Chelsea Jade Makes Enigmatic Pop Music for Outsiders with Soft Spot LP

Chelsea Jade has always felt like an outsider in the music industry. Even after making the voyage to Los Angeles from her isolating home country of New Zealand, Jade’s journey in music has always seemed like something that happened despite her plan, not because of it. She went to art school and dropped out after a year to pursue music. She didn’t quite fit in between the lines of dense art history textbooks, but never really felt at home in the star-studded hustle and bustle of Hollywood. In fact, Jade’s life has been full of paradoxes, and her music makes no exception. Her latest record, Soft Spot (out April 29 on Carpark Records), is a collection of songs that contain both the effervesce of a summer day and the nihilism of Nietzsche. Her ability to weave dark metaphors and prosaic story telling into the tight confines of ABAB pop song structure is nothing short of genius, and result is, simply put, a record full of bops.

“Frankly, I appreciate the parameters that pop [music] provides,” says Jade. Once the barriers are in place, you can just bounce around inside so freely.” Take her song “Optimist.” At first glance, it sounds like a lovesick infatuation anthem – “I became an optimist the minute that we touched/I’m positive it’s love/I don’t believe in much/It’s looking up/‘Cuz I became an optimist the minute that we touched.” But if you listen closely, Jade’s lyrics carry a heavier weight. “It’s about manipulating someone with sex,” explains Jade, “or using them as a salve when you feel affection for them but you don’t know how to maneuver through that honestly, because you have no self-esteem. Does that make sense?” Why, yes, yes it does.  

Through this lens, Jade’s record unfolds in a type of dark love story – the kind that paints your whole world blood red and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe until you’re out the other end. The kind that might actually just be obsession, or lust, or just blatant distraction. In “Good Taste,” Jade elaborates on the idea of sex as a band-aid for any unpleasant emotions. “It’s like a miracle/Feeling your charisma getting physical/And yet I’m miserable/But oooh, it’s such a mood getting sexual.” But, as nature has proven, the fruit is always the sweetest before it decays.

Jade points out that the thesis of the record lies in the first phrase of the title track, “Soft Spot” – “I’m gonna love you from the soft spot where the fruit begins to rot.” It’s a nod to the sickly-sweet decadence that characterizes impulsive love affairs, escapist bouts of romance, or a fling that has run its course. Ironically, the title track is stripped of all the embellishments and lushness present in the rest of the record’s eight tracks, and plays out like an intimate soliloquy.

“This is the art school in me I couldn’t resist,” Jade says of the song’s stripped down production style. “It felt like a good opportunity not to abandon context. Which is a new thing for me.” She explains that as she adds production to her practice, she’s not afraid to add crunchiness or texture to the music she makes. On top of that, she’s not afraid to let what feels natural supersede what anything “should” sound like, especially when it comes to pop music. “The person who’s playing the piano [in “Soft Spot”] is not in the music industry or anything, it’s just my friend who has a piano in his house and we were just playing around after dinner, which is nice too.”

These subversive nods exist throughout the record, whether it’s the dark, repetitious bassline in “Optimist” or the bright twinkling bells set against the foreboding metaphor for relationship-induced isolation in “Real Pearl.” Soft Spot finds its home in the spaces between – between self-awareness and escapism, love and hate, indulgence and sagacity. If Chelsea Jade is an outsider, then we are lucky to get a glimpse inside her enigmatic mind.

Follow Chelsea Jade on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Carli Brill Leads With an Open Heart on “Concrete Jungle”

Photo Credit: Hannah Gray Hall

Carli Brill is a lover of items from the past. Growing up in Southern California, Brill and her mother spent countless hours shopping in antique stores, discovering hidden gems and imagining the stories behind them. Now based in Nashville, the singer-songwriter says she draws inspiration from the unknown past still clinging to these objects.

“As a songwriter, I’m always trying to think of new concepts and ideas, so a lot of ideas actually do come from my time out at antique stores sitting and pondering ‘I wonder who owned this? What were they like and what would they think about today?’” she tells Audiofemme. “I love that vintage and antique items tell a story. They have so much depth to them. I like the mystery behind antiques and anything from the past.”

But for her latest single “Concrete Jungle” – officially out February 4th, but premiering today exclusively on Audiofemme – Brill didn’t have to imagine someone else’s life. Instead, the ethereal tune is inspired by the singer’s personal experiences and memories: visiting New York City; meeting her husband Jordan, with whom she recently celebrated eight years of marriage; paying homage to the city’s “rich music history” and all the “people that have fallen in love in this city.” 

“It was such a sweet time that I had there, and the beginning stages of falling in love I think for all of us are moments that we cherish and we never forget,” Brill expresses. “I really wanted to capture that feeling and put it in a song and have the listener almost feel as if they’re falling in love as they are listening to the song.”

The pure-hearted singer accomplishes this by crafting lyrics rich with personal anecdotes; she cites the line “your smile is as bright as your tattoos” as one of the most authentic she’s written. “That’s a very dear line to me that made it in the song,” she says warmly. “The first thing that I noticed about him was his smile. It was just so bright and joyful and wide.”

She also nods to late rapper and Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls as she sings, “Baby come closer/Spread your love on me/It’s the Brooklyn way,” in the doo-wop style number, complimenting the romantic lyrics with a melody that transcends musical genre. Taking listeners on a “melodic journey,” the song begins with a slow-tempo electric guitar, leading into an up-tempo second verse incorporating “vibey” drums; Brill describes the bass as the “heartbeat” and “backbone” of the track. By song’s end, Brill layers ‘60s girl group vocals that turn the song into an experience.

“That was really important in the creation of the song,” she asserts of how the melody matches the story. “[It] almost feels as though your head is spinning at that point when you’re falling in love and you’re like ‘I don’t care what happens, life is great, nothing can upset me.’”

These intriguing instrumentals are a common thread across Brill’s compelling catalogue. The eclectic artist began this process with one of her recent releases, “Hey Little Girl,” an upbeat, genre-defying number that encourages optimism and smiling through life’s misfortunes. “I discovered a lot about myself and I gained a lot of confidence in writing that and I realized I was writing this song to myself,” she explains of the song’s conception. “I was able to see what kind of artist I wanted to become.”

Her songs act as a time lapse, transporting the listener through multiple eras with ever-evolving melodies that match the old soul that shines through in her lyrics, harkening back to the days when Brill and her mother would frequent vintage stores.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Brill hopes that “Concrete Jungle” will inspire listeners to lead with an open heart and express their feelings to the people they love. “I would hope that they would feel encouraged to tell somebody that they love them, even if it’s not in a romantic way,” Brill shares. “We often associate Valentine’s Day with a romantic love, but… it doesn’t have to be romantic love.”

Brill is set to release more new music in the coming months, focused on cultivating an audience of kindred listeners. “I hope that what I create is going to speak to people and I want to always create from an authentic place. It’s sharing what you actually think and what you actually feel about something regardless of how others are going to react to that. It’s how I feel and what I actually believe inside,” Brill says. “I hope that people will connect with that.”

Follow Carli Brill on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Bren Joy and Jake Wesley Rogers Step Out of Creative Comfort Zones For Red Bull SoundClash

Photo credit: Se Oh / Lamont Roberson

Nashville is called Music City for a reason. From the country music capital of the world to the home of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, Nashville is brimming with creative talent. Red Bull is working to elevate that creativity with SoundClash, its long-running event that sees two artists face off in a musical competition where the winner is decided by the audience. The artists entering the musical octagon must be willing to step outside of their creative comfort zones and adapt to new situations. Willing to step up to that challenge are two of Nashville’s rising stars: Bren Joy and Jake Wesley Rogers, who will take over Marathon Music Works on December 9 at 9pm EST.

Bren Joy, an R&B artist influenced by ’70s Motown and California culture, has credits that include writing “Dynasties & Dystopia” for Netflix’s hit animated series Arcane: League of Legends and opening for Megan Thee Stallion; Jake Wesley Rogers, a former America’s Got Talent contestant turned glam pop artist was featured on the Happiest Season soundtrack and has made fans in Hollywood ranging from Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds to Madonna and Elton John. 

“I love companies that really invest in upcoming artists. That’s very important for me,” Joy shares with Audiofemme about what drew him to SoundClash. “I intentionally wrote these songs in a way that I can flip them and interchange them. I want to show people versatility.”

“It’s also a fun creative challenge too because it’s so different than a normal show,” observes Rogers. “I do like a challenge. I do like to be put out of my comfort zone because I think that’s when interesting things happen and this feels like a good way to do that.”

Part of that challenge stems from the fact that the artists are tasked not only with reimagining their own songs, but working together on performing collaborative renditions of each other’s music, along with a cover song.

Rogers says he worked closely with his music director to reinvent his sound for the occasion, adding a barbershop quartet to an a cappella version of one of his songs, with Joy teasing a “big surprise” for his performance of “Insecure,” his collaboration with R&B-soul singer Pink Sweat$, and even took himself by surprise with his new rendition of “Twenties,” the title track of his 2019 EP. He also hints at a special appearance by a female artist whose 2020 album he’s been listening to “nonstop,” teasing that they’re sharing a “beautiful moment onstage.”  

”My music’s very special to me and it’s very close to my heart, so I think it’s going to be good for me hearing different versions of my music that I write. I’m very intrigued and I’m very excited for that. It’s a very unique opportunity,” Joy expresses, adding, “there’s so many surprises.”

As a Nashville native, this opportunity is especially meaningful for Joy, who asserts that he’s going to stick to his roots and “follow my gut” in presenting his music as an example of the diverse talent born and bred in Music City. “I’m so stoked for the opportunity to do something special in my city. Nashville’s very important to me and live music is a very special part of the city’s culture and I think whenever we can take live music and go a step further and really push the envelope and push the norm, that’s what I want to do,” he asserts. “It means a lot being able to do something like this that’s very original that I don’t know if I’d get another chance to do.”

Meanwhile, Rogers plans to take what he’s learned performing other live shows, going back to his theatre days growing up in Missouri and singing in a rock band in church. There, he learned about the value of transitions in maintaining the natural flow of the songs, skills he intends on channeling on the SoundClash stage. “You have to serve the moment and the live environment, what is going to serve this show and what is going to sound the best, feel the best, look the best,” Rogers describes of his approach, hinting that he’s had several new costumes made for the show, draped in sparkles and sequins. “I feel the most me when I’m performing. There is something so different about performing live when it’s a very intimate connection with people and it feels so cathartic.”

And while they’re poised to be competitors, Joy and Rogers are approaching it with a healthy mindset. Having met as students at Belmont University in Nashville, the two artists were already familiar with each other’s music coming into the competition, offering nothing but praise for one another’s gifts.

“Our styles are quite different, but I think we’re both inspired by each other, so that’s helpful,” Rogers laughs, citing Joy as a “sweetheart” and “stupid talented.” He adds, “It’s nice to talk to someone that gets it and understands how fun and wild this career is.”

For Joy, SoundClash has allowed him to connect with an artist whose style is vastly different from his own, the common ground allowing them to build a unique sense of trust needed to perform in such an event. “I love Jake, I love his music, and I think what’s important that people don’t realize in a SoundClash is trust. These songs are very vulnerable and special to me, so I have to really trust the other artist. I trust Jake to do my songs justice and also to be sensitive to the topics,” Joy remarks, calling Rogers “visually stunning.” “It’s definitely been interesting trying to keep the same motive and intention that Jake had in the song and be respectful, but also give it different legs. It’s been really cool.” 

Part of building that trust is understanding who one another is as an artist. Rogers, who identifies as gender-fluid, is intentional about telling his story in a genuine way. Deeply observant, Rogers harbors a unique ability to capture the “friction of life,” pointing to the song “Pluto” as a metaphor for how many people feel like outsiders, and our lifelong quest to find love.

“Anytime anyone is able to be themselves, it inspires somebody else to be themselves, and that’s really important to me. My mission as an artist is to find freedom in myself and talk about it and hopefully some other people find it too,” says Rogers.

As for Joy, he reveals that 2020 allowed him to view life through a new lens, learning more about who he is at the core and leaning into it, that personal growth shining through “fully” in his music. “I think over the past year, I’ve fell so much deeper in love with my culture and my background and I have stood up for things in the past that I had been quiet about. I think that I’ve learned to be a badass, give no fucks,” he professes. “I feel like that’s where I really had this disconnect with my art in the past; I was coming from a very insecure place. I feel like now I’ve grown in my art and grown to love what I do and to stop caring so much about what people are going to think or what’s going to happen and really trust in my taste and the taste of the people that listen to my music. I feel like I’ve grown up. I’m a little more open, everything’s a little more queer, everything’s a little more cool. I feel like I am very zen at the moment.” 

While the two singers have differing perspectives on how they want the audience to perceive them, the common thread is to feel a sense of connection and community. Rogers hopes fans feel the wonder of escapism in his presentation, while Joy encourages people see the vast range his music has to offer. “I hope they take away my versatility. I think versatility is something that’s very important to me and I have grown so much. I think we all have grown over the past year, we’ve all learned a lot, we’ve all been educated, so I am very excited for people to hopefully take away not only my versatility, but my ability to write songs,” Joy declares.

“I hope that they forget about their life for a minute and forget about their brain. Music is one of the most magical things in this world and I hope that’s a moment. I hope it’s cathartic. I hope it’s surprising,” Rogers reflects with a smile. “I hope they see themselves in me.”

Follow Jake Wesley Rogers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook , and Bren Joy on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

PREMIERE: Wild Heart Club Embraces the Art of Breaking in “Rainbow”

Photo Credit: Anna Haas

In Japanese culture, there’s a special method of repairing a broken object. Known as Kintsugi, the art form uses lacquer mixed with gold to not only mend broken pottery, but celebrate its imperfections, incorporating the broken pieces into the object’s history. The art from continuously revealed itself to Kristen Castro – singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind Wild Heart Club – while in the writing process for her new album Arcade Back in Manitou, released November 12. “That was a visual I had the whole record,” Castro tells Audiofemme. “I was like ‘Okay, maybe I’m on the right path.’” But before she could walk the path to her destiny, she had to embrace her own brokenness.

Growing up in Simi Valley California, Castro always had a deep sense of observation and empathy. “As a kid, I was always weird,” she confesses. “I could always tell when people would click, the popular kids. I was really empathetic and I could feel when people were lonely and I was like ‘you’re just as important.’ Quiet people are usually weirder. There’s a lot going on in their head. Maybe they’re not as confident, but they’re just as important as the popular people.”

Embracing her weirdness is a habit Castro carried into adulthood, particularly her career as a country artist. After moving to Nashville, Castro joined country trio Maybe April in 2013, their sparkling harmonies and bluegrass-infusion scoring them opening slots for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Gavin DeGraw, Brandy Clark and others. But in spite of their growing success, Castro still felt like an outsider.

“I wasn’t like everybody else. I struggled with being confident, and I really want to uplift others who struggle in that same area,” she professes. “If I have this ability to make music; why not make it to connect with other people who can’t create and want to connect. It’s nice to be heard. I have a duty to myself to be honest. It took me a long time to get there though.” Amd it wasn’t without a personal toll – what got her to the point of being honest in her music was “constantly letting myself break, which was really hard,” she says. “Every time I’d put myself first, it would break something.”

The first break came when she departed Maybe April after six years, realizing she was not speaking her truth through the music. She also ceased co-writing with other Nashville songwriters as it began to feel “artificial,” the blossoming singer-songwriter drawn more to connecting with people through the power of music rather than chasing a number one song. Then, Castro experienced another break when she endured a devastating breakup with her girlfriend. At the time, she thought, “I need to grow and I need to figure this out or else I’m not going to get better.”

But those moments of darkness put Castro on a path of truth and honesty that inspired her to launch a career as a solo artist. With only her guitar and a slew of ideas and emotions waiting to be turned into songs, Castro flew to Los Angeles to stay with her brother, where she created Wild Heart Club’s exquisite debut. “It was a lot of healing. No one’s around me, I get to make this music for nobody right now,” Castro describes of making the album in solitude. “This is just for me.”

But the song that started it all was written years prior. Castro penned “Rainbow” when she and her ex-girlfriend starting dating. The couple was part of a now-defunct band, Mountain Time, and after a show in Colorado, they attended a bonfire where Castro saw a shooting star race across the sky, wondering in that moment if it was a sign from the universe that her then-girlfriend was “the one.”

“When you’re young and in love, you’re looking for any sign to tell you you’re on the right path. I saw so much magic in that moment and in that person, and looking at myself now, even though I miss her, I feel like all my favorite parts of her are part of me now,” Castro reveals. “I love when the sky is crying and all of a sudden you get a rainbow. For some reason, I felt like that sky, and I was like, ‘I deserve a rainbow. Is she my rainbow?’ I’ve had a lot of sadness in my life, so it’s just looking for signs.”

In the live acoustic video, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, Castro strips down the upbeat pop number that appears on the album to the bare bones. With just an acoustic guitar, her soft voice and the gentle sound of the waves crashing along the shore behind her, Castro maintains the song’s dreamy element as she sings, “Break down like a waterfall/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow/Lost in love, lose yourself/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow.”

“It talks about this magical moment with a person, [and] it alludes to toxic moments,” she notes of the lyrics. “That relationship had so many beautiful parts to it and also so many negative parts to it where I would cry if I was happy, I would cry if I was hurt. But at the end of it all, she was always there.” As songwriting partners, the couple would write verses back and forth to each other. One of the verses her ex wrote foreshadowed a breakup where one partner encourages the other to go to the beach to find peace.

When Castro’s friend and videographer suggested they film a live version of “Rainbow” on the beach, it marked a full-circle moment for the singer. “I think it honors the song in the way that we used to play together,” she observes. “It was honoring what she wanted for me and what I want for myself.”

Castro received yet another sign from the universe that she was where she was meant to be while filming on the remote beach in California. A bystander approached to remark on the “beautiful” song. “The first thing she says is ‘I could tell it was a really hard song for you to sing. It sounded like you were in a toxic relationship.’ It took everything in my power not to cry. It was again this full circle feeling, these little moments where you’re like ‘I’m on the right path’ and respecting your life guides,” Castro observes. “I needed somebody to be that rainbow for me and now it feels like I’m my own rainbow.”

Castro continues to walk a path that is deeply honest, living fully in her truth as she works to pass on the core message embedded into her music: it gets better. “Something I kept thinking about was if I could talk to my past self who was going through all of this and let her know that it gets better, because so often it feels like it won’t. This album was more than just a breakup. I finally lost myself and gave myself the ability to find myself,” she proclaims. “I think lyrically [and] sonically it was me being honest for the first time, and being honest let me start to find myself, my truest self.”

As for how she defines her truest self? “Someone that’s free. Free of self-judgement, others’ judgment, free of being critical of yourself, free to create. It’s to find the beauty in the little things,” she expresses. “I think it’s letting yourself go through it, even though you know it’s going to be really awful. If you feel a pull to something, sometimes you need to walk through it. There were so many red flags where it was like ‘don’t do it,’ but if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have this album, I wouldn’t have broken. It’s being grateful to others and myself for letting myself go through that.”

Follow Wild Heart Club on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.  

Caroline Romano Captures Messy Teen Romance With “Ireland in 2009”

Photo Credit: Robert Chavers

Caroline Romano is a self-professed people watcher. “I do a lot of people watching. I’m a big observer,” she expresses. “Something that I don’t know that everyone else would notice, I like to write it down. Observing life, everyone has a different lens through which they look at it. If I journal my own experience there’s something unique to learn in that.” 

Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi as a quiet, shy student who had difficulty connecting with her peers, Romano found sanctuary in her journal where she’d share her innermost thoughts and feelings. When she started putting these emotions to music, it became clear that she was a natural born songwriter. Her parents gifted the aspiring artist a trip to Nashville for her thirteenth birthday, and like a scene out of a movie, she booked a coveted slot at the famous Bluebird Cafe. “I fell in love with performing and I felt very called to do this with my life,” Romano recalls to Audiofemme of the pivotal trip. 

Her parents’ decision to allow her to leave school and pursue music certainly paid off, Romano finding herself inside the Top 15 on the Billboard Dance chart in 2020 with “I Still Remember (ft. R3HAB),” the video alone amassing over one million views. Her subtle writing draws the listener in with its tender renderings of everyday nuance, and she’s steadily released a string of alt-pop gems over the last year – most recently “Oddities and Prodigies” (with b-side “Lonely Interlude”), “The Hypothetical” and “PDA of the Mainstream.” She is actively working on new music, with plans to release an album in early 2022.

But for now, she returns with “Ireland in 2009,” premiering exclusively on Audiofemme. This time, the observant creator drew inspiration for the fanciful track from 2009 indie film Cherrybomb, starring Romano’s favorite actor Robert Sheehan, and Harry Potter star Rupert Grint. Filmed in Belfast, the movie follows the two on a journey of debauchery as they try to catch the attention of the same girl. Romano felt compelled to write a song around the theme of tragic teenage romance, a la Romeo & Juliet “if they hung out in parking lots and smoked cigarettes all the time,” she says.

Though Romano was just eight years old when Cherrybomb was released, it informed her perspective on romance, alongside other movies she watched at that age, like Notting Hill, Letters to Juliet, and The Notebook. “I wanted to write about the kind of love that doesn’t get written about in story books: the things that dissipate over time and probably only two people will ever even remember,” she explains of the song’s inspiration, noting that the setting of Cherrybomb “gave me everything I needed.” “I wanted to get in on that action of oversimplified, high school storytelling in a way that I missed out on because I was so young during that time, but it’s what I grew up watching and thinking about when I thought of romance.” 

Romano sets the scene of an ill-fated teen romance that will ultimately end in demise, yet is still filled with wonder and intrigue for the two main characters. She accomplishes this through lyrics that capture the messy, yet free-spirited nature of young love, like “Look at you asleep on the floor/By the mattress in the middle of the door/I just woke up from an all night war/In my school clothes from the day before.”

“When you’re young, everything is so dramatic and the end of the world and everything has so much meaning, but it’s all these small little things. I thought about how I could make these two characters and their lives in this desolate place in rainy Ireland sound deep and dramatic,” the Nashville-based pop artist explains. “This is messy, but it works, and it’s not going to end well, but it’s pretty to them.” The image-driven lyrics capture an imperfect love story that looks beautiful to the people inside of it. It’s a story steeped in youth, particularly as Romano chants, “Broken glass and empty bottles/Our 21st century fossils/Shattered dreams instead of dollars.”

“I think there’s a lot of expectation with every kid – you grow up with dreams and you think at that age that you’re going to be something really big, but at that time, everything is so small, and all you have are these literal fragments of dreams you’re trying to piece together to make life happen,” she analyzes. “When you look back sometimes on that, I think that whether you were successful, whether you had money in the future or not, those times of poverty and recklessness was the best it ever gets.”

Romano adds a personal element to the song with the line “for a quiet girl you’re awfully loud,” an observation a friend made about her. Romano recalls her friend telling her, “You don’t say a lot, but when you say something, it means a lot and it has depth,” validating the shy girl who also harbors a powerful voice that commands attention.

“I’ve always really cherished it and I wanted to put that in the song somehow,” she says of that compliment. “I think a lot of the times it is the quiet ones that say the most. I felt very seen. I felt that people do recognize that I’m quiet and reserved and shy, but maybe I do have something worth saying after all.”

“Ireland in 2009” also reflects Romano’s unique desire to live out experiences she’ll never have, crafting a narrative she can only live vicariously through her characters. “I’m someone who definitely has a fear of missing out on experiences and missing parts of the world because I realize that my world is so small and there’s so many people I’ll never love or know, and that scares me,” she confesses. “I find comfort in other people’s stories, or at least imagining other people’s stories. I think everyone feels that way, so writing about it definitely helps and gives me a taste of it.”

As someone who walks through the world with eyes wide open, Romano hopes that the song transports the listener to their own version of “Ireland in 2009.” “I find very ugly things beautiful a lot of the time, or very sad things beautiful. I write about love in its purest form,” she professes. “I hope that they see an ultra-specific place… that they’ve known in their own life. I hope they imagine certain people living that out. I hope it reminds someone of a past love that was similar in some way. I hope it brings them somewhere I was trying to create for that song.” 

Follow Caroline Romano on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Ryan James Brewer Crafts Liberating Debut LP Tender

Photo Credit: Ryan Hartley

With his debut LP, Tender, Ryan James Brewer finds liberation from his past. 

Raised in a rural country town in Australia, Brewer admits it was difficult growing up queer in a conservative area. Brewer developed depression and anxiety at an early age that he is still working through today, with therapy and music serving as a healthy combination to help process these complex experiences. “I ran up against a lot of bullying,” Brewer shares with Audiofemme of his upbringing. “Especially as a teenager when you’re finding out about your own sexuality, the general ideals and values there didn’t really help with that. I think as a result of that it took me a long time work through a lot of that and I think I suffered a lot.” 

The budding artist eventually migrated from his small town to the bustling city of Melbourne, where he cut his teeth as a singer and songwriter. In need of a change of scenery and a desire to connect with his contacts in the alt-country and Americana realms of music, Brewer made the 9,000 mile trek to Nashville for a fresh start. It’s here he planted the seeds for Tender, a 10-track exploration of sounds as intricate as the stories they’re wrapped around that masterfully weave together in a avant garde pop masterpiece.

“The record does try to address my struggles as openly as I can possibly be with it all,” he expresses. “[I’m trying to find strength in vulnerability, and challenging the archetypal masculine idea that vulnerability is a negative thing, which I think it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Brewer rejects this norm in “Limits of the Heart,” wherein the song’s carefree spirit is backed by an intoxicating beat of synth pop sounds that create a dreamlike effect. The song is years in the making, as Brewer had begun writing the track inspired by “unsuccessful courtships” and the struggle of embracing his place on the spectrum of sexuality while living in Melbourne in 2015. After five attempts, Brewer tore the song down in order to build it back up again while writing with a friend in Nashville before he landed on the final adaptation. 

“I was definitely grappling with my sexuality and figuring out what sexuality meant for me at the time, coming to grips with my identity as a bisexual man – because in my past I had been conditioned to think that was a bad thing,” he explains. “Part of writing that song was working through a bunch of my internalized homophobia. It was a way of releasing that in a sense.” The line “one breath dispels the limits of the heart” is one of Brewer’s favorites – he drew inspiration from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, “Ordinary Nocturne,” which he came across while fine-tuning the track. “To me, it speaks to a freedom within vulnerability,” he notes of Rimbaud’s work. 

“One Another” acts as a “companion song” to “Limits of the Heart,” addressing the push and pull Brewer felt between his own feelings and rural Australia’s close-minded views; trying to reconcile the two practically required multiple identities, and had an impact on Brewer’s sense of self. “I identify with that in a strong way, especially in terms of sexuality coming up against a negative association… that had been engrained from a super young age because of the place I grew up in,” he analyzes. “That song is working through that aspect.”

“Just Don’t Let Me Go” is a reflection on perfectionism, and “Ministry of Love” follows suit, serving as a tongue-in-cheek critique of social media where the narrator has an “erotic relationship” with an algorithm.

Like many, Brewer’s world started to shift with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just weeks before, Brewer was on tour with Nick Lowe in Australia and New Zealand. Soon after his return to the U.S., the shelter in place order was instituted. Initially plotting to make an album completely on his own, Brewer quickly came to the realization that a task that massive was beyond his capability and knew he needed help. “That prompted a mental breakdown of sorts that combined with everything that we’re all living through at the time, and still are,” he recalls. 

Soon after, Brewer followed his gut instinct to San Pedro, a small coastal community in Los Angeles, to work with producer Jon Joseph, the two building a body of work that is electric, yet moving and powerful. They pulled in unique elements to add texture to already vibrant songs. On “Taps/WMDs,” the moody instrumental blends bass guitar and crying trumpet with the sound of Brewer’s dripping faucet, recorded during an unusually cold night in Nashville when he had to keep a slow stream of water running to stop the pipes in his house from freezing. “Things like that excite me – something that’s sort of a plain and interesting rhythm in time that’s not something you would typically associate with music, like a dripping faucet,” Brewer says.

Likewise, “Chercher La Petite Bête” features snippets of a conversation between friends Brewer overhead on a train in Paris, enchanted by their accents and cadence. “That can be a really interesting rhythmic element that you don’t really associate that directly with music,” he muses. “I like those moments of tenderness.”

These effects bring moments of playfulness to an album that deals with heavy subject matter, like album opener “End of a Life.” Brewer describes it as a “direct confrontation with the idea of suicide or suicidal thoughts.” Partly based on Brewer’s own experiences, the song was also inspired by the death of Mark Linkous, the former frontman of indie rock band Sparklehorse, who had lived with depression for many years and committed suicide in 2010.

Admiring Linkous’ writing style and openness in talking about his mental health struggles, Brewer says he felt “seen” in Linkous’ work, and hopes listeners feel the same with his music. “End of a Life,” in particular, was written with the intent of inspiring much-needed conservation around the topic of mental health and suicide. Its free-wheeling sound cradles Brewer’s potent lyrics: “And I believe/I’m intimately afraid of the energy/Can’t make it work for me anymore/With the weight filling up my hands/In the shape of a lonely man.”

“I wrote it so that the depressive idea of suicidal thoughts is personified and structured like a relationship breaking down. I think that song is me working through suicide and the idea of that and trying to normalize the discussion around it. It’s important to be able to talk about that. That’s why I wanted to juxtapose a pretty heavy theme with an upbeat, sunny sounding track. I wanted to have some sort of accessibility there,” he observes. “That song is a way of working through those things. Hopefully in an ideal world you’d be leaving the listener with some insight so that they can identify with it on that front as it relates to depression and suicide.”

But Brewer intentionally ends the album on a “Tender” note with the title track that features him in a solo piano moment. It captures the spirit of freedom and vulnerability channeled into the album that sets Brewer’s past self free, while setting the path for a bright future ahead. “This is a super personal record and it’s my way of working through a lot of things for myself. But the ideal outcome is that I would leave whoever’s listening with some insight and something that they can identify with and carry forward,” Brewer conveys. “The final result is quite liberating.”  

Follow Ryan James Brewer on Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok for ongoing updates. 

Lena Stone is Unapologetic About “Taking Up Space” In the Visualizer for Her New Single

Photo Credit: Erika Rock

It took Lena Stone longer than she would have liked to write her latest single “Taking Up Space” – but the ideas and inspirations for it had done just that, in her head, for years. Like many, Stone went through a personal transformation in 2020, and when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she finally summoned the courage to put words to the way she was feeling.

“So much of making music is presenting it to other people and putting it outward, and it felt like this was a chance for me to create inwardly, create music that I want to listen to. I realized I hadn’t been doing that as much as I should have been,” Stone admits to Audiofemme. “I think I was doing what I thought Nashville wanted from me.”

Having lived in Nashville for seven years, the Massachusetts-raised singer decided to transition from country music to pop. The move was a sign of respect from an artist with a “deep love” for country music, yet realized her lyrics and production were leaning more into the pop realm. It’s a natural step for the talented singer-songwriter, the pandemic granting her the time and focus to create music that fuels her soul. Making music without restrictions was incredibly “freeing” for Stone. “It felt so gratifying to be writing something I wanted to listen to all the time, so that was a really cool change for me,” she says. “Now that I have that, I never want to do anything other than that. I never want to make music that I wouldn’t turn on and blast all the time in my own car.” 

Stone isn’t ashamed to admit that she’s often listening to her songs on repeat these days, having reached a point in her career where she’s letting go of others’ opinions and embracing her artistic identity. One of these songs is the deeply vulnerable “Taking Up Space,” a liberating anthem that questions gender stereotypes and lays bare the reality of working in an industry that makes it impossible to fit in.

The synth-laden ballad offers an empowering analysis of the ways women are expected to dim their light in order for others to shine. Stone faces her own insecurities in an effort to break through these barriers and help others do the same. “Even though it was really scary, I was like, ‘I need to write the song that I need to hear,’” she expresses.

One thing she’d been struggling with was having a negative body image. “It occurred to me a couple years ago that many of us are striving to be size zero, and size zero is literally nothing. Why is that the goal? Why is it not okay to just be, and to exist the way that you are?” she confides. “It’s so hard to love your body. There’s so much talk about loving your body, and so few people actually do it. We put these weird rules on ourselves and the pandemic I think has made that worse for a lot of people.”

Stone kept her ideas for “Taking Up Space” under wraps until it was ready to manifest, which occurred one morning at 6 a.m. when she woke herself up mumbling the first verse and pre-chorus into her iPhone. What resulted is an open-hearted song where each lyric is more vulnerable than the next, Stone battling with the inner voices that tell her she needs to fit into an unattainable mold, biting her tongue more often than she’d like. “The whole thing centers on that title, that it is okay to be a presence, whether that’s physically, whether that’s making your voice heard, whatever that means to you,” she says. “It’s being a participant and not being on the sidelines or trying to hide yourself or be less than you are.” 

The versatile singer also addresses the pressures that come with being a woman in the music industry, noting how female artists are placed under contradictory parameters that discourage them from being too creative, sexy, or outspoken, yet are still expected to entertain. She addresses this “very complicated game of Twister” head on as she sings, “So I’m getting out of the line/For a prize that maybe/I don’t even want,” Instead, she commits to following her own intuition. “That line is really directed at the music industry and it’s saying ‘I’m doing all the things that you asked of me, but I don’t even know if that’s what I want to be doing. I’m not sure that’s what I’m called to be doing. So maybe I’m just going to stop doing what you want me to do and I’m going to do what I want to do,’” she explains. 

The visualizer, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, perfectly captures the spirit of song. Stone is depicted as a doll-like figure, dressed in an extravagant tulle-laced gown. “We wanted me to look like a mannequin – pretty and not moving, just there,” she explains. On the one hand, the “enormous” dress literally takes up space, she adds, “but there are also assumptions that you’re just supposed to be there and be pretty and it’s like, no – I can be so much more than that.”

Stone lies on a giant chess board, surrounded by life-sized pawns. She was drawn to the intricacies of chess, where players are expected to predict their opponent’s every move. “Chess is a game of power moves and [is] about having control of the situation,” she points out. “I loved the idea of me calling the shots and me making the plays. Being in the middle of that setting felt really like it called that power play into mind.” 

“It’s fearless just facing these fears” is not only a line in the song, but a reminder for the singer to push forward, now that she’s finally confronting her demons. “But I’m getting braver every day/I’m done saying sorry/For taking up space,” she assures herself, hoping to bring peace of mind to every woman who hears the song and encourage them to feel validated in their power as a person who deserves to be taking up space in the world.   

“The flip side of trying to make yourself small is allowing yourself to be big. Every time I advocate for myself, I feel big,” she says. “I think as women, we’re taught to put everyone else’s feelings first and I definitely struggle with that a lot. Intentionality is such a key to being happier and to taking up space in the space that you want to take up.”

Though the track was a long time coming, Stone feels it was worth the wait to get the message just right. “If I can help anyone get there faster than it took me to get there, that feels like mission accomplished. If it speeds up anyone’s process to becoming comfortable with themselves, then I feel like the song has done what I needed it and what I wanted it to do,” Stone proclaims. “If we could all become a little bit more comfortable with ourselves and our bodies and our voices and our intelligence and our abilities, I think things would change for the better for everyone.”

Follow Lena Stone on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for ongoing updates. 

Meagan Hickman Offers Hope and Redemption with “One Day” Premiere

Photo Credit: Petya Shalamanova

Meagan Hickman has always been intentional about creating uplifting music, a trend she continues with her new song, “One Day.” 

Born and raised in Chicago, the singer-songwriter was trained classically, falling in love with songwriting after discovering acts ranging from John Mayer to Bonnie Raitt. Adapting the craft as her own, Hickman began journaling as a teenager, her thoughts soon turning into song. Raised on the sounds of Motown and listening to India.Arie and Jill Scott as a teenager helped her develop a palette for soul music that she incorporates into her own sound. “I feel like soulful music is always where my heart’s been. Vocally too, it’s challenging, and I always wanted to sing. Soulful music was always that outlet,” Hickman tells Audiofemme

The Nashville-based artist carries this sound into “One Day,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. ahead of its official October 8 release date. The spirit of the song is as bright and sunny as the yellow dress she dons on the single’s cover art, while the instrumentation is as multilayered as the lyrics. A sparkling piano adds color in the background as syncopated drums shine alongside Hickman’s radiant vocals. The song was inspired by the singer’s friends who expressed regret choosing one life path over another, believing they neglected their calling and had run out of time to pursue it. That’s where Hickman steps in to be a light at the end of the tunnel, encouraging them that dreams are never out of reach. “One day you’re gonna find a way to see/One day you’re gonna find a way to breathe/One day you’re gonna find what you need/One day you’re gonna find a way to sing,” she cheers in the chorus. 

“‘One Day’ is about coming back to those roots. Even if you’ve done all these other things and you feel like your time is up or you missed the boat, you still have it within you. It’s not gone. It may feel like it because of all these detours, but this is not the end,” she explains of the song’s meaning. “You’re going to find your song – that is your calling. You’re going to find your voice. You’re going to find whatever that calling is again, because it’s who you are. You’ll find your way back to that voice or that calling and you’re going to find that sense of peace.” 

Inner trust is an integral theme to the song. Giving it a modern twist, Hickman tackles the toxicity of self comparison in the second verse: “Foreign languages of endless data/You’ve got to decipher what matters/Deciding should you step away/Or dive head first and stake your claim.” Hickman acknowledges the “comparison factor” that plays out as we scroll, reminding herself as much as the listener that it’s up to each individual to react with a positive or negative mindset. “That moment in time is the most crucial to your success and your mental health. For me, even though it could be negative, it’s like, ‘How are you going to react to that?’ and that in turn I think affects the way that you move forward,” she analyzes. 

Alongside this critical thinking, “One Day” is a redemption anthem, Hickman serving as the listener’s cheerleader in times of self doubt. It’s a message she’s proud to share with the masses in hopes that it offers listeners a sense of reassurance and peace. “I really hope it’s like a big hug. I hope someone knows if you’re going through that crisis – whether it’s mental, physical, family, whatever – it’s all perspective,” she expresses. “Circumstances can be really bad sometimes, but my hope is to be like, ‘Here’s that hug, it’s okay. You can do it.’”

Hickman says she’s needed that same encouragement plenty of times. “I so badly want to receive what I give; I think all of us do. We hope that we give enough and we get it back. With my music, I hope that I get that same hug or that same love back. If I can put goodness into the world as best as I can, that’s my goal,” she says.

After a fraught year and times of crises that never seem to end, Hickman continues to display bravery and caring. “This world is isolating and we have so much stuff that can mess someone up,” she points out. “If there’s anything that I can do with my music, it’s to lend that hand and be like, ‘I see you. I feel you. I hear you. I go through what you go through. You’re not alone.’ That’s my hope.” 

Follow Meagan Hickman on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Saint Etienne Samples Y2K Pop and Name-drops Racehorses on I’ve Been Trying to Tell You LP

Photo Credit: Elaine Constantine

Prior to the U.K.’s COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Saint Etienne had been working on a new album inside a small, London recording studio. The album (which, by singer Sarah Cracknell’s estimates, was about two-thirds complete) was put on hold with the onset of the pandemic. In the meantime, the long-running indie pop trio got sidetracked with a socially-distanced musical experiment – and before long, a whole new concept album emerged. 

“We didn’t know what the end product would be,” says Pete Wiggs on a recent Zoom call from his home studio in Hove. “We weren’t thinking this would be another album.” And yet, that’s exactly what it became.

I’ve Been Trying to Tell You, out September 10, is the tenth full-length album from the British trio. In the 31 years that have passed since Saint Etienne’s first single, a cover of Neil Young’s song “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” the group has forged a path that crosses indie pop, dance, and experimental electronic music. They’ve moved dance floors with songs like “Nothing Can Stop Us” and “He’s on the Phone,” garnered critical acclaim for albums like Sound of Water (2000) and Words and Music By Saint Etienne (2012) and have kept diehards hooked with their fan club releases and other limited edition material. 

One of those rare releases – specifically a 2018 EP called Surrey North – serves as a precursor of sorts for I’ve Been Trying to Tell You. Wiggs had wanted to further some of the production techniques used in the making of the EP. “I got some new toys, some new software, that I wanted to explore,” he says. 

The concept, though, came from Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley. Wiggs explains that Stanley had wanted to use samples from a specific period of the 1990s and to pull from releases that were fairly popular at the time. Ultimately, I’ve Been Trying to Tell You includes barely-recognizable snippets of hits from artists Natalie Imbruglia, Samantha Mumba, The Lightning Seeds and others. 

“We got really into it and then Sarah did some vocals on quite a few and it became something bigger,” says Wiggs. At one point, they realized that they had grown more fond of this project than the album they had been recording pre-pandemic. 

Saint Etienne worked on the songs remotely, with Wiggs in Hove, Cracknell in Oxfordshire and Stanley in West Yorkshire. Cracknell recorded vocals with her son as engineer and sent the pieces to Wiggs. “I wouldn’t necessarily know where they would go, so I could pick and choose and treat them like samples in a way and chop this out and play around with it,” he says. 

Cracknell, too, says she was interested in something more “atmosphere-led” rather than focusing on the lyrics. “I thought that it would be nice to have something where you imagine something, a bit cinematic, in your mind,” she says. There’s also a nod to the Cocteau Twins in her approach for this album. “I’m a bit of Cocteau Twins fan and I like that Liz Fraser used to make up words and things, her own vocabulary, so I have a bit of that as well,” says Cracknell. 

The samples are primarily culled from music released in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a conceptual decision that reflects the theme of the album. “The concept behind that was that it was a period where the Tony Blair government had come in,” says Wiggs. “Initially, everyone was very excited and optimistic about things. Then, it all sort of went wrong with various wars and things like that. Big business still being involved. It wasn’t as great as we thought it was going to be.”

The songs are all named after horses who ran in the Grand National race between the years 1996 and 1998, which parallels the historical reflection. “There’s a sense of optimism with betting on a horse, but it often goes tits up,” Wiggs points out.

Photographer Alasdair McLellan created a film to accompany the album, and both are a poignant reflection upon memory at a time when the music and fashion surrounding the turn of the 21st century has come back in vogue. “I suppose that I think that there’s a lot of looking back and referencing those years in popular music now, especially here – lots of people are doing songs that sound like they’re from that period and it’s influenced a lot of people,” says Wiggs.

He adds, “Bob was saying that kids maybe think of it as being all great back then.” Wiggs contemplates the possibility that Saint Etienne, at one point, may have felt the same way about the music and culture of the 1960s. 

“I think that we’ve always tried to make music that reflects stuff that we like and we’re really into music from the past, but we’re always trying to make something new,” he says. Wiggs notes the advent of 21st century technologies that allow producers to closely mimic the sounds of old soul records. “Sometimes it feels like that’s a bit of a pastiche,” he says, “but, maybe, in the ‘90s, if we were able to do that, we would have done that.”

Follow Saint Etienne on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Juliana Hale Finds the Silver Lining in “Chill (So Serious)”

Photo Credit: Shania Houchens

Juliana Hale maintains a daily gratitude list, taking the time to write down what she’s grateful for. The practice reflects her ability to find the positive in life’s bleakest moments, a mindset she carries over into her latest single, “Chill (So Serious).” 

Hale learned how to find her silver linings through songwriting. By the age of nine, she had taken up guitar, flute and piano (and has since mastered the bass and ukulele), and relocated to Nashville with her family to pursue a career in country music, the young star performing her original songs in the local honkytonks by age eleven. Inspiration from then-new artist Taylor Swift and Hale’s parents’ divorce led her to songwriting, the powerful art form also lending itself as an outlet for her emotions when she began struggling with gastroparesis, a disease where severe acid reflux destroyed her vocal chords. During her multi-year battle with gastroparesis, the singer-songwriter was awarded more than $600,000 worth of scholarships to study pre-med in college, with the initial goal of becoming a gastroenterologist. But deep within, Hale knew that music was her true passion, so much so that she felt a shift from country music toward a growing interest in the organic pop and Americana realm. While going through vocal therapy to heal her voice, she often found herself turning to songwriting for support.

“It was a big outlet for me as far as an escape to really get through those times. To have my voice and then have it taken away from me suddenly was definitely a big thing to go through. My songwriting and my singing has changed as my voice has begun to heal and get better, so it’s a big growth process,” Hale tells Audiofemme. “It was a lot of sad songwriting about feeling like I couldn’t really control things and I feel like I’ve become more of a control freak in a way because of that. ‘Chill’ was a big reminder for me to just let go and let things happen. In a weird way, it affected my songwriting to write positive songs because I was always trying to find the silver lining in the things [that] were happening, because there’s always a silver lining. I feel like once my voice did heal, it ended up being more unique than it was before, so that’s the big silver lining I tried to hold on to was it made me grow in a certain way.” 

Through “Chill,” Hale managed to find the light during a time of darkness. Co-written over Zoom with Earl Cohen, Calvin Gaines and Andrew Thomas in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the 21-year-old entices listeners, with upbeat, breezy lyrics: “Come and vibe with us/We got no stress/Kicking back like jokers/Serious bad days are over.”

“I was super stressed, as everybody was, and I realized sometimes you just have to be thankful for being alive,” she explains of the song’s inspiration. “It’s a big song to try to tell myself to let go, because that’s one thing I’ve also been trying to do musically – not be such a perfectionist, and not be so hard on myself and just chill out.”

While the first verse originated from Hale’s experience dating a guy who was coming on too strong early in the relationship, the song began to take on a life of its own as she and her co-writers moved toward a celebratory mindset. The second verse finds her abandoning her insecurities, dancing like no one’s watching and encouraging listeners to do the same, while the personal bridge gets to the heart of what she hopes to convey in the song. “Toast to the life/Every day’s a celebration/We’re still alive/That’s a special occasion,” Hale sings.

“I feel like that encapsulates what I was trying to get across with the song – that every day can be a celebration and there’s always something to smile about. We’re alive and that’s a gift. I feel like everything happens for a reason and we’re all here. Life is a celebration,” she reflects. “I was trying to share the message that even in these tough times, I’m always trying to find the silver lining. So it’s good to chill.”

Things are looking up for Hale lately – she stars in the upcoming film And You Call Yourself a Christian, set for release on Amazon on September 19, and she’s releasing a new song each month for the remainder 2021, with plans to release them all together as an EP at year’s end. But the intent with every piece of music she offers is to gift others with a hopeful mind and open heart. “I want to bring a positive, different aspect to people. I want to bring something real, and my main goal with music is to connect with people,” she shares. “My favorite part of music is playing shows and meeting people afterwards and having those conversations, so I hope that I make people feel understood and that they connect to me and they take away something good from it.” 

Follow Juliana Hale on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.  

Kyd the Band Turns His Scars Into Compelling Stories on ‘Season’ EPs

Photo Credit: Gina Di Maio

Devin Guisande, aka Kyd the Band, can still visualize the photo his parents have of him sitting at a drum set, no older than the age of four. Introduced to music in the Pentecostal church he was raised in Northern California, Guisande was playing drums at mass by the age of 10 and singing in the choir at 15, yet he didn’t consider himself a singer until his brother and future collaborator Kyle pointed out his impressive voice.

“I never wanted to be a singer, but I remember driving in the car one day with my brother and he heard me sing. He’s like ‘you can really sing,’” Guisande recalls to Audiofemme in a phone interview. From there, the brothers formed a band with their friends, and Guisande dipped his toe into the songwriting pool, discovering a passion for the craft that he later turned into a career. He’s just released the latest EP in his four-part cycle, Season 4: Series Finale.

At 18, Guisande made a life-altering move when he left the church, venturing on a personal odyssey that led him to Los Angeles, where he tapped into his songwriting capabilities, turning his personal tragedies into compelling narratives. “I wanted to write my own songs because I felt like I wanted to say something. I didn’t know exactly what then, because I was so young and I didn’t live enough life to really have an opinion or just a story. But I knew I wanted to try to get there,” he expresses. “Songwriting, it’s like a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger you build that and the better you get. Over my life of living more, it cemented ‘this is who I am as a person, as an artist, and this is what I want to say.’ If I’m not the one writing my songs or being honest in sharing my story, then I don’t think there really is a point for me to do this.” 

Leaving the conservative life of the church behind and moving hundreds of miles away from home for the fist time put a strain on Guisande’s relationship with his family, leading to what he describes as one of the darkest points of his life. He developed a substance abuse problem and overdosed, an experience he chronicles in the deeply personal “Dark Thoughts.” The ear-catching, dreamlike bass doesn’t overpower the song’s thought-provoking subject matter that serves as Guisande’s cry for help, reaching his hand through the dark as he professes, “I’ve been having dark thoughts/They’ve been cloudin’ up my mind/Like someone’s turned out the light on me/I’ve been having dark thoughts/Do you ever feel like me?/‘Cause I could use the company.”

“To me, that song was like an admission, a vulnerability saying, ‘this is me whether you like it or not, this is what happened.’ It was a face-to-face moment with myself,” he observes. “ I haven’t really talked to a lot of people about those things, and music was the outlet for that and gave me an objective, outside view of it. I think hard experiences and painful ones can inspire you and be a source of creativity. It’s been a way for me to help deal with those things.” 

After coming to the realization that he no longer wanted to be in L.A., Guisande and his now-wife headed east to Tennessee, making Music City their new home. Soon after, his brother made the trek to Nashville, Kyle working at GameStop while Devin worked as a full-time assistant to a real estate agent. The two formed Kyd The Band, balancing their day jobs while making music on the side that resulted in such songs as “American Dreamer.”

After the brothers musically parted ways, Guisande continued on with Kyd The Band as a solo act, releasing a series of EPs throughout 2020 and 2021 with Season 1: The Intro, Season 2: Character Development, Season 3: The Realization and Season 4: Series Finale. “I figured out early on I wanted to release music as seasons and make it like how a TV show is formatted because the music’s about my life,” he narrates. “My life has gone in waves and different phases, and so the seasonal structure really made sense.”

Season 1: The Intro chronicles the California native’s childhood growing up immersed in the church. “Sad Songs” depicts a sense of loneliness while acknowledging inner demons through lyrics like “I only like sad songs/Something may be wrong with me/And I leave the TV on/So someone’s in the room.”

Season 2: Character Development candidly chronicles his journey of leaving home and moving to L.A. while blossoming into adulthood with songs like the aforementioned “Dark Thoughts.” By Season 3: The Realization, Guisande has embraced who he has become and come to terms with his own reality, though heavy themes are still present. On “Make It In America,” for instance, he narrates vivid memories of watching a creditor place a foreclosure notice on the door of his childhood home after his family went bankrupt (Guisande was 16 at the time). He recounts his family selling off their belongings off in a yard sale and driving with his father to the bank to surrender their cars.

But Guisande attributes these challenges for building his endurance and resiliency, the message connecting as much to the present as it does the past. “Had I not gone through those things, I don’t know if I would have the perspective or understanding that I have now of you can lose everything literally tomorrow,” he reflects. In the song, he ponders, “When my soul flies/I can’t take one thing/Why do I try so hard to make it in America?” – a message that certainly hit home during the pandemic. “Over the last year, if we didn’t know that you can lose everything tomorrow, we realized or remembered that. Things aren’t what matter. It’s the relationships that you have in your life, and it’s people that you have right in front of you. Those are the things that you need to put value on,” he says.

The collection concludes with Season 4: Series Finale and includes the motivational “Glory” and powerful “Real Problems,” the latter of which he cites as one of the most important songs he’s released. A collaboration with fellow Nashville-based artist Taela, the song was borne out of their parallel experiences with substance abuse and Taela’s struggle with mental illness and self-identity. Taela had already written part of the chorus when she pitched it to Guisande as a collaboration, the dynamic artist working his magic in verses that find him in a work-in-progress state, yet recognizing the strength he’s gained from walking through life’s obstacles.

“I knew I wanted to talk about the struggle of it and of living with things that have happened in your life, or things that you’re currently dealing with, to talk about that in a really honest way,” he says. “There was a strength in saying, ‘I have some things that I’ve gone through and they’re legit, real life things, and they’re not always pretty.’ I think there was a strength and courage and admitting that.”

“It took some real problems for me to grow and become who I am,” he continues. “When I look at my life, that’s the truth for me. That’s me going through what I did and the things I talk about in Season One, Two and Three to really figure out who I am as a person and what matters to me and what I believe. I’m thankful for all of it, the good and the bad, because it’s gotten me to where I am now.” 

All roads lead to where Guisande is in present day, with the mission of inspiring others to share their truth and find methods of healing, just as he’s done countless times. Turning his scars into musical works of art dovetails with the goal of making others feel like they have a true sense of belonging. “If they feel different, if they feel like they don’t fit in, there’s other people out there that feel like that too,” Guisande shares. “We’re all in this together. At the root of it, that’s what I hope.” 

Follow Kyd the Band on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Poppies Vocalist May Rio Releases Quirky Solo Debut Easy Bammer

Photo Credit: Noelle Duquette

For May Rio, the writing of her debut solo album, Easy Bammer, is quite literally on the wall. Released June 25 via Dots Per Inch Music, the solo debut from the Poppies vocalist materialized as she taped lyrical snippets to the walls of her childhood bedroom, adrift in isolation like so many musicians during the pandemic.

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Rio began her creative career as a visual artist. But it wasn’t until her junior year of art school where her vision transitioned to music after picking up her first acoustic guitar, daring herself to write a song. “I could barely play an A chord, but I wrote a song, and it felt so good and so much better than making art,” Rio confesses to Audiofemme. “I knew that’s what I wanted to keep doing right then.” 

But her determination on this new musical path was also met with trepidation. Entering an industry that’s obsessed with youth, Rio was convinced that she was pursuing the craft too late. “I was praised a lot for my talent with visual art growing up. I think even by the time I was a teenager, it made it really not fun for me anymore. The upside of starting music so late was that there was never any expectation that I would be good at it,” she analyzes. After graduating college, the Texas native became a New York transplant with an overwhelming desire to start a band. That vision became reality when she met guitarist Ian Langehough, the two forming Brooklyn-based indie pop-rock band Poppies and releasing four EPs. 

But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought her back to her parents’ house in Austin. As she ebbed and flowed through the early mundane days of the pandemic, the idea of making a solo album came creeping into mind, her song lyrics spilling onto sheets of paper that she taped to the walls. “Every day was the same and my emotions are the same every day. There wasn’t really a lot going on to process other than the exact same thing,” she describes of the album’s conception. “I was curious, ‘can I do this?’ It was an experiment to show myself that I could.”

From there, Rio consistently made demos, each one fueling her drive to make another. Upon returning to New York in the summer, she connected with Tony 1 of indie act Tony or Tony, toying with her solo demos in his at-home studio. “As soon as we started laying everything down, I was cheesing so hard because I was like ‘This is exactly how I want this to be,’” she describes of the “unambitious” endeavor. 

Intentional about stepping outside of Poppies’ guitar-heavy sound, Rio leaned more into pop production, pulling in experimental sounds, funky pop loops and eclectic arcade game effects to compliment her whimsical voice. Unafraid to explore “goofy” topics, Rio admits that an online shopping addiction developed during the pandemic on “Everything Must Go!” while “Gravy Baby” is an edgy pop homage to playing the lottery. 

Alongside more playful numbers, Rio was intentional about processing the real pain she was experiencing in the aftermath of heartbreak. “A lot of the songs are very personal. Lyrics are super important to me. It’s always been very important that they really mean something,” she conveys. “Even if the listener doesn’t know what I’m saying, I need to know what I’m saying.”

In “Reservations,” Rio explores her experiences at the end of a relationship with someone who is a recovering heroin addict; while she knew the relationship would ultimately end in demise, she still felt sorrow over the lost love. Meanwhile, “Reasons” explores the feeling of being stuck, and “Party Jail” captures the draining nature of tour life that’s “hard on the spirit,” Rio describes, citing it as her favorite song to record.

But she points to “songForNeo” as the most vulnerable of the 10 tracks, a tale of star-crossed lovers who desperately want to be together, but for inexplicable reasons are destined to remain apart, which Rio calls the “heartbreak of my life.” “It was really helpful writing that song because I could channel that energy into writing rather than reaching out at two in the morning, say everything I wanted to actually say to him but probably wouldn’t be all that helpful, and put it in the song instead,” she details of the emotional track. 

It’s this element of healthy processing that Rio channeled into the album, hoping that listeners get as much out of it as she put into it. “It’s good to question things. I don’t mind if my listeners are confused. I think it’s good to always be in at least some state of confusion. I feel like if you are confused, that means you’re questioning and you’re staying open,” she says. “Making [Easy Bammer] was very helpful and a release for me. I feel like it’s a fun album to listen to, but there’s also a darkness to it as well. I hope other people can find some release through it too.” 

Follow May Rio on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Self-Love is the Best Revenge in New Betty Reed Single “Karma”

Photo Credit: Taylor Napier

Betty Reed views karma through two lenses: the age old adage of “what goes around comes around,” and the tangible results of taking one’s happiness into their own hands and moving forward in life. It’s the latter definition that Reed embodies in her latest single “Karma” – premiering today exclusively with Audiofemme – from her upcoming EP, Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned, out September 3, 2021.

“The song is about the moment you break free from an abusive relationship and are living your best, and that’s their karma,” Reed describes. “It’s not something bad happens to them, it’s really you being able to love yourself and be happy without them.” Reed’s liberating version of payback is transformed into a modest pop number where instead of wishing ill upon her former partner, she finds freedom in personal happiness and self-love. The song opens with an introduction to the toxic relationship wherein Reed’s dignity is torn apart and her words are used as a weapon against her by a partner who gaslights her into thinking she’s constantly at fault. Throughout the song, Reed sheds the trauma of the past, turning the negative situation into a positive outcome for herself as she lets the relationship go once and for all.

“Getting the life you deserve, the happiness you deserve from someone that loves you or from loving yourself, it’s this whole turnaround of confidence. I feel like that’s some good karma right there – getting confidence and getting some love in yourself that you thought was taken from you,” she expresses. “I think that’s the thing about karma. I don’t have to listen to those words. I can create my own happiness as opposed to relying on a loved one or someone that you think you trust to make this happiness for you. It’s really overcoming this emotional abuse, understanding your self-worth, realizing your self-worth is the negative person’s karma.”   

“I learned that I’m strong/And my world keeps moving on/Got all this noise outta my head/Pushed the devil out of my bed,” she proclaims in the song’s triumphant line, reclaiming her own agency. The latter lines were the first that came to Reed’s mind as she was crafting the lyrics, setting the tone for the song and overall EP. “It became that theme of overcoming, and that’s what this whole EP is about,” the Berklee College of Music grad reflects. Reed notes that the half dozen songs all tie into female empowerment, facing challenges, and becoming stronger in the process. “Everyone makes mistakes, and mistakes are one of the most important things to do in our lives, and I am full of mistakes. I love making them because it’s really the best way I learn,” she observes. “There’s no such thing as not having redemption for it and becoming enlightened from whatever has been done.” 

As someone who was encouraged to make mistakes as a learning tool growing up in theatre, Reed has channeled that skill into living with depression and anxiety, using music to process her emotions in a healing way. “I’d rather write about trying to overcome it and my coping skills to make it better, because not only does that help me, but I feel like that would help a lot of people who go through the same things that I do,” Reed shares of her writing process, elevated by her mission of building bridges though her music. “I love connecting with people through lyrics and melody. It’s so diverse. That’s the thing I love about music the most,” she continues. “You can connect through music, you can understand someone through music, and I think that’s one of the most beautiful things and what I want to do with this EP and with what I write.”

Follow Betty Reed on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

How a Woodsy Retreat Led to Debut EP from Detroit Indie Pop Outfit Lady

Some of the best music happens when you least expect it. Detroit indie pop outfit, Lady (Indira Edwards, Paris from Tokyo, Brian Castillo, Jacob Waymaster, Jojo Diaz-Orsi, Armand Boisvenue IV a.k.a Sleepyboiiii) found this to be true when they went to the woods together with no expectations and came out of it with an EP and what producer and songwriter Paris describes as some of the best music they’ve ever made. “I was like, let’s just make four songs – that shouldn’t be hard,” says Paris. “Then we ended up making the best four songs.” A short documentary edited by Paris and Tyler Jenkins goes into more detail on making the EP.

The band’s lead songwriters, Paris and Edwards, have been friends for years, but this was their first time working on a project together. They went into collaboration with only one thing in mind – fluidity. The result is in the woods, a cascading collection of songs that flow into each other with ease, premiering today on Audiofemme. 

“I feel like the name ‘Lady’ encapsulates everything that the band is,” says Edwards. “Sort of, like, this blanket feminine energy: there’s grace but also a hardness to it.” That dichotomy is found in the first single off the EP, “u and i.” Over a background of lush synths and smooth guitar, Edwards’ cutting vocals paint a picture of someone they used to know driving right past them as they hitchhike on the side of the road. A metaphor for loss and abandonment, the song hits hard for anyone who has seen someone they love turn into a stranger. Edwards begs the familiar question –  “Do you even really know I’m there?/‘Cuz I don’t think you even really care.” Whether it’s watching that someone drive away without acknowledging you or scrolling on their IG feed and seeing them look unbothered, Edwards captures the pain caused by apathy from a former loved one. 

Edwards explains that the songwriting process for “u and i” – and all of the songs on the record – was a deeply collaborative experience. Paris first wrote the chorus on a ukulele and brought it to the band, who then transformed it into something completely different. This improvisational energy carried itself through the entire process. “It really felt like a pass the torch experience,” says Edwards. “For the intro, ‘cudi hum,’ Indira made this beautiful composition,” says Paris. “I was fucking around and started humming like Kid Cudi because I thought it was funny and it would make everyone laugh. Then it became a song.” 

The band shifts effortlessly from loose instrumentals like “cudi hum” and “audio hypnosis” to a gorgeous cover of Charlotte Dos Santos song “Red Clay.” Edwards’ vocals shimmer over distorted bass and waves of sparkling synths pays homage to Dos Santos while shaping the song to match the band’s watery, ethereal sound. Where “Red Clay” and “u and i” give the listener a chance to ruminate on love lost, songs like “limeade” offer an avenue to escape altogether. 

Layered, distant vocals guide scintillating bells and synths along a river of calm and escape. Lush swells are followed by a sparse melody, allowing us to ease back into whatever reality surrounds us. Throughout the EP, there’s room for anger, longing, contemplation and rest. The music’s liquidity reassures us that these feelings are fleeting; that they can happen all at the same time or completely vanish for a moment. “Lady, in itself, represents fluidity and constant change,” says Paris. 

Follow Lady on Instagram for ongoing updates.

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

Photo Credit: Paige Strabala

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Alexandra Riorden on Instagram for ongoing updates.

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.

Cincy Indie Pop Duo Blossom Hall Release Their First (and Maybe Last?) Album, Pyre

Blossom Hall Pyre
Blossom Hall Pyre
Photo Credit: Eden Estes

Indie pop-rockers Blossom Hall have been household names in the Cincinnati alt-rock scene for the better part of half a decade, and now they’ve released their studio album, Pyre. Notably, it’s both the band’s debut record and their last project before going on a hiatus. It’s also a great summation of the raw songwriting, swelling instrumentals and orchestral flair that the duo – comprised of vocalist/bassist Nancy Paraskevopoulos and vocalist/guitarist Phil Cotter – is known for.   

Pyre also features several other Cincinnati acts, including Strobobean’s Katrina Eresman, MADQUEEN’s Jaki Howser, Molly Brown, Elsa Kennedy and Brooklynn Rae; drummers Zach Larabee, Tim Weigand, Matt McAllister and CJ Eliasen; violinists Sarah Gorak and Jacob Duber; and saw player Andrew Higley. 

Blossom Hall fans were first introduced to Pyre with “God Girl” – the album’s lead single and a fuzzy rock mixture of anthemic drums and haunting vocals about loneliness and the divine feminine. Other highlights on the record including the mantra-esque “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me,” and sunshine-pop “Parasols.”

Over the years, Blossom Hall has shared stages with the likes of Broken Social Scene, performed as the Pixies for a Cincinnati tribute show and created a well-defined sound and fanbase. Thankfully, though Pyre is the band’s last album for a while, fans can look ahead to upcoming solo music from both Nancy and Phil and, hopefully, a reunion in the near future.

Audiofemme caught up with Nancy and Phil over email about Pyre, the evolution of their sound, what’s next for the band and more. Read on, and stream Pyre, below.

AF: Pyre is both your debut studio album and your last project before going on hiatus. Do you think this will be Blossom Hall’s official last album, or are you just planning on taking a break?

NP: Probably more of a hiatus. I expect we’ll shift gears to be a recording project.

AF: What prompted the band to take a hiatus?

NP: A lot of things. With the pandemic, my life turned upside down. Before 2020 started, I had planned on leaving my full-time job to go to massage school, which I did in 2020. The idea was it would be easier to tour. But partway through, I realized the middle of a pandemic was maybe the worst time to learn how to be a massage therapist. I left school. I applied to and was hired for my dream job. Life just happens.

AF: Pyre feels like a good summation of the band’s years together — what was the timeline of putting this project together? For example, “God Girl” was originally written 10 years ago, right?

PC: It is a great summation. Nan wrote “God Girl” a long time ago, but the arrangement is new. That song especially, but also the album as a whole, distills the ultimate Blossom Hall sound to me. Darkness with a sense of humor. Big landscapes with minute details.

The timeline of the album is long. We originally went into a studio, which we love, back in 2017. And although the sessions went well, we realized the arrangements just weren’t ready. We wrote new tracks and rewrote some others and began to record the album in my home studio. The acoustics of my space and the gear I use is always evolving, so that created an interesting contrast between lo-fi and hi-fi audio elements. We were originally planning to release it a year ago, but when COVID happened it didn’t feel right. Anyone who mixes audio, especially their own songs, will tell you they could tweak them forever if there wasn’t a deadline. So I spent a huge chunk of quarantine mixing and re-mixing the album. 

AF: What went into the shaping of “God Girl” — adding or changing elements — to make it the song that it is today?

PC: It started as a haunting ukulele tune, entirely written by Nan. When I first heard it, I immediately heard the dynamic shifts possible, as well as the range of strange things we could do around what I hear as a psychedelic vocal. The first thing I contributed was building a rough garage rock demo with the dynamic shifts I heard and more of a chugging, constant pushing rhythm. 

Nan then added a vocal to help me hear the song take shape. Most of the original takes of my drums, guitar and her voice actually remain in the final version. Once her vocal was in there, I knew I wanted background vocals on the loud parts, so I did a few passes improvising them through the whole song and came up with the “sshhhh…hah…hah…” part, which I love so much.

NP: My favorite element that we added to that song are the drums in the bridge. I wanted to encapsulate the deep well of loneliness and self-pity that I had fallen into when writing that song. I asked one of our drummers Zach Larabee to just play something chaotic, which was a feeling I couldn’t have orchestrated alone. 

PC: I knew we needed something ethereal and spooky and started reaching out to friends to see if anyone knew a trained theremin player. I’ve always wanted an excuse to hire a theremin player. Instead, we found Andrew Higley, an incredible saw player. I actually prefer the saw because it sounds more organic, and if you listen close you can hear the dissonant overtones of the bow on the saw. 

After that, we had four non-male singers to come in and replace the placeholder background tracks that Nan and I sang. Then I just had to mix all of these elements sonically so that you could hear everything, but the emotions also come across the way they’re meant to. It’s a dense arrangement, and probably the most challenging to mix. 

AF: In 2018, you played a tribute concert to the Pixies in Cincinnati. What bands influenced the making of Pyre?

PC: For my songs and arrangements: Ohmme, St. Vincent, Roomful of Teeth, Pixies, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, late era Beatles and early solo McCartney, White Stripes and early Todd Rundgren.

NP: I don’t know if these projects influenced the album, but I was into them the five years we made this particular music. We both love the music of the Dirty Projectors (especially the Amber Coffman era). Dixie Cups, Thelonius Monk, the Pixies, Beams, specifically Billy Joel’s “Vienna Waits for You,” Louis Prima, Mount Eerie, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu, the song “Joyful Joyful” from the Sister Act 2 soundtrack, Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande, Jeffrey Lewis, Lizzo, the Books, Friendship and not a music project but Dharma talks from the Portland Insight Meditation Center.

Photo Credit: Bobby Tewksbury

AF: Where did the inspiration for the album’s title come from?

NP: The song “Pyre” is about a relationship I had in which I was yelled at daily, called names, there was financial abuse, he was always threatening to break my stuff, he trapped me in the apartment. It was terrifying. When we go through trial by fire, we often come out a different person. The person we were is no longer. Our bodies have new memories, and it is a kind of rebirth – for better or worse.

AF: Will you be celebrating the album’s release with any livestream performances, or playing any in-person shows when things open back up?

NP: Will things open back up? My job has me going to the hospital and going to court regularly. With the new strains, it might be dangerous for my clients and for audiences for me to play bigger shows.

PC: No plans at the moment – we need a break.

AF: Are you working on any solo material/projects at the moment?

NP: I am playing with friends but nothing I want to announce just yet!

PC: Lots of other projects, some would say too many. Solo (folk), Golden Theory (live band hip hop), Party Blimp (soul music) and many freelance music projects for clients. I have a Patreon where I release a song a month, and I follow my whim on what kind of music to make in a particular month. 

AF: What is each of your favorite songs on the album and why?

I love the song “St. Louis.” It’s sweet and relatively simple. It’s focused on longing, which I try not to live in, but it happens – and can be fun! And Phil and I had fun writing it.

Gotta be “God Girl” for me. It’s just so damn epic. I’m so proud of that arrangement and I adore Nancy’s lyrics and melodies. “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me” is a close second. The first half is so soothingly groovy and pensive, while the second half feels so nourishing and epic.

Follow Blossom Hall on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

fanclubwallet Finds the Bright Side on Debut EP Hurt is Boring

Photo Credit: Ian Filipovic

Like the airbag that “popped and knocked sense into me” in her debut EP’s opener “Car Crash in G Major,” Ottawa’s fanclubwallet comes out swinging on Hurt is Boring. The punchy blend of indie rock and bedroom pop, helmed by Hannah Judge, brims with bouncy, high octave keys, asserting joy in a way that contrasts some of its darker subject matter. Hitting you with disaster from the get-go—a violent, traumatizing car crash that serves as a metaphor for a doomed relationship—is way of commanding attention, and Judge’s breezy delivery is a Trojan horse; worms nest so casually in your ears that you find yourself humming about your skin falling off as you brew your morning tea.

Fleshed out while a Crohn’s disease flare-up left Judge bedridden for ten months, Hurt is Boring touches on every emotion across an omnipresent spectrum of existential ennui. Lucky to have podded up with her producer (and grade school best friend) Michael Watson, just a few modifications were made for an adapted recording process in her childhood home that’s as literal as bedroom pop can get, with Judge tracking vocals while lying down as Watson set up shop “at a very tiny overcrowded desk in the corner.” “I’m really grateful that [Watson] was so accommodating and willing to help me find ways of recording that worked for me,” Judge says. “There’s a photo of me somewhere lying in bed with an overhead mic and holding a keyboard. It looks a little silly, but it got the job done!”

Hurt is Boring follows a steady stream of singles dropped throughout 2020 after finding success with her cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” The pandemic, coupled with her boredom in recovery, gave her the time and mental space to hone in on her first cohesive project. She fittingly describes this past year as “pretty bonkers…for everyone,” and though disability might not have been what did us all in, the sentiment is familiar: we’re all, categorically, tired; with her upbeat musings and a soft charm, Judge wakes us—and herself—up.

“I love music with a consistent beat, stuff you can dance to or at least bop your head to,” she says. “Whenever I sit down to actually produce things, they end up being a lot happier than they originally sounded just on guitar.” Recounting a relationship’s disintegration in the most brutal way over a bright, almost Sheryl Crow-like instrumental shouldn’t make as much sense as it does, but it’s liberating. 

“I’m never really intentionally trying to write really depressing lyrics, just kind of talking about what I know,” she says. “C’mon Be Cool” came of “overanalyzing how I thought people might feel about me,” she continues. “‘C’mon be cool, I’m not gonna be rude to you’ is just me being like, ‘Okay, let’s all just take a breather… it’s been a rough year.” She renders that misery in small details like a bandaid left on just a little too long, but also offers a little kindness: “I don’t see what you see in making all this fuss.”

Judge scatters these sharp and severe elements throughout the EP, from flying shrapnel to a cold bathroom floor, echoing the lyricism of Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, two songwriters she admires. Situating metaphors for bitterness and grief over easy pop beats normalizes them, breaks them down into something less cynical and more serene.

On maintaining mystery to her lyrics, she explains, “I don’t like to give too much away… I think life is really just built up of small moments that we think about over and over until they feel like big ones… It means what it means to me, and if it means something entirely different to you that’s cool too.”

“I would love to write a really happy song, but I’m just not quite sure how,” she confesses, but these tracks are happy, albeit in their own refreshing way. The abrupt fanclubwallet approach comes from Judge’s proclivity for “dwelling” (“I honestly never stop,” she admits), but by the time you reach the EP’s end, you realize that hints of optimism hide between the glittery synths and danceable beats of each track. It’s funny to think that “Hurt is Boring” was written about a year before the others, but makes for a rewarding end—it’s her admission that “Hey, it’s okay to feel like crap sometimes,” simply put. “Otherwise,” she reasons, “you won’t notice the good stuff.”

Follow fanclubwallet on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Dasha Premieres “Love Me Till August,” a Folk-Pop Ballad for Fleeting Flings

Photo Credit: Jeremy Aguirre

Just in time for a summer fling, Dasha narrates the complex emotions of a fleeting love affair in “Love Me Till August.” The acoustic track, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, follows her debut EP $hiny Things; released in March 2021, the project contains half a dozen radio-friendly pop tracks, all embodying sharp lyricism. The folksy “Love Me Till August” continues that trend, a ballad that beautifully blends innocence and reality.

Over the course of the song, the character grows from an naïve young girl to a woman, the first verse laying out the couple’s fate, its narrator aware enough from the get go that the love affair has a time stamp. “We’ll blame it on the timing/What isn’t meant to be will never be,” Dasha sings, acknowledging that “it’s gonna hurt” at the end of the season when they have to part ways.

Meanwhile, the second verse is packed with nostalgia, following the pair on their last day together, capturing the moments through photos as to not forget the memories made, setting up a bridge that takes a subtle jab at the fact that he’s leaving their love behind with the ultimate goal of getting an office job like his father.

Growing up in the coastal town of San Luis Obispo, three hours north of Los Angeles, Dasha cut her teeth performing songs at local venues around town, cowboy boots in tow, as part of a duo with her friend’s mother, a songwriter. The 21-year-old moved to Nashville to study music at Belmont University. “Love Me Till August” came to fruition while Dasha was driving back to California from Music City, having to collect all of her belongings and leave the campus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During their 2,000 mile trek, the idea for the song began to formulate when the singer’s friend told her about a relationship she was in that she knew would only last a season. Dasha was experiencing similar emotions as well, having also been in a relationship she knew wouldn’t last forever.

“I think the cruelest thing the universe can do is bring you the right person at the wrong time, and that’s exactly what I was going through. The worst part is that it wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Dasha tells Audiofemme, adding that the song “was inspired by a personal experience of ‘right person, wrong time’ when outside factors were the reason things ended.”

The chorus leans into that emotion as Dasha describes missing her lover even before they’re gone, setting up a scene bookended by the last day of July and concluding with the song’s fateful premonition. “I thought this was a really cool way of emphasizing the timeline of the relationship, where at first glance it seems like you have months, but really you have a single day left together,” she explains.

“I love the wave of emotions in the song. It’s very honest and very me,” she observes. “All I ever hope for with my music is that my supporters can relate to my songs. I write very honest and vulnerable songs so that people know that they aren’t alone and that I’ve felt the same things they have.”

Follow Dasha on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter for more ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Tristen Takes a Psychological Lens to Love in “Wrong With You”

Photo Credit: Danielle Holbert

There’s a running gag that Tristen likes to close out her shows with: “If you need advice, I’ll be at the merch table.” As someone who studied relational group and organizational theories of communication in college, the parting line is less of a joke and more of a sincere offering to fans; Tristen is a devotee of psychology, admitting that she often plays the role of therapist in friendships. She even hosts a segment called “Dear Tristen” on Partners in Crime with The McCarltons, a radio show hosted by fellow Nashville residents Vanessa Carlton and Carlton’s husband John McCauley. Her interest in the human psyche is an extension of the thought-provoking paradigms she presents through her music, exemplified in her new song “Wrong With You,” from upcoming LP, Aquatic Flowers, out June 4 via Mama Bird Recording Co.

Tristen tells Audiofemme that she was intrigued by the concept of someone being attracted to a mess they can clean up, the cycle of “liking someone less the more they like you because you, underneath it all, have a self-hatred that makes you suspect something’s off if somebody would like you.”

The song’s defining line, “there must be something wrong with your for loving someone like me,” which reprises twice in the chorus, is inspired by a real-life argument from a friend’s toxic relationship. The line stuck with her for years, and eventually Tristen built a song around it – one that happened to align perfectly with the themes on her fourth album, the follow-up to 2017’s Sneaker Waves.

In the video for the song, premiering today exclusively with Audiofemme, the singer takes to the woods in a vintage wedding dress. With tear-stained cheeks, she walks alone in the lush green forest, her train dragging in the mud and getting caught on the branches as she slowly strays from the path. “So deep are the grooves/I’m sinking into/No love could ever wash away,” she sings, shooting dramatic looks at the camera all the while.

“I don’t necessarily try to define myself through my music,” Tristen shares. “I do take first person a lot because I see myself falling into the same mistakes everybody makes. I think that a song is worthy of writing when it’s something that I feel like people can relate to…and it’s common enough so you can distill some behavior or pattern or trait.”

The 11 tracks that comprise Aquatic Flowers resonate on varying psychological levels. The singer spotlights a frustrated emapth on “Die 4 Love,” while the character in “I Need Your Love” has taken many partners, yet longs for the feeling of falling for someone. Meanwhile, “Hothouse Flower” follows a comfortable and privileged artist who is ironically envious of others’ artistic suffering. “I do believe that everybody has these range of emotions whether we were taught to avoid them or we don’t acknowledge them,” Tristen observes. “Part of the enjoyment of writing, for me, is that you can relate to people by pointing out some kind of behavior pattern.” She will celebrate the release of Aquatic Flowers with a livestream on June 11 at The 5 Spot in Nashville. She’s also slated to appear alongside Kesha’s mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert, for a music and motherhood Q&A on Twitter Spaces on May 9 at 9:30 p.m. ET, where she’ll likely dispense more sage advice.

Tristen’s psychological approach to the music process has made for some interesting songs, but it’s also in her nature to want to help those who are struggling. “I feel like I have a hopeless optimist in me, like we can solve that – there’s a way to solve it with creativity,” she says. “The problems are fun. I think that there’s underlying patterns happening for everybody’s problems and there’s ways to pick them apart. For me, writing songs is a way to analyze things and put all that thinking energy into lines and soft words, and then the melodies and the music and all that is easy for me.”

In her daily life, Tristen dedicates herself to saving vintage clothing via Anaconda Vintage, the Nashville shop she runs with her sister. In her songs she captures characters with individual flaws that all embody the human experience in their own unique way. Both reflect Tristen’s desire to fix what feels broken. “I don’t really take a lot of responsibility for the writing and the music. I feel like it just happens and it’s a very natural, untouched thing for me. I have worked really hard to keep that untouched,” Tristen says of her artistic process. “I keep it pure.” 

Follow Tristen on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Ashley Monroe Is Full of Joy on Latest LP Rosegold

Photo Credit: Alexa King

Ashley Monroe and engineer Gena Johnson were sitting on the front steps of historic RCA Studio A, located on Nashville’s iconic Music Row, where the two were recording Monroe’s 2018 alum, Sparrow. Nursing a bottle of Mexican Coke, Monroe handed Johnson her pair of rose gold sunglasses as she told her, “‘the world looks so much better through these. You have to put these on for just five minute and embrace it, take it in.’” Unbeknownst to the friends and artistic collaborators at the time, the seed for Monroe’s new album, Rosegold, was planted. Those seeds come into full bloom this week with the LP’s April 30 release.

Not long after Sparrow was made, new melodies began coming to Monroe’s mind that were a far cry from the traditional country sound the 34-year-old established since moving to Music City from her native Knoxville, Tennessee as a teenager. Intent on creating a “very specific sound” that deviated from her critically acclaimed 2013 sophomore album Like a Rose and Grammy-nominated 2015 follow up, The Blade, the songs took form after she left her record label, allowing her an artistic freedom where she deeply connected to the songwriter within. “Something was inspiring me in the songwriting core of myself of ‘create this feeling that you’re feeling and amplify it and freeze it and reverb it and layer it and harmonize with it.’ I wanted it all to be very different,” Monroe defines to Audiofemme in a joint phone interview with Johnson. “I wear rose gold sunglasses, so I feel like that’s what it feels like when you put this record on.” 

Replacing her signature twang with synthesizers and strings and adding pop beats where bluegrass-style instruments used to be, Monroe called upon trusted confidant Johnson to engineer the project. Johnson, whose extensive credits include serving as engineer for Chris Stapleton’s 2020 album Starting Over and Brandi Carlile’s Grammy-nominated By the Way I Forgive You, along with assistant engineer on the late John Prine’s Grammy winning 2018 album The Tree of Forgiveness, made history at the 2021 ACM Awards by becoming the first woman nominated for Audio Engineer of the Year.

Johnson recalls getting a phone call from Monroe early on in the album’s writing stages, and that Monroe described the new songs as “full of joy” and “full of love.” “I was blown away,” Johnson recalls of hearing “Flying,” the first song of the new batch that Monroe sent to her. “I was hooked from the very beginning.” 

After penning the songs, Monroe would take them to Johnson’s “lab,” the two spending hours dissecting the songs and adding the right effects to bring them to life. The longtime collaborators trusted the process throughout, allowing the creative energy to take force – like adding a melody to “Groove” that came to Monroe in a dream days before mastering was complete, or Johnson going so far as to purchase new sound equipment to elevate the melodies. They also added little tricks along the way, such as the sound of a camera flashing on “See,” or whale noises layered over a hip-hop beat on “I Mean It.”

Each song was given a treatment that emphasized its meaning; for instance, the pair consciously made “Flying” feel exactly like its namesake when the piano and strings meet the pop bass. “I really work with emotion and experimentation,” Johnson explains of her process. “It was inspiring to be able to go out of my comfort zone and what I wasn’t used to doing as much and really go 100 percent in what feels good and not what it is right for a specific genre. Not having those limitations was epically creative and opened a door for me, too.” 

Perhaps just as distinct as the sonic evolution is the lyrical one. Monroe was intentional about leaning into lightness with Rosegold, a contrast to the heartache and sorrow that was wrapped around her angelic voice on her previous records. Many of these darker tales were inspired by Monroe’s real-life tragedies, such as when her father passed away from cancer when she was 13 years old. “My life was bad, and I’m not saying that lightly,” she says with a slight chuckle. “Shockingly, it went from great to bad times, and then I held onto music in a different way.” The East Tennessee native was adamant about making a “joy-based” record this time, a by-product of becoming a mother to three-year-old son Dalton in 2017, whom she was pregnant with at the time of making Sparrow. “I think that my last record opened the door to this new part of me,” she says. “This love switch has been turned on inside of me and set on fire in a sense that I haven’t felt in a long time.” 

Monroe brought this joy-based mindset into the lyrics, a direct reflection of the quiet moments she experienced at home with her husband and son during the COVID-19 pandemic, sprinkled like gems across the project. “There were a lot of moments of stillness with the sunshine shining in the windows that I was trying to hold on to,” she details. “Lyrically, I wanted all of the words and all of the things I was saying and all the melodies to line up to take people away and freeze time for everybody for a second. I was hyper-focusing on words and talking about love that also provided the feeling that we were going after, that warm feeling, that moment in time when everything is okay and you’re just drenched in joy.” 

Those moments of pure joy shine through in such potent imagery as “you’re a California/Pourin’ that sunshine on my soul” on “Gold” to the love-soaked “I Mean It” where the singer feels deeply present, Johnson purposefully accentuating all aspects of her voice as she sings, “I’d be in the dark without your light/When I tell you I can’t live without you baby/I’m not talking crazy/I mean it/Your love’s the only breath I’m breathing.”

Then there’s the gentle “Til it Breaks” that Monroe wrote with a friend in mind who was going through a challenging time. Though written pre-pandemic, Johnson says she was brought to tears by the encouraging number that feels like a hopeful hand extending through the darkness, as Monroe reprises in a meditative manner, “let it melt away.”

Monroe brings her own inner odyssey to light in the introspective album closer, “The New Me.” Co-written by Monroe and her longtime friend and songwriting collaborator Brett James, she spent hours re-working until her distinct vision was met. “Take a peak inside my soul/All the rust has turned to gold/It’s different now/I can’t wait ’til you see,” she beckons, the eclectic ballad serving as a symbol of rebirth. “It means reborn on the inside,” Monroe says. “Once you truly understand how to love, and the power of love, and once you are humbled by it and surrender to it in a way, you’re a different person.”  

It’s no coincidence that an album built on purity and light ends with a choral of angelic vocals leading into the words “I’m alive and on fire/Now that I’m ready to love,” sending the listener out with the chills that Monroe and Johnson felt while making the dynamic project. “We both know what a gift is and what something you’re born to do is, and we both feel like we’re doing what we’re born to do,” Monroe reflects.

“I think setting our intentions and being really intentional about having joy and leading with positivity, and knowing where we’re at and having big conversations and getting in the right mindset, was huge. It’s all emotion to me. Anytime we could get goosebumps ourselves, we knew we were doing it right,” Johnson observes. “The record to me feels like love through and through. From the beginning to the end in different stages, it embodies it.” 

Monroe initially believed that Rosegold would only be a collection of five songs. But it later doubled in size to encompass 10 tracks as experimental as the woman who created them, one who embraces the artistic process at every step. “I always like to give people chills. I think that’s a good sign. That means that you’re connected to the spirit when you can supply a set of chills to someone. I wanted all of these to be constant joy chills,” Monroe proclaims. “I felt like it was telling a complete story.”

Follow Ashley Monroe on Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Bridget Rian Longs For Community in the Afterlife With Evocative New Single “Trailer Park Cemetery”

Photo Credit: Libby Danforth

In the midst of our conversation, Bridget Rian makes it a point to note that her Enneagram number is a four, signifying a fear of not accomplishing anything of substance during one’s time on earth or not being remembered after they pass on. Rian channels that fear into her haunting song, “Trailer Park Cemetery,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. 

Rian was on a road trip through rural Florida en route to a historic property that housed several Native American artifacts when along the way, she drove past a cemetery in the middle of a trailer park that immediately captured her interest. “I remember thinking how different it was. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, but I love it,” Rian recalls, describing the cemetery as both “spooky” and “cool.” Coincidentally, she was reading a mystery novel at the time, about a group of teenagers who escaped to a cemetery as their chosen hangout spot. “It reminded me of my childhood and how I literally ran through cemeteries with my friends,” she says. Rian turned this vision into song months later, while sitting in her Nashville home. As the concept for “Trailer Park Cemetery” materialized, the young singer immediately put her thoughts on paper.

“Thinking about the afterlife and the unknown, I think the scariest for me would be that nothing exists, that it’s just over, and you don’t get any second chance,” the New York native explains of the song’s meaning. “There’s an aspect of me wanting to stay young forever in the song. I have this fear of being forgotten or a fear of death where it’s comforting to think that people would live that close, or kids would come and hang out and my body wouldn’t be alone.” 

She begins by gently pulling the listener in with a soft acoustic guitar, setting the scene of a trailer park set alongside a dirt road between tall oaks and pine trees, brought to life by community-oriented people greeting one another from their front porches.

“I don’t want peace and quiet/It’s overrated anyway/I’ll take loud voices over silence any day/I don’t ask for much/But to choose where my body lays,” Rian sings; she’d prefer to be laid to rest in a place where life constantly surrounds her, counteracting her fear of silence and keeping her youthful spirit alive.

The wise songwriter brings this notion to life through the chorus, which finds her surrounded by community even in death, symbolized by neon lights, the above ground pool next door and the littered beer cans that lay by her tombstone, left there by the young people partying in the cemetery like she and her friends once did. “The chorus is the part where I express that I want to be there forever. It’s direct imagery of people that were there,” she describes. “I don’t want to be laying on my death bed and thinking ‘I should have done that.’ I am a worrier, and I don’t want that to stop me. That’s a big fear, that I’m going to look back and miss out. Even if I’m dead and looking back at the people partying in my cemetery, I don’t want to be like ‘I wish I did that.’”

“Trailer Park Cemetery” is featured on Rian’s upcoming debut EP, Talking to Ghosts, set for release on July 9. It finds her exploring spirits from the past, whether it’s a loved one who has died, a past version of herself, or the ghosts that lie in “Trailer Park Cemetery.” “I know that there are people out there who have done weird stuff like party in cemeteries, and I hope that it makes people feel seen. I also want people to not take for granted the life around them,” Rian remarks when asked how she hopes “Trailer Park Cemetery” impacts listeners. “I like to call it my personality song. This is me. I’m kind of weird, but here it is. I think it goes down to the core of my personality.” 

Follow Bridget Rian on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Moon Taxi Take a Nostalgic View of their Evolution On Silver Dream LP

Photo Credit: Don VanCleave

When Moon Taxi went into the studio to create their sixth studio album Silver Dream, they didn’t expect the topic of mental health to become so prevalent throughout the artistic process. The band had headed to Los Angeles for a near two-week trip to craft the album in collaboration with various writers, one of which was busbee, the acclaimed songwriter and producer who’s worked with major pop and country acts ranging from Shakira and Toni Braxton to Maren Morris and Keith Urban. Within moments of meeting busbee, the revered producer began opening up about his journey with the rare form of brain cancer he was battling at the time and ultimately succumbed to in 2019, much to the shock and grief of many in the music industry.

“He was saying some very personal things about his life and things he was going through and opening up about all sorts of things he was dealing with. It was beautiful because all of a sudden, everyone was far more vulnerable and we’re talking about stuff that we as a band don’t really ever talk about, and that set the scene,” Moon Taxi guitarist and producer Spencer Thomson tells Audiofemme of the formative session. “Everyone felt very open and willing to talk about things that aren’t part of our normal conversation.”

A big part of that conversation was the importance of mental health, each band member reflecting on their relationship to it, which soon became a recurring topic in writing sessions for Silver Dream. “Whether we intended it or not, a common theme in the lyrics throughout the album is dealing with all the tricky things in life,” Thomson says. 

The theme of mental health manifests itself in various ways across the dozen songs, including “Take the Edge Off,” co-written with busbee about the feeling of being lost and troubled: “Everyone’s here but I still feel alone/Trying to run with my feet set in stone.” “Keep it Together” finds the musicians seeking refuge from the feelings of intensity and pressure that are commonplace in modern society. Thomson also points to the chorus of “Above the Water” as holding a mirror up to the mental health theme as they sing, “No, it never lets go/It’s just getting harder/But you keep my head above the water/And you’re pulling me along so much father/Father than I thought I could go.”

“[That song] speaks to when it feels like you can’t catch a break and everything’s getting harder and harder; that one in particular’s about somebody or some people helping you along,” Thomson explains. In turn, the band extends a hand to those experiencing the emotions and challenges they sing of with such tracks as “Lions,” an edgy pop number that counteracts these oft-deflating feelings of anxiety with a tale of strength and resiliency that lives in all of us, while “Say” encourages listeners to be fearless and speak one’s truth.

“I think the hopeful side of the record is that with other people to help you and be companions along the way, we get through all the tricky things in life,” Thomson expresses. “The songs that we write, we do like to offer hope. That is who we are and what our music represents. We’ve always done plenty of writing in that domain, where it’s finding hope amidst everything.” 

Moon Taxi’s origin story begins in Birmingham, Alabama where vocalist Tommy Terndrup and bass player Trevor Putnam met and started a band. After graduation, their musical aspirations lead them to Belmont University in Nashville where they connected with drummer Tyler Ritter, who coincidentally attended the same Birmingham high school. Terndrup and Putnam approached Thomson on his first night at Belmont, as he played guitar on the steps outside of their dorm. After going through a few iterations of the band, the current lineup was complete when they were joined by Wes Bailey, a keyboard player with a vast musical background and sharp songwriting capabilities from Knoxville, Tennessee. “The longer we’re together, the more everyone finds their spot. That evolves too, because the way we do things evolves and with each thing everyone falls in line,” Thomson shares with Audiofemme. Early Silver Dream single “Hometown Heroes” immortalizes the earliest part of their journey as a band.

After playing gigs throughout college, the multi-faceted band faced a crossroads after a “defeating” tour in 2010 that took them across the country without a firm plan or dream in place, feeling as if they’d hit rock bottom. “We realized is we needed to figure out how to make a good record that we liked – we can’t just go around and expect by playing a bunch of live shows that’s going to work for where we want to go,” Thomson recalls of the pivotal perspective. “Having that epiphany, we really started taking things seriously – stop and focus on making a great record, or at least something that we were proud to leave behind.”

From there, the band set their sights on blending contemporary production elements with their live musicianship, which led to the indie-rock-meets-electro-pop sound they’re known for today. Their newfound focus made way for their breakthrough 2012 album Cabaret and landed them a slot at Bonnaroo Festival that summer, catapulting Moon Taxi to the next level of their career. “I always point to that as where things started going well, having that epiphany making that album,” Thomson says. “Then, Bonnaroo was a great springboard for people to discover and talk about us and something we could use as a jumping off point for conversation.”  

Subsequent albums saw Moon Taxi opening up their sound even further, and their sixth and latest album Silver Dream certainly continues that trajectory, the title itself representing nostalgia, imagination and leaving the door open for interpretation. “We wanted something that had imagery to it, which was where ‘silver’ comes from; thinking about the way dreams in the past can feel more idyllic than they were, or that you look at them in that way,” Thomson says, noting that the band was intentional about maintaining “mystery” and “strangeness” around the title. “The intention is that [the songs] be vague enough for the listener to imagine their own memory attached to those [images],” he explains. 

With Silver Dream, the band continues to evolve, setting the stage for a fruitful future where no ambition is out of reach. “We explored quite a bit of new ground on this album sonically, and covered a lot of ground. Going forward, I don’t know specifically what the next thing we do will sound like, but I feel like it could go in any direction. It feels like we’ve positioned ourselves in a way that we can go in several directions at once. We can set ourselves up to be pretty diverse and able to go wherever we feel like going at the time, as far as the music is concerned, which I think is a good position,” Thomson says. “I think our thing is about constantly evolving and seeing how we can evolve with the times and stay true to ourselves at the same time. It’s not necessarily about getting better as much as it is trying to stay evolving. We listen to all sorts of music, and it’s inspiring to find how we can fit into the broader musical landscape while still retaining whatever it is about us that makes us, us.”

Follow Moon Taxi 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.