In the era of #MeToo, a variety of voices have risen up to tell their stories of abuse. Seattle-based singer-songwriter Nora Rothman featured 26 womxn from around the world in the new video for her single “dear / david.” The image of each womxn speaking into their phone, leaving a visual message to their abuser, is haunting in its unwavering directness and echos the cool, calm protest that is the song itself.
“brandy glass / hotel key / dear josh / what did you see in me / ‘cause of you I’m marching in the streets / ‘cause of you I’m yelling I believe / dear josh / god knows you forgot,” Rothman sings softly, her voice creating a slow drip to match the steady drumbeat. The song is comprised of two letters to two separate men and was inspired by a conversation with a close friend of Rothman’s. “dear / david” pulsates, burns with a sensuality that feels brazen against lyrics charged with fear, anger, and rebellion. It challenges the listener with its eroticism, a bitter and sweet pill all at once.
Watch Audiofemme’s exclusive premiere of Nora Rothman’s “dear / david” below:
AF: Tell us about “dear / david.” What was the genesis of this song?
NR: I have a very close friend who once told me the story of how she wrote a letter to her assaulter and then burned it. In the middle of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, my producer/collaborator Kate Ellwanger sent me a track with the hook “I’m not gonna hide / can’t keep me in line / speak what’s on my mind.” It hit me hard. I wrote the rest of the song inspired by my friend… it took me like an hour. It is two letters in the form of lyrics: one to an actor named David and one to a label head named Josh. I had more, but they wouldn’t fit into a two-verse song.
AF: It’s a difficult task, taking a serious subject and making it not only digestible, but pleasant to the ear. How do you find that balance in your work?
NR: I’ve written a lot of rage-filled feminist songs that haven’t seen the light of day. I think it’s important to have those in the world, but I also believe with my own music that it’s particularly honest to balance heavy messages with joyful sounds. Every experience in life is nuanced, and the music reflects that. While the verses of the song detail personal trauma, the choruses essentially say “fuck you,” and that part—that part is fun. Plus, Dot [Kate Ellwanger of Unspeakable Records] is a super talented producer and it’s impossible for her to make something that isn’t a groove.
AF: Where did the idea for the video come from?
NR: I delayed doing any visuals for this song, because nothing felt right. While this story is very personal to me, the song is about more than just my story. It’s about all of our stories. With a budget of zero dollars, I reached out to a huge network of people I know—from acquaintances to best friends—to see if they might be willing to donate their time to this project. In the end, 26 womxn from all over the world joined together to make this video, from Los Angeles to Casablanca to Berlin. These are artists, entrepreneurs, activists, and professionals I’ve met throughout my life who have come together to share their part in this interwoven story. They don’t all know each other, but they’ve stood up for each other these past two years. That’s what this project is all about. I edited their efforts together, and voila! The video was born.
AF: You’re selling “speak what’s on my mind” enamel pins with the video. 100% of the proceeds will go to RAINN. Can you tell us about the organization and why you wanted to partner with them?
NR: RAINN is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country. They’ve been operating for 25 years, supporting survivors with information, a hotline, research, and policy initiatives. They are one of the most admirable advocates for survivors in the US. I always try to tie feeling to action and triple my impact. If this video moves you in any way, please join our campaign: buy some pins (designed by the fabulous Iris Gottlieb) and all the money will go to RAINN.
AF: At times, your music reminds me of a stripped down Fiona Apple. Who would you say your musical influences are?
NR: Thank you! The jazz greats, certainly, influence my songwriting: Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson. Then, sorry I’m not sorry, Joni Mitchell is my absolute number one queen of queens. Out of more contemporary artists, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, and The Staves are in my ears when I compose.
AF: How does jazz influence the music you currently make?
NR: Jazz is the best teacher. Listening to great improvisers taught me to be adventurous in my songwriting. In all the music I write, I usually just riff over some chords to find the melody that fits the best; that is a total jazz technique. Plus, listening to jazz is humbling. Those musicians are insane.
AF: If you could tour with any current musical artist or band, who would you go on the road with?
NR: Love this question. Definitely Bon Iver… so I could watch the show… and seep up some magic.
AF: What do you want an audience to take away from a Nora Rothman performance?
NR: Honestly I just want people to have some fun and feel something. If you walk away with that, my mission is accomplished. Come find me at Conor Byrne in Seattle on September 19th and let’s see if I can make it happen for ya.
Nora Rothman’s latest EP Nothing New is out now via Unspeakable Records.