Alexandra Riorden Reflects Noir Pop Transcendence with Premiere of “Dirty Mirror”

Photo Credit: Paige Strabala

Healing is not linear. It doesn’t come in a specific shape or form and it happens differently for everyone. Santa Barbara-based noir pop artist Alexandra Riorden knows this, and harnesses her own experience with darkness and healing in her new single “Dirty Mirror.” The title itself brings to mind the lack of clarity and blurred reality that can come in the wake of trauma while dramatic strings, starry guitars and Riordan’s smoky vocals tell a story of pain, reflection and healing. 

Riorden explains that she wrote this song – and all of the songs off her debut LP, Angel City Radio, out June 25 – in a state of delayed processing. After experiencing a home break-in while living in Los Angeles, she says that she lived in a state of heightened alert and mistrust for years, without really realizing what was happening. “Since everything is so fast paced out there, I didn’t really feel like I had room to process such a tremendous trauma,” says Riorden. “So, a year and a half or two down the line, I started not doing well so I had to just step away.” She made the move to Santa Barbara and started writing. 

What ensued were dark vignettes of past wounds, bubbling to the surface and slowly healing. “Dirty Mirror” explores the complexity of being in a relationship that’s built on a flimsy foundation and the surreality of watching it crumble. “I was reflecting on how difficult it is to be in a relationship with someone when you’re both kind of not solid in yourself,” says Riorden. “Everyone’s a mirror to you, so if you’re looking in a mirror and getting a hazy reflection… things get twisted easily.” 

There’s a rawness in Riorden’s voice that feels especially vulnerable. She explains that when recording this song, she had lost her voice at a show the night before and had to get the vocals done in one take. The emotion and honesty is palpable. “It felt very direct for me, like from the pages of my journal to singing it,” she says. Phrases like “I gave you the key/You gave me the reason to leave,” feel like late night scribbles coming to life from the page, releasing her from the resentment that they held. Similarly, her vibrato reverberates like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, letting the pain and heartbreak flow out of her and dissolve into the universe. 

But, while Riorden lets us into the dark cracks of her mind, she doesn’t allow us to dwell there for long. “I never like to leave a song in a space of suffering,” she explains. “For me, the process of writing a song is like climbing a ladder out of this dark place.” After a few minutes of painting her story in black and ruby hues, Riorden offers listeners a white light of hope to reflect on: “Is it a king who gives you wings? Apparently only when he leaves/There is no one looking out for me/I have never felt so free/Ironically.” Finding safety and inspiration in her newfound freedom, Riorden fills the cracks left by her lover with sparkling rivers of hope and catharsis.

Follow Alexandra Riorden on Instagram for ongoing updates.

My Life as Ali Thomas Let Their Sound Wander Through Peppermint Town

“I totally didn’t think the band would get this far, and now I have to explain it and I feel kind of silly explaining it,” says ‘Pie’ Kanyapak Wuttara, vocalist in dreampop trio My Life As Ali Thomas. She’s referring to the name of the band; to create the powerful storytelling they do both sonically and lyrically, Pie needed a level of separation from her musical persona, and landed on “Ali Thomas” as a play on the word “alias.”

Based in Thailand, the band formed serendipitously in 2014 following an impromptu jam session between Pie and guitarist ‘Rack’ Wipata Lertpanya which led to their first gig together as well as meeting drummer ‘Taw’ Wannaphong Jangbumrung. “It’s kind of lucky. My friend called me saying ‘I have a guitarist who would really suit your music’ around the time I was kind of giving up on music,” Pie recalls. “After we jammed, the owner of the shop we were jamming in was like, ‘I’m just going to book you for a gig.’ It tumbled down from there and now we’re on our second album.”

Released via Warner Music Thailand, Peppermint Town serves as the sequel to Paper, the band’s 2016 debut. Opting to experiment this time around, they visit indie folk, post-rock, pop rock, and more, the album’s themes encompassing self-confidence, loss and love led by Pie’s ethereal vocals and visual storytelling. “The first album was kind of like meeting Ali Thomas, but the second is Ali Thomas taking everyone back to her house,” she says. “It was a lot of fun making it but it was challenging too. Sometimes you can make really abstract music and it’s how to make that abstract style work in a song formula as well as stretching the boundaries between a cinematic soundscape or a movie soundtrack and a song.”

Opening with transcendent, sunset-tinted “One Way Ticket,” the band play with the theme of fantasy, the disconnect between the reality of life around them and the limitless potential of the worlds we create for ourselves in our imagination. “My Red Golden Sun” shows off Pie’s narrative style as she picks apart the breakdown of communication between herself and a former partner. Handclaps and softly strummed guitar lend a sense of nostalgia and distance, heightened by Pie’s breathy vocal tone as she sings, “Why did you run away?/Left me faraway/Lost in foreign ways/My love, you were mine.”

“I wrote it after I’d just gotten out of a relationship,” Pie explains. “I was at a really low point in my life. Sometimes when you find love it can be bad but it shouldn’t stop you from looking for a new horizon. Music wise, I thought of going to a better place which was going back to the mountains, for me, so we pushed the drums way back sonically to see how it echoed.”

The trio demonstrate their fearlessness in the sound they create and throw themselves headfirst in experimenting with multiple genres and pushing sonic boundaries. This trait is My Life as Ali Thomas’ signature move, a trump card that they’re always ready, and more than willing, to play. Nowhere is this more evident than with “Rinn,” a heavy rock anthem for the socially anxious. “‘Rinn’ is about exploring your inner villainy. You can be yourself, but at what cost? We’re always conscious of other people’s feelings… but ‘Rinn’ is you being yourself without the cost,” Pie explains. “The lyrics aren’t that dark, but it’s got that energy of never caring.”

“Ocean” takes this experimentation to another level. The longest and most cinematic track on the album, “Ocean” incorporates orchestral instrumentation and melds it with Rack and Taw’s energy-packed performance. “It’s a whole world! The song feels like a spell to me – it doesn’t really feel like I’m singing. I feel as though I’m chanting almost,” Pie says. “It took forever [to make]; it started off with four chords and my voice and then I was just thinking back to being on a boat ride and seeing the ocean. I’m fascinated with that element. Water can be so loving but it literally can kill you. I wanted to capture that – how powerful it can be – and my perspective.”

Elsewhere on the album, “Baby, I Love You” explores themes of trust and connection to a poppy, romantic beat. “Luna Blue” soars with sonic explosions of strings that whisk away the listener to a feeling of emotional freedom. Acoustic guitar creates a softer foundation for “Pitch Black” as Pie communicates a need for sanctuary. “Dream Lover” picks at the concept of the intensity of romantic love and wanting to preserve the good, whereas “Dear All The Universe” sees the band utilise their indie rock roots to create an uplifting bop perfect for the summer. “Tears of a Clown” explores ‘50s sonic elements, incorporating more background vocals and brass instruments.

Each track on Peppermint Town is filled with a multitude of elements that on paper might look disparate. But My Life As Ali Thomas weave their influences seamlessly, while twisting them slightly to reveal a never-before-seen underbelly. Rife with sonic experimentation, raw lyricism, and cinematic beauty, it’s impossible to not love this album – Peppermint Town contains some of the band’s most evocative music to date.

Follow My Life As Ali Thomas on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Winter Infuses Synthy Dreampop with Magic and Wonder on Third LP

Photo Credit: Angel Aura

Samira Winter has been putting out charmingly sweet yet sassy songs through her indie rock band Winter since 2013, capturing her Brazilian heritage with Portuguese lyrics in many of them. Her latest album, Endless Space (Between You & I), is full of the same infectious shoegaze she’s so adeptly mastered, but it stands out in its dreamy style, which she dubs “fairy tale surrealism.”

The 11 songs are each experimental in their own way but also incredibly catchy. “Healing” opens with warped synths and a sweetly sung verse that will almost certainly get stuck in your head — “Why’d you have to be so cold?/Everybody knows that it’s not your way” — then disintegrates into dissonant notes at the end. Winter croons about a scene “higher than the sky” in the chorus to “In the Z Plane,” which resembles a children’s song, with a simple melody that makes you feel like you really are floating above the clouds.

The LP’s title track gives off subtle ’80s vibes, with Winter’s angelic voice mellowly singing, “I don’t want to feel afraid to give the love I have to you.” She says it was originally written about an unattainable love but, in the days of COVID-19, has come to signify “the space between humans,” she explains. “The space between human relationships right now can feel so infinite, and the time from now until the way things were pre-COVID feels like an endless amount of space.”

The LA-based artist released a stunning video for the single in April, featuring her turning into a butterfly amid natural imagery and celestial lighting that belies where it was shot: in a New York City apartment. She worked with a director whose background was in puppetry and old-form storytelling, and the result was a style she describes as “old Hollywood mixed with fairytale story.” The metamorphosis is meant to symbolize “coming into your own skin,” she says.

Winter’s childhood in Brazil introduced her to the beautiful, softly sung melodies that now characterize her work, then later on, she became inspired by the shoegaze and dreampop she listened to in college. Endless Space (Between You & I) is her third full-length album, and she’s already released two EPs and is working on her third, but has mostly been taking it easy during the pandemic and hanging out with her cat Zoey, who happens to be the subject of what is perhaps her catchiest song and definitely her cutest video.

All in all, Endless Space (Between You & I) has the heaviest psych-pop influence of Winter’s music. “The way I write songs is very melody-heavy, so I think it’s a cool mix of dreamy, beautiful melodies with psych arrangements and a lot of ambient influences,” she says. “I’d run my mics through pedal board on every song.” She and producer Ian Gibbs also got creative by incorporating samples of bird sounds and fireworks she heard outside her house.

The experimental sound and outdoor samplings suit the natural and otherworldly themes of the album. Winter’s interest in occult literature, tarot, and astrology influenced her songwriting; “Pure Magician” is named after a tarot card, and keeping the video for another single off the album, the airy “Here I Am Existing,” features Winter dressed as various tarot cards. “I was really inspired by the tarot,” she says. “I think they’re really powerful ways to express different human stories and human archetypes.”

Endless Space unfolds the more you listen to it. The album as a whole aims to depict “a utopian dream world — this place that you can either discover deep within yourself or that you can journey in your dreams,” she explains. “Through music, I like to take people through a magical world.” With darkness hovering over the real one, it’s nice to have that escape.

Follow Winter on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Avery Leigh’s Night Palace Pairs Opera and Dream Pop on Debut Single

Photo Credit: Bao Ngo

At times like these when it feels like the world is ending, one of the few purely escapist activities we have left is getting lost in music. Avery Leigh’s Night Palace gives us that on “Into the Wake, Mystified,” a lushly arranged meditation on the “gossamer thread that connects us to certain people in our lives forever.” Avery Leigh Draut, songwriter and lead vocalist, explains that the song took many shapes and sounds before settling on the final piece, released on March 10th. The evolution of the band’s first single more or less mirrors the shifting tides of Draut’s own path in music, from classically trained opera singer to frontwoman of a shimmery alt-pop ensemble, to whatever comes next.

Growing up the daughter of two service industry professionals turned business-world parents, Draut hesitated to consider music as a viable career path. Though she and her father would perform in musicals together and singing was always a huge part of her life, she saw it as more of a hobby than a way to earn a living. But when she was applying to universities, her parents surprised her by encouraging her to follow a less conventional path. “I had this chat with my parents and they were like, you love this and you should try to do this,” says Draut. “Their transparency with me about their long time struggles with making ends meet before I was born prepared me and helped me to understand I would need to create a piece-meal, gig-centric way of making a living, with (hopefully) many small sources of income that are (whenever possible) related to my creative endeavors.”

Armed with that knowledge, Draut auditioned last minute for a few music programs and was accepted to the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. She recalls her first lesson in the classically-oriented program: when one of her professors asked her what she liked to sing, she told him of her affinity for musical theatre and jazz. He responded, “No – we’re gonna sing opera.” Luckily, opera proved to be just as enticing to Draut. “I loved it. I totally fell in love with the nuance,” she explains. “Obviously there’s nuance in all music, in so many different ways, but classical music is the most challenging that I have experienced.”

Draut describes the next few years as a means to find her way creatively. After realizing that double majoring in theatre and music was next to impossible, she tabled her love for musical theatre for the moment and exercised her voice through opera. While she loved performing, there was a part of her that always wanted to write music as well, but it was at war with another part that told her she couldn’t. “I always wanted to write my own things, but kind of didn’t really think of it as an option. I was like, ‘other people do that,’” explains Draut. “So, it was kind of just figuring out that that’s not true and all art is for everybody and you can try to do anything.”

After graduating, Draut felt disenchanted by some aspects of the classical music business and found herself in a moment where she wasn’t petrified by the thought of writing a song. Thus, the early iterations of Avery Leigh’s Night Palace were created. She collaborated with musicians she met through the scene in Athens and took years to land on the dreamy, crystallized sound heard on “Into the Wake, Mystified.” “This song has been through a million different lives as you can imagine, existing for four years,” says Draut. “I wrote all of the structures, chords and melodies for the song on this electric organ I had in my living room in Athens called the Magic Genie.”

Draut transformed the stripped-down organ-and-vocals arrangement to a bubbly, orchestral tune filled out with elegantly simple string and woodwind parts, written by Draut herself. Though she views her operatic life and the Night Palace project as two separate worlds, Draut thinks her tendency to seek sweeping arrangements comes from her love of opera and its grand accompanying orchestras. “There’s such lush writing in opera and these huge orchestras and that is so magical and beautiful and I would love to incorporate [that],” Draut says. “I think there are a thousand different directions I’m going at all times with this project, but they’re all closely related and will sound like they make sense.”

Since starting Avery Leigh’s Night Palace, Draut has relocated to Brooklyn, where she works part-time as a production coordinator for the Met Opera and has sung backups on shows for musicians such as Jo Lampert (tUnE-yArDs), Kadhja Bonet, and Eric Bachmann. She travels between New York and Athens, where her band is still located and where she’s currently waiting out the pandemic with her boyfriend and the Magic Genie that astoundingly found its way back to her.

“This organ was living with me in Athens, then when I moved to New York, I moved it into my boyfriend’s house at the time, so it lived in Athens. Then he and I broke up and I didn’t know what happened to the organ,” Draut recounts. “I came back to Athens to visit and went to my friends house and it was sitting there. It turned out that my ex had given it to a friend who had given it to this guy. He was moving, so my boyfriend and I moved it into his apartment in Athens which is where I am right now, with the goats in the yard.”

Avery Leigh’s Night Palace will release more music later this year, and presumably, Draut will brush the dust off her old friend, Magic Genie, in the meantime.

Follow Avery Leigh’s Night Palace on Instagram and  Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Wax Idols Redefine Their Happy Ending With New LP

[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”]

all photos by Kristin Cofer

For Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, there’s no such thing as a fairy tale ending. There’s simply life – the bleakest aspects of which have often become fodder for her musical output – and death, the finality of which she’s come to theorize may be the sweetest release. On Wax Idols’ forthcoming record Happy Ending, slated for release sometime this spring, Fortune spins another of her dark, personal narratives, with one major difference; she’s learned to give up some of the control she had over her past work and let what was essentially a solo project evolve into something she’s always dreamed it would become – a full band.

Though Wax Idols has featured other musicians in the past – nearly a dozen over the years, by Fortune’s estimate – it was always a vehicle for Fortune’s songwriting, with a revolving door policy when it came to who played along. “I’ve tried to keep things very fluid and amicable and friendly,” says Fortune when we speak over the phone. “[/fusion_builder_column][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”][Other musicians] have been involved in varying degrees and it’s always been chill. You contribute what you want, I’ll credit you appropriately, and if you can’t do it anymore it’s okay.” Her laissez-faire approach worked well enough over the course of three emotionally raw LPs: 2011 debut No Future leaned heavily on the San Francisco garage punk scene from whence it came; 2013 saw a turn toward goth-tinged post-punk for Discipline + Desire; by 2015, American Tragic placed Wax Idols solidly in the moody dreampop sphere.

That was when a permanent Wax Idols lineup began to congeal. Multi-instrumentalist Rachel Travers, who played drums on American Tragic, became a core part of the band; Fortune’s longtime friend Peter Lightning (of Some Ember) joined them, and “everything changed,” according to Fortune. “Once we started playing music together, we realized that we could do this for real, like we could write together,” she says. “And that’s something that I’ve never really had. I’ve never had a pure collaborative relationship with someone.” Travers began writing guitar parts in addition to drumming duties. And although bassist Marisa Prietto would eventually opt not to join Wax Idols full time since she lives in Los Angeles, she ended up writing the chorus for “Devour,” which turned out to be one of Fortune’s favorite songs on the LP.

“I’ve always wanted this project to be a band – that’s why I called it Wax Idols and not my name. I was always hoping that the right people would find the project and stick,” says Fortune. The result of writing her first truly collaborative album, she says, wasn’t a distillation of her sound, but cohesion. “Now it’s much more streamlined; it finally feels more like what Wax Idols music really sounds like,” she says. “It’s taken a lot of weight off of me.”

Part of the reason those first three records sound so disparate, she admits, is that she was “trying to cram too many ideas into one place with Wax Idols.” Collaborating with a full band helped her focus and define the project, and while touring behind the reissue of American Tragic, an idea for the next album began to take shape. “[The title Happy Ending] came to me when we were in the van on tour two summers ago,” she recalls. “The initial concept was meant to be this sort of fictional narrative about somebody who has moved beyond the body, a kind of tongue-in-cheek happy ending, like: I’m not stuck in this flesh carcass any more.” Wax Idols released a single, “Everybody Gets What They Want,” as an early teaser. But in the wake of a tragedy that hit too close to home, the band shelved their work in progress, eventually scrapping many of the songs and reworking others. Fortune was no longer interested in writing an esoteric concept album – because she had to rely on writing music to save herself.

“I’ve had severe depression for as long as I can remember, paired with crippling anxiety, which turned into a panic disorder over the years. In the last year or so, it got really dark, darker than it’s been since I was a teenager,” Fortune says. “I have attempted suicide twice in my life. And I got pretty close at the beginning of last year to trying again. But I was able to pull myself back. Realizing how dark things were last year and seeing how it was affecting my loved ones, and my band and everything, I just was like, something has to change.” Fortune went back to therapy. And she began writing noise-driven solo material without any self-imposed boundaries, to move past feelings of self-loathing and self-doubt. “I just did my best to quiet those voices, or even if I couldn’t keep them quiet, I tried to give them an outlet in sound.”

She realizes now that at the beginning of her career, she’d tried to project a hardened, give-no-fucks attitude, but that in the end, this wasn’t an honest portrayal of the emotional devastation she felt inside. “I think that was empowering to an extent,” she says, “but a lot of it was really me trying to hide the fact that I was ill, and was really scared of dying. I think it does a disservice to myself, to fans, to peers, or whoever, to not tell the truth, which is that I have severe mental illness, and it’s a struggle for me every day.” In one of Wax Idols’ most arresting new songs, “Crashing,” Fortune sings openly about suicidal ideation – not to glamorize it, but as a way to communicate what it’s really like for those, like herself, that have been “at the brink of death.” Fortune hopes this radical honesty will help destigmatize mental illness.

“Crashing” is one of a handful of songs that survived the first iteration of Happy Ending, along with “Too Late,” “Scream,” and “Belong.” Wax Idols played them live for the better part of a year before taking them into the studio, which Fortune says made recording them “a breeze;” to complete the album, they put together “impeccable” demos, then re-tracked them at Ruminator Audio, where Fortune says she “worked her ass off” trying out new vocal techniques and experimenting with “the fun stuff – nuanced post production things, weird sounds and textures.” Fortune says the content of Happy Ending is some of the darkest she’s put to tape – which is no small statement, given her back catalogue – but that hashing it out in the studio brought her some relief, even if the bulk of that came just from being able to complete the record.

“It was painful content-wise, but [making the record] felt exciting and we could tell we were pushing ourselves, and it was a great record to make. It was difficult but it felt really authentic, it felt right,” she says. “[This record] stayed with me for a year and half through all kinds of hell and turmoil and struggle with creating it, so I feel like I had to keep it intact. I’m seeing it through ‘til the end, seeing the idea through.” That sentiment gives the record’s title its true weight; making meaningful art out death, out of struggle, and out of our darkest moments is perhaps the happiest ending any of us can strive for.

Wax Idols plays our Audiofemme showcase at Elsewhere, Zone One, on Friday, January 12 with Bootblacks and Desert Sharks. Check out Hether’s exclusive Audiofemme playlist below – we’ll see you at the show! 

TRACK PREMIERE: CaveofswordS “Lately”


CaveofswordS is a dreampop project based out of St. Louis, led by vocalist Sunyatta McDermott. They released their lead single, “Lately” today, off of their forthcoming album, Sigils due out on 3/10. Dark and atmospheric, McDermott’s vocals are simultaneously breathy and soaring, accompanying an elegantly dreamy, sinister minor melodic synth and electric guitar. Within the track, there are nods to both 80s new wave and late 90s pop rock thanks to the seamless blend of infectious electronic drums and McDermott’s vocal prowess, underpinned by a grittier guitar line than we’re used to hearing in this brand of electro.

We’re super excited to hear what CaveofswordS has in store for us with their upcoming full length; in the meantime, check out our premiere off “Lately” here via Soundcloud.