On Midnight Star, Chrystabell Builds a Sci-Fi Fantasy

Photo Credit: Mathieu Bitton

It’s just after 6 p.m. in Novi Sad, Serbia. Texas-based singer Chrystabell is settling into the city, where she’s set to play with her band at the Church of the Name of Mary the following night as part of the 2022 Capital of European Culture Festival. “We weren’t exactly sure if it was going to happen, but things are on track,” she says. “The band made it. We got here from different cities. All the flights were on schedule.”

The concert will mark Chrystabell’s second performance of music from her album Midnight Star, out on January 21 via San Francisco-based label Love Conquered Records, and her first gig since a December show in San Antonio.

“Everything is just dripping with uncertainty and there’s no guarantee for anything that’s going to happen at this particular moment, especially where touring is concerned,” she continues. “I have to say that, as a performer, I can’t imagine taking another show for granted at this point, after the experience of the last two years.”

Pandemic aside, it’s also a moment of evolution for Chrystabell. Midnight Star, a synthpop explosion centered around science fiction and fantasy narratives, is a departure from the dark, sultry rock of previous albums like We Dissolve and Feels Like Love

“The big difference for this one is that there were no guitars, no bass, no drums,” says Chrystabell, who worked with her longtime collaborator Christopher Smart on Midnight Star. “This was a very new territory for both of us.”

In December of 2019, Chrystabell and Smart began work on what would become Midnight Star. “We’re both pretty connected to and associated with that world of drums-bass-guitar and that was comfortable and we knew it really well,” she explains. “So, this was like jarring ourselves into new sonic terrain and the sounds that were happening and what we were coming up with was like science-fiction, but it was also intergalactic spy music.”

The two decided to lean into the science fiction and cosmic connotations that the synths sounds evoked. “That cosmic intrigue has always been pretty thick in my world, so the sci-fi fantasia that was unfolding was beautifully aligned with all the stuff that I like to think about and dream about and the ideas that I conjure in my mind,” says Chrystabell. 

The singer’s other interests— like reincarnation and parallel universes— began to creep into the work as well. “The story was writing itself,” she says. Meanwhile, as they worked on what would become Midnight Star in between other projects, the COVID-19 pandemic also left them with more time to play around with the concepts and music. “It’s not a pandemic record in that we were writing it with all these feelings that were happening. We were writing it and then we actually had time afforded to go deep into this world,” says Chrystabell.

She describes a “very loose narrative” forming where the album was a soundtrack to a television series from the 2080s. While they referred to the songs as “episodes,” they weren’t the scripts for the imaginary show. “The songs were the soundtracks to the episodes. We got pretty meta,” Chrystabell says with a laugh as she adds, “Did I mention that we had time?”

Photo Credit: Matthieu Bitton

“It just got thicker and richer and then with more and more layers,” she says of the project. “Then everything dissolved and whatever was left, the juiciest morsels from all of this space-conjuring was where we got to Midnight Star.”

The conceptual nature of Midnight Star brings to mind Chrystabell’s connections to TV and film. She’s collaborated multiple times with David Lynch over the years, including on the song “Polish Poem,” which featured in the film Inland Empire. She also played FBI agent Tammy Preston in Twin Peaks: The Return. “At this point, David’s influence is cellular on me as a human being,” says Chrystabell. “He’s been a part of many rites of passage for myself as a person and as an artist that the impression is indelible – not so much on the kind of art that I’m making, but certainly in the way that I go about expressing it, which is definitely leaning into my intuition versus what makes sense in general.”

The sound and story of the album has also brought about changes in Chrystabell’s performance style and aesthetic across media. You can see that in the science fiction worlds the singer inhabits in her recent videos for songs like the title track and “Suicide Moonbeams.” 

“There was a level of technicality involved because I did want there to be this through line in relation to Midnight Star and her process and her journey, even if it’s only in my mind and no person could potentially map it out,” says Chrystabell. “There was that intentional process within this particular world.”

These narrative and visual themes may impact her live performance as well. “When I get on stage, I have a thing that I’m intentionally walking into with Midnight Star,” says Chrystabell. 

In February, Chrystabell is slated to begin touring again with a jaunt through Europe. 

“As far as the tour, it’s really felt so far away,” says Chrystabell. “For a long time, it felt like this fantasy and my fantasies have been strong, but bringing it in to action, some of that only happens when you walk onstage and do the music.” 

Follow Chrystabell on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Matthew Danger Lippman Revisits Hometown Haunts in “Suburban Girlfriend” Video

Photo Credit: Adrian Lozer

Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Matthew Danger Lippman has always had a taste for the theatrical, once showing up for sixth grade show-and-tell in a bikini. Throughout his adolescence he began to funnel the class clown antics into music; his high school band Brimstone Blondes put out a few releases via Western New York-based label Admirable Traits Records. In the years since leaving Buffalo for Brooklyn, Lippman’s sound has shifted from angular guitar punk to lo-fi bedroom pop. “I just liked making noise,” he says, but as he began toying with a dreamier sound for his solo work, or, as he puts it, “experimenting with a tenor and a sound that was more earnest.” The positive reactions – and the opportunity to open for the likes of Foxygen, Shonen Knife, and Caleb Giles – left him “feeling like it was a better way to connect with people and a better way to be truthful,” he says.

Since joining forces with jazz bassist Arden Yonkers and drummer Oliver Beardsley (who refer to themselves as the “Molson Twins”), Lippman has settled into a “psychedelic widescreen rock & roll sound,” evident enough on his forthcoming EP Touchdown U.S.A., out March 5th. Today, he’s premiering a video for EP cut “Suburban Girlfriend,” and once again, Lippman spares no theatrics.

Equal parts shoegaze, glam rock, and bedroom pop, “Suburban Girlfriend” is a nostalgic plea, a desperate wish for a simpler time. Lippman went back to Buffalo to shoot the video with longtime collaborator Jacob Smolinski. He’s stars in the video wearing garish dollar-store makeup beneath a glaring light, traipsing around his hometown with clips from classic sitcoms and old YouTube videos of himself from middle school spliced in, resulting in what he calls a “collage of pop culture memory.” His aimlessness, combined with the strangeness of his appearance in this idyllic suburbia, create a feeling of alienation hinging on the realization that he’s become a stranger in his old haunts. Lippman says he “wanted it to be this Lynchian, horrific vision of the past, longing for something and knowing it can’t be replicated. The total loss of self when you desire things you can’t replicate.”

Lippman wrote and recorded Touchdown U.S.A. pre-COVID; because the project is a product of the before times, he says, “These songs gained some preciousness in my life, because it was like the documented evidence of this era, and this concept. The songs were about longing for connection – something that is earnest and simple and physical and beautiful – when anxiety takes over and you can’t fully express yourself. Those are easy topics to tap into anyway, in the 21st century, but especially in an age when people are so isolated.” He notes with positivity that while he always intends for his music to be experienced live, the fact that people have to listen to the EP at home may bring out more nuance in the sound that might’ve gotten lost in a raucous live setting.

Though he jokes that on release day, he may just play Touchdown U.S.A. on Instagram Live in his bedroom for eight hours straight, Lippman says he’s not quite ready to adapt to this new digital performance landscape. “I don’t fully, at least for my own sake, buy into the totally paranoid – or maybe some would say kind of accurate – futurist version of the world, where it’s like, time to adapt! This is now!” he says. “I still believe music is about a physical presence and a physical connection and I love that stuff so much.”

He has been able to explore aesthetic interests he wouldn’t have had as much time and inclination to unpack in the past, like the very editing of this music video, which he did himself. While he’s accepted these new circumstances, he knows many artistic friends who aren’t faring as well, who require the energetic feedback of a live audience to push their visions toward completion. In a return to his own theatrical nature, Lippman would suggest to those people to “find those ideas that are a little more embarrassing, where they push them away because they wouldn’t want to do it in front of someone, and for the next few months have fun indulging in those. That’s what I’ve been doing. [Something] I just recorded this week is borderline cringey for me, but it’s lit for that reason.”

There is no such thing as a comfort zone for Matthew Danger Lippman – and he hopes “Suburban Girlfriend” will pull viewers into that same frame of mind. “I would like people to see the video and let it unsettle them maybe,” he says, “in a good way.”

Follow Matthew Danger Lippman on Instagram for ongoing updates.

MORNING AFTER: Chicken, Biscuits & Bottomless Mimosas with No Honeymoon

I’m lost picking out my outfit to see No Honeymoon, just anxiously pacing in black tights while “Don’t Want To” glides through the apartment. I’m digging the ‘80s movie vibes it’s blessing my morning with, Cait Smith’s haunting, hooting voice gently complimenting the sparkling verses, which battle the fuzzier, heavier choruses. “And it gets great aroooound this part,” I mumble to when the guitars truly gut you, backtracking to the 2:30 mark and refocusing my gaze on the cover of their EP It’s Whatever.

This cover owns me, guys. The white dress, the heart on fire, the mournful staring at the skyline from Transmitter Park – it’s almost hilariously emblematic of my city anguish. Even the title, It’s Whatever, is my go-to closing line (“And then he moved to LA and sold the car we made out in, but it’s whatever.”)

No Honeymoon feels like the whole gloomy New Yorkian package, the beautiful cry in the din and all that jazz. Of course I dig it, that’s my image. So I go with the leopard-print-on-stripes combo, the tortured Brooklynite classic. That’ll work.


THE SCENE: So between The Anchored Inn’s floating swordfish and Buck Owens & His Buckaroos blasting, I’m bemused. It’s a venue-turned-ironically-garish-Tex-Mex joint that apparently goes metal after dark. But I learn this later (“So did we choose the place just because there were a lot of shows here at one point and now it’s like…a ranch?”), after they explain that their practice space is nearby, in the heart of that Meserole Avenue hub. 

Anyway, the Edie Sedgwick look was the wrong move, but hey, there’s bottomless mimosas!

I recognize Nate sitting alone because of this iconic green-haired junior year photo, and deliver the helpful line, “Hey, are you like, in a band?” I also recognize Cait with a cute, new short haircut (her bangs are still on point) and Ryan and Rob arrive shortly thereafter.

After two table migrations and one mimosa refill we talk about the start of our day and the end of all times.

12:06 Every day feels like the end of the world, so I’m dying to know how No Honeymoon would defend themselves, and I get right to the point. “If you guys had any weapon that you could use to battle against the apocalypse, like mutant zombies or something, what would it be?”

“Can I do like, mind control?” Cait asks, but we agree that’s more of a super power than weapon.

“I think my instinct is just fetal position. Does that count as a weapon?” asks Ryan. Still not a weapon, although it’s relatably viable self defense.

“I really think it depends on the nature of the threat,” Nate says. “If it’s a zombie threat versus apocalyptic meltdown, that’s totally different.”

“Apocalyptic meltdown,” I specify. “Nobody’s a zombie, but everyone’s brutal AF.”

Nate very seriously considers his options. “Well, if you have a shotgun in the end times, people will be afraid of that shotgun, even if they don’t know how many rounds you have,” he starts. “But zombies won’t be. So even by racking your shotgun it’ll be like, ‘Get the fuck out of the way.’ Whereas if you had a bat or a sword or something and you have five guys that are much larger, you’re going right down.”

“I love the aesthetic appeal of a bat, though. I feel like I’d look really great with a bat,” I interject. “But aesthetics won’t matter in the apocalypse, so…”

“Right, with nails and shit,” Ryan adds.

“Nails and glitter – I want it to be feminine.” Everyone laughs at this. Why does everyone always think I’m joking?

“That’s where my brain went first, because you can smash things to shit with a bat, but I’m definitely going to be outmoded with a gun,” Cait considers. “I hate guns, I don’t like them, and I think if the apocalypse meltdown happens I’m not going to be competent enough with guns to be a threat to anyone.”

Ethics and aesthetics will definitely doom us if the world ends. So it goes.

12:15 Cait is trying to purge the olives from her Bloody Mary, which she thinks makes her a bad half Sicilian, although I assure her that I’m half Greek, hate olives, and am a subsequent disappointment to 3/4ths of my lineage. Ryan can’t eat his mom’s lasagna, which we all cringe at automatically.

“But why is that?” I ask.

“I can’t do –”

“Dairy?” Yeah. “But that’s just like your biology, that’s not, ‘I hate my mom’s lasagna,’ which would break her, I’m sure.” You know, Italian moms, and all.

“There was like a really brief period where I was a vegetarian…” Ryan starts.

“Oh, that’s no good at all,” Nate interrupts.

“And my mom was like, ‘But you can still have meatballs, right?’ ”Meat’ is literally in the word.”” We all laugh good-naturedly at this.

“‘They’re literally balls of meat, mom,'” Cait adds.

“My mom who’s five foot nothing and sounds like Joe Pesci, she’s an angel.”

It’s super cute, but the point is that everyone’s fucking up on the Mediterranean front.

12:26  We put in orders for chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, chicken and biscuits, and a breakfast burrito. The mimosas are already hitting hard, ’cause I’m anxiously looking up Taco Bell’s Kit-Kat Quesadilla on my phone, as well as the most recent Taco Bell wedding.

“That’s like going to White Castle on Valentine’s day,” Cait remarks.

“Well if you go to White Castle with someone it is romantic because White Castle’s disgusting.” I determine, lost in my phone. “And that’s…that’s true love.”

“They call them rat burgers. How can you eat them knowing they’re called rat burgers?” Rob says, before changing the subject. “You ever been to Max Brenner’s?”

“Chocolate by the bald man,” Ryan adds, and of course most of us have; Max Brenner is like the Willy Wonka of New York. Someone you can trust to make a chocodilla.

And Nate drops a bombshell. “You know there is no Max Brenner.” After a half-second hush the group goes into a flurry of multi-emotional reacts:

MG: Why would you fucking say that to him?

Cait: That also makes total sense.

Nate: Smashing the grand illusion.

MG: Are you going to say Santa Claus isn’t real now?


We’re all pretty shaken by this conspiracy theory and finally deduce that there must be comfort in the illusion of a bald man making chocolate.

“Everyone knows that the best chocolate comes from bald guys,” Cait says. Obviously.

12:42 When I moved here I thought it an amazing and rare happenstance that other people liked David Lynch. And then I lived here for two more minutes and I realized we’re all just pretentious. I’m recounting this because Nate is watching Dune right now, which, even for a Lynch fanatic, is insufferable (based on hearsay).

“I watched the first hour! I’m gonna finish it,” he insists. “But I watched the first hour and I was like, ‘What in the sweet hell…’ No wonder nobody liked this. It’s so difficult to follow. And it’s also insane.”

“So what’s it about?” I ask.

“…like…just spice, mostly.”

“I’ve never read Dune, but I’ve had, like, Dune explained to me 69 times in the last month,” Cait says, to more laughter. That sounds right. She also talks about how she hasn’t really tapped into Twin Peaks (she saw a handful of the original episodes) and it’s cool, because I jumped ship on the “new” one.

“I can’t do it,” I confess. “I love [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][David Lynch], but I don’t love him that much.”

“Oh, I do,” Nate says.

“Nate owns a shirt that says, ‘Thank you, David Lynch.'” Rob adds. “And it is fantastic.”

“I think I went for a job while wearing it, just a caricature of myself,” Nate says. Respect.

12:53 The New York marathon is happening today and we spend a lot of time going “Fuck fitness.” Cait mentions in passing that it goes through her neighborhood, and connecting the dots I realize she lives in Greenpoint.

And I have to break my “I don’t care about anyone’s new EP” interview policy to ask about the cover: “Is that…?”

“Transmitter Park,” Cait finishes.

“That’s where I go when I’m depressed!” I feel super validated. “It’s like I look out into New York and I think” *mock-dreamy voice* “‘this is what I’m fighting for.'”

“Same, it’s the best,” Cait says. “Exactly, exactly dude, I feel the same way.”

“I wanted to ask you about that, because I saw it and I was like, ‘This is everything that I’m about aesthetically.’”

“Rob shot it,” she mentions casually.

“It’s real fire, too,” Rob says, even more casually.

Is it?” No, Mary Grace.

“People thought that it was, though. People said that to me,” Cait explains.

“I got the shot right before it before it blew up,” Rob says.

“We were like, literally trying to blow up the balloons with fire,” Cait says. “And then I started Googling it and I was like, ‘This is not scientifically possible.'”

“Also wildly dangerous,” adds Ryan.

“I didn’t think it was real,” I lie. “But the fact that I had doubts means it didn’t look stupid…”

Anchored Inn is conveniently along a row of photoshoot-friendly murals, so after brunch we capture a few shots along some Saved-By-The-Bell-intro graphics. But by happenstance we pass some foggy dumpsters and take a few impromptu shots there instead. Cait jokes that the steaming trash look is more on brand anyway.

Sometimes, like whenever I’m breathing, I worry about looks. The look I’m projecting, the images projected to me, whether we’re all being visually faithful to our art and identity. As far as I’ve learned, it’s never as simple as “the owls are not what they seem.” Sometimes the owls are owls. The mistake is in assuming they’re just owls.

Peer deeper into what’s projected on stage and online and you get a complex kaleidoscope view, the various components of people clashing prettily together. Irreverence and drama. Beauty and garbage. A genuine sense of humor and acknowledgement of the ache that guts you when you stare at the New York skyline. Get you a band that can capture both.

I consider this later, but not, if you wanted to imagine it, walking back in the mist.

I stumble back home to my room and fall into a mimosa-induced coma instead.

It’s Whatever is now out available on Bandcamp and for purchase, and you can follow No Honeymoon on Facebook.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]



With a name inspired by a Kafka story, it makes sense The Harrow would be well-spoken. Yet even with the bar set high the mysterious Brooklyn coldwave/post-punk band impressed with their bewitchingly intelligent interview. The Harrow is Vanessa Irena (vocals, synth, programming), Frank Deserto (bass, synth, machines), Barrett Hiatt (synth, programming) and Greg Fasolino (guitar). They are currently working on an upcoming LP that we’re already gnawing to hear. I spoke with our Artist of the Month about gothic art, nerdy influences, and selectivity of gigs.

AudioFemme: How did you guys meet and form a band?

Barrett: We all seemed to have traveled in the same circles for some years, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time for this band to come to fruition. Frank and I became close friends during our previous band, and we had shared stages with Greg’s previous band as well. Vanessa and Frank met through their respective DJ gigs, and the timing just felt right. Frank had some demos kicking around, I jumped in and we started fleshing things out. We then invited Greg to add his signature sound, and Vanessa was the perfect last piece to the puzzle.

AF: Who do you look up to as musical inspirations?

Frank: As far as sound is concerned, bands like Cindytalk, And Also the Trees, Breathless, Cranes, For Against, and of course, The Cure and Cocteau Twins are hugely inspirational, as well as most of the players in the French coldwave and early 4AD movement. Belgian new beat and ’90s electronica have been influences that I’m not quite sure have fully manifested yet, but are definitely something I’d love to explore further in the coming years.

Greg: For me, the 4AD sonic universe is definitely a place we all intersect and Cocteau Twins are the ultimate touchstone. As a musician, I am particularly influenced by classic ’80s post-punk bands like The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, Banshees, Bunnymen, Sad Lovers & Giants, and The Sound, as well as ’90s genres like shoegaze (Slowdive, Pale Saints, MBV), trip-hop (Massive Attack, Portishead), and alt-rock (Smashing Pumpkins, Suede, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley). Lately I am very inspired by a lot of modern neo-shoegaze bands, who seem to be carrying the torch for dreamy, effects-heavy music now that much of the post-punk revival has dissipated, as well as more atmospheric metal stuff like Agalloch and Deftones/Crosses and creative, hard-to-categorize bands like HTRK and Braids.

B: I’m not sure if I can get through an interview without mentioning Trent Reznor, but he has always inspired me, through his recording methods as well as his choice of collaboration, and just his general attitude towards music. Of course: David Bowie, Chris Corner, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, The Cure. I do have a tendency to lean on bands from the ’80s.

Vanessa: I’m a huge fan of Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray, The Knife) and Elizabeth Bernholz (Gazelle Twin). These days I’m mostly listening to techno and textural stuff (Ancient Methods, Klara Lewis, Vatican Shadow, Function, Profligate, OAKE, Adam X, Mondkopf, etc.).

AF: What about other artists: poets, painters, writers – who else has influenced your sound?

F: Literary influences are as important to me as musical influences. There’s the obvious surrealist and nightmarish nods to Kafka, but other authors such as Isak Dinesen, Robert Aickman, Albert Camus, Charles Baudelaire, and William Blake have inspired the lyrics I’ve written for the band, some more directly than others. As for art, the same applies; Francis Bacon seems almost too obvious to mention, but his work is incredibly moving. Francisco De Goya as well. I’m also drawn heavily to bleak, medieval religious art, usually depicting the crueler aspects of Christianity. Perhaps a bit cliché as far as gothic influences are concerned, but lots of imagery to draw upon.

B: David Lynch, John Carpenter, Jim Jarmusch, Anton Corbijn, just to name a few. These guys paint wonderful pictures through film, and I always find it very inspiring.

V: Frank and I have pretty similar tastes in art, so I definitely agree with him on the above, but I think it’s worth mentioning that we’re also all a bunch of huge fucking nerds. I’m not ashamed to admit that lyrical inspiration for me can come just as easily from The Wheel of Time or an episode of Star Trek: TNG as it does from Artaud.

AF: What do you credit to be your muse?

F: My bandmates.

G: Posterity.

V: My shitty life/Being a woman.

B: Dreaming.

AF: Blogs love labels, but how would you describe your music?

F: I don’t ever attest to reinventing the wheel. We all draw from different influences and I mostly consider our sound to be a blend of shoegaze/dream pop, 4AD, and early ’80s post-punk vibes. We generally err on the dreamier side but have no qualms with getting aggressive if the mood calls for it. At this point in the game, creating a new sound is out of the question, but our varied tastes and interests have led to some cross-pollination of genres that hopefully proves to be interesting amidst dozens of modern bands operating in a similar medium.

B: I’m still trying to get a little saxophone in there.

AF: Will you speak to the darker element of your style?

F: Operating in this medium is less of a conscious choice for me than it is a catharsis. Therapy in a sense – a method of expressing otherwise unpleasant thoughts and feelings to make something creative, rather than letting my shadow side consume me.

B: Darkness is way more interesting. And real.

AF: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?

F: At this point, the idea of collaborating with someone famous is an overwhelming thought. Sorry for the cop out, but I can say that we’re looking forward to some collaborations from some of our peers, both original and in remix form. More on this as it develops!

B: Sorry Frank, but I’m going with Pee-Wee Herman.

AF: Will you tell me about your current LP you’re working on?

F: We spent the majority of 2014 hunkering down and working on the record. We recorded Silhouettes in piecemeal form over the course of the year, layering synths and guitars and drums as they fell into place. The record is currently in the can and is being mixed as we speak by the uber-talented Xavier Paradis, and will hopefully see release this fall via aufnahme + wiedergabe.

AF: How does it differentiate from previous work?

F: The new record is incredibly diverse – there are ambient segues, the occasional industrial/hip-hop hybrids, and plenty of other eclectic sounds to go around. There are more complex rhythms that are the result of Vanessa and Barrett’s superior drum programming talents, for starters. We also took turns writing lyrics this time around, with Barrett, Vanessa, and I all contributing. It’s truly The Harrow as it’s meant to be – a band hitting their stride as a full working unit with equal love and collaboration driving us.

AF: Can we expect any live shows for you in the future?

B: While we enjoy playing live from time to time, it isn’t the primary focus of the band. We are at points in our lives where making the music is more important and rewarding in and of itself than performing it on stage. Our goal with the band leans much more toward the creative side. When we do play though, we want to make sure it is an event, and something to look forward to, not just the typical four random bands on a Tuesday night thing.

Watch The Harrow’s music video for “AXIS” below.