Anya Baghina Explores Non-Linear Stages of Grief with “To Be Alone”

With her last four singles, Brooklyn-based songwriter Anya Baghina (also of Soviet Girls) has uncoiled an intimate vignette into the past three years of her life. The songs encapsulate a time period characterized by grief, longing, change, and growth and are capped off with her recent video for the song “To Be Alone.” While Baghina’s music walks us through her journey with mourning and isolation, she manages to make her deeply personal experiences universally relatable, as though each story she tells can be molded to fit whatever trials the listener is currently going through.

The rest have been released via Bandcamp as stand-alone singles over the last year. Each is appropriately coupled with a photograph of her late mother, who passed away in January 2017. Baghina explains that the songs were written in the wake of her mother’s passing and evolved in meaning over time. “At the moment when I really needed to let them out, I wrote them,” says Baghina. “Then I sat on them a little bit and when I re-approached them I was able to finish them.” Although chronicling the emotional aftermath of a tragic loss is an undoubtedly painful and sometimes impossible process, Baghina says that revisiting these songs after a bit of time gave her a chance to reflect on her growth.

She remembers the day that she finished writing her latest single, “To Be Alone.” “It felt kind of special because it was almost a year after,” explains Baghina. “I remember feeling sad that I still felt this way, the lyrics were still very relevant, but I did acknowledge that there was some progress made in dealing with grief.” The song is an especially poignant portrait of wading through debilitating loss and depression.

“How are you doing, are you lonesome? / Did you forget to eat today?” Baghina asks herself in the opening lines of “To Be Alone,” devastatingly depicting a depressive internal dialogue. But while some of the questions Baghina poses in the song are hard to hear, she explains that they can be a segue into healing. “I think whenever you find yourself really alone with your thoughts, it can be a really scary thing. But it doesn’t have to be if you can start to process them,” Baghina says.

And that’s exactly what Baghina’s music does – heal. She recorded one of the songs in the basement of The Forge, an artist residency she founded in Detroit before moving to NYC, and the other three in Soviet Girls bandmate Devin Poisson’s bedroom, with just one take for each. That gave these songs a directness and honesty that almost forces the listener to look within. In fact, finishing and recording this body of work has been an integral part of Baghina’s own healing process. “Performing and working on them now comes from a very different place,” explains Baghina. “Before, I think these songs would put me back into that state of general depression and bring up feelings that I couldn’t yet handle. So yeah, when I approach them now it’s from a healing perspective.”

Part of this healing process was finding a way to stay connected to her mother in the wake of her absence. Baghina explains that the photos that accompany the songs aren’t solely an homage to her mom, but a way to tie together both of their lived experiences. “I inherited these photo albums and some of the more special ones include photographs of my mother when she was young and lived in the Soviet Union,” Baghina says. “She has a pretty powerful story about growing up in a small village and going to Moscow to study in a university and eventually moving to the US. I think during the Soviet era it was especially difficult to find your freedom and your voice and I think she represents a lot of that for me. So these photographs really belong with these songs.”

Baghina, who was born in Moscow and lived there until age ten, says that her roots have heavily influenced her simplistic and direct style of songwriting. She explains the importance of folk songs in Russian culture, songs that almost everyone she knew could sing every word of. “I think a lot of my song composition does come from that, how there’s a lot of repetition… that way that once you hear the melody you can start to sing along,” Baghina muses. She couples her infectious, folk song-inspired melodies with the romantically tragic darkness found in some of her Russian influences including authors Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and rock band Lumen to create her own brand of nostalgic melancholia.

“To Be Alone” finds Baghina in the same place as almost everybody else in the entire world right now: alone and continuously navigating the non-linear stages of grief. The video, recorded during this international quarantine, eerily mirrors the cyclical routine that many people have built around their new-found solitude – bed, outdoors, bathroom, couch, repeat. Baghina’s candidly universal lyrics and soothing voice reminds us now, more than ever, that we’re never really alone.

Follow Anya Baghina on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Detroit’s Local Artist Community Responds to Quarantine

Curtis Roach Photo Credit: Myron Watkins

It’s been a week since the “Shelter in Place” mandate was issued by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, but many Detroiters have been self-quarantined for much longer. Most businesses have closed their doors, thousands are out of jobs, and you’re likely to see more plastic bags blowing in the wind than actual people on your daily walk. Put simply, shit is getting dark. But, the incredibly thin silver lining to all of this is the output from Detroit’s creative community. Whether it’s pre-planned new releases, quarantine-inspired songs, live streams or covers that are helping them cope, these songs offer a temporary solace from the ‘rona blues.

If you are working from home and have a little extra to spare, don’t forget to support these and other musicians via Bandcamp or by buying merch, as many have lost income due to venue closures/not being able to tour! There are also many artist coalitions you can donate to that will spread the love to those in need – NPR has a great list of those here.

“Just Wait Till Next Year” (John Maus cover) – Primer

Electronic producer and songwriter Primer (Alyssa Midcalf) shares her own haunting rendition of John Maus’s “Just Wait Till Next Year.” Midcalf’s melodramatic vocal style is a perfect match for Maus’s twisted lyrics, which seem more righteously delivered by a female voice anyway. Midcalf’s synth-driven production style adds a lush urgency to the track that feels especially pertinent to the times.

“The song is the most honest and vulnerable song about longing and the frustration and aggravation that comes with it that I’ve heard. It resonated with me, but I also felt I would be able to do it justice. And making music is the only thing I’ve been doing to cope with the reality of being in a global pandemic.” – Alyssa Midcalf

“Bored in the house” – Curtis Roach

Detroit-based hip hop artist Curtis Roach accidentally created a viral TikTok that perfectly sums up what most of us are feeling right now. The sound from the original TikTok has been used by a myriad of celebrities – Tyga, Keke Palmer, Chance the Rapper and more – and has even developed to a full-on Curtis Roach x Tyga compilation. Roach’s sunny personality and inherent sensibility for beat and melody make him a magnetic internet personality, and someone to reference when you need a little cheering up.

“How ‘Bored in the house’ came about… I really made that out of pure boredom. There’s nothing more, nothing less. I make funny tik toks all the time and this was one of those times where I was just bored and didn’t know what to do. I come up with melodies all the time. I’m an artist first off, so it’s natural to me. If I’m going for a walk, I might sing a little melody about me going for a walk, or when I’m brushing my teeth, I might write a melody about that, so it’s like, super natural to me. I made it like a week and half before we were all on lockdown going into quarantine. I didn’t know that all of this was going to happen, this is all new to me like it’s new to everyone else, so the reaction, like everybody using the sound and celebrities posting it…it’s just like tremendous, it’s super incredible it’s crazy, it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m just appreciating the blessings from everything coming from this.” – Curtis Roach

“Beyond” – Anya Baghina

Beloved Detroit songwriter and frontwoman of the band Soviet Girls, Anya Baghina shares a song from her eponymous solo project. The recording is as haunting and distant as the song’s muse. Baghina’s intrinsic talent for detailing ordinary heartbreaks in crystal clear metaphor truly hits from unexpected angles. Ultimately, it’s a song for reflecting, wallowing, moving on.

“Recorded live to a 4 track tape recorder, ‘Beyond’ embodies the desperation of finding the answer in fading relationships. A liberating yet conflicting moment when you realize that something or someone doesn’t hold the same meaning anymore. As our reality is being disrupted and redefined by the pandemic, the things that we value are changing. Maybe just temporarily, but hopefully for the long run too. This song identifies with the feelings of loss through acknowledgment and reflection. Something we can all relate to at this time, unfortunately, because of the shared trauma we are experiencing.” – Anya Baghina

“Steal My Sunshine” (Len cover) – Ben Collins

Minihorse frontman and songwriter Ben Collins blessed our Instagram feeds with a subtle and sweet version of Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” The stripped-down performance is a departure from Minihorse’s lush garage-rock layers and showcases Collins’ calming vocals.

“There were a few songs I used to sing at karaoke with my old bandmates, and ‘Steal My Sunshine’ was something that Leah Diehl (Lightning Love) and I attempted once or twice. It’s an amazing song, but also lyrically dense and nonsensical which I love. I had a bunch of cover requests come in over Instagram, and some were really amazing songs, but as a pathologically lazy jerk, I went for the one I already knew. And with the looper, I’m able to sing my own backups, which is fitting during this lonely apocalypse!” – Ben Collins

“The Ice Creams” – The Ice Creams

Multi-disciplinary artist Emily Roll joined forces with their partner, Fred Thomas, to compose and record an entire punk EP in all of ninety minutes. It’s grungy, ironic, creepy, and, at times, hilarious. I love it.

“So, Emily and I have worked on a bunch of different creative pursuits together over the years, playing together in Tyvek, doing performance pieces, etc, and since a lot of stuff is on hold right now for everyone’s musical output, we just decided to jam in the studio space I work at last Sunday night. A pressure/frustration/anxiety release. We didn’t start playing with any musical concept outside of long ago coming up with ‘The Ice Creams’ as a sick name for a potential future band. We jammed and recorded for about an hour and a half, not really improvising or writing songs, but some weird trance-like version that incorporated both. If we hit on an idea we liked, we’d try it a few times. We recorded the entire session and later pulled out the most realized takes. Emily played synth and sang, I played a floor tom and a snare drum. We posted a few videos on our Instagrams that night and several unrelated people told me it reminded them of the soundtrack from a movie from 1980 called Liquid Sky. We will probably jam again and hopefully play a show or two whenever shows begin again.” – Fred Thomas

“Existence” by Carmel Liburdi

Folk-pop songstress Carmel Liburdi shared her original song “Existence,” a soothing and reassuring tune about harnessing your true self and focusing on gratitude. Liburdi’s charming and sweet demeanor is a perfect match for this uplifting song that sprinkles a little hope into the void. She sang the song for a series called Lullabies for Detroit,”  a Facebook group dedicated to spreading peace and wisdom in the community.

“When I wrote that song I was feeling sentimental about the people and experiences I’ve had in my life and, as cheesy as it may sound, how grateful I am for all of it. It’s such a personal and meaningful song to me, I felt it would be good for Lullabies From Detroit because of that intimate feel. I really want/wanted to offer a sense of comfort and capture the feeling of the ups and downs of life and how we can transcend the tough times. There is so much uncertainty, loneliness, and anxiety in a time of isolation like this, it felt good to connect—even virtually—and share those personal feelings, as a way to tell people I see them, I hear them, I care, and that we’re all connected in our shared human experience.” – Carmel Liburdi

“6-Step Program” – Mathew Daher

Nothing is more welcomed right now than a chance to give your mind a break from the madness. Detroit-based experimental multi-instrumentalist created this truly hypnotizing sonic and visual experience to do exactly that. Entitled “6-Step Program,” the film welcomes the viewer into a mindful meditation exercise. Possibly enjoyed even more if you burn one before watching.

6-Step Program from Matthew Daher on Vimeo.

“‘6-Step Program” is a meditation both about and born of pandemic-induced isolation, uncertainty, and channeling restless energy.

Amidst this social distancing, it feels like ways of social and physical connecting that we’ve taken for granted have become objects of fantasy and longing. I’ve been really curious about what kinds of fantasies of physical togetherness and touch people are having right now. I’ve also been thinking a lot about people in addiction/recovery communities for whom orders to isolate bring up particular challenges to the refuge they take in the community.

This track is built off of raw drum audio that I phone-recorded on a whim as I was blowing off some steam at the drum kit the other day. The grooves mused me into a couple late nights down an electronic rabbit hole. They drew out these layers and textures colored by the surreality and sense of uncertainty that has been unfolding, as well as the digital outpourings of pain, tenderness, and care between people navigating this crisis.” – Matthew Daher

“When the World Ends” – Jack Oats

Justin Erion, aka Jack Oats, channels angst, worry and existential dread on this original song. Erion’s emotive delivery encompasses a universal feeling of anxiety as he says the things we’re all thinking.

“For the first time in many of our lives, we are faced with a sense of impending doom. We’ve learned the history, we’ve heard about the devastation of our ancestors, and now sadly it’s our turn. Some of us have prepared mentally and situationally, some of us are falling apart in disbelief at the collapse of our normalities. Life feels on pause, as we await to continue to grow. Who knows… maybe this is the end of the world. And who knows which world will come to be next.”  – Jack Oats

PLAYING DETROIT: Anya Baghina & Jonathan Franco Pair Up for “Almost Alone”

Brooklyn via Detroit songwriter Anya Baghina captures the feeling of melting melancholy with fellow Soviet Girls bandmate Jonathan Franco in “Almost Alone.” As the ice drips off the branches and the sun peeks out of the grey Michigan sky, the two friends narrate the passing of time, the weight of seasonal sadness and the comfort of solitude. Written almost by accident during a late night hang-turned-jam-session, the song feels like an uber-relatable, melodic diary entry, written by your best friend.

It’s easy to want to make every line into a metaphor in this song. Take the opening line – “it looks like springtime, but it feels like winter.” Baghina says it started out as the literally, explaining, “We wrote it around this time last year, when the darkness of winter was concluding and hints of spring brought about hope.” But Baghina’s vocal inflection and Franco’s subtle backup also leaves room for interpretation; when they sing “And you’ve got more stories to tell…” it feels as though the whole song is a metaphor for a person or situation that didn’t turn out the way it had seemed.

Even as the season change brings glimmers of rebirth, there’s a sadness attached to the shadow of winter and the doldrums of prolonged cabin fever. It’s the same kind of listless ennui that often accompanies the end of casual fling as it fizzles out. “I can’t regret this yet, because it’s not really over,” the duo sings, describing an anxiety that can feel paralyzing when you’re suspended in a grey area.

The song ends by repeating a phrase that could be comforting or unsettling, depending on how you look at it. “The lyrics ‘I’m almost alone’ follow the small narrative of the song as if someone leaving is followed by a sense of relief,” says Baghina. “But the last phrase ‘almost alone’ captures the bigger picture and refers to that dissociative state of being you can feel even if you’re surrounded by friends.”

Listen to the full track below.

PLAYING DETROIT: Anya Baghina Asks “How Do You Do It?” on Intimate Solo Debut

Detroit-based songwriter Anya Baghina (Soviet Girls) released her debut solo single this week – a gentle, haunting rumination on what today’s fast-paced “hookup culture” can do to the psyche, entitled “How Do You Do It?” Baghina’s dreamlike vocals narrate her internal turmoil on the subject, where she weighs the possibility of momentary companionship against the lingering feeling of loneliness that follows. “At times it can be empowering, especially as a woman,” says Baghina. “And other times it can feel like the complete opposite and leave you feeling empty.”

Baghina captures the feeling of emptiness with her dissonant melodies and repetitive song structure. Instead of feeling redundant, Baghina’s repetition of lyrics and chords lulls the listener into a numb hypnotic state, like being frozen by indecision. “I wanted to create a dreamlike, subconscious atmosphere to demonstrate how this confusion can haunt you and reoccur to make you question other beliefs,” says Baghina.

The song’s stripped-down production – sparse guitar, vocals, and organ – adds to its eerie nakedness, while Baghina’s voice imitates the tension of artificial intimacy followed by a rushed goodbye.  She sings, “Wake up and listen to yourself / wake up and watch for lonesome theft,” framing a fleeting romance as an escape from solitude. In the end, Baghina isn’t offering a judgment or a solution, just a question: “How do you do it and walk away?”