Forgoing the Palatable with Moonrise Nation

Imagine an aching heart, but the good kind. The kind that stings to remind you that you’re alive; one tinged by melancholy or nostalgia or gratitude. That’s what listening to the recently released single by Emma McCall, Arden Baldinger, and Eva Baldinger, collectively known as Moonrise Nation, feels like. Somehow simultaneously echoing and minimalistic, the trio’s lilting vocal lines, reverb-drenched harmonies, and swelling instrumentation on their new offering, “Demo Day,” presents an intriguing entry into the world of alternative folk.

With the new single and their first full-length album, Glamour Child on the immediate horizon, Moonrise Nation has a lot to be excited about and a lot to occupy their time. But they nevertheless sat down to answer some questions for us, revealing what it’s like to work with family, how they incorporate cello into their ensemble, and what inspires their creative processes.

I’m going to presume Eva and Arden are sisters. What’s it like working and creating music so closely with family? 

Arden Baldinger: Working and creating music with family is both wonderful and challenging at times: Challenging in the sense that it can be difficult to keep our sibling relationship separate from our business relationship.

Eva Baldinger: There’s a special connection experienced as siblings performing together that goes beyond the way our voices meld.  There have been times that we hear the same melody when workshopping a song, or are able to fill in the blanks for one another rapidly. It’s been a great journey for us thus far, and our personal relationship has grown as a result.

Having three vocalists isn’t the most common setup – do you use the three vocal lines to tell different stories in each of your songs?

AB: We try to embody three voices more in our songwriting than the singing itself. Since each of us writes, each person gives a different perspective on life experiences. That being said—

Emma McCall: Showcasing each voice is something we approach as a priority when we produce songs. Each of us has a unique vocal texture and performance style that impacts a song’s overall feel. This is especially represented in a song like “Demo Day” where each verse is divided between us and the chorus is in unison. We wanted to give the song a shared quality while simultaneously allowing each person to explore their own emotional delivery in the verses.

How do you work to incorporate the cello into a relatively traditional pop/rock ensemble?

AB: The incorporation of the cello tends to occur during the experimentation process we go through at the beginning of our collaboration.

EB: There have been a few times the cello is a foundational element of song, such as in the song Snow. The rest of the instrumentation formed around the cello line.

EM: Because the cello is such a vocal instrument, we try to let it shine by itself, keeping it clean and straightforward.

How do you all as a band write the instrumentation? How do you feel it conveys meaning or emotion to your songs?

AB: Emma writes primarily on the guitar, while Eva and I tend to write on the piano. I think that each instrument acts as an extension of each band member’s voice, so it adds a personal flair.

EB: We learned a lot about what it means to craft a song (top to bottom) throughout the course of recording this album. Working with our producer Stephen Shirk was a game changer. He taught us to only add musical lines and elements that were intentional. This helped keep us on track. It’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole when exploring different instrumentation.

Ultimately, certain notes or rhythms help accent the lyrics. For example, the way the drums, guitar and harmonies build throughout the course of Eye to Eye and then abruptly fall off after the last lyric is sung creates a space for brief reflection after this intense build. Instrumentation adds a third dimension to the music, and helps us guide the listener closer to the emotional space we were in when we wrote the song.

Where does the title of your album come from? The cover artwork is very striking, as is the artwork for your single “Demo Day.” What was the inspiration for those pieces and how do they tie in to your sound?

EM: The artwork for our singles, and the LP, were all painted by the Baldinger’s grandmother.

EB: Her work is very haunting, and oftentimes requires a second look. We felt our music paired well with it because while the first thing that draws a listener in may be the melody or harmonies, further listening helps you realize we are speaking about subjects that aren’t always palatable.

The title itself is a play on the notion that women especially are held to a very high standard, both in the industry and world at large. At times, people focus so much energy on their external impression, they fail to develop their core essence. Their “realness” is overlooked. When society places an uneven amount of value on aesthetic appeal, you are bound to have some emotionally stunted individuals (reference to child in the title).

There currently is a lot of pushback against the notion that beauty is one-dimensional. The woman in the painting embodies the traditional representation of “glamour,” yet the artwork surrounding her is coarse, with uneven lines and unintended pops of color. A bit more expressive and free than the perfectly done up model.

Emma, the lyrics for “Demo Day” are incredibly vivid. What inspired you to write the song? 

EM: “Demo Day” came out of the turmoil of a relationship that was very intense and left me very confused about relationships. In a lot of ways this song marks the moment I realized that sometimes relationships don’t work and it is out of your control. The song is very romantic but I wanted to also express the grief in learning some hard truths about being in love.

Where or whom do you draw inspiration from?

EB: All over the place. Our parents, especially our mothers. They are both very independent, outspoken women. And our fathers are incredibly supportive, and honest in their critique of our music. As far as artists, musicians such as Feist, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac come to mind. Beyond that, we draw inspiration from those around us. Not only our lives, but things people discuss with us, their experiences. That’s oftentimes where we find the most inspiration because through conversation, you find that many issues that at one point made you feel isolated allow you to connect with others more readily and on a deeper level.

How do you feel releasing your first full-length album? How is it different from releasing an EP?

EM: The amount of growth that took place in between these two releases is difficult to describe. The EP was a freshman effort and it means a lot to us. We look back at the EP fondly and reflect on a time when our sound was still taking shape. The LP looks very different than the EP in so far as we really feel as though this represents our sound as more diverse and dynamic than the EP. Working on the LP was a lot like boot camp. We worked with Stephen Shirk on this album and he pushed us to dig deeper than we knew we could. It was emotional... there were tears, arguments, grins, and congratulations. We are very excited to release this body of work.

What has your experience been, being an all-female-identifying band?

EM: As women, finding our footing in the music industry has been difficult. We are often confronted with the reality that this male-dominated industry relentlessly tries to objectify and glamorize women, rather than praise their performance and creativity. So our idea of Glamour Child is cheeky, in the sense that the content on the album isn’t about fame and vanity, but rather a vulnerable look at what it means to be three young women finding their way.

What’s up next for Moonrise Nation, after the release of your next album in the spring?

EB: The album will be coming out this summer. Throughout the spring we will be playing a host of shows in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Following the release, we are looking to head out West for a bit and then loop back through the Midwest and East Coast, as well as a bit of the South. The goal is to play as many shows as possible, and to spread our music in a more grassroots fashion.

What advice would you give to young artists looking to break into the music scene, whether at a local or national level?

AB: Take ownership of your product, be grateful to those who have helped along the way, and be gracious to everyone you meet (you never know who will be a good ally in the future!)

EM: Make the music that you and your friends like. Hone your talents in writing and playing so that you can better relate to people and don’t create something for the sake of pleasing someone else. Also… treat it like the beautiful undertaking that it is. Music takes time and patience, think about why it is you are making music and then try to use that to direct you.

Remedying Heartbreak with Damn Good Pop: Jarryd James & Broods at the Metro

By Jess Mayhew

I walk into the Metro, one of the musical Meccas of Chicago, for the first time. In the four or five years that I’ve been living in and around the city, I feel like Chicago is finally welcoming me into her center, but I’m too rushed to appreciate it. Spurred on into the venue by the sounds of an already-beginning show and dragging what feels like my consciousness and clarity of mind behind me, I am ushered into a space that feels like it balances on the precipice of being something sacred. Too big to be intimate, too small to become an overwhelming throng of bodies, the Metro greets me with the pounding drum pads and crooning voice of Jarryd James.

It’s been a tough day; engaging in an intense argument with a person who once occupied a large amount of anxiety-ridden space in my life will do that. And pushing myself into the crowd of people chatting amongst themselves, drinking, or already enthralled in the show, in preparation for a three-hour pop concert seems like the worst thing I could be doing for my state of mind.

Tuning in to the Australian’s intense pop songs, the drum and bass mixing together to provide a heart-rending, ear-splitting backdrop to James’ soaring falsetto, I find a heaviness in the music that mirrors the one I’ve been carrying inside of myself. But instead of feeling weighed down, or burdened, I feel anchored to the floor in a way I wasn’t expecting. I feel grounded. I hear whispered comparisons to Sam Smith from the concertgoers around me.

Looking at James’ face and stoic demeanor on stage, it’s easy to see that perhaps he’s not the most comfortable in front of a crowd of people. He seems to have turned inward, singing his intense and entrancing songs to himself while occasionally looking out at the audience for something — though what that is, I don’t know. Although he’s been in and out of the music industry for years now, there’s still something relatively green about him, something refreshing and earnest that makes the show feel more about his voice and music than anything performative he could do on stage.

About halfway through a considerably banter-less set, James quietly says, “I’m just going to keep singing my love songs until it’s time to go home.” As if on cue, Georgia Nott, lead singer of Broods, joins James on stage to perform their duet, “1000x,” to much excitement and applause from the audience. Their voices mingle together in a delightful way, his more soulful and subdued while hers takes on a strength indicative of her upcoming performance.

And, what a powerful performance it is. After James finishes a fantastic set, Nott and her brother Caleb take the stage. The overall run of the show feels as though it has a calculated emotional ebb and flow, starting off with the edgier, vivid “Conscious,” the closing song and namesake of the band’s most recent album.

When her brother’s harsh, buzzy synths double her vocals during the opener’s chorus, Georgia shouts the lyrics as if screaming into the void, as if she could not be heard enough: “Sweet paralyzation/No one here to keep me safe/Hyperventilation/I’m about to go insane.” Despite myself, despite my mood, I find myself getting goose bumps at the obvious rawness of the song and her emotions. She doesn’t care about sounding pretty, though she does; she doesn’t care about how she looks; all that matters in the context of this song is survival.

As Broods continues their performance, Nott’s voice modulates from powerful yells to soft, reedy whispers. All throughout, she moves her body across the stage, sometimes graceful, sometimes goofy, but never unsure or awkward. Nott commands and owns the stage, which has been turned into a honeycomb of hexagonal lights dousing the duo and their backing band in purples and blues and sometimes even, aptly, honey-yellow gold.

About halfway through the set, Caleb steps down from his platform, from which he has been orchestrating much of the instrumental content of the performance, to join his sister in an acoustic two-song interlude consisting of, “All of Your Glory” and “Taking You There.” After presenting the audience with their more emotionally intense and taxing songs, this brief, quiet intermission gives us all a little breathing room and provides a tactful lull in energy just before the upswing.

Bringing my own personal feelings of overwhelming heartbreak and negativity into the experience, I respect and appreciate Broods’ slow creep into their more upbeat, ecstatic work. It’s as if they spend the entire concert preparing you for the emotional climax, which begins at the joyous “Heartlines” and hits its peak at “We Had Everything” and “Full Blown Love.”

Though I might not have been prepared for a song as ecstatic and, well, loving as “Full Blown Love,” I find myself sold by Nott’s exuberant proclamations during the chorus, jumping up and down and pumping her hands to the sky as if to thank whatever deity for the love that inspired the song in the first place. I find myself loving along with her.

As the show comes to a close, the audience carries on their applause and shouts for a full minute before Broods takes the stage once more for an encore, performing “Four Walls,” “Bridges,” and “Couldn’t Believe.” By the final song, Nott is practically glowing, bright lights glinting off of her white outfit and providing an apt visual metaphor for the entirety of the performance: despite what emotions they were conjuring up, Broods always did so with a glowing conviction.

After the nearly three-hour show, despite having to walk back into the life I briefly left outside of the venue, I find myself with a slight smile on my face. I guess truly good pop music can soothe heartbreak, if only for a moment.