and I have a draft, and I’m getting it to a place that I’m getting it to a place I feel really good. I have a dramedy pilot and there’s a more traditional drama pilot. Those are the things that are purely mine.” 

We delve into some of her inspirations, literary and otherwise: “I’m really inspired by so many people. I feel lucky to be alive. I feel grateful to have seen two visual albums by Beyonce,” she says. You know right away that Fatimah is a voracious reader and lover of her own medium, as she lists off the poetry that she’s loved recently: "Dictee, by Theresa Hutchins, it’s a really tragic story, and it’s so good. Split by Cathy Linh Che. I love Ross Gay’s writing, and I think he’s such a visionary as a poet. Patricia Smith is very similar, and she’s an amazing writer and poet, and has taught me so much about form and craft. My friend just published a book called Not Here’’ by Hieu Minh Nuyen, and Danez Smith’s book, Don’t Call Us Dead. I love Toni Morrison. The God of Small Things (by Arundhati Roy) is a masterpiece. And Junot Diaz. Drown and This is How You Lose Her. Junot speaks to men the way that a lot of women can’t. What I’ve seen is that his work makes cis men better. Junot is such a master. He’s one of the most important writers of our time.”

What is all the more impressive about Fatimah is that she is not just an artist, but also an activist. “I want to build active solidarity amongst persons of color. How do I show up for other groups of color? How do I constantly want to learn and be in solidarity with other people. I am pro people of color telling their own stories. I am more excited more people of color having platforms to be poets and make a living as a poet, as a screenwriter, things like that. Those are all things I’m passionate about."


view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #22: Chaz Bottoms: Animation as Culture

via  Instagram

There are some people on this earth that know who they are and what they are meant to do, a luxury most people will not have until their later years of life. Goofy and overflowing with charm, Chaz is one of those people. He has been animating nearly nonstop since high school, his most recent work being the short film All Kids Go To Hell, which is doing well on the festival circuit. He is currently an animated freelancer based in Los Angeles, having features in Vibe Magazine, ImFromCleveland.com and Saint Heron.

On a breezy Saturday, Chaz and I met up for brunch. We’re both late due to the hectic Los Angeles traffic that does not rest even at 12:45 pm on the weekend. It was a  genuine pleasure to spend an afternoon with someone I have considered a friend throughout the last few years. It was a time filled with pitching ideas for scripts, nerding out over comics and animation, a few too many mimosas, and envisioning the future of the film industry. 


Do you think we are in an era of a “Black Renaissance” right now?

I think there is. Things have changed in a way. More voices are able to get out. Someone like Chance the Rapper couldn’t exist like, ten years ago. He’d still be doing mix tapes. 
Last night I was talking to one of my roommates and I was like …wow, I forgot Moonlight won Best Picture! Like, what a time! Never before… Before this it would have to be the The Color Purple. 

Which lost to Out of Africa!

A movie about a bunch of white people, in Africa! Like, are you kidding me? And there was almost that screwing of like, oh it lost to La La Land. But I think people are starting to come around. And if there is any question after Black Panther. I mean there is no question. Like, holy shit there is a market for this. I really want to bridge that gap between animation and culture. Cause people deserve a cartoon that is for them. 

As artists, we cannot control who views our content. How do you feel about the gazes on your content? Like, if you feel you are making something that is a love letter to Black people, how do you feel about that outside gaze? 

I think a lot of how you consume things is subjective. And a lot does depend on your background. I have always been in the mindset that the best artist can make things that, yes a specific group may feel it more, but everyone can still respond positively. I can watch something about an experience that I did not have but still feel connected to it. Like I did not have this experience but someone must have, and through that there is connection. 

When I was doing All Kids Go To Hell, I wanted to have this dichotomy of seeing Black characters in these broad cartoon-y situations. And if you pick up on it, it’s about something bigger. But at the same time, it’s just a cartoon. So the dichotomy of trying to strive for your artistic statement or artistic message but also recognizing that it changes over time. Having that inner dialogue with yourself about what you are currently working on or what you want to [create]. It’s important to have. Just like any other external relationship. It takes time to grow to nurture it.

You do a lot of things, but mainly, you are an animator. How do you feel about the world of animation? Is it still a “white bro” club or is it opening up? 

I am a big proponent in getting more diversity and more women into animation. I’m a member of the Women in Animation which is the big LA group that has a goal of by 2025 it being 50/50. I see it as having an ear down in the industry. It’s slow but I see it. We’re in that transitional period where the people in charge are finally seeing that it can work out. A show like Steven Universe, the most successful kids show that’s out right now was created by a woman. A queer woman at that. You look at that and can say, “wow it’s still a kids show but I can still watch and get things from it.” 

I think it has to be a conscious thing moving forward. You can still look at the past and recognize there’s good artistry but I wish more people were looking towards the future and things were moving quicker. I don’t know why these things take so much time. 

What was the first thing you saw that made you realize you loved art. And the first thing you saw that made you realize Black people could make art, too? 

The first thing I saw that spoke to me … When I was born, it was around the time the Lion King came out on VHS and my older sister had it. If I get in a rut or don’t feel very good, from a technical animation perspective, I can watch that. But also from a feel good, big life themes and finding your place in life perspective… The expression of emotion and depth. It hit every point. The first movie that made me realize I wanted do this as a career was Slumdog Millionaire. 

Shut up that’s in my top five. 

That was my favorite movie until Moonlight came out. Slumdog Millionaire was directed by Danny Boyle which, I mean, whatever with that. But it was this kid in the hood, real ghetto slums with no protection. That story of true comeuppance makes a movie like Get Rich or Die Trying look like child’s play. I think that was a moment of, there are so many other voices that aren’t being heard. And having it be from the perspective of these kids growing up. And perfect usage of MIA music. Seeing that there is something outside my experience but is still so relatable. That movie blew my mind when I was younger. I wasn’t into live action like that, but it introduced me to this new side of film that challenged what I thought movies could be.

I feel like you are someone who is not afraid to work with women. Where does that come from? I shouldn’t have to ask that, but the way masculinity works... 

I get it! My father passed away when I was very young. I was predominantly raised by my mother, sister, and grandma. I was very influenced by the women in my life and have always been surrounded by that. I feel my work reflects that. I saw Ready Player One and did not like it. And you can put that in, I don’t care. I am so tired of this white boy protagonist. I am very tired of this “he’s an average white boy but he kinda gets lucky and saves the world!” I think it’s boring. Growing up, a lot of shows and movies that I was drawn to were a little bit more emotional and featured female characters. Like watching Rugrats and remembering how amazing Suzie Carmichael is. She is the only character that can top Angelica! I always want my work to have a certain emotion to it. And I feel that Black women have this vibe to them that I just don’t see anywhere else. And I don’t want to be weird about that, but it’s true. There has never been a Black woman that has created an animated television show. There have been two or three black men but no black women. And I think that is a crime and a shame. I recognize the privilege of being a cis male. I am aware I have privileges, and if I were to tell things on my own it would come off as generic. I want more women artist and animators. 

My upbringing has just made me more comfortable talking and working with women.  I can get a much better product, as opposed to working with someone that is exactly like me. And I want to give that opportunity for creative space. Especially in animation where it is such a collaborative process. Filmmaking in general. A white producer will be more likely to take a chance on me than someone else. I just want all my friends to have the platform to tell their stories. That’s it. I’m fine. Having more people in your corner that you trust and work well with is super important. 

Thinking about the “starving tortured artist” thing. You haven’t had the easiest life. Tell me more about how you got to this point. 

The idea that you have to be a tortured soul to create good work... I sometimes wonder if the concept of “starving artist” is not supposed to be taken literally. Like, when you’re starting out you can’t create what you want right away. Having this starving need to create. You have to ask yourself what are you doing it for. 

I am a pretty big believer that if you are a good person and talk to the universe and let it materialize and work towards your goals, it can happen. I believe we live in a very carmatic universe in that people do get their comeuppance. So, a lot of getting here has been meticulous planning, a little bit of luck and really wanting it and identifying what it takes to get there. When I was a kid before I was introduced to the world of athletics, I would spend a lot of time making and animating things on my own. And making things with the kids on my street. They weren’t the people that wanted to be an artist or animators or in filmmaking. But if I worked with my friends and people I’m comfortable with, it could help me develop my voice more and figure out what I’m trying to do. And a lot of it has been working and doing my homework on the industry and how things are. I know a lot of people who are musicians and up and coming and what if I do a cartoon music video for them. And these are things that have gotten me in Saint Heron and Worldstar [Hip-hop]. And part of it is doing it so I can pay my bills and I need to work. But I want to do it on my own terms so I can still be fulfilled. And work with great people with good creative synergy. A lot of calculated risks. But you kind of have to. You have to know how to take the right risks. If I had to bet that I would have to move to LA without a real job, just freelancing kind of loosely, I was comfortable with that. If I could just get to that point and meet people I could build my business from there. 

Is there one specific point in your life’s journey where you thought “oh this is too much”? 

Towards graduation. The last month of school. Track was over and I was done running and I had no prospects. It was a moment of like, “oh shit I spent ten years running track and that didn’t turn into anything. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I wasn’t going to the Olympics. It was a means to an end for college. But, I spent so much time on that, and I couldn’t spend as much time on animation that I probably could have. What do I do from here? I’ve always been comfortable reflecting and taking what I’ve gone through and applying that to the future. Situations I could potentially be in. It was taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing you’ve been through a lot but know things kind of always work out. It won’t be perfect but it will resolve itself. The only thing that is a constant is you as a person. If I continue to be myself and focus on the art and with the intention I have, it will work out. 

Last question. And this is something I ask everyone. It’s tough, so take your time. What does liberation look like for you? And this can be liberation in your life or artistically. For me, liberation is life without fear. 

Mine isn’t too far off. I think a lot of it is everyone has the biggest chance to become the biggest at whatever it is they want to do. Religion, creed, sex none of it should matter. Living in a world where there is so much art and different voices that a person can not be afraid to tell their story or be their truest self. Ideally, if I found a 22-year-old fresh out of college creative, and she had a script, and I had the ability to tell her “hey, take this grant and make this.” It’s no longer a high calculated risk. Opportunities abound. Saying you want to become an artist is no longer this far out unfathomable thing.  Liberation looks like a world where they don’t have to question themselves. They can just do whatever they want to do. 

You can check out Chaz’s work at his website chazbottoms.com on Instagram or Twitter.

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Interview: Kississippi / 'Sunset Blush' Out Today

VIOLET FOULK

VIOLET FOULK


by Violet Foulk

Last week, I took a walk around Boston on a rainy afternoon with Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi. We chatted about her new record Sunset Blush (out today), how the tour with Dashboard Confessional has been going, and the transition from her lo-fi dream rock EP We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed (2015) to the pop influences on the new record.

We planned on finding a quiet place near the venue to chat, but on my way over, Zoe texted me to ask if I minded taking a walk to Guitar Center with her for a new cable. On the way over, we got to know each other a bit, bonded over mutual band obsessions we had in high school, and took some photos.

Later, after we returned to the venue and the band took a few minutes to soundcheck, Zoe and I sat down in the greenroom to chat. I asked why she waited three years after her second EP to release the new record and she explained, “We got really caught up with touring. And it was this endeavor that I took on by myself - I was writing everything on my own.” Although Kississippi’s touring roster has five members, including Zoe, the writing process is all her own. “I just went in and really took my time with it to make sure it was right. I think if I didn’t take all the time I did, I probably wouldn’t be as happy with it as I am,” she reflected.

VIOLET FOULK

VIOLET FOULK

During this time, Zoe’s vision for the project changed. “I’m definitely venturing out a little more this time,” she explained, “I wanted people to be able to dance at shows, and I wanted to have the most fun I can while playing onstage. I realized I wanted to be making pop songs.”

The first track from the record, “Easier To Love,” was released in March alongside the album announcement, it’s a synthpop gem that displays this transition in sound perfectly. Zoe recorded the original demo in GarageBand, but took it to the studio and recorded an indie version with the band. “At that point in time, we weren’t really trying to do the pop thing yet. We finished it and realized it just didn’t sound right, so we ended up actually using a bunch of stems from the original GarageBand version,” she told me.

The track was written and the original demo recorded over the course of a few weeks, which helped her realize that she wanted to take her time with the whole record, to get it just right. I asked if it was written about a specific person or breakup, or if it was a general ode to the struggle of changing yourself for someone else. “It’s kind of about a specific person,” she replied. “Well, it’s not about this person, but about the way they made me feel. The song was written about figuring myself out and feeling kind of unloveable because of the way they treated me, but also about overcoming that feeling.”

Zoe told me the track she’s most excited about from Sunset Blush is “Mirror Kisser,” since “Easier To Love,” her initial favorite, was already out. “It’s our favorite song to play on this tour, and I wasn’t really expecting it to be, but it kinda shreds! That song was definitely the song that made me decide that this is the direction I wanted to take.”

“By the way, how does it feel to be on tour with Dashboard Confessional?” I asked. “Surreal. I’ve looked up to them for a very long time, and I grew up with their music so this is extremely exciting,” she said. Kississippi has been on the road with Beach Slang and Dashboard Confessional since early March and will continue through April. “Every night after the show, I’m still like, ‘Y’all, can you believe we just played a show with Dashboard Confessional?’” she said with a laugh. Landing a tour of this size is a huge accomplishment for a band with their first record on the way.

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I love a good tour story, so I asked if she had anything notable happen yet while on the road. She told me about the house they stayed in at SXSW a few weeks earlier. “Our friend, Jake from Counter Intuitive Records was nice enough to rent a house. It was us and a bunch of bands — Greet Death, Mover Shaker, Retirement Party, Prince Daddy & The Hyena, oldsoul, and California Cousins. There were like 35 people there, but it was actually not horrible,” she assured me. “It was just like this week-long, enormous slumber party. There was one night where the water went off for like an hour and everyone went into panic mode. It was awesome though, we were with so many friends and we made so many new friends. It was an amazing time.”

Kaylen, one of Kississippi’s touring members, chimed in from across the greenroom where she was painting her nails. “Also, today we stopped at a gas station in Stamford, Connecticut and Zoe was asleep in the back of the van. I went in to pay for the gas, and the attendant was like, ‘You look like a musician, are you in a band?’ Like he could definitely tell we slept in a van last night,” she laughed. “This man was like 65 - he went on to tell me about his favorite band, which was PVRIS. So we told him that the drummer from Dashboard Confessional who we’re touring with was in PVRIS, and he was like ‘Oh my goodness I love them!’ So, eventually I went back out to fill up the gas tank, and he came out a couple minutes later and asked to take a picture with us,” she said. “I’m so sad I missed this!” Zoe chimed in. Kaylen continued, “Like Zoe who is Kississippi wasn’t even there, she was asleep in the van. But we took the picture with him. He was the nicest man, it was so wholesome!”

Stream Kississippi’s new album, Sunset Blush below:


Remaining tour dates with Dashboard Confessional and Beach Slang:
Apr 06 – Grand Rapids, MI – 20 Monroe Live
Apr 07 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom
Apr 08 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada Theatre
Apr 09 – Denver, CO – The Summit Music Hall
Apr 13 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre
Apr 14 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
Apr 16 – Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades
Apr 17 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
Apr 18 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Apr 20 – Anaheim, CA – House of Blue
Apr 21 – Hollywood, CA – Hollywood Palladium


Sol Patches’ 'Garden City': An Audio Love Letter / 'GamesStop' Video Premiere


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I had the pleasure of interviewing Chicago-based artist Sol Patches (they/them) about their latest album Garden City, described as an audio love letter to Chicago. An audio love letter “written in music for trans people, we who dream and live to unlearn - creating in a field that denies our very existence.”

20 year old Patches is no stranger to political activism, nor a stranger to fusing elements of protest into their art. The fourteen-track LP, executively produced by Chaski (they/them), is selfless in its mission. It challenges the social structures forced upon black trans people. This is especially exemplified in the music video for the track ‘GamesStop’, featuring + and Ireon. The video pays homage to voguing and black queer dance.

After gaining some insight from Patches and Chaski, I was able to enjoy the album with an entirely new set of ears. I was excited to learn more about the diverse, dance-driven and lyrically dense project.


The project features a great number of people. What drives you to collaborate with other artists?
What drives me to collaborate with other artists, is that we are all we got. I do not believe solely in single authorship, and having being raised around grass-roots organizing, I’m aware of how many people go into making it possible for such political campaigns to take place. I don’t want to be a token, and I create spaces in sound that are sustainable and able to amplify the truth of those seeking nuances in a gendered world. 

The production on this project varies. From the uptempo 'Basketball', to the dance-feel of 'Rooftops', to the warped boom-bap of 'Heat War'. Who produced these instrumentals? What was the thought-process behind which beats were used?
I produced ‘Basketball’ and ‘Heat War’. When I lived on the westside of Chicago, footworking was always popping at my elementary school and I really wanted apply some of that flavor to basketball stories from my upbringing. ‘Heat War’ emerged post-election after a session with my friend in NYC who goes by the name Naked Family. We wanted to produce a song that reflected climate change, executive branch based politicians tweeting, and an ever-pending nuclear war. Eiigo Groove, my sibling, produced ‘Rooftops’ about 3 years ago and it was on my mind constantly. He really puts his heart into music and has drums out of this world. 

Lyrically, I hear themes of identity and protest. What is Garden City addressing and who is it's audience?
Lyrically, I would say Iientity appears in this project in a very subtle yet intentional way. Sonically, I wanted to mix the project in a way that was above all else, healthy for the ear. I wasn’t concerned with commercial standards. Garden City addresses the gaps in Chicago’s music scene with its LGBTQI+ artists and strives to outline how entangled in resistance my practice actually is within an often basic and cis/heteronormative mainstream Chicago music culture. It is a reminder to that scene that we are here, we have been here, and we’re not messing around.

Is this project Chicago-specific?
Garden City, though directly inspired from all that makes up Chicago, is more so specific to the traditions of power that occupy cities and effect lower income residents. This piece speaks to my many homes, and also the ways in which I am homeless.

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How did the GameStop music video come about?
Chaski and I worked on the video together. The visuals were largely compiled from Chaski's personal archive as well as video we've collected together. 

The music video displays the following concepts: "The rule of minimum quantity, rule of sufficient ideality, rule of lateral effects, rule of perfect certainty, rule of common truth, rule of optimal specification." What do these rules mean to you?
If I were to describe directly what Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish,” rules mean to me we would be talking forever...and I would love that! These rules as it applies to this video, I feel, gives us a critical lens on interpreting how state violence disciplines those along the spectrum of blackness with the mask of a food and liquor store with no community-based grocery options available.

CHASKI - This piece draws on Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’ to discuss systemic rituals of racialized punishment and consider the political anatomy of black bodies being subjected to state violence through imagery of voguing, popping and postmodern movement practices. The rules are almost like mini-intermissions, or choreo-political queries/ruling out a binary notion of power to acknowledge a whole field of contestation. We engaged with a lot of afro-futurist and as well as afro-pessimists in the making of this piece.

The soul is the effect and instrument of political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

Traditionally, media is supposed to mirror the society it displays. Of course, there is a huge lack of representation for non-binary and trans people in TV and movies. Do you think this is something that will change in our lifetime?
Chaski quotes Foucault a lot, and one quote I remember them saying is “Visibility is a trap”. Representation in itself is not enough - a lack. It’s going to take a lot more than auctioning bodies off to be cast, it is important that the oppressed are in positions to cultivate creative sustainable spaces. We are experiencing more elevated trans, non binary, genderqueer folks - but there could always be more. That representation is not void of it’s own violences in terms of who receives platform and whose voices are not welcomed into these discussions. I’m sure certain such things will continue to happen on a larger scale. The true question is how do we keep the integrity of non-cis people who have died and been killed waiting for that moment in their lives?

I was very gravitated towards the hook of 'Sims'. "How much does it take to feel your skin?/how much can you taste within yourself?/strawberries in your palms, the blood runs deep..." What is the story behind that song?
My co-producer Chaski and I were talking about how the state configures people’s lives throughout space and time as if it was simulation. The idea of a simulated reality emerged from my conversations with my guardian and mentor Ricardo Gamboa who is from Chicago and lived in NY. Gamboa argues, “that a gun backed by a badge is a form of terrorisms, and is very much so automated in a reality on parallel with US Military drone strikes”. Chaski and I were also listening to a lot of Philip Glass during this time, and I started to play around with an arpeggio on my synth. Strawberries represent blood in this song, and in a lot of ways an ode to Strawberry Fields Forever and my never-ending obsession with the concept of Sims [the video game] in my mind. 

What is the sample at the end of 'Magic Isn't Real'?
During the ending of Magic Isn’t Real, we decided to include an interview from Nina Simone to ground the abstract lyrics. 

How did this project, or it's process, differ from 'As2Water Hurricanes'?
This project differs from As2Water Hurricanes in that it focuses heavily on sound frequencies, attempts to verbalize the music of politics, while rhythmically and melodically paying homage to queer musicians. 

What are your influences?
My biggest influences would be.. Sylvester, Nina Simone, Ricardo Gamboa, D-Sisive, Octavia St. Laurent, and Noname. 

How old are you? When did you begin making music?
I just made 20 years old in October. I was 11 years old when I started pursuing rapping seriously. I started off recording at this spot home to many Chicago artists, Classick Studios, and learned as much as I could in order to engineer music myself. My little brother Eiigo was a big part of my journey with production. He’s always been my teacher. 

What can we expect from Sol Patches?
You can expect more visuals, spring time collaborative projects (duo tape with Chaski) and summertime tunes


PREMIERE: SOL PATCHES' 'GAMESSTOP' (FEAT +, IREON)


Sol Patches | Garden City

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Listen: A New Beginning With *1996*

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

by Scout Kelly

The worst part about making art is wanting to make art. A recent track release by the hot, young band *1996*, a flourishing project by Midwest-based artist Nicholas Ryan Abel, details the anxiety of performance not just as an artist but as a human-person. The track opens with an interview with the artist, who you later realize is both the speaker and the subject. It’s transparent and funny, a look into the pressure one feels when creating and the self-deprecating fear that what you have yet to make is somehow already a failure, even before existing. The second half of the track is a harrowing, dark song that still retains a certain prettiness. It sounds like an episode of the twilight zone, but with glitter.

You can listen to past releases of *1996* on their Bandcamp. Don't miss their performance at the Hooligan Mag Four Year Art Collective. Tickets are available online till February 14th and then available at the door.

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

PLAYLIST: I Have A Crush On Life and There Isn't Shit You Can Do About It


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by Scout Kelly

2017 was a tough year for a lot of us. It was a year that I, personally, spent in rumination and at times, panic. I spent much of that time alone (save for a few good souls). I listened to a lot of music that fed that time of my life. You know what I mean - I was on that sad shit. It was what I needed; depression aside, I had tangible issues that I really had to work through. I had to take time to do that work.

But, uh, do you ever feel like you’ve been healing forever and you want a break? Like maybe you want to climb onto a rooftop and yell from the bottom of your belly in a good way?  Or you want to roll down the windows and sing something dumb, like, Alanis Morissette (not dumb, very good). Or, maybe you want to jump into a crowd at a show and let go of everything for a few minutes?

Sometimes I have this feeling when I listen to a great song, it’s like an overwhelming desire to kiss the entire world, to ball myself up and shoot myself out of a cannon and throw confetti over everyone!

I needed my mojo back in 2018. I don’t just mean my queer mojo, I don’t mean romantic energy, I mean I needed my capacity for shameless, exuberant joy. I needed to dance and punch the air again, or else I was going to lose my mind. I needed to remember how to have a crush on being alive. I get very, very, very down. Often. So, when deep, hearty joy comes along- I have to remember to be indulgent with this feeling of gratitude for being RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

When I think about all of the powers-that-be who might like to see me in my depression cave, with ugly anxiety, believing horrible and hopeless things… I want to celebrate my joy all the more. This year, I’m going to fight harder and dance harder and love in a way that is very uncool. I’m not here to be aloof; I’m going to be the most loof… ;)

So, I did what I always do - I started making a playlist!

I started collecting “crush songs” and asking my friends about songs that make them feel shameless, crushy joy! And I got some amazing responses. I made a Spotify playlist of my top crush songs and added lots of suggestions from friends. Please enjoy! Make your own and tell us which songs are your crush songs! I know that things are tough, and the world seems too heavy and too ugly. It really is, but it’s my sincerest hope that joy comes for you as well. I hope you punch the air. I hope you kiss someone.


SCOUT'S CRUSH PLAYLIST*:
(Spotify player below!)

Kiss Me- Sixpence None The Richer  (the obvious alpha and omega of crush songs)
New Feeling- Emily Yacina  (that airy crush in bright morning sun when you're on a walk)
SGL - Now, Now  (windows are down, you are singing, you might as well be James Dean)
Shut Up Kiss Me - Angel Olsen (you are feeling bravado and melodrama and it's delicious)
D'You Have A Car?- SWMRS  (you want to go and you want to go FAST)
Closer- Tegan and Sara  (you are shamelessly charmed by the idea of someone)
Summertime Mama- Becca Mancari  (summertime crushin', y'all)
What's It Gonna Be- Shura  (you are being honest and it feels good)
Nineteen- Tegan and Sara  (young love)
Why Can't I? - Liz Phair  (happiness came for you out of NOWHERE)
Archie, Marry Me- Alvvays  (you are pulling off a risky romantic gesture)
Cherry Garcia- Dingus. (You are crowd surfing and screaming along)
200 Miles- Caves  (long distance isn't that scary when you're happy)
Get Bummed Out- Remember Sports  (the sweet, anxious feeling)
Blessings (1 and 2) - Chance The Rapper  (gratitude and a lil sprinkle of hope)
Gigantic - Pixies (a good bass line and a big, big love)
I Want To Know Your Plans - Say Anything (nothing has to be perfect to be good)
Wetsuit - The Vaccines  (to never let the teen heart die)
Last To Sleep - Fazerdaze  (it's in slow motion and you're the star of the music video)
Novella Ella Ella Eh- Chumped (run fast and get it all out)
You're Still The One- Shania Twain (just let me have this, okay?)
Unattainable- Little Joy (you're walking and it's raining a little and you are smiling)
One Of These Days - Bedouine (You are charming and it's true)
Everywhere - Michelle Branch (everyone please cover this song)
There She Goes - Sixpence None The Richer (COME ON)
Fever - Carly Rae Jepsen (you are riding your bike and singing out loud)
Get Up Get On Down (tonite) - Turbo Fruits (you are in sunglasses; u look gr8)
Hot 97 Summer Jam- Chumped (I would wait for you all summer long)
Chasing Worriers  (you go get that kiss; this guitar sounds perfect)
My Body Is Made Of Crushed Little Stars - Mitski (your head is full of glitter and you are holding your friend's shirt at the collar and you're yelling along with each other)
Cut To The Feeling - Carly Rae Jepsen (huge crush and you just found out it's mutual)
Power-Ups - Sammus (You are unstoppable)

*under construction for the rest of my life


Hooligan's Favorite Albums of 2017

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With the help of some guest writers and Hooligan staff, we've compiled a list of albums that have influenced and inspired us in the last year. We value the sanctity of music and recognize that creating anything requires hard work and dedication. For us, this is not a list of the best albums, but rather the ones that have had the most impact on us. 


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SPLIT LIP - The Love-Inns
by Cody Corrall

The debut album from The Love-Inns is a stand out collection of eccentric songs that bring radical inclusivity back into punk. The track list tackles issues of consent, misogyny and shitty punk boys underscored by dynamic instrumentation and poignant lyricism that breathes new life into the genre. Where SPLIT LIP really shines is in their slower, more emotional tracks like the albums finale: “Summer Leaves.” The Love-Inns weave together exciting and ready to mosh punk jams with tender and heartfelt musical poetry masterfully. This first project is setting up a bright future for The Love-Inns and their quest to call out and change the toxic punk culture.

Favorite lyrics: “Don’t fight for my honor / cause my honor fights back.

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The 1st - Willow
by Cody Corrall

The sophomore album from Willow Smith is her most mature and dynamic project yet. The album is weird and ephemeral: with equal parts 2000s R&B and early Björk influences. Willow uses vocal sampling and intricate instrumentation to her advantage, creating a sound that is uniquely hers. Willow’s vocal range and power are unmatched, and it shines throughout this record. The standout of this album is Willow’s poetic lyricism. Still a young woman, Willow embraces the irrational emotions she experiences and doesn’t shy away from them. These seemingly teenage emotions often carry over into adulthood, and they get stronger as they are accompanied by each individual element in the project, making it an incredibly introspective and raw project.

Favorite lyrics: “Being in love is like suffocating / And I am drowning inside my own fakeness.


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Melodrama - Lorde
by Rosie Accola

Lorde’s sweeping sophomore album effortlessly defied the so-called curse of the “sophomore slump.” Melodrama is as epic as the name suggests, a multi-layered meditation on healing, heartbreak, and what it means to slowly cross the threshold into adulthood. Each track soars in its own right. “Supercut” uses ‘80s power-chords throughout the bridge. Lorde channels her inner Kate bush in the scathing, “Writer in the Dark,” and many a millennial wedding will be soundtracked to the swoon-worthy “The Louvre -- with its shimmering guitars and steadfast belief in a love worthy of being displayed alongside “The Mona Lisa.”

Favorite lyrics: “blow all my friendships / to sit in hell with you.

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Turn Out the Lights - Julien Baker
by Rosie Accola

I first heard Julien play this records title track back in January, unaware that it would serve as an entry point into her sophomore album. The frankness surrounding how terrifying loneliness can be, coupled with Baker’s soaring voice as she belted out the last chorus sent me into a sobbing frenzy which alarmed a nearby rock dad.

This album is a significant departure from Baker’s 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle. Though thematically similar, still dealing with themes of navigating mental illness and grappling for connection in this strange world. However the production techniques used throughout Turn out the Lights, are complex and pushed further than Baker’s debut album. In addition to guitar and vocals, Baker incorporates piano, violin, and a completely instrumental first track showcasing her prowess not only as a producer, but as a curator similar to that of a visual artist.

Turn out the Lights is a breath-taking album which fearlessly articulates struggles with mental illness, and even the drudgery of wellness. The album’s lead single, “Appointments” struck me not only because of the crystalline opening chords, but because I was also tired of having to work so hard to remember to go to therapy. It’s one of those feelings that I never thought I would hear about in a song, and I’m grateful for it.

Favorite lyrics: “When is it too many times / to tell you that I think of you every night?


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Collection - Soccer Mommy
by Francesca of Macseal

I stumbled upon Soccer Mommy opening up for Jay Som at the Sinclair in Boston and it was honestly the best surprise of 2017. Accompanied by memorable melodies, singer-songwriter Sophie Allison’s honest, comforting colloquial lyrics on Collection make drawing parallels between personal experiences inevitable. It’s obvious that Sophie willingly wore her heart on her sleeve while writing these songs with hooks like, “I don’t want a hollow smile / I want all that’s on your face / and I don’t only want to love you / I want something that I can’t replace” that suckerpunch your heart throughout the record.

Favorite lyrics: “You made your love like a forest fire / I wanted someone to keep me warm / you learn the difference after a while / I’m sick of living in the eye of the storm / I want the feeling of being admired / You only taught me to be out worn / This ain’t the love that I had desired / I’m sick of living in your eyes.

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After Laughter - Paramore
by Francesca of Macseal

Nine years before After Laughter was released, almost to the exact day, my dad took me to my first Paramore show. That night, I decided Paramore was my favorite band and nearly a decade later, they still are. In a way that is only fitting, the release of After Laughter coincided with my college graduation day. While I should have been anxiously anticipating getting my diploma, all I could think about was dissecting Zac Farro’s off-balanced drum part in the verses of “Told You So.” The unique rhythmic presence Zac brings to the record binds each track together cohesively to form After Laughter.

Sonically this record takes a departure from the band's prior releases in a way that highlights Hayley, Taylor, and Zac’s individual musicality and growth. While this growth is apparent, hidden amongst the captivating lyrics of acoustic ballad “26”, Hayley references 2009 single, “Brick By Boring Brick” and says, “After all / wasn’t I the one who said to keep your feet on the ground?” Throughout the record these subtle moments come in nostalgic waves that add layers of depth and emotion to each track.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, After Laughter is truly an effortless marriage of unforgettable melodic lines and painstakingly relatable lyrics that will leave you wanting to dance through the tears.

Favorite lyrics: “I'd hate to let you down so I'll let the waters rise / And drown my dull reflection in the naive expectation in your eyes


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A Crow Looked at Me - Mount Eerie
by Scout Kelly

This is the best record I’ve ever heard. Could I please leave it at that? When I first listened to it, I thought I could never listen to another album again. Mount Eerie is the musical project of Phil Elverum; this record is a tribute to his wife, Geneviève Castrée, also a musician, who passed away last year after a battle with cancer. They became new parents only a few months after her diagnosis in 2015. Phil writes about life after your love has gone, the experience of seeing a loved one go through chemo, and about raising their child alone. The grief inside of this album is undiluted and terrifying, and it is my deepest hope that it provided even the smallest amount of comfort to create. If anything, I believe in the god-like power of both love and grief each time I listen to this album.

Favorite lyrics from A Crow Looked At Me come from the opening lines of the album: “Death is real / Someone’s there and then they’re not / and it’s not for singing about / it’s not for making into art

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Seed - Looming
by Scout Kelly

Looming gives me exactly what I want from a band, so thanks to them for that (S/O). Their sophomore album Seed is every bit as striking as their first and more. Lyrically, it’s a bit darker, I think. The album swoons between heavier musical tendencies and softer sounds, like the drum machine driven soft-pop sound of the track “waves.” I can’t listen to this album without moving; it’s one of the first albums I put on when I’m biking around my city.

Favorite lyric on this album is the refrain on the track Queen: “I’m not happy / but I’m less miserable

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Good Woman - Becca Mancari
by Scout Kelly

ARE YOU A SOUTHERN QUEER? DOES THE STEEL PEDAL MAKE YOU SWOON? If yes, then Good Woman is literally for you. This album is one of my favorite releases of this year for so many reasons. Becca Mancari and her band built this album with so much heart and it shows. Musically, it’s objectively gorgeous and catchy as hell. It contains heartbreak, hope, and so much joy. Becca is a queer, Nashville musician HANDING you love songs about dancing with your partner in the kitchen. Please listen and buy the hell out of this beautiful album. After you do that, dance with your partner in your kitchen and have some hope for this world.

Favorite lyrics come from the chorus of Summertime Mamma:
Summertime Mamma, breaking me down / wearing that dress, girl / I’ve seen you around / Summertime Mamma, throwing me around / hot like the stones on the Tennessee ground


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Everybody Works - Jay Som
by Rivka Yeker

I think I first heard “The Bus Song” on one of my Discover Weekly playlists on Spotify. It’s moments like these that make me trust Spotify in gifting me music I’d actually like. Jay Som is a band that is on the same pathway of bedroom pop influenced lo-fi rock, a genreless genre that continues to defy expectations of music and throws you in for a loop the minute you think it’s going to be something it’s not. Everybody Works is a poetic and dreamy album filled with intimate moments of personal reflection intertwined with observations of the world at large. If you like pop, rock, some funky synths, and sort of heartbreaking lyricism, you must listen to this.

Favorite lyrics “One More Time, Please”
I can't wait to find rest / won't you just give me piece of mind?

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Hiss Spun - Chelsea Wolfe
by Rivka Yeker

I saw Chelsea Wolfe perform for the first time this year and it gutted me, just like this album did. Slightly more heavy and distorted, Hiss Spun is a bold, mystical, and all encompassing journey of what seems like an otherworldly seance. It is spooky and dark like the rest of their records, but there is something focused more on the technicalities of the music itself in this particular album. The guitars are loud and align with her voice, allowing for the album to sound like a consistent vibrating hallway of doom. If you wish you could like black metal, but want something more “beautiful” yet still on the same level of haunting, you gotta listen to this.

Favorite lyrics for “Scrape”
My body fights itself inside / I feel it bow, this mortal hold

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A Black Mile to the Surface - Manchester Orchestra
by Rivka Yeker

Sometimes I am still shocked that I have it in me to continue to support and love a band for as many years as I have Manchester Orchestra. They continue to impress me with each record they put out, reminding me that they know what it takes to put out a good, solid, cohesive album filled with everything that, I think, matters in a record. Andy Hull manages to write consistently striking lyrics that always hold layers and layers of immaculate storytelling. A Black Mile to the Surface sounds like it is one continuous song, making it seem like one long-winded beautiful book. Each song a new chapter, each word a new revelation, each chorus a moral. I could cry thinking about how much this band has inspired me as both a writer and as a lover. If you like all the sad songs in the world, singer-songwriters who like to play with full bands, and powerful alternative rock, you have to listen to this.

Favorite lyrics from “The Grocery”
"I want to reach above the paradox where nobody can see / Want to hold a light to paradigm and strip it to its feet / I want to feel the way your father felt, was it easy for belief? / I want to know if there's a higher love he saw that I can't see"

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Peace, Fam - Mykele Deville
by Rivka Yeker

Mykele put out a record that is lively and ambitious. It is filled with personal anecdotes, his own truths, and the kind of storytelling that leaves you feeling ready to start a revolution, leaving the album to be uplifting and optimistic. It is political, but only because Mykele raps about injustice on such a personal level, on such a real and raw reflection of the city he loves. It is a Chicago anthem, one filled with both a call to action and an invitation to celebrate Black youth and their resilience. 

Favorite lyrics from "Peace, Fam" 

"Take pride in some radical self care / treat your friends like you treat yourself / love their smile never lovin their wealth  / if you're wrapped up tight let your soul unwind, / know first change takes place in the mind"

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Soft Sounds from Another Planet - Japanese Breakfast
by Rivka Yeker

This album encapsulates the sort of dreaminess attached to heartache, grief, and moving forward. It is almost as if listening to it in full is like being in a trance, one filtered with melodic electro-pop and gut-punching lyrics. I have learned so much by listening to it, learned from front-person Michelle Zauner’s words on how to grow, become fuller, and more in touch with yourself. It is a gift when a record can teach you something as valuable as self-reflection & the ability to begin learning how to love again.

Favorite lyrics from "This House"
"Well I’m not the one I was then / My life was folded up in half / I guess I owe it to the timing of companions / I survived the year at all"

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Every Country's Sun - Mogwai
by Rivka Yeker

I got my co-worker hooked on this record when he asked me to play something slightly more optimistic (I’m sure we’ve all been there). This new Mogwai record is filled with pop hooks that encapsulate their atmospheric and powerful sound. They’ve been one of my favorite post-rock bands since the beginning of my post-rock phase (that I don’t think will ever end). It is inspiring and uplifting and an incredible addition to Mogwai’s already perfect track record of what I think is an unbeatable discography.


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If Blue Could Be Happiness - Florist
by Nicholas Ryan Abel of *1996*

This album is speaking in a hushed voice, a friend laying on a bed and saying to another friend “right now it’s Sunday night and there will be a Monday morning and I don’t know if that’s good or bad or anything but the sun is coming and that is a truth that we cannot fight.”  This album says, “I’m in a lot of fucking pain but I’m trying and I promise I won’t yell.” This album is a conversation where maybe nothing new is understood but you feel better just for talking it out.

Favorite lyrics, both from “Red Bird” 
And the sunrise always came / And it sometimes made you happy
I understand the birds now that I’ve learned some things / Yeah, I think


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Feel Your Feelings Fool! - The Regrettes
by Georgia Hampton

I go between being in slack-jawed awe and insanely jealous of The Regrettes, a band comprised of four teens from Los Angeles that packs a bigger punch than a good number of established bands on the scene today. Combining the musical stylings of girl groups from the 60’s with the anger of female voices of punk, The Regrettes rip through misperceptions of femininity, overblown male ego, and flakey friendships with searing clarity. I haven’t stopped listening to this album since my friend told me about it early this year, and it continues to serve as my go-to when I need to remind myself that I’m an unequivocal badass. I only wish I could have shown this album and this band to my 15 year-old self, she sure as hell needed it too.

Favorite lyric from the song "Seashore" 
Well my words are growing stronger / and my legs keep getting longer / I’m like nobody else / so you just go fuck yourself

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Survival Pop - Worriers
by Georgia Hampton

Worriers incredible third album Survival Pop blasted through my earbuds like a bullet through a window. In each song, lead singer Lauren Denitzio calls out to their listeners with this desperate determination to keep going, even if it hurts, even if you’re crying, especially if you’re crying. And I think we can all agree that in the dumpster fire that 2017 has been and continues to be, it’s very apt that this album came out this year. I’ve turned to this album when I was afraid of confrontation, when I’ve doubted my strength, and Survival Pop has continued to deliver. None of the songs make any promises that everything will work out, but it reminds you that you can fight. That you should fight. Listening to this album feels like the reassuring hand of your best friend squeezing your own, and knowing that after you do whatever you have to do that scares you, at least she will still be there.

Favorite song on the album: My 85th Rodeo
Favorite lyric: “Smile at the worst of things / laugh when I hate everything


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Safely Nobody's - Tall Friend
by Lora Mathis

Before diving into my love for this album, I must name my bias towards it. Front-person Charlie Pfaff is one of my closest friends. However, while this does make the album increasingly special to me, the comfort I find in it is not simply a product of our relationship. An intimate world is spun on Safely Nobody’s; one of goodbyes, childhood aching, and growing pains. The opening track includes a voicemail from Charlie’s mother and the album’s poetic lyrics paint delicate, detailed scenes. In them, childhood memories are unfurled and deep longings for belonging are sifted through. This album speaks directly to the lonely child in me.

There are so many beautiful lyrics to choose from but I hold these extra close: "I’m harvesting my worry / ‘Cause it’s something that just grows and grows and grows"

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A Place I'll Always Go - Palehound
by Lora Mathis

This album brought me through the month of June. I listened to it while walking through the sweaty streets of Philly, deep in my own healing process. Front-person Ellen Kempner’s breathy voice is paired with catchy riffs and lyrics centering queer healing and love. It begins with a romantic connection that is souring, and eventually melts into falling for someone new after having your heartbroken. However, this is not simply an album dealing with romantic love. It dives into death, familial relations, and shedding your youthful self. I love A Place I’ll Always Go for the healing space it creates amidst its hooking melodies.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “If You Met Her,” a look into how life continues amongst grief: "When the dust clears / Where’s my body?"


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HEAVN - Jamila Woods
by Keisa Reynolds

Jamila Woods’ HEAVN is how I got through 2017. It feels like a love letter to the Black girls and women holdin’ it down in Chicago and across the globe. Woods uplifts those who fought for Black liberation in “Blk Girl Soldier” and reminds us how infrequently we hear those names. “Lonely” brings depression out in the light, illuminating the ways our minds can betray and bog us down. Along with Solange’s A Seat at the Table, this album should continue to play in your rotation. Every song will inspire you to keep amplifying marginalized voices, to keep fighting and hold your loved ones dear.

Favorite lyrics, from "Holy"
"Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me"


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Stick Around - Active Bird Community
by Kelley Sloot

There are only a handful of songs I’ve listened to where I can fully remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I heard it. QB Sneak- the first single I heard off of Stick Around, came out of my earphones while I was walking to class on a chilly afternoon. I fell in love, listened to their other tracks, and fell in love all over again. The album, released in January, successfully puts together a better ‘coming of age’ story in 23 minutes than most modern movies can do in two hours. Paired with powerful instrumentals, the lyrics touch on feelings of love, uncertainty, and insignificance; feelings that some of us know all too well.

There are days when I’m blasting "Dead Legs" while driving down the highway with all the windows open and there are other days when I’m listening to Home (and the rest of the album) on vinyl while sitting in bed. Either way, Stick Around has become a staple in my everyday listening habits and I’m looking forward to what the boys in Active Bird Community do next.


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Popular Manipulation - The Districts
by Genevieve Kane

I don’t know about you, but 2017 has been the year of the tear for me. That’s right. I have been doing a lot of crying this year, which is why Popular Manipulations was my go to album. I would grab some tissues, put this bad boy on, and dissociate for 38 minutes. Popular Manipulations is The Districts third album, and definitely the most cry-worthy. Each song is chalked full of raw and intense emotion. The album is poetic, sincere, and downright touching. The opening song, “If Before I Wake,” immediately sets the tone of the entire album and possesses a reverberant power that renders me captive by its sound. After experiencing all 11 songs of the album, I feel completely renewed.

Favorite lyric from the song “Fat Kiddo” on the album:
Backlit we all see the sky / Skinny branches veining out / Blue afternoon


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Stranger in the Alps - Phoebe Bridgers
by Rosie Accola, Francesca of Macseal, and xxxtine of Allston Pudding

“Motion Sickness” (xxxtine)
There’s something unfortunately powerful about negative experiences. They have a way of grasping you tightly and sending you on a whirlwind. Phoebe Bridgers’ “Motion Sickness” takes this idea quite literally comparing being in love with someone downright mean to you to getting sick in a jumbling car. The song is outward catharsis, throwing those honest emotions for the world to see even from the first set of lines like “I hate you for what you did / And I miss you like a little kid.” Even if there is anger and sadness, it’s better than feeling nothing at all right?

When I first heard this song, I immediately had to restart it again with the lyrics in front of me. It took everything I felt from a previous relationship and sent me straight back to that feeling. This time I had a sense of distance. The motion sickness can’t get a hold of me any longer. There’s no need to roll the windows down.

“Demi Moore” (Rosie)
This song embodies the three things that keep me going in life:
- Somehow being able to emulate a combination of spooky, forlorn, and sexy
- ‘00s film references
- Small moments of tenderness wherein people admit that they need human connection.

“Scott Street” (Rosie)
I first heard “Scott Street” as an unreleased demo in the depths of Youtube. I was struck the casual, honest, nature of the lyrics. Songs usually detail the dissolution of romantic partnerships, but this idea that everyday relationships can dissolve too is rarely touched upon, especially within the uncertain landscape of one’s twenties.

“Killer” (Francesca)
“Killer” is one of those songs you spend an entire day listening to in attempt to process the entirety of its lyrical beauty. In fact, I did for multiple days and still can’t fathom how Phoebe wrote this song. Lines like, “I hope you kiss my rotten head and pull the plug / know that I’ve burned every playlist / and given all my love” and “I am sick of the chase / but I’m stupid in love / and there’s nothing I can do / and there’s nothing I can do” push my heart into my throat in relief that someone else was able to articulate my own emotions so accurately.


Songwriting, Astrology, and DIY: A Conversation With Told Slant's Felix Walworth


via  Bandcamp

By Gabrielle Diekhoff

There are innumerable nameless bands out there who can prick a tear or two from listeners’ eyes. The recipe for musically-induced water-works is a simple one – slap some classically sad-boy “come back and drink coffee with me in the rain, my sweet ex-girlfriend” lyrics atop abysmal chord progressions, and voila, you have a certified bummer-of-a-song that’s universally vague enough to result in some salt-soaked faces. (In other words, we have all cried to Bon Iver at some point in our lives, whether we want to admit it or not). But, there are those kinds of digestibly depressing jams, and then there are those which, in stark contrast, repeatedly punch you in the gut, rip your heart out with their fist, proceed to stomp on it, and leave it to wither like a raisin the sun. Told Slant is one of those rare bands that falls into the latter category – a category which, all jests aside, is a realm that revels in its sheer poetic vulnerability, and thus, is worth cherishing.

So far, the Brooklyn-based bedroom punk band has released two full-length LPs: Still Water in 2012, and Going By, which was released almost exactly a year ago in June 2016. Quite frankly, both have managed to ruin my life (in the best possible way, of course) with their stunningly radical honesty. The band’s frontperson and drummer, Felix Walworth (who uses gender neutral pronouns), manages to pave paths which permit access to the seemingly inaccessible facets of human emotion. I’m sure that, until I stumbled upon their Bandcamp, I had never encountered such deeply personal, romantic lyricism, simultaneously tinged with an unthreatening urgency, a yearning unfulfilled, a loss and a rawness that listeners would be forced to experience alongside Walworth. To me, the project was flawless. So much so, in fact, that after attending their sophomore album release show in Brooklyn last summer, I impulsively decided to tattoo their album artwork onto my body using a push-pin and some ink courtesy of a local craft store. I was hooked.

Fortunately for me, Walworth’s recent tour-dates with Hello Shark and Anna McClellan included a stop in Madison, Wisconsin, where they would play a harrowing solo set to a room full of teary-eyed listeners – including myself – sitting cross-legged on the floor of a co-op. Before the show, Walworth and I grabbed some coffee and perched ourselves near the lakeshore for what turned out to be more of a free-flowing conversation than a formal interview. Check out the conversation, which covers topics ranging from shitty piano lessons, astrology, and Blink-182, to the concept of safe spaces and the commodification of queer culture, below.


How long have you been on tour this go-round?

This is the 7th day – we left this past Monday. It’s a very short tour though. It’s an 11-day tour, very tame. I’m being nice to myself this time.


And this is a solo tour, right? Can you talk about the differences between being behind your drum kit and performing with a full band vs. being on stage with only a guitar?

There’s a huge difference in the feel of it and what’s possible to convey. It’s the same songs, regardless of the arrangement, and the words stay the same, so to a certain extent the content and the message remain the same. But, playing solo feels a lot more nerve-wracking and vulnerable. There’s no one to really hide behind, whereas there’s a veneer to the live band. First of all, when I’m with the band, I can trust the songs are going to sound [more or less] the same each night. I’m playing an instrument I’m more comfortable with, with a steadier sound system in venues that are well-equipped. So, that allows for shows to be more emphasized on performance, which I really like, and I think other people tend to like it [more]. But solo has a different, special quality to me. I can’t hide. It’s the way that the songs were originally written – performed in their barest state, where the focus is almost entirely on the lyrics, which is mostly what I emphasize in the songwriting process in the first place, or what I labor over most. So, sometimes it can feel like the full band is a really intentional, well-curated iteration of my music, but sometimes it can also feel like bells and whistles. It’s nice to be able to perform these things with no frills, knowing that even without excitement and energy that these songs still have meaning. And, maybe you can hone in on the somberness of them, more so, if you’re in a solo set. Also, whenever I play solo, no one talks, which is pretty amazing.

The main difference to me feels like, one of intimacy vs. polished-ness. The people who really appreciate the songs for what they are and what they have to say might actually prefer the solo sets, whereas the people who like guitars and, I don’t know, being a punk, prefer the full band. Not to disparage the full band – I like them both – but I feel like I always have to justify the solo sets.  


How did you start making music?

I took piano lessons when I was really young … I suppose that’s important information? But I’m pretty awful at piano to this day. Because I was instructed in it, I have this relationship to the instrument as work, like obligation, which didn’t feel particularly creative to me. So, you know, I would learn classical pieces and standard songs, and I wouldn’t write. I was also remarkably bad at sight-reading. I never had a knack for that, so a lot of what I would do at piano lessons was ear-training stuff. You know, sort of developing a sense of melody, chords, and a more abstract side to music, which I definitely do find applicable to what I do now.

I do think of myself as untrained, despite that early instruction. I picked up guitar by myself, picked up drums by myself – that was all self-taught. I guess I owe a bit of that to these piano lessons, in some way, but not in a classical sense … if that makes sense.
 

Yeah, I totally get that. I took violin lessons for 13 years and sight-reading was a total shitshow for me, too. I liked the violin at first, but after a while it just felt like a job, and I hated it, so I finally called it quits.

Yeah, I took piano lessons till I was in 9th grade, maybe? I forget when I started, but I was entering the time in my life when I was like, “I don’t wanna play piano, I wanna drink 40s and smoke blunts in the park…like, I have bad shit to do. I don’t wanna be a pianist, that shit is for nerds.” [laughs] But now you look back and like, how sick would it be if you could shred the violin and I could read music? I would be really employable. Another true story of 40s and blunts and stuff like that, leading us to make bad decisions. [laughs]
 

Can you tell me a little bit about The Epoch? I don’t know if this is still a project, or if it disbanded, because I’ve heard different things … but how did you get involved in that?

No, it’s not still a thing. It’s sort of, well, it’s a bit of an unclear thing from the get-go. I grew up with a lot of the people that I still collaborate with. We were all making music together in high school, and we had shitty rock bands that we would play in together, but we also had individual song-writing projects and we grew up sharing our songs with each other and critiquing each other. And, ya know, we were showing up for each other not only to encourage each other to make stronger work, but also just to be friends. We were all around the same age, and most of us went to different colleges when we were 18. So, the Epoch began as a way of keeping in touch and maintaining that feel of community and connectedness even though we were living in different cities. So, we were like, we’re still these really similarly-minded songwriters, but we no longer play all of these shows together. It was more of a promise, if that makes sense. Then, from there, we all ended up moving back to Brooklyn [4 years later], and it was just this umbrella collective-thing. We were like, our projects are all related, people ought to know this.

I thought first and foremost that it served as a good model for people, especially people in other cities where collectivity is more important or rarer than it is in New York. It was a way to say, hey, you can very easily get together and make art together and be supportive, all you really need are a couple of friends and the will to do it. We would get funny messages where people would be like, “How do I join the Epoch?” And it wasn’t like that. There was no joining or not – it wasn’t a label, it was just like, we’ve been doing this thing together and have formed a bond in this way. So, if that’s a useful model for you, you can do something similar. I guess the other thing that was sort of unique about it was it was that it was just a small handful of bands, but also a small handful of people. Everyone was rotating around a primary songwriter. So, having a model where everyone came together to fully articulate one songwriter’s vision was a really cool idea. The arrangement there was that, sure, you may be taking a backseat on this project, but you know that the person you’re backing up is also going to take a backseat in your project when you need them. So, yeah. I think it served as a non-hierarchical organizational model, which I liked.

But, as a result of it being this sort of vague entity that was more or less just friends who did this thing together, it didn’t really survive conflict and bad communication.  I don’t really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I think that when it started to become this thing that resembled more of a brand than anything else, and there became power and social capital attached to it. It became this unwieldy machine that made people feel hurt or excluded, which was the opposite of its intention. So, you know, it became this thing that was like, “how is this even functioning anymore, is this doing any good? Or is this just making it harder to communicate with each other?” So, we were just like, “let’s not.” If that makes sense.
 

Told Slant’s sound is so unique. I’ve spent so much time scouring the internet for similar-sounding bands, but aside from other musicians you work with (Bellows, Small Wonder, etc.), it’s super difficult. From where do you draw inspiration?

A lot of it comes from people I’ve been collaborating with forever. Like, Oliver is someone in particular. I feel like our styles have bounced off of one another a lot, over the years.
 

Yeah, I dig Bellows too.

Oliver is…an amazing songwriter. I think he has definitely taught me how to take more risks. I don’t know if he knows he has taught me to take more risks, but sometimes I feel like Bellows is a riskier project, in a lot of ways. He does a lot of strange things that, you know, a lot of songwriters would be afraid to do, but he really succeeds. And I think that’s really pushed me to try different ideas out, rather than playing it safer. But, in terms of other people, Lincoln from Hello Shark has been a huge inspiration. And another band that has been super formative for me is Attic Abasement. Mike’s songwriting is incredible.

Also, I used to write more “traditional” folky music, and it was a bit wordier, in that sort of Kimya Dawson/Jeffery Lewis vein, when I was in high school. There were a lot of fast chords. I’m hesitant to call it folk punk, because I never really felt like a folk punk. But, hearing songwriters who allowed their songs to take up a lot more space and who approach writing lyrics with heaviness that felt emotionally risky – that was pretty formative for me, too. You know like, Phil Elverum, or Joanna Newsom when she drops an intimate lyric bomb on you. Artists like that showed me that there was space outside of cleverness or wordplay or craft. It sort of ceased to be about rhyming or meter. I don’t know, I think just used to try to be a little bit more clever, and now I’m more interested in…. [pause]
 

Vulnerability?

Yeah! Vulnerability is a good way to put it. Also just like, trying to find secret paths to feelings that we have and don’t exactly know how to describe well.


Sounds like an Aquarius thing of you to say.

[laughs] You know what I mean, though? It’s so easy to fall into cliché or to say something like, “I miss you,” for example. “I miss you” is this huge thing as a songwriter. Probably 25 percent of songs in existence are trying to say, “I miss you.” And, I think usually, “I miss you” doesn’t cut it. You can’t really just say it. I mean, Blink-182 did it [laughs]. But like, how do you get at that feeling of longing or sadness in relation to a person, like a lacking feeling, without treading where so many people have already tread? I think I’m interested in things like that.


I mean, you do that well. One of the first things about Told Slant that caught my attention were the lyrics. Especially when it comes to ideas of identity and self-expression, you manage to articulate the feelings associated with that so successfully – a lot of your songs just hit the nail on the head. I know that, as a listener, I lean on them. I use them to feel and express things that I don’t exactly know how to, otherwise, like gender identity, sexuality, etc.

Sure.


Do you rely on your own songwriting for that kind of thing? Do you use it as a tool for self-expression?  

I don’t know… that’s an interesting question and a question I hear from people a lot. Like, this relationship between writing and self-therapy, almost. You know what I mean? Like, “is songwriting helping you?” And I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if I rely on songwriting to articulate things to myself; I think I rely more on other people’s songwriting for that, honestly. My songwriting isn’t necessarily revelatory for me. It’s satisfying. There’s that moment when you’re like …. [pause] OK, is it tacky if I use one of my own lyrics as an example? Or my relationship to writing a lyric, recently?


No! Go for it. I’m here for this.

Ok, so I wrote this song recently as a collaborative project with my friend James, who makes beats under the name JCW. I sort of just wanted to write a sappy love song, which I don’t usually do. I feel like most of my songs trudge through something, but with this one I was in a place where I was like, “this is appropriate right now,” and I wanted to write something that was going to shine a little bit of light in a more blatant way. You know, I was trying to convey this feeling of like – you know when you’re hanging out with someone, and you have these really strong, exciting feelings for them, but you haven’t really established them? Like, you haven’t kissed or anything or you haven’t said “I like you” or anything so you’re just like, “unnghhhhh.” It’s like one of the sweetest, nicest feelings but it’s also very difficult to articulate. Like, how do you convey that giddiness without saying something stupid like “giddiness.” I would never say that in a song. And, no one would care if I did because it wouldn’t be an interesting way of saying that. But I ended up on this lyric, which was “I want the space between us on the couch to be the loudest thing on earth, to be so heavy that it hurts.” Do you know what I mean when I say that?


Yeah, I do. It just melted my heart a little bit.

[laughs] Thanks. But, I mean, this is why I feel tacky, because I’m using my own lyric, feeling as I’ve succeeded, but in that moment I was like, I found this secret access point to this feeling through this smaller image. I was able to say so much more than I could have by being more poetic than that, or something. Getting at the biggest possible feeling through the smallest possible description just makes me feel really good. I think it’s much more impactful to sneak up on people.


Right, more memorable, too. Though I guess you can lump those together.

Yeah. I’m hesitant to say ‘relatable,’ because I feel like relatability has to do with that, and a lot of good songwriting needs to leave space for the audience to write onto it, and to be in it. But, it’s a different kind of relatability. It’s not this instant recognition of like, “Oh, that’s me.” I prefer to use specific details about my life, or sort of mundane feelings or images that are too specific on their own to be relatable, but in the context of the song or the melody, can trigger a feeling or something. It’s difficult to talk about.


So, as an artist in the DIY community, how important is it to you that your shows are a safe space? Are there ways in which you try to ensure that they are safe?

That is really important to me. But, it’s also such a difficult thing to create. I’m not sure I believe that I can say that my shows ought to be a safe space, or are. I would never claim that. I don’t think it’s responsible to claim that because I think that anyone has the capacity to do harm. I don’t really believe in safe people. I’d like to believe that there are certain ways or directions that my songwriting would steer a listener toward that preclude certain behavior or discourages it, or encourages other ways of interacting with each other that are outside of harm, manipulation, and all of the things that, you know, we try to have alternative communities to combat ….  But there are people who interpret my music in ways that are out of my control, too.  I’ve had people at my shows where I can tell that they relate to certain songs in ways that I never meant them to, and ways that make me feel like the space isn’t safe – particularly songs that can be read as more bitter or aggressive. When certain people respond to certain songs – well, let me use a specific example. Do you know the song “Ohio Snow Falls?”
 

Yeah!

I feel like that song can be read as a sort of, “fuck you.” And, I think that can be useful sometimes, like, “fuck you” doesn’t necessarily mean that “I’m going to cause you harm,” but I just get a little uncomfortable.  It’s happened a few times – when like, a cis dude in the audience requests the song, or I’m playing the song and he responds to it in this really physical way. The song has a distorted guitar in it, and it’s a bit heavier, and I feel like I have to be responsible for the fact that I could writing a song for him to hate his girlfriend to or something, you know? Obviously, that’s not the song that I wrote, but at the same time, it’s his to take and do something bad with. So, when that’s happening at a show, I don’t know whether or not I can call it a safe space, exactly. The way that I’ve chosen to respond to that is reading the room, gauging the way I feel that people are responding to my music, and planning sets that won’t allow that kind of energy to be present. I’ve had to deny that song to people before because I’m like, “I don’t trust you and this song isn’t for you.”
 

For sure. I was at the Going By release show at Shea Stadium last summer, and that was, for a lot of reasons, so beautiful, and it really did feel like a comfortable space. But when I saw y’all later at the Bowery Ballroom show [with The Hotelier], there was a totally different vibe due to all of the cis white men in the room who were taking up so much space. I wasn’t able to be as present during your set because of the people who were around me.

Yeah, and I feel like I can confidently say that if I’m curating a show, that the space won’t have that kind of energy in it. But, you know, sometimes those guys will show up to a show that I’m headlining and, luckily, crucially, that’s a small demographic of people who listen to my music because it’s not written for them. Like, aside from the distorted guitars and the occasional “woe is me” lyric, there’s not a lot for them to relate to [laughs]. So, that’s good. I think that’s a victory. But to circle back and answer the question as it was asked, I believe in doing everything that is possible that you know how to do to create a culture of good communication and responsibility to one another in our spaces. But, I don’t believe that purity [of that] exists anywhere.
 

What are your thoughts on the notion that queer bands are “selling out” and commodifying their queerness?

Well, I want to tread lightly, because I want to assume that most people are not trying to sell queer identity. And, I don’t think that queer identity has much transactional value – except for when it does, which is strange and corrupted. I mean, as soon as capital is attached to anything, you’re going to get people who are trying to cash in. I think about this quite a bit because of the way in which my music is framed. Like, sometimes Told Slant is a queer band, sometimes it’s just a band; neither of those things make me uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t want to be “THE queer band,” you know?  

Usually in mainstream markets, queer art is still undervalued, and queer voices are underrepresented. Especially queer people whose identities are even further out on the margins, they’re even less able to turn those perspectives into actual material support from markets. But then, there are certain ways in which queer identities are tokenized in those markets and given some kind of value as commodity. The notion that there aren’t a lot of queer bands or that there is a scarcity of queer art is simply untrue. There’s this idea that there can only ever be one, that there’s one group that’s called upon to represent an array of lived experiences. That model, which is definitely a capitalist model, is responsible for disappointment. Like, what are you to do when a mainstream market, or the music industry, is only willing to give a voice to one queer perspective? And then you as the listener find the perspective doesn’t line up much [or at all] with your lived experience? Where are you supposed to turn? So, in the name of representing queerness, I think capitalism is super limiting, or provides this really limited feel. Then there’s the question of like, who is responsible for that commodification? Is it an industry? Or is it the artists involved in that? Or both at the same time? If the industry wants to tokenize a certain brand of queer identity, and an artist fills that certain narrative for media, I’m not sure that… Well, actually I don’t think assigning blame is the solution. It’s just kind of sad situation in general. That’s the process of commodification.
 

I know from personal experience that your music can be majorly impactful and meaningful, especially to members of the queer community. Do you have a lot of fans telling you how much your art means to them? If so, how do you react in these instances?

I get quite a few people who have come up to me and told me that the music I make, and specifically the words that I write, have helped them through a lot of confusing relationships that they have had with gender, sexuality, and other things. And I don’t know, I never feel like – and I think this is a good thing – I don’t feel like people look to my music as representative of THE queer experience. There’s a difference between finding a queer voice that speaks to you, and looking for some kind of all-encompassing map for how to live. People don’t ask me for advice or things, really. People don’t really come to me with their problems, though that’s happened a few times …  I mean, OK, there’s a fair share of people who will lay it all out there for me, and I try to be helpful where I can, though those expectations aren’t always realistic. Like, a lot of what I’m writing is about confusion and uncertainty, it’s not coming from a place of having things figured out. I don’t record with an understanding of myself or my relationship with other people, I just like talking about them, if that makes sense?
 

Yeah, I think so. So do you ever feel like you’re put on a pedestal?

I don’t really think I’m put in an uncomfortable spotlight with regards to the things I’m trying to talk about with my music. I’m not trying to speak for anyone. I think people understand that. I’m not saying that my lyrics don’t coincidentally speak to others’ experiences, but I’m not really on a pedestal. And that’s good. I think there are a lot of dangerous things that can happen when you’re put on that pedestal and you don’t reckon with the responsibility that comes with being on it.

If/when I have a relationship to certain artist’s lyrics, and I feel like this person truly understands me or something, like they’ve lived my experiences and their words can serve as a map for me, a lot of those times I don’t have access to those people as people. They just exist as voices in headphones. But I’m like, fairly easy to hunt down if you want to find me, and I’m open to talking to people. So, sometimes people do talk to me when I’ve been able to reach them artistically, and I think people might expect me to know how to comfort them. Like, if someone is going through something really rough, and if they have a connection with my songwriting, then they think that talking to me is going to help, which is weird. I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, maybe it could be sometimes. I get some weird stuff though. Sometimes people will tell me deeply personal things that I shouldn’t know, and that I end up carrying with me, and they’re extra heavy … And it’s hard. But, I also understand why people do that, I guess. If people have a relationship to the artist’s words, I understand why they would reach out. Sometimes it’s like I just know a lot about a lot of people who do not know me at all. People know a very specific part of me, a part of me that is put through so many filters and curatorial processes, and somehow there’s trust. And I don’t know why. That’s dangerous – really dangerous. And it has something to do with cults of personality around people who have any level of publicness with their art. People project things onto celebrities, but they also project them onto DIY musicians. People think they can trust DIY musicians because they feel like they can trust the art. I think it’s strange that anyone would trust me because of my art. I just see a projection of certain ideas onto people because of the art that they make, or the ways they exist in the public sphere, which are so curated and performative.  I see it with so many artists where there is potential to cause real harm.
 

Totally. This has been a major point in the whole P*R B**M debacle.

Right. I’m feeling very cynical these days. I think it’s a very cynical time in DIY Hell. I’m just feeling like, I don’t trust people to not project unrealistic things onto artists, and I don’t trust artists to keep those narratives in check. I’m kind of a nihilist at this point, but I’m still holding on to some hope that things will get better.



You can keep up with Told Slant here and stream both Still Water and Going By on Spotify.


INTERVIEW: Kamikaze Girls' "Seafoam" and The Healing Power of Punk


COURTESY OF KAMIKAZE GIRLS

COURTESY OF KAMIKAZE GIRLS


By Rosie Accola

Kamikaze Girls’ first full-length record, Seafoam, is aptly named it crashes into the listener, a direct confrontation of feedback and lead singer/ guitarist Lucinda Livingstone’s powerfully raw vocals. This is a record that demands to be heard, Livingstone’s lyrics address societal and personal perceptions of mental health, without so much as a flinch.

Hooligan was lucky enough to catch up with Lucinda over email to talk about the new record, her zine “Ladyfuzz,” the healing power of punk, and pedal-boards.
 

I hear a lot of riot grrrl in your new record, and you reference Robert Smith at one point in “Seafoam”, who are some musicians that inspire you? What were some of your main inspirations for this record?
A couple of big ones for us are The Cure and Sonic Youth. We both really enjoy both bands, as their discography is so varied and they reinvent themselves each album. Both bands are very experimental, yet remain melodic and catchy in their own ways and that's what we take from each. Early Riot Grrrl like Bikini Kill, Sleeper, and L7 is also a big influence, as well as a lot of grunge and Brit pop. I think for me personally, this time around I was hammering the new Touche Amore record, plus revisiting Dirty by Sonic Youth.

How do you think you grew as musicians between the release of “Sad” and your full-length record?
I think the main thing we did was tour and play a bunch. We didn't practice once in 2016 I don't think, we just toured. Everything became muscle memory, and I don't regard myself as a great guitarist or a good vocalist by any stretch. So, from touring I got a whole lot better at playing guitar and singing. I can't really say I've become great, but I have definitely improved in those areas. I think Conor got super tight as a drummer as well. I suppose we'd like to think that when we both got back in the studio and into writing we were both more accomplished musicians. I know one of the things I felt is that I wanted to get out my own head a little more with lyrics. Everything I write is super personal, and although I don't see that changing as it's my writing style, I feel more socially aware and a little braver talking about things that are affecting our generation and our music scene.

Since your zine is called “Lady Fuzz,” would you do me the honor of walking me through your pedalboard set up?
Honour? More like misfortune! I won't go into it too in depth as it'll take up the whole page, but here's my current chain:  Fulltone Drive 2, Blues Driver, EHX Pog 2, Boss Super Chorus, Boss DD7 Delay, Strymon Blue Sky Reverb, Boss RE20, EHX Freeze, EHX Switch Blade (A/B Splitter). This is pretty much identical give or take to what was used on Seafoam. My set up for SAD was a little more modest, haha.

Tell me about “Lady Fuzz.” What’s your favorite thing about making zines?
I like showcasing all my friends work, and that's what “Ladyfuzz" is. I round up creative friends for each issue and ask them to contribute, be it art, illustration, photography, music. I also interview a lot of my friends in bands, which has made for some really great features in previous issues and I see a different side of them. The next best thing is going to pick it up from the printers and praying that I've not made a million mistakes — and that even if I have, it still looks great aha.

How did you discover zines?  Do you have a favorite zine?
I can't really remember how I discovered them to be honest. I remember all the old Riot Grrrl zines from the ‘80s but I never actually owned any of them, I just enjoyed reading about them. I think as I started to get more into Riot Grrrl music and look deeper into feminism and the culture of non-males in punk, I discovered more and more people making zines. As an illustrator and musician, I think a zine fuses these two things together perfectly, so it was a chance for me to have a project based on the two things I love.

One of the tracks on the record is called “Teenage Feelings,” how do you think ideas of teen angst and just being saturated with emotion translate into your twenties and life beyond being a teen?
The song itself is about struggling with sexuality and being confused, and that confusion taking you back to square one — like when you had your first crush. I was in a situation last year when this happened, and caught myself thinking, “My god, how is this happening to me again?” I think, in a way, when you get new feelings about something or someone you almost revert back to the first time that happened and act in the same way. So, for me at the time I had a lot of angst, and confusion and shyness that I didn't expect. I don't think that's a bad thing though.

I love that you wrote a song about cat-calling and feeling unsafe at bars, because that’s such a common experience and people are reluctant to talk about it. Do you find that music helps you process instances of misogyny and sexism?  
“KG Go To The Pub” is a big “fuck you” to every predator out there that's caused a survivor harm or discomfort in any way. The song is to get that anger out. For every time you've wanted to shout something back, to call someone out, or just express that you're hurt by someone’s actions. I think music can help. I think going to a show and getting out your anger and sadness can heal you. We feel things, often very deeply, and sometimes we need an outlet for closure.

You write a lot about your own mental health, and in “Deathcap” you refer to yourself as, “one of those nervous millennials,” how do you think attitudes towards mental health have changed over time?
I think it's becoming less taboo, but I also feel that it's often glamourized in the media. I don't think there's a right answer for how increase awareness for a younger generation without making it either sound stigmatic or beautiful. The truth is that a lot of people suffer with mental health and they deserve the help people that suffer with physical health receive. I think people need to see the reasons why someone might suffer with depression, anxiety, or PTSD so they can understand if they are suffering themselves. I was diagnosed with depression when I was a teenager, and I didn't understand the symptoms or why the Doctor told me that. I just took the pills they gave me and did what I was told. There was no educational piece around it, and my school was just more worried about me passing my exams and not getting pregnant than how my brain was behaving at the time. I really hope they start to bring more mental health education into schools. It's important.

Do you find music and writing to be healing forces?
Yes, completely. Music was my thing growing up and it stayed with me. I was the kid that walked around all day with my headphones in, or put my headphones up my sleeve in class so I could listen to my favourite C.D. instead of paying attention to science or something. If I didn't have headphones, I used to sing my way through albums in my head. That sounds weird now that I think of it, but everything I did revolved around music.  The second I got a guitar and started trying to write songs, I knew it had a healing power for me. I don't think it makes a difference what age I am, or if I'm in a band or not, the art of writing songs will always be therapeutic for me.

What part of this record are you the most proud of?
That’s a tough question— probably the vocals on “KG Pub” and “Sad Forever.” I did them both in one take in the middle of the night on the last day in the studio. Bob, Conor and myself were stressed. It didn't seem like we were going to finish the record, we'd run out of time, and Bob had people coming in to track another record straight after us. We were all at the end of our tethers, and I did them both in one take. I came back into the control room and they were both beaming at me. I think the emotion and anger in both those songs really affected me that night, and I don't know if it will come across on the record, but I was physically shaking after I'd done the vocals on those two.

You can stream Seafoam on Spotify today. You can snag a copy of “Ladyfuzz” here.


INTERVIEW: Kate Flynn of The Winter Passing On Growing, Creating, Mental Health Awareness, and "Double Exposure"


COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY / SEAN CAHILL

COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY / SEAN CAHILL

Following the release of Double Exposure, online editor Rosie Accola sat down with The Winter Passing's Kate Flynn to discuss the creative process and transition from the bands 2015 release A Different Space of Mind, collaborative writing, musical inspirations, and more. Check out the Q&A below and also read Rosie's review of Double Exposure here.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.): How has your sound grown between your first and second record? What did you learn while making your first record that has helped you the most as musicians?
Our sound has grown a lot since A Different Space of Mind. We did a lot of touring after we released ADSOM, so from that alone we became a tighter and more confident band live. That helped a lot when the time came to write and record Double Exposure. Also we are a couple of years older with different life experiences and different mindsets so I feel that comes into play in the music we wrote for Double Exposure.

Personally, what's changed for me since recording ADSOM is that I feel more confident about myself as a musician. When we recorded ADSOM, it was my first time in a real recording studio which was a big learning curve for me. I wasn't all that sure of myself as a musician and it all felt very new.  I was more involved during the writing period for our new record and that really helped when it came to recording it. I felt more sure of myself and a little more confident when we were recording Double Exposure. We all got a little bit more wondrous on what we could do with these songs—individually and collaboratively—so we are extremely proud of what we've created with this EP.
 

H.M.: What’s your favorite part of the music scene in Ireland? How does it differ from other music scenes throughout Europe and the U.S.?
Ireland's music scene has always been really transformative and truly inspiring to the music we write and the people we are. It's a very special scene to be apart of and one I'm very proud to be apart of. There's so many different music scenes active in all the capital cities around Ireland across so many different genres of music. I was introduced to the hardcore punk scene by my brother when I was about 15 years old. My first ever local show was a day show called Life & Death Fest in Dublin. There was about 20 hardcore bands from Ireland and the UK playing in a small and very warm room in a venue called The Tap. I had never been to a DIY/hardcore punk show before so I remember being completely inspired by it. It was the sort of feeling that left me counting down the days in school until my next trip to Dublin to a local show.

I guess how it differs from Europe and the US is that the Irish music scene is small, especially in the DIY spectrum. Everyone knows each other and supports each other. Chances are if you're in a band in the Dublin scene, you're probably in like ten other bands too! In comparison to Europe or American punk scenes, the shows and community in those areas are much bigger, more spread out and divided also into smaller sub genres within punk music. But for the most part, shows still feel like shows to me everywhere I've been so far!
 

H.M.: What made you want to start playing music? What drives you to create?
Music for me was inherited. I grew up in a musical house, my dad has always loved country music and always encouraged my brother and I to play from a young age. Our parents would send us to music lessons and we would perform music pretty much every day! My real love has been and always will be singing. I've been singing since I was extremely young. My dad brought me home a Britney Spears live in concert video tape and since the first watch of that I've been throwing my voice around.

My drive for creation is really a personal thing, I suppose. I find great satisfaction from performing music and writing music with TWP. It's a personal development sort of thing and that drives me to always surprise myself. I want to see how far I can go and what I can do next. To be honest, I'm laughing as I write this, but music has been the only thing I've ever put my hand to and stuck with. It sort of stuck with me too. We've been fortunate enough to experience some amazing opportunities over the past few years and I guess that also drives me to continue our musical journey! If you told 15 year old me that playing music was going to open doors such as traveling the East Coast of America in a van - that shy kid would have told you that you've probably got the wrong kid.
 

H.M.: Who are some of your favorite artists (musical or otherwise)?
Musically I've always been really inspired and in awe of artists like The Distillers, Jimmy Eat World, Björk, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bikini Kill, Patti Smith. Recently it's been artists such as Bleached, Julien Baker, Mitski and Frankie Cosmos and Cende. I also really loving reading. I'm slowly but surely getting through every Stephen King book there is. Reading "IT" is still one of my biggest achievements.
 

H.M.: The lyrical content of your latest E.P. deals with the daily struggles of living with anxiety, do you have any tips on how to deal with anxiety that you’ve found to be helpful?
Double Exposure is definitely a journey in the daily struggles of anxiety so thank you for getting that. Everyone is different and how I deal with my anxiety may be completely different to how another individual may deal with theirs and that's okay. The most important thing is to find the thing that you feel most comfortable with when dealing with feelings of anxiety.

First off, even though it's not the easiest thing or tip, talk to someone. Anyone! We live in a time where, thankfully, we talk about mental health. The more often we open dialogue about mental health, we break down the taboo and normalise mental health. Sometimes I write to my best friend and just explain this existential anxiety that I get and she just gets that and that's sick to have that communication.

For me, I like to write it out. I always have. I've been writing a journal since I was a kid. When I write something out, I feel like that's part of the journey for me when dealing and processing feelings I may be having. It doesn't mean the feeling goes away or is magically fixed but it starts the process of me dealing with thoughts, worries, etc. I like to take my feelings and make art from them. I used to hate when people said "exercise" when I said I wasn't feeling too great. Sometimes, the motivation to leave the house or exercise is just not there for me but what I will say, from the times I did muster the motivation, it does help. Even if it's a walk with your dog for a couple of minutes, exercise to a YouTube video on your living room floor, dancing to your favourite record or just sitting in fresh air.
 

H.M.: I read that the writing process for this record was particularly collaborative, can you describe it? Have you tried writing songs with other people before, or is writing more of a solitary practice for you?
The writing process has always been pretty collaborative when it comes to the TWP. Rob and Col work together on guitar music all the time, that's how we get the skeleton of the songs together and then the band come in at rehearsals and we collaborate to make the music come to life!

Lyrically with this EP, Rob and I both brought a lot to the table. We sat down, put lyrics together from each notebook to each song and that's why we called it Double Exposure, in the end. Most of the songs, in some sense, are two stories. I found that a really interesting aspect and concept of this record. That all being said, I have to write my lyrics alone and Rob writes his lyrical content alone also. Writing lyrics is cathartic for me. So I like to write alone before I even think of putting melodies to the words.
 

H.M.: Do you have a record that has helped you deal with anxiety? What do you think about music and its ability to explain mental health struggles?
I'm not sure if I have a stand out record that has helped me through anxiety because to be honest, a lot of records have and continue to help. I guess I could say Futures (Jimmy Eat World). Now, that's a record I always revisit when I need a helping hand from an old pal. It never gets old and every time I listen to it, it brings me back to a place that I like to go. Or sometimes I need to dance the sadman away, so in those times I put on some Blondie (or Beyoncé when I feel I need to exercise too) and I go wild.

In other cases, I need to cry. I've always really liked sad songs. Sometimes, I need to let the sadness sit with me, long enough for me to make sense of it and there are particular records that I have to listen to when I'm sad. A few being being Manchester Orchestra's Like A Virgin Losing A Child or Owen's No Good for No One Now.

I've always felt a real connection with a song that can make me cry. If a song makes me feel something so much that I cry, it's done it's job.

Whether it's writing music or listening to it, there is no doubt in the fact that music serves us in struggling with mental health and also explaining it. Sometimes it's just listening to a song and being able to resonate with it better than you could explain the anxiety, yourself. That's the thing about mental health struggles. Sometimes it's too hard to actually explain the feelings. Sometimes a song just does it for you and that's amazing. That's how I feel about the new Paramore record, actually. Every lyric had me literally saying "heck, that's literally how I feel”.

I feel like writing and playing music has helped me so much in terms of understanding my own anxiety but also understanding other people's struggles and that's important. When writing a song, it's like putting all your insides out. Playing that song is letting others see that we all look and feel the same. It's the greatest gift that keeps on giving.