Erin Rae Goes Deep on ‘Lighten Up’ LP

Photo Credit: Bree Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watkins Practices Open-Mindedness on Unbiased Eyes LP

Photo Credit: Justice Slone

For experimental indie duo Watkins, Unbiased Eyes is more than an album title – it’s a way of living. Their 2021 LP explores the depths of love and human existence across ten songs, from the mind-opening invitation of introductory track “Good Problems” to challenging the concept of time in “Beyond the Ambience.”

Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Watkins points to “Sad Happy” as a “huge focal point” of the record, as it encourages listeners to unlearn toxic habits, exemplified in such lyrics as, “Take a broken mind, rewind through all the things you learned/Way back to unbiased eyes/All past boils down to the place we call the now.”

“I’m challenging every listener to break out of that mentality and to experience life for its true self. To reconnect with nature and to see life as the beautiful, chaotic existence that it truly is,” Watkins describes of the song’s message.

“The whole goal of Unbiased Eyes, the album, and the phrase ‘unbiased eyes’ and the message I’m trying to get across is to really see without judgment. I wanted to convey this message of seeing every day with a fresh perspective, to be able to see the beauty in everything for the first time,” Watkins says. “In a lot of these songs, you’ll notice lyrically I try to take on this duality of life and to almost express it in a childlike mentality to help each listener return to the present moment. The theme of shedding all of this imprinted knowledge and these everyday habits that we’ve acquired over the years, and trying to remove yourself from this societal norm and start experiencing life in the now [allows] each listener to find their own pathway to the present moment and to stop worrying about the past or anxiety of the future and to take in what it means to be here and to see with unbiased eyes every second.”  

The duo’s passion for creating a sustainable world and connecting to the universe has been cultivated through years of open-mindedness. Drummer Scott Harris reveals that he’s spent the past few years researching permaculture, which focuses on living off the grid and on the land, incorporating the elements of agriculture, community resilience and more. “A lot is trying to connect people back to the natural world. What we’re always trying to push for is how can you rely on yourself more and get away from the system,” Harris explains of the process.

The pair were introduced in 2011 by a mutual friend as freshman in high school in West Chester, Ohio, quickly realizing they were musical soulmates. “We both saw it as an outlet in our lives that we wanted to chase forever. It was pretty much a guiding passion for both of us,” Watkins says as their mutual love of music. “[We] already had very strong personalities in the sense of individuality and self-awareness and finding your own path or passion in life. So when we met each other, we were already ahead of our times in that way that we were thinking with our universal eye rather than just where we were at that moment in time.”

They spent their days after school jamming in a friend’s basement, taught themselves the ins and outs of recording and producing by creating makeshift studios, and began gigging weekly around town. “Looking back on it, I think it’s funny how we clicked and wanted to really innovate with music and take a little bit of a psychedelic approach to it and wanting the mind-opening route to music,” Harris recalls of their early days. “It was really all great memories.” 

Remaining present and deeply focused on their craft is a natural instinct that the band has carried throughout their decade-long career. “It’s never for the fame, it’s never for the recognition. It’s not even for ourselves. We wanted to mainly focus on spreading self-awareness and to promote a reconnection to the natural world,” Watkins says.

After Harris moved to Nashville in 2015 to pursue a career in audio engineering, the duo continued to hone their craft, meeting in Nashville and Kentucky as they developed their own sound they’ve branded “psychedelic Southern,” in an attempt to open listeners’ minds to the vastness of the world.

“To us, the word [psychedelic] means mind-opening or mind-altering growth. We wanted to take this journey with music to really try to grow ourselves, grow our own minds. Not only ourselves, but to spread what we know, our realizations and give those to others,” Watkins says of their distinct sound. “That’s where we started moving forward as a duo, me and Scott realizing not only can we spread this message lyrically, but we were finding ways sonically with our recording styles to incorporate modern style and try to create new fusions of our favorite music, and trying to find a way to do it new in our own kind of light.”

Growing up, Watkins was an avid fan of Henry David Thoreau, and was inspired by his philosophy that “you can never learn in life until start to put yourself into the unknown. There’s no learning unless you are risking it, unless you are getting yourself just a little bit uncomfortable,” Watkins paraphrases. To that end, Watkins has achieved “unbiased eyes” through travel, immersing himself in different cultures, beginning with a backpacking trip around Europe with friends in college, visiting thirteen countries in the span of a month.

That appetite for travel has only grown, inspiring him to make his dream of living on the road a reality. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Watkins and his partner purchased a van that they turned into a livable home on wheels. After finishing weather proofing and prepping the van during quarantine, they took to the open road, traveling across the country from the Gulf Shores of Florida up through the Midwest before settling in Maine where Watkins lived and worked on a farm.

“The goal in mind during these travels is we’re always looking to build a sense of community everywhere we go. Every time we travel, we’re looking to find people that not only already vibe with the message we’re about, but who can also help us grow that message, and to really show us new sides of growth and progression that we weren’t necessarily even aware of,” Watkins examines. “We really want to use these travels as a reflection on where we see ourselves continuing to build communities in the future. Where do we put ourselves geographically to create these sort of spaces?”

With that mindset, they also migrated out west, venturing through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico before settling down in Idaho’s Teton Valley in a town with a population of 1,000 people. Riding a bike to work and living in a van that was often caught under two feet of snow in the harsh Idaho winter was an eye-opening experience for Watkins, as he intentionally became part of a smaller community with people who have a desire to grow their own food and truly support one another. “Traveling opened up this new sense for me to realize that if I’m receptive to the energy, I can gain a new perspective out of each person I talk to, removing all of those pre-biased intentions and accepting people where they’re at,” Watkins professes. 

All of this ties into how Watkins and Harris walk through the world with “unbiased eyes.” For Harris, that means viewing each situation in life through a positive lens, while Watkins holds himself accountable to live each day with a sense of “self-acceptance,” letting go of judgment, and living in the now not only for himself, but others, in hopes that it inspires listeners to live a fulfilling life.

“Moving forward, we’re going to take all of these incorporated ideas that Unbiased Eyes holds and try to grow off of them, not only within the music, just within ourselves,” Watkins proclaims of the duo’s mission. It’s not really even about the music necessarily for us. “It’s the sense of community and spreading awareness and building and growing together through the music.”

Follow Watkins on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Allie Dunn Sheds Fear of Commitment on Debut EP Good As Gone

Photo Credit: Libby Danforth

On her debut EP, Good As Gone, Allie Dunn overcomes her fears and transforms them into a collection of breath-taking songs. With a strong desire to bring back that nostalgic Laurel Canyon vibe while adding her own flair, Dunn shows off her sparkling voice and melodies to match on a backdrop of organic instrumentation.

Dunn notes that each of the four songs is a reflection of a different time in her life, particularly her experience with love and fears surrounding it. This becomes obvious in the first few lines of opening track, “Need Somebody” as she projects, “I was dead set on dying alone/85 with no one to call my own/Love was never a friend of mine/’Til it found me/Now I find that everybody needs somebody” Written in 2020 during the early days of quarantine with boyfriend Collin Rowe, whom she was staying with at the time, Dunn realized that we all need a support system in order to survive in life – once the right person entered her life to change her perception.

“It was a truth that I’ve been wanting to say, but was scared to say it,” she remarks. Confronting uncomfortable truths is a theme that arises throughout the powerful project. This shines through potently on “Do You Miss Me (NYC),” a love letter to the city she grew up in but left behind in order to pursue her dreams. Caught in a moment of fear and vulnerability at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was unclear when she’d be able to return to New York to see her family, the lyrics woke Dunn up one morning, leading her to the piano where she finished the song in 30 minutes.

Growing up in New York, Dunn was instilled with a love of music and performing when she began taking piano lessons at age 10 and landed a starring role as Tracy Turnblad in her school’s production of Hairspray. “It was something so special about it that I really wanted to pursue it,” she recalls to Audiofemme. By age 13, while most of her peers where listening to Justin Bieber, she and her dad were immersing themselves in the Eagles’ classic rock discography, sparking her desire to write songs. Two years later, she acquired a guitar, but says, “It was more about the people I was playing it to than myself at that time.”

“I would write to make other people happy in a sense, or invite them to my world at that age, which was interesting for young me,” she explains. “But as time got on, it started to become more personal, my writing, and more about stories that I’ve been through and what I found that people relate to. I think that’s so powerful, because at the end of the day, the reason I write is to give people something to make their day better.”

Later her perspective shifted toward creating a space for people to feel safe being themselves. “Every day, people come across things that aren’t always authentic, and sometimes people feel like they have to fit a mold. I especially went through that,’” she continues. “For me, it’s being as honest and authentic as possible in my writing [that] allows people to realize it’s okay to feel, reminding them that there is still authenticity in this world of craziness right now. That’s my main motivation.” 

Dunn carries this pure motivation into Good As Gone, reflecting her genuine spirit. It’s a great introduction to her ethereal blend of pop country and Americana, but the journey to get here was winding. Her mother was a doctor, and Dunn initially planned to follow that same path. “I wanted to have a career that helps people,” Dunn says. She studied pre-med in college, writing songs and performing with her band around town in between biology classes. But during her senior year, she was met with a life-changing epiphany while shadowing a doctor in the trauma unit. There, she encountered the family of a young patient who was in critical condition.

“That was a wake up call for me,” she says of the pivotal moment. “I was like, this is not something I’m passionate about. I’d rather allow someone else who really loves this stuff to do it.” It became clear then that music and songwriting was her true passion and life’s purpose; just one month after graduating from college in 2019, she was living in Nashville, pursuing her musical dreams unabashedly.

Still, a piece of her spirit will always remain connected to home, and “Do You Miss Me (NYC)” captures the homesickness and longing for a place she’s unsure that she fits into anymore. “You got a million people/You don’t need no girl like me to stay,” Dunn sings passionately in what she calls the EP’s most vulnerable number. “That song came out of my heart. It just poured out, I had no control over it. I don’t know what it was, but it just came out of me,” she expresses. “It was the first truth I’ve written since being in Nashville that I was not afraid to hold back. It was a moment for me where I was like, ‘why am I so scared to write what I’m feeling?’ because I think that’s where the magic comes from. That song was a turning point for me as an artist, because from then on out, I stuck to the truth and said the truth. I’m thankful for that song.” 

Dunn reveals that “NYC” is the ideal lead-in to her next project that will explore her story in even greater depth. Until then, Good As Gone serves as a well-rounded introduction and glimpse into the soul of one of Nashville’s brightest new talents. “This EP was a little a foot in the water to let everyone see how I write, and if they can relate to any of the songs on the EP, then my goal is complete,” she proclaims. “I hope people see honesty and want to be part of that world where you’re allowed to be yourself. I want to bring back the feeling that music is something that people find solace in, and I hope that people find solace in my music, for people to find some piece of truth that they’re going through in my music.” 

Follow Allie Dunn on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Maggie Rose Brings Understanding to the Table with Timely Have a Seat LP

Photo Credit: Ford Fairchild

“Who I am inherently as a person is someone who wants to change and push the envelope,” Maggie Rose professes on a phone call with Audiofemme. “I really think that sustainability in any career, but especially in music, can only be achieved if you’re switching it up and changing it and pushing yourself and exploring your capabilities further.” 

Rose lives and breathes this proclamation. Having had her fair share of experiences trying to find her identity in the music industry, it’s not hard to see how much she’s evolved from the 21-year-old who made an impression in Nashville under the name Margaret Durante with a countrified cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” Under independent Emrose Records, her back-to-back singles “I Ain’t Your Mama” and “Better” landed inside the Top 30 on country radio. More than a decade later, she’s donning a bold pixie cut and a fierce look in her eye to match, putting forth a brazen sound that continues to showcase her powerful voice.

She shed her mainstream country image with 2018’s Change the Whole Thing, a live album that further proved her superb vocal chops while introducing her undeniable soul sensibility. “It left everything on the table and laid it bare. I realized what I could do as a singer and the beauty and urgency of live music, how important that was to me. That led me to realize that I’m a soul singer too,” she describes of the organic project. “That really unlocked a huge thing for me.” 

The album came at a time when the Maryland native felt she had nothing to lose, “untethered” from the confines that gated her creativity in the past. Asking herself what kind of music she really wanted to make, her response was to bring all the players in one room, writing songs with Larry Florman and Alex Haddad of Nashville-based rock band, Them Vibes, and recruited Bobby Holland to produce.

“It turned out to be so magical. The experience itself was so enjoyable and educating for me and freeing, but also the product was beautiful. It was really something that was genuinely new, and I said, ‘Okay, we have to make the whole LP this way,’” she recalls. “It felt like 10 years or more into my career, a rebirth of sorts.”

Change the Whole Thing proved to be an imperative step in Rose’s artistic journey, leading to the bluesy, jazz-infused sound that defines her latest album, Have a Seat, out Friday, August 20. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the album reflects the music she was raised on, Rose calling on the iconic voices that came before her in the studio including Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Bobbie Gentry.

“I know I don’t I know everything/But you’ll never know what I can bring/
To the table if you don’t have a seat with me,” Rose wisely sings on album opener “What Are We Fighting For,” a reminder to set aside differences to foster real communication. The album’s titular phrase here has the effect of a warm welcome to the listener to sit at a table where there’s always a place for them. 

Though recorded primarily before the pandemic, the album is arriving at a time when the U.S. is seeing a surge in cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant, and follows a year of civil unrest and rallies around the world for social equity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. “I realized that these themes of inclusivity, a little frustration with the social and political contention of the world, and wanting to be heard and to hear other people and be an individual, all of those were themes that were even more resonant with me after what we’re all going through,” she contemplates of the album’s title. “It is about making room for everybody at the table and giving each other the space to speak our minds, even if we don’t agree with each other. I think having the empathy and compassion to do that is the most loving thing that we can do to our fellow man, stranger, or people that we know very well.”

“On a specific individual level, for me, it was having had this conversation for so many years of where I belong on the musical landscape,” Rose adds. “This is my way of being like, ‘this is my seat right here. I belong here and only I can fill it and only this person can fill that seat,’ and having pride and power in claiming it.” 

Throughout the album, gritty, yet subtle electric guitar compliments Rose’s smooth voice, neither one overpowering the other on songs like “For Your Consideration” and “Saint” that simmer like a slow burn, while “Are We There Yet” and “Do It” capture the throwback funk, soul and R&B melodies driven toward the goal of giving a live audience a night they’ll never forget (along with lyrical depth).

During a time of forced pause in 2020, Rose also tapped into the art of listening. “That was a period of time for me where I was home and really taking in the world around me and doing some self-reflection and dealing with how isolation can magnify our own internal struggles and voices that negate our efforts,” she says. She launched the Salute the Songbird  podcast where she engages in deep, honest discussions with fellow artists ranging from Valerie June and Amythyst Kiah to This Is Us star Chrissy Metz, Rose absorbing their knowledge while listening to her inner voice. “I’ve always thought of development as grinding and rehearsing and playing shows and being out there and staying out there, and we did in many ways, but this was also a huge state of development for me that I probably wouldn’t have undergone in this short of a time if we hadn’t had this crisis fall in all of our laps.”

Her personal reflections go deep on the album, particularly on “Saint.” The smoldering, blues-leaning number finds her confronting a false sense of perfection projected onto her by others that she’s also made a habit out of accepting for herself. “I’m only human/I’ve made my mistakes/It’s hard to feel high when you’re falling from grace,” she states point blank in the lyrics while owning her “restless heart,” promising to “keep falling” as she watches her halo fade. It’s perhaps the most human song on an album filled with them. “Masterfully written” by Charlotte Sands, Jon Santana, and Brett and Brigetta Truitt, Rose says she felt an immediate connection to the song. “That one really floored me and made me feel seen and give myself a break. I’m not a saint; why are you expecting that of me? Why am I expecting it of myself?”

Then there’s “For Your Consideration,” a song that blends empathy with anger. The swampy, bluesy melody caters to the lyrics that encourage those on opposing sides to put down their egos and access compassion to see from one another’s perspective. “Just look at all the room I’m making for your consideration,” she sings in the defining line. “I really love that song for this moment,” Rose observes. “It’s really quite dynamic in the range of emotions that we’re going through in that song. [It] feels to me at this moment, even if it’s loud and overwhelming, expression has to happen right now, because I think that we’ve all been sitting in our own corners. Isolation can create paranoia, can make us feel misunderstood, and we start having these narratives in our head that aren’t true and maybe we wanted to duke it out.”

Meanwhile, “What Makes You Tick,” featuring Marcus King, ponders what compels us to do what we do, while “Telephone” addresses the toxicity of social media and the “erosion of information” as it passes from one person to the next, like the childhood whispering game. But “Help Myself” is where Rose gets most candid. The playful melody doesn’t distract from the clever lyricism as she takes aim at Instagram culture and its endless supply of self-help remedies to numb the pain, the lyrics addressing how our culture has adopted the habit of nursing our wounds with internet tips as opposed to doing the deep work that leads to true healing.

While in the writers’ room with Whissell and Kyle Dreaden, Rose says the trio had countless examples of “dodging unsolicited advice,” offering a dose of humor in the chorus where she nods to “pills and candy” as self-medication, eventually delivering the punchline with the admission “Despite what the experts said/I’m only here to help/I just can’t help myself.”

“We’re in a minefield of ‘here’s this quick fix to solve all your problems,’ and then we implement them and we’re still dealing with the same problems,” Rose says. “I think there are a lot of things that we can do to help ourselves, but it seems like we’re wading through a sea of tips and quick fix solutions when we really should be doing the harder work of looking inward and figuring out what the root of the problem is.” 

Looking inward is at the core of Rose’s process, hoping that the intention she poured into Have a Seat will be felt by those who need to hear its messages. “Songs always change for me. I think they are these beautiful things that start to absorb meaning as they live longer. I don’t think that they really start their lives until you give them away, so that’s why we released this music,” she shares. “I want it to be an experience. I don’t want people to think that I have the answers, but I hope it’s thought-provoking. I hope people have fun and there’s a huge level of escapism. It was really awesome to be so intentional about this project. It feels like a triumph.” 

Follow Maggie Rose on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Rodney Eldridge Lives Life with Intention on Black Box EP

Photo Credit: VNTG PR

If you want to know Rodney Eldridge’s life story, just listen to his music. The North Carolina-born musician and filmmaker discovered his instinct for music while spending his childhood days poised at the piano, playing one-finger chords as he deciphered which notes sounded best together.  “Piano became a really big escape for me. It’s the first time I was like, ‘this is so therapeutic,’” Eldridge reminisces with Audiofemme.

As a child, Eldridge was diagnosed with a variety of learning disabilities, music serving as a sanctuary alongside reading and books. Eldridge turned the sentences on the pages into lyrics to match the melodies in his head, which led to a love of poetry and later, songwriting. He penned his first song for his middle school crush, asking her to be his date to a school dance by writing an original song as the proposal. “I think it’s always been there,” he says of his connection to music. “I would envision myself on this black stage. Everything’s blacked out but the spotlight, but I would be sitting there thinking, ‘this is it. This is my life.’” 

Eldridge turned those visions into reality, setting the stage as a professional musician as part of the pop-rock band, Millennial, releasing their debut EP Dreamers in 2015. Though gaining momentum after a performance at South by Southwest, tragedy struck the group when guitarist Logan Fincher suffered a brain aneurysm that led them to temporarily disband. In the interim, Eldridge turned his attention to his other natural talent for filmmaking. Raised by a father who worked in the film industry, Eldridge was instilled with the mindset early on that if he wanted to break into the industry, he’d have to do it on his own accord. He fulfilled this part of his destiny working with a production manager based in Charlotte, quickly moving his way up the ladder to become a coordinator and production manager, graduating to the role of producer in the niche market of family-friendly films, scoring producing credits on a dozen films in his young career including the Cloris Leachman-fronted When We Last Spoke and The Warrant starring Neal McDonough of Yellowstone fame.

But throughout his filmmaking endeavors, Eldridge was always tethered to music, performing in bands and later reuniting with his Millennial bandmates to form a new group, Foxfire Run. But a major life change inspired Eldridge to go solo in 2019 when he and his wife divorced, leaving behind a trail of emotional pain that Eldridge transformed into his new EP, Black Box. “Writing’s always been like another form of therapy,” he describes. “I think with this record, you can definitely hear the rawness and the realness of it, and that’s how I’ve always written for myself. I don’t really share my emotions a lot in conversation, so a lot of times that is my way of getting out or expressing how I really feel.” 

The four-song EP takes its name from the recording devices on airplanes that document all of the vital information in the event of a crash, Eldridge using the device as a metaphor for the emotional hard drive Black Box represents. “I very much felt that in my life, all these things were starting to crash. I was so overwhelmed with emotions and with life that it’s like my soul had this hard drive that was waiting for me to tap into it,” he shares. “I’m a huge advocate for self-growth and mental health, so that was a huge part of tapping into that black box and being able to be vulnerable and be real and have those moments and really hard conversations [with] myself – who are you, what do you want? I wanted tell a story. I wanted to create this journey that I’ve lived and tell it in a cohesive way.” 

He takes listeners on this journey across a handful of deeply personal songs, beginning with the conversational “Came Here to Talk,” a piano-laden number that sets up an internal dialogue in which Eldridge confesses to feelings of sadness and loneliness. “I need you to know/That you’ll be okay I know,” he reassures himself at song’s end.

Then there’s “Am I Too Late?” an exploratory track wherein Eldridge reflects on his Christian upbringing and the inexplicable anger, fear, guilt and shame he lived with as a child, only to realize later in life that he’d become a passive person. The song holds a mirror up to the patterns and habits he now makes a conscious effort to break. “Healing in itself, I think, is a consistent journey. The moment you think you have it all figured out, you realize that you don’t, because something else happens and then you’re on this whole other growth path. That song comes from that place of realizing all the things in life that you’ve gone through,” he explains. “That song for me was finding that voice. I was able to pinpoint those moments in life. Once you recognize those parts of life, you’re able to then move forward from them and truly learn from it and be able to grow from it. I think that song did it for me when I was writing it. As I get to know myself I’m able to then move forward in a new way and a new light.” 

He touches on this new light in lead single “The Weight.” The singer refers to the track as an “empowerment song” he penned while sitting alone in his parents’ basement singing the lyrics at the top of his lungs, releasing the emotions he was pouring into it. Eldridge greets the listener with a plucking acoustic guitar and lyrical gut punch as he sings in the vulnerable opening lines, “It’s hard to stay sober/When I’m feeling down/Kind of like right now,” conveying a feeling of being crushed under the weight of his own body. “But I won’t give up now/‘Cause I feel more empowered/Than I ever was,” he proclaims in the song’s defining closing remarks.

That empowerment stems from the intentionality “of living every day to be fully you and allowing yourself grace” Eldridge has strived to incorporate into his life following his eye-opening divorce. “I think one of the hard things for me, especially going through a divorce, is I didn’t have that intentionality with the one person you’re supposed to have that with. I am now intentionally being authentic for me,” the Nashville-based singer-songwriter expresses. “I think going through that and how I grew up, I dealt with a lot of guilt and shame that was put on me, that I kept putting on myself because of my background. Every single person is such a beautiful human and a beautiful part of the way life should be lived. Having that intentionality, going through life saying, ‘Whatever obstacles I’m in, this is meant to be lived for me,’ I think we can make that change to be intentional about everything that we say, intentionally being you, allowing yourself the freedom to just be.”

Through writing and recording Black Box, Eldridge’s spirit was liberated in a way he never knew he needed, and he hopes listeners find their own sense of freedom in the music. “I think your soul is constantly trying to talk to you. Your soul really wants you to pause and take a moment and ask those questions, dive in to you. That’s where this record really came from. It’s been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. I had to make very hard decisions, but the amount of freedom that comes along with it, words don’t even describe it,” he professes, hinting that there’s more music to come. “I want people to be them and be okay with it. I want people to find themselves and be okay with that and whatever that looks like, whatever they have to go through in order to get that kind of freedom. Putting out this record is a very weird, emotional thing for me. I really want people to feel like I’m pouring out my heart in it. If you can relate, if they can take something from it, then I’ve done my job as an artist. I just want people to love.” 

Follow Rodney Eldridge on Instagram and Twitter 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.

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

Photo Credit: Gina Di Maio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Danielle Holbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Tristen on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

IAN SWEET Unfolds Roadmap to Recovery on Show Me How You Disappear

Photo Credit: Lucy Sandler

If you were to come across IAN SWEET – a.k.a. Jillian Medford – on the internet, what you would see is a free-spirited, hilarious and talented artist who has recently taken up the hobby of hat-making. This, however, is not the Jillian that we meet on IAN SWEET’s sophomore record, Show Me How You Disappear, released March 5 via Polyvinyl. The record is a sullen but triumphant archive of Medford’s road to recovery after severing ties with an abusive partner and experiencing an all-consuming mental health crisis in 2020.

We hear it all the time, from every angle – 2020 fucking sucked. And the response to that is a resounding and unanimous – yes it did. But outside of a global pandemic, nightmarish election season and countless other tragedies this infamous year contributed to the history of humankind, try adding a massive heartbreak to the list. As you can imagine, this catastrophic cocktail would be too much for anyone to handle, but Medford did – with devastating doses of self-awareness and honesty. In Show Me How You Disappear, Medford creates a meandering but genuine road map to finding herself again, all while letting go of the person that led her off track. 

Medford sets the scene with “My Favorite Cloud,” introducing us to the mindset she was in while writing the record – scattered, dark and disoriented and relying on an external force to keep her afloat. It’s unclear what Medford is referencing when she sings, “Oh at the end of the earth/There’s an endless supply of it/I don’t fuck with this stuff/I don’t even care/What it does for me/How it keeps me living/In suspended bliss without even asking.” But, that’s probably the point. We all have things that keep us going, whether it’s a Xanax prescription or those couple extra glasses of wine after dinner – the habitual coping mechanisms that we find comfort in can shape up to be our enemies when we’re at our lowest, not wanting to exist at all. Medford’s suspended vocals are surrounded by lush, chaotic guitar strums and distant bells and extra-terrestrial synth waves, perhaps suggesting her foot already in the next world. 

But as the album progresses, the fog lifts and we follow Medford on her journey back to herself. In “Get Better,” Medford uses a mantra to will herself into healing, and try to stop falling back into thought patterns that deepen her heartbreak: “I wanna get better, better, better/But in my mind I’m still laying in your bed/I wanna get better, better, better/But I just get you well instead.” We’ve all been there, promising ourselves that today we’ll block our ex on social media, or stop picking up the phone. But if there’s one thing that’s ever-true about heartbreak, it’s that it’s not linear. It’s a lumpy ass sidewalk with cracks and broken glass and wet cement. But Medford is self-aware enough on “Get Better” to know that the only one she’s helping is the one who hurt her when she lets her mind or heart wander back to them. 

The record closes with “I See Everything,” a cleansing ode to mindfulness and recovery. “I know it now I know/What they’re talking about/I’m not afraid anymore/I see it now I see/So much more than before/I see everything.” It’s as if the smoke from the dumpster fire of a relationship has cleared and Medford can finally breathe again – finally take in her surroundings and enjoy them instead of being weighed down by trauma. She leaves any heartbroken or lost listener with the hope that they’ll recover, and a few tools to use along the way. We spoke with Medford about writing the record and the inpatient therapy program that prompted it. Read the interview and listen to Show Me How You Disappear below.

AF: There’s an emphasis on healing in this record — did you take a break from writing music before this record? If yes, what brought you to writing that first song? Did you enter the writing process with a different mentality for this record your previous releases, ? 

JM: I don’t think I’ve ever fully taken a break from writing music – it’s always happening in some capacity but I wasn’t pushing myself to make a full record or compilation of songs at the time. The first song I wrote for this record was “Dumb Driver” and soon after that was “Power.” The writing process for this record was completely different than before because I started writing lyrics first – I would journal for 30 minutes every morning in my outpatient therapy program. 

AF: I read that mantra is a big part of your life/songwriting. When were you first introduced to mantra and is there a certain one that you constantly come back to? 

JM: I’ve never been big on meditation, mantras or mindfulness until I checked myself into an intensive therapy program where I was taught something called “tapping” which is a big mantra-based practice where you simultaneously tap the pressure points on your body as you repeat a mantra of your liking or an intention for the day. This was eye-opening for me and allowed me to find pieces of myself I had not yet been introduced to.

AF: While the record definitely feels self-reflective, I do hear loss and heartbreak in there as well. Was that part of your experience when you were writing? 

JM: Big time heartbreak, heartache and healing.

AF: You handpicked different producers for each song on the album. What was that process like? Do you write an entire song then recruit folks to add the missing pieces or is it a “from the start” situation?

JM: I don’t think I’ve ever done a song from scratch with a producer before. I always bring an outline (guitar, lyrics, drum demo, synth ideas) to the table. It is so fun to see a song transform though through the collaborative process.

AF: If I’m reading the timeline right, a lot of these songs were written during the pandemic in LA – what was that like? Do you think it influenced your sound at all?

JM: Definitely! The pandemic (in a strange way) has allowed me to have space to breathe and make music that is truly representative of what I had been through. At the beginning of the pandemic I was writing like a madman because I had just finished my intensive therapy (that I was in for 2 months) and I was seeing things in a whole new light. I had the time to try to utilize the tools and practices I learned while in the program and see if I could help myself through another dark period.

AF: What’s the story behind the title track?

JM: That track is deep-rooted in an abusive relationship and the vicious cycle of trauma that follows. “Show Me How You Disappear” came from a conversation I had in my head with my abuser – I wanted them gone, I was tired of trying to get rid of the memories myself, it was exhausting… and I wanted them to do the leg work, I wanted them to be the one to remove themselves and their actions from my memory. This song is a plea, almost like a cry out to my abuser to help me in a sense. The least they can do after putting me through such agony would be disappearing from my life so that I could return to the happy, bright, loving person I once was.

IAN SWEET plays Show Me How You Disappear live from Los Angeles’ Lodge Room for an Audiotree STAGED livestream performance on March 26th at 7pm PT/9pm CT. Tickets are $13 adv/$15 DOS and are available here.

Follow IAN SWEET on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Rowan Niemisto Returns with Relatable Sadboy Anthems on Once Again EP

It’s been three and a half years since Rowan Niemisto released his electro R&B masterpiece Gradient. In those three years, Niemisto says he was preoccupied with his first “big boy” job at Detroit’s NPR station, WDET, where he works as a sound engineer and the occasional cameo as a voice actor for various underwriter advertisements. The Rowan Niemisto who voices ads for the local pet daycare and arts university feels like a completely different person than the sultry singer-songwriter that authors and performs his latest EP, Once Again. But maybe that’s part of what makes him so appealing. Besides his universally loveable voice, relatable lyrics and nostalgic/soulful arrangements, Niemisto is just like us. He’s a regular adult with a nine-to-five job who doesn’t have any dreams of grandeur, but picks up the pen whenever he feels moved. 

“I just like making music and putting it out,” Niemisto puts it plainly. “I’m not trying to be the guy that makes it if that makes sense.” And it would, if his voice and guitar playing weren’t so goddamn angelic. Your everyday casual guitar strummer just can’t write the kind of music that Niemisto creates. With Once Again, he builds a world of hurt and healing, love and loss. His voice careens over a bed of masterful guitar playing and effortless live arrangements, which were recorded in a single studio session. 

After three years of writing and ripping up forgotten songs, pandemic downtime fueled Niemisto’s latest body of work. “I had an excuse to dig my heels in and get it done,” says Niemisto. “I had no real excuse about time commitments or whatever.” And while collaborating felt impossible to most of us during the pandemic, he says that recording with a few of his friends was surprisingly easy. 

They set up some glass walls so they could see each other, went into the studio, slapped on masks, and pretty much improvised the entire EP. Niemisto came in with skeletons of songs already written, but he credits the band – Jacob Sigman (keys), Junho Kim (bass), Huntley Chamberlain (drums) and Jonah Grey (synth on “Once Again”) – for helping shape the sound of the record. “I’ve been playing with these guys for years,” explains Niemisto, “so I kind of know their style and I had trust that they’d be able to put their own spice on it and have it come out the way I wanted more or less.” 

If the way he wanted it was Isley Brothers meets badbadnotgood, then they definitely succeeded. Once Again serves the listener an all-too-familiar cocktail of unrequited love, longing, and heartbreak. But there’s something about Niemisto’s soothing voice and nonchalant melodies that makes lost love feel it’s not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new one. It’s not that he’s constantly suffering from a broken heart, but more that the morose melodies are the ones that come most naturally to him when it comes to songwriting. 

“For some reason, I find it easier to write songs in minor or songs with melancholy feels,” Niemisto muses. “Especially with lyricism, if I try to write something uplifting… it always just feels a little tacky or forced to me.” Fair enough, especially seeing as warm fuzzy feelings were definitely in short supply this year. And even though Niemisto admits he’s “sticking to the clichés,” he has a way of writing about them that feels new. 

Like in the first few words of the record – “Tell me how long, how long has it been?/Since that night we took each other in?” – reflecting on a fleeting night of a romance as an act of care and compassion instead of a flippant act on desire. Especially during a pandemic, the idea of a “one night stand” can feel careless at best and guttingly consequential at worst. To think of a night of random romance as “taking each other in” is a refreshingly tender outlook, and one we can all daydream about in these solitary times.

Whether you’re ruminating on love lost or longing for that Tinder crush that you’re too scared to meet IRL, Once Again gives us plenty of possibilities to ponder, and reassurance that we’re not alone.

Follow Rowan Niemisto on Bandcamp and Soundcloud for ongoing updates.

Christian Singles Ruminate on Family Ties with Maybe Another Time LP

Christian singles
Christian singles

There is something deeply comforting about Maybe Another Time, the new LP project from Oakland’s Rob I. Miller (under the name Christian Singles). Created in the wake of his father’s returning cancer diagnosis, no listener would come in expecting that — understandably so, as examining complex familial relations does not normally inspire the warm fuzzies.

Perhaps that is because Maybe Another Time is less about pain laid bare and more about approaching it with some perspective. There are layers here – no moments of singular self-effacements or doomsday predictions. Even the hardest questions get delivered in soft packages. Take “Collapse,” one of the EP’s best tracks. It’s strangely dance-y, boasting a jumpy drum beat paired with some empty-room echoing guitars that allot a sense of undulating space to an otherwise anxious track. And indeed it is anxious; at the end of the song comes the line that feels like it may be the crux of the whole project: “Can you shake the collapse of your youth?”  

Time is important on Maybe; the LP feels old without feeling outdated. There is something folky about it, but also something indie, but also — you get the picture. More than anything, it pulls up memories of listening to old Adam Schlesinger songs. A lot of the tracks on this project would fit in perfectly over a montage scene on an early 2000’s rom-com, but like, a cool one that became a cult classic. And then, years later, the song will pop up on the shuffle playlist and someone’s like, “Oh my god. I used to watch that movie every day after school.” And everyone else is like, “Me too!”

Miller — also a member of local bands Dick Stusso, Blues Lawyer, and Flex, and owner of the Vacant Stare Records label — has a diverse catalogue of experience, and used it to his advantage. He knows that no one wants to lie prone in the sludge of ennui for nine tracks, so most of them follow the footsteps of “Collapse,” using the instrumentation to create that sense of forward movement and sonic space that is so tantamount to those warm-and-fuzzy old releases. Think of — and please don’t sigh at me — “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. Basically, the build up may be long, but it’s worth it. This is a move that Miller uses more than once, most obviously on “Bury” and “By Design.”

The former is short and sweet, naturally moving into fuzzy guitar distortion over a cheerful tambourine as Miller chants, “digging up the past to bury again/trying to make sense of where I am.” The latter is a bit more of a slow burn at over four minutes, but what may have otherwise been a foot-dragging track redeems itself on the second half with a more complex mixture of distortion than in “Bury.”

Miller occasionally makes the move towards more simplistic country-lite, like in “A Dream Ends Without Starting,” but his strengths definitely lie in layering as opposed to trying to carry us all over the finish line with only an acoustic guitar and the light of the trembling moon. Or whatever. 

A better example of his more stripped-down work is “Rest Easy.” While a lot of the other tracks may need the context of the background to catch onto the themes, this is one of the most explicit, and this is why it works as one of the few examples of that familial pain laid bare. Like “Dream,” it stays simple throughout, but the more specific lyrics and a sense of peaceful venerability anoint it with the substance it needs to work: “I know you never really understood me,” Miller sings. “But you always tried.” With a project as personal as this, Miller might’ve fallen into the trap of forcing others to understand his perspective; on Maybe Another Time, his biggest strength is meeting us halfway.

Follow Vacant Stare Records on Facebook for ongoing updates.

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

Photo Credit: Sasha Pedro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Hayley Sabella on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING NASHVILLE: Ellen Starski Demands “More” Independence in New Song

Photo by Anna Haas

Ellen Starski has a way of creating dynamic female characters, a gift she channels into her new song, “More.”

Premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, “More” centers around a woman who is determined to claim her independence after a series of failed relationships. Starski’s husband Shawn came up with the song’s melodic groove on his guitar one day while sitting in the kitchen, the lyrics of the first verse instantly coming to Starski’s mind as he played. She later took the idea to her producer and manager who recommended that she work with co-writers to complete it, connecting her with Michelle LeBlanc. Starski rounded out her songwriting trio with one of the most important people in her life – her father, Henry Deible.

When Starski’s parents came to visit her in Nashville, she invited her dad to help her and LeBlanc finish writing “More,” crediting him for adding an “extra layer” to the songwriting process. “He’s very poetic,” Starski describes, recalling how she used to read the love letters he sent to her mother during college. “I think he’s a main inspiration for the way that I write.” But the singer herself struck gold when she identified the defining line in the chorus that helped shape the core message of the song. From that spark came a protagonist who “just needs more for herself and is not willing to settle for anything but what she needs,” Starski details.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see/I’m not sure what I’m supposed to hear/I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say/Still I need more/So I stand here without you,” Starski sings with her whimsical voice, referencing the ancient Japanese proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” “I feel like that’s almost a clash with the way that this person is stepping out and becoming everything that she needs to be, because those are the things that they tell you [not to do]” she describes of the lyric. “But it would kind of deter a person from being everything that they can be because you have to be able to speak your mind and see your truth and hear your truth.”

“More” is featured on Starki’s sophomore album, Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair. The peculiar title is inspired by two of Starski’s favorite songs that are both named “Sara,” one recorded by Bob Dylan and the other by Fleetwood Mac. “Sara became a character through all of the music that I appreciate. A ‘half finished love affair’ is something everyone can relate to and something I have been through personally,” Starski explains of the title. Accompanying the album is a story about a fictional character named Sara that Starski says was born in her subconscious. In the story, Sara is a time traveler who voyages across the world with her one true love, but ends up losing him along the way. While on her journey to find him, Sara and Starski meet in three distinct places across North America that Starski has visited: Nova Scotia, Montana, and Key West. Starski will share a new piece of Sara’s story with each single she releases.

“I didn’t realize it, but she was coming out in these songs through stories about everything – relationships that I’ve been through, all these different bits and pieces of my life,” the ethereal singer explains, adding that the people she met in each of these three places helped inform her alter ego. “Sara is a part of who I am.”

“More” will officially be released on March 27 and Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair drops May 8. And as the world hangs in the balance of the COVID-19 pandemic, Starski’s parting words offer empathy and encouragement. “Everybody take care of each other. It’s a crazy time, everything seems so uncertain, and it’s good to be getting music out for people while we’re all in quarantine,” she concludes. “I just hope it helps people get through it.”

Follow Ellen Starski on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Katie Pruitt Finds Her True Identity With ‘Expectations’

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Katie Pruitt’s Expectations is a declaration of self-acceptance.

“I’ve never really been a subtle writer,” Pruitt admits in a phone interview with Audiofemme. “I’m pretty damn straightforward.”

Pruitt proves this statement across her 10-track debut album that takes the listener into her innermost thoughts and personal revelations. She recounts personal experiences spanning the past four years – particularly moving away from her conservative North Atlanta suburb to attend Belmont University in Nashville, owning her sexuality and embracing her true identity in the process. “It was a pretty personal record,” she admits. “I knew I wanted to use these songs to tell my stories as accurately as I could.”

Pruitt uses this poignant body of work to share her journey to self-acceptance, beginning with “Wishful Thinking,” which confronts the false narrative that true love is as picture-perfect as we see in the movies; rather, it is embracing ones flaws is a true expression of love. She tackles mental health struggles in “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down),” which sees her surfacing from a state of depression, depicted through a mundane daily routine she’s longing to escape from. “For me, the answer to that was gratitude for things I already had instead of looking for things that I wish I had.” she explains. “I feel I keep having that revelation over and over again.”

But she ventures to a truly personal space with “Normal.” With a softly strumming guitar, Pruitt takes us inside the halls of her Catholic school where she said seven hail Mary’s for copping an attitude while feeling “scared as hell” because she knew she was different from her classmates. “I feel like a lot of times, I just did what I was told up until leaving Georgia. There wasn’t really much diversity, so I didn’t really have many examples of what living an individualistic life looks like,” she explains, conscious to add that she was raised by a community of “good people.” “I feel I looked around and everyone was wearing the same clothes brands and saying the same things and acting the same way, and it just started to seem pretty robotic. I started to really reject it the older I got.”

Using college as an escape, Belmont became a sanctuary for the young star, surrounded by creative, artistic people who broke gender norms and immediately welcomed into the LGBTQ community, a sense of belonging she didn’t always receive in her hometown. She captures this suffocating feeling in the stirring “Georgia,” which she cites as the most vulnerable song she wrote for the album. The stunning piano ballad takes a stark look at how Pruitt predicted her community and parents would react when coming out to them, envisioning her mother shouting at the top of her lungs and her father screaming with rage that he didn’t want a daughter whose soul wasn’t saved. “He thought if I told the world/They would not see me as the same girl/ They’d say I don’t belong/That’s where he’s wrong,” she sings with a voice that could shatter one’s heart like glass in the gentlest way.

But in spite of their initial opposition, Pruitt’s parents came to terms with her sexuality – in large part thanks to “Georgia,” which she almost didn’t include on the record. After having a conversation with her parents about the content of the song, they embraced the its message, knowing it could help others. “I love my parents. They’re great people – they just struggled with this, and now we’re in a great place. The thing about the song and this story is that it’s not unique to me, and there’s people that this could help.” Priutt says. “[My mom said] ‘If you really think there’s people that this could help, I agree with you that it’s important to share.’ Honestly that was like the biggest gift. Talking about the hard stuff has gotten us to a better place ultimately.”

Pruitt’s most awe-inspiring revelation shines in “Loving Her,” a heartfelt tribute to her girlfriend, Sam. Here, she fearlessly stands up for their love in the face of adversity, opening with a striking line that sees her giving up her spot in heaven if it means she can openly love another woman. “You see I used to be ashamed / To write a song that said her name / ‘Cause I was too afraid / Of what they all might say / But if loving her is wrong / And it’s not right to write this song / Then I’m still not gonna stop,” she sings delicately, but with confidence.

“Loving Her” serves as the crown jewel of self-acceptance on Expectations, a project that begins with self-questioning and doubt and comes full circle with the anthem she calls a “big realization.” “[It’s] not only a personal revelation, but a religious revelation,” she proclaims. “If there is a God, he’s not worried about if I’m gay or not. So that first line isn’t supposed to be knocking religion – I just don’t buy that God thinks like that, and I don’t think you should either. That’s breaking all these conventions that I’ve grown up being told and this is my new religion. This is what I believe now.”

With these heartfelt affirmations, Pruitt finds true self-worth, now living freely in her identity, a powerful evolution that she pours into her compelling debut record. “Through accepting myself, I can make room for actually loving someone for real,” she observes. “Nina Simone said it’s important to make art that reflects the times. [I do it] in a very small way, but it pushes society forward.”

Follow Katie Pruitt on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING CINCY: Jay Madera Picks Himself Up in “Curb Appeal” Video

Curb Appeal

Last month, Jay Madera arrived on the Cincinnati indie-rock scene, releasing his debut single, “Curb Appeal.” Taking influence from Cincinnati mainstay band The National, Madera blends an indie-rock feel with pop and folk nods over a diverse instrumental display.

Catchy in a gloriously moody way, “Curb Appeal” tells the story of a breakup: the initial crushing blow, the post-breakup blues, and the defining moment where you shake yourself off and realize the power of moving on.

“Met a girl from the flyover states/She laid out the line and I dove onto the bait/ Oh I know, why I dive/She wasn’t lovely and she wasn’t bold/She could cure my cancers then give me the common cold/Oh I know, she’s not benign,” he sings.

Friday, November 1, Madera returned to his debut effort to drop visual for the Mia Carruthers-produced single, in which he shares his own cinematic breakup story.

Directed by Alok Karnik, the clip opens up on Madera walking along Cincinnati‘s rooftops. The indie artist looks disheveled and contemplative, holding a cup of coffee and wearing a bathrobe. His initial appearance seems to mark the first blow of gloom and disorientation. However, Madera keeps moving, as the camera changes to find him biking through the city, appearing as though it’s almost out of desperation.

Throughout the visual, we see Madera making subtle positive changes. Flashes of the video find the singer-songwriter shaving his beard, opening a window, and putting on a new shirt. At the end of the clip, a clean-shaven and smartly dressed Madera hits the open road on his bicycle, looking triumphant.

“You can guess that it’s (an) archetypal breakup song,” Madera says of the single in a press release. “There’s the self-doubt, the isolation, the resentment. But there’s also the watershed of catharsis, the reunion with the self, and the magic of moving on. ‘Curb Appeal’ is the story of a love lost and a groove found; it is as much of a toe-tapper as it is a testament to the power of moving on.”

Madera is set to perform live this Veterans Day, November 11, at Cincinnati’s MOTR Pub. The free show will also feature Kaitlyn Peace & The Electric Generals, beginning at 9:30 p.m.

Watch Jay Madera’s new video for “Curb Appeal” below.

REVIEW: Sara-Danielle Finds Strength & Vulnerability on “Healing”

Sara-Danielle healing

Last month, Sara-Danielle released her sophomore album, Healing. The 6-track project finds the Canadian artist excelling in her personally-carved out genre – a niche that she’s coined “Ginger-ale-pop” – atop smooth instrumentals.

The project seeks to personify duality, as Sara-Danielle’s lyrics live between several points of contrast. She sings introspectively about her shortcomings and her triumphs, and expresses a romance that is both her anchoring muse and an intangible pleasure. The contrasting attitudes of confidence and unsureness, in both her own self-examination and her relationship, are refreshingly honest and extremely relatable.

Healing starts off on a mixed note of vulnerability and strength. “With You” finds Sara-Danielle expressing the strength that she’s garnered from a relationship. Seemingly romantic in nature, the bond keeps her grounded during times of self-doubt. However, the track also explores the paradox of allowing vulnerability – in this case, opening oneself to love – to be a catalyst of strength.

Sara-Danielle remains introspective throughout the next song, “Flawless,” in which she explores her own shortcomings. Her lyrics bask in self-awareness and honesty as she is able to identify what she wishes she could be and what she isn’t, finally questioning if her own introspection is selfish.

“Why am I so angry with myself, the others / Why am I so selfish, caught up in my own world,” she sings. “I wanna be good / I wanna be flawless / But it’s always all about me.”

She becomes more confident in her self-analyzing lyrics on “Sometimes,” where she expresses losing herself in a relationship – or in her own head – but always being able to find her way back. On “Waterfall,” the album’s closer, Sara-Danielle again plays with the duality of relationships, singing “Our love is like a waterfall / Falling, dripping, but never-ending,” she sings in the chorus. “I want to hold you so strong, but you don’t want me for that long / I want to make you happy, but everything else seems better than me.”

On this final Healing track, Sara-Danielle not only examines a “never-ending” love that remains out of reach, but also returns to her own insecurities, exacerbated by the unstable romance. This remains a theme throughout the album, where she bounces back-and-forth between analyzing herself and her romance, finally settling on the intersecting subject of self-love.

Healing reflects on these past two years, as I’ve been having rough times and trying to heal, to get better,” she told AudioFemme. “It’s about finding light in the darkness and trying to stay with it. It’s about learning to be gentle with yourself.”

This goal extends through her sonic choices, which equally compliment her singing style and gently appease the listeners’ ear. Feeling both extremely personal and widely relatable, Sara-Danielle’s sophomore effort proves to be a courageously vulnerable album.

Stream Healing below.

INTERVIEW: Kissing Party Talks “Mom & Dad,” New Video & Next Album

Denver’s Kissing Party just released their most recent album, Mom & Dad, and a new video for single “Jimmy Dean.” The self-proclaimed “slop pop” band is made up of vocalist Deirdre Sage, guitarists Gregory Dolan and Joe Hansen, bassist Lee Evans and drummer Shane Reid.

“Jimmy Dean” was written by Deirdre “about having to fight for basic rights, recognition and safety and the narratives created about womanhood that keep pushing us to really unhappy places,” she said in a press release.

Here, Kissing Party’s Greg talks about their latest album, Mom & Dad, “Jimmy Dean,” the next album they’re already working on and what’s to come.

AF: In your own words, what is “slop pop?”

GD: Well the word “indie,” that every band on the planet is described as these days, is really tired and meaningless at this point. If you Google “indie bands” it’s like Arcade Fire and The Killers and shit and I don’t really think bands that are selling out stadiums on major record labels should be defined as indie, but that is the world we live in. Anyway, we figure if we’re gonna be labeled as something, it should be a label of our choosing. Someone once described us as “princess pop trash music” which I think is accurate but is too long and doesn’t rhyme, so I would say listen to our new album – that is “slop pop.”

AF: Can you tell me what current national or personal triggers inspired “Jimmy Dean?” 

G: A local trigger was Deirdre was looking in my gramma’s fridge (whose nickname is Jimmy Dean) and my gramma was embarrassed by the contents and told her “I’ll leave you to your misery,” which inspired the chorus and song title. As far as other inspirations, I think it’s kinda Deirdre’s reaction to all The Handmaid’s Tale-type shit that’s going on these days.

AF: What were your main points of inspiration for the songwriting of your new album Mom & Dad?

G: Songs come from somewhere – I don’t know where. It could be something that happened to me when I was 12 or 26 or last week. It’s heartbreaks and regrets you carry around with you that come out when they do and you put them to music that you can dance to. I know what they are about and what they mean to me, but would rather leave it up to the listener for their own interpretation.

Kissing Party
Courtesy of Kissing Party

AF: Does the title track, “Mom & Dad,” reflect heavily on the album’s meaning as a whole?

GD: I don’t think so. It’s not a concept album about my mom and dad [laughing]. There are several songs on the album written by the 12 year old brat in me. The lyrics “nothing left to spend, nothing left we had…mom and dad, these things don’t comfort me,” the “things” that don’t comfort being mom and dad. I hate to try and define or explain the songs though because I think it cheapens them.

AF: What are you guys currently working on?

GD: I’m trying to gather up all of our unreleased songs and rarities to put on an album called Unmade Beds that, hopefully, we can release by the end of the year.

AF: You just released the video for “Jimmy Dean” – do you have any other visuals on the way?

GD: Yes, the next video we are gonna put out is for a song called “Problems or Dreams” that I wish I would’ve put on the original album but is on the deluxe version.

AF: What’s something you want your fans to know about you that they may not?

GD: I don’t really want anybody to know shit about us [laughing]. That being said, we are fans of our fans or anybody who gets and understands what we are doing, so we want them to know we love them…Patrick. Oh and also there is a little cove on a beach off the Santa Cruz boardwalk, if someone could send us a video of themselves listening to Kissing Party in there that would be lovely.

PREMIERE: Kristen Castro Comes Alive in Dazzling “Bloom” Video

Kristen Castro / Bloom

Kristen Castro / Bloom
photo by Anna Haas.

Kristen Castro, singer-songwriter and co-founder of indie-country trio Maybe April, drops off a captivating, beautiful new clip for her solo single “Bloom” today. The self-produced and edited visual uses natural imagery and hypnotic colors to create a vibrant world that exists within Castro’s hair.

“I wrote ‘Bloom’ in reflection of opening my eyes to the basic beauty and rebirth found in nature,” Castro explained about the song. “The lyric ‘Flowers don’t get to give up’ came from walking through a field of poppies in my hometown in California that wildfires had burned the year before. It was a superbloom and the sight overtook my senses, especially after contemplating how to get out of a dark space.”

Since leaving Maybe April this February, she’s released her debut solo effort and Keith Urban-inspired, “Fool For You,” now followed by “Bloom” and soon-to-be-released singles “Indigo” and “Surrender.”

The “Bloom” clip combines lustrous visuals over Castro’s delicate voice. The minimal production enhances the airy and upbeat single, driven by a synth and guitar-heavy beat. Castro proves her vocal versatility with this song, which differs from her former country twang and dives head first into lighthearted dream pop.

Castro will also be making her solo performing debut at a string of shows this fall, starting at the Mile of Music Festival on August 1, throughout Wisconsin and Colorado.

Watch the dreamy new video for “Bloom” below.

PLAYING ATLANTA: password:password Discuss New Singles and Dream Pop Vibes

We’ve really got it all here in Atlanta: rock ‘n roll, pop, R&B, soul, and – with the resurgence of the indie scene – some of the best shoegaze-y dream pop a music lover could want. Atlanta-based, Georgia Tech-born quintet password:password is at the helm of the movement.

Fronted by lead singer Claire Lacombe and backed by Chris Mickas on guitar, Heath Murphy on synth, guitarist Jed Paz, and bassist, Merritt Treaster, the group takes DIY to the next level, writing, recording, and producing their own music, while blending the swirling, experimental sounds of My Bloody Valentine and Phoenix with classic synth-pop acts like Pet Shop Boys.

The band released their debut EP, Session Boyfriend, on Valentine’s Day. Just over four months later, they’re gearing up to put out a new single on June 28th, with a b-side that pays tribute to another local act. Check out our interview below to hear more about what they’ve been up to and how it all began.

AF: All five of you have been in bands before; how did password:password get started? 

We met while we were all students at Georgia Tech. We were each a part of the Musician’s Network there, which is a student organization that connects musicians at Tech and runs a student-run venue/practice space called Under The Couch. MN has a thing called New Band Showcase every fall, and in the fall of 2017, we got together to compete. A lot of us had been in bands together before (Merritt and Chris in Yes! Hornberger!, Jed, Merritt, and Chris in Priam, and Jed and Claire in Junior Prom), but for the 2017 showcase we decided to start a new project. 

AF: Which bands do you consider your greatest inspirations when writing and performing?

Shoegazey stuff like Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine, newer indie pop like Alvvays, Japanese Breakfast, Beach House, M83, MGMT, Phoenix, and older synth-pop like Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics, Nena, and all that. You can hear joy division in some of Merritt’s bass playing. There are some other pulls that we’ll make for little details and stuff, but those are probably the biggest influences.

AF: How did your sound develop as you began writing and playing together?

We actually set out to start a dream pop band from the beginning. All of us have an appreciation for sonic textures and a mutual love of bands that experiment with it. When the five of us got together to start creating our own music, those mutual influences came through. Also, having a dedicated synthesizer/keys player in the band ends up pushing the tone of the music in many different directions. Combine that with constant tinkering of effects pedals, and we end up where we are now. 

As far as the instrumental arrangements go, we all have an appreciation for simpler parts. Chris and Heath have jazz backgrounds, and we know a decent bit about music theory, but we try to convey that through atmospheric and interesting sounds rather than really technical pieces. 

AF: What’s your creative process like? Do you usually write together, or does one of you come in with a finished idea and jam it until it feels good? Has it changed over the years, as you’ve played together?

Most of the time one of us (usually Jed) comes to practice with an idea or a written demo, usually one that consists of one or two parts and possibly a melody. We play around with it for a bit to get a feel of where the song needs to go, and then a lot of the song’s progress comes from us working on it from home. Merritt has a knack for fleshing out what would otherwise be a boring midi demo, which really helps us get a feel for the potential of the song. We’ll send each other updates or additional parts and then come together at the next practice to try them out as a band. All of the lyrics and vocal melodies come from Claire, so after listening to the rest of the band playing around with the song structure, she’ll write the rest of the song on her own. It’s overall very collaborative and everyone kind of holds their own. 

AF: You’ve got some new tracks coming out soon! What can you tell us about them? What was the recording process like?

“Just Yours, Not Mine” is our first single written after our EP, Session Boyfriend. It’s the first time we’ve approached a song with a drum machine base, resulting in Jed playing guitar for this song. We’ve started to utilize backing drum tracks a lot more, but this is the first song we’ve written with it in mind since the start. Also! “Just Yours, Not Mine” includes a couple samples that come before each chorus. One is from our friend Dennis Frank when he performed his solo set at Under the Couch. The second is when Claire was testing out her digital recorder and caught Jed talking about how researching Buddhism helped his outlook on life. 

“Gold Room” is a song originally by our friends in The Organ Machines, who have graciously allowed us to perform and record the song. It’s probably our favorite song by them, and we hope that we do it justice!

We recorded both of the songs on our own at Standard Electric in East Atlanta. Merritt used to intern there and is close with the owners, so they let us rent the space to ourselves when we need to record. Merritt oversees the whole session, and we each come in, hang out, and record our parts. It’s really a great space with a lot of cool equipment, and we’re lucky to be able to use it. 

After all of the parts are recorded and tidied up a bit, we send the initial mixes off to our friend Cody Lavallee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to mix and master them. Heath has known him since elementary school (they were in a band together in high school), so it’s a great set up to have him help produce the songs. He did both Session Boyfriend and the upcoming singles, although our first single [from the EP], “Thursday,” was mixed and mastered entirely by Merritt. 

AF:What inspired “Just Yours, Not Mine”? What made you decide to release it as a single?

We’ve been playing “Just Yours, Not Mine” at shows recently, and people have been super receptive to it. It has a strong energy. We really think the studio version will do that justice. 

JP: I had been playing around with the chord progression for the verse of “Just Yours, Not Mine” for a while before bringing it to the rest of the band, and at first I had planned for it to be a much more downtempo song. My main source of inspiration for the feeling behind the progression came from lo-fi hip-hop. I’m really glad it evolved past that though. I think what it became is a million times better than what I originally had in mind (which has been the case with all the ideas I’ve brought to the band so far).

CL: For lyrics, I liked the idea of an upbeat song with a sad story attached. It’s about feeling like you aren’t an individual once you’ve been in a relationship for so long, on top of feeling distanced from the other person in said relationship. It resolves with a repeating “don’t go,” because in the end, you are so dependent on this person it would be way worse off alone. 

AF: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge when it comes to writing, recording, and performing? The greatest victory for you as a band?

Making time for the five of us to get together is always a bit of a challenge. We also record all of our own music at Standard Electric Recorders, so acting as both the artist and the recording engineer typically leaves us pretty exhausted. Performing, practicing, and writing together is really enjoyable still. We’re all really close friends, so any time that we have to work on password:password stuff is pretty great.

AF: Claire, this one is specifically for you: can you talk about your experience as a woman in the music industry? Do you ever feel like you’ve got to “prove yourself” or work harder to be taken seriously? How do you use your platform to encourage more women and girls to be active members of the music industry?

CL: There have definitely been times where I am at a show and I look at the bill and am like, “Wow, I am the only woman performing tonight.” Especially coming from Georgia Tech, which is majority male anyway, I kind of got to expect that I was always going to be a minority. The issue of women in the scene is kind of a conundrum because women will be encouraged to join the scene when they see other women in the scene, but, like, there have to be women in the scene as an example first. Also I think that women have to be more original, talented, and have a better thought-out presence to make it big or do well in music, which can be discouraging. Like, why can’t I just be as good as everyone else? Why do I feel like I have to be better to make it the same distance?

I try to use what platform I have just to encourage women to jump in with no reservations. That’s what I really like about DIY shows; they are low pressure and you can really just mess around as much as you want. You don’t have to be this amazing new concept that’s going to “make it.” On that same note, you don’t have to be amazing at your instrument to contribute and play in band if you want, so for sure, learn a new instrument and experiment as much as you are comfortable with!

AF: This column is dedicated to Atlanta bands, so let’s talk about the industry in the city! It’s expanded rapidly in the last few years, and is continuing to grow. What’s your favorite aspect of being part of the Atlanta music scene?

The best part about the expanding indie scene in Atlanta is definitely the “expanding” part. Having new venues and bands pop up every year means there is so much opportunity to move up and get into the fold. Compared to what I’ve seen in other cities, it’s pretty good about including women and LGBTQ people, too. With Claire as a frontwoman, and Heath as nonbinary, it’s very nice to have other groups around and venues that are receptive of that. 

AF: What’s next for password:password?

We’re continuing to play shows around town over the summer. We’re also taking some time to focus on writing new songs. You should see some bigger releases from us somewhat soon™. 

AF: Last one! Best show you’ve ever seen in Atlanta?

JP: Definitely Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, and Jay Som at the Masquerade back in 2016. Looking back, it’s a dream bill of mine, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

HM: Oof, this was one that I arranged and password:password played at, but Couchella 2018 was so much fun. Superbody, Lunar Vacation, and Delorean Gray were major highlights. Seeing Kero Kero Bonito and Tanukichan at 529 was also a great one.

CL:Easy; Anarcticats’ album release show at Drunken Unicorn. Everyone was so hype, and they overpacked Drunken Unicorn by like 30 people. It’s really cool to see your friends so lifted up like that. 

CM: Julien Baker. I saw her a few days before her most recent album came out, and the crowd was almost silent when she was performing new songs because everybody wanted to hear every word she was singing. It felt very unique and intimate. 

MT: Tame Impala at the Tabernacle in 2013 for sure.

Dreaming of more? Follow password:password on Facebook and keep an eye out for more music coming soon.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Three Eclectic Releases for the New Year

For me, the new year signals a time to refresh, and that also goes for my music collection. This is when I dig through Bandcamp, attend shows with bands I’ve never heard of on the bill, and get recommendations from friends in the know. Here are three off-the-beaten path local releases I’ve discovered in the new year.

photo by Seth Halleran

SmackTalk – Servin’ It Hot (out March 7)

Saxophone-fronted collective SmackTalk is the brainchild of Sidney Hauser, a brilliant Seattle-bred saxophonist and songwriter whose funky, angular, and soulful compositions have, in the case of Seattle jazz, exploded expectations about what sort of music is made in Seattle and who can make it. Through songcraft, musicianship, and bold authenticity, Servin’ it Hot makes me single-handedly optimistic for the future of Seattle’s music scene.

Hauser, a graduate of the University of Washington, brings together a band of talented Seattle twentysomethings on the EP, proving that jazz isn’t just for baby boomers. But also, SmackTalk is far from purist about jazz – while Hauser definitely draws on her background in jazz harmony and improvisation, her compositions bring in funk energy, the tender sensuality of neo-soul, the exploratory nature of creative music, and the addictive quality of earworm pop melodies and digital effects.

On “Beams,” the album’s only vocal track, singer Emma Horton’s smooth, dexterous voice pours forth like honey, accented by soaring moments from the saxophone section – Hauser, Natalie Barry on alto and tenor— playing in artfully-arranged harmony.

“Tidal,” the third song on the five-song album, starts by featuring these saxophonists with a sort of cheerful, churning pattern that steadily swirls, bringing the rest of the band into its grasp. Interesting synth and saxophone moments add energy and excitement to the piece, which feels like a climbing wave, eventually cresting in a funky solo section that spotlights the solidity of the rhythm section’s interlocking groove.

Each song on Servin’ It Hot works this way—starting in familiar space and then pushing past expectations, offering some really new and fresh sounds for the city. Only SmackTalk’s second release, Servin’ It Hot is unabashedly brave, capturing Hauser’s growth as an improviser, songwriter, and band leader, and underscoring the work SmackTalk are doing to find their own voice as a band.

Servin’ It Hot drops in early March. For more details visit SmackTalk on Bandcamp.

photo by Jason Trinkle

Annie Ford Band – At Night (out February 8)

Annie Ford is the sort of artist one can literally stumble upon while walking the streets of Pike Place Market, where she has been a busker for a decade. But she’s no forgettable distraction for a passerby. She sings as if she’s having a candid conversation, and she draws her listener into a secret with humor, pep, and charm.

That’s how it goes with her newest release At Night, which drips with flavors of country, klezmer, folk, and even a little bit of psychedelia. It proves that Ford, and her co-songwriter Matt Manges, have further-honed their talent for original folk songs unlike any others found in the Seattle-area.

On this new album, it’s clear Ford and the band are feeling in limbo. On “Ain’t No Place,” she’s a woman leaving Mississippi for the unknown; on “Demon Lover,” she forsakes a husband and three children for a new man; on “Restless Dreams” she walks a tightrope into a world suspended from time. With this in mind, the album mirrors Seattle’s present crisis of identity, a product of the ripple effects it has on the individual identities of the people who live here.

This sort of tension comes up lyrically, as well as musically. Additions like the other-worldly whine of Olie Eshlemen’s pedal steel and the bestial rumble of Ivan Molton’s baritone sax imply the sort of strange, liminal state that the Annie Ford Band contends with.

Overall, Ford and the band have more of a fierceness than ever before on At Night. A big part of that is Ford’s crisp, resolute, and honest vocals, hanging in the foreground without facade or effect. Ford isn’t playing tricks on her audience – she’s bracing them for transit.

At Night drops February 8th. For more details visit Annie Ford Band on Bandcamp.

photo by Kyle Todaro

Antonioni – The Odds Were All Beating Me (out now)

Antonioni may as well be a meteor out of nowhere. The Odds Were All Beating Me, released January 12th, is Antonioni’s first in two years, and only their second EP ever—but it’s a formidable ball of indie-rock fire. While they exhibit that grunge-punk quality that lives inside much of the music from this area, lead singer Sarah Pasillas – whose lilting, ethereal voice recalls Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, and Enya – brings a dreamier vibe to their music.

“Snow Globe” features this aspect of Pasillas’ voice prominently, making her the foreground to a thunderhead of odd sounds – coins falling to the floor, a person talking into a seashell, a Tibetan singing bowl. Her voice arises from the controlled mess.

The EP’s first track, “Creature Feature,” designates Antonioni as part of the same contemporary scene that’s birthed other currently-popular indie bands like Great Grandpa and Dude York: taking the mumble-singing, a raw guitar sound, and feeling of encompassing dreariness that Nirvana made big, and invigorating it. Antionioni make it a bit lighter by adding more upbeat pop diversions and effects. “Old News,” on the other hand, almost sounds like the Cranberries—Pasillas sings assertively, with turns and inflections like Dolores O’Riordan, while the repetitious guitar pattern has the same sort of jangling, broken-sounding chords that Cranberries’ lead guitarist Noal Hogan mastered.

The album is an interesting snapshot of Seattle, torn as it is between so many different moments in the scene’s musical history and looking for a place to rest. With Antonioni, the city may have found a band with which they can sit and stay awhile.

LIVE REVIEW: DeVotchKa @ Rough Trade

Four-piece ensemble DeVotchKa returned to a packed house to premiere a handful of new songs at their album release show at Rough Trade. I found myself surrounded by fans of all ages in the dimly lit venue, though not too dark to notice a few people around me clad in the band’s tees. Chatter of the new record was alive as we anticipated DeVotchKa, who took the stage twenty minutes late.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate the release of our new album,” preaches lead singer Nick Urata, met with cheers from his congregation. “It was a long and difficult birth, but we’ve arrived.”

DeVotchKa are perhaps best known for their work in film scoring, most notably the Grammy-nominated soundtrack for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. Seven years since their last studio release is a long and difficult birth indeed, but new record The Night Falls Forever does not disappoint, at least not live.

Tom Hagerman on violin.

The band kept to a high energy setlist. Setting off a string of new tracks was “Straight Shot,” the lead single from the new record. Charmingly cozy while still anthemic, I had fallen in love with the lyric video for this track prior to the show but it doesn’t compare to hearing it live. Urata’s vocals carry over an animated, optimistic beat that had a couple salsa dancing right next to me in the limited space there was, others even taking a step back to give them more room. It’s a small sentiment that characterizes this room of DeVotchKa fans: cheerful, untroubled, and ready to welcome you with open arms.

It’s fun to hear a new record live prior to its release, given that I wasn’t familiar with any new singles other than “Straight Shot.” A track called “Break Up Song” slowed things down, but not at the loss of their momentum. Another stand out is “Empty Vessels” an uplifting anthem that exhibits what DeVotchKa do best.

Nick Urata and Jeanie Schroder.

During his opening set, solo singer-songwriter IRO stated, “There are so many instruments on this stage right now, I feel lonely.” There was no doubt that DeVotchKa would make use of them all, but watching them in action was really something else. “Let’s bring out another horn!” shouted Urata, before welcoming trumpeter Kenny Warren, who has also performed with the likes of Spoon and The Walkmen, on stage.

Jazz saxophonist and flautist Jessica Lurie also joined the band for a handful of songs. Jeanie Schroder had blue lights drawing eyes to her sousaphone, but portrayed her skills on upright and electric bass, as well as the flute (“How many shows do you get to see two flautists?” asks Urata, and I realize this is probably the only time I’ll ever experience that.) Tom Hagerman exercised his talents on accordion, violin, and piano. Urata, too, swapped instruments during the set, from guitar to theremin, even bringing out a bouzouki for the latter half. None of this outshone Shawn King’s resonant polka-like percussion. They chose to play with isolation of sound on both sides of the room, making the audience feel enveloped by sound.

Older tracks like “100 Other Lovers” still had the same life years later. After that song, I overheard the guy behind me tell his friends, “You know what? Holy shit! I knew this song, a couple of songs, whatever, but holy shit, they’re really fucking good.”

Of course, the night was not complete without an encore: a solemn, yet rhapsodic rendition of their famed track “How It Ends.” Most of the crowd didn’t miss a single word, and seeing the immaculate joy on the bands’ faces show that they’re happier than ever to be back doing what they love.

PLAYING DETROIT: Ancient Language Embraces Change on Third LP ‘HYGGE’

Photo by Paul Stevens

Ancient Language exists on a metamorphic scale, constantly shapeshifting to fit the change of the seasons – or life – of original founder Christopher Jarvis. Jarvis started Ancient Language in 2011 as a solo hip-hop/house project, but in the last seven years his music has gone through many different iterations. Most notably, it has grown from solo work to a six-piece folk/indie rock/electronic amalgamation of virtuosic musicianship and varied tastes. HYGGE, Ancient Language’s third release, is the apex of this musical journey and finds the band at a crossroad between genres, using their lyrical voice for the first time.

The LP is a labor of love, recorded over the past two years in a series of sessions in band member (guitar, sax, and vocals) Matthew Beyer’s basement. The band says HYGGE was made during a time of “profound changes, relocating across the country and back again.” Some of these “changes” were more traumatizing than others, including a time last winter when Jarvis’s whole life as he knew it seemed to be crumbling. “When we started writing the record, my brother Zach and I were kind of in a dark place,” says Jarvis. “We were living in Eastern Market and, in the span of a week, I lost my job, my car got stolen, and we got evicted from our place.”

This series of unfortunate events was the nail in the coffin for Jarvis, who grew up between Warren and Sterling Heights. He explains that, although he’s no stranger to Detroit’s brutal winters, that winter was especially debilitating, and he took it as a sign to run towards the sun. Jarvis and his brother, who also plays in the band, moved in with family in Arizona to try and get their lives back on track. During those months in Arizona, the brothers spent time writing music and sending songs back and forth to Beyer. By the time they were ready to come back to Detroit, they had finished an album.

The Jarvis’s desert retreat seemed to be the escape they needed to create a diverse and enrapturing body of work. Although, Chris says that the music itself has always been his true oasis. “That’s how it’s always been for me – an escape from whatever I’m dealing with.”

Ancient Language will celebrate the release of HYGGE this Saturday, June 2nd, with a show at El Club in Detroit. Peep a single from the record below.

PREMIERE: Knotts “Your Mind”

If you combine the soul and melodic sensibility of artists like Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill with the laid-back production and honesty of indie songwriters like Fiona Apple and Bedouine, and you’ll arrive at the gorgeous hybrid that is Knotts, the solo project of Cincinnati-based singer-songwriter, Adalia Powell-Boehne. We’re excited to debut “Your Mind,” the third single of Knott’s upcoming debut LP, Is It Art Yet?

Highlighting Powell-Boehne’s  powerful voice, “Your Mind” is a meditation on things left unsaid and a call for transparency. “I write when I really need to get something out,” says Powell-Boehne. “I feel like we all have times when we wish we would’ve said something or we didn’t say the right thing. So, I was like, ‘Can I just say what I want to say and you just say what you want to say?’”

Throughout the song, Powell-Boehne repeats the phrase, “Say what’s on your mind/I’m so tired of pretending.” Her steady voice is neither a beg nor a command, but the clear and honest request of someone who’s done playing games. The simple keys and percussion act as a steady guiding force to Powell-Boehne’s razor sharp vocals. She relinquishes her strength for only a moment when she sings, “I don’t know how to win, I don’t know how to lose/I wish you’d stop asking me to choose,” in a hair-raising falsetto, showing her vulnerability and opening doors for compromise.

Listen to the single below and look out for Is It Art Yet? on May 26th.

PLAYING DETROIT: Jonathan Franco Gets Inventive on Debut LP

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photo courtesy Jonathan Franco

Finally, someone has been able to put what it feels like to be a 20-something into words and music without sounding devastatingly hopeless. That person is Detroit songwriter, poet, and musician, Jonathan Franco. In his debut album, Swimming Alone Around the Room, Franco puts his deep anxieties, rare moments of euphoria, and goddamn heart on the table for all of us to pick apart and reassemble into our own realities. Written and recorded over the last five years, the 17-track labor of love is a diaristic journey, oscillating between spacious moments of reflection and dactylic snapshots of feeling, accurately mimicking the ebb and flow of, well, real fucking life.

Experimental, yet accessible, Franco uses an unorthodox orchestra – combining traditional instruments with field recordings and experimental sounds – to portray salient feelings and moments. In the album’s stripped-down instrumental opener, “Apartment Pianos,” Franco melds incandescent synths, low machine hums, bells, and indiscernible field recordings to create a feeling of serenity and peace. It’s as if he’s encouraging listeners to clear their heads before delving into the deep and daunting themes that follow, like someone attempting to get their shit together before entering a sweat lodge.

He fully enlists his collage-like composition style on “Applause,” an exploration of mortality and the passing of time. The song starts off with a solo organ note, bare acoustic guitar, and Franco’s vulnerable opening line, “I lay in the grass in a flyover state / Feeling like I am everything you hoped I wouldn’t be,” sang in a low whisper. It feels like Franco is talking to himself here, reflecting on the past and what has led him to this specific place and time. But the ruminative mood becomes unnerving as Franco recalls seeing the ghost of his grandmother over ethereal synths and radio static; the guitar re-enters along with what sounds like a ticking clock or metronome and stack of papers used for percussion. The tension resolves with a sweet trumpet melody at the song’s finish, and Franco is freed from the weight of time – at least for a moment.

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photo by Noah Elliot Morrison

While many of the songs follow this winding, experimental path, Franco also scatters a few straightforward indie-rock tracks throughout the record that reveal considerable influence from bands like Bedhead and The Microphones. Along with alternating between traditional and experimental instruments, Franco occupies different parts of his voice throughout the record. He touches on everything from an apathetic lo-fi drawl in “Wine Lips” to an Elliot Smith-esque falsetto in “Season” and finds a sweet spot in between the two in “18A.”

While Franco adapts a linear storyline into these compositions, he doesn’t sacrifice his poetic lyricism. On rambling stream-of-consciousness tale “18A,” the singer spends north of seven minutes recounting days spent on the same bus and reminiscing about someone he used to love. Throughout the ride, Franco thinks he sees his former partner in various places around town, but he’s not sure. “For my eyes are two weak telescopes and your face is just a crater on the moon / And I hope to see you much more clearly soon,” sings Franco, perfectly encapsulating the disillusionment of estrangement and the longing that comes with it. Although Franco utilizes his talent for metaphor throughout the album, he never comes off as a pompous or melodramatic poet, but more of an old soul who knows exactly what to say.

Add the insurmountable pressure of simply existing to confronting mortality and lost love and you will arrive at the “early adulthood triad.” Franco accomplishes this with “Crashing,” a beautifully unsettling ode to not knowing what the hell you’re doing in life. The song starts out with what sounds like a shower running over a broken transistor radio then shifts to airy vocals and calming acoustic guitar. Throughout the song, Franco’s atmospheric background vocal hovers like a ghost over the lyrics “I don’t know how to keep my world from crashing down.” The phrase is repeated over and over, representing the debilitating paralysis brought on by anxiety.

But, like I said, this record isn’t about hopelessness. It’s about acknowledging and capturing the impermanence of emotions, and that includes the happy ones, too – nostalgia, love, clarity. In “A Topiary,” Franco indulges in replaying messages from loved ones while reminding himself there are still more blissful memories to be made. “I can still call myself young / and it tastes good on my tongue,” sings Franco, atop a collage of bells, knocking, synths, and lo-fi guitar.

At its core, Swimming Alone Around the Room hints that existential dread is sometimes kinda nice. It offers a cathartic safe haven for the uncertain, unconcerned, or over-concerned (so basically, everyone) and an original take on experimental indie music, if confined to any genre at all. Franco’s tendency to shapeshift both instrumentally and vocally elevates the album to a work of art that emulates the human experiences of indecision, change, and growth.