Meet Sound Wizard Bella Blasko

Bella Blasko started her music industry career as a studio intern, but a decade later, she has paved her way as an internationally traveling audio engineer, producer, and mixer, working with some of the biggest names in music. Her approach of intuition and flexibility has led her into rooms recording not one but two records recognized at the 2021 Grammy Awards: Bonny Light Horseman’s self-titled release, nominated for best Folk Album; and Folklore, Taylor Swift’s collaboration with Aaron Dessner of The National, which took home the award for Album of The Year.

Blasko’s accomplishments are particularly noteworthy considering that women only make up 5% to 7% of producers and audio engineers, as reported by the Audio Engineering Society. Throughout the setbacks of 2020, Blasko has remained an in-demand studio wizard nestled in the Catskill mountain region of The Hudson Valley. I Zoomed with Blasko to discuss her humble beginnings, learn some tips, and walk her fantasy-like journey navigating and succeeding in the competitive, male-dominated world of audio engineering.

AF: How did your musical path lead you to the world of audio engineering? 

BB: I grew up in New Hope, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. I started playing piano when I was really young, around six or seven, and then studied classical piano all the way through college. I didn’t really expect to do that, but at some point, I realized it was the thing that I loved the most. I transferred to Bennington College in Vermont my sophomore year, and was interested in taking recording classes with Julie Last. When I met Julie, she was super inspiring to me and made me realize it was what I wanted to do. At the time I didn’t realize having a female role model in that position was so rare. I was so lucky to study with someone I really connected and related to. She made me feel like audio engineering was something I could do, and envision a place for myself in that world.

AF: How would you describe your first professional studio experience? 

BB: My first studio internship was at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck. It’s an awesome studio and it was a really great place to learn and get hands-on work. It can be difficult and competitive getting an actual job out of an internship because there aren’t many positions at a studio, and most artists bring in their own engineers for sessions. The timing worked out for me because an assistant engineer was leaving as I was arriving, so I worked really hard to learn everything so I could take over their position. I also worked at another studio outside of Woodstock called Dreamland. It was a pretty quick transition for me to go from intern to engineer. Being an assistant is all about making things happen the way the artist wants it to happen. You have to learn to be flexible in your approach, while knowing the gear and console inside out. I guess I just learned everything hands-on by paying close attention. 

When I was first an intern, I remember going into the studio, seeing a giant patch bay and thinking, how am I going to learn that? What even is that? Early on, I’d stay in the studio after the session and look at how everything was patched and how different engineers or producers would have things routed, then try to study and internalize it. A lot of assistants might just set something up for someone without thinking about why they’re doing it that way, or what’s good about it. It’s so important to pay attention to details like microphone placement, because a slight angle can make a huge difference. Paying close attention over time gave me a set of tools. Once I started running my own sessions, then I could try to figure out from that toolbox, what’s my own style? What do I like? Which sounds do I prefer?

AF: What’s your preferred digital audio workstation? 

BB: I primarily work in Pro Tools. That’s the standard in most professional recording studios these days. It’s what I’m really comfortable in and that’s also a helpful part of becoming an engineer, getting really fast and proficient in your program. I also do a bit of Ableton, which I’ve just gotten into more in the past few years when I was helping build some Ableton rigs for live shows. 

AF: Can you talk a bit about your work with live shows?

BB: I was helping Aaron Dessner from The National a lot with his band with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, called Big Red Machine. I designed an Ableton set for them which was interesting because a lot of their work is improvisational, over different sets of ideas and loops. It was pretty fun to work on because I got to design it to be a tool that could help them be creative. The session I built has different tracks on different faders, so Aaron can launch loops at different times and effect them with delays and reverb and filters on pads. It was fun to figure out a way an artist can be engaged with their playback instead of just playing to a pre-recorded track. Once you know a lot of the concepts, you can move back and forth between different audio programs. Ableton makes you think in a less linear way in terms of song structure, which I liked learning because it made me change the way I was thinking. The program led me to not just think in a timeline from left to right, but to think of how you could match different beats and elements that you wouldn’t have thought to put together from different sections, because you’re not looking at it in a horizontal, chronological way.

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AF: What do you consider the most basic foundation of audio engineering?

BB: The first thing that comes to mind, that sounds kind of broad, but I think is really important, is the general concept of signal flow. You might learn how compression works, or EQ, these different main elements that we incorporate into manipulating and recording sounds. Signal flow is one of the most important because that’s where it can be easy to get lost when you’re starting off. I think that’s something that people think they can kind of skip figuring out in a really concrete way, because so many things are digital these days, and it makes it seem easy. But when you really have a good grasp on that, then I think you can make almost any setup work, understand how to work in any studio, and be able to move around to any home setup. 

AF: Can you talk about your work as a traveling audio engineer?

BB: One thing I love is being able to record anywhere in any setup and not be fussy about it. Before COVID I was on tour for the past few years with The National. We travel with a mobile recording rig in a couple Pelican cases. Just the idea that you can record anything you want, anywhere you want, and with pretty minimal gear, I think that’s really incredible. We’ve ended up recording things that ended up being parts and songs on great records, just backstage at a show, or in a hotel, or any different, weird situation, like the back of a bus or in someone’s office.

AF: What else can you tell me about working with The National?

BB: I love working with those guys so much. I first met them when I was at the Clubhouse probably about ten years ago now. They came in to record their album Trouble Will Find Me and I was the assistant engineer on the record. And they were there for a pretty long time, a couple months I think, and we got to know each other really well. They had some ties to the Hudson Valley, and I continued working on several other projects with Aaron at Dreamland after that. He built a studio in the Hudson Valley, where I work a lot these days. It’s where the Taylor Swift Record was made. I’m the National’s band coordinator and also the touring recording engineer. I don’t do front of house, I do remote studio work because all of the guys have a lot of side projects they work on while they’re on the road. We also record a lot of the live shows, and we’ll set up a studio backstage at a venue or in a hotel room. On tour days where there’s no show, I’ll research ahead of time so we can go into a studio nearby. It’s been wild to end up in studios all over the world on a random day off. I wasn’t super familiar with the band’s music before we started working together, but now they’ve become such a huge part of my working life, and my musical family. I feel like I know their catalogue like the back of my hand now. 

AF: Can you talk about your contribution as an engineer on Folklore? It just won Album of The Year at the 2021 Grammys!

BB: The track that I worked on, “Cardigan,” I actually started recording that song idea with Aaron when we were on tour with the National. We were recording backstage in Germany somewhere when he started it, and it grew from that. He’s one of the hardest working people I know. He’s constantly making new music. It’s been really cool to be a part of these different projects that come up working with him. 

AF: Can you discuss your work with Bonny Light Horseman? 

BB: The relationship with their label 37d03d came through The National, and it enabled me to be involved in a bunch of cool artist residencies. At this amazing 37d03d festival in Berlin, I ended up setting up a makeshift recording rig in a random room where people could just come in to record with me and work on different projects. Out of that experience, the Bonny Light Horseman record started to be made. I’m super excited about it being nominated for Best Folk Album this year at The Grammys. I also contributed some vocals to a song on the record. It’s just super fun to go anywhere, and be in a room recording and find collaborators. And because you can run into different people in different places, suddenly you get new ears on stuff you’ve been working on. Whenever people come and play on things like that it can lead to parts on a track you might not have anticipated before.

AF: Do you feel that being a classically trained pianist supports your role in engineering?

BB: I think my classical background definitely contributes to why I get satisfaction out of being able to make something perfect in the studio. Instead of doing live sound, and problem solving on the fly, I love having the time to try out different microphones and find the perfect one for any given part or voice. I enjoy going down that rabbit hole. I think that’s what drew me in – it probably has to do with being a classical musician, and practicing for hours, really obsessing over one little passage in a piece, or getting the fingering right on just a few measures. That’s contributed to my attention to detail, and feeling at home more in the studio side of things over the live performance world, you know? Being a musician is a big part of what I do, because it informs how I approach things in the studio. It definitely helps to have a stronger grasp on everything that’s going on. 

I’m still writing music, and I have an album that I’ve been working on for a while that I’m hoping to release soon. My passion for music never changes, even though sometimes it kind of shifts towards focusing on helping to create and realize other peoples’ visions. I’d say a big part of my approach is just trying to be flexible and musical. Flexibility and vibe is really important to make people feel comfortable. I think sometimes, if you’re in a studio and get too caught up in the technical details, people just aren’t going to deliver in the same way. I think recording should be really fun. I know some engineers try to have a more neutral presence around artists they work with, but I can’t help but be myself in the studio. Anyone I’m working with ends up feeling like such a close collaborator to me. It’s really important to me to create a nurturing and safe environment. 

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AF: How do you feel the direction is evolving for women in the audio engineering and music tech world?

BB: Being a woman has been a pretty important part of my journey in a lot of ways. When I was first starting to work in studios, I felt like I was really lucky to have Julie Last as a mentor for getting into this industry. But that was rare, and as time passed I didn’t see many other women in studios at all. It made me wonder if there really was a place for me in this world. Early on, I definitely had moments of questioning that. But then seeing that there wasn’t much representation made me realize that that’s why I needed to do it. And that’s why I wanted to work harder to be more successful and be able to create spaces for people who don’t like the typical, kind of more male-dominated studio space that people often think of. I think we need more alternatives to that. I’d love to try to help create those different types of environments where people can have a really safe-feeling space, and just be less intimidated and feel more empowered. I think it’s really exciting to see more and more women getting into music, and I think with the younger generation, it’s becoming more accessible in terms of technology. I see younger women who are not intimidated to walk up to a patch bay and be like, I’m gonna figure this out. Definitely, in touring, I have seen a lot more women working in live sound than I had seen in the studio world, and that’s also really encouraging.

I don’t shy away from talking about the divide because it was one motivating factor for me. And I think it’s not just female artists who want those safer spaces and different types of recording experiences. I think there are many artists who need and want that in studio environments, so it’s definitely one of my personal goals to help create those spaces. If I can be inspiring to anybody else, like Julie was to me – someone who might think, “I don’t know if that’s really a world I could exist in” – just to be able to be an example of a woman doing this job in such a marginalized world, makes me feel happy and proud. I’d love to inspire anyone else to feel they can achieve that feeling.

From Dessner to Dickinson, Luluc Recounts Inspiration Behind Latest LP Dreamboat

Zoe Randell and Steve Hassett of Luluc (pronounced “Loo-Luke”) have been riding the rollercoaster of pandemic feels, just like the rest of us. While it wasn’t in their plans to be back in Australia for the indeterminate future, the duo have been embracing the beauty of Sorrento. For those readers unfamiliar with Sorrento, it’s a picturesque, coastal town in Victoria – just outside of Melbourne – that attracts beach-loving holiday tourists, surfers and artistic types looking for some solace from city life.

“We visit every year, usually in the summer,” says Randell, “but this is the first time we’ve stopped here for long enough to experience the winter and smell the first hints of springtime arriving. Melbourne is very different to New York; the light, the colours. It is quite a magical experience, like catching up with an old cherished friend.”

Randell and Hassett founded Luluc in Melbourne in 2008, then moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2010. Their indie-folk sound has attracted attention and acclaim for each of their three past records (2008 debut Dear Hamlyn, 2014’s Passerby, and 2018’s Sculptor) from NPR, Uncut, and artists ranging from Iggy Pop and Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss to Lucinda Williams, who Luluc supported on tour. Luluc’s latest, Dreamboat, is already hot property. It was featured on NPR All Songs Considered (a personal pick of host Robin Hilton), and single “Emerald City” featured on Australian radio, Double J’s Mornings show.

Co-produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, “Emerald City” is one of the many Randell was working on pre-pandemic, when life as usual, frenetic and glorious in New York, was taken for granted. Dessner had invited Randell and Hassett to Berlin for the PEOPLE Festival (run by Dessner and Justin Vernon), which is where the three artists began work on Dreamboat. The album was recorded across both Berlin and their Brooklyn studio, then mixed in isolation in Sorrento.

Guests on the album, other than Dessner, include Bon Iver’s JT Bates on drums, and Arcade Fire’s saxophonist, Stuart Bogie. “I took a few songs to PEOPLE Festival that were close to finished, but these particular songs both Steve and I felt needed different instrumentation and textures,” says Randell. “So, a couple of the songs on this record have beats and synths that Aaron played, as well as two incredible drummers. But with all these newer sounds we’ve explored, it is still very much in keeping with our vibe. Really we feel like we can explore any sounds we want to, if the song is there at the core.”

“Emerald City” is gloriously atmospheric. Randell’s melodic voice, a lullaby, effortlessly graces a downtempo, glitchy beat that hints at the restlessness of urban life. “Finally sleep takes the wheel,” sings Randell. “I won’t let this pull me under, I won’t let you pull me under.”

For Randell, inspiration is not as clear cut as sounding like, or taking influence from, other musicians. She refers to the practice of drawing from the artistic richness of books, music, sights, smells and ideas as an act of synthesis. “For us, our art is a whole-life pursuit, so I draw from all forms; books, film, nature, art, photography and of course music. Often I’ll go deep with an artist, a record, or an author, that captivates me, and kind of let it wash over me, leave it’s impression.”

“All the Pretty Scenery,” for instance, came into being as a result of Randell’s immersion into Emily Dickinson’s poetry, an exploration of a time before our modern imaginations were affected by all-pervasive technology, before iPhones dictated what we know and how quickly. “I was inspired by some of the pictures she created,” Randell recalls. “It felt like time travel. Like I could experience some sense of how her outlook was influenced by the times she was living in. That got me thinking about writing a poem, or lyric, that reflects my experience of the world now as distinct from her time.”

To that end, the album is thoroughly appealing to a modern listener while still being a romantic thing – a creation that recalls vinyl jazz records, the raw and textural joy of a real album that requires full attention and dedicated listening from beginning to end. Don’t press shuffle.

“That auto-shuffle function that happens makes me crazy!” admits Randell. “Songs are like chapters in a book or scenes in a film, so I very much want people to hear them as we create them. I love how you get to know an album, how you hear the next song in sequence before it even starts playing. I hope people at least start out listening to the sequence we created. The songs can stand on their own of course, but I think it helps to get to know the world that’s been created when you’re hearing a new album.”

Though touring, as we’ve become accustomed this past six months, is off the table, Luluc will be offering live performances online once the duo have organised how and when they’ll deliver these. It will be intimate, far from their opening slots for the likes of The National, J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr., Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes and Jose Gonzalez, likely closer to their past performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts in 2014. But the album itself unravels like a gift; as the world is forced to run into the brick wall of enforced lockdowns and cities become sparse places where people scurry – eyes down and distant – from their home to pick up takeaway and straight home again, it feels nourishing to spend time in the lushness of Luluc’s dreamscape.

Follow Luluc on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Gyda Valtysdottir Taps Impressive Array of Experimental Icelandic Composers For ‘Epicycle II’

A dichotomy is often drawn between classical music that one might learn in school and popular music people listen to today for their enjoyment and entertainment. But Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist Gyda Valtysdottir seamlessly bridges the two, with compositions that surprise the listener by drawing from classical conventions while also experimenting with fresh new sounds.

Her latest album, Epicycle II, is no exception. The collection of eight songs, recorded in collaboration with eight composers — Ólöf Arnalds, Daníel Bjarnason, Úlfur Hansson, Jónsi, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Kjartan Sveinsson, Skúli Sverrisson, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir — creates an atmosphere that is at once ancient and modern, familiar and novel, comforting and unnerving.

The album is a sequel to her first solo album, 2016’s Epicycle, which featured works from composers like Schubert, Schumann, and Messiaen as well as contemporary ones she admired; she selected Harry Partch for his “absolute unique musical world which you cannot categorize,” George Crumb for his “sensitive and highly organic soundscapes,” and “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus” by Oliver Messiaen, because it provided her with profound musical experiences while she was in school.

But the second Epicycle album focuses solely on contemporary composers, many of whom were favorites of Valtysdottir’s and all of whom she worked with directly. “I wanted it to be more collaborative, hence the aliveness of the composers,” she says. “Also, although I do not look at the previous record as a classical one, it has its feet in that realm. I wanted this one to be even more undefined. I also wanted to let go of control; each musician had full freedom of what they wanted to create and how much of a collaboration it would be.”

Though Valtysdottir was open to working with composers from all over the world, she ended up finding many in Iceland she wanting to work with, and so the album’s composers are exclusively from Iceland, making it “a map of the world that influenced and shaped me,” she says.

Perhaps Iceland’s mystical terrain lends itself to otherworldly-sounding music; from Bjork to Sigur Ros, the country’s most well-known artists all seem to have an ethereal, magical quality to them, and Valtysdottir also belongs on this list. Many of her songs sound almost like they were recorded in nature, but on another planet. In “Morphogenesis” (Hansson), string instruments call and answer to each other like birds. “Unfold” (Sverrisson) sounds like it belongs in a film soundtrack, accompanying a scene of majestic mountains. “Mikros” (Thorvaldsdóttir) has a suspenseful quality to it, better suited to a chase scene.

But the highlights are the tracks where she sings; the verses of “Evol Lamina” (Jónsi), “Safe to Love” (Arnalds), and “Liquidity” (Sveinsson) sound more like incantations, with her hauntingly echoey, operatic voice delivering powerful lines like “I feel the force in you of nature” and “until you feel that liquidity there is infinite space to be found.”

This theme of exploring the ways our lives revolve around one another fits with the album title. “Epicycle,” a term used to describe the planetary orbits by ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, refers to a specific shape: a circle moving around the circumference of a larger one. When Valtysdottir learned the word, she’d already drawn the first album’s cover artwork using a kid’s toy she got on the streets of Istanbul, and she realized what the toy had produced was epicycles.

While much of the album is abstract, it cumulatively tells a story about “the interconnection between us all, how we are shaped from our connection to others, and how we find our own authenticity by embracing others,” Valtysdottir explains. “Also, [it’s about] the unique space between each one of us. I become someone slightly different with each [collaborator]; they pull different aspects out of me. I love that — it makes me feel more free and universal.”

Each composer underwent a slightly different process with Valtysdottir: Thorvaldsdóttir wrote the piece herself, Sveinsson sat down with Valtysdottir to compose, Jónsi began by recording cello and vocal improvisations, and Hansson wrote the beginning of the piece, then they improvised the rest. She and Kjartan had a band recording with them in the studio, and Úlfur played analog synthesizers. Bjarnason’s piece was already released, and Valtysdottir fell in love with it when she heard it.

Valtysdottir has also been on the other end of this type of collaboration and appeared on many other artists’ albums. Visual artist Ragnar Kjartansson even formed a “twin project” band consisting of Valtysdottir, her twin sister Kristín Anna and Aaron and Bryce Dessner, the twin brothers in The National. They’ve created a video installation featured in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they also have an album on the way.

Other projects Valtysdottir’s fans can look forward to are a duo with American folk singer-songwriter Josephine Foster, several old and new songs of hers recorded with Lithuanian band Merope, and ambient pieces she composed during lockdown.

“I’d like to bundle [them] up into an album, but it’s more challenging in the bright summer nights here in Iceland,” she says. “I’ll wait for the dark days to finish it.”

Follow Gyda Valtysdottir on Facebook for ongoing updates.

How Support From Her Sister (and Aaron Dessner) Brought Eve Owen’s Debut LP to Life

Don’t Let The Ink Dry, the lush, haunting debut album from British singer-songwriter Eve Owen, is a testament to how far young women can go when they feel supported. Struggling with loss and alienation at school, Owen spent her summer holidays in Hudson, New York with The National’s Aaron Dessner, recording some forty tracks over the last three years in his Long Pond Studio. Twelve of them would end up on Ink; Dessner’s purposeful electronic flourishes expand Owen’s deeply thoughtful lyrics and emotive vocal delivery that can’t help but remind one of Sharon Van Etten’s earliest albums.

“Aaron was so kind in letting me be myself.  I know that sounds really simple but for me that was a really big deal,” Owen says of their work together. “In other situations I have felt like I have to project this person who isn’t necessarily me, and I think why I was so comfortable in that space was I knew I could tremble and choke and shiver and I could show all my nerves but I wasn’t embarrassed by it.”

But before Owen met Dessner, her biggest champion was, without a doubt, her older sister Hannah. The two grew up singing Taylor Swift songs at the family piano, though as they entered their teen years their interests began to diverge. Eve began expressing herself via original compositions, while Hannah gravitated toward musical theater and eventually went to film school, where she’ll complete her studies next year. In the lead up to the release of Don’t Let The Ink Dry, the two collaborated on a series of four music videos that inadvertently documented Eve’s growing confidence and artistic growth. “I think that was due to our relationship, and due to my happiness just with the album in itself,” Eve says. “I’ve definitely grown to be proud of [the songs], which is a really nice feeling.”

“I think if I’m being honest, there was no plan before we started,” Hannah admits. “We were very aware that we wanted to explore different tones and styles and personalities and characters within all four of the videos, cause the songs are all so different. I recently watched back all four of them, and I actually think they really speak to the journey that Eve’s been on.”

That journey is one of a sensitive, soft-spoken young woman who once struggled to fit in finding her voice. In the first video, a somber, stuttering, black and white stop-motion clip for “She Says,” Eve twirls around an empty room with little company save for a posable artist’s mannequin, her eyes wide and a little sad-looking. The soaring piano ballad, written when Eve was just fourteen, sees her inhabiting a character feeling loss and abandonment from a family member. “It’s not actually about my family,” Eve says. “I was just interested in the idea of how abandonment from anyone is such a strong, overwhelming feeling. For the video, we wanted to show that it was about the hunger for connection and being so desperate for relationships, you find it in ways that aren’t obvious or normal, like creating your own connections with inanimate objects. I think the stop motion really works in that favor, because I get this feeling watching it where everything’s a bit off, like you’re trying really hard to connect and do what everyone else is doing but it’s this awkwardness that doesn’t quite feel natural.”

Hannah painstakingly shot each frame as a photo on iPhone before editing them together. “There were these snapshot moments – Eve was having to hold [poses] for a long time while I was doing my thing. When we played it back it was almost surreal actually, cause you’re not witnessing that in real time, we speed it all up. It was an interesting way to work for the first video because it forced us both to just slow down and think about the song and what the first video was going to be.”

The other shoots were more free-flowing, with no set schedule. Eve says her sister’s direction put her at ease in a way she couldn’t have been with another director, and by extension, it’s easy to live vicariously through the intimacy of their relationship. It’s a rare treat to see so much of a nascent artist’s personality so viscerally and immediately, and Hannah’s videos offer just that. The next one they shot, for the aching, lilting “So Still For You,” follows Eve across a desolate beach just as the sun dips below the horizon; before a backdrop of purple clouds, Eve slams herself into the sand, a literal interpretation of being stuck in a suffocating relationship.

“As Eve’s older sister, we knew this was gonna be a really special time of Eve releasing these songs. We’ve watched her grow up with these songs for such a long time – finally, people are gonna hear them,” Hannah says. “I wanted to get that rough part of her, the willingness to throw her face in a pile of mud and be free with it, because there’s something quite definite about handing songs over into the world – [it becomes] somebody else’s and they’ll do what they want to do with it.”

Shot in the beginning of January, Eve said it was freezing. “I didn’t even have boots or anything, I was just in trainers in the mud,” she recalls. “I made a mess of everything!” As much as it’s a portrait of Eve, Hannah’s behind-the scenes presence is strongly felt, too. “It was 25 minutes of just like pure sister relationship, because I’d be shouting at her, like, ‘Smack your face in the mud a bit harder!'” Hannah says with a laugh. “Eve would be like, ‘I don’t wanna do that, I wanna do this!’ and she’d run away from me. It was just a total push and pull of both of our personalities but it kind of came across in these kind of wild, very natural and raw moments.”

Hannah appears on camera in the video for “Blue Moon,” alongside Eve in snippets of home movies from their childhood. These are interspersed with shots of Eve setting up for gigs, tuning her guitars, goofing off, recording in Hudson – a documentary, essentially, of Eve’s whole life. “By that point, there was a little bit of curiosity in the air of people online wondering about Eve’s journey, the album coming out with Aaron, who she is…” Hannah says. Eve had contributed lead vocals to “Where is Her Head,” from The National’s 2019 LP I Am Easy To Find, but had otherwise remained mysterious until the rollout for Ink began.

Comparing the old footage to current-day “miming and mucking around,” Hannah was surprised to see how little had changed in Eve’s mannerisms over the years. “Seeing how prevalent it is from when she’s like four years old, when she’s feeling like a camera’s on her, she acts in a certain way that’s been the same. We got to a point in the edit where I was really just being led by her, who she is and who she has become and letting those different moments of Eve and where she sat in different points in her life, kind of talk to each other.”

“When I was watching the first cut I got this overwhelming sense of me now sort of singing this song to my younger self,” says Eve. “The chorus goes, ‘I’ll never let you break/I’ll clean up your mistakes.’ I love that idea of looking back at your past selves and going, don’t give up just yet, it does get better and you do get happier.” It wasn’t her original motivation for writing it; the soulful number is more about accepting love as a beautiful feeling, even when it’s unrequited. “I watched it and was like, that is so new to me, but it feels so right.”

It’s almost as if these three videos act as the ingredients in a recipe for artistic birth: “She Says,” seeks inspiration; “So Still For You,” is a hefty shake of raw emotion; “Blue Moon” the dash of support needed to turn that spark to fire. The fourth and final video Hannah and Eve made together, for “Mother,” is the culmination of all of that. Eve rummages through stories she wrote and art she made as a child, sometimes finding interesting through lines (the final track on Ink, called “Lone Swan” has an eerily similar title to a tale Eve penned in year seven, “The Lonely Duck”). She displays it all in a makeshift gallery, overwhelmed at some points by its volume. One gets the sense she must have felt the same way sorting through all the tracks she’d recorded with Dessner, assembling the worthiest for her debut.

“‘Mother’ was the video that had the most friction between the two of us in terms of where we wanted to go, cause it was the first song where I had quite a strong idea of what the song was about and what it meant to me, and that wasn’t at all how Eve had set out wanting that song to feel for other people,” Hannah says. “It was just kind of a weird moment where the song became the third person in our relationship. We had a lot of sit-down conversations about the video, and I think, in a really lovely way Eve had become more confident and comfortable with the idea of visually portraying what a song means as we made [the other] videos. We were having like, proper, kind of intense discussions about ideas and what it meant to [both of] us, and we kind of mashed that together.”

But, Eve says, much like her recording process with Dessner, she always felt listened to and appreciated working with Hannah. “I never felt like I had to shout or do something that wasn’t in my character to get a point across,” she says. “The whole collaborating thing is very new; I feel lucky that Aaron and Hannah are very kind toward the process, but still straightforward.”

Don’t Let The Ink Dry came out on May 8th via Dessner’s 37d03d label, which has mostly released side projects from established indie artists, like Big Red Machine, Dessner’s collab with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, or Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s joint effort with Aaron’s brother and National cohort Bryce. It’s a startling debut by any metric, each song offering a distinct and salient experience: the ghostly atmospherics of “Tudor;” the urgent, Radiohead-esque “After The Love;” the salient imagery and fluttering drum fills of “Bluebird;” and the gut-punch of “29 Daisy Sweetheart,” as heartbreaking a tale of loss as any written since Sleater-Kinney’s “The Size Of Our Love.”

Eve says that at first, she didn’t realize she was making an album with Dessner at all. “I was so into this idea of just having a fun time and creating for the sake of it,” she explains. “I never recorded with the idea that it would be on an album and people might hear it one day. It felt so personal that I was going, let’s just record this so we don’t forget it. Aaron saw things in songs that I would completely dismiss. That was a really important lesson to learn, that what I find interesting and good about a song isn’t the same as everyone else.”

Hannah says it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, but that Dessner’s production choices often made her jaw drop after having lived with the acoustic versions for so long. “Those songs not only tie to my life but also my experience of watching Eve and what she was doing and how she was feeling and what place she was in. All of those moments are equally really powerful for me,” she says. “There was a natural ebb and flow growing up – one of us will take quite a big step forward, and it will kind of naturally happen where the other person will [follow]. In the last couple of years, we’ve come together to this point where we’re both going through really exciting times, doing things that I think would have scared us a couple of years ago.”

“What I instinctively feel is that our sisterhood is so like, solid,” Eve adds. “All these things that we’re trying out are just sort of, in a lovely way, phases, or explorations. It feels to me that we’re very intrigued by what we can do next, but we’ve always got that surety of our sisterhood that will carry us.”

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