Brandy Zdan Releases Her Pain on Falcon LP

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREMIERE: Elke Reignites Her Self-Worth with “The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black”

Photo Credit: Zac Farro

In the eyes of Nashville-based Kayla Graninger, who performs art pop under the moniker Elke, words are gifts. As a lifelong reader of poems, books and lyrics, she turned her attention to music full time at the age of 24 after having an epiphany when talking to a friend and fellow writer. “She always told me, ‘Don’t miss an opportunity to say something.’ That was super essential as I’m trying to find a voice,” Elke tells Audiofemme. “I think words are super important and I think they get taken for granted, so I see myself having a purpose in that way. I’ve always paid attention to words. When somebody says something that uplifts you or it’s an arrangement to say something that wakes you up in a way, I really was striving for that.”

Raised in Illinois, Elke left high school at 17 to pursue a modeling career in New York City, yet came to the city equipped with a guitar in hand. She channeled her passion for words directly into her 2018 debut EP, Bad Metaphors, as well as the singles she’s released since. “The Bad Metaphors EP was really honing in on words and what they meant to me. I went about that wanting every word and every part to say exactly what it meant to say,” she says. “That was really good practice for me and a good confidence booster too.”

The EP was something of a musical experiment where she flipped the idea of what a female vocalist is expected to sound like on its head: embracing a rock sound; leaning into the masculine side of her voice; challenging the traditional gender roles foisted upon her, first by her conservative upbringing, then reinforced when she began modeling as a young adult, with her appearance under constant scrutiny. “I was sick of this whole privacy, feeling reserved, feeling like I need to sound a certain way. I really wanted that to be the focus for that EP specifically,” she explains. “I was really inspired by not feeling like I needed to be tied to a genre or a gender. That was really important for me at that time to feel like I could freely write about experiences and singing in a way that I felt empowered by.” 

All of these efforts have paved the way for Elke’s upcoming debut LP, No Pain For Us Here, out September 24 via Nashville imprint Congrats Records. The album marks new territory for the singer, as she rediscovers her feminine voice. The refreshed sound is a result of calling on boyfriend Zac Farro, drummer for Paramore and producer behind Becca Mancari’s 2020 album The Greatest Part, to produce the record and help broaden Elke’s approach. “I got to express myself in different ways that have inspired me to not feel so trapped behind a guitar and to perform more,” she explains. “It’s brought out more of this feminine side too, which I enjoy now. I feel balanced in a weird way because of this entire journey. Being able to find that voice was super helpful with this balance. I know moving forward, I’ve been thinking about even more different ways to sing. It’s definitely helped me grow and look in an upward direction.”

Her artistic reimagination is exemplified by her latest single, “The Pink Tip Of A Match Turns Black,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. While the song honors her rock roots with electric guitar, Farro’s production efforts accentuate the lighter, more delicate aspects of Elke’s naturally rugged voice, tinged with warm, feminine notes.

The song is deeply personal for the eclectic artist, as it was born out of a falling out with a close friend in New York that left Elke feeling pained and lost. “I wanted clarity from it because it wasn’t a pretty ending. There was no closure and I got really hurt from it,” she shares. “That was heavy on my heart at that moment, so I wanted closure.”

She compares the frustrating experience to watching one’s favorite TV show with foreign subtitles while stating point blank, “I may have lost this one/What I thought was a friend/Your face was easy from familiarity/The pink tip of a match turns black.” The song ends with an extended interlude as she softly repeats the word “bye,” the process of writing the song helping to heal the wounds that inspired it.

“I want every word to mean exactly what it means, and if I could have achieved that with that song to help me move on, it did,” she proclaims. “I think that you can really feel jaded by certain situations and I wanted to walk away from it feeling tall. It was meant be light, it was meant to be abstract. I really like the words for it, which makes me feel like I could find some clarity and meaning so I could move on, learn something.” Rather than focus on the dissolution of her friendship, Elke chooses to portray the feeling of waking up, or “feeling like you’re in a daze and then you see something and you feel enriched.” She hopes that fans won’t simply listen to the song, but truly hear it and be present in the moment to absorb its message, and “understand that life is actually quite good,” she says.

“The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black” symbolizes the release of a dark personal experience, coming out on the other side more secure in who she is. It ties in to the album’s overall theme of freedom, each song representing a different stage of liberation in Elke’s journey. “Every other step of the way is either self-reflection, feeling like I know who I am and I’m cool with that. Every song ties together in that way of the steps to feeling free,” she conveys. “It was a part of the journey of freeing myself too from this New York attitude – feeling like I love being in love and feeling free and there being no boundaries to that. I still really held myself to every lyric saying everything that I wanted to say.”

While the album is inspired by her love story with Farro, its messages hit on a deeper level, celebrating fearless connection with one another as humans. “It’s definitely Zac and I falling in love, but not every song is really about that, but more so about the freedom that I felt after the conclusions of ‘I’m loved and people can be loved,’” she explains. “The idea that life is painful and that you need some sort of edge to feel present or to feel like you’re making it, I wanted to let go of all of that. I called it No Pain For Us Here because I think that the message is more important that there doesn’t need to be pain and that you can feel that to be a free person and you deserve love and your worth is so relevant. Everybody has a worth.”

Follow Elke on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Babehoven Keeps Going When the Going is Tough on Nastavi, Calliope

How do we mourn the living? Maya Bon of Babehoven unpacks this strange, but not uncommon, phenomenon on her new EP, Nastavi, Calliope, out today. The record strings together Bon’s meandering streams of consciousness, connecting moments of apathy to deep swells of emotion. She navigates deeply fractured relationships and loss of loved ones while searching for a connection to Croatia, her birthplace (“Nastavi” means “keep going” in Croatian and “Calliope” is the name of her eccentric childhood dog who passed away this year).

Bon says these two words served as a compass for her this past year as she waded through pools of grief, uncertainty and loss. “[Nastavi] just really stuck with me because that felt so true for me this year,” says Bon. “I really just wanted to keep going and feel okay in myself. Recording became my avenue to do that.”

Bon explains that her reconnection to Croatia has been a way to form ties outside of a familial context. Her family left the country when she was five years old and her father stayed behind. She returned four years ago, at age 21, and saw her father for the first time in sixteen years. With this emotional reunion came a chance to connect not only to an estranged family member, but to her estranged culture. “My family is very painful for me,” says Bon, “so it feels very special to contain something that’s not family but is somewhere that I’m from.” This yearning to connect yielded Croatian classes and a seat in a Balkan choir, activities that have helped Bon root deeper into her identity. 

Though Bon doesn’t overtly say in our conversation who she’s grieving, album opener “Bad Week” outlines a heartbreaking fallout. “You were both a father and a brother to me/You were my whole family,” Bon sings well into the song, illustrating the crushing blow of losing someone extremely close to you. Her pleading vocals narrate the cyclical nature of grief and the way that it feels like it will never end; “It’s hard to talk about it/Been a bad week/It’s been a bad week for a long time.” Bon says that she uses her songwriting as a vessel to communicate about things that feel too intimate to share in conversation. 

“It’s weird that it comes out in my music because, at least in the beginning, I never talked about these things with people,” Bon muses. “Family, for me, always felt very private, because in a way, it was forced for me to be like that. There was always so much shame and layers of grief.”  

Instead of overtly talking about loss and trauma, these feelings come out in fragmented lyrics, scattering puzzle pieces for others – and herself – to put together. This is especially palpable in “Crossword,” a vivid description of Bon’s internal monologue. “Angus carried my bike up the stairs as I stood at the bottom/And I’m not sure if I just stared/Or if I thanked him/There’s a high chance that I’m feeling broken hearted,” she sings in the opening lines of the song, poignantly depicting a dissociative episode. Even her lyrical phrases run into each other like waves in a storm, mirroring her jumbled thoughts.

Between these moments of grieving and reflection, Bon leaves space for appreciating the loved ones around her. In “Alt. Lena,” she pays homage to a close friend and captures the familiarity and comfort we can find in our chosen family. She says that this is actually the only song she’s written that wasn’t from a stream of consciousness, but constructed from a laundry list of things her friend, Lena, likes. Sun-drenched guitars and Bon’s relaxed vocals paint a picture of a person who feels like being on vacation. Lena’s aura is so strong it reaches through the speakers and to the listener, generating memories of those people in our lives who seem too magical to be true.

Although Nastavi, Calliope doesn’t exactly offer a cure to grief, it offers a hand to hold through whatever loss you may be experiencing, a reminder that you’re not alone and that there are beautiful moments sprinkled in with the sad ones. And that sometimes writing a song about making out with your best friend is the form of healing you need.

Follow Babehoven on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Squirrel Flower Burns Rubber on New LP Planet (i)

musician Squirrel Flower, wearing a denim jacket, stands partially turned away from the camera, with bright glare from the sun partially obscuring the image
musician Squirrel Flower, wearing a denim jacket, stands partially turned away from the camera, with bright glare from the sun partially obscuring the image
Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen

“I feel like I’m like a hedonist,” says Ella Williams, the mastermind behind whimsically-named alt-pop project Squirrel Flower. “I just allow my impulses and my desires to affect the actions I take.”

She’s discussing the beating heart track of her newest album, Planet (i), out June 25th on Polyvinyl. “Flames and Flat Tires” is one of the record’s most untethered tracks, with a sense of looseness and levity that contrasts with some of the album’s darker moments. And while the character in “Flames” isn’t explicitly Williams, she isn’t denying that sometimes she feels like she, too, is hurtling through life with her foot on the gas. 

“[‘Flames’] is partially inspired by this novella by an author named Torrey Peters,” she explains. “It’s called Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones. It’s like a queer, trans apocalypse story, and it takes place in Iowa, and the first couple scenes are this person on I-80 Iowa in this fucked-up car that they’re trying to like, fix themselves.” 

Planet seems to be quite taken with the things we can’t fix ourselves — natural disasters, busted cars, narcissistic people — but it’s not meant to be fatalistic. “[Planet is] not an apocalypse album because ‘apocalypse’ implies one event that changes the earth and makes it uninhabitable,” Williams says. “I think it’s just that we’re kind of living in an ongoing apocalypse, and in that are both moments of incredible utopia and moments of actual full-on disaster. And I think acknowledging both of those as things that happen at the same time is a huge point of the album.”

While disaster has certainly been the flavor of the past year and a half, Williams has been immersing herself as much as she can with the music scene in Chicago, where she recently moved. “I’ve been going to a lot of techno raves,” she says with palpable excitement. “It’s [these] incredible moments of utopia that I was talking about — just like very queer spaces and beautiful community spaces and dancing and techno, and it’s so sick.”

Williams moved to Chicago in part to be closer to her bandmates, but the opportunity to get to know a delicious new scene was undeniable. “I first went to a DIY show in Boston when I was sixteen,” she recalls. “From there it just like took over my life and changed my life and changed the way that I thought about music and [how I] thought music could work.” Williams emphatically credits the Boston music scene as instrumental to her journey as an artist — as well as the scene in Iowa and her experience recording Planet in London.

While the constant moving and adjusting can be difficult, Williams feels she has some precedent for living her life the way she does, mainly inspired by her grandfather, Jay Williams, who was a writer, Vaudeville performer, and “card-carrying Commie,” and his wife Bobby, a community organizer. “Every time I’m like, ‘damn — it would be nice to have like a little more money or a little more stability and not be living in like five different places every year’… I think about the way my ancestors have lived, which is very transient and allowing art and music and love and connections and relationships to guide them through life, as opposed to anything else,” Williams says.

While the overarching lyrical themes on Planet certainly reflect this transiency, there are a few small moments that approach it from a different angle — lead single “Hurt a Fly” and “Deluge in the South” both detail the experience of searching for refuge in other people, specifically in their homes. “But then I showed up at your door/With my head in my hands/And you took me in,” laments the narcissistic partner Williams channeled in the former, while she promises “I will take you in/Wrap you up again,” in the latter. While the two songs are not specifically connected, the concept of constructing home where you can, with what and who you can, is classic apocalypse.

But like Williams said, this is no apocalypse album. If anything, it’s simply observational. As a function of her DIY ethos, Williams has been rather boots to the ground since 2015, when she self-released her first EP, Early Winter Songs from Middle America. But even after her much-praised label debut (2020’s I Was Born Swimming, on Polyvinyl) Williams wasn’t allowed much distraction, instead finding herself stuck in quarantine with little to do but process everything she had experienced on her last self-booked tour. “I got home and had just like seen all of this really insane shit. I saw the desert in California for the first time and I was driving through Missouri and there was so much flooding that it looked like we were like driving through this field of glass, and there were billboards and trains going through and coming out of the water, and it was so nuts. Just like, insane storms after shows.” 

Williams is very preoccupied with weather and the power of water on Planet. It gets mentioned on almost every single track, most notably on “Desert Wildflowers.” “I’m another piece of debris/Flying above the town/Closer to the stars than I am to the ground,” she coos before the song’s central manifesto: “I’m not scared of the water/The rain is my parent and I am the daughter.”

“Desert” was the first song she wrote for the record. That songwriting session must have been some kind of unconscious preparation for things to come, as the song feels like an affirmation in the form of a lilting lullaby, like some part of Williams knew it was time to face the particular fears — or strengths, depending on how you look at them — that drape Planet like tapestries. 

“I got home and the song just came out,” she says. “And I kind of just rolled with it.” She wrote so much, in fact, that there is a whole other Planet album that exists somewhere in the stratosphere, or in some hidden folder on Williams’s computer. Call it Planet (ii), or call it the ghost album — either way, Williams doesn’t have any plans to release those songs any time soon. But it does haunt her in some ways, as ghosts tend to do. “Is the music only what’s shared with other people?” Williams asks. “Or is the music what you make and experience with yourself and your process?” Williams has plenty of time to keep looking for the answer, no matter where it takes her in her busted-up car.

Follow Squirrel Flower on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ally Evenson Talks Back to Trauma on New Single “Bite My Tongue”

Photo by Carrigan Drallos

There are some things in life that are impossible to see clearly until after they’ve already happened. Like a bad sunburn in the shower, trauma is often one of those things that doesn’t present its full pain until something seemingly ordinary magnifies it. On her newest single “Bite My Tongue,” Detroit-based songwriter Ally Evenson unpacks this phenomenon and recounts a traumatic experience she endured four years ago. The song is unfortunately all too relatable for anyone who’s been in a relationship ruled by a poisonous power dynamic. 

In the first verse, Evenson sings, “Do I still remind you of yourself/Wide-eyed and hopeful through this living hell/You put me through for loving you?” It’s a tale as old as time: the older, seemingly wiser or “worldly” character lures the naïve, young artist into a relationship where there’s no chance of being equals. Without getting into too much detail, Evenson explains that the song was inspired by a power imbalance in her own life. “I had been wanting to write about this specific experience I had when I was nineteen. I kind of got involved with this person who abused power in the relationship,” she says. “I think I needed four years of complete space from the situation… to realize how truly messed up it was and to write about it.” 

This period of self-reflection is described perfectly in the chorus when Evenson sings, “The way it feels to cry at nineteen/Hurts a lot more when you understand it/Now I bite my tongue and hold my breath/And for what, I don’t know I guess/Maybe I failed at something you did right.” And while this song’s verses are about one specific relationship, Evenson says the chorus is about trauma as a whole – accepting it, learning how to heal from it, and understanding how it can shape you as a person. She explains that the last couple years of her life have been especially trauma-filled and she’s just now figuring out how to process it all. 

Evenson’s 2020 EP Not So Pretty was all about overcoming self-hatred and insecurity. “I went through some pretty tough shit in 2019,” she says. “A person that I knew, we went through a really rough time and they kind of went out of their way to make my life hell for a while for just no reason. I think that gave me a lot of PTSD about things.” Evenson says this experience led her to question everything about herself – whether she was a good person, a good musician, or if anyone even liked her. Obviously, that’s a pretty terrible way to feel, but she says that time and space away from her insular college community during quarantine has helped her heal.

Before the March 2020 shutdown, Evenson was in her senior year at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (or DIME) – picture Camp Rock, but year-round and for college-age students. As fun and educational as it can be, it’s small enough to foster some high school-style cattiness, which deeply affected Evenson. “I just couldn’t perform in my last semester of college before COVID,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything. Every day I would go to school and I was just like, ‘I hate it here. And I didn’t hate it here before.’ And it wasn’t because of the school, it was just because of these people I was coming into contact with. Not seeing those people and knowing that I don’t have to see them ever again is super nice and made my mental health get so much better.” 

Evenson’s newfound freedom re-ignited her ability to write without feeling constantly judged. That’s probably why “Bite My Tongue” feels like it can fit the shoe of so many different relational complexities. Whether it’s realizing your ex was trash, grieving a lost friend, or learning to love yourself again, Evenson captures the essence of self-reflection and forgiveness, coming out the other end exhausted, but exalted.

Follow Ally Evenson 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.

Ohtis and Stef Chura Team Up to Take Down Toxic Dudes with “Schatze”

Alt-country outfit Ohtis enlist the voice (and production skills) of beloved Detroit artist Stef Chura for their audio-visual fuckboy call-out “Schatze,” released digitally at the end of January (a 7″ vinyl is available for pre-order ahead of its February 26 release via Saddle Creek). Starting out like a guided meditation accompanied by Fred Thomas’s ambient track “Backstroke,” the brief moment of Zen is promptly squashed by the unrelenting, familiar chimes of an iPhone. The messages come rolling in, narrated by lead singer Sam Swinson – “I do/do what I please/it’s my Shatze/it’s my treasure/it’s not difficult, I do it with ease.” Chura replies to Swinson’s apathetic admission with an appropriate “Fuck you very much sir!” – a line that serves as a mantra throughout the song. 

It’s an appropriate and timely catchphrase for the past few years we’ve had as a country, bleeding from the effects of men who think they can get away with anything. But recently, we’ve also seen slow steps towards a reckoning – lies coming apart at the seams, survivors stepping forward to bring their abusers to justice, and the grand finale of a bigoted predator being removed from office. And although the villain in this song doesn’t exactly sit in that rung of evil, he serves as a symbol of that one guy – or guys, and the toxic culture that enables them – we all know that just really, really sucks.

“It’s a story about a fictional character and his faults. As I see it, crafting this song as a cultural commentary, but through the lens of humanity and humor, makes for a more accessible listening experience,” explains multi-instrumentalist Nate Hahn (pedal steel guitar, guitar, bass, keys, trombone). “We hope that this encourages more people to listen and reflect on the issues explored.” Those issues range from binge-playing video games, cheating on your significant other, and just having a general air of entitlement and indifference to one’s surroundings. “The title is a reference to a friend’s cat who’s a vicious beast of the same name,” adds multi-instrumentalist and producer Adam Pressley. 

Granted, an unruly cat is arguably a much easier beast to tame – or at least tolerate – than the character than Ohtis creates in “Schatze” – a self-obsessed, vape-loving, mask-hating gamer blob that admits things like, “I’m a piece of shit/I just think I’ll get away with it.” Chura’s gritty vocals are the perfect counter to Ohtis’ Frankenstein douche and serve as a sort of accountability angel. She says that the collaboration came together naturally, as Pressley was playing in her band at the time and the two had talked about working together. “We kinda jokingly tossed the idea around about the collaboration,” says Chura. “I really like Sam’s singing voice and was down for it. Then one day they just kind of hit me with the actual song. The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history, baby.” 

Hahn adds that having a female voice on the track was essential to rounding out the song’s message. “From the beginning, it was clear that the story needed to be told from both sides of the relationship,” he says. “We loved working with Stef because she’s a friend of the band and she’s the rockinest.” Aside from contributing her voice, Chura also co-produced the track and prevented the band from “keeping some silly digital DJ Khaled style vocal chopping we had in the track early on in the process,” according to Pressley.

While the song is a slight departure from Swinson’s deeply personal lyricism on Curve of Earth, the character in the song serves as a self-aware caricature of what we can become without actively checking ourselves. “I think it’s incredibly important that everyone takes stock of the way they might act in relationships and how actions could affect other people,” says Swinson. “Hopefully it can bring about some self-reflection in people as to how they could be better to the people around them.”

Outside of the commentary on personal relationships, the song also nods at the fact that white men have historically gotten away with doing evil shit, and a lot of them still do. It also nods at the role – however divisive it can be – that the internet has in unveiling the truth (or spreading lies) about people. The video even sneaks in a text from “Ohtis” reading, “do you liek ariel pink?” a reference to his troubled reputation and recent “cancelling” after he was spotted with John Maus at the pro-Trump rally preceding the insurrection. And while the members of Ohtis are galaxies away from being caught at a MAGA gathering, Swinson admits that they still have work to do when it comes to deconstructing the patriarchy. “There are definitely lingering bits of toxic masculinity from our conditioning that we can still identify and ultimately hope to carve out of ourselves in the process,” he says. “ [We] have no problem being self-deprecating about that.” 

Whatever your opinion on call out/cancel culture may be, this song and video serve as a relevant reflection on the moment we’re in – a chaotic e-landscape swirling with accusations, accountability, and assholes. For the listener, maybe it’s an opportunity to reflect on how you act in your relationships. Maybe it’s just an excuse to say “fuck you very much sir” a lot. For me, it’s both, and I’m better for it.

Follow Ohtis (via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and Stef Chura (via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Tender Creature Filter Loss and Identity Through Queer Lens on Debut EP ‘An Offering’

Photo Credit: Emilio Mendoza

On their debut EP An Offering, Queer New York-based indie folk duo Tender Creature provides a raw glimpse into some of life’s most difficult experiences, from losing loved ones to coming out to navigating relationships. But members Steph Bishop and Robert Maril tell these stories with beautiful melodies, playful instrumentation, and relatable lyrics that provide hope for those in the midst of such travails. Relating stories Bishop wrote about specific events from their life, the group mixes folky vocals and a variety of instruments with electronic effects that make for a collection equal parts fun and contemplative.

Bishop and Maril met in 2011 and initially played together in the queer country band Kings, then spent some time making solo music on their own before reconnecting in 2018. Their goal with the new EP was to meld their traditional folk singer-songwriter styles with electronic techniques like beats and synths, taking advantage of Maril’s newfound knowledge of digital production and dance music. “We had worked on a previous project together, and we had a certain style we were used to writing and performing in,” says Bishop. “I think one of the goals for this EP was to sort of break out of that box a bit and try something new.”

During the production process, they alternated between in-person sessions and independent work, where they’d record parts of the songs and send them back and forth to each other. They incorporated a variety of unfiltered instruments, including electric guitar, cello, and ukulele, careful not to alter their voices or use too many effects. “When we were arranging these songs, it was a very conscious decision not to filter the instruments or put them through a bunch of processors,” says Maril. “It’s very rich, organic, wooden-sounding instruments sitting in this soup of digital beats.”

The groups sites Arthur Russell and Joanna Newsom as their biggest influences; they were particularly inspired by Newsom’s use of vintage synths, as well as the beats of bands like Pet Shop Boys. Their music also emanates old-school indie folk vibes in the vein of The Weepies or The Finches.

Thematically, An Offering reflects on loss, identity, and learning from the past. The title track and first single is a poetic depiction of Bishop’s experiencing losing their grandmother: “Black dirt in my hands, this is where I leave you/The sky on fire, the static on the radio/And I don’t understand, but I don’t need to/The birds on wire will tell you when it’s time to go.” Meanwhile, “If Anyone Asks,” is a catchy, upbeat account of reclaiming oneself in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship. On “The Quietest Car,” Bishop sings against mournful cellos about the death of a former student. “Count to Five,” the last song on the EP, is a dreamy, ukulele-driven love song.

The members’ queer identity is also a big part of the EP and of their broader musical mission. In the slow, harmony-filled “Climbing Trees,” Bishop reflects on someone they knew during childhood who received a lot of backlash for coming out. Although it’s written from the perspective of someone who is now out, it shows compassion for the subject of the song, who ultimately went back into the closet: “Oh, I felt it/Your breath as you held it/The winds as they warned you to stay.”

“It’s [about] the brave choice of coming out and then the choices you have to make based on your surroundings to stay safe and stable,” Bishop explains. “The people around him weren’t ready for it, so he had to make his choices in that way, but it was hard to watch as a young queer person.”

Through their music, Bishop and Maril hope to help people who may be in situations like this. “A kid struggling in a place where maybe it’s not such a safe or a positive environment in which to come out, it’s something that a queer person can listen to and sort of hold on to as representation,” says Bishop.

“We’re so starved to see our experiences reflected in media,” Maril agrees. “We really don’t, and so for us, there was really no choice but to be out and make music for queer people. I mean, we make music for everybody, but we write from what I see as a queer perspective — kind of an outsider’s perspective. So I hope other people feel a connection to this music and feel like this is for them.”

Follow Tender Creature on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Berkeley’s Brutally Honest Feral Approaches Personal Trauma with Unyielding Precision

Photo by Rachel Huang

Photo by Rachel Huang
Photo Credit: Rachel Huang

“Because I’m really honest, I get really honest reactions from the audience,” says Kelsey Ferrell, who makes music as the Berkeley/Santa Cruz-based Feral. Her music is, if anything, brutally honest. Feral’s most recent release, a four-song collection of demos recorded on a earbud microphone, slaps us with this unforgettable line halfway through the first song, “Native Speaker”: “I know I am a total mess/and my songs don’t pass the Bechdel test.”

For someone who was involved quite closely with social justice both personally and professionally throughout her undergrad career at UC Berkeley (she recently graduated), you would think such an admission would more likely be held hostage in some unmarked folder in GarageBand on Ferrell’s laptop as opposed to being broadcasted to the world on Bandcamp. But this, frankly, never seemed like a consideration for Feral, who appreciates above all how her openness can potentially manifest as a balm for others. “I’ve had people come up to me after I’ve performed [a song] and said, ‘wow, that really meant a lot to me,’” she explains. “And that kind of moment of having someone connect to my music — it’s worth it to me. It makes it worth the vulnerability on my side.”

And the music is better for it. It can be difficult to rehash traumatic experiences to a trusted friend, let alone an audience looking for levity (Ferrell does stand-up comedy as well) but she seems to have settled in the knowledge that the only way out is through. One such foray into the weeds for Ferrell is her reckoning with a past relationship that had a huge impact on her. “I have a few other songs that are maybe about a fling here and there, but he is the main person I write about,” she says. “There’s just so many interesting elements to our relationship that made it not a normal relationship and not a normal breakup. So it just it has a wealth of metaphors and storytelling [to pull from].”

Said ex-partner makes an appearance in three out of the four songs on “Quarantine Demos,” in ways both tragic and sweet. “Native Speaker” is at once both forlorn and determined in its assertions as Ferrell laments the loss of the person who helped her discover and define herself as a sexual partner: “Cause you and I wrote our language of love together/and you are the one/and I’m missing the tongue/of my native speaker,” she sings.

Considering that first times and first loves are often dismissed for their sloppy and adolescent bent, it’s refreshing to hear someone admit that this was not be-all-end-all of their experience, even as those feelings resurface from time to time. Furthermore, the expectation that suffering is inherent to our first forays into sex — especially for women — is an exhausting trap that feels good to shake off, even if tinged with loss. “Forlorn and determined” is also, incidentally, not a bad way to describe Ferrell’s voice, which is very strong, switching with ease from a tongue-in-cheek indie-pop delivery to some arresting ethereality.

The destructive power that one individual can hold over you is a predominant theme in Demos, as well as Ferrell’s 2018 LP debut, Trauma Portfolio, which also details the complexities of that formative relationship. “I was dating the son of a billionaire,” she explains, “and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with that relationship and the ways it made me complicit in oppression… it just brought in this huge power dynamic to our relationship. Even though he didn’t necessarily abuse that power or want to hold power over me, he just intrinsically did.”

Despite her discomfort with dating “the 1% of the 1%,” Ferrell is eager to turn the spotlight back on herself, noting, as she puts it, her own hypocrisy. “I think that a lot of my earlier songs were casting the blame here and casting the blame there and not really looking at myself and how I might have been a part of the problem,” she says. The penultimate track of Demos, “Titanic,” is a great example of how far she’s come: “I am so broken that I call upon God,” she admits in the chorus. “I do not believe but I want to be wrong/You’re my delusion, my sad fantasy/I cannot hold you, but you’re all that I see.” It is both condemnation and consternation at once, the three-minute version of those moments where you look at yourself in the mirror and ask: How could you do this to me? But more importantly — how could I do this to me?

Trauma Portfolio is slim at nine tracks but feels much more substantial despite its focus on a central subject matter. Back on the subject of personal responsibility, Ferrell notes the yin and yang of her album, also known as tracks seven and eight. The former, “Fuck the Bourgeoisie,” is both utter fun and utter horror, as Ferrell’s self-deprecating denouncement at the end of the chorus (“I did, I did!”) lets us know on no uncertain terms the depth of the mire she was at the time of the song’s germination, if not its final cut. Rectifying your judgement of others with your own bullshit is, at the very least, a Herculean task, one which she throws herself into with resigned grace in the “Supertragic,” which follows. It’s a bit of a self-flagellation exercise, where every insult Ferrell parrots back in the chorus (“also rich, hypocrite/vendetta vixen, biased bitch”) sounds like less of a kiss-off and more of a panicked question to no one. Is it true?

The true kiss-off comes in “Soup,” a pissed-off anthem with some pretty relatable grievances – if some very unusual circumstances – that brought them about. The song details Ferrell’s experience as a high school senior after she was labeled a snitch for attempting to get the authorities involved in an underage student’s relationship with an older man. “I was bullied and shunned and all of these terrible things that entire year… I basically was thrown under the bus by these adults who were supposed to protect me,” she explains. “And something that [the other kids] did was they came to my boyfriend’s house and they, like, body slammed him with cans of soup.” Anyone who has found themselves at the crosshairs of the mob will find something to relate to here, whether it be some very justified calls outs of the cops and school administration or simply this salient line: “Fuck the apologists who think it’s okay/And love to all of my snitches and bitches who stand up for the same.”

The events chronicled in “Soup” were the beginning of the end for Ferrell’s relationship, as her rapidly-deteriorating social standing led to an increased reliance on her then-partner, making their later breakup all the more devastating. However, it did propel her into a new stage of her artistic work that served as the backbone for Trauma Portfolio’s completion. After she joined a student-run songwriting club at UC Berkeley, she made a new rule for herself: “I was only allowed to play my own music. And that really, really encouraged me to write a ton.”

Ferrell recorded Trauma Portfolio in Santa Cruz, the same place where — well, a lot of shit had gone down. Recording was a bright spot when she had to return home for the summer, and that positive first experience working on such a substantive project with producer and instrumentalist Ian Pillsbury left her itching for more, even as quarantine currently keeps her in demo-land.

But here’s the reality — demo or not, good lyrics and instincts stand out. And so does intention. Ferrell is actively branching out in subject matter — see “Cameron” on Demos for a bittersweet history lesson on her relationship with a childhood friend — and self-awareness. “I’m learning as I get older to try to tell a more complete story,” she says. “As honest as I am about what other people have done to me, I’m trying to learn how to be honest about what I have done to others as well.”

PLAYING CINCY: Indie Rock Trio Strobobean Drop Two New Singles Ahead Of Tour

Strobobean Ghost

Late last month, Strobobean released two new hauntingly beautiful singles, “Ghost” and “Walking Alone,” ahead of their fall tour. The Cincinnati shoegaze post-rock trio is fronted by Pop Empire‘s Katrina Eresman and Jake Langknech and Soften‘s Brianna Kelly. Their debut 4-track EP, Winter, arrived this past May.

“I’m excited about our new tracks because they feel more mature and more intentional than the recordings on the Winter EP, which we did ourselves for demoing purposes, but then liked them enough to release them,” Katrina tells AudioFemme. “I like those still, but in the case of the two tracks, ‘Walking Alone’ and ‘Ghost,’ we had more experience playing together and maybe more confidence and style going into it. Plus, we had our talented friend Henry Wilson do the recording for us, which let us relax into the songs and the parts rather than worry about things like mic placement.”

Anchored by iridescent guitar patterns and hypnotic vocals, “Ghost” and “Walking Alone” can be streamed digitally and are available as a split cassette tape with Cleveland surf band Forager. With their first year behind them and their debut EP and two new singles out, Strobobean hits the road this October.

“Making this single reminded me how much I like the recording process, and how transformative it can be to a song,” says Katrina. “‘Walking Alone’ was the very first song I wrote for this project, and it became my least favorite to play. But when we workshopped it for the recording we ended up tweaking a few small things, like how it starts and how the guitar sounds, and made some slight adjustments to the arrangement, and now I love it again.”

“I think the two songs pair well together, too, which is nice, like a little soundtrack to a campy spy movie,” she adds.

Check out Strobobean’s current tour schedule – with more stops being added soon – below.


10/30 – St. Louis
10/31 – Lawrence, KS
11/1 – Sioux Falls, SD
11/2 – Minneapolis, MN
11/4 – Chicago. IL
11/8 – Birmingham, AL
11/9 – New Orleans, LA
11/19 – Louisville, KY
11/20 – Yellow Springs, OH

PLAYING CINCY: Pop Empire Talk “Novena,” Finding Their Sound & Incense

Pop Empire / Novena

Cincinnati trio Pop Empire recently dropped their nine-track album, Novena. The indie-rock outfit will head out on a supporting tour this month.

Novena marks the 10-year-old group’s first full-length album since 2014’s Future Blues and the first album with the group’s current lineup – founding member Henry Wilson, guitarist Katrina Eresman, and drummer Jake Langknecht.

Teased with singles “Sister Chaos,” “Black Wine,” and “For Maggie,” the record navigates glittery soundscapes of psychedelic and progressive rock, tied together by what the band labels as a feeling of “familiarity.”

Here, Henry, Katrina, and Jake talk about their recording process and learning to communicate as a band, which ultimately led to Pop Empire finding its unique sonic home in Novena. The bandmates also discuss the virtue of patience, studio magic, and the helpful scents of Nicki Minaj incense.

Stream Novena and check out their upcoming tour dates below.

AF: Congrats on your new album! Can you tell me about some of the underlying themes?

H: The songs came from each of us throughout different periods of time. Really what you hear on this album, is just the three of us playing in a room together and something, that the three of us have developed over a couple years, that is its own distinct sound. It’s certainly got plenty of familiar influences. I think there’s a lot of themes in the album that tie the songs together.

J: The recording of the album took place over a good couple of months. It was just the three of us, we didn’t really have anybody else’s time we were occupying and we weren’t spending a bunch of money at a studio. We were in a familiar space and we could really take our time to run takes of the songs, as many times as we needed to. Some of them hadn’t really been written or arranged, to a large degree, yet. As different as the songs might seem at first listen, from song to song, I think to all of us there is definitely a feeling of cohesion between them. We hammered them out in the same process and the same place with a lot of patience.

AF: What can you tell me about the significance of the title, Novena?

H: I would get in trouble if I didn’t give credit to my mother for actually coming up with the name, she suggested it. We had tried a bunch of titles—the album had come together long before the title was given. The number nine is significant—there’s nine songs on the album. The number nine is related to the word Novena, which means a nine-fold in Latin. It refers to an ancient form of prayer that was also adopted into Catholicism, which is a nine-day prayer in a traditional form. The reason for the number nine sounds, like, way more Hocus-Pocus than I really am [laughing].

AF: This is Pop Empire’s first album since 2014 and with the new band members. How does Novena differ from Future Blues?

K: The way that I feel all the songs are tied together in one piece is that we were trying to write them before we learned how to communicate as a band and as friends. Personally, I was communicating through the songs. I joined this band on a tour last minute so I came in and literally learned the guitar parts to play so it was very impersonal to me and I did that for a long time. I think that there was a period of time when we were trying to work on these songs and I was sort of, like, trying to play in that style still, like as the old guitarist, and fill those shoes. And then there was some point where I connected more. I think in general, I’m a little less traditionally skilled—a little bit more dirty, dissonant, and noisy as a guitarist. So now that I could see it in my own way I think that influenced the style, ‘cause all the songs existed in some form, and some of them for a really long time.

AF: What is each of your favorite song on the album?

K: I would say I’m surprised by how much I ended up liking “Riding The Crest” ‘cause it was very frustrating for a long time. I didn’t know what to do with it. And then it became something real different than what it was.

H: This is the song that, for Pop Empire nerds out there, was technically released as a bonus track on a Bandcamp download. Well, there was a song with the same name. It’s pretty vastly different. There was definitely a direct evolution from the beginning of the song into what it is now.

K: Now, it’s totally made me tear up before. It’s a really nice, emotive song.

AF: You’re also going on tour this month. Any new places for you?

H: I think there will be some new in-between spots. Even though Cincinnati is so close to so many towns, there are still lot of places we haven’t gone to as a band.

AF: Where do you draw inspiration from?

J: There’s a lot. Everything that I listen to nine months prior probably influenced this album. But the songs didn’t really come from any particular place except from me. It was natural enough with my style and the way I played, and our style, driving the album. We’ve been a band—and I’ve been playing with Henry for five years or more and I’ve known Katy now for two years—so we’ve established our own sound. I feel like the album itself had a sound before we even touched it.

K: Your style is like dark blocks. Dark-colored shapes and blocks–that’s how I picture your style, visually. That’s where you got your influence [laughing].

J: [Laughing] Cool.

K: Yeah, I don’t know for me either. I think I ended up thinking in the context of Drone-y music, like really heavy playing. I don’t like consciously point to people that I am inspired by, but I do find myself finding influence from bands.

H: For me, it’s going to be a lot of old stuff. A lot of 20’s and 30’s. While we were making this album we weren’t even listening to any of the same stuff. We just knew what sound the songs had once we heard it. When they’re all played together, to me, the songs all have to do with evoking a very calming and reassuring presence that feels very familiar, from like before you were born. If that kind of presence could be found, that’s what all of these songs were trying to go for.

AF: So maybe, stylistically, if there weren’t too many outside influences, this album was just you hitting your collective stride?

K: I think it could be. I’ve definitely read interviews where people will be like, ‘Oh, we just went in the studio and it was just there,’ and that’s kind of messed with my head because I have to try and would get frustrated if something didn’t come immediately. So I don’t like to say that, but on the other hand it is kind of what happened with this album. We were just working really hard all winter, over and over and over, and just kind of somehow ended up coming together. It showed that there is like a magic that can happen when we connect as musicians, it just took a while.

H: I think that’s a really good point. To anybody that wants to learn something, this absolutely is something that requires grit and perseverance. It was really tough, there were plenty of times where it could have felt easier to give up on the project, but we really stuck through it. The album only happened because of that.

AF: Exactly. What are some key takeaways you learned from recording this album?

J: We really came together as these three people. But also, for me, I never had the opportunity to really like take time in recording and be really patient with my parts. Short of deriving expectations—how do you get to where you have a song that is presentable as a final iteration? Both through the tools you need to use and also the working process.

H: Also, we used lots of incense to conjure the moments we were trying to create.

K: We had a Nicki Minaj incense.

H: And Ariana Grande.

AF: What do those smell like?

J: Who can say [laughing]?

K: Also, a little Charcuterie tray is very nice.

H: Yes, meats and cheeses and a fridge full of sparkling water.


9/4 – Fort Wayne, IN @ The Brass Rail
9/5 – Chicago, IL @ The Owl
9/7 – Minneapolis, MN @ Palmer’s Bar
9/9 – Nashville, TN @ The East Room
9/19 – Pittsburgh, PA @ The Mr. Roboto Project
9/20 – Philadelphia, PA @ House Show – RSVP for address
9/21 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
9/23 – Saratoga Springs, NY @ Desperate Annie’s

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the full track below.

PLAYING DETROIT: Tears of a Martian Share Debut Single “With You”

photo by Carmel Liburdi

Newcomers to the Detroit music scene, Tears of a Martian released their first single, “With You,” this week. The three-piece – Arianna Bardoni, Justin Reed, and Todd Watts – is hard to pin down genre-wise but brings a refreshing mix of indie-rock, soul and R&B to the table. Bardoni’s honey-smooth vocals seem like the result of a musician who grew up listening to both Aaliyah and Hole – clear, soulful, and tinged with grit.

“With You” is a straightforward almost-love song with an infectious melody that begs singing along. “Play by play we were like a parade/nothing better to do/with you with you with you with you/I was never with you,” Bardoni sings, describing the lull of half-romance that comes from two people who are settling for each other rather than being alone, and the weird fog that lingers in such a relationship’s aftermath. Listen to “With You” below and keep your ears peeled for more from this blossoming band.

PLAYING ATLANTA: True Blossom is in Full Bloom with New LP Heater

Atlanta’s varied music scene is no secret; in just a few short months, Playing Atlanta has featured garage rock, indie rock duos, Americana singer-songwriters, and disciples of Southern Rock, but even that doesn’t begin to cover the true mosaic of the city.

Audiofemme got the chance to talk with True Blossom, a bright, joyous pop experience, who have just released their newest album, Heater. Read on for more about the quintet, their passion for pop, and big plans for their next release.

AF: What is the True Blossom story? How did the band form?

TB: We knew each other from playing shows together in other bands for years in the Atlanta pop scene, and we wanted to form a new band. We don’t have much of a narrative, only our songs. Like Paula Abdul. We’re the Paula Abdul of Atlanta indie pop.

AF: What drives you to create music, together and individually?

TB: Pure, unbridled ambition. Like that fucking uncut, barrel-strength, Napoleon-whining-about-Alexander-the-Great ambition.

AF: Which bands or artists inspire you the most?

TB: We mostly draw on pop formalists in one way or another, but the specific artists vary. Sophie listens to a lot of pop country and Motown; Jamison likes what you might call psychedelic pop, like Beach Boys, Robert Wyatt, Tropicalia, etc; Nadav likes a lot of that sort of hybrid disco/funk from the ’80s, like the Jones Girls. The sophisti-pop bands are also a big influence: Orange Juice, Prefab Sprout, the Blue Nile, etc.

AF: You recently released a record, Heater. What was it like to release your debut album? What was your proudest moment, and what was the most challenging for you?

TB: We loved making the album! It was easier than we expected. A blessed process. I think the best moment was when we all traveled up to New York together to mix it; we ran ahead of schedule, and finished early somehow, which in retrospect seems impossible.

AF: What’s your creative process like?

TB: We just play songs over and over again until they write themselves. We’re a fairly prolific band, which is amazing because we’re not exactly a well-oiled machine of creative praxis. I think it helps that we limit our palette of sounds, but like, literally, every guitar rock band does that too, so I don’t know.

AF: What’s your favorite part of being in the Atlanta music scene?

TB: When we travel the rest of the country, we notice that the shows often happen in really crummy DIY venues. Atlanta is very blessed by the quality and stability of the venues and promoters. 529 is at least ten years old at this point and remains a great place to play and watch bands. And if it ever closed, we’d probably just utilize the Unicorn more. I think knowing that your band is usually going to be playing on real sound systems allows folks to get more ambitious with the sounds their bands make, and that goes a long way in explaining Atlanta indie pop right now. The trade-off, of course, is that DIY, all-ages venues get choked off a little, which is crummy. My other favorite part of the Atlanta music scene is that you can now get Campari at 529, which is not a thing you used to be able to do. But they don’t have sweet vermouth, which is bizarre. How are they planning on selling all that Campari?

AF: How has the Atlanta scene influenced you as a band?

TB: Talking about the Atlanta music scene is sort of ridiculous because there’s a rap scene obviously, and a hardcore scene, a bunch of old garage punks, Georgia Tech kids making proggy-jazz, squares with acoustic guitars… there are a lot of scenes that don’t overlap. And there’s not really a reason for them to; those garage punks probably will not like our band and are under no obligation to do so. But our little corner of the world is wonderful. Lots of kids getting ambitious with real pop melody, keeping the DX7 patches very bright, a lot of joy to go around. We’re inspired by Fantasy Guys, Red Sea, Breathers, Doug Bleichner’s solo stuff, and that’s just a very short sampling.

AF: What’s next for True Blossom?

TB: We’re tracking our next album in less than a month, so big things popping there. We’re also working on a video and planning a tour for the spring.

Follow True Blossom on Facebook as they prepare for a new release, announce spring tour dates, and take over the pop world, one song at a time. 

PLAYING ATLANTA: The Pussywillows Are Atlanta’s Hardest Rocking (and Hardest Working) Indie Rock Duo

Photo Credit: Kara Hammond

When watching Hannah Zale and Carly Gibson, the dynamic duo at the front of Atlanta indie rock outfit The Pussywillows, perform on stage, it’s easy to get lost in the effortless synchronicity presented. They are perfect complements to one another, standing toe to toe and side by side, pushing — and encouraging — each other. 

Offstage, they’re equally complimentary, full of exuberance, passion, and creativity. Hannah is lightning in a bottle, captivating the crowd with her dramatic mystique. Carly is equal parts intense and laid-back; quieter, but commanding and electrifying as she makes playing guitar look like something she was born to do (and trust us — she was). 

The two women are committed to their music, performing together as The Pussywillows and in stand-alone projects as Zale, Carly Gibson, and Gibson Wilbanks. In the middle of their eternally busy schedules, Hannah and Carly sat down with Audiofemme to talk music and their otherworldly connection. 

AF: Individually, you’re both incredibly talented performers, musicians, and songwriters; what made you decide to band together and form The Pussywillows?

CG: Thank you so much for the kind words and inviting us share our story! It’s funny how things organically happen. Hannah and I never thought about it much; we immediately started singing and writing together after we met. It felt like it created itself, with no question or hesitation. We were both strongly drawn to each other’s energy and our vocal tones happened to blend effortlessly.

From the very beginning, we’ve been riding on the same emotional life roller coaster, mirroring each other in our own fashion. Our lives seem to move in tandem and it’s one the most beautiful and healthy relationships to be a part of.  My weaknesses are her strengths and my strengths are her weaknesses; together, our polarity conducts some kind of unique power source that’s cathartically satisfying.

HZ: Well, dang. Thank you so much. I don’t think becoming a band was really a choice we made or something that we talked about at the beginning. We wrote together instantly and easily so we kept doing it. A lot of our connection came from being in the same place in our personal timelines and dealing with a lot of the same struggles. We still struggle and heal in tandem somehow. Carly makes me a better musician and person and that’s how I know we are onto something.

AF: How did performing as solo artists prepare you for working together as a unit?

HZ: I think our different backgrounds as solo artists are one of our greatest strengths as a band. While I was performing in Broadway musicals and reading books about artist management, Carly was already playing out gigs and soloing on guitar better than the boys.

We try to bring our experiences together to create a dramatic, energetic rock show that makes you feel something. We are yin and yang and let each other be completely who we are. We both felt like we were missing something playing alone that we have found in each other.

CG: We definitely had polar opposite backgrounds. In a nutshell, I’m from a weird hippie family full of musicians, and Hannah is from a musical theater-loving, Jewish doctor family. I was ignoring my homework and playing out in rock bands in high school while she was getting straight A’s and slaying Broadway musicals.

We grew up marinating in very different kinds of genres, but our common thread is ’90s music. The moody, chick-rock stuff is our jam, and was the vibe that inspired the songwriter within each of us to be born.

We strangely complement each other perfectly. Though we are opposites in a lot of ways, we share a soul connection that allows us to be on the same page, pretty much all the time. We catch ourselves harmonizing lines without meaning to and we often finish each other’s sentences with the same inflections and gestures. There is a whole lot of unconditional love and respect that we have for one another that’s the foundation to what we are as a unit.

AF: What’s been the hardest moment for you, and, on the other hand, what’s been the proudest? 

CG: Our hardest time was going through a nightmare studio experience where we wasted a whole lot of our time and money on a debut EP we could never use. We were able to pick ourselves back up, as a team, without blaming or taking it out on each other.

I think our proudest moment yet has been able to finally define and refine our sound as a band; to be able to get to the essence of our vision and belief in who we are as artists. We get to create our own world that people seem to really dig stepping into with us. Packing out rooms with a hyped audience screaming “PUSSYPOWER” feels super satisfying, every time.

We’re proud to be women playing rock n’ roll that’s for everyone. We aim to take back the word that has been so harshly demoralized and connotated with “weakness.”  We believe in a balance and respect of feminine/masculine energy that resides in all of us. Being able to tap into our individual truth and power without shame or judgement is what we strive for every day, and we hope to encourage our audience and fans to do the same.

AF: Your sound is self-described as “Tarantino feminism.” What inspires the music? 

HZ: Our music has that same neo-noir quality; it can be dark and has a sometimes sinister, shadowy feeling. We like to tell bold stories featuring strong female characters based on real events and people in our lives. We aren’t afraid to be a little cheeky and impolite. Tarantino doesn’t believe in linear timelines and neither do we; we live and write for the past and future at the same time. We want our music to be consumed, analyzed and enjoyed equally, not cause we are a “girl band.”

AF: Who has inspired you the most in your individual careers, and as The Pussywillows? 

CG: Having a musical family was the most influential part for me. Music was constantly around and supported, which I am so very grateful for. My parents played in groups all throughout my childhood, and we went to a lot of concerts and festivals. Music has always been the coolest thing in the world to me and looked like the most fun way to express [myself]. I started playing guitar at twelve years old, largely because I wanted to be able to connect and communicate with my dad and brother on a deeper level, to fit in and jam with “the guys” and have stuff to talk about. My brother showed me some live AC/CD footage for the first time and after seeing Angus Young play, I thought to myself, “THAT’S what I want to do. That crazy, sweaty little man is having the time of his life. I want to feel that.”

It was mixture of artists like Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Grace Potter, Pat Benatar, Led Zeppelin, Heart, Joni Mitchell, Michelle Branch, Alanis Morrisette, Norah Jones, The Black Crows, Indigo Girls, and many others that inspired me to create music of my own. It all lead up to meeting – and eventually being mentored by – one of my local heroes, singer/songwriter/guitarist Caroline Aiken, who so kindly helped show me the ropes and gave me a platform to be heard in the Atlanta music scene. Caroline has also generously mentored Hannah and me as a duet to help tighten and refine our intricate harmonies, as well as giving us opportunities to share the stage with her.

Our sound is a melting pot. We naturally like to be diverse and dynamic by having a spectrum of feels, from light, heavy, to funky. Our biggest influences are Heart, Grace Potter, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, First Aid Kit, Indigo Girls, Jack White, and of course ’90s icons like Meredith Brooks, Alanis, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, TLC, and more.

HZ: I take a lot of inspiration from ’90s female singer-songwriters like Alanis Morisette, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan, Lauryn Hill, and Gwen Stefani. I also am extremely inspired by larger than life performers like Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, and St. Vincent.

Together, as The Pussywillows, we look to Black Sabbath, Tegan and Sara, The Runaways, Zeppelin, First Aid Kit, Jack White and lots more!

Photo Credit: Ed Lee

AF: You’re fixtures in the Atlanta music scene. How have the city and the creative scene impacted you and your careers? 

HZ: We adore playing music in the ATL! The scene here is exploding with talent. Depending on the neighborhood, I get to practice my jazz chops or write an R&B hook or headbang to live metal karaoke. Over the last couple years, we have formed this inner circle of players, producers, engineers, writers, dancers, venues, and filmmakers that have helped us take our art to the next level. These professionals are true friends who challenge us to dig deep and never give up on our goals.

AF: What are your plans for 2019?

HZ: Girl, you know we have big plans for 2019! We are putting out a 5-song EP this spring, along with music video shorts for every song. We are playing hometown shows and touring! We are also going to be in the studio working on more new pussylicious music. We are pushing ourselves to do what feels good and leave the rest behind.

Craving a little more #PussyPower? Connect with The Pussywillows on Facebook and Instagram for the latest and greatest.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The Howling Tongues Premiere New Single “Daily Dose”

When The Howling Tongues hit you, you know it. Atlanta’s brazen sons of rock ’n roll — Davey Rockett, Nick Magliochetti, Brandon Witcher, Thomas Wainright, and Tylor James — are best known for their signature garage rock-inspired records and over-the-top, bombastic performances, and made their name in the darkest, grimiest rock clubs around the country before taking the stage with Bon Jovi at State Farm Arena in May 2018. After spending most of the last decade wearing out the roads and leaving fans dazed and confused, the quintet is back and better than ever with a series of singles preceding their newest recording project.

Audiofemme caught up with lead guitarist and producer Nick Magliochetti and drummer Tylor James for the premiere of their newest single, “Daily Dose.” They’re gearing up their last show of the year, The Howling Tongues “It’s Not A Christmas Money Grab” Show at The Earl on December 20th. Read on and get ready to party with rock’s most devoted disciples.

AF: You’ve been together for over seven years, and friends even longer than that. What’s your secret to longevity?

NM: The fact that we were friends for so long before really set us up to be able to communicate more openly. We live together and do a lot of things together, when a lot of bands don’t go that far with their relationships. We’ve kinda just been rooted in that for so long, it’s become second nature.

AF: What’s been the biggest change within the group since you started? 

NM: I think the biggest change has been streaming and availability of music. The modern DIY scene had just kind of started when we were starting out as a band. We were selling a ton of CDs in the beginning. Now with Spotify and Apple Music and others, our big sellers are vinyl and other merch items. I think Spotify is a tool that artists can use nowadays to promote themselves.

TJ: And sometimes we can charge money to go play somewhere.

AF: How do you keep the creativity flowing and evolving? Do you ever feel musically stagnant, and if so, how do you get beyond it and keep creating? 

NM: We try not to put ourselves into a box when we’re in the studio, but more into a situation where a song can come out. Whether someone writes a part on an instrument that they’re not used to, or has a strange idea for a song lyric or title, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring. Having lots of options and infinite time is the real killer of creativity.

TJ: And you’ve just gotta keep listening. Everyone’s gonna get stagnant once in a while, but that can be limited by constantly seeking inspiration, whether it’s music or otherwise.

AF: “Daily Dose,” and your last single, “Fever Dream,” are a step away from the sound you trademarked in 2016 with Boo Hiss. What new sounds and techniques are inspiring you guys for these latest songs, and how important to you is it to maintain The Howling Tongues’ sound? 

NM: With Boo Hiss, we wanted to be more bold and daring and take some chances. We’re all about creating moments in songs and on stage, so this is really us taking that ideology and diving even further into it. We’re always trying to push ourselves and continue to make the kind of music we love. We are always pushing the studio to the limits, using different equipment and things that might be unique. Sometimes the stuff that’s broken or almost broken can be inspiring and create a really cool moment in the track. I think we did some of that with these latest singles.

TJ: I don’t know if I could cite one sound or technique specifically, but we try to never be afraid to just play around with shit in the studio until we stumble into something we enjoy playing and hearing back. The Howling Tongues’ sound is free to change as we change; we’re not Aerosmith. 

AF: How has the creative process changed for you guys? 

NM: Since we have our own studio, it’s good for us to put a little pressure on ourselves and create deadlines. If we don’t do that, then we sit on stuff for a long time, which is easy to do that because of infinite studio time. If you limit that, it forces you to make decisions and that usually leads to some pretty cool stuff happening.

AF: What’s been the proudest moment for you as a group over the last seven years? 

NM: Every time we release something new is a proud moment for all of us. That’s what gets us most excited. We want to keep making music that people can turn up really loud and get lost in it for a moment. That’s what gets us going.

AF: How has the Atlanta music scene impacted you as a band? What’s your favorite part of the music scene here? 

NM: The Atlanta scene has been amazing. We have seen so many bands come and go in seven years of being a part of the scene. Plus it’s so diverse in Atlanta. There are a lot of bands with their own unique sound, and that creates interesting shows here in Atlanta.

TJ: There are so many different and fun places to play, and some good promoters in the city that are willing to give a young band a shot.

AF: What inspired “Daily Dose?” What was the writing process like? 

NM: I wrote the main riff on a bass guitar and wouldn’t stop playing it until the rest of the band joined in. It developed into this really funny jam and it kind of has this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on with the verses and the choruses being one and the end being a faster different feel.

AF: What’s your goal, moving forward? You’ve already toured the country, opened for Bon Jovi, and released an EP and two full-length LPs. What’s next? 

NM: I think for us it’s always going to be to keep creating and pushing ourselves to be a face for rock ’n roll music. If we can inspire someone to pick up a guitar or drumsticks, then it’s all worth it for us.

TJ: I want to get a big corporate sponsorship, like Olive Garden or something.

Keep up with The Howling Tongues on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and if you’re in Atlanta be sure to stop by the Earl on 12/20.

PREMIERE: Doe Paoro Releases Intimate New Video for “Walk Through The Fire”

LA-by-way-of Syracuse’s dreamy siren, Doe Paoro, and her new album, Soft Power, are the kind of dynamic sonic duo rarely found in the music industry today. Passionate and empowered, Soft Power combines the alluring mystique of The Shirelles, The Ronnettes, and other original girl groups of the ’60s, with the kind of blazing soul found in the children of the liberated and rebellious.

Audiofemme caught up with Paoro before she took to the road for her upcoming tour to talk music, healing, unrelenting honesty in the midst of pain, and the intimate video for her single, “Walk Through The Fire.”

AF: You transformed incredible frustration and pain into a gorgeous record, full of passion, soul, and rebellion. How did you work through the negativity and transform anguish into art? 

DP: I think by just being really present with it and acknowledging it, and acknowledging that these things were coming up for me. Not trying to control the feelings but instead writing about it and sitting down with my guitar and really just allowing them to pass through.

AF: Why do you think music and art are so important when it comes to healing and growing through difficult times? 

DP: Oh, gosh, that’s such a big question. I think they offer abstract ways for us to process things, and I think there’s something, both in making art but also in being a fan of music and art, of getting the sense that somebody else has walked the same path as you at some point and has made it through. I was reading something recently about how isolation is really the source of all anxiety, and sometimes [when] we hear, “Well, when I was a teenager, and I heard a song about something I was going through, and it was like, okay, somebody else has thought that way,” that sense of isolation is lessened a little bit. Music also just heals on a completely vibrational level. There’s a lot of healing that comes from art. 

AF: Your music is evocative and recalls girl groups from the 60s, like The Shirelles. What does it mean to you to be compared to the women who first pioneered the music industry in a time where feminism was still considered a dirty word?

DP: I mean, I’m so honored and flattered to be compared to some of the artists who have inspired me over the years, and through this record, and always a bit overwhelmed by it. Women musicians are part of a lineage of artists who are working to both expand our craft and expand the sense of empowerment and placement that woman have in the art world. 

AF: How do you carry the flame with your own career to help clear the path for those who come after you?

DP: It’s funny, I was looking at some old pictures today of bands I was in when I was like…16, and it was me and this group of guys. It’s such a normalized experience, playing with men, and for a long time, I just accepted it, but these songs, they’re inclusive of a lot of the experience of what it’s been like for me to be a woman in the music industry. I was playing them originally with a band of guys, and I was like, “This just doesn’t feel authentic.” I didn’t feel like they could relate, [despite] their best intentions… they didn’t understand exactly what these songs mean to me, and I just needed to feel a little bit safer in that way. 

So I really changed my band up, for one. I play with a lot of women now in my band; that’s one thing. But also just talking about these issues and not falling victim to silence because of shame or guilt or blame, or all the other tactics that are used to keep women quiet about misogyny that they’ve encountered. I really do see that as part of my responsibility as a creative person to step up to and make it so that it’s not the norm, so that people in twenty years see mostly men headlining festivals, or that having an all-girl band is an anomaly. I want these things to be normalized because there are so many amazing musicians who are women, and are just as good. 

You know, unless it’s like NSYNC, we don’t say it’s a boy band. But when it’s an all girl band, we’re like, “Oh, that’s an all-girl band! I’d love to be in an all-lady band!” It’s very cute, but that says something about how our culture thinks about gender and music. 

AF: What would you consider the greatest inspiration for Soft Power?

DP: My music is super personal, and every record’s kind of a diary of the time period I’m writing it in, but I think there’s a lot in the title and a lot of things that I tackle in this record that I hadn’t really talked about in the past, just power dynamics. I have had a lot of trauma in the last few years, just working in the music industry and being a woman. This record was really about me examining and reclaiming some of that power that I’ve lost, and acknowledging it, and the title was my mission statement for myself on how I wanna be in the world. Just because I’ve been a victim of abuse of power doesn’t mean I’m going to carry on that way. For me, it’s like the pendulum is in this sort of toxic masculinity, in the way that countries are being led and business is being done, and we have the opportunity for the pendulum to swing the other way, which is a much less violent, kind power, one that’s a little more compassionate, you know? 

AF: What was the most challenging part of writing Soft Power? What was your proudest moment? 

DP: I think the song “Guilty” was the last one I wrote, and that was like — it’s interesting. You know, now we talk about #MeToo and the #TimesUp Movement, and I wrote that song in 2016, which was way before all of this happened. At that time, people weren’t talking about it the way they are now. So that was really challenging. I was contemplating not writing about it, but a friend of mine was talking about it and was like, “I really think you need to write about this experience,” and I was like, “I don’t even know how you’d put that into song.” So kind of challenging myself to be honest, and to write about topics that I haven’t written about before, and feeling that responsibility to expand out of my own comfort zone. 

I would maybe say the most special moment was in writing “The Vine,” just because lyrically, it’s probably the one I’m most proud of. The craziest thing is that I wrote it in like ten minutes, so it just felt like something that was supposed to exist in the universe. There are some songs that I’d been writing for, you know, four years, so it’s just kinda a mystical moment for me. I think it’s such a wild experience when you just surprise yourself. 

AF: There’s an overall feeling of rebellion throughout Soft Power; did you set out to write a record to the theme, or did it just occur naturally? 

DP: Yeah, I definitely didn’t write it with that pretense, but it just came out. I think that’s true.

AF: What’s your creative process like? 

DP: I do a lot of journaling, I do a lot of writing, and looking to other people. What usually happens is that a few words in a conversation will just spark a song. I’ll get really inspired by a phrase and craft the whole story around that, and come with my lyrics. Then I’ll bring it to somebody else, and we’ll kind of work out the music together, because I love coming up with melodies, but I’m not the best instrumentalist.

AF: How have you grown and changed as an artist and performer since your previous release, After?

DP: You know, before my last record, I hadn’t toured extensively. I did tour a lot on my last record, so that experience really changed the way I perform, in terms of having confidence or feeling like I know what I’m doing, because…I don’t know, I didn’t go to school to be a musician. I’m completely self-trained and, technically, I’m missing a lot of information, so it’s all been really trial and error, and almost imposter syndrome in the first years of being an artist, when you don’t have that training. And maybe if you do, too, I can’t speak to that. But for me it’s about really owning that this is my path and feeling confident in that. 

AF: How did the move from Syracuse to LA impact you as an artist?

DP: LA could not be more different than Syracuse; it’s really like working class, there’s not a very big art scene — at least there wasn’t when I was growing up — so it’s really inspiring. I came with a lot of naivety, because I didn’t grow up with anybody who was in arts and the business, and I didn’t know how that world navigated, so it’s been a lot of learning over the years. I’ve really had to step up to embracing a path that I hadn’t seen modeled for me as a child. 

AF: How has your platform given you the freedom to express yourself through music? How do you use your music to give your fans the freedom to do the same? 

DP: Well, I just try to be really honest. I try to be honest with myself, and I feel like that’s the responsibility of any artist to continue to do that. I feel like there are a lot of artists who gave me that freedom, and made me feel like it was okay, you know? Like Fiona Apple or certain artists that sang about things that I thought were almost unspeakable in some ways, in the place that I grew up in, so I just hope that that carries through and that people hear that and feel that they have space to do that as well.

AF: You mention walking a path that no one modeled for you. That takes a lot of inner courage, but it’s so easy to forget the power that we have within us. How do you remind yourself of that power in the moments that you feel weak?

DP: I just think “This too shall pass.” I think about different expressions like, “It’s darkest before the dawn,” and I think about what I’ve been through. I try to reflect on all that I’ve come through and, you know, the “More will be revealed.” You’ve just gotta keep going and do the next right thing for yourself, because you can’t identify with defeat. It’s such a passing thing, and the second you start over-identifying with that, it’s easy to lose the plot. 

AF: Soft Power was recorded to tape with a live band, which forces you into a situation of spontaneity. What was that like?

DP: With my last record, After, we worked on it for like a year, and it was just so heavy. There was so much thought and it was beautiful, but I just wanted something different, because I always want to keep trying new stuff. I was like, I want something that’s the opposite of that, because what I hear happening in music over the last few years, trend-wise, is people doing a lot of things on the computer where there’s just no end to the amount of editing you can do. Sometimes I think that my best ideas are my first ones, and once I start overthinking them, I just lose it. So I was excited about the process of making a record that was essentially capturing people’s first instincts about what to play, and that’s how we did it. I would basically play the band the song, and they would listen to it maybe four times, and then we just captured what they felt was the right thing for them to play, because it was on tape. It was limited on how much time we could spend on that. 

AF: Do you think you’ve translated that inability to overthink or doubt yourself to your daily life since then? 

DP: I’m trying to, I really am. I think that becoming an artist and being in it long enough is all about learning how to really, deeply trust your instincts. I’m sure other artists would say the same. But it’s like the second you start giving away your power, whether it’s to a manager or a record label, you really can lose yourself, and you’ve just got to trust what’s coming into your heart. 

AF: Your video for “Walk Through The Fire” is so intimate, and full of energy; how did you capture that feeling? 

DP: I think it’s just a truthful little capturing of the energy between all of us. We really love playing together and respect each other so much, both as musicians and as friends, and every time we play together, we have that dynamic. 

AF: What inspired “Walk Through The Fire”? What do you hope your fans take away from it? 

DP: I think “Walk Through The Fire” is inspired by the idea that the hardest moments in our lives are the ones where we have to walk alone. I feel like there are moments in all of our lives where we cannot turn to other people for the answers or look to someone else to get us out of the mess we’ve made. Nobody else can walk us through the process of transformation; maybe that’s a better way to say it. My life has been a lot of transformation, so I keep learning that. I don’t know, fire — it’s like humans have been gathering around fire and watching it since we were cavemen. It never gets old, that experience of sitting around a campfire and just watching it spark up. I think we’re very hypnotized by its ability to burn and start over, and it’s certainly relevant to what we’re going through. 

Listen to Doe Paoro’s remix of “Over” and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


11.27 – Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room
11.28 – Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theatre
11.30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room
12.1 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
12.3 – Austin. TX @ North Door
12.4 – Dallas, TX @ Dada
12.6 – Nashville, TN @ The Basement
12.7 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
12.8 – Durham, NC @ Pinhook
12.9 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin’ Java
12.11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade NYC
12.12 – Boston, MA @ Cafe 939
12.13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage Lounge
12.14 – Findlay, OH @ Marathon Center for the Performing Arts
12.15 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE
12.16 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
12.18 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
12.20 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge

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

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

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

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

PREMIERE: The Hottman Sisters “Louder” EP

photo by Carley Scott Fields

Starting over, beginning anew, casting off the old… it’s a process easier said than done. Omaha, Nebraska natives The Hottman Sisters are determined to move forward creatively, letting the past fall back into the rear view. Comprised of actual sisters Jessica (guitar) and Heather (synths), along with drummer Ed Getzlaff, the indie rock trio reaches for a bigger sound on its latest (and aptly named) EP, Louder, and manages to reinvent themselves in the process.

Louder is a splash of cold water to the face, made for those twenty minute walks from the train to work, those fast steps that help ground you for the day ahead. “Fire,” the first single from the release, is an anthem hell bent on refocusing energy. “The fire / Like a roaring sound / Consuming / What used to hold me down” – these are the kind of lyrics we could see Tessa Thompson rocking out to in Westworld. It begs you to rewire your brain, setting your sights on who you are, not who you’ve been.

We sat down with the band and talked church, adding in a new band member, and how they captured that ’80s synth magic. Listen to Louder in its entirety below:

AF: Tell us about Omaha, Nebraska. What’s the music scene like over there?

Jessica: Omaha is a great place to start as a musician. It’s a forgiving music scene, so we have all been able to hone our craft here. As we have grown, we definitely are traveling out of Omaha a lot more. The scene here is very much singer-songwriter, and our music definitely falls more into indie rock/pop.

AF: Jess and Heather, you both started singing in church. Do you ever use church music as a kind of touchstone in terms of style, melody, etc?

Jess + Heather: We did grow up singing in church and a lot of the music was very much gospel/Christian Contemporary ’90s style tunes or classic hymns. These styles were definitely  inspirations for our sound. We are not really pulling style from modern church music. Church was a great place for learning our craft and playing music with others, but not necessarily for deriving our style.

AF: How did you get pulled into the band, Ed?

Ed: I was teaching music lessons here in Omaha at a nonprofit and Jessica was working in the marketing department for the same nonprofit. We barely knew each other at the time but she heard me drumming in one of the studios and she loved what she heard. At the time, The Hottman Sisters were looking for a new drummer that could go on tour with them. She messaged me on Facebook asking if I could tour the next month with them and I said yes. I had about two practices with the band before the tour and we hit the road. The rest is history.

AF: Has the dynamic felt different adding a drummer into the mix? The added impact on stage must be exciting.  

JH: We did have a drummer before Ed joined the project, but Ed’s specific drumming style is truly the perfect fit for the group. He serves the music well and is always conscious of playing what needs to be played vs. making everything a drum solo. This was very noticeable for us right away and we love that about Ed. The energy between the three of us on stage is almost indescribable. I feel that we all listen well to each other when we are playing, and it helps create music that feels very coherent and together.

AF: “Fire” is a catchy song with an important message on leaving the past behind. Can you tell us about the writing process for this song? What was the catalyst?

JH: The catalyst was that I had parts of myself that I wanted to change and I wrote this when I was in the midst of that change. I wanted to become a different version of myself, but even more than that, to become a version of myself that has always been there – to become the person I feel that I am called to be, the true me. This song was written about being able to let go of my old self to make room for a new self – a metamorphosis. Honestly, I wrote this song in under an hour, because it almost felt like it had been brewing in my subconscious for a long time. I typically write on a synth or keyboard (even though I play guitar in the band) and when I got to the synth, it just sort of all came out at once. I remember even tearing up writing this song because it was almost as if I was declaring a new identity as I was writing it.

AF: I hear some ’80s synth vibes on “Katz.” It reminds me a bit of St. Lucia. Where did you draw inspiration from sound-wise on the new EP?

JH: I love that you can hear the ’80s vibe in the music. As the songwriter for this project I definitely like mixing an upbeat feel with something haunting and nostalgic. Lots of music from the ’80s has this great mix of pop sounds and dark, mysterious lonesome sounds. I think that’s where the ’80s feel comes from.

EG: I also think it comes from all of our different preferences and backgrounds melding together. We knew we wanted to go for something bigger and “louder” with this new EP.

AF: How does the writing process work within the band? Do you normally start with instrumentation or do the lyrics form the basis of a song?

JH: I usually start by creating the bass line of a song. I then think about the different instrument melodies and how they will interact. This is the puzzle of a song for me and I love it. Once all of the melodies have been layered and make sense together, I will think about the vocal melody and how to make it stand out from all of the other parts of the song. Then finally, I will write lyrics to the song. The lyrics are usually the fastest part of the writing process for me. The next step is to bring the song to the band and put The Hottman Sisters touch on it. Each person brings their own flair and that creates the finished product. 

AF: What can a fan expect from a Hottman Sisters live show?

The Band: Fans of The Hottman Sisters can expect a theatrical experience in a lot of ways. We definitely incorporate many layers of sound into our live shows. We do lots of harmonizing and each live show is crafted to flow from one song to the next. We are equally as particular with our songs as our transitions between songs. Like I mentioned earlier, we like to mix upbeat pop sounds with a dark, haunting, nostalgic feel. The audience will hear this in the music and will see this in the visual/performance aspect of the show. We are very intentional in curating a live show that brings the audience through lots of different emotions.

The Hottman Sisters’ new EP Louder is due out Sept 28th. Want to see them live? Their national tour kicks off TOMORROW in their hometown of Omaha, NE. See tour dates below!

PLAYING DETROIT: Fred Thomas Mourns Former Friendships With “Altar”

As the former leader of Saturday Looks Good To Me and bass player in His Name Is Alive, Fred Thomas might easily be considered Southeast Michigan’s godfather of indie rock. Ever prolific, his third solo record in four years, Aftering, is set to drop this Friday. Ahead of that comes a video for his single “Altar,” a visual representation of conflicting feelings – joy and isolation. Thomas says the song is a “remarkably personal” recount of a time where he felt ousted from a group of friends in a small town. The song’s cutting lyrics paired with the disorienting visual accurately capture the lonely state of not knowing where you belong.

“The song is about a situation where you feel ostracized by people that you know, people that you thought were your friends,” says Thomas. “Where things have switched from ‘everything’s cool, everybody’s my friend’ to ‘oh, everybody hates me.’” In the video, Thomas and his band – Anna Baghina (guitar), Erin Davis (bass), Stefan Krstovic (drums), Emily Roll (synths) – alternate between clean-cut euphoria and dirty catatonia. The scenes are meant to juxtapose that ecstatic time of belonging and community and the dull pain of estrangement. “Every attempt was made to hold on to that dislocated magic,” Thomas sings, acutely recalling what it’s like to hang on to the skeleton of a support system.

For anyone who has felt abandoned or burned by a friend (or multiple friends), this song hits close to home. Thomas’s penchant for conversational lyricism and poignant metaphor has the ability to draw out the deepest buried memories. “Those nights were spent/
Digesting the ashes of a dead friend/Putting barricades in place/Cultivating contradictions/Drinking whispers,” Thomas sings, listing all the necessary ingredients for a burned bridge.

But, however dark Thomas goes in his writing, he always intends to imbue his work with some levity, which the video makes obvious through the band’s outfits and awkward thrashing. “I want there to be humor and absurdity in everything I do,” he says.

Aftering comes out this Friday, September 14th via Polyvinyl. Check out his tour dates below.

09/16 – Austin, TX @ The Mohawk (Indoor) + [SOLD OUT]
09/17 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall (Upstairs) +
09/19 – Detroit, MI @ Outer Limits Lounge
09/20 – Detroit, MI @ Third Man Records (In-Store) *
10/10 – Cincinnati, OH @ MOTR #
10/11 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl #
10/13 – Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle #
10/14 – Raleigh, NC @ Kings #
10/16 – Norfolk, VA @ Charlie’s American Cafe #
10/17 – Washington DC @ Songbyrd #
10/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle #
10/20 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right #
10/21 – Portsmouth, NH @ Book & Bar #
10/23 – Montreal, QC @ La Vitrola #
10/24 – Toronto, ON @ Baby G #
10/25 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind Pig #
10/26 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle #
11/30 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza +
12/01 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios +
12/04 – Oakland, CA @ 1-2-3-4 Go! Records
12/05 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Hi Hat
+ w/ Owen
* w/ Kat Gardiner
# w/ Anna Burch & Common Holly

PLAYING DETROIT: Shady Groves Release Dreamy New Singles Ahead of Hiatus

Shady Groves – the culmination of Detroit songwriters Adam Fitzgerald, Dylan Caron, Jeff Yateman, Jamie Dulin, Colt Caron, and Sage Denam – recently released two singles from their upcoming record, Dreamboat, and both are worthy predecessors for an album with a title that hints at serenity. “Quiet Wolf” and “Backflips” stand on their own as separate entities – perhaps even representative of different genres, due in large part to the fact that each member of Shady Groves has a hand in composing songs, and each bring disparate styles to the table.

“Backflips” offers a fusion of shoegaze, funk, and electronic elements that join effortlessly to create an ambiance of nonchalance. The mantra of the song (“back and forth, knowing it doesn’t matter”) isn’t specific; Fitzgerald (on vocals) could be referring to love, inner turmoil, the actual act of making music – any number of things, really. The lulling synths and hooky beat settle into a casual, unbothered rhythm befitting the song’s terse themes.

“Quiet Wolf” taps into a different side of the band, with Caron’s vocals vulnerably recounting a journey down a path of self-destruction: “I want to clench my fist so fucking tight / Around that bottle of gin all day and night / I’ve been through this before.” Whether it’s a coping mechanism for a broken heart or a boomerang of a behavior pattern, the song accurately wraps the feeling of desperation and dependence into a tiny bow and presents it to the listener with a subtle emotional wallop.

All of the musicians in the band also release music under their own solo projects, and Caron’s latest also happens to bear the name Quiet Wolf (Yateman performs as Jemmi Hazeman both with and without the Honey Riders; Fitzgerald makes solo work under the name Quells). There’s no doubt the band is going places, both figuratively and literally – Fitzgerald is plotting a big move to Edinburgh, Scotland, though the band plans to continue writing music together from their home base in Detroit, even across the Atlantic. Keep an eye out for Dreamboat, which should see release sometime in the fall before the band goes on its official hiatus.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Emily Jane Powers “Sullen Days”

With her latest video, Emily Jane Powers proves there’s more than one shade of blue when it comes to feeling sad. The Chicago-based art rocker’s clip for “Sullen Days” is an atmospheric meditation on the spectrum of emotions contained within a sullen or sad mood. The entire video was shot on an iPhone by Powers’ husband, bass player, and creative collaborator Alec Jensen (Dream Version). The couple’s DIY approach and clear creative intimacy yielded a raw visual that coincides with Powers’ honest songwriting.

To capture the phases of sadness, the pair wanted to portray Powers as a passive vessel, experiencing, but not engaging, in the moving world around her. “I think that one of the biggest themes of the video was that things were happening around me, but I was passive and still,” says Powers. “We’re trying to evoke an idea that there’s a loss of control as well, which I think goes along with the mood I’m describing.”

However, it’s not always easy to remain still while hanging out of a moving car, which is how the bulk of the video was filmed. “There were a few times when Alec was driving in circles and I was physically unable to hold on to the car,” says Powers. This explains some of her agitated facial expressions throughout the film, but Powers also describes how the “sullenness” she’s capturing doesn’t hold one distinct characteristic. “To be sullen or sad isn’t just one mood, it’s a range of moods that can change pretty rapidly, and the changes of the moods in the video illustrate that,” says Powers.

Powers’ voice swells and evolves, too. Starting in a calm, hypnotic tone and spiraling into a swirl of inundated emotion, she rattles off stream-of-consciousness lyrics that hint to the depths of her psyche. She even identifies the effect her peers can unwittingly have on her feeling when she sings of “transferred desire.”

“I am pretty hyper-aware of the transference of emotions when I’m with people,” says Powers. “If someone’s sad or I’m with someone that’s happy, I sometimes absorb that too easily. Desire could be a bunch of different things – desire to feel better, desire to belong.”

It’s easy to empathize with Powers’ weighted conscious in “Sullen Days,” a cathartic burst of artistic expression. Watch the video below, premiering exclusively on Audiofemme.

Sullen Days by Emily Jane Powers from EJP on Vimeo.


PLAYING DETROIT: Kimball On Their Emotionally Charged EP ‘North Wilson’

Metro Detroit-based indie rockers Kimball are wise beyond their years. Although lead songwriters and singers Austin McCauley and Emily Barr are only 19 and 20 years-old, respectively, their music possesses an insight about the world that suggests a lifetime of hard lessons learned early. Their latest single, “Guns,” exemplifies this worldly view, and was written during a trying time in Barr’s teen years, when she found out her father was having an affair. The emotion and honesty put into this song resulted in a universally relatable anthem about betrayal, broken expectations, and recovery.

Although Barr wrote the lyrics to “Guns” about the turmoil in her personal life, she and McCauley admit that certain aspects of the song can also be interpreted to be a commentary on gun control. When I suggest that the first line of the song, “It’s fucked up / you got guns / and you still don’t feel safe at night… I’ve been thinking about biting the bullet,” could be taken in a literal sense, the pair says they urge listeners to pull whatever meaning they hear from the song. “A thing that’s so beautiful about music is that people can see a song through their own eyes,” says McCauley. “Even if it’s not necessarily about actual guns, people can take that and feel something that we didn’t even expect it to mean.”

Barr nods at the flexible nature of song meanings throughout time and embraces the fact that the lyrics to “Guns” could be taken in a more literal sense. “I think the first line does speak to the point that we build these walls up around ourselves. And there’s so much fear in our country right now, there’s so much fear of the unknown,” says Barr. “Really, the answer isn’t building up walls, it isn’t arming ourselves with guns, it’s going out and talking to people and getting to know people and understanding our differences

The band released their debut EP, North Wilson, on June 2nd and will celebrate with a release show at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, Michigan on June 8th. Listen to the full EP below.

PLAYING DETROIT: Stef Chura Celebrates Record Store Day with Limited Edition 7″

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photo by Ashley Schulz

This Saturday, April 21st is Record Store Daya day that brings us back to a time when the only way you could hear your favorite artist’s new song was by purchasing it on seven inches of vinyl from your local record shop. That’s exactly how Detroit indie-rocker, Stef Chura, wants us to celebrate the annual homage to vinyl culture. Chura, who released her striking debut album Messes in 2017, is pressing a thousand copies of a new 7″ that includes two songs that didn’t make it onto the LP. Both of the songs – “Degrees” and “Sour Honey” – were produced by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest and show Chura’s range in emotion, voice, and musicianship.

“Degrees” is a weighty, haunting rumination on mortality that shifts between delicate verses and a blazing refrain. Chura says that the song was originally a plucky folk song, but Toledo had the idea to take it in a Janis Joplin “Ball and Chain” direction, adding gritty layers of guitar that conjure up the image of towering flames.

Falling on the opposite end of the spectrum sonically, “Sour Honey” is a stripped-down solo affair that features Chura’s flickering, elastic vocals accompanied by Toledo on piano. The bare, vulnerable sound is an appropriate match for the song’s subject matter – insecurity and hyper self-awareness.  “I wrote that song when I was working at a strip club in Detroit as a cocktail server,” says Chura. “It was about the visceral, super physical feeling of complete embarrassment and humiliation. I think I used to suffer from a lot of social anxiety and miscommunications, and it was just a very cat-fighty atmosphere.”

The 7″ is a Record Store Day exclusive, which means you’ll only be able to pick it up at your local record store. Chura will perform at Detroit’s Third Man Records in tandem with the release, followed by shows in Cincinnati and Bloomington. Listen to “Degrees” and see Stef Chura’s upcoming tour dates below.

Saturday, April 21st @ Third Man Records Cass Corridor – Detroit, MI
Wednesday, April 25th @ MOTR Pub – Cincinnati, OH
Thursday, April 26th @ The Bishop – Bloomington, IN