Given the continuing chaos that 2021 had to offer, many of us are still struggling to find a way forward three weeks into the new year. Once again, Brooklyn imprint Mexican Summer offered some delicately-rendered advice in the form of their continuing Bandcamp-centric Looking Glass singles series. The project began with a bang in 2020, including more than two dozen previously unreleased tracks by everyone from label stalwarts like Peaking Lights, Jess Williamson and Geneva Jacuzzi to up-and-coming artists like Madison McFerrin and Lucy Gooch. While Looking Glass scaled back to just four single releases for the 2021 series, each packed its own therapeutic punch. Beyond their poignant lyrics, the artists were able to provide some additional insight into what got them through the maelstrom, and how they plan to keep going.
NYC-and-Berlin-based duendita kicked off the series with her stunning, cryptic “Open Eyes.” “had a bad dream/what could it mean?/who could i be?” she croons in its opening lines before returning with a poetic balm: “courage and strength/all of our days.” And later: “face my mistakes/never too late/love them away!”
Along with duendita’s soothing advice came the softly-strummed “Equinox” from New Zealand singer-songwriter Maxine Funke. She says she wrote a bunch of songs for Looking Glass in May of 2021 after Mexican Summer reached out to her Australian label A Colourful Storm with an invite to participate. “It coincided with a time when I was really relishing the hours after midnight,” Funke says. “I was working a very social job and living next door to a major building site! It’s just so excellent when the world goes to sleep.”
Part of her creative process involves what she refers to as USSR: Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading. “What’s valuable is being transported, creating a new vision, a new version, a myth,” she elaborates; in the case of “Equinox,” Funke found surprising inspiration in the old nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle.” Country and city cats, laughing dogs, and restless dinnerware populate what Funke calls her “ordinary domestic life,” but the cow here isn’t the moon-jumping bovine – it’s a metaphor for her muse.
“It’s a bit mystical, like inspiration – when it comes it’s subtle and cosy like a beneficent house trained cow,” she explains. All that’s left to do then, is welcome and make space for it. “When I’m starting something new I just take baby steps, just a small amount of time each day and sooner or later things find their direction. Also cooking up a big pot of something good is excellent to help transport me.”
For Liza Victoria, who records as Lisa/Liza, being asked to participate in the Looking Glass series provided some much-needed motivation in and of itself. “I have chronic illness, and last winter I had some episodes that were very difficult. As a result of that I was too weak to sing, I had writer’s block, and to be honest I hadn’t felt too comfortable picking up my guitar, because it was emotionally difficult to have to put it back down,” she remembers. “Being asked to just write one song moved me into a different space mentally. Once I wrote one, I wanted to write another. It was a nice exercise and if anyone is struggling with writing, maybe it can help them too, to just focus on writing one.”
Her contribution to the series, “Rose Pedals,” was the last in a “little chain of songs” she was then able to write in succession, and appropriately enough, it beautifully illustrates how mundane activities can teach us patience or remind us to pause – in her case, holding onto rituals like making tea and writing letters as little things that create connection when there isn’t much else to grasp. “I think I was particularly feeling alone with what I was working through physically then, and these mundane activities were ones that I owed a little ‘thank you’ to, for keeping me present and reminding me I wasn’t alone,” she says.
“A lot of times the way I write is very self-reflective and taking a look at a given moment, or dealing with a feeling that is in the air. I think it’s always helped me to process things by teaching myself and allowing myself to write in that way. The writing process is very fulfilling and exciting for me because often it’s like a way to unwind, and bring in some kind of new focus,” she continues. “Creating my own music has allowed me a lot of room to communicate and feel validated emotionally… it is a way for me to rest and pause and collect patience in my life. My attention is refocused and turned into something outward that I can share with others.”
Seeking such connections – and of course, embracing professional therapy – have been key to her well-being, she adds. “Working through feelings, sometimes it feels like a roller coaster a bit, in that part of the difficulty is the illusions we build for ourselves. The roller coaster can be scary; it can also be exciting, and thrilling, and a place to be with our friends, or just sharing an experience beside a stranger. There are plenty of things in the world today that are very hard to hold right now, and it’s okay to notice them. To be aware and to feel is human,” she offers. “Some of my personal favorite things to do to create calm have included being in nature, meditating with this app called Headspace, and having pets around – I have two cats. I don’t care for roller coasters.”
As they process a traumatic religious upbringing, Niecy Blues has found peace via their own sense of spirituality, a journey they document with Looking Glass single “Bones Become The Trees.” Though it was originally released on a compilation, the South Carolina-based composer, songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist says re-releasing the song for the series helped push their work to communities of listeners it hadn’t reached before. “Over the last month, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several conversations with people who connected to the song,” they say. “Hearing people’s experiences and extending empathy are the very things that really breathe more life into the work.”
Co-produced with Khari Lucas (aka Contour), the track’s heavy reverb adds airy, mystical vibes as Blues sings of renewal and rebirth, which the performer says they’ve explored “through ritual and intention. Even the smallest of things: filling a glass of water and slowly drinking it with my mind set on the intention of clarity of my words; expressing gratitude and centering my connection with the earth.” More specifically, nurturing plants has offered Blues a connection to their ancestors, who were sharecroppers.
“It’s a relationship. I have an altar. I think it’s very important to honor my ancestors,” they elaborate. “All of this comes into play in both my songwriting as well as performing. I feel a deep sense of connection to the deepest parts of myself as well as Spirit and those before me when I perform. My spirituality is deeply personal and I hold it dear. It anchors me.”
The mission of Mexican Summer’s Looking Glass series has been, since its inception, to provide a “portal for creative exploration and community to resonate through all versions of reality.” These recent additions encompass spirituality, ritual, and connection as we seek to bring balance to the months ahead, providing some invaluable guidance for moving through our uncertain future.
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