Erin Rae Goes Deep on ‘Lighten Up’ LP

Photo Credit: Bree Fish

Erin Rae’s new album, Lighten Up, is an exercise in showing up for herself. 

In early 2019, Rae and a fellow singer-songwriter friend, Louise Hayat-Camard of The Dove & The Wolf, made a pact to write a song each day and send it to each other. For Rae, it was about developing a discipline, holding herself accountable to the craft. In doing so, the songs that comprise Lighten Up started to take shape, including the title track, “Cosmic Sigh,” and “Drift Away.”

“It was when those songs presented themselves that I started to imagine what the record cover would look like and see what the album will take shape around,” Rae describes to Audiofemme. She even sketched out plans for album art and wrote out a tentative track list that helped build momentum for the project, the title itself meant to inspire the listener to lean into curiosity.

“It’s not really my style to be directive and tell people what I think they should do. It’s playing around with that term and inviting people to be curious: ‘What is she talking about? Who does she think she’s talking to?’” she laughs of the “inquisitive” phrase. “Once you get into the songs and you hear that, it’s very much my experience that I’m talking to. Take what you like, leave the rest.” The album was released on February 4; Rae is currently on tour with Courtney Marie Andrews in Australia before returning to the U.S. as a supporting act for Watchhouse, beginning on March 31.

Rae’s previous album, Putting on Airs, confronted her inner darkness and past trauma, diving into her psyche on songs like “Bad Mind.” It details her experience as a queer woman in the South, the feelings she once had to suppress now finding freedom through song. “’Bad Mind’ was a song that I was nervous to share because I was like, ‘Are my collaborators going to think this is weird that I’m talking about being afraid to be gay in this song?’” the Tennessee native pondered, instead met with support from her co-writers. “I’m still aware of the intensity of the subject matter, but it feels like through playing it, I got freed up from any sort of fear around that or being uncomfortable with it.”

Lighten Up continues this healing process. Intentional about maintaining an introspective nature through the music, she wanted to honor the shift that’s occurred in her life since Airs was released in 2018. “Once you have done some of that deep digging and done some healing work, the turning point where I’ve seen all that stuff, now I have awareness and now I want to move into the next part of my life where I’m more into connection with other people and less inhibited by old survival skills or patterns of behavior, negative beliefs,” she explains. 

A major part of this healing journey was allowing all of the walls she’d built around herself to come down. “Cosmic Sigh” directly addresses this, a vintage-sounding acoustic number that sounds like it was transported from the golden era of folk. Here, Rae intertwines this sense of growth with images of the natural world as she serenely sings, “The sun/Day is dawning in the soul/And warms the melancholy/And come what may/She’s won/There’s no need to be afraid/With her illusions falling.”

“Something that I’ve worked with a lot in my life is how anxiety and negative self-belief has hampered that connection, or if I’ve connected with people, being hesitant to be as open as I would like to be,” she says. “Letting myself be known, be vulnerable, be messy, and not seeking to have it all figured out before entering into if it’s a romantic connection, feeling like that needs to be perfect. I think primarily a lot of my work has been to repair that relationship with myself. It’s not so much about ‘What do you think of me?’ It’s ‘This is what I think of me now.’”

Songs like “Cosmic Sigh” and “Drift Away” acknowledge these energy shifts, touching on days when it feels like time has slowed down, to experiencing the magic of one’s own dreams coming to life before their very eyes. Meanwhile, “Can’t See Stars” finds Rae in a soul-cleanse, driving far past city lines to escape the madness of the modern world and soak in the beauty of the night sky.

“One thing that I really enjoy in writing is drawing the correlations between my internal experience and then that of my emotional experience in nature and life itself on the outside that’s continuing to operate amidst all of us in our human stuff that we do,” she shares. “It’s the correlation between an over-saturation of social media and constant distraction and people, the internet, always having somewhere to distract myself, and then how that can add to the disconnect from myself and my intuition and that inner stillness. The physical manifestation of that is literally not being able to see the night sky because we have a billion city lights going all the time, and just needing to create some space and some distance from that from time to time.”  

As she continues to move forward and find inner peace, Rae has a new set of survival skills she’s cultivated through vulnerability, connection and building community, all of which will carry her through to the next bright spot in her journey. “Sometimes there’s a few steps forward and you’re like, ‘I think things are getting better and I feel hopeful,’ and then there’s ‘Why don’t I try to go back to my old patterns because that’s more comfortable and I’m a little scared to move into the unknown.’ And, and then it’s ‘No, we’re going to keep going,’” she notes. “My goal for this album is for it to be giving permission and compassion for myself and whoever listens to it and relates. My intention for this is to help there be a softness towards these deeper, emotional things that we all have, so that maybe there’s some space for them to be brought into the light to be processed.” 

Follow Erin Rae on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Brandy Zdan Releases Her Pain on Falcon LP

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

In the middle of our call, Brandy Zdan looks up at the tree in her backyard and notices a bird of prey, swinging from branch to branch. As she looks closer, she’s shocked to see that it’s a falcon, a bird that has served as an important symbol in her life. “I called it to happen,” she professes. “It’s amazing.”

The falcon has served as an important symbol in her life since appearing in a dream she had after experiencing a devastating miscarriage two years ago. It then manifested into a song about that heartbreaking experience, “Falcon’s Wing,” and now bears the title of her new album, Falcon. In the weeks following the miscarriage, the falcon made its physical presence known, flying through the trees at her Nashville home, and serendipitously reappeared the week before she gave birth to her daughter, Lucky, in March 2020.

“I had experienced this vision of a falcon and this little spirit being taken away on the back of a falcon’s wing,” she recalls of the dream. “It’s a very unique animal symbolism representing the spirit for me. It represents so much more than that, but it felt like a great way of honoring that whole experience and everything that came from it, as well as that little spirit that went away and somewhere into the great unknown,” she continues.

Zdan carries this bravery into nine songs that detail her journey with pregnancy loss, new motherhood and postpartum depression, ultimately finding hope and love on the other side. The Canada-born, now Nashville-based artist has crafted an album that is a masterful demonstration in rock ‘n’ roll grit married with deeply vulnerable lyrics, each song penned and produced solely by the singer.

“I was using what I know how to do to get through those times, which is songwriting. There is such great comfort in that and figuring out how to sing a song about the thing you’re going through and write about it and articulate it. I didn’t set out to do it, and it morphed into this thing that existed,” she expresses. “We’re always told as artists to write what we know. If we’re not having any experiences that are interesting and living life, what are you supposed to write about? If you’re going through these things, you have to be open enough and brave enough to write about them.” 

Zdan made the conscious decision to illuminate her pain instead of hide it. “You were carried away on a falcon’s wing/High above the hills/I didn’t even catch a glimpse/I was lost in the tears,” she sings with her gritty, yet melodic voice. The song was written just one week after she experienced the miscarriage and was still “really deep” in the grief of it and emotions of it. Months later, “The Worst Thing” arrived in a moment of anger, Zdan responding to the expectation that women are taught to hold their trauma in an effort to demonstrate “self-control.”

“I was getting really mad about the fact that nobody is voicing these things that are happening to women all the time. None of this is stuff we even talk about. Mothers are the most unsupported people, and yet there’s states that are trying to force us to have kids. It’s like, we can’t do this if you’re not going to support us,” she remarks. “That song came from the anger of why the fuck aren’t we writing [about this]? Why aren’t we hearing more about this? I want to put some of these kinds of narratives in rock and roll and break down some walls.”

Walking boldly and fearlessly in her desire to bring vulnerability and female-focused topics into rock music, Zdan honors this fully on “Mama,” a guitar-laced ballad that shows off the angelic tones in her voice. She confesses to living in fear while craving gentleness, singing, “Mama I’ve been living in fear/Mama I’ve been trying to heal.”

“It’s the one that came very easily, but also has a lot of joy and pain in it and also encompasses myself, my daughter, my mother and my grandma all in one song. That was the hardest and the easiest place to go,” she shares. “It’s a place that I needed to heal some things within myself. I knew I had to, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy thing.”

Zdan continues to channel this vulnerability into “Dying Inside” where she takes an honest look at the feeling of being burned out from constant touring pre-pandemic, harboring a resentment toward her life’s calling. “I was very afraid that I was hating what I was doing, and that was very scary. It was a moment of ‘you need a little break and you got to focus on something else,’” she describes.  

That opportunity for a reset would arise when the arrival of COVID-19 brought live shows to a screeching halt, yet opened a pathway for Zdan to wholly embrace the album-making process, including producing and engineering Falcon entirely by herself. Zdan notes that the process was born out of necessity. Off the road and unable to pay a team of producers, she took it upon herself to fulfill a longtime goal she knew she’d one day accomplish.

“It was more of a trial and hard work to put the record together more so than the songwriting that just happened. Then all of a sudden I had this body of work that was super vulnerable and I thought, ‘I think I can actually try to record this on my own,’” she explains. “I also knew that I could do it and I was ready to do it. I think the experiences of motherhood and the trials of what I had been through in those first six months, and previously leading up with pregnancy and miscarriage, I was like, ‘I’ve gone through all this. I can figure this out. I can do it all; why not try to do it?’” 

Zdan paired her determination with melodic intuition, building comforting melodies around heavy subject matter. The process not only affirmed her vast skillset and sharp musical instincts, but proved to the versatile creator that she is capable of all goals she sets her mind to. “I think doing this on my own and having it work out, it’s given me that affirmation that I am all these things that I thought I was for my whole life. There’s no imposter syndrome. [I’m] coming from this really settled place within myself to take the risks and see what will happen,” she observes. “To have grown in the ways that I grew with the writing and where I went with the writing and then all the other things that have to do with being behind the board, that’s a success unto itself, which I’m holding on to.” 

By pouring her heart and soul into Falcon, Zdan hopes fans will make their own connections to her stories, and feel inspired share their own stories in turn. But she will always come back to the falcon, the symbol of ambition, aspiration and freedom, all of which is reflected in her powerful music.

“If you didn’t know these songs were about what they were about, I think you could relate your own grief and loss situations to them. It’s not all darkness – there’s light, and it’s a bit of a journey. I also would hope that there’s girls and women that will listen and feel empowered to tell their stories. That’s really the main thing I want; the only way that we’re going to change the stigmas around these issues is by speaking about them more and I’m using my voice to do it. My job is that,” she proclaims. “I think the falcon will come back again and reaffirm this for me.” 

Follow Brandy Zdan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Adia Victoria Honors Her Roots on Powerful New LP A Southern Gothic

Photo Credit: Huy Nguyen

For Adia Victoria, creating A Southern Gothic was a demanding process physically, emotionally and spiritually. “I think that this was a record that walked with me through one of the most difficult periods of my life,” Victoria expresses to Audiofemme in a Zoom interview from the porch of her Nashville home. “It was a very physical process of writing this record.” 

Though the exquisite new album captures Victoria’s deep Southern roots, she had to travel across the globe in order to tap into them. In January 2020 – just before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the South Carolina native jetted to Paris where she met with creative partners Jack Jones and Marcello Giuliani, equipped with another important travel companion: books. As a frequent traveler to the City of Light, Victoria often brings literature with her, this time immersing herself in the words of Southern writers, along with Alan Lomax’s famous recordings of field workers, absorbing the sounds of a pick ax hitting the ground to the breaths between members of a chain gang.

“Words hit different over there for me, and my relationship with speech and rhythm and words. I’m hearing spoken words differently there. You could walk for miles in the city and never run out of things to ponder. For me, that’s the perfect recipe to create art. Art just pours out of me there. I go to Paris in order to see more clearly. I think the distance gives you a little bit more of a boundary. It’s not so raw to write about over there. I get to tap into a different part of myself,” she observes.

“When I was writing the beginning portion of this record, I was far away from the South, but trying to root myself there,” she continues. “I needed to feel connected somehow to the dirt and the landscape of the South where so much of myself and stories I tell are created through that interaction of the land and the person. A lot of what guided me in the initial stages was wanting to pay reverence to the Black folk that came before me who created the blues while bent over crops and cotton.” 

After arriving back in Nashville from her trip abroad, Victoria got to work with creative partner and instrumentalist, Mason Hickman. While crafting the album, Victoria was working as an Amazon warehouse employee, lyrics naturally coming to her as she walked the aisles fulfilling orders. The singer recalls a particularly grueling shift, feeling depleted by the eighth hour and experiencing intense anxiety with the pandemic raging and many unanswered questions lingering. “It was in the thick of hell and I was walking and I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I felt so lost,’” she remembers.

But this painful moment turned into a source of refuge as a song began to form in her mind that manifested into “Carolina Bound,” pouring out the sense of desperation she felt for her home state of South Carolina. “I long for my mother brother and sister too/To see and smell the ocean turn my pain into blues,” she sings over a melody that strikingly blends the bluegrass nature of the banjo with the pain of the blues. “I mean to leave and not be found/Like a river run underground/I am Carolina bound.”

“I felt this homesickness, this primal need to go back home,” Victoria conveys of the song’s origins. “It literally came out of my body writing, walking, and working. The song definitely helped me transcend the dread of the present, and I feel like that’s something that the blues has always been for Black people. It’s been a transcendent art form for us, like a cultural heirloom that we’ve passed down,” she says. “There’s been so much drudgery done to our bodies that sometimes the blues of the mind, the poetics of the blues, have been our best means of escape and transcendence from the bullshit.” 

The singer-songwriter and poet brilliantly captures her roots and reverence for the history of her ancestors through her voice. Intentional about not wanting to make a record that was “strictly autobiographical,” Victoria takes into account the harmful traditions of the South from multiple angles across A Southern Gothic, asking as many rhetorical questions as she offers observations, stepping outside of her own perspective to see from the vantage point of many other compelling characters.

We meet a “Mean-Hearted Woman” who is coldly forced out of her home on Christmas morning by a husband who’s found another lover. Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and Kyshona lend supporting vocals on the standout “You Was Born to Die,” which finds Victoria flexing the dynamics of her voice, layered over a melody that’s as much a character in the story as the lyrics themselves. The sobering “The Whole World Knows” follows a struggling drug addict who feels like an outsider in her church-going community, while a young woman mourns the death of her sister in “My Oh My.” Victoria proves she has a fierce tongue and spirit to match on “Deep Water Blues,” undeterred in addressing white supremacy head on, proclaiming, “Now it’s been too many times I been put in a place/To have to wipe up a mess a white man made/Like my grandmama did and her mama did too/So I’ll be awful glad to get me clean of you/And let the water do what water do.”

“I wanted to almost have the record be a meditation on the way that perception is seen in the South. Who’s the narrator of one’s life? Is it you, or is it the way people perceive you? What does it cost a person who’s not able to live up to what it takes to belong in a group? What does belonging even mean? What are the ways that we’re asked to sacrifice ourselves in the name of Christianity and respectability and good manners?” she reflects. “I wanted some of the songs to be looking at this girl who can’t belong from an onlookers’ perspective and then some to let her speak and let us hear her prayers and her meditations. I don’t know which perception is accurate.”

Stepping outside of her own frame of mind didn’t come without its challenges. The singer cites “Far From Dixie” as the song she felt most vulnerable writing, a process that required time and patience. “I was in a troubled way and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say,” she admits. “I’ve learned never to write down what you don’t mean. Even if it’s not about you, if it’s not true to you coming out of your hands, I’d rather drive people crazy for a year than commit to something that I knew was not the heart of what I needed to say.” 

Always one to honor her word, Victoria reclaims the narrative of the phrase “Southern Gothic,” often defined in literature by flawed characters, darkness and a feeling of alienation. With this powerful body of work, Victoria owns her space as a prolific Southern storyteller like the ones who came before her. “Typically when people think of Southern Gothic, they’re thinking of a particular aesthetic of the South that is centered in whiteness and centered in white dread and white anxiety and white fear of ‘the other.’ But I wanted to reclaim that title to be used as a marker of a Southern Black girl’s experiences growing up doubly othered and skewered so far outside the dominant culture narrative that centered itself only by excluding you. I wanted to center the mythologies of a Black Southern girl. I wanted to center her experiences and place them shoulder to shoulder with other Southern writers who claim to speak for the South,” she explains. “It was my way of putting my work under that umbrella of Southern narrative and Southern storytelling. It’s my way of authorizing the experiences of girls that look like me, who grew up where I did.” 

Much like the respite the album-making process provided her, Victoria hopes that A Southern Gothic compels others to look inward. “A Southern Gothic, it’s a story. It’s a record that’s very much rooted in my body, rooted in the South, rooted in the dirt. It’s a record that kept me rooted when I wanted to float off into a cloud of anxiety last year. It’s kept me rooted to a true part of myself that exists audaciously independent of all the madness and the chaos. It showed me that there’s a part of me where art comes from that’s mine and it exists purely for itself and it can save your life, that part of you,” she professes of the album’s personal impact. “I would hope that it challenges [listeners] to engage with the lessons that the dominant narrative has imparted upon us to really question the particularities of the way that you walk through the world, the way the world walks through you, and consider the weight that is taken on by society’s eye upon you. How does that alter you? I would challenge them to listen more closely to their inner lives.” 

A Southern Gothic arrives on September 17. Victoria recently launched season two of her podcast, Call & Response. She’ll open for Jason Isbell at the Ryman Auditorium on October 24 and appears on his upcoming covers album, Georgia Blue, set for release on October 15. 

Follow Adia Victoria on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Haunted Like Human Explore Relationships Through Mental Health Lens with “Stay” Premiere

Photo Credit: Caroline Voisine

Dale Chapman and Cody Clark are natural born storytellers, so it’s only fitting that music is what brought them together. The two met by a happy accident, guitarist Clark voyaging across the country from Washington state to Music City where vocalist Chapman was working at a restaurant in Midtown. Clark and his friend came in just after arriving in the city; Chapman struck up a conversation with the musicians that serendipitously led to a co-writing session between her and Clark. Realizing the creative chemistry between them in that first writing session, they formed folk duo Haunted Like Human, releasing their debut album Ghost Stories in 2017.

“We were talking about the universal human experience of being a little bit haunted by something, whether it’s your past or a mistake. That part of being haunted in this human experience,” Clark describes of the meaning behind the duo’s name. “We really try to tell stories in every song we write.” 

They channel this symbolism into their new song “Stay” (premiering exclusively via Audiofemme) from forthcoming LP Tall Tales & Fables, out October 15. The stirring acoustic number puts mental health at the forefront, as they ride ravaged waters with grace and ease, alongside a peaceful melody of guitar and strings complementing their haunting, yet serene harmonies. After taking a year-long hiatus from songwriting after the release of 2018 EP Folklore, the duo found themselves returning to the craft after opening for The Talbott Brothers at City Winery in Nashville in 2019. The lyrics of the chorus came to Chapman’s mind while driving in the car to her waitressing job, prompting her to record a rough demo on her phone to send to her bandmate, describing the song as a cross between the Talbot Brothers and Gregory Alan Isakov.

“It really became a deep dive into the way that relationships that we’ve been in have been affected by one or both people’s mental health, the struggles, and how hopeless that can sometimes feel,” Chapman explains of the song’s inspiration. “We both have wrestled with anxiety and depression a lot in different ways. I know for me, they will often feed off of each other in this vicious spiral of being insecure or feeling like a burden, and then you’re projecting that onto the other person, and assuming that they think that you’re a burden makes you feel more insecure, and what it looks like to try to work as a team on somebody’s mental health. It’s hard for everybody involved. It’s a good fight, but also it’s a hard fight.”

The duo doesn’t shy away from the hard fight on “Stay,” the gothic, instrumental score following the lead character as they battle their inner demons with whiskey and medicine, trying to keep a meaningful relationship afloat as Chapman pleads in the song’s opening lines, “You’re trying to be patient/You’re trying to be kind/But I know that you’re still running from the demons in my mind/But I promise this thing in my head/It ain’t got the best of me yet.”

“It’s a relationship that’s on the brink of falling apart,” Chapman explains. “We’ve all been there, and looking at it and saying, ‘There’s only so much that I can do for you as a person in this moment; there’s only so much that I can give. What does that mean for us moving forward?’ It’s a song about being up against a wall and really having to lay all your cards out on the table.” 

This notion comes to a head in the bridge as Chapman and Clark echo, “Don’t give up on me/I won’t give up on you,” their harmonies calling out to one another across an abyss of vulnerability. What makes the song particularly unique is the way that mental health becomes a character all its own, serving as a present player in the story. The lead character seemingly drowns in their own reality, yet possesses the strength and resiliency to overcome those inner demons.

“I feel like I’ve had people give up on me in relationships before and that’s been a sentiment that’s felt very close to a surface. It’s like ‘I need you to not give up on me in this moment,’ something about the simplicity of it, yet it’s this back and forth communication,” Chapman reflects. “I feel like personifying mental illness and giving it a more active character to play in the plot is something that I have always enjoyed doing and it’s something that you’ll see throughout our discographies. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of years about breaking down the stigma around mental illness and being more open about it and understanding. But to put a character and put some type of form and actions and motives, an antagonist in the story, it’s a little bit more physical than just something inside my head.”  

The song ends on an intentionally hopeful note; Chapman offers the final line: “So darling, won’t you hold me close the way you used to do?” allowing the listener to determine if the darkness ends in light. “I didn’t want it to be hopeless,” Chapman professes. “[It’s] this olive branch offering in a way, of holding out a hand and working to potentially rebuild from where you’re at.”

“It’s nice to leave it open-ended. Let the audience decide how it ends,” Clark adds.

With “Stay,” the duo hopes the song offers a message of hope for those who need it, and that listeners will connect to its message of compassion and understanding. “To me, it feels freeing to put your own story into a song, almost like it’s therapy and you’re recovering from it. It’s in a song now, that’s not my burden anymore,” Clark observes. “People struggling with mental illness [may] hear this and hear, ‘You’re not alone, you’re not the only person struggling with this,’ and hopefully be encouraged to try to improve the situation.”

“Between music and telling stories, those are such powerful human connectors. That’s always what we’re striving to do is connect with other people in some way and make them feel something. I know the moments that I’ve felt the most moved [is] when somebody will come up to us after a show and be like, ‘This song, I love it because it hit me this way. It saw me where I was and I felt that.’ To have created that connection and shared that emotion, it’s so humbling,” Chapman says gratefully. “The fact that we get to participate in that is really incredible.” 

Follow Haunted Like Human on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Darity Emphasizes the Importance of Relationship Boundaries with Pop Anthem “Out of It”

Darity Out of It
Darity Out of It
Photo Credit: Corynne Staresinic

With her haunting new single “Out of It,” Darity teaches a masterclass on asserting boundaries. The dance-y track combines what the Cincinnati singer-songwriter is best known for – thoughtful lyrics and hypnotic vocals – while delivering a personal message about independence and family. 

“The chorus of ‘Out of It’ was originally written about a rough patch that my dad and I went through while I was in college. I went away to school, and it was really easy to just not engage with the conflict and our differences,” she tells Audiofemme. “After re-writing, it became more about a pattern I had noticed in myself. The verses are reflecting on other situations where I had left people out of things in my life to spare myself the trouble.”

“It’s just easier to leave people out of things. Relationships are complicated. When they get tough, or I feel like they are in my way or not constructive – I tend to just withdraw,” she adds. “It’s just a self-preservation coping thing.”

The accompanying video, aesthetically shot at Cincinnati’s Taft’s Ale House, marks a full-circle moment for Darity, as it stars actual members of her family.

“I am one of eight kids. So, my real parents, boyfriend and a few siblings were in the video,” she explained. “It truly meant a lot. I’m the only one who is pursuing music as a career, so it is kind of foreign to them and to have them a part of it was special.”

“Filming with them was great,” she added. “They were all in good spirits, except my youngest brother, but he is 11 and just wanted to play his Nintendo Switch, which I totally get! There was a lot of laughter and [director] Nick Starensnic was really efficient, which just made it fun.”

Several of the shots feature Darity by herself – sometimes appearing lonely; other times looking empowered. The song works in the same dichotomy, with Darity sometimes reveling in her independence, and other times feeling the weight of her isolation. 

“Autonomy and individuality are very important to me. I want to be free and fully myself,” she says. “I really wanted to figure out my own values and become more of myself, and that definitely resulted in me putting myself out of familiar spaces.” 

“Meanwhile, growing up, and the relational growing pains that came with it, felt really lonely. I think growing up puts you on an island for a while until people know what to do with the adult version of yourself,” she continues. “Because of that, ‘Out of It’ really feels like a bittersweet coming-of-age film for me, personally.”

Darity has dropped a handful of singles this year, releasing “Six Feet” back in March and the uplifting “Everything” this January. “Out of It” continues her momentum, as she gears up to release a new EP. 

“The EP has been less collaborative and more something I’ve been crafting alongside my producer, Jeremy Steckel. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m excited and just taking my time,” she says. She’ll test out some of her recent material during a live show with Leland Blue supporting Michigander this August at Fountain Square.

“The other thing I’ve been working on is launching a Patreon. It’s going to be more personal to me as a songwriter. It’ll feel like a songwriting journal, which will be a look into me as a person – something I haven’t explicitly given people access to,” she adds. “My hope is to form relationships with the people that enjoy my writing.”

Follow Darity on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Joy Oladokun Chases Darkness and Light on Major Label Debut in defense of my own happiness

Photo Credit: Nolan Knight

Joy Oladokun has crafted noteworthy art with her major label debut album, in defense of my own happiness, out June 4 via Republic Records. Leaning into cinematic melodies that embrace a pop, R&B and folk-friendly blend, the Nashville-based artist has a voice rich and lush with stories of pain transformed into power. Across the album’s 14 songs – which include fantastic collaborations with Maren Morris and 23-year-old singer-songwriter and poet Jensen McRae – the Arizona native and child of Nigerian immigrants embraces themes of bettering oneself and cleansing her soul, shedding the trials of the past while standing tall in her own grace.

You can catch Oladokun on the road this year as an opening act on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s tour in September, in addition to appearances at Bonnaroo Festival on September 2 and Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 1. Visit Oladokun’s official website for more information. In the meantime, here are five standout tracks on in defense of my own happiness. 

“Breathe Again” 

Featured in season 5 of This is Us, all it takes is one listen to “Breathe Again” to become an instant fan of Oladokun, even without NBC’s endorsement. Her voice sparkles like a gemstone under the light on this gentle piano number accented by a soft orchestra. “Breathe Again” serves as a true demonstration of raw vulnerability as Oladokun shares her personal, innermost thoughts with the world. Fragile enough to bend, but strong enough not to break under the pressure, Oladokun takes a hard look at herself as she’s trapped by inner demons, yet reaching toward the light. “Breathe Again” feels like a moment of self-betterment and rebirth, making for one of the album’s most triumphant moments.

Best lyrics: “Follow me down where the waters run deep/I’ll let you drown in the worst of me/If my intentions are good why can’t I come clean”

“Hold my breath until I’m honest/Will I ever breathe again” 

“I See America”

The album’s second shortest track is also among its most thought-provoking. Here, Oladokun takes an aerial perspective on the melting pot that is America. Rather than taking a stark political stand, she looks at unity from a refreshing perspective. Blending subtle observations with potent lyrics that manifest god in the form of a man on the street with a tear drop tattoo on his cheek and dirt under his fingernails, she also manages to illuminate the balancing act of human relationships. As she reprises the pinnacle mantra, “When I see you/I see us/I see America/I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America,” it has a powerful way of manifesting in the listener’s spirit.

Best lyrics: “I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America” 

“Mighty Die Young”

With a voice like an echoing beacon in the darkness, the dynamic artist delivers a tribute to the fearless leaders who used their voices to lift up noble causes, leaving this earth with glitter in their eyes, smoke in their lungs and dust on their tongues – symbols of a job well done. In two minutes and 18 seconds, Oladokun counteracts those who’ve dealt her more than her fair share of indignity with an endless well of kindness, ending the song with the fitting proclamation and a declaration of resiliency.

Best lyrics: “I’m not mighty/I’ve only just begun/The mighty die young” 

“Heaven From Here”

Alongside glimmering harmonies from duo Penny & Sparrow, Oladokun confronts mortality in this gentle piece. She sings of seeing a heavenly view through the cracks of the stained glass windows in an abandoned house once shared with the person she loved, now a relic of their faded union. With a plucked acoustic melody that evokes the feeling of rain bouncing off a window pane, the song finds her asking the universe to give her another day to enjoy life. It is as much a song about perspective as it is about pondering the mystery of life, likely to prompt deep thought in anyone who listens deeply.

Best lyrics: “Just terrified of getting older/‘Cause no one goes with you to the other side”


Oladokun ends the album on a light note with “Jordan.” Despite being baptized in the sacred Jordan River only to be bound in chains, she’s soon freed by a deep love. Building a new promised land with the person who saw past the scars and turmoil to the beauty underneath, the lyrics celebrate what they’ve built together. Carried by a peaceful instrumental, Oladokun culminates the song with the declaration,  “now I’ve found love, there’s no turning back” — ending her beautiful debut album with a defining statement that sets the stage for a bright future. 

Best lyrics: “You loved me though I was not lovely or deserving/You kissed the curse from my lips/And taught them to rejoice again” 

Follow Joy Oladokun on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Allison Russell Finds Truth, Reconciliation and Forgiveness on Debut Solo LP Outside Child

Photo Credit: Francesca Cepero

Allison Russell has created a masterpiece with Outside Child. As a member of acclaimed supergroup Our Native Daughters alongside Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla, and one-half of duo Birds of Chicago with partner JT Nero, Russell steps out boldly and bravely with her debut solo album, released May 21. With a voice that is modern, yet timeless, Russell calls to the listener’s soul with eleven compelling compositions wherein the Montreal native explores the deep trauma of her past, processing the abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepfather.

“This is my attempt at truth and reconciliation and forgiveness – a reckoning and a remembrance,” Russell says in a statement about the album that she admits was difficult to write, comparing it to “sucking the poison from a snake bite.” “This is my attempt to be the hero of my own history.” The singer accomplishes this through deep, vivid imagery and awe-inspiring storytelling that captures both darkness and light, offering a profound perspective on the human condition.

Here are five standout tracks from Outside Child.


The album’s third track finds Russell immediately addressing the violent physical abuse she endured throughout her childhood. Persephone, who in mythology is the goddess queen of the underworld and spring growth, materializes in the form of a friend Russell runs to as an escape from the abuse. “My petals are bruised, but I’m still a flower,” Russell observes, flexing all the dynamics in her voice. The song exudes a sense of softness in contrast to the tense subject matter it encompasses, as the steel guitar glimmers like a ray of sunshine that casts light in the darkness.   

“Hy Brasil”

The cinematic score that opens the song immediately pulls the listener in with its striking blend of horns, gently shuttering symbols and foreboding drums, all establishing an ominous feeling that Russell allows to simmer for nearly a minute before she speaks a word. There’s a sense of heaviness and intrigue as Russell connects another myth to her complex reality; one can almost imagine traversing the Atlantic Ocean to find the unreachable island of Hy Brasil, with its black rabbits and 21 petals of daffodils shrouded in the mists West of Ireland. “Though I drowned for 10 years/I’m still rising/Stronger for my pain and suffering/My body’s been broken/But my heart’s reborn/I’m freer than the sky,” Russell chants, her intoxicating voice calling to her ancestors as she channels the empowering mantra born from pain and sorrow, her unwavering presence felt through the speakers on one of the album’s best.

“All of the Women”

Russell digs deep into her roots on this track, where a steady kettle drum provides a meditative beat throughout the homage to the one in three women who’ve endured violence and sexual abuse – and the many lives lost to such crimes. Experiencing the song is akin to walking through a dense, dark forest where the North Star reveals itself in the form of an unbreakable woman that remains unbroken despite the relentless trauma she’s faced – much like Russell herself. Get ready for chills as she wails, “It’s fear I can bear/’Cause I’m stronger than anxious/I’m tougher than luck/Never been despised so much/Or hit so hard I couldn’t get back up,” with the sound of choral voices backing her to emphasize the immeasurable strength and resiliency she, and the many others who have experienced abuse, carries within. It feels as though Russell is summoning the souls of all the women who “disappeared” and offers a melody that rings in one’s head long after the song is over, alongside a message that resonates even deeper.


On the album’s lead single, Russell demonstrates some of her purest, most universal lyricism, providing a bit of respite from the heavy material, even as she revisits the painful moments from the past. Embracing all elements of the universe, Russell finds herself in the darkness and light, from the dove on the battlefield to a “violent lullaby.” But in line with a recurring theme of the project, Russell experiences a rebirth through lyrics, “I’m the moon’s dark side/I’m the solar flare/The child of the Earth/The child of the Air/I am The Mother of the Evening Star/I am the love that conquers all.”

“Joyful Motherfuckers”

A title like “Joyful Motherfuckers” is destined to be gold, and Russell certainly does not disappoint. Between a simple, plucked acoustic guitar with sprinkles of piano and soft drums, Russell ends the album on a gentle note that finds joy through the “fearless lovers,” “rainbow shooters,” “hopeful sinners” and “true forgivers.” Trading between English and French, each lyric is rich in wisdom and profound thought in a way that feels as though she’s reconnecting with her childhood self. “You got love in your heart/But it’s way down in the dark/You better let it see the sun/This world is almost done,” she professes, closing the album with the universal call to action: “Show ‘em what you got in your heart.” As Russell processes her trials and triumphs through this unforgettable collection of songs as a stronger, wiser and joyful woman, she provides healing not only for herself, but the world at large.

Follow Allison Russell on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Esther Rose Dances Away the Heartbreak on Third LP How Many Times

Photo Credit: Akasha Rabut

Taking shape over the course of two years, New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Esther Rose offers a different outlook to romantic losses and hardships – unique from the wallowing cries of the average love song – on her third album How Many Times, out March 26 via Father/Daughter Records/Full Time Hobby. Carefully acknowledging viewpoints from both parties, Rose’s personal anecdotes are meant to move audiences both physically and emotionally.

Rose’s sweet alt-country, folk pop twangs and two stepping rhythms originate back to her experience as a fresh New Orleans local. Roaming the noisy streets filled with traditional jazz bands, the singer-songwriter found her niche in NOLA’s own eclectic country music scene. Seeing the parties of joyful folks gathered around lively country music shindigs, Rose joined in on the fun and felt particularly at home.

Other than the two-step dance accompaniment, it was the soft weeping tones of the pedal steel guitar and frantic bowing of the fiddle that particularly piqued her interest, reminding her of a beloved legend Hank Williams. Drawn to his “lonesome voice and three-chord [compositions] on the guitar” Rose felt personally connected to not only these foot-tapping rhythms, but also the warmth and intimacy of songwriting itself. Album single “Songs Remain”reminisces on Williams withthe singer’s intimate vocals accompanied with the slow strums of the guitar.

How Many Times is ignited by the spark of lyrical compositions stemming from little moments in Rose’s life – an exchange of words in arguments, overheard conversations and catchphrases born out of heart-to-heart chats. Representative of significant experiences in her life, her songwriting process served as a means of introspection and self-discovery. “I would say that our experiences as humans really shape us,” she describes. “So I use songwriting to examine my life, experiences and relationships.” 

Her affinity for looking outward at life’s circumstances causes her to analyze its meaning and her own perspective carefully and thoughtfully. She crafts her lyrical phrases with the intention of looking at the bigger picture, processing each moment with the proper care it deserves. “It’s a universal experience,” she describes. “Whatever it is that sets up the song is being present in the world and paying attention.” Listeners are given a peek into the intimacy of these referenced conversations in tracks like “Good Time,” where Rose sings “It’s a real good time for bad timing” with conspiratorial inflection, the sort of wink and nudge one might give a close friend during a night on the town.

The idiosyncratic outlook at relationship pain Rose expresses in her songs seems to be more than solely grieving and throwing blame or anger on the other party. Allowing herself to feel the torment of heartbreak, the musician simultaneously expresses her acceptance of the hurt she’s feeling while poking fun at her own negative reaction on “My Bad Mood.” She sings candidly, “You got your new blue jeans and the girl of your dreams/I guess I should go and do the same/Oh, I’m getting pretty tired of me and my bad mood.”

Rather than focusing on blue tones of the average love song, the musician has an interesting way of shaking up the vibes of the gloom through her change in tempo. On the album’s title track Rose keeps listeners engaged with a sudden change in time signature in the middle of the song. Soothed by the sustained wails of the fiddle in the beginning of “How Many Times,” the listener will find themselves tapping out a faster tempo by its end, concluding with a light-hearted touch. Other tracks, like “Mountaintop,” “Without You,” and “Keeps Me Running” carry on as the fast-paced instrumentation allows listeners to forget about emotional turmoil.

Rose’s says her affinity for upbeat tempos helps “iron out [her] nerves,” rather than giving into the emotions of bluesy, dismal sounds as a bandaid for hardship. How Many Times may have the same effect on fans, who can experience her music as the artist herself would, turning painful emotions into songs worthy of dancing to. “What I’m trying to do sonically as a songwriter [is to] explore emotions in a way that by the time I’m done writing it, it has changed the emotion into something that we can all dance to and have fun with,” she says.

With an ever-changing state of mind, Esther Rose is currently working on new music touching on themes of future fear, family, health, and the planet. “I’ve never played it out with my band,” she says of the new material. “So the songs feel really exploratory and kind of goth with a lot of different tangents.”

In the process of making How Many Times, Rose turned to the records of Faustina Masigot and Kiki Cavazos to soothe her emotional state of mind and feel a sense of companionship. “These records were there for me. I love how music is that companion for heartbreak,” Rose says. Understanding the importance of music in our daily lives and the profound effect it can have on others, Rose hopes How Many Times can similarly accompany listeners in times of sorrow, or on lonely nights, or long drives. She adds, “My dream is that my record will do that for other people.”

Follow Esther Rose on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Kelly McFarling Relishes the Lushness of a Lost Time on Deep The Habit

As we reach the year anniversary of the pandemic and all of the disarray it has brought into our lives, people have begun to reflect on how it’s changed them. One such person is Bay Area singer-songwriter Kelly McFarling, who released her latest LP Deep The Habit on March 12. She recorded the album pre-COVID but chose to delay the release until now. Rather than worrying about how some of the original meaning might be lost, however, she hopes that it has become all the more poignant; calling Deep The Habit “a very beautiful time capsule of this group of people who I really miss a lot,” McFarling admits that although so much has changed, “it feels nice to celebrate it right now.”

The delightfully mellow collection of ten songs is welcome in this new paradigm, comforting in its warmth and its new spin on old classics. McFarling intended for the record to sound like a feminine take on J.J. Cale or Dire Straits. She felt “like there was a little gap in that canon,” saying, “I wasn’t hearing a lot of female voices within that realm, and I kind of wanted to have more of a female-fronted version of that.” But McFarling infuses this traditionally masculine, bluesy-Americana sound with softness and vulnerability, giving us something refreshing and honestly soothing. Moments of pop sheen, like the hook on “Birds,” give the record a touch of witchy Stevie Nicks cool, and McFarling’s refinement of her folk sound on previous records (like 2017’s Water Dog, 2013’s Ridgeline, and 2010 debut Distractible Child) calls to mind Hiss Golden Messenger or Molly Sarlé. 

There’s a lushness to Deep The Habit, one born of McFarling’s effort to highlight the talent of the musicians she has playing in her band (Tim Marcus on pedal steel, Oscar Westesson on bass, Nick Cobbett on drums, Andrew Brennan on guitar, and Brittany Powers on backing vocals). “I think it’s kind of an evolution we’ve been doing, of folk music into a more lush, rock album,” she explains. “More instrumentation, more complex arrangements for a band. My previous album was a lot more stripped down, in a folk realm. [On Deep The Habit] I was going for something that would really showcase the band that I’m playing with right now.” 

She names family as the major theme of the album, but notes that the word has many connotations – “questions about family, about whether or not to have a family… the family I’m building in my life.” On a more macrocosmic level, the theme of “family” as it relates to humanity in general (and the demise of our planet as we know it) haunts the listener as McFarling croons “Am I the last of my kind?” over and over on the hook of “Last of My Kind.” “I think another major theme is connection to the natural world, and having that tie into family as being a citizen of the planet and the changes that are happening there – just feeling a lot of sadness about that,” she says.

These musings on family and humanity are more poignant in March 2021 than they ever could have been in early March 2020; many of us are at a point where we’ve never gone so long without seeing our families and loved ones, while having also been robbed of the daily interactions that instill our lives with a sense of familiarity and comfort. McFarling acknowledges this, saying, “It is interesting to me how many of those themes were coming up, and maybe even being foreshadowed before this all happened. I’m sure people will perceive it differently based on the pandemic, but it was all [written] before.”

This consideration makes the idea of a time capsule all the more dynamic, something living inside us and changing with us, as opposed to something buried deep in the ground. The resentments and frustrations we might have felt of those close to us maybe don’t glare the same way they used to, in the absence of these same people. And alternatively, the joy and pleasure we felt in their company becomes all the more precious and golden in hindsight.

The concept of family has become more dynamic for McFarling in this time as well, as it relates to her relationship with her partner, co-producer, and guitarist Andrew Brennan. Quarantined together, they’ve begun to collaborate musically more than ever, though she emphasizes that he already was a major part of Deep The Habit. “Andrew is one of the major evolutions of this record we’re about to put out as well, because he has a huge part in the arrangement and some of the writing, getting it ready for this big band,” she explains. “I feel like the record we’ve been making during quarantine has been the next step in that collaboration.”

While some bemoan long empty hours and too much togetherness, McFarling basks in the positive aspects of it. “I tend to get inspired when things are a little foundationless and tricky, so this time has been ripe for that,” she says. “My husband and I are stuck in a house and we are using that time to write songs together, which has been really beautiful.” 

She heads back into the studio to record another album in May, noting how weird it is to be recording and releasing an album at the same time, no album cycle, no tour. More than anything else, she wants the listener to take from this album its overarching joy, despite its deep themes and sometimes melancholy sound. “I think a lot of that has to do with the band and how joyful it was to play music together. You can hear that in the way that these songs came out,” she says. “The joy that comes through in the record makes me appreciate that we got to do that. I know that we’ll get to do it again, but not getting to do it, and then hearing the songs, and hearing the sounds together is bittersweet – but also hopeful for me.”

In the end, that’s all any of us can do when life throws us the unexpected – try not worry about what’s out of our control and find joy in what is. Kelly McFarling sums it up nicely on album track “Just As Small”: “You can see just how small you really are/While we aim for what is coming/And we ache for what is gone.”

Follow Kelly McFarling on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Lily Talmers Chooses Her Words Carefully on Remember Me As Holy EP

Coming of age: we all do it. But a very select few of us do it with as much grace, self-awareness and poetry as Lily Talmers. The Birmingham, Michigan native and recent University of Michigan grad combines her stunning mastery of the English language with her unorthodox classical music training to create a viscerally raw and beautiful debut record, Remember Me as Holy.  

For someone who never really set out to be a songwriter to begin with, Talmers’ poetic lyrics and intrinsic sense of melody make her a very, very good one. “It’s kind of a weak thing to do,” Talmers says of songwriting. “At least in my mind, I think I wanted to be an engineer or a doctor, something so hard and objective… objective is the best word to describe what I wanted to be.”

Sure, performing open-heart surgery or aiding in developing the COVID-19 vaccine can be seen as more “objectively” utilitarian than writing a song. But, as we all know, music has a unique healing ability that can’t be found in any medication or surgery – especially, at this moment in time, songs which pull on the tender strings of a desperate nation teetering between change and stagnancy.

In “Miss America,” Talmers meets us at a moment of reckoning and rebuilding, begging her country to see through the smokescreen it’s been looking at for years. “I’ve been staring at you darling/Sitting back and wonderin’, what the hell you’re gonna do,” Talmers sings to the millions of undecided voters. “‘Cause it all comes back to you who eat your dinner with the T.V. on/And who smile thinking everybody else is wrong/Yes, you who drink your coffee with the curtains drawn/Yes, still it’s you that we’re all counting on.” It’s a simple and poignant way to describe the MAGA masses that stayed loyal to 45 throughout his hack job of a presidency without dismissing them completely. And she does all this in a voice as soothing as the ocean – even when she’s talking about a nation’s proverbial nose-dive. 

Though Talmers is a multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, banjo and cello), she explains that the most important part about songwriting, to her, is the language she uses. “My compulsion and obsession with songwriting is definitely lyricism, and the spirit of a song, what it’s trying to say,” says Talmers. This focus on words is befitting for the musician who studied literature and English, although that wasn’t always the initial plan. For her first few years at university, Talmers was a neuroscience major with the goal of eventually becoming a doctor. Even with the rigorous coursework, she was still moonlighting as a musician. “I was finishing my homework so I could feed my obsession with writing songs,” Talmers remembers.

An awakening came when Talmers was in Copenhagen for a neuroscience internship in the summer of 2018 that made her question the path she was on. But the artist found solace in her songwriting. “[The internship] was so bad and tortuous that that was what compelled me to go to my first open-mic in Portugal,” Talmers remembers; she was gracious enough to share a Facebook video of the performance.

The song she played there ended up being an important one for her for the validation it would provide. “I wrote it in a fit the night before and and then the next day I found this open mic in a random bar in the middle of Lisbon,” she says, crediting the bar “full of old men” (and other encouraging voices) for the inspiration she needed her to pursue music – even though the vulnerability of it makes her uneasy at times. “Even to this day it feels sort of vulnerable to perform – I never feel good,” Talmers says. “It’s not like I’m bad or anything. I just think it’s not that glamorous if your soul is on the line.” 

Talmers’ summer in Europe also held another musically formative moment; sitting in a hostel in Copenhagen, she heard Adrianne Lenker’s voice for the first time. “I heard ‘Masterpiece’ playing ambiently,” Talmers says. “And then I became obsessed.” She describes how Lenker’s songwriting style, both solo and with Big Thief, inspired her to take a more experimental approach with songwriting and trust that the listener will catch on. “She just digresses so much from normal songwriting rhetoric,” says Talmers. “The way that she writes is so sonic, the words that she chooses, I feel like she has really given me permission to express myself in an incoherent way almost, trusting that it makes sense.” 

In addition to Lenker’s palpable influence, Talmers cites other folk legends like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel as shepherds of her path. In fact, she says hearing “Scarborough Fair” opened her up to listening to pop music, which she didn’t have much time or patience for at the time. As a student of the piano from a young age, Talmers revered classical music and wasn’t interested in much else. “I had this old Russian piano teacher named Yuri who was also my dad’s piano teacher growing up,” Talmers explains. “He forced me to do scales the first two or three years and nothing else… then suddenly instead of giving me, like, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ he just started giving me like insane classical pieces and expecting me to memorize them.”

She would watch Yuri play phrases and use her melodic sensibility to repeat them back. Eventually, she memorized entire classical pieces like Chopin’s “Waltz in C# minor” this way. Though she didn’t realize it at first, this intense ear training undoubtedly plays a role in her complex and clever songwriting style.

That’s how a lot of Talmers’ songwriting feels: effortless, accidental, and primal. Remember Me as Holy serves as a roadmap of Talmers’ deepest thoughts, feelings and desires. It echoes the cries of a nation and the cries of a regular old broken heart. At the bottom of her Bandcamp, Talmers writes, “I do forgive you, after all,” a message to anyone who can see themselves in one of her lyrics. “I wrote that in recognition that it’s all good. I don’t believe that you write songs about people, I think you write about tons of different relationships in your life,” explains Talmers. I think the record could be perceived as like a burn and it’s simply not that – it’s sort of like self-reconciliation.”

Follow Lily Talmers on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Shannon Clark & the Sugar Triumph Over Loss on “Let It Ride”

Shannon Clark & the Sugar hail from Greenville, Ohio, home of the American sharpshooter Annie Oakley. It’s a connection that feels natural when listening to their upcoming album Marks on the Wall, a collection of what lead singer Shannon Clark often calls “Midwest Americana Soul.” The record (out May 14, 2021), twists and turns in terms of genre, but their latest single “Let it Ride” may be the most personal, a shot to the heart. It’s a diary entry straight from Shannon’s past and a call to action for the future.

“I’ve buried a daughter way before her time/I’d take her place a million, million times/but I let it ride,” Shannon sings, his eldest daughter Navie Clark’s husky voice vibrating slightly as it echoes his own. The pace of the drums, played by Shannon’s wife Brittany Clark, is steady, acting as a form of meditation throughout. It’s a song that could easily play in the back of a nouveau western film, the story behind the lyrics lost in moving images. But once a listener’s ear tunes in, the story can’t help but move into focus.

“Everything in that song, every line that I sing in that song is real,” Shannon explains. “I do have a sister that lives in Modesto, I don’t ever get to see her. She’s my half sister. My dad, who I didn’t meet ’til I was 24, I found him, he didn’t find me. My mom went through a lot of abusive relationships when she was younger.” For Shannon, the journey of this particular blues song is exploring the negative elements of his past before shrugging them off triumphantly – leaving them not in the dust, but as a carefully placed notch in the belt of existence.

Shannon’s love of music started from a childhood soundtracked by classic country and rock ‘n’ roll acts, from Patsy Cline to Queen. His mom was a radio disc jockey for fifteen years, working at a few major stations in Dayton, Ohio. “She was really well known around the area,” Shannon says. “She was a single mom, so I would go to the radio station – she got to drag me along because she didn’t always have a sitter. She’d work the late shift, I’d be coloring on the floor of the radio station while she was spinning records. That’s kind of where I got my start I guess, my love of music. She’d drag me to concerts, make me sit in the press box with her until it was over.” Shannon even met Reba McEntire and Vince Gill, but remembers his 6th grade self being impatient, angsty, and less-than-impressed.

Shannon and Brittany grew up in the same small town, even went to the same church, but ultimately met playing music. “I was playing in a band and we had a big show coming up. Our band broke up and I needed a drummer to fill in,” Shannon remembers. “I asked her because someone said she was playing drums, and she did, and we became really good friends. That grew into more; 16 years later and we’ve got these guys running around.”

It was a moment of kismet that mirrored Brittany’s newly found passion for drumming. She had been practicing for a few years before she joined the band, but performing was never top of mind – her first show was the one she performed with Shannon. “It was kind of an accident because my uncle had this old drum set that he’d had when he was in high school,” Brittany recalls. “It was from the sixties. Just this old piece of crap, full of dust. He was like ‘Hey if you want this, take it. Otherwise it’s going to the trash’ right? So I took it, drug it home, cleaned it up and put new heads on it.”

She practiced by playing along with her CD collection, particularly Sheryl Crow. “I would listen to these Sheryl Crow albums and I would learn every single song,” she says. “I would just play religiously. I would come home from school, I wouldn’t even do my homework, I would just go down and play drums for two hours. I know I drove my parents crazy… There wasn’t really a motivation to be in a band. I just loved playing. It was an itch I had to scratch. No lessons – Sheryl Crow taught me.”

The band started out as a pop punk group called Everybody Else Wins. Brittany was 16 when they recorded their first record. “I always kind of wrote the same way, but I put it behind heavy guitar riffs and catchy melodies,” Shannon said of the time period. “My love for music was always deeper than what I was doing then. That was what was popular. When you’re young you don’t always have a lot of depth of knowledge. It took me ’til later to realize that wasn’t the kind of music I really loved.”

The band was on the move, touring and performing at Warped Tour in 2006 and 2007 on the Ernie Ball Stage. Then Shannon and Brittany’s second daughter passed away, and their hearts just weren’t into touring. The Clark family kept creating music, but kept it at home, teaching eldest daughter Navie how to sing harmonies to Ryan Adams songs.

“I started playing guitar when I was younger,” Navie Clark tells Audiofemme. “My dad bought me a guitar and I was maybe four or five, and I kinda always had one lying around. But I didn’t really get serious about playing ’til about a year ago, year and half. I think I was getting into new music, my taste was expanding and I wanted to be able to play this music I was hearing. And I think piano, we just had this gap in the band. We needed someone to play.”

“I’m proud of her because she has a record player and she plays good records, but she does like Harry Styles,” Shannon says. “It’s my guilty pleasure music,” Navie responds with a grin.

For the last three years, the family has performed as Shannon Clark & the Sugar, bringing together Shannon’s love of Glen Hansard and Amos Lee, Brittany’s love of John Prine, Bob Dylan and Brandi Carlile, and Navie’s love of old-school Dolly Parton.

Their upcoming album Marks on the Wall is the first album Shannon and Brittany have sat down in a studio and written together; previously, Shannon took the lead on songwriting. “[Brittany’s] always felt self-conscious about writing,” Shannon explains. “She didn’t think she could be a writer – she didn’t have that creative spark, she told me. These are her words, not mine. As we progressed, I’m coming in constantly, she’s doing dishes, taking care of the kids, and I’m like ‘Hey check this out, listen to this song, listen to this riff,’ and she’d always give me ideas and pointers. Our whole marriage she’s done this, so she’s really been writing with me since we were first together.”

As the album progressed, Navie also began finding her place in the band, taking the harmonies her parents wrote and rearranging them. The resulting music is layered: a father’s voice speaking his truth, his daughter’s voice echoing it back to him.

Navie has also had to step up in a big way for a sixteen-year-old musician. Michael Chavez, John Mayer’s former touring guitar player, played guitar on the record. Navie takes his spot in the band’s live performances, singing not only the harmonies she’s written, but also the guitar licks Chavez created during the recording process.

The band worked with Grammy award-winning producer, Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, U2, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson) on the record. It was Howard who insisted on a recording rule: three takes, we’re done. “This record’s not perfect; it’s not supposed to be,” Shannon says. “We wanted to capture moments so the performances are raw and they’re emotional and they’re live. We sang together in the room instead of separate tracks. I feel like you can feel that on this record and that’s what I wanted.”

Brittany was behind the idea of an imperfect recording, too, adding, “If you go to a live performance you’re going to hear chairs squeak or something off. [The record has] that live feeling.”

Much of the record is deeply personal to the Clark family, touching on personal histories and deep-seated pain. It’s the reaction to the pain they’re interested in exploring in songs like “Let It Ride.”

“It doesn’t matter when the rain comes, as long as you get dry,” Shannon says of the song. “Everyone’s gonna have something that happens to them. I think a lot people can hold on to those things their whole life and it effects their lives. Those people hold power and those situations hold power over that person. They can never be who they were meant to be, they can never develop into a regular beautiful person because they’ve got all this baggage they bring with them constantly. And I think that it’s important to let it go.”

“Let it ride,” Brittany and Navie echo in unison.

“Once you can commit it to a recording, that’s therapeutic too,” Brittany says. “You can get it off your chest, it’s concrete somewhere and you don’t have to carry that.”

The Clark family is disturbingly well-adjusted, easily joking with one another, poking each other about a recent fight they had just before the interview (Brittany spent the majority of the conflict banging on her drum set). They speak a common language: music, the driving force in their lives. It’s the medium in which they speak to one another and to their audience. For now, with COVID-19 still raging throughout the country, live shows are at a standstill, but the band is chomping at the bit to perform some mini-tours, just as they did when they were starting out. In the early days, they’d leave their young children with a family member.

“We would try to go play three or four shows, and come back,” Shannon recalls. “We never wanted to be bad parents – that was more important than the music to us.” Now that Navie is in the band, they don’t have to worry about that too much – and Shannon Clark & the Sugar have never sounded so sweet.

Follow Shannon Clark & the Sugar on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno Ruminate on Missed Connection with “You Don’t See Me”

Photo Credit: Brendon Burton

We all live with other versions of ourselves, identities we’ve outgrown that may suddenly—and uncomfortably—reemerge when we revisit people and places from our past. How we react to these seemingly inevitable encounters is another story, and the topic of the new single “You Don’t See Me,” from Portland-based folk duo Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno.

Specifically, “You Don’t See Me” centers on the phenomenon of how someone who was once dear to you can become a stranger over time, which Leva experienced firsthand during a strange encounter she had while visiting her hometown of Lexington, Virginia.

“I got lunch one afternoon at a great little spot called Blue Sky Bakery. I sat on a bar stool, facing the large window and looking out onto the street. As I ate my sandwich, someone I knew from high school slowly walked by the window. I waited for them to look at me so that I could wave, but they never did. I wasn’t sure whether they just didn’t see me, or if it was a purposeful choice,” Leva recalls.

Leva, the daughter of celebrated old time musicians in Lexington, was especially baffled by this person’s aloofness because they were more than an acquaintance—they were an ex-boyfriend. “It was someone I really knew, and that kind of blew my mind. I actually saw him twice and he didn’t say hi to me,” she says.

Calcagno, who has collaborated musically with Leva since the two were in high school, remembers how profoundly this impacted her, and how quickly she turned to writing “You Don’t See Me” in order to process it. “She just sat down on the couch and I remember it coming out all at once,” says Calcagno. “I think I left the house – I knew when to give her space to think about it.”

Fittingly, “You Don’t See Me” possesses a sort of nostalgic introspectiveness—both lyrically and sonically. There’s a bittersweet quality in Leva’s crystalline voice as it lilts against a driving guitar and violin pedal that mimics the ticking hands of time. And, as intensity builds, Leva’s exploration of this awkward encounter turns into a larger lyrical conversation about growing apart from people as we grow up—and how weird that can feel.

“A crowded room of faces I remember/From a time before/I try to wave but they turn their shoulders/They don’t know me anymore,” Leva sings. “I’m living in your little box of secrets/Where you don’t see me/And you don’t care.”

Aside from the sting anyone would feel from being snubbed, it makes sense that this cold behavior would baffle the pair. Calcagno and Leva emanate easy warmth and kindness, even in the sunlit cover image of their forthcoming self-titled album. After all, the pair grew up in the same close-knit music community, where everyone is somehow connected and old and new faces are eagerly recognized.

“I grew up playing fiddle music in Seattle,” says Calcagno. “I was actually learning tunes and hearing Viv’s parents’ music growing up, but didn’t know about her.” He still remembers sitting in the crowd at a Leva family performance in 2016, and thinking that the way Leva sang felt so familiar. When the pair finally met, they were excited to know another person in their age group skilled at playing old time music, which isn’t all that common. “I think we were inspired and struck by the generational aspect that we were having these parallel experiences,” says Calcagno.

Leva had a similar reaction herself. “On the East Coast everyone was either a couple years older than me or a little bit younger than me, and so meeting people that were at the exact same stage in life, but you know, really advanced players, was really fun,” she says.

Quickly, the pair began playing music together in an country band called The Onlies. Leva’s acclaimed 2018 solo debut, Time is Everything, which deeply considered the concept of time, featured Calcagno – but the eponymous album as a duo is the debut that finally puts them on par with one another as collaborators. It considers the ideas of distance and separation, something the duo—who sent voice memo ideas for songs across the country via text message while they were still in school in different cities—is well-accustomed to. Unexpectedly, the idea is even more resonant as we all sit in lockdown during the pandemic.

“All of these songs kind of just inherently were about distance and separation and space,” says Leva. “It’s interesting because even though it we didn’t write them in 2020, it feels really applicable to this time. We were writing it in a unique long-distance situation but now I think a lot of people are separated from loved ones.”

Today, Calcagno and Leva are both freshly graduated from college and have been living together in a house in Portland during the pandemic. Their shared living situation has allowed them to play together and remain connected to their fans and community via livestreams, like the Quarantine Happy Hour concert series (they’ll plan to play a release show for the new record as part of this concert series when the album drops on March 12 via Free Dirt Records).

“That’s been a lifeline for a lot of folks in our little scene. It was started by our friends who play in a duo called The Horsenecks,” explains Calcagno. “That’s been a really nice thing to see people and hear from people.”

Clearly, this duo—like so many of us—run on their connection to each other, the music, their fans and their community. That’s evidenced in the nuanced questions they ask in “You Don’t See Me,” as well as their biggest hopes for 2021. “Best case scenario would just be for COVID to die down, us be able to play the gigs we were supposed to play in 2020, see some friends, go to some festivals,” says Leva. One thing’s for sure, if the quality of this self-titled debut means anything: Leva and Calcagno’s next live performance will be hard to ignore.

Follow Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Erin Ivey Finds Inner Peace on Solace in the Wild LP

Photo Credit: Nicola Gell

Erin Ivey twirls a rose quartz that fits perfectly in her hand as our conversation begins. Gifted to her by friend and fellow artist Raina Rose, Ivey habitually takes the pretty pink crystal (meant to strengthen the heart chakra) into the recording studio with her to occupy her hands while her brain is emoting, at times holding it up to her third eye as she sings. “There’s something that just vibrates in a cool way,” Ivey says during our Zoom interview. “This one in particular has a lot of personal meaning to me because it came from a friend, and it fits. It’s like a worry stone.” Much like the reposeful stone she refers to, Ivey has long found sanctuary in music, a journey that’s reflected in her first recorded material in six years, Solace in the Wild.

Growing up as a self-described “ham” who satiated herself with a healthy artistic diet of musical theatre and live performances, Ivey was particularly drawn to the act of singing as a “self-soothing exercise.” Inspired by Debbie Gibson debut Out of the Blue, she wrote her first song at age 9 and can still recall the pad of paper on which she wrote it, emblazoned with a cat wearing a jazzercise outfit.

She discovered a deeper passion for writing in her teen years when she was gifted a journal by her friend, who filled the first page with inspirational quotes that motivated Ivey to keep writing. “I was turning to it to get my thoughts out,” she remembers.

What started as a hobby has become a prominent part of Ivey’s life – she rarely leaves the house without a journal in hand, as much a trustworthy confidant where she shares her thoughts and song ideas as it is a convenient place to jot down a to-do list. “If I don’t get that stuff out of my head, whether it’s creative or logistical, it clogs up the works and I’m very easily drowned,” she says of the “mystical” process of journaling. “It’s a way to process everything that’s going on inside and around you and also ways to capture a moment. It opens our eyes differently to translate things onto the page. That’s an everyday experience. Then you get to see what you think. It’s like a shift in perception that is so rich.” 

Ivey notes that she began songwriting “in earnest” after making the trek from her native Maryland to attend The University of Texas at Austin. She initially intended to study theatre before ending up in the business school, ultimately designing her own major – a combination of art, history and French. But songwriting “became a part of my coping mechanism more and more,” Ivey says, and by 2011, she had burst onto Austin’s legendary music scene with her Broken Gold LP. After working as a full-time musician for eight years, Ivey married husband and musician-DJ Cam Rogers and spent two years working a corporate job and a year and a half in the nonprofit sector at Black Fret. “I like bringing order to chaos,” the Austin-based singer observes of her business acumen and project management skills. “It’s a science and it’s an art.”

But fate intervened and reconnected Ivey with her musical calling when Black Fret awarded her a $10,000 grant that became the “sacred” seed money she used to make her exquisite new album, Solace in the Wild. ”I never feel more fulfilled than when I’m making [music],” Ivey says. “There’s nothing that can take the place of music and live performance. There’s no better, soul-filling endeavor than that. All of the negative parts are superseded by this magic of music, this need to have that in my life to remain sane and balanced.”

For the past decade, Ivey has maintained contact with producer Chuck Pinnell after they worked together on 2011 compilation Dark River, which features Civil War era songs reimagined by Austin artists. He’s contributed arrangements to the lyrics that Ivey has been crafting over the years, and during one of their routine Friday sessions, Pinnell presented her with the title “Lost Girl.” It immediately send a flood of images to Ivey’s mind: a young girl floating in Hamilton Pool, an ancient swimming hole in Texas; a forest on fire surrounding the girl as she peacefully floats in the sanctuary of the water.

The song’s defining lyric became the album’s title and embodied the message she wanted to share with the world. “In that context, it means there is solace in the wild when everything’s on fire. When shit is going wrong, you can still find your center,” Ivey explains. “It’s something that we actually have to do. We have to pay attention how we get there.”

Solace in the Wild comes to life in the form of 10 gorgeously arranged songs that showcase Ivey’s angelic voice. She holds enduring notes in the gentlest ways, as demonstrated on the relaxing “Joy” and the stirring “Jealousy” alike, while the album’s lyrics reflect her brilliant mind.

The album as a whole is drawn from a well of deep curiosity, creating a potent combination of profound thought and emotion that covers humanity’s plight through the ages. For instance, “Dust Bowl” sees the self-professed “history nerd” exploring the drought, displacement, and depression suffered by farmers in the 1930s. “I feel for those people and their stories, and the humanity in that is so palpable,” she empathizes.

But one of the album’s most reflective moments arrives in “Charleston,” a track that calls for healing in direct response to the racially-motivated church shooting that occurred in 2015. Each line is crafted in a way that causes the listener pause, particularly the thought-provoking probe of a chorus: “It is for the good not to be silent/We are all reflections of ourselves/We cannot sit by and abide violence against anybody else.”

Ivey reveals that she originally had misgivings about releasing the song due to its sensitive nature, comparing the subject matter to an “open wound.” But after some encouragement from friends in the South Carolina city, she weaved it into the album as an exercise in helping others reflect on where we’ve gone wrong in the past. “As worked up as people get about politics, I tend to try to be really careful about what I say and how I say it. I think it’s important so that we can keep having conversations even when we disagree,” she continues. “But it is very true that I believe those things. I wrote the song to comfort myself and to try and wrestle with this evil that continues to recur.”

For Ivey, “solace” is the “personal peace that is juxtaposed against something that would keep you from it,” which she finds through such purely simple acts as “dialoguing with my inner child” in her journal, gazing at a burning candle and cradling her rose quartz. “I wanted something that would remind me… that if I do not do that writing, if I cannot find that solace, if I don’t have a mug of something warm, if I don’t take a hot bath and light a candle, if I don’t prepare myself in that way for the world, I show up haggard and cruel,” Ivey says. “I wanted to show up for this album in a way that would allow me to have it show up for me.”

She hopes that, even if Solace in the Wild doesn’t always make listeners feel better, they at least feel something. “Sometimes I think it’s my job to help people feel their feelings, and then maybe to help me feel my feelings,” she explains. “I hope that people enjoy the songs and that they identify with pieces of them; that they are called back to listen again and again and make these songs a part of their life or part of their exploration.” 

Follow Erin Ivey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Lydia Luce Pours Her Heart Out on “Dark River”

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Lydia Luce was listening to a podcast discussing how humans often retreat into nature to find themselves, the host pointing out that since we are made up of the natural elements of the earth, shouldn’t we go into ourselves to discover the answers?

This compelling notion draws connection to the title track of Luce’s upcoming album Dark River, arriving on February 26. The 11-track set came during a time of emotional healing after Luce left a toxic relationship and began looking inward, going to therapy to work through her own challenges, using the knowledge to form new habits that help set the course of her life moving forward. “I’ve never really been this vulnerable in my writing until this record, which feels good and scary,” she tells to Audiofemme.

Luce relies on the craft of songwriting as a mirror for what she’s experiencing internally, noting how songs have a distinct way of instilling her with valuable lessons on the other side of writing them, citing the title track as an example. “‘Dark River,’ for me, is a beautiful thing,” Luce says. “That song is about recharging yourself, fueling yourself up so that you’re able to go out and be a light in the world and be your best self.”

The song finds her declaring that she’ll no longer allow someone else to claim her power or light, demonstrated in richly poetic lyrics: “They put me on a pedestal/And I gave them everything/Now I’m waking slowly, with an empty feeling/I go down to the dark river/They can’t see me there/I’m gonna drink ’til my belly’s full/Pour it out when they need my help/Please, won’t you save some for me.”

“It took me a long time to write this record because first, I needed to settle into some of those negative tendencies and really come face to face with them and identify them and then start to dismantle them in myself,” she observes. “This year was an unveiling of interesting information about myself that I hadn’t come to terms with and then seeing how it’s affecting different areas of my life.”

The song and corresponding album was born after a Luce took a solo trip to the Pacific Northwest in 2019, Luce crediting the purity of nature in allowing for self-awareness she wouldn’t have otherwise. “Nature always cuts through lyrically, metaphorically in my songs, but also has been a source of quiet for me to be able to sort through whatever it is that I need to sort through in my own life,” she explains. “What I’m continuously learning, and a habit that’s really hard to break, is that when it’s hard to sit in struggle and there’s so many distractions around us, my tendency is to reach to that instead of sitting in the place where I’m uncomfortable, especially when it’s something like recognizing ‘that’s not good, I don’t want to be that anymore. I don’t want to do that anymore because that’s not helpful to me or other people,’” she continues. “That was the lesson that I worked through with that song.”

The theme of shedding the layers of her former self also arises in two of the album’s other key songs, “Maybe in Time” and “Just the Same.” Growing up in a Christian, conservative household in Florida, Luce has found herself straying from her family’s religious identity in recent years, yet is still able to find common ground with her loved ones. “’Just the Same’ was about me being so different from my family, but loving them just the same,” she shares, adding that she wrote the track after visiting her brother who is currently attending Bible school, the two bonding over their interpretations of the passages he shared during her visit.

The song also reflects the compassion and empathy she feels for her loved ones in spite of their opposing views, pointing to a “beautiful” and “respectful” conversation she had with her her father recently, confessing to him that she does not follow the Christian faith, her father respecting her decision and acknowledging the importance of being able to question something one doesn’t understand. “I value the things that we do have in common, but I also appreciate the respectful disagreements that we have,” Luce remarks of her family, channeling that understanding into the pair of tracks.

Creating the album was a liberating experience for Luce, one she hopes fans identify with and use as a safe space to genuinely be oneself. “For me, the writing of it has been me settling into more of who I am and being honest and open about it. I really hope that there’s some kind of freedom found in it and it’s okay to be the way you are and be proud of it and not ashamed of it,” she says. “I think the dark river is this place of serenity, where I have this place to go back to, and that is myself, and I’m finding that in myself more and more. So maybe I’m the dark river.”

Follow Lydia Luce on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Ruby Mack Premieres “Jane,” a Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community

four members of Massachusetts folk band Ruby Mack
Photo Credit: Gianna Colson

Massachusetts-based folk quartet Ruby Mack, consisting of Emma Ayres (Vocals/guitar), Abbie Duquette (bass uke), Zoe Young (guitar/vocals) and Abs Kahler (fiddle), are on a mission to redefine the sacred in a way that encapsulates all people and all aspects of life. Their music shines a light on those demonized in religious scripture, particularly women and LGBTQ people, to honor and celebrate their identities. Their latest single, “Jane,” is a beautiful example of this aim, soulfully capturing the love and loss associated with the LGBTQ experience.

“Jane” was written by Ayres in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, with a past partner of hers in mind. “It’s just kind of our love song to anyone who feels like they can’t openly exist as their true selves in this world,” says Kahler. “I think the world can sometimes be a pretty inhospitable place to queer folks, people of color, any kind of minority, or anyone that’s treated as other.”

Influences like The Wailin’ Jennys and The Highwomen are evident in the band’s sweet, gentle vocals and minimalistic instrumentals. The slow, mellow single consists of melancholy fiddle, acoustic guitar, a simple rhythmic bass track, and emotive vocal harmonies. “It became a powerful thing for us to all be singing the harmonies together,” says Kahler. “The parts where it’s one voice and then the other voices join kind of echoes that sense of community that we were trying to express.”

The instrumentals start off simple and build as the track picks up, with the vocals getting increasingly loud and passionate toward the end, mirroring the intensity of the emotion in lyrics like “Oh they can keep you from fresh water/You’re the cold rain set me free.” Then, you can hear Ayres’s voice crack with emotion as the song returns to her stripped-down vocals. “The goal is to make people who may not have felt that pain have empathy,” says Duquette.

“When we’re performing that song, I always feel like there’s a lot of space for silence and softness, and it feels very holy,” Kahler adds. “I feel like that was kind of a theme that ran through some of the pieces in this album that we’re releasing — just really holding space for the sacredness of life and of queer life.”

The album they’re referring to is Ruby Mack’s debut LP Devil Told Me (out October 23), which explores feminism and social justice through the lens of religion and mythology as well as modern life and recent events. The soothing folk tune “Machine Man” is an ode to blue-collar workers, and the a cappella “Breadwinner” is “a thank you to all the badass momma figures out there” who support their households, as Kahler puts it, “but also about ourselves as well: We want to be your breadwinner. Let us have that role. We can take care of you. We don’t need men to do that.”

Several songs were written by Ayres, incorporating her interest in oral tradition and storytelling. “For Icarus” retells the Greek myth of the man who flew too close to the sun, commenting on the ways people get carried away with their imaginations, and “Odysseus” is a passionate plea to the mythical hero to return home and avoid the temptation of the sirens.

Overall, the band considers the album a reclamation of the story of Adam and Eve, celebrating female curiosity and knowledge. Accordingly, the album art features a serpent wound around an apple. “Eve ate an apple because she had curiosity, and without curiosity, what is anything?” says Kahler. “We all deserve the things we need and desire, and we shouldn’t be punished for going after those things like Eve does.” This attitude is best summed up in the lyrics to “Milktooth,” an angelically sung track about challenging gender roles learned in childhood: “Holy woman said I deserve what I want.”

Given the album’s overarching themes, it’s appropriate that it was recorded in an old converted church, with the help of Ghost Hit Recording engineer Andrew Oedel. The members, who originally met through the Massachusetts folks scene after each making their own music, consider their friendship a central part of their music and aim to capture their chemistry and authentic emotion in their recordings. Nine of the ten songs on Devil Told Me — with the exception of “Milktooth” — were recorded live to achieve this.

“I feel like that sacredness and that holiness was something that space already held,” Kahler says. “And we are at our most raw and most ourselves when we’re all playing live, and I feel like that definitely translates.”

Follow Ruby Mack on Facebook for ongoing updates.

S.G. Goodman Lives the Change She Hopes to See on Striking Debut Old Time Feeling

Photo Credit: Meredith Truax

S.G. Goodman stands as a pioneer for rural voices through her captivating debut album, Old Time Feeling, with a distinct way of embracing Southern traditions while slashing through harmful stereotypes. She demonstrates Southern hospitality by delivering groceries to her elderly neighbor, and in the same breath, denounces Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asserting in her song “We Don’t Want You Mitch McConnell” that the state has “suffered” under the senior Kentucky senator’s reign. She makes it a point during a phone interview with Audiofemme to encourage her fellow Kentuckians to vote for Amy McGrath, the Democratic nominee running for McConnell’s Senate seat in the 2020 election, Goodman’s left-leaning views providing an antithesis to those who believe the South isn’t socially advanced. “The South has a bad reputation when it comes to civil rights and certain social injustices, and that’s true, we should definitely own that. But I would say that this current administration has proven that a lot of the things people want to point their finger at when it comes to the South, it’s actually everywhere, but the South is the main scapegoat,” Goodman analyzes.

Raised by a large extended family of farmers in Hickman, Kentucky, a town so small it didn’t have a stop light, Goodman was taught from a young age the values of hard work and dependability. The farmer’s daughter-turned-singer-songwriter is now using her voice to tell an all-encompassing Southern story on her glowing album, Old Time Feeling. She describes the 10-track compilation as a mix of “good, basic love songs,” like the “Tender Kind” of love she sings of on the gentle steel guitar-driven track, and “politically-leaning songs,” owning her identity as a sharecropper’s daughter who’s clever enough to know what outsiders think when they hear her thick Kentucky accent on “The Way I Talk.”

“Ultimately, that’s a pretty good picture of a lot of people’s experience in life, which is we’re human beings – we feel things and we do things,” she describes of the album. “I do write about my experience with living in a rural place, and I take that really seriously. I try to be respectful of my characters, no matter the P.O.V. that’s happening in the song, and not ever make a decision to not include something that may be a colloquialism for where I’m from, but try to be authentic through the process.”

Lyrically brilliant and stirringly poignant, Goodman strikes an intimate balance between spotlighting the plight of her home region, along with its beauty, through her music. This delicate dance is wrapped up in the album’s compelling opener “Space and Time,” touching on the lack of acceptance she felt from her community upon coming out as gay, yet acknowledging that each person she’s encountered has left a sincere impression. “I owe my life to even my enemies/The ones who have loved me/The ones who have tried/Their grips on my heart/And their grips on my mind…I never want to leave this world without sayin’ I love you,” she cries. It’s the last line of the chorus that opens the album, leaving an impact on the listener as meaningful as the one imprinted on her by her hometown. “It has a lot to do with reflecting on what makes a life, a life – the sum of all of our experiences happen to be other people and their involvement in your life. We can learn from good situations and from hard situations, but they still are a part of your life,” the singer observes. “I think sometimes when you don’t feel like you’ve said something as eloquently as you wanted, sometimes the best way is just coming out and saying the obvious. It’s not a bad way to start out an album by presenting a song that says exactly what you meant and all that you had to say.”

Goodman continues to directly express her opinions as she joins the thousands of people around the country who have flooded the streets to march for racial justice, taking to heart the lessons instilled in her as a child. “Being a farming family, the family’s work is everyone’s work,” she recalls. “A big thing that was stressed at my house was if you don’t know what to do, then you should find something to do.” Goodman channels this initiative into her music, particularly in the universal line “Be the change you hope to find” that she professes in the album’s hopeful title track, words she doesn’t merely sing, but has turned into action to create the just world she seeks.

“There are a lot of people marching in the streets in rural, mostly all-white towns across Kentucky. It has been really powerful. I’m not surprised that rural communities would take part in this because I know that there are people here that will call out injustice when they see it. It’s brought about a lot of long overdue discussions and I think there’s no getting back to normal. We’re as a society asking hard questions of ‘what do we want our world to look like?’ and we actually do have the power to change that,” she says. “How else are things going to change unless you pick up the hammer yourself?”

Follow S.G. Goodman on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Louise Goffin Enlists Fanbase for Uplifting “Every Love Song” Video

Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano

There’s a distinct energy to the video for Louise Goffin’s “Every Love Song” that makes space for self-expression. Featured on Goffin’s 10th studio album Two Different Movies, the video for “Every Love Song,” directed by Scot Sax, resulted from a virtual playback party Goffin hosted for her fans (who unanimously alerted the singer that the track was single-worthy) in honor of the album’s release in June. Goffin not only took their request to heart, but brought them into the project by incorporating fan-submitted clips, each of which highlights unique aspects of their personalities.

Interpretations range from shadows dancing on the wall to a pair of young sisters sharing a loving embrace, interspersed with shots of Goffin perched on a spinning vinyl record, the vibrant colors exuding a psychedelic effect like that of looking through a kaleidoscope. “[Being part of the video] gave people a lot of joy,” Goffin tells Audiofemme, adding that she hopes it offers them a “feeling of community and friendship.” “I really wanted it to be everyone’s video and everybody’s song.”

Celebrating those little quirks in her fanbase was a natural extension of the song’s theme, which sees the singer sharing honest emotions with those she cherishes most. “I see you wake up just to make it through the day/Like you don’t matter at all/I want you to know you matter to me/In more ways than I can ever recall,” she sings on the track, its conversational tone elevated with gospel-referencing organ. Co-written with Nashville-based songwriter Billy Harvey, “Every Love Song” lends an intimate vibe to that shout-it-from-the-rooftops feeling of truly being in love. But Goffin, the daughter of iconic singer-songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, wisely recognizes that even when we’re overcome with emotion, we don’t always share that with those closest to us – even when they’re the inspiration for those warm fuzzies.

“I grew up with a lot of people withholding affirmations from me because they felt I didn’t need it. But inside I was desperately insecure,” Goffin confesses. “So many of the times, we want to tell people things we don’t tell them. ‘Every Love Song’ is all the things I’ve never said before – and I’m telling you now. It’s coming out with vulnerability and truth, and recognizing that it makes a difference.”

Another key element to the song is owning one’s power and voice when it comes to expressing desires. “That’s moment of vulnerability could also not just be about ‘I’ve never told you how great you are,’ but it could also be ‘Here’s what I want for myself,’” she says. “It’s really stepping into that voice of speaking up for your love of others, for your dreams and love of self and what you want for the world. We have to somehow find the courage to speak, and that will change our destiny.”

The video heartwarmingly illuminates the symbiotic relationship between fans and artists, but Goffin also felt a deep appreciation for the relationships her fans displayed toward one another, and what that revealed to her about human nature. “I think there is a theme in this song and in the video of this masculine and feminine really uniting to make a mutually loving, mutually inclusive wholeness,” she says. Goffin points to a specific example of unity in the couple who’s waving to the camera against a vibrant blue backdrop, a sweet moment she captured during a trip in Cuba in 2018, revealing that the insight she’s gained through her vast travels also played a role in the video. “The thing about being a musician is that culturally… it’s all stories and people and songs and heartbreak and heart healing. That’s in me and in my life and I wanted the video to be reflective of all of that.”

Follow Louise Goffin on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Dreams, Driving, and Getting High Inspired Suzanne Vallie on Debut LP ‘Love Lives Where Rules Die’

Photo Credit: Magdalena Wosinska

Big Sur, California-based singer, songwriter, and poet Suzanne Vallie routinely enters an empty black space in her dreams, where she floats around and finds inspiration. During one particular trip to this abyss, she heard a voice commanding her, “I’m going to give you a song. It’s a very important song. Are you listening to me?”

“It was insisting that I pay attention,” she remembers. “And then the voice just started singing, ‘High with you, high with you, ah, get high with you.'” She woke with a start and immediately recorded the melody and lyrics on her phone. Soon after that, she and her band followed through on this voice’s instructions. They worked out a bridge and chorus for the song, and Vallie improvised the other verses as they played it. The result of their work is a Beatles-esque ode to substance-assisted good times with friends, “High With You.” “The song’s mostly about friendship and feeling elevated, and also when you trust someone so much you can eat mushrooms with them,” she says.

They performed “High With You,” among other songs, at Hickey Fest, a music festival in Northern California, where producer Rob Shelton was attending. Shelton had planned on catching Vallie’s set but ended up missing it. Then, later on, people were passing a guitar around a campfire, and Vallie started performing the song there. As everyone sang along to the chorus, more and more people joined the circle, including Shelton.

“High With You” indeed proved to be an important song, because Shelton reached out to Vallie after that, and they ended up working together on her debut album, Love Lives Where Rules Die. Soon after, Vallie also met Jenny Mason, who funded the album and gave her a deal through her label Native Cat Recordings. Native Cat dissolved before the record had the chance to come out, so she ended up releasing the 11-song LP via her friend Kacey Johansing’s label Night Bloom Records.

The record deal was a light in the dark for Vallie, who had just gone through a difficult breakup and was hopping between friends’ places, working odd jobs. “I just had all kinds of crazy feelings, feelings I had never had before, certain feelings I didn’t know could be in the same room together,” she remembers.

This mish-mosh of emotions managed to converge at Dreamland Recording, a hundred-year-old church that doubles as a studio in upstate New York, where the album was recorded. Mason wanted to capture the essence of Vallie’s live performances, so the album was recorded using old-fashioned live-tracking, which was a fun process for Vallie. “It’s so exciting when we get the take — we get to the end of the song and everyone’s quiet for a second and they’re like, ‘I think that’s the take,'” she remembers.

Vallie suffers from mild narcolepsy, which oddly seems to flare up when she gets excited, and she actually experienced a narcoleptic episode during the recording of the album. Somehow, she continued singing and playing the Wurlitzer piano when she drifted off to sleep in the studio. “I kind of blacked out, but I woke up still performing, and we finished the song, and we kept the tape,” she says, declining to reveal which song it was. “I think only I can kind of hear this little part where I can tell when I was asleep.”

Somehow, the fact that Vallie recorded the album partially while asleep seems perfectly fitting when you listen to it. Folk melodies, airy vocals, and influences ranging from shoegaze to country to ’60s soul create a mellow sound that seems to belong in the backdrop of a movie dream sequence. This dreamlike sound is also in keeping with the way the album was first conceived, not to mention the name of the studio.

The vivid natural imagery in the music has the same effect, painting otherworldly scenes. In the first track, the angelic “Ocean Cliff Drive,” Vallie sings about driving down Highway 1 between the mountains and the ocean on the California coast: “Honey, I can’t see the road ahead of me/But I’m coming.” The video was filmed further south, in Huntington Beach, but captures the same feeling, with Vallie driving and playing with dogs in the sand.

She also released a video for another single off the album, “Love Letter,” a whimsical country ditty featuring biting lyrics like “You’re tall on a horse/Short on the floor.” For the video, a neighbor of hers brought her horses down, and Vallie rode and played with them. “We had to social distance, but I could get close to the horses, so that was all right,” she remembers.

The album also includes songs like “Morro Bay,” a fast-paced, danceable account of “mid-westerners in Cali,” and the title track “Love Lives Where Rules Die,” where Vallie sings against baritone guitar about receiving support from friends after her breakup.

Vallie grew up in South Dakota and Minnesota, then moved to California and wrote lyrics for the band The Range of Light Wildnerness before launching her solo project. She’s currently working on a video for “High With You,” along with another record full of new songs, and we’ll undoubtedly hear more creative work from her as she pays further visits to the dark space in her dreams.

Follow Suzanne Vallie on Bandcamp for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: The Sweet Water Warblers Elevate the Divine Feminine on Debut LP

Photo Credit: Scott Simontacchi

When the walls come down / There’s no hammer and nail / Can fix the dream that holds this child,” sing The Sweet Water Warblers on “Something More,” the track that inspired the title of their debut album The Dream That Holds the Child.  

“In our political climate, we’re so focused on putting walls up and boundaries that we’re hiding behind or trying to keep someone out,” explains Lindsay Lou, who writes and sings the Michigan folk trio’s music, along with May Erlewine and Rachael Davis. The lyric, and the rest of the album, are about “being open and sitting with the vision that you have, the dream that you have,” she explains, “and it’s more than just a hammer and nail — it’s a prolonged re-owning of the narrative.”

The gospel-inspired, harmony-driven, soothing ten song collection deals in particular with elevating women. “Right With Me” provides a counter to the message women frequently receive that something’s wrong with them. In “Righteous Road,” the three women sing about continuing their mothers’ legacy by fighting for gender equality and improving the world for the next generation of women and men. “It’s just this journey of womanhood and not feeling less but finding one’s power within it,” says Lou.

The group itself was founded on this principle of women supporting one another. Lou, Erlewine, and Davis met at Michigan’s Hoxeyville Music Festival in 2014, where they were all playing individually until a promoter requested that they perform as a trio. Their voices blended so well together, they decided to form a band, releasing their first LP With You in 2017. “A big part of connecting with the feminine is also connecting with other women,” says Lou. “There’s this feeling that there’s only room enough for one token woman in a band, and women are uplifting women now.”

Their music aims to elevate not just women but “the divine feminine within all of us,” says Erlewine. The first single off the album, “Turn to Stone,” for instance, is a celebration of compassion, with lyrics like “May we hear each other singing/And may we never turn to stone.”

To Lou, the first step to reclaiming the divine feminine is “recognizing the imbalances, which comes with a certain degree of grief and anger and frustration,” she explains. The next step is “moving from that into a place where you appreciate all of the strength of the feminine, being connected to our body and our sexuality in a way that’s not attached to shame, and feeling connected to the mother — the mother that grows us in our bellies and also this great mother Earth that connects us all.”

Another important aspect of gender equality is having language and symbols that represent the divine feminine, says Lou. “There’s just a different consciousness from balancing out the symbology,” she says. That’s one thing The Sweet Water Warblers aim to provide with their music, says Davis. “Although there is a struggle continuing, we’re grateful that we get to address it the way that we do.”

Follow The Sweet Water Warblers on Facebook for ongoing updates.

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.

PREMIERE: Hayley Sabella Finds Comfort in the Transformative ‘Cape Cod’

Photo Credit: Sasha Pedro

Hayley Sabella has a complicated relationship with Cape Cod – it’s a significant setting for her personal history, and she’s now recorded two versions of a song about its evolving role in her life, the latest version of which is premiering exclusively with Audiofemme.

The Massachusetts-based singer spent her high school years commuting across the bridge to attend Sturgis Charter Public School. Sabella’s family had recently moved back to Plymouth from Nicaragua, where her parents had been teaching in an American school, and her youthful eyes saw the Cape from a negative perspective with its long, dark winters that leave the streets and beaches barren for several months, creating a sense of isolation. “I had a painful association with Cape Cod,” Sabella admits. “It had a lot of melancholy to me growing up. I had this subconscious belief that nothing good happened there.”

Sabella’s transition from Central America to the United States wasn’t easy and left her craving a sense of identity. “I really repressed the way that it shaped me for a long time because you come back from the jungle and start middle school, the last thing that you want to do is stand out or be different. You want to blend in,” she explains. “My childhood was in Nicaragua, so I felt like a strange kid from the jungle. Interestingly enough, it filled me with this longing for that belonging, that sense of safety, that sense of really deep, strong community.”

Sabella’s view of Cape Cod transformed in her adult eyes, as she eventually found comfort in the isolation. Sabella was inspired to write “Cape Cod” after attending the Wellfleet OysterFest, a day that began reveling in the local food and art festival and ended with her bar hopping across town, meeting people who’ve been friends since kindergarten. She even found herself at a kind stranger’s home, the experience introducing her to the community she deeply desired in her youthful years. “It revealed to me that there is magic on Cape Cod,” she recalls of the memorable day. “I feel like I got more comfortable at that melancholy and the sense that it’s beautiful even though it’s austere.”

The song also serves as a bridge between Sabella’s past and present, its lyrics recalling a distinct moment when a childhood friend from Nicaragua came to visit her on Cape Cod. Sabella played the song for her friend, the lyrics expressing the feeling of being an outsider while making precious memories with “your pal since the third grade.”

Cape Cod” first appeared on Sabella’s 2018 album, Forgive the Birds, in the form of a twinkling acoustic ballad. The new rendition, which is slated to appear on her upcoming EP, Flew the Nest, was born on a $50, light-weight classical guitar that hung above Sabella’s bed, making it easily accessible as she nursed a broken leg back to health. She invited her band members to play on a new recording of the song, giving it a fresh identity with the instrumentation that feels fuller while establishing another component of community. “’Cape Cod’ was definitely a release in a sense. It shifted that grief sense into a joy,” she observes. “It goes from this lonely, isolated version to inviting friends into the process. It’s a further expression, that movement from being isolated to realizing that there’s a community there.”

Sabella now sees Cape Cod as a place of solace, somewhere she can escape and appreciate the deserted beaches in the wintertime and quiet air that surrounds them, instilling her with the ability to enjoy her own company. “It’s a place of renewal I think. It’s a place where I go to rest,” she notes. “Getting comfortable with being alone is something I’ve been working on for years. I think it’s really important for my growth to have gotten comfortable with spending time by myself. Now I really look forward to it.”

The evolution of the song itself adds another layer to its symbolism as an anthem of change. “I feel like songs have this way of revealing things to you. Your subconscious reveals things to you before your conscious mind can make the connection. This song reveals things to me over time,” Sabella remarks. “That’s the healing power of music.”

Follow Hayley Sabella on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Nashville Songwriter Gatlin Charts Personal Evolution Through Music

Photo Credit: Sydney Whitten

Gatlin Thornton is on a spiritual journey, one you can follow along with through her music.

The Nashville based artist, who goes by the stage name Gatlin, describes herself as a “toned down Maggie Rogers,” layering modern pop production with folk lyrics, her ethereal voice draped over mystifying melodies of soft, thumping drums and guitar.

Gatlin walked a winding road trying to decipher what genre suited her style best. She initially gravitated toward Christian Contemporary, inspired by years she spent singing in church choir. In high school, a cowboy boot-wearing phase heralded a shift toward country music. Now, the 21-year-old’s newfound love is that of modern folk-pop, a niche she discovered upon moving to Nashville, a city that’s had a profound impact not only on her musical direction, but her personal journey.

Gatlin relocated from her native Orlando, Florida to Nashville in 2017 to study religion and the arts at Belmont University, but after two years, she quit and became a songwriter full time. She got a taste of the city’s pop scene when she began working with a diverse range of songwriters, proving to the longtime pop snob that she doesn’t have a distaste for all pop music – in fact, she has a gift for creating her own style of the genre. “That time in my life, I learned the most because I was writing with someone new every day,” she tells Audiofemme via phone interview.


Coming from a Christian background, stepping into the diverse Nashville culture broadened Gatlin’s horizons, causing her to challenge the conservative ideals she was raised on. “I got out of my little bubble and I realized that things aren’t so black and white. I went through this huge doubting phase. I am a Christian, but it looks a lot different,” she professes. “It’s a spiritual journey now. I’m trying to figure out a lot of stuff and I feel like that comes through in some of my lyrics.” She addresses this point head on in her song “Curly Hair” as she sings, “and I love Jesus, but he’s busy upstairs, and I’m a first world nothing.”

“I think everyone’s on their journey, and growing up super conservative Christian, it wasn’t okay that it was a journey, you had to have it all figured out,” she continues. “Where I land, I still think God is real, I just don’t think everything is so black and white, I think it’s pretty gray and it’s different for each person. I think I’m trying to figure out the normal things people believe as far as religion and Christians go. I don’t have an answer for literally any of it – [I’m] just figuring out as I go what is true for me.”

Gatlin takes listeners on this journey, exemplified in her latest track, “I Think About You All the Time.” Co-written with friend Victoria Bigelow, the song is based on Gatlin’s experience being a relationship where feelings developed on her end, but not her partner’s. The video captures this sentiment through a dark red hue cast over scenes of Gatlin surrounded by friends as they enjoy life, yet she’s lost in a daze of sadness and confusion.

“With this relationship, I literally could not enjoy parties with my friends, because my mind was trying to figure this relationship out,” she describes. “Then the moments when I would be alone was when I would freak the fuck out, and so I wanted to feel that juxtaposition.” Gatlin took control of the situation and told the other person how she felt, which liberated her from the toxic dynamic. “I realized there’s more power in admitting that you have feelings if you do. It’s always looked at as weak, but me admitting ‘I think about you all the time,’ there was so much power in that,” she expresses. “It was a very healing process.”

Gatlin is currently working on an EP, planning to drop each song as a single throughout the year leading up to the EP’s release. As she walks the path that’s shaping her identity, Gatlin will continue to take fans along for the ride through her art. “I’ve learned that God is love and it’s so much more of an emphasis of that. We are supposed to love others,” she says of the most important discovery she’s made thus far. “I physically look different and also my insides look different every six months because I’m 21, I’m in such a changing time of my life.”

Follow Gatlin on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Katsy Pline’s In This Time of Dying Reflects Our Bizarre Reality With a Folky Spin

Katsy Pline playing the bay

Katsy Pline playing the bay

Katsy Pline has made a folk album for the apocalypse.

Or, more accurately, a folk-rock-syth album for the apocalypse, like Pline was watching fiery destruction from on high, fingers smashing the keys of an electric piano while warbling over a lost love. If you want another song to add to your apocalypse playlist (I know you have one, whether it be on Spotify, Soundcloud, or scribbled inside the journal you started on day six) look no further than the closing song on Pline’s new LP, In This Time of Dying.

The album was released on March 15th, so no worries, dear reader —Pline may not so much be prophetic as much as intuitive, perhaps the marker of any good folk singer. Don’t they always seem to have a backlog of completed albums for every chapter of your life, like your own personal Greek Chorus?

It’s appropriate, then, that album closer “How Long Must This Go On” actually has one, or something like it. In many ways, it’s the most old school song on the LP, but even the most spaced-out listener couldn’t miss its anachronistic opening line: “Woke up this morning/was all alone/rolled on over/and I checked my phone/well I’m wonderin’/how long must this go on.” The almost nastily relevant lyrics are proceeded by far-flung whistles and claps, ghosts of the crowds we find ourselves missing, if not double ghosts of some late-’60s summer music showcase it would be easy to imagine Katsy Pline dropping into via wormhole, without anyone giving a second glance.

The album has sprinklings of many old favorites, from the OG British Invasion boybands to Gene Clark, but with a distinct penchant for synth and distortion that can only be attributed to Kline’s past musical iteration as one-third of Bourgeoisie Speedball, a experimental group who would “[render] movement sonorous” by transforming sounds of Bay Area protests into strange tidbits of tracks.

“Wipe the Years,” another standout track, leans into doo-wop with its backing chorus of ahhs, but most strongly reminded me of one of my all-time ’60s favorites, Herman’s Hermits. As Pline pleads for someone to “please wipe these [memories] from my mind,” the little distorting affect on “please” and record-scratch repeats recall Peter Noone’s lovelorn vocals at the end of Hermits classic “No Milk Today.”

Pline was deliberate with this LP — despite the utter timeliness of the album’s sentiments, the arrangements (including any non-diagetic sounds) are carefully-considered vintage, like Pline runs a sonic period store stacked with white peasant tops and a rust-colored a-line skirts nestled carefully alongside slashes of ’80s braggadocio — there’s a lighting-stripe vest! There’s a satin belt!

But like I said — carefully. Pline may be a veteran of discordance, but the dashes of electronic affects and synths never feel tacked on or musically arrogant (you’ll listen and you’ll like it!).  Instead, they feel like what would have been a natural progression for the folk bands of the ’60s and ’70s if such effects had been more widely used and respected. Some may argue that no folk-rock band of old would touch a modern synth with a ten-foot pole, but what truly is more off-the-beaten-path than the ability to distort your voice to reflect the cacophony of your own feelings?

The only time this strategy loses effectiveness is on “She Was a Friend of Mine,” a true folk lament about the death of a fringes-of-society person in Pline’s life. Pline’s voice is strong enough to stand alone, here or otherwise, and in such an otherwise stripped-down arrangement, the electronic aspects end up being a distraction.

“Crying in the Sun” brings the album back to full force, not only because of yet another crystal-ball lyric (“mask upon my face and eyes/algae blooms and fish rots seaside”), but because of utter atmosphere. The sun has always been its own character in folk and rock as much as “this town” is to pop-punk. This song posits it as some last bastion of the softest and gentlest aspect of society, a final pat on the cheek as Pline asks “Will I ever leave this place/or will I always be crying in the sun?”

Take it, at least for now, as less of a depressing mandate and more like a piece of advice: go outside, feel the sun on your face. Just stay in your own backyard.

Molly Sullivan Shares “Golden” Love Song Ahead Of Debut Album


Photo by Ryan Back

Ahead of her debut album, Cincinnati songstress Molly Sullivan shares her warmly earnest love track, “Golden.” The single marks the first of her album rollout, which will arrive later this year.

With tender keys and hauntingly soothing vocals, Sullivan offers a unique take on the quintessential love song. “Golden” also marks her first piano-driven single – making the switch from guitar – and one of the first songs she wrote after finding sobriety.

We chatted with the artist about her new single, upcoming album, and more. Take a listen to “Golden” and read our Q&A with Molly Sullivan below. Also, catch her performance at MOTR Pub with Soften‘s Brianna Kelly and Columbus band Nothin’ on Saturday (Feb. 22) at 9 p.m.

AF: Congrats on your new single! Tell me a little bit about the story behind “Golden.”

MS: Thank you very much! “Golden” is a love song – two people just runnin’ around bein’ taken with each other. That’s really it.

AF: As your first single this year, are you planning on releasing any more singles or a full-length project this year?

MS: Working on finishing up a full length. It will be my first cohesive album! I think I will be releasing another single or two before I have the whole work available. I’m not attached to any labels or pressures beside my own at this point – a blessing and a curse – so I have the flexibility to kind of do whatever I want. I’m not making music to make money or anything like that so I find myself doing things more for self-fulfillment than anything.

AF: Are there any Cincinnati artists you could see yourself collaborating with?

MS: Well sure! I have been super lucky to have such a crazy talented roster of folks who I have or am currently collaborating with. The current band line up is Alessandro Corona on drums, [WHY?’s] Matt Meldon on guitar, and [WHY’s] Doug McDiarmid on bass. Artists who have loaned their talents to these new recordings include [WHY?’s] Josiah Wolf, Kate Wakefield, [Soften’s] Brianna Kelly, Johnny Rusza, Jess Lamb, Sara Hutchinson, and Victoria Lekson.

AF: Was the songwriting or recording process for “Golden” any different than your previous singles?

MS: It was one of the first songs I wrote in my new home, one of the first songs I wrote on piano, and one of the first songs I’ve written since I quit drinking. My roommate and collaborator extraordinaire Alessandro would walk in the house and get excited hearing me actually work at trying to write this song and to learn the piano better. Eventually, once I had gotten it down pretty well, he set up a few mics in the dining room and started recording. It’s been incubating for about a year now and I still have doe eyes for whom it is written.

AF: Do you have any local shows coming up?

MS: Yes! I am playing with two very special acts at MOTR Pub on Saturday (Feb. 22).  [Soften’s] Brianna Kelly is a gorgeous singer/songwriter from Cincinnati. She will be playing a set with a full band – also, check out her project [Soften Forever]! Nothin’ will [also] be coming down from Columbus to shake things up a little bit with their rock ‘n’ roll “anxiety pop.”