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: A Conversation with Argentinian Pop Musician Tani

Interview + translations from Spanish to English by Anna White

photos by Maira Pinetta

photos by Maira Pinetta

Tani Wolff, aka Tani, writes pop songs condensed to their core—sweet and simple, like the sonic equivalent of a blush.

The first time I spoke with Tani about her music was in 2017—as we sat in the kitchen of the Buenos Aires apartment she shares with her parents, she spoke softly and with slight hesitation, eloquent but a little shy.

When I video chatted with Tani last week, there was a noticeable difference—it feels like she’s really come into her own.  This shift is tangible in her newest release, Mew (Discobaby Discos, Yolanda Discos)—the album still carries the “naïve and honest” pop sensibilities of Uturnis, but with an element of newfound confidence. Mew is Tani at her best—her repetitive lyrics and upbeat piano are playful, but there’s also an air of maturity in the album’s sleek production.

I spoke with Tani about the inspirations behind Mew and the difference between writing songs in Spanish and English.



You just released a new album, Mew, on November 16th—tell me about the new songs!

They’re songs that I wrote years ago, when I was in middle school. I never recorded them well, and I had the opportunity to, in a studio with a producer.


Why did you choose to record these songs in particular?

The record I released before is all songs I wrote in 2015, and I don’t have many other songs! I like these songs that I wrote a few years ago, and I thought that they were special to me, and it would be good to record them. And like I told you, I don’t write a lot of songs.

Why are these songs special to you?

Because they were the first songs I made, and they’re pretty songs; they were the first that I liked and thought other people might like. Before these I had songs that were more playful and a little ugly, but these I truly like. I played them for years alone in my room, and now I want them to leave my room a little.

Ah, truly bedroom pop! What were your inspirations for these songs?

The songs were inspired more or less by things that happened to me during middle school—conversations I had with people and romances, but because [they’re from so long ago] I think it’s a bit of an ironic point of view, taking myself out of the situation a little. For example, one of the songs says, “you’re not the love of my life, but you’re close,” and this is like a pop song, I’m not taking the things seriously. I think that’s what I’m trying to do in the record—I’m not thinking and thinking about everything.

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What was it like recording songs that you wrote so long ago—do you feel like the emotions are different now?

They changed a little, because before they were closer to me, what I was feeling in the moment, and now not as much. Though they’re not what I would write about right now, they’re still a part of me, and so I like to sing them. It’s different to sing them in public than in my room, like before.

Mew sounds very different from your first album, Uturnis—how do you feel like you’ve evolved as an artist on this album?

Now I’m working with other people, playing with a band, and I recorded the album with a lot of people, which didn’t happen with the other album. I grew musically by incorporating other people and being able to listen to and perform with other people, not doing it all myself like I used to feel like I had to. The other album, I didn’t ask anyone anything, and nobody helped me out. For me it was growing to let other people help.

Now that you’ve released Mew, what’s next?

I’m thinking of a third album; I’ve been making loops in my house and thinking of songs in Spanish.

Oh, wow! Do you prefer writing in English or Spanish?

I haven’t tried to write a lot in Spanish, so it’s easier for me in English. I still haven’t found my own voice in Spanish.

That’s interesting. It’s easier for you to write in English?

It’s more fluid in English. It’s because always, when I was little we watched the music channels on TV, and the music that was from here was a lot of rock nacional, which isn’t my style, so I started thinking that if I wanted to write music in Spanish it had to be like that, like how they sang. It’s a type of singing I don’t really like, so I listened to a lot of music in English, and started playing around, singing songs without language, in a made up language, or translating things to English, and through playing around like this I got used to it. I feel like I can be less playful in Spanish.

Do you think it’s getting easier to be playful with your writing in Spanish now that the music scene is growing and you can hear more music you like?

Yes, I think now there’s a lot of variety in Spanish music, and before there was just rock nacional. Now there’s more pop, like the Laptra Discos scene, Las Ligas Menores, Louta. They’re very different.

What do you think about the music scene in Argentina right now? It’s very separate from the U.S.

Yes—I think we listen to more music in English than people in the U.S. listen to music from Latin America. It would be good if it would start to mix more.


WHO TO SEE: Hooligan's Favorites at Audiotree Music Festival

Audiotree Music Festival is returning to Kalamazoo, Michigan
to showcase new and emerging artists, all curated by Audiotree Live.
Hooligan writers decided to highlight the artists we're most excited about.

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Khruangbin

 

Saturday / Main Stage
7:30 PM

By Colin Smith

Describing the three-piece instrumental outfit Khruangbin to a friend typically includes listing
several genres: soul, funk, psychedelic, surf, ‘60s Thai music, acid rock, jazz. Pick your favorite combination of the list and you’ll be describing at least one of their songs. The trio from Houston, Texas initially started in part by discovering a shared love for Afghan music and playing in a gospel band. That might alone is an indicator of their wide array of influences. What’s especially impressive about the band is how full they’ve crafted their sound with just three members. They are largely an “instrumental” band, to describe them reductively, but you’ll often forget to think about the fact there’s no singer.

You’ll Dig it If You Like:
Music that not defies genres through their shared love for music of all forms.
Because they are inspired by so much of the world’s music, they have something for everybody.


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Diet Cig

Saturday / Main Stage
5:00 PM 


By Caitlin Wolper

Diet Cig combines saccharine pop with substantive, revengeful lyrics like "I want to hold a seance / For every heart I've broken / Put them all in a room / And say 'Get over it.'" A whimsical duo, Diet Cig's Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman make music for people who know what it's like to be dainty and angry all at the same time. While their music slips into the indie pop category, there are punk inflections layered throughout, creating a familiarly DIY vibe. 

You’ll Dig It If You Like: Charly Bliss, Speedy Ortiz, and Palehound.


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Melkbelly

Saturday / Main Stage /
1:45 PM

By Anna White

Chicago-based Melkbelly is a noise-rock family band, composed of Miranda Winters, her husband Bart Winters, his brother Liam Winters, and close friend James Wentzel. Their 2017 full-length debut, “Nothing Valley”, is simultaneously sludgy and jagged, all angular guitar lines and dark fuzz. It’s sometimes hard to make out exactly what Miranda is sing-talking through the haze, but her delivery carries more than enough power on its own, careening from melodic to frenzied as she barks and whines over the calculated din. You’re going to want to be near the front for this one, and get ready to sweat.

You’ll dig this if you like: Sonic Youth, The Breeders, art school experimental punk 


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Common Holly

Sunday / Main Stage
12:00 PM

by Jessica Mindrum

It's not too often that I find an artist where after hearing just one song I know I'm in for it. But I was when I first heard Common Holly after her song "Lullaby" from her debut full-length "Playing House" popped up on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. One line in particular stayed with me: "So if you give me your bad words, I'll take them quietly/They show me your pain, not a reflection of me." That profound human insight is something Common Holly shows throughout her entire record, in concise lines that make the world around you feel that much clearer. Her writing is then paired with instrumentation that ultimately creates a melancholy that is heart-wrenching but so addicting. She opens up the festival on Sunday--don't miss her.

You'll dig if you like: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Half Waif, Lucy Dacus, Big Thief 


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Major Murphy

Sunday / Main Stage
12:50 PM

by Genevieve Kane

Major Murphy is a trio from Grand Rapids that just released their much anticipated debut album, No. 1. Major Murphy has accumulated a following since the drop of their first EP Future Release backin 2015. It was a year later when they melted our minds with the single Mary, released in 2017. Major Murphy once again claimed a spot in our hearts and Spotify libraries. Their lyrics are melancholy, yet the songs themselves are dreamy and upbeat. You can tell that Major Murphy took their time crafting the album, the result of which is a very beautiful and honest repertoire of songs that are painfully relatable.

You'll dig this if you like: Midwestern DIY bands, such as Deeper and Slow Pulp, that make music you can dance and cry to at the same time.


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Slow Mass

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
5:45 PM 

 
by Sara McCall
 
Pulling from so many post-genres, it’s difficult to place Slow Mass as specifically post-anything. With a sound that moves through moments of serious rage, math-y guitars, beautiful yet gritty harmonies from singers Mercedes Webb and Dave Collis, powerful and impressive drumming, and some dark energy it’d be difficult to not be incredibly wowed by Slow Mass. If you want a new favorite Chicago post-hardcore band DON’T MISS THIS SET.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Metz, Ovlov, or have rage in you at all.


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VV Lightbody

WIDR FM STAGE / Saturday
1:15 PM


Sometimes a musician comes along and you can feel their genius on every square inch of a record. Enter VV Lightbody, Chicago flautist and lyricist whose debut record Bathing Peach is so sharply composed and arranged it makes it one of the best releases from Chicago this summer.
VV Lightbody’s melodic lyrics sit atop a lush, vibe-y lounge-y sound producing a beautifully well done listening experience you’re gonna want to chill hard on. Don’t miss it.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Caroline Says, Cate Le Bon, Weyes Blood, or if you're just stoked on some flute.
 


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Lume

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
2:15 PM

By Rivka Yeker

Chicago-based, Michigan-born post-rock band Lume is a set you don't want to miss. All-consuming in both sound and presence, they will hit you with long, melodic, passionate songs, all of which are inspired by a sort of contained chaos that is impossible to pinpoint the exact feeling of which it is. They are a band that tells a story through song, be sure to take the time to check out this mid-day explosion of sound.