PREMIERE: Lily Donat Knows “How It Feels” to Triumph Over Toxicity

Growing up in Los Angeles, Lily Donat always had a knack for storytelling, especially through sound. The granddaughter of Helen Reddy, Donat has songwriting in her blood, honing her craft and learning on the go. But to commit to a career as a musician, Donat had to shed some of her pain and focus on finding her emotional center. “I was always writing songs, but just kind of waiting for opportunity versus chasing it. Recently, within the last year, I was like, there’s no option but to give this my all,” she tells Audiofemme. “You find your way and you learn on the fly and cool things happen that way. There’s no one way to do things.”

That commitment has paid off – Donat released her debut single “Supernova” in November of last year, following it up in December 2021 with “Most Important Man.” Today, she premieres “How It Feels” on Audiofemme; taken together, the three tracks tie loosely together in a trilogy that documents Donat’s personal journey in overcoming a toxic relationship fueled by obsession and heartbreak. “How It Feels” is the story’s uplifting conclusion, analyzing how the singer-songwriter felt after that period of emotional turmoil, and the subsequent growth from the experience – the musical equivalent of the notion that with the closure of one door another opens.

“It’s a three-part story and each song is like a story on its own. With this song, I wanted to kind of be… truthful, but optimistic and hopeful. It’s the emergence of hope… the song of recovery and healing,” Donat explains. “I hope it’s energizing. I hope it’s that kind of song you hear when you think you might be coming on the other side of something [and can] see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

That contrasts sharply with her previous singles, which depict being trapped in a vicious cycle that seems impossible to break. In “Supernova,” Donat sings, “I wouldn’t go back to the dark alone/But I’d meet you there,” and “I know why I fell in/Into your well of love and rage and sin/All the chaos and the anguish/Somehow better than the absence.” Musically, the track incorporates elements from electronic and pop music to reflect the deep sense of isolating darkness she felt at the time.

Most Important Man” is sonically lighter, with a fast, punchy beat and energetic piano, but its lyrics are even more bleak: “They must think that I just love the pain/You’re the dark side/I’ve got dark sides/Now we’re both fucking insane.” There’s a sense of realization about the situation Donat describes in the second verse, when she sings, “Oh, can you see yourself?/Clearly I couldn’t/I thought your violence was for everyone else,” before she finally admits, “I have made a grave mistake/Confusing the torment with pleasure.”

But without these dire lows, Donat may never have arrived at the sense of freedom she captures on “How It Feels.” There is a tangible sense of sailing through the ups and downs, with Donat’s gaze fixed ahead.

Soft acoustic guitar accompanies Donat’s resolute opening lines: “I push my crown through the crest of a wave/The water’s deep, it’s the color of jade/And I love the crash, it’s the sound of escape/You slip my mind most days.” Like those waves, each verse builds layers of instrumentation and with each chorus Donat gains increased strength from her conviction. Airy synth, resolute percussion, and a subtle but triumphant electric guitar riff come to the fore as Donat literally belts, “I feel stronger.” It’s easy to imagine Donat sailing through the waves in the direction of the sun, toward a new horizon.

This is in large part a result of how Donat communicates via natural metaphors. “How It Feels” is abundant with references to swimming, the ocean and the natural setting in which she says she can express her most authentic self. “I use nature in all my songs and sometimes there’s deeper meaning,” she admits. “Things can be kind of layered in my songwriting, and be more personal than maybe meets the eye.”

Like with any good poetry, there is more in what’s unsaid than said. Donat’s lyricism transports the listener and empowers them to fill in their own blanks and relate their own experiences to the vivid imagery Donat creates; her powerful visuals allow the resonant emotion to sink in. In this case, it’s the positivity that comes from striving forward – and maybe even a little glimmer of satisfaction from glancing back at a bad situation that’s lost its once powerful grip. “Is this how it feels to win? Cause didn’t I? Is this how it feels to live in one world at a time?” Donat sings in the song’s chorus.

“Essentially, it is kind of about revenge,” she says. “My revenge is… a display of the maturity that can come when you are actually removed from the emotional pull of something that caused a lot of pain and anger.”

Ultimately, “How It Feels” is a tale of healing and inner peace, and Donat knows the journey is ongoing. “There’s always that pull, right? To turn back and return to the darkness – I’ve written a lot about that. My first two singles were about that [need] to look back, and to go back,” she says. “I hope [“How It Feels”] propels you towards the momentum… realizing that this appreciation and gratitude is only possible, because of healing and a deeper personal peace.”

Follow Lily Donat on Instagram for ongoing updates.

How Soltera Stepped Up Her Music Practice During the Pandemic

Photo Credit: Gabriella Talassazan

Back in October, Tania Ordoñez, known professionally as Soltera, released her track “Tengo Miedo” on a whim. “Basically, it’s the COVID song,” the L.A.-based electronic music artist says over a video call. In it, Ordoñez wrestles with her feelings about going out again — the title is Spanish for “I’m afraid” — as synthesizer tension builds and releases over the course of the track. The tune was accompanied by a video featuring Ordoñez and friends playing as a band on a Los Angeles hillside and the response was so positive that she decided to follow it up with an EP.  But, there was a catch: Ordoñez would have to work quickly if she wanted to release it by year’s end, as a friend with record label experience had suggested would be best.

That gave Ordoñez just a handful of weeks to make the remaining five songs that fill out Sin Compromiso. “Every day, I got on my synthesizer. I would make a beat and slap vocals on top,” says Ordoñez. She finished the project in just under three weeks and Sin Compromiso hit Bandcamp on December 30. 

It’s filled with revelations that Ordoñez has had since the onset of the pandemic. “Overall, I think a lot of themes in the songs are about me embracing insecurities and fear,” she says. “There’s a certain point where you need to be more selective with who and what you put your energy towards. That’s kind of the theme of all the songs.”

Musically, Ordoñez melds styles like darkwave and minimal synth with doses of techno and house and the energy of punk. It’s reflective of her eclectic range of influences. Ordoñez grew up in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley listening to punk, hardcore and power violence and later gravitated towards dance music. “I started realizing the similarities,” she says of those seemingly disparate influences. Ordoñez cites Donna Summer, alongside Spanish post-punk band Alaska y Los Pegamoides, Hi-NRG outfit Lime and electronic experimentalists Psychic TV as some of her favorite artists. 

Although a longtime music fan, Ordoñez didn’t start making music herself until 2015, following the death of her father. “During that time, I felt a lot of emotions and I wanted to put it somewhere,” she recalls. “I didn’t really feel like an artist in general because I didn’t go to school for it. So, I was kind of really aimless and scared to approach it.”

But, Ordoñez bought herself a sampler, and that launched her journey into music. She borrowed drum machines from friends and watched YouTube tutorials. She learned how to sample and manipulate her own vocals. Then, she started playing live at house parties, art shows and other events. “Every show I played would get another show,” she says. “In the beginning, I had no training at all. I was very, very self-taught. All the shows that I played before the pandemic were the same six songs that I made beforehand with borrowed drum machines and synthesizers.”

Since 2020, though, Ordoñez musical pursuits have taken a major turn. “When the pandemic hit, I was isolated at home every day. I lost my job,” she explains. After her partner downloaded Ableton, Ordoñez began experimenting with the program. “That helped my process so much more because, on Ableton, there were all these different drum kits. On YouTube, there are so many tutorials on how to use it.”

Ordoñez was also able to buy her own synthesizer, while she checked out other synths and drum machines from FeM Synth Lab, an L.A. lending library that aims to make high-end gear accessible to people of marginalized genders. Combined with her newfound Ableton skills, all this gave Ordoñez a newfound freedom to create. 

“Before, on a sampler, I was playing all the music live. Every knob I was playing live as I was performing and it was pretty difficult, singing and playing it live,” she says. The experience also taught Ordoñez that she enjoys sound engineering and it opened up the possibility of perhaps going to school for music in the future. Plus, she developed an interest in scoring films and had the chance to do that after earning a grant for a film project from Los Angeles Metro. 

Ordoñez has taken her love of music into other pursuits as well. She’s a DJ and hosts the monthly Dublab show called Todo o Nada. She also teamed up with fellow artists Aarum Alatorre and Pedro Verdin, of the duo Pacoima Techno, to form the label Casa/Teca. “We did this label because we wanted to represent underground artists, especially underground artists of color, and have this freedom to release music as much as we wanted to without limitations and music videos,” Ordoñez explains. “It’s very community-based, very anti-capitalist, anti-clout.”

It’s a response to the struggles Ordoñez sees with artists, and herself, to the pressure to fit into certain molds and to focus on money as the sign of success. It’s a balancing act. “I’m really putting my all into this project, hoping that it will go somewhere,” says Ordoñez, “but also remembering that I do it because I love it and it’s fun.”

Follow Soltera on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Deap Vally Invite Creative Collaborators Into Their Rock ‘N’ Roll Marriage

Photo Credit: Ericka Clevenger/Kelsey Hart

The musical marriage between Lindsey Troy and Julie Edward began a decade ago when they committed their respective rock ‘n’ roll talents to Deap Vally. Their long friendship and professional partnership has been creatively fertile in the last two years, culminating in the release of their third album, Marriage, released November 19 via Cooking Vinyl. It follows two EPs released earlier this year: in February, they dropped the Digital Dream EP and in June, American Cockroach.

Both the EPs and Marriage are the products of the “collaboration series” the duo began after releasing their second album Femejism in 2016, which was produced by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs notoriety.

“After Femejism came out, we did quite a bit of touring in the US,” says Troy. “We were on the road a lot, and then, once we finally got time to do some more writing, we were trying to figure out how to shake up the writing process and make it exciting for us again, because we’d spent so much one-on-one time with each other.”

Reaching out to potential collaborators – something that happens often in EDM and hip-hop, but not so much in the rock ‘n’ roll world – proved to do just that. One of their first acts they got in touch with was The Flaming Lips, with some unexpected results.

“That ended up turning into a full record!” says Troy. “We released that first, but originally that was meant to be a song as part of our collaboration series.” The Deap Lips album, a scuzzy, hazy-glam, psyched-out antidote to the pandemic blues, whet their appetites for more creative partnerships. The possibilities open to them as they expanded beyond their two-piece lineup felt suddenly real and immediate, as evidenced by the bleepy, trippy, Wayne Coyne-flavoured track “The Pusher.”

“The beauty of collaborating is that you can always take something new away from witnessing and participating in someone else’s approach,” says Edwards. “Although we had many of our collaborations already in progress when we wrote with the Lips, it was inspiring to see their seamless blend of practical work ethic with spontaneous inspiration. Definitely recording at the Flaming Lips studio in Oklahoma was a true highlight so far.” 

“So far” refers to the ten years since Edwards and Troy formed Deap Vally in 2011. When they met in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, Edwards had been a vocalist, drummer, and keyboardist for LA-band The Pity Party alongside Marc Smollin since 2005, which toured and released EPs until 2012. Meanwhile, San Diego-born singer-guitarist Troy had (child-prodigy style) teamed up with her sister Anna to form The Troys, recording their debut album for Elektra Records in 2002 but never releasing it (Lindsey was just 15 at the time, and Elektra closed shop soon afterwards). The sisters released their solo projects in 2006: Anna’s Ain’t No Man LP; Lindsey’s Bruises EP months later. Lindsey had been doing her own solo thing until meeting Edwards, in the last place you’d expect given their hard-hitting sound.

“Lindsey actually came into my shop, The Little Knittery, and I taught her how to crochet and knit, and that’s how we met,” says Edwards. “At this point, there’s pretty much no downtime to make stuff, but we used to knit compulsively on the road and sell our handknits at shows.”

They shared more in common than a love of crochet. The two women spoke the same language when it came to rock, bonding over a love of Led Zeppelin.

Their own raw, noodling, punk-garage-blues rock relies purely on guitar, drums and frank, feminist lyrics delivered in a full-throated holler. The duo signed to Island Records in 2012 on the strength of their first single, “Gonna Make My Own Money;” the raucous, frenetic drums teamed with fuzzy, savage guitar riffs and a Karen O-style guttural-yet-melodic moan was undeniably a anthemic feminist cry in the spirit of Bikini Kill, L7 and Babes In Toyland. It would appear on their 2013 EP Get Deap! alongside three additional tracks that Spin declared “a burst of self-reliant aggression.”

“It’s unapologetic, heavy and groovy,” the duo stated in their trailer for the EP, in which the furious, fabulous “End Of The World” soundtracks footage of Troy and Edwards looking suitably rock ‘n’ roll with their big hair, swigging hard liquor straight from the bottle and ferociously swinging their instruments about on stage. That was but a sampling of the 11-track debut to come: Sistrionix, recorded in LA with producer Lars Stalfors of The Mars Volta, dropped in June of that same year. With instant acclaim came festival spots at Latitude, Leeds and Reading Festivals in the UK, and tours with The Vaccines, Muse, Wolf Mother, Marilyn Manson and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The same album spawned one of my favourite Deap Valley bangers: “Baby I Call Hell,” a hot, hollering, anthemic rock beast in which Troy demands of her lover, “Are you gonna please me, like you swore you would, or is it just to tease me? Better treat this woman good!”

Femejism followed in 2016, and 2017 saw the duo touring with Blondie and Garbage on the Rage and Rapture Tour. But their marriage was feeling frayed at the edges and the creative spark had been dulled by domestic demands (both Troy and Edwards have very young children). The thrill of releasing music as Deap Lips only confirmed that collaborations seemed to reignite the muse, and Marriage showcases that renewed passion.

“High Horse” features KT Tunstall and Peaches. “She’s brilliant as fuck, bold, funny, and completely down to Earth,” says Edwards of Peaches. “She’s a blessing to humankind, truly.”

Eagles of Death Metal bassist Jennie Vee is a primal force on “I Like Crime.”

“A few years ago, we played a really great rock festival called Aftershock…one of the bands playing was Eagles of Death Metal,” recalls Troy. “I’m a huge fan of Eagles of Death Metal – they’re such a tasty, feel-good, unique, authentic rock ’n’ roll band. We were watching them side stage and Julie and I were like, ‘Holy crap! Who is this woman?’ We didn’t know they had a female bass player… she’s incredible, she had such good stage presence, she looked so cool. We were blown away.”

The mutual love affair resulted in studio time in LA, with “I Like Crime” completed in three days.

On “Look Away,” the dreamy, sadly romantic Warpaint vibe is unmistakable thanks to jennylee. It’s a bittersweet, ’80s-style ballad in which the refrain “This is heart, this is heart, this is heartache” smarts with the raw, hopeless lonely fog of a breakup.  

“We booked a day at the Cave Studio in LA with engineer/producer Josiah Mazzaschi and we went in with jennylee, and basically the way we started writing together was just with spontaneous jamming in the live room that Josiah recorded,” recounts Edwards. “We jammed out a few different spontaneous ideas that were just springing up and then took a break to listen to what we came up with. Listening to jams can be painful and funny, and we embraced that. Then we picked which jam we all agreed was our favorite, and we started to build on that. We got most of the structure and ideas done in a day, and then did two more days to finish the song. It was really fun and easy. The whole point was not to overthink it and to surrender to the song that was forming, rather try to control the outcome.” Spontaneity and surrender: the perfect recipe for a rock ‘n’ roll marriage likely to go the distance another ten, if not twenty, years.

Follow Deap Vally on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Riki Turns Introspective on Sophomore Album Gold

Photo Crredit: Dustin Edward Arnold

Riki knew that she wanted to include a cover song on Gold, released on November 26 via Dais Records, and had been working with a couple different song possibilities when she settled on “Porque Te Vas,” the 1974 melancholy pop song from Spanish singer Jeanette. “When I was demoing it, it just felt right,” she says on a video call from her home in Los Angeles, adding that it was a song where she could inject something new into it while also conveying “the message of the song is in an honest way.”

“Porque Te Vas” is a song that’s been in Riki’s life for so long that she can’t recall when she first heard it. “It’s in my mom’s vernacular of songs that she would play, so I’ve known that song since I was a little kid,” she says. “My mom, when she would drive us— my brothers and sisters and I— around, we would listen to a lot of music in the car. Both of my parents were really into music, but that was a different vibe. It’s like everyone is having their introspective time, kind of quiet time, even as a kid, just listening.”

In her version of “Porque Te Vas,” with vocals that sound as if they are transmitting from the past, Riki captures that special connection people can have to songs first heard as children. “Songs like that, they become part of you in such a profound way, like DNA-level almost,” she says. 

The cover also reflects the very slight shift in sound— and a big shift circumstances— between the release of Riki’s debut album and her sophomore effort. Her self-titled debut was released on Valentine’s Day of 2020, a few weeks before Los Angeles clubs, and nightlife throughout much of the world, shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had no idea what was in store, of course,” she says. Ultimately, the pandemic would impact the sound of her follow-up; the songs on Gold, from upbeat tunes like “Lo” and “Marigold” to slower numbers like “It’s No Secret” and “Florence and Selena,” are reflective of the period in which the album was made. Riki describes it as a “stay at home with your headphones and your stereo system” sort of record. 

Running counter to that, Riki’s first album was steeped in pre-pandemic life. With nods to classic synthpop and Italo disco, it was music to make you move. “The first album was a bit of a dance, a club thing,” says Riki. “I think that’s where it would be best served, a club, and the second album is not at all that way.”

“When I was demoing these songs, there was an altered state of everything, everyone was in either solitude or a little pod of people that they were shut in with,” she says. “That was interesting for demos because there’s a lot of introspective energy there.”

When it came time to record the songs, Riki worked with producer Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv). “We have a huge overlap in our musical tastes,” she says, adding that this allowed them space for creative exploration. “It was really fun in that way. I’ve never had that experience before, so it was very exciting.”

Riki grew up in Portland, Oregon and began making music there, but pursued it more seriously after moving to Oakland. There, she played in a few bands, including Crimson Scarlet. “It was very fun and theatrical,” she says of the punk outfit. 

After moving to Los Angeles seven years ago, Riki shifted her attention to her solo work. She says that the city has influenced her music in a few ways. “I have a little bit more of a routine here. I’m a little bit more secure and living a more adult kind of life. It’s less chaos, parties, let’s go wild,” she says. “I don’t go to as many shows as I used to before moving here, just because it’s a city that’s a little more expensive. I have to work, do all that, so a lot of my music listening has come more from getting recommendations from friends, not necessarily L.A.-based music.”  

Since last summer, Riki has been able to perform again as well. “They’ve been, certainly, some of the best shows that I’ve ever played,” she says. “The energy of people coming out right now is all-in. It’s awesome.”

These gigs included her first solo show in New York, where she opened for Cold Cave at Webster Hall. “They have really wonderful people that listen to their music and are super supportive,” she says of Cold Cave. She also played her first ever shows in Florida, at Absolution Fest, and in Chicago, as part of Cold Waves Festival. “Those shows are three of my favorite shows that I’ve ever done,” she says. 

Riki has also been gigging around L.A., with a stint opening for Cold Cave at The Wiltern, and sets at Los Angeles’ Cold Waves Festival in September. In 2022, she’ll be hitting the road for a U.S. tour with Choir Boy. 

Follow Riki on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ellise Conjures Dark Pop Coven with Mothica and DeathbyRomy on Expanded Version of “Soul Sucker”

Photo Credit: CASTRO

The concept of the “Power of Three” has existed in many religious beliefs, but it is, perhaps, its proximity to Pagan, occult, and Wiccan religions that has made it a trope within gothic-horror media since Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and more recently with cinematic hits such as Hocus Pocus, The Witches of Eastwick, Charmed, and Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. These unholy trinities have been a mainstay of the genre and persist as a symbol of female solidarity. Now, producer, musician, and lover of all things spooky Ellise taps into this theme for a new version of “Soul Sucker” featuring additional verses by fellow dark-pop artists Mothica and DeathbyRomy.

“Soul Sucker” first appeared on Ellise’s most recent album Letting the Wolf In, conceptually centered around retelling Grimm’s Fairy Tales and released just before Halloween. “Soul Sucker, Pt. 2” builds on the song’s themes of toxicity and self-destructive behavior. “It’s such a spin on what my songs are usually about, where the female is portrayed as this victim,” Ellise tells Audiofemme. “In ‘Soul Sucker,’ it’s completely the opposite…you are the soul sucker.”

While she’s always harbored a fascination with the fantastical and the so-called Halloween-pop it inspires, Ellise says, “I always want my music to be real and realistic. The reality is that we all have toxic tendencies. We are all imperfect and we’ve all hurt people just in the same way people have hurt us.” For Ellise, it’s the manner in which the sub-genre serves as the antithesis of the bubblegum aesthetic of pop. Since moving to Los Angeles from the Bay Area at the age of 17, she’s made it a tradition to release new music on or near Halloween, beginning with EPs Can You Keep A Secret? (2018) and Under My Bed (2019). Letting the Wolf In nips at the heels of her proper full-length debut from earlier this year, Chaotic; though Ellise has been prolific, there was something missing from “Soul Sucker.”

Originally produced by her brother LilSpirit, Chelsea Collins and Brandon Shoop, Ellise tweaked the vocal arrangements and production for “Soul Sucker, Pt. 2,” and wanted to activate the power of three in her own way. “I’ve never dropped a song with features on it. So I knew I really wanted to do that,” Ellise expands. “I just loved all the dynamics of that. I thought of Mothica because she has a very nice, powerful pop voice. Then I thought of Romy because I knew she would kill a sort of like, more minimal production section, and I’m really happy with how it came out.”

Mothica, who released her latest EP forever fifteen earlier this year, says she was drawn to the project because she was intrigued by Ellise’s work on Letting the Wolf In, and felt it mirrored her own. “All of us thematically cling to the darker imagery. I love her concept of turning fairytales into haunting dark pop, so when she reached out to have me on Soul Sucker Part 2, it was a no brainer to jump on it!” she says.

“I’ve admired Ellise and her project for a couple years now” DeathbyRomy adds. “I’m all for females supporting each other and bringing each other up. This industry can be extremely catty especially with women versus other women.” DeathbyRomy released her debut, Songs For My Funeral, earlier this year as well.

As with the first version of the song, “Soul Sucker, Pt. 2” immediately introduces Ellise’s clear, delicate vocals that bring to life a “beautiful vixen” with dark secrets. “Don’t get too lost in her arms/All she wants is a bite of your heart,” she warns before launching into a chorus where no one gets out alive. Sonically, the track sticks to the basics, keeping the verses bare of any overwhelming elements and allowing the listener to zero in on the singer’s haunting words.

Mothica and DeathbyRomy follow Ellise’s lead, painting practically tangible imagery in lyrics fleshed out with mainstay motifs such as the femme fatale, Satan worship, and mythological figures like Medusa. The trio play with these stereotypes to illustrate the ways in which women in horror and mythology have historically been dehumanized; their desire for obtaining power at any cost in turn makes them monstrous.

Mothica goes first, belting lines like “You drink it up but it’s dark magic/No room in her heart to be romantic/I don’t blame you, it’s hypnotic/Skeletons inside her closet.” In her considerably deeper register, DeathbyRomy narrates the demise of those who fail to recognize the warning signs: “Toxic lullaby/Kiss your comforts all good-bye/Turn you to stone with a look in her eye/But you love her all the same.”

When discussing the creative process with these three, the word seamless keeps coming up; it’s clear that this project wasn’t only a creative partnership but a collaboration between friends. Their ability to tap into each other’s psyche and create a similar tale whilst retaining their own sonic independence is testament to that.

“They really elevate and expand on the sound of it. Both of them really played off of the lyrics of what the song is already about, which is just like this dangerous… absolutely unbothered woman,” says Ellise. “Sonically, I think it added so much more like variation to the song. They both have incredible voices, but what’s awesome is that all three of us sound so different. You’re getting to hear all these different voices. It’s really cool to me. I’m very happy.”

DeathbyRomy agrees, saying, “Aesthetically we meld well… I think we all did our own thing, in our own way, and still maintained something very cohesive.”

“Soul Sucker, Pt. 2” offers yet another example of the power of female collaboration within an industry that continues to pit female performers against each other, while also adding dimension to the trope of the femme fatale as a complex, multi-layered being – one that resides within us all. As a cautionary tale, the song acts as a reminder not to let our toxic tendencies take hold, and instead reach out to those who will support and nourish us the way Mothica and DeathbyRomy have for Ellise.

Follow Ellise on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Sound Baths Helped Center Taleen Kali; Now She Pays It Forward With Free Songs For Meditation EP

Photo Credit: Devon Ingram

Last April, as soon as Taleen Kali and her bandmate Miles Marsico were vaccinated, they headed to a warehouse in Glendale, California, just outside of Los Angeles, with a bass, a harmonium, some synths and singing bowls. Then they hooked up the bass and synths to “a mess of pedals” and recorded a sound bath. On November 5, the fruits of that session were released as a five-track EP, Songs for Meditation, for free, a gesture that Kali describes as a “gift to the universe during these wild times.” 

Songs for Meditation is divided into five improvised compositions that take their titles from the components of narrative structures; it begins with “Prologue” and ends with “Denouement.” The EP is also structured similar to a traditional sound bath, although some of the techniques they use aren’t. “It’s a meditation record, a sound bath record, but sometimes it also sounds like a post-rock record or an ambient album,” Kali says on a recent phone call. It’s also a culmination of a rock musician’s journey into the healing power of sound baths. 

Back in 2013, Kali, who plays multiple instruments including piano and guitar, had been experiencing tendonitis and was noticing the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s when she headed to her first yoga class, which quickly became a passion. In a class she took early on, the teacher played a singing bowl; Kali was instantly intrigued. “It sounded holy. It sounded beautiful,” she recalls. Kali wanted to learn everything about singing bowls, so she trained to become a sound bath practitioner. 

Singing bowls, particularly the crystal ones that Kali often plays, have some major differences from traditional rock instruments. “With rock and roll or punk, you can thrash. You can thrash on your guitar and it feels amazing. You can feedback. I feel like when I play traditional rock instruments, I can be really volatile with them and channel anger and channel all sorts of things that come up,” Kali explains. “However, with singing bowls, if I do that, I’m going to break the crystal bowl.”

In fact, Kali did have a crystal bowl once that broke when it fell, even though it was packed inside of a gig bag. The fragility of the instrument lends itself to a different type of playing style. “You really have to play the singing bowl with reverence and be very grounded while you play it, otherwise, you’re going to hurt the singing bowl or hurt yourself,” says Kali; it’s more like settling in to a balancing pose in yoga.

Still, there are elements of singing bowl techniques that Kali, who released the rock-oriented EP Soul Songs in 2018, has been able to transfer over to her work on guitar. “It was great practice for me for relearning to play guitar in a safer way in order to avoid injury,” says Kali. “The practice of playing the crystal singing bowl really has reeducated me in thinking, getting grounded, taking a few breaths before I play, so that I’m playing from a more centered place.” 

A few nights before our interview, I sat in on a virtual sound bath where she played three crystal quartz composite bowls that were tuned to the notes D, F and A, respectively. “They make up a perfect triad, a perfect chord, a major chord,” she explains. The bowls were already tuned to those notes in order to achieve the harmonic sounds that they can produce. 

In the sound bath, she encouraged viewers to set an intention and gave journal prompts. The latter activity, she says, is the result of the amount of people in the creative fields who attend the events. “They can be really creatively generative,” she says of sound baths. Something like a journal prompt can help direct that inspiration.

Kali has been creating sound baths for about three years now, but, for a while, she had put the practice aside due to touring. “My singing bowls were in the studio in the gig bags,” she says. “I didn’t have them out anymore.” That changed, though, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Kali brought her bowls home from the studio. “Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I started doing these virtual sound baths because I needed them,” she says. “I needed to come down off of all the anxiety related to the start of the pandemic.”

She kept going with it, and has more recently started doing one-minute sound baths on Instagram, where she plays at times that are unannounced, although they typically come at the top of an hour. These mini sound baths are a response to the phenomenon of doomscrolling. “I also fell prey to so much doomscrolling and internet addiction, especially in the middle of the pandemic, when I couldn’t socialize normally,” Kali says, noting how she would end up spending time on social media networks even when she didn’t want to. “It started to not feel good. That’s how I knew that it was addictive.”

The Instagram pop ups are a way to offer some of her sound bath work for free, something Kali felt was important to do. “By playing the instruments, it’s actually helping me too,” she says. “It’s a fair exchange of energy. I’m not giving anything away. It’s helping me, it’s helping others, and that feels really good.” 

Follow Taleen Kali on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Alt-Rock Duo Mediocre Exorcise Pushover Tendencies with “Mattress Bitch” Premiere

Photo Credit: Ginger Port

When alt-rock duo Mediocre showed up at the East LA warehouse they’d booked to film their latest video, the woman who let them in was shocked – despite the fact that the location is mainly used for film production, this was the first all-female crew she’d seen shooting there. But Piper Torrison and Keely Martin are used to doing things themselves (Martin is also one-half of Bowie Nix, the production team responsible for all of Mediocre’s videos thus far). Not only is their quirky DIY spirit built into their musical and visual aesthetic, it’s also attracted the attention of Dangerbird Records.

In 2020, after hearing Mediocre’s self-released EP Emotion Sickness, the indie label invited the band to participate in their ongoing Microdose Series. Normally, Dangerbird curates up-and-coming bands and sets them up with whatever they need to record a single and its b-side; sometimes they throw a free show to commemorate the release. Mediocre brought a handful of tracks to Dangerbird, who selected catchy, kitschy power pop number “Waiting For Your Heart” and reworked one of the band’s older songs, “Give In,” as a shoegazey daydream.

But while they were still in the process of deciding what to record, Martin and Torrison had been furiously writing a new song, reunited after a year of college spent on opposite coasts, not to mention the pandemic. They squeezed it into their studio time with producer Danny Noguieras at Balboa Recording Studios (his band No Win also works with Dangerbird) and the label decided to release all three songs. “They really gave us so much freedom to just do what we want,” Torrison says. “It was really cool to have them on board with what we were doing, and I think that also helped us just be like, we got it. We don’t need to appease anyone. We’re doing our thing and it’s working out.”

The third single from the series, “Mattress Bitch,” premieres today on Audiofemme, along with the video Mediocre shot for it in that East LA warehouse. One of the rooms in was set up with a neon cross and church pews, which ultimately dictated Martin’s vision for the clip. While it’s essentially a performance video, Martin and Torrison also play a variety of other characters – a frustrated teacher, awkward schoolgirls, disaffected goth kids. It feels like a fun take on the repeated chorus, “We’re only playing make-believe/but I’ll keep coming back around,” but it also mirrors the song’s cheeky examination of pretending to be something you aren’t for the approval of others.

Martin and Torrison started writing songs together soon after their friendship formed, when they were still in high school. “When we first started out, we were just practicing in Piper’s garage, as all DIY bands start – humble beginnings,” remembers Martin. They’d pass a notebook back and forth, jotting down lyrics about whatever they were feeling, even something as a literal as what foods they were craving (the initial basis for their first-ever tune “Milkshake”). “Before we even talked about being in a band or anything, I think our way of hanging out would just be creating the most obnoxious, total joke of a song, cracking [ourselves] up,” adds Torrison.

Though they spend most of the year 3,000 miles apart now that Torrison is enrolled at UC Santa Cruz and Martin at Emerson College, they still develop songs much the same way; over texts, videos, and voice memos, they share ideas, lyrics, and melodies. “It’s been really cool still being able to write stuff from afar,” says Torrison. “Even when we were together, I would start a song and kinda stop myself and be like, no, I wanna write this with Keely, and I know that it’ll develop into something different if I stop here and we do this together. So it’s been pretty natural to transition into that, to be like okay, I have this riff idea, I’ll send it to Keely, and then she’ll send me something back with a little bit added to it, just back and forth like that.”

“I sent Piper the first bit of the first verse that started us writing ‘Mattress Bitch.’ I wanted to make it like, kinda funny, and I was trying not to think too hard about it when I was writing it, but of course when you look back, you’re like oh, there is deeper meaning to this,” Martin says. “I do think that it is a sad song in a way, and vulnerable, but hidden behind that humor – which is very much a common thing that I tend to do, or anyone else does when they’re confronting a something or someone but they don’t want to reveal too much about their feelings. Compensating with humor, just that general experience of making yourself small and forgetting your worth, I feel like that’s very relevant to anyone’s experience.”

Whether it is the humor in the song’s nonsensical lyrics (“I am a mattress/You can get on top of me if you want to”) making its rawness more palatable, or simply the pair’s familiarity with one another, both agree “Mattress Bitch” came together quickly and easily. “We wrote it while we were apart, and then as soon as we came home to LA for the summer, that was like the first time we really heard ‘Mattress Bitch’ live together,” Torrison recalls. They had about two weeks to nail it down before going into the studio, but Noguieras was as eager to include it in the upcoming session as the band was. “We sent it to Danny and he was like, yes, we’re recording that. He was really stoked on it too. The energy was matched,” Torrison continues. “But I think the comfortability with writing it, especially, points to our future of writing together.” 

“I feel like that song is really indicative of the sound that the band is going toward. And of the bands that we had been listening to throughout these past couple years,” Martin agrees. “When I was trying to write songs in high school, I was like, okay, they have to mosh to something! And it was just this unnecessary pressure in my brain – when you’re young and you’re in a scene you want people to get riled up and stuff; I feel like I was in that headspace. That music is fun and I enjoyed playing it, it just wasn’t fully our style.”

“The bands we played with were very different from our sound at that time, very punk-heavy,” Torrison elaborates. “I think distancing ourselves from that, not having that pressure anymore, we can find our audience on our own. We’re not forced into this narrow punk scene. I think that expanded us to get more comfortable with our own writing and writing for what we like.”

That trajectory is evident comparing the Mircrodose singles to Emotion Sickness, which compiled much of their earliest songs. “By the time that we were able to release it, all of those songs felt very indicative of the past – in a positive way – but we wanted to get it out there fast as we could so we could progress to new things, you know?” says Martin. “We recorded the Microdose songs this past summer, so those two processes happened a year apart, but we experienced so much growth within that year. It was really cool to look back on the release date of our EP versus us recording these new songs. [Even] the songs we had written in the past, we were reinventing them now that we were more confident with our sound.”

Though “Mattress Bitch” may be the next tongue-in-cheek anthem of pushovers everywhere, Mediocre seems to have moved far beyond that mentality. Every step of the way, they’ve approached their songwriting, sound, and visual aesthetic with conviction. They’ve gone from “playing make believe” to believing in themselves – and we’ll keep coming back around, every time.

Follow Mediocre on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Donna Missal Shares New Sega Bodega Collab As She Embarks on First Post-COVID Tour

It’s just a few days before Donna Missal is set to leave for Houston to begin her stint opening for CHVRCHES across the United States. The L.A.-based singer has been busy with rehearsals, figuring out a cohesive way to bring together her body of work. There is new, unreleased material and songs that will drop while she’s on the road, in addition to her older music and the tunes from her 2020 album, Lighter, that she has yet to play live. This will be Missal’s first tour since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It feels like everything has changed so drastically about touring, as well as our environment,” she says over a Zoom call. Missal will be performing in cities she has seen before, but the experience could be something entirely new. “It feels like I’ve never done this before and I’m going on my first tour ever. It’s a strange feeling. I think it’s all very unknown still and I won’t know what I’ve gotten myself into until we’re out there doing it.”

Throughout 2020 and 2021, Missal had been staying active making new music. In fact, her new single “(to me) your face is love,” stems from this period. It’s part of a body of work that brings together Missal with UK producer Sega Bodega – he also produced her single “sex is good (but have you tried),” released in March 2021. The two began collaborating remotely during the pandemic, but this single actually stems from an in-person session, Missal’s first since prior to the stay-at-home period. 

With “(to me) your face is love,” Missal offers a dose of retro-futurism with a sound that recalls late 1990s breakbeat. The accompanying video is a fashion-forward clip where Missal’s wardrobe, both sculptural and ethereal, reflects the juxtaposition of the powerful, electronic beat with delicate vocals.

Over a year ago, when Missal, like so many others, was at home, she bought some equipment and started recording at home. It was something she hadn’t done before. “All the music that I had made at that point, even if I had started it on my own, was created in a studio environment,” she says. “This was the first time I was working on ideas with total autonomy. It was just me messing around at home with vocals.”

Missal had a goal in mind. She wanted to gain enough skill at recording her own vocals so that, when the time was right, she could go into the studio and better explain the sounds she wanted or, maybe, do it herself. “I just wanted total freedom to focus on voice and lyrics and melody,” she says. So, instead of recording to an instrumental track or writing music, she used a clicker when she recorded with Logic, singing to a tempo that she thought would work. 

The pandemic also prompted Missal to connect with people who could collaborate virtually. That was new for Missal too, as she’s typically worked on music with others in person. She sent her a cappella demos to Bodega, who composed music around the tracks and sent them back to her. “ It was the first time that I ever worked in that kind of process before,” she says. “We started making a lot of music that way.”

Flash forward to the summer of 2021: Missal flew out to London for her first recording sessions in a studio since the onset of the pandemic. The 10-day excursion was also her first longer stay in the city. “I wanted to finish everything that we started and I wanted to meet the people that had been working on this music with me remotely,” she says. “I had amazing support from my label to go do that.”

But Missal was able to do more than finish the tracks that began as remote collaborations. She and Bodega decided to spend a couple days writing new material together, in the same space. “It was so different from how I had been making music for about a year [at that point],” she says. “I was back in my environment, an environment that was very familiar to me, writing in a room with a person present and they’re producing and you’re doing your thing. It felt like a completely brand new thing, even though it was something that I had done before.”

“(To me) your face is love” is one of the songs that came out of this session. They wrote it in a matter of hours while in the studio, with Bodega working on the production and Missal handling lyrics and melody. “The song was really instantaneous. That’s always really fun for me, when they come together that way. Minimal effort, and you’re making choices based on what feels good and what you like,” she says. “You’re not thinking about how it will be perceived. You’re making music with someone in real time where both of your intentions are very pure.”

The experience in London proved to be eye-opening for Missal. “I also had this idea going out there that I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with those people,” she says. “It’s the most inclusive group of people that I’ve ever met. They were incredibly kind to me and brought me in like it was nothing. No one had questions about whether you were a visible person or whether you were worth it to engage with. That just wasn’t part of the way that anyone made their choices there.”

It was a chance to work on music without having to think about likes, followers, or whether or not it will sell or appeal to her fans. “I had a real revelation while being out there. I felt so much freedom that I hadn’t felt before,” she says. “It’s something that I’ll bring into my process moving forward with everything that I do, this openness to allowing yourself to be creative and make choices that feel good without worrying about all that other shit that tends to muddy the process and make music-making about something that it shouldn’t have ever been about.”

Follow Donna Missal on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Zzzahara and Ynes Mon Join Forces on Debut U.S. Velvet Video

Photo Credit: Robb Klassen

Like mixing baking soda and vinegar in a science fair volcano, L.A.-based musicians Zahara Jaime and Collin Davis couldn’t help but react explosively once their powers combined.

Jaime has been hard at work on their solo project under the moniker Zzzahara, as well as playing guitar with Eyedress and in The Simps (both with Idris Vicuña). Davis makes expansive ambient soundscapes as Ynes Mon, releasing his debut LP Holyhead in March of this year. But once the pair started bonding over drum machines and post-punk, their combustible collaboration as U.S. Velvet began to take shape, and last week, they released a video for their eponymous single, directed by Brother Adam Willis.

Angular dance punk guitars, disenchanted attitudes, and a skronky sax solo from the mysterious Folerio soundtrack the world’s weirdest pool-party, populated mainly by cardboard cut-outs that stand in for a bygone era of idealized Hollywood glamour. “To me, the song is this hedonistic embrace of nihilism in present day America and the video reads almost like the opening scene from Blue Velvet… playing into the white picket aesthetic of the MAGA ‘American Dream’ while exposing true darkness that is hiding underneath,” explains Davis. “Then there’s Z and I, subverting and wreaking havoc upon it, like the slasher in a ’70s horror flick.”

“We live to erase/Take me to a far gone place,” the duo shout-sings, building up an arsenal of surrealist imagery along the way. Their nihilistic critique of modern-day struggle comes from observing it first-hand in rapidly gentrifying Highland Park. Jaime was born and raised there; Davis migrated from the Bay Area after dropping out of college to pursue music. “Z and I both worked service industry jobs on the same block. I had known Z very casually for a couple of years and we would just give each other free drinks at our wack jobs,” Davis remembers. “I think Z thought I was Billie Eilish’s brother for a long time because he was also a regular.”

“Collin was so friendly – every time he’d come up to me and be super smiley, and I’m just like, dude… why are you so happy all the time? Like, I’m fuckin’ miserable in my life, why are you so cool?” Jaime says with a laugh. Davis suggested they go to The OffBeat’s regular Monday night drag open mic, and though Jaime scoffed at the idea initially, they both eventually wound up there.

“Looking back I was pretty persistent on hanging out in the beginning but now they are one of my closest friends and collaborators so I’m glad I did,” says Davis. “I just always thought they had such a cool vibe from afar and then my good friend booked them at a show so I knew they were homie verified.”

By then, Davis had started working as a producer and sound engineer at Stones Throw Studios, a job he got through a mutual friend after working in a couple of different studios around L.A. “Working with all the artists who come through has been a huge blessing,” he says. “I’m always peeping game in studio sessions and learning from other artists’ process.”

It was a blessing for Jaime too, who had been recording at home for years, to finally have access to a studio setting – and their musical chemistry was on point. “Collin has taught me so much about audio stuff,” they say. “He can just read my mind and that’s why I love working with him so much. He’ll be like, ‘I feel like you need to tap into a more emotional riff…’ He brings out the better musician in me and I think I bring it out in him too because we feed off of each other. We could put together [ideas] and it becomes this poppy dark wave instrumental and it’s so sick.”

Still, Davis says, he and Jaime had no intentions of starting another band at first. “We went into Future Music on York Boulevard to browse and I pointed out a cool drum machine. The next day Z showed up at my door with the same drum machine in hand. Within 48 hours we had recorded two U.S. Velvet tracks,” he recalls. “Z and I have pretty different taste in music but we both love late ’70s and early ’80s post punk and goth so even though it was never discussed I think that became a natural jumping off point for our sound.”

Last year, they released debut single “Sleep Paralysis,” which sprawls gorgeously into the goth territory of songs like The Cure’s “Lullaby.” While “U.S. Velvet” is decidedly more boisterous, making use of cool audio tricks like a chopped up, backward vocal, both provide a nice entry point for the band’s sonic touchstones. The version of “U.S. Velvet” posted to Bandcamp is a full minute longer than the cut used for the video, thanks to a chaotically transcendent guitar solo bridge that somehow conveys just as must angst as the song’s despondent lyrics. And yet, the overall sound is nervy, infectious, and perfect for an apocalyptic dance party.

Regardless of the darker influences and motifs they’re drawn to, Jaime and Davis clearly approach U.S. Velvet from a place of wanting to have fun with it, and they develop songs for the project on a rolling basis, not worried about where they’ll go. In the meantime, Liminal Spaces, the debut album from Zzzahara, will be out on Lex Records sometime next year; Davis says he has been working on “a good amount of psych-R&B where I’m singing, and at least two instrumental albums made in collaboration with a therapist for psychedelic assisted therapy.” He will also release a song and video called “Sun Eyes” as Ynes Mon soon, with “a couple full projects done waiting in the wings for the right time.” When it comes to U.S. Velvet’s prescient dark-wave nihilism, it feels like there’s no better time than now.

Follow U.S. Velvet on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: CHYL and Melissa Brooks Team Up to Reclaim “Barbie”


To some, the Barbie doll has come to represent many of the evils of patriarchy, from stereotypical gender roles to unrealistic beauty standards. But in her upbeat, danceable electronic single “Barbie,” electro-house DJ/producer CHYL reclaims the iconic toy as the symbol of a woman who goes on adventures and wears many shoes, both literally and figuratively.

Against a mix of heavy house and hip-hop beats, Aquadolls vocalist Melissa Brooks, who collaborated with CHYL on the bass house song, repeats the sassy monotone refrain: “I’m a real life Barbie.” Contrary to many people’s conception of the Barbie, she sings about flaunting her wealth, being busy with phone calls, and not needing a man: “Wanna talk to me now/You should call me later/You know I got a lot to do/And you should know that I don’t trade that.”

“When you listen to the first couple lines of the lyrics, you might think that me and Melissa are talking about being a pretty girl,” says CHYL. “But it’s not really about that — we’re talking about being a girl who is a badass but also really cute. Who says you can’t be a cute girl? Who says you have to be a cute girl but also be dependent on men? So we wanted to talk about being a girl who’s independent, who makes her own rules, who plays a lot of roles, and people can respect that.”

That’s a persona CHYL felt that Brooks represented, which was why she sought her out to sing the lyrics. “She’s a very independent, very strong girl but also looks good all the time,” she says. “She’s very cute in person, she’s very humble, and overall a very high achiever, so I love her style and thought she’d be the perfect person to be the vocalist on this song.” 

Featured “Barbie” vocalist Melissa Brooks

CHYL conceived of the song to fill a void in the male-dominated electronic music genre, where she noticed a lack of feminist lyrics. “There aren’t that may songs celebrating women and girls in electronic music,” says CHYL. “Most of the songs just talk about being in a club or people falling in love, and I wanted to break that boundary of having a song that celebrated being a woman.”

Given that under three percent of producers are women, she hopes the unabashedly feminine song might inspire other women to become producers.

CHYL, who grew up in China and Canada but is currently based in LA, produced the instrumentals first then collaborated with Brooks on the lyrics before recording the vocals with her, a process she says took several months. “It took me a while to come up with the bass line that I’m satisfied with, the beats that we’re actually comfortable releasing,” she says. “We recorded so many different versions of the song.”

The end product is a fun, choppy mish-mash of house drums, subtly auto-tuned vocals (she used a plugin called Fresh Air that brings out the high notes), and dreamy bells and sprinkling effects in the dramatic drop. “I tried to put a girly touch, and I feel like you can hear that,” she says. “The effects were very sparkly and fun.”

CHYL has released six singles so far, all this year, and is working on a number of others. She hopes to release an EP in the near future but for now is focused on two singles called “Bestie” and “Bitch Mode,” which she likes to think of as complements to “Barbie,” since they’re all “female-themed” and feature female vocalists she hand-selected.

CHYL — a moniker that came from the second syllable of her first name, Rachel — began listening to EDM while she was studying economics in college, but she didn’t think initially about doing music professionally; she went on to work on Wall Street instead. “I was mentally suffering a lot from the job and getting a little bitt depressed,” she remembers. “Over the course of two years in finance, I realized that electronic music is my true passion.” She began DJing at clubs but decided she wanted to produce the music herself, so she attended a year-long intensive music production program in LA, and graduated in April.

Having switched seamlessly between the roles of businesswoman, DJ, and producer, she’s a fitting model for a “real life Barbie” — something every woman has perhaps been in some way, at least by her definition.

“I just hope the song can reach as many girls as possible around the world, and I hope girls can feel empowered and uplifted while listening to this song and also have fun with it and dance with it,” she says. “It’s meant to be a fun, empowering anthem for women.”

Follow CHYL on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Liz Nistico of HOLYCHILD is Reborn as Revenge Wife

Photo Credit: Svet Jacqueline

“I’m definitely the type of person who doesn’t really care what the medium [is] – if I’m feeling the need to express myself, I will do it with whatever’s around,” says Liz Nistico, and she’s more than proven herself a Renaissance woman with her newest project Revenge Wife. After eight years as one half of “brat pop” duo HOLYCHILD (alongside multi-instrumentalist Louie Diller), Nistico released a debut EP under her solo moniker this summer, Background Songs For Your Boring Life, Part I. It compiles four singles Nistico shared in the lead-up via a series of linked short films, as well as an additional track. A few weeks ago, she also shared “Die Together,” the lead single from Part II.

Revenge Wife is a fresh, modern and emotional project – at its root is Nistico’s ongoing self-interrogation of her fears surrounding intimacy and relationships, while on the surface, it makes good on hyperpop’s best tendencies to sonically hybridize high-dosage time-release Adderall with the early 2000s Hampster Dance Song thing that happened when people first started using the internet. Textural electronic jams meet with deep, raw sentiment that’s reflective, self-aware, empowering, vulnerable and captivating.

The videos add another complex layer to the Revenge Wife persona, establishing Nistico as both director of and actress in her own twisted visions. With a Lynchian aesthetic, the viewer has the ability to enter and inhabit the noir surrealist dream world of Revenge Wife. The shots have an ominous, out-of-context sensuality, teasing homage to “Criminal” era Fiona Apple.

Born and raised in New Hampshire by a pilot and a nurse, Nistico was encouraged as a child to study dance, musical theatre, and creative writing, all of which clearly inform her current work. Though she studied International Affairs in D.C., she began to feel her true calling was to make art, exploring filmmaking at first. When asked about visual reference points, she explains, “At this point, I don’t really make stuff with visual references. I mostly have a story, and use my own eye.”

Though they were released out of sync, (it’s just how it happened according to Nistico) and appear in a different order on Background Songs’ tracklist, the videos can (and should be) viewed sequentially, beginning with “Home.” “Home is about a long distance relationship, but from an anxious state,” Nistico says. “The music video was the start of the horror era for me.”

Shot about a year ago now, “Home” initiates the series with a dream sequence that sets Nistico’s character on the journey she continues with “Earthquake.” On YouTube, Nistico poses the question, “Have you ever had a dream that changed your life?” The song’s earnest lyrics (“you’re in all my dreams”) depict longing for someone who’s far away, but the video’s unsettling imagery hints at something much darker, which only deepens with “Earthquake.”

The tragic yet upbeat track boasts organic and thoughtful production, Nistico’s timeless lyrical storytelling sitting pretty with auto-tuned vocals over bright, fidgety synth. Nistico ponders whether her love interest would be there for her when disaster strikes, a prescient and somber reminder of the true colors we’ve seen from friends and lovers over the last chaotic year. In the video, Nistico looks like the aggressor her moniker suggests, while red-hued flashbacks scorch the wintry landscape she drives through, in disguise, toward an ambiguous end point.

“This music video is about trusting yourself and moving toward love, even when you’re haunted by past trauma,” Nistico describes on YouTube. “Our main character is trusting the unknown despite flashes of past trauma, and leaving her life behind.. for what?”

We see what she’s headed for when “Manifest” picks up the story. In some ways, perhaps, it’s the most violent of the series; John Karna plays Nistico’s maniacal lover, and the two are locked in a toxic battle for dominance over the other. Described as “a story of love that’s wrong for us, set to a song about a life that’s wrong for us,” “Manifest” grew out of Nistico’s response to living in LA, but it also became an edgy driving soundtrack perfect for my ongoing habit of errand hopping around Manhattan in rush hour traffic (woops).

Poking at the flawed concept of “manifesting” what we desire by obsessing over it, Nistico’s incisive lyrics expose the internal frustrations of new age toxic optimism. It’s actually surprising that there are few, if any, songs that tackle this topic in this way. “I’m working on me today/Same day as every day/I spend a lot of time trying to grow/But what do I see from it?/Ok, my body’s fit/Yet I’m always struggling/Got nothing to show,” Revenge Wife emotes with refreshingly cathartic and childlike urgency. “They say manifest (Fuck that)/They say to de-stress (Fuck that)/I don’t even know myself/How am I supposed to know what’s best?” 

Nistico wants what we all want – a supportive partner, money, recognition – but the video lays bare just how damaging chasing a lifestyle can be, and it doesn’t end well for Nistico’s lover. Ironically, Nistico made these videos on a relatively small budget; they were shot using an iPhone in the midst of the pandemic. The one exception is the next video in the series, set to “Dream I Had,” which Nistico says is her favorite visual. There’s some carry-over in the imagery and editing style to aesthetically tie it to the other videos. Nistico incorporates more of her dance background into this fever dream of a clip, eventually reaching her own distorted form of enlightenment only to find herself trapped in it.

“‘Dream I Had’ is actually a conversation with my higher self, where all the verses are from her perspective,” Nistico says. Her inner wisdom waits patiently to guide her decisions, only to be pushed away by self-doubt – a battle of conscious empowerment so many of us wage internally. “The choruses, ‘I never see you,’ are from her perspective. She’s like, ‘I’m always outside of your window, you never open your window, you never ask for me, what the heck? I’m always here.’ And then the [response is], ‘You’re just a dream, you always get away from me.'”

The final installment of the video series hints at more to come, but it’s unclear which direction Revenge Wife will take as the project evolves. For now, Revenge Wife owes its richness to the four years Nistico has spent developing it. Those familiar with HOLYCHILD’s self-directed music videos and performance art pieces will remember Nistico’s unparalleled vision and confidence not only as front woman, but as the band’s creative director with a reel of visual masterpieces. But like many artists Nistico was dissatisfied working creatively in the confines of the music industry’s big machine. The oppressive withholding of releases, and the creeping tensions for musical autonomy led Nistico to commit her efforts full time to the new era of Revenge Wife. So HOLYCHILD went on “indefinite hiatus.”

Expressing with utmost professionalism an ongoing positive relationship with her former HOLYCHILD bandmate (who is currently releasing solo music under the moniker Louie Louie!), Nistico says they were thrown into the deep end, with little concern for maintaining flexibility or consistency within their release schedule. “I met Louis, my bandmate, and we moved to LA to launch HOLYCHILD. It all happened really fast. Within a year of moving to LA, we were signed and had every major record label trying to work with us,” she remembers. “It was pretty crazy, but I’m really grateful for that experience.”

After releasing debut The Shape of Brat Pop to Come in 2015, Nistico was at a turning point, brought on by ongoing surgeries over the course of six months for a cyst on her vocal cord. Scared that even talking could risk her recovery, she became a hermit, and delved into Tarot Card reading and existential and internal spiritual work and meditation.

“I had this crazy ayahuasca journey when I was at a crossroads in 2016. Should I continue with music? Should I just focus on directing?” Nistico says. “The next day I got a piano and then wrote all these songs. A lot of them made their way on to [2019] HOLYCHILD record The Theatrical Death of Julie Delicious. Those were my first songs writing alone.”

Leaning on her newfound mindfulness, she discovered herself in a new way and from this era of self-reflection and healing Revenge Wife was born, “out of the feeling of wanting to be empowered just doing things by myself,” Nistico says. “Especially the writing part of it – I feel like it’s such a masculine thing. Even though directing might be too, I feel like I mastered my confidence with that. I know it sounds weird, but I really believe that I was able to play piano in a past life. When I look at the piano, it just makes sense to me.”

Still, Revenge Wife is in many ways an extension of the interests Nistico has explored in previous projects, all the way up to her most recent single “Die Together.” “I actually made a short film called ‘Forever’ about the same concept. I was making a lot of art around the concept of murder-suicide for love, because you’re at this insane apex of love,” she explains.

The song was written over the course of a few years, she adds. “Later I felt like the chorus meant different things to me – like dying together when you’re really in love, because your ego is dead,” she says. “I’m really interested in the spiritual realm and death, and there’s the lyric ‘We’ll find out what else there is.’”

“The verses are more real, coming from a place of insecurity,” Nistico adds. “Do you want me/Am I pretty/Do you ever really even think about me?” she sings, as if these things are enough to pull someone to the edge of oblivion. Nistico wants to be the center of someone’s universe, and to have that someone prove it in the most final of ways, taking to extremes the desire so many of us have for approval and love. So too, does Revenge Wife as a whole take that yearning to extremes; by making her own desires so garish and out-sized, Nistico has a vehicle to examine them from an almost tongue-in-cheek view – and invites us to do the same.

To celebrate the song’s release, Revenge Wife plays a show this Saturday October 23rd at the Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles. With plans to spend the next few months hibernating creatively in Italy, then potentially making a move to a slower-paced creative hub in the Catskill Mountains to satisfy her creative urge of being in nature, there’s no doubt Revenge Wife will continue to push creative boundaries.

Follow Revenge Wife on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Hollis Premieres Self-Directed Video for Latest Solo Single “Let Me Not”

L.A.-via Seattle singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist Hollis Wong-Wear, known simply as Hollis, is redefining herself and going solo. Until now, Hollis has been best known for her contribution to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2013 debut GRAMMY-nominated album, The Heist, with the song “White Walls,” and for her role as front-woman of popular Seattle group, The Flavr Blue.

But, come 2022, Hollis releases her debut solo full-length—an alt-pop album entitled Subliminal, which she wrote and recorded almost entirely during the pandemic. Today, Hollis premieres her third single from the forthcoming album, “Let Me Not,” a vibrant-yet-melancholy track that marks Hollis’ first collaboration with Ryan Lewis since their work on The Heist.

“Let Me Not” also marks one of the first music videos she’s ever directed—something she’d like to do more of going into 2022. “I have a lot of interests as a filmmaker,” says Hollis. “Between my work directing the ‘Let Me Not’ video and thinking about like moving forward with the other videos, I want to make sure they’re artistically cohesive.” 

Hollis, who is originally from Petaluma, CA, grew up immersed in the Bay Area’s spoken word and underground hip hop scenes, which played a big part in the trajectory she’s on today as an artist.

“I first sparked my own original creative work by being in spoken word poetry and slam poetry through an organization called Youth Speaks,” says Hollis. “When I was growing up in high school, there was the hyphy movement and Bay Area hip hop in general, underground rap, [with artists like] Hieroglyphics and DJ Shadow. That really was exciting to be a part of as a young person.”

After high school, Hollis moved to Seattle to go to Seattle University, where she studied history. When she wasn’t hitting the books, Hollis followed her passions for spoken word and music and found herself spending more time on her own creative work than she did in the Bay Area.

“I honestly didn’t make music myself until I moved up to Seattle. I sang in choir and performed in musical theater and stuff like that,” she remembers. “I was a performer but I wasn’t a songwriter by any means until I started my first band up in Seattle with my friend Maddy, which was called Canary Sing.”

Through performing with Canary Sing, networking within the slam poetry community, and hanging out at some of Seattle’s biggest hip hop hubs, like Hidmo, a now-closed Eritrean restaurant and bar that hosted regular hip hop events, Hollis got to know the pair that would soon become the biggest names in Seattle hip hop—Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

“A lot of people came through Hidmo and that’s… how I ended up getting connected with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in an official capacity. He had asked me to be the producer of a music video that would end up being [the] ‘Wing$‘ video,” says Hollis. “Basically four of us worked for months on a shoestring budget… and very scrappily made that first music video. The song wasn’t done – I actually ended up cowriting the hook of that song and working with a children’s choir to perform it. When I started working with them, I had no idea I was going to be a featured singer and songwriter someday.”

Hollis became closer with Lewis and Macklemore, and their friendship led to her eventual feature and songwriting on The Heist track, “White Walls,” with Schoolboy Q.

Since the success of The Heist a lot has changed for Hollis. In 2015, she left Seattle for L.A., where she currently resides. According to Hollis, she wanted the change in scenery to challenge her creatively—and it ended up giving her the courage to step out on her own with the forthcoming album, Subliminal.

“I don’t know if I really would have allowed myself to come into my own as a solo artist in Seattle,” Hollis muses. “I think I’ve always loved collaboration to the point that I’ve been dependent on collaboration and it’s scary to be a solo female artist. It’s freaky. And I think I didn’t feel I needed to do that in Seattle because I was like, oh I’m already this personality, people know who I am, I have this band. The challenge wasn’t really there for me to do my own solo thing and I didn’t know how to do my own solo thing.”

Starting over in L.A., Hollis realized the solo artist inside her needed nurturing—and by February 2020, Hollis released her first solo EP half-life, a tender-hearted, intimate 5-song project. Then the pandemic hit, thwarting Hollis’ plans to tour with Half Life. She took her YouTube series Hollis Does Brunch completely virtual to benefit those impacted by the pandemic. And she dove into writing the songs that would become Subliminal.

While creating Subliminal, social distancing took away her ability to collaborate in the traditional ways, so, with the exception of “Let Me Not,” all the songs on the new album were written remotely over Zoom with her collaborators. After making the album in this way—which she says felt bizarre and isolated at first—Hollis feels more confident in who she is as a solo artist. That new-found self-possession saturates “Let Me Not.”

“Figuring out how to collaborate with people remotely [meant finding out] how to feel really solid with myself and be literally alone writing, which definitely shaped the way this album came out,” she says.

“Let Me Not” is the only song Hollis recorded in-person—negative COVID-19 tests in hand—with Ryan Lewis, and is one of the most personal songs on the album. “That song was very much ripped from my journal,” she explains. “I was doing a lot of journaling towards the later half of 2020 and the chorus refrain, ‘let me not bring down the vibe,’ was just literally something I had written in my journal three days before our session.”

Now transformed into an upbeat headbanger with a sneaking, ominous keyboard line, the song and its video depict Hollis, obviously feeling weighed down by the heaviness of the world as she knocks her “head on the wall all night” and “feels like throwing herself out the window.” We see the artist’s helplessness and confusion as she sits in an empty theater, lies alone in the grass, and performs a house show with an angry grimace.

In the end, she doesn’t want to “bring down the vibe” by being honest and open about her emotional state and the state of the world—even to herself—a notion that captures the pain, anxiety, fear, and descent into numbness that has gripped many of us since March 2020. That said, the track is anything by upsetting— its honesty makes the listener feel a little less alone.

Why get so existential, even political, in a pop song? Hollis points to her long history of social activism and volunteerism and her firm belief in using her platform to promote social change and awareness. As is evident in “Let Me Not,” as well as another recent single “Grace Lee,” about Chinese-American social activist Grace Lee Boggs, writing pop music is not about Hollis’ ego, but about making a positive impact on the world.

“I’m not super excited about the premise of building my personal brand. If it’s for a larger purpose and I can do so to encourage connectivity, that’s when I feel most empowered and excited about the work,” says Hollis. “I love pop music and I think what really motivated me to come to L.A. was that I’m very passionate about my personal politics and about learning and how I can integrate that into [my music]. There’s so much potential in popular culture to shift and create change.”

Follow Hollis on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Los Angeles Beat Label Dome of Doom Turns 10 with Anniversary Comp and Party

QRTR / Photo Credit: Bren Lyn Haragan

Wylie Cable, the proprietor of Los Angeles-based label Dome of Doom, isn’t sure how Meagan Rodriguez, the Brooklyn-based DJ and producer better known as QRTR, first came to his attention. It could have been Soundcloud or Spotify or some social network. Regardless, when he first messaged her, they were strangers, and Cable had never seen her play. “I was really inspired by her artistic output and reached out to her and said, hey, have you ever thought about working with a label? Have you thought about a full length album?” Cable recalls on a recent phone call. 

That was in 2019. Just last month, QRTR released her second album for Dome of Doom. Her debut full-length, Drenched, was a meditation on depression and mental health that dropped at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her latest release, Infina Ad Nausea, is a play on the Latin infinitum ad nauseam. “I was trying to describe the sensation of living in a never-ending loop because that’s kind of what it felt like in lockdown,” says Rodriguez. She wrote the album over the course of 2020 and into early 2021. 

For Dome of Doom, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on September 21 with the release of compilation Decade of Doom, albums are the secret to the label’s success. “It’s not a business decision,” says Cable. “It’s probably easier and faster and more effective to just put out singles.”

Instead, albums are important because of what they represent creatively. “I feel like they are time-markers in artist’s lives,” says Cable, who is an artist himself. “I’ve put out eight solo records. Certain ones I like listening back to still and I’m very grateful that I took the time to get my ideas down on a record at a specific point in my life.”

“The ideas change. As a creative person, you get older and have more experiences,” he continues. “If you don’t get the ideas down and save them, they can just disappear or they can change.”

Cable founded Dome of Doom during a stint in San Francisco as a means to release the music that he and his friends made. After moving back to Los Angeles, he landed a gig doing visuals at the influential club night Low End Theory. Through that, Cable connected with a slew of artists who would go on to release albums on Dome of Doom, like Daedelus, and Huxley Anne, both of whom are set to play the label’s 10th anniversary party at 1720 in Los Angeles on September 23.

Huxley Anne was releasing her music on Soundcloud when she first got to know Cable via Low End Theory (the two had met previously at a gig back in 2016, a testament to the closeness of the scene). She ultimately released her debut album, Ilium, on the label in 2017. “It was a really organic process. I don’t even think back of it being a label-based process,” says Huxley Anne via Zoom. In the midst of that process, she scrapped the material she had and rewrote it after a visit to L.A. museum The Broad, where she saw “Ilium (One Morning 10 Years Later)” by artist Cy Twombly. “It literally brought tears to my eyes because the sketch was so amateur compared to the other work and it was an example of the beginning of an artist’s career, yet it was still housed in this museum,” Huxley Anne recalls. Since Ilium is another name for Troy, she used the Trojan War as a basis for the album. “I structured and rewrote my whole record based on a reinterpretation, reimagining of Helen of Troy going through the war,” says Huxley Anne. 

The debut proved to be a success. “I never thought an experimental record like that would be received as well as it was, and would lead to such a strong touring career for the next few years,” says Huxley Anne. 

Maybe that’s also a testament to the power of the full-length album. Now with two albums under her belt, QRTR’s star is on the rise. She’s set to play Firefly Music Festival at the end of September, the four-day event in Delaware that also features performances from Billie Eilish, Tame Impala, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion. 

“It really encapsulates a feeling of certain point in their life,” says Cable of albums. “Doing that is important for artists and doing that process is really what I’ve seen help people grow into more talented, more open and aware and sensitive and creative people, because it is a big undertaking.”

That’s something Cable says is worth the effort to create. “It is difficult and it is challenging and it comes with a lot of fucking mental ups and downs,” says Cable. But, he adds, “It’s the most fundamental and valuable thing as a musical artist that you can do.”

Follow Dome of Doom on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ramona Gonzalez Brings Academic Study to Nite Jewel with Comeback LP No Sun

Photo Credit: Tammy Nguyen

Nearly two weeks have passed since the release of No Sun, Ramona Gonzalez’s fifth full-length album as Nite Jewel, when Audiofemme catches up with the L.A.-based singer/composer/producer by phone. In that time, Gonzalez celebrated the release of her latest album with a hometown show at Zebulon, then crossed the country for a gig at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. 

“It was kind of weird, honestly, to perform in a live venue space,” says Gonzalez by phone. “With COVID and everything, I hadn’t been used to being around that many people. Also, I hadn’t performed in three years and I’ve definitely never performed my new songs.” It took a lot of preparation, she says, plus plenty of focus, to make those shows a reality. “Just figuring out even the basic execution of doing these songs live was a lot,” she says. 

On No Sun, Gonzalez leans into the lament. Among her goals was an ambition to make an album that was less closely associated with dance music as her previous efforts have been. Here, she flexes the breadth of her skills, from the rich electronic layers of “Anymore” to the gentle groove of her cover of Sun Ra’s “When There Is No Sun.” 

Gonzalez began work on the album in early 2018 and spent about half a year playing with instrumentation that she had in mind for the new body of work. By that summer, her life was in flux. She split up with her partner and moved out of their home. At the same time, she began writing lyrics for the album. Then, two months later, she entered UCLA’s prestigious musicology department to begin her PhD. “It was a lot, but I kind of thrive in chaos,” she says. “I’ve always been sort of surrounded by chaotic situations, ever since I was growing up. I’ve used music as a way to center myself and I know that I can handle it.”

She adds, “In a way, having that PhD program as a landing pad, just having to be somewhere every day, really helped my struggle with how depressed I felt, how sad I felt. It centered me.”

Her headspace at the time no doubt played into the area of interest she gravitated toward academically. “At first, it was just the idea of women singing sad songs, like pop stars doing so, and why nobody really writes about that in musicology,” she says. “Of course, I had been writing sad songs myself, so I would be interested in my own process of writing No Sun.”

Gonzalez began by looking at the global tradition of female laments, where much has been written. Academic work focused on contemporary pop laments, though, were lacking. “I thought to myself, maybe I need to fill that gap and maybe I could use No Sun as a way to help me think about the creative process for these singers,” she says. “It was almost like the studies reflected back on my album and I was able to see it in a new light and see the different layers in it and analyze it as a musical case study almost.”

It’s subject matter that would resonate with anyone who follows 20th and 21st century popular music. Think a minute about dance floor anthems, like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” or Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” They can be incredibly sad, but they still drive people together on the floor, dancing like it’s a way to free themselves of their own pain. “It’s almost culturally inscribed into our human DNA to utilize songs of women singing about their grief to process our own collective grief. That is something that has always been true, since forever,” says Gonzalez. “It’s not culturally specific, it exists in every single culture. It’s a ritual practice that is performed all over the world.”

Even in the modern world, that holds true. “In the popular imagination, the dance club is kind of like a church and when you play these songs that are really about anguish, we have the reflexive knowledge to process our grief when we hear them.”

Gonzalez studied the tropes or signals that musicians use to prompt listeners to recognize sadness in song. She was able to take that knowledge and apply it to her own music. An example she mentions is “Before I Go,” the second song on the album. “I wasn’t thinking about what lament trope am I going to put into the song or anything like that,” she says. Upon reflection, though, Gonzalez noticed that she had invoked the kind of progression that might indicate a lament or dirge. “I didn’t know it at the time that I was doing that, but that’s where my hands went and that’s a testament to the fact that these tropes are part of what musicians do to communicate an emotion or affect,” she says.

As Gonzalez continued to refine the album through 2019, she also began teaching songwriting at Occidental College in Los Angeles. At the time, she was taking students through the fundamentals of songwriting as illustrated through various musical eras. Meanwhile, as a musician, she was taking a different approach. “At least for me, I’m bursting open the whole idea of what I thought a song was,” she says of No Sun.

Her experiments worked. For one thing, Gonzalez surmises that the album has prompted listeners to take notice of her composition and production skills. “It’s a nice feeling that people recognize that,” she says, adding that overall reaction to her latest collection has been good.

“It doesn’t seem like anybody misunderstood the record,” she says. “Even if they didn’t like it, or it didn’t resonate with them, it doesn’t seem like it was misunderstood, which has happened to me a lot in the past.” On No Sun, Gonzalez has managed to bridge the gaps between academic study, creativity, and emotional intelligence to continue the lineage of the lament in her own way, and in so doing, has tapped into an instantly recognizable facet of the human condition.

Follow Nite Jewel on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

L.A. Exes Serve Up Sunny Queer Surf Pop on Debut LP Get Some

Photo Credit: Molly Adams

Good vibes for dark times is the motto of four-piece L.A. Exes. Their beachy-meets-pop punk sound makes light of longing – not necessarily for a long-lost lover, but with a general sense of nostalgia expressed in a sonic wonderland of rock, pop and groove. The sonic signature of their debut album Get Some (released August 20) recalls the sunny-on-the-surface but malevolent-edged songs of the girl groups making lushly melancholic love songs in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

“We knew that we wanted to do this throwback production, and really play around with Beatles, Beach Boys, Shangri-Las references that we loved, and do our version of it,” explains bassist and vocalist Sam Barbera, who also helms her solo electropop outfit BEGINNERS, has collaborated with Kygo, and voiced an Apple campaign, too. “Creatively it’s nice to have different outlets like that, for whatever your mood is,” explains Barbera.

Barbera met L.A. Exes guitarist/vocalist Jenny Owen Youngs via Jake Sinclair (the Grammy-nominated producer of Panic! At The Disco, Weezer, et al). Guitarist Rachel White was his assistant, and Youngs knew drummer Steph Barker from the New York scene, rounding out the low-key supergroup line-up. “[Initially], it was very casual,” Barbera says. “The idea was, let’s just start writing and see what happens. In the very beginning, me and Jenny went to Jake’s house, and we wrote every song on acoustic. We’d write a song a day in a matter of a few hours, and just hang out.”

Youngs has three solo albums and a bunch of EPs under her belt, and has lent her captivating voice to TV soundtracks for Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy, Nurse Jackie, and Bojack Horseman. When she moved to LA in 2015, she began co-writing and collaborating up a storm, not least on chart hits “High Hopes” (Panic! at the Disco) and “Band Man” (Pitbull). She also founded podcasts Buffering the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars Investigations, in which dissects each of the cult series episode-by-episode alongside different co-hosts.

New Hampshire native and Berklee College of Music graduate Steph Barker has toured internationally with Kate Nash, Coast Modern, and Love Fame Tragedy. Her solo project Baby Bulldog released EP Rodney in August. She moved to L.A. six years ago from New York, which is where she’d initially met Youngs. She’d had been skeptical when Youngs explained that her friend Jake was looking for a female drummer, but when she met the band, she was all in.

“An all-gay band that’s doing everything that you’ve dreamed of and want to play, with all of your friends that are going to become your best friends? It was like, cool, yeah!” she recalls with a laugh.

The metallic buzz of surf guitar opens the album with “Skinny Dipping,” a foamy, salty wash of dissonant harmonies somehow swinging hula-hoop style into a joyful oneness by song’s end. Queer love song “Totally Worth It” introduces girl-group backup singers, with Youngs’ sweet falsetto wondering, perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, “Maybe I’m a bad person?”  The plaintive admission on the title track (“I just wanna hang out with my ex… get some”) dissolves into accusation (“You don’t love me like cocaine”) over a purr of “waahh-ooohh” harmonies on “Cocaine Girl.” A twist in tempo results in the mariachi-meets-marching band beats on “I Got Half A Mind.” It’s all dreamy, slightly kitsch-camp, guitar-and-choral hooky surfer pop, prompting the suspicion that Barbera and Youngs might actually be crying behind their chunky, ultra-dark sunglasses. Both women were experiencing heartbreak during the writing of the album, but it feels cathartic to listen to these songs, rather than somber.

Says Barbera: “At the time Jenny was going through a divorce. Our first writing session ever together, my girlfriend had dumped me the night before so I walked in literally in tears… that’s when we wrote ‘West Keys,’ so that song is about her… Steph fully wrote ‘Not Again’ and Rachel brought in ‘Cocaine Girl,’ then Jenny and I brought in the rest.”

Try not to shed a tear during the band’s dusky, pared-down cover of Cranberries hit “Linger,” a paean to the dearly departed Dolores O’Riordan that closes out Get Some. Including the song was a unanimous decision, according to Barbera. “When it came up as an option, all of us were like, ‘Oh yeah, this is perfect.’ It’s a song that moves all of us, and a lot of people. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who doesn’t like that song,” she says.

But L.A. Exes’ biggest influence is even more classic; Barbera says their inspiration was ultimate pop foursome The Beatles, approached through a queer lens. “Our closest reference to style of chord changes and harmonies was The Beatles, really. What would The Beatles be if it was four women?” explains Barbera. With their magnetic tunes, earworm melodies, and girls-to-the-front attitude all wrapped into a couple of minutes, L.A. Exes don’t stray far from that lofty mark. “We all come from different backgrounds. We’re into indie and punk. Those kind of leanings, once we were actually writing, filtered in there as well.”

Follow L.A. Exes on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Pop Duo Pearl & the Oysters Document the End of Their Stint in Florida with Flowerland

Photo Credit: Laura Moreau

On “Soft Science,” the opening cut to Pearl & the Oysters’ third album, Flowerland, Juliette Davis is the voice reminding you over a mellow disco groove to take some time out for yourself. “Hey, come to the beach,” she sings, “You studied all night long, you deserve a break.” But guest vocalist Kuo-Hung Tseng, from Taiwanese band Rollercoaster Sunset, responds, “I can’t talk right now/I really should work/It wasn’t enough/Soft science is hard.” 

“I didn’t really want to sing this,” says Joachim Polack, who, along with Davis, comprises Pearl & the Oysters. “I thought it was too close to me.” 

Flowerland is a reflection of the end of the duo’s stint living in Gainesville, Florida, where Polack was working on his PhD in musicology. He and Davis grew up in Paris— they’ve actually known each other since high school— and studied musicology in France. But, the postgraduate system in the U.S. was different, with more coursework and a shorter period of time to complete the program. In France, they could juggle school, a band, and side jobs. That proved to be harder in the U.S. “The album is also a little bit about disillusionment with going to school and the toll it took on my health,” says Polack. “Having a band and doing that at the same time was really more than I could handle sometimes, and I think that it was a difficult time to navigate, but I’m really grateful for all the people that we met.”

He adds, “It was a really beautiful time in our lives.”

It wasn’t just school that was different in Florida. “The seasons were different. Everything seemed so new,” says Davis. 

Over the course of Pearl & the Oysters’ three albums, all of which were at least partially made while they were living in the Sunshine State, Davis and Polack have drawn inspiration from an environment that was quite different from France. The terrain, plants and insects all played in a role in sparking the duo’s creativity on their 2017 self-titled debut, 2018’s Canned Music, and now Flowerland.

“I think one thing that is different in this record is that it’s still very sunny and, basically, it’s an upbeat record in many ways,” says Polack, “but I think, for the first time, it’s more melancholy, trying to address stuff that we were going through in those last couple years that we lived in Gainesville.”

Flowerland certainly has its moodier moments. “I think that we’re incapable of doing a full-on gloomy album, but it has a little bit more of that,” he notes.

“But,” Polack adds, “it’s more balanced in terms of the gamut of emotions than the first couple of albums, which were very much sunshine pop, like bubblegum almost. Everything was over-the-top cute and I think that, this one, we tried to keep that element because that’s the music we like, but also be a little more transparent with what we were going through mentally.”

The musicians that they met while living in Gainesville also helped shape the album. “In this way, the influence is clear,” says Davis. “We didn’t work with studio musicians that did exactly what we asked them to do. We really collaborated on the sound.” 

That includes the duo Edmondson, who Polack describes as having a Smile-era Beach Boys vibe. “Whenever we wanted percussion, we would go over to their house and they had this big box full of all kinds of percussive contraptions,” he recalls. 

They also incorporated collaborators from outside of the Gainesville area. Kuo-Hung Tseng from Sunset Rollercoaster is one. Davis and Polack are big fans of the band and were able to connect through a mutual friend. They also linked up with Jules Crommelin of Australian band Parcels through a mutual pal, and sitarist Ami Dang via their former bass player. As Polack notes, they had good luck with finding collaborators simply by asking. “I feel like the lesson that I learned from making this specifically is that people should not shy away from doing that, because people are down,” says Polack. “It’s something that, in indie pop or rock music, is happening more and more.”

Before mixing the album, Davis and Polack moved cross-country. “We loved living in Florida for many reasons, but it was definitely not a destination for us. We didn’t plan on staying there for long,” says Davis. “The question was where—do we go back to France? Should we try another city in the Southeast?”

They decided on Los Angeles after playing a show in the city and made the move in January of 2020. “We understood the potential that the city has for us as musicians, as pop music musicians and definitely thought that it would be a good move and we are so glad that we did,” says Davis. 

They had just enough time to play a couple shows and start meeting people before the COVID-19 lockdown began. “Now that things are reopening, we’re fully understanding the potential of this city as musicians,” says Davis. “We’ve already been part of a few incredible projects in the past few months. We’ve been invited to play a lot of different shows.”

Davis adds, “Even though we arrived at the worst moment, we managed to actually really settle ourselves in this time in a pretty good way.”

Follow Pearl & the Oysters on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Lisa Crawley Premieres Retro-Inspired “Looking for Love” Video

Photo Credit: Karen Anne Patti

New Zealand-born Lisa Crawley had stars in her eyes when she landed on US soil. Having lived in Melbourne from 2014 to 2019, after a bit of back of forth between New Zealand and the US, she ended up moving to LA in January of 2020 once she got the Artist VISA; those stars might have sparkled their way down her cheeks in tears though, since a year of quarantine sullied her plans for songwriting, performance and collaborative creativity.

Not all was lost, though – the resourceful Crawley initiated live streamed piano karaoke sessions three nights a week from her Hollywood confinement, attracting singers from around the world. No wonder, really. For homebound amateur stars with Broadway dreams, it was a dream opportunity to join in on sessions with the lead from the Auckland production of Tony Award Winning musical ONCE, Banff Centre songwriter-in-residence, and recording artist.

When she wasn’t live streaming, Crawley was writing her own music with the assistance of Grammy-nominated Rob Kleiner. He both co-wrote and produced on her upcoming EP, Looking For Love (In A Major) – due out July 23. Thus far, she’s released two singles from the project: “Clear History,” and “The Right Way.” Premiering on Audiofemme is “Looking For Love,” which explores the awkward – and frankly, sad and true – reality that many of us are not content with the one we’re with, imagining instead a more ideal partner. The promise of online dating, which presents much like a shopping catalogue, can fool us into a “grass is greener” belief.

Crawley and Kleiner wrote the song at his place with their friend Kevin Gibson, who was in a Chicago-based band called Tub Ring with Kleiner and can be heard in the song’s backing vocals. “We had a few people in mind who inspired us for the song – those people who are never happy. You’re so sure, and then you’re not really sure, you know?” Crawley says. “We wrote and recorded that song in one day. Rob’s a really busy guy, and he’s quick. I dwell on things when it’s just me writing at home, but he motivates me to get to work.”

The video is gorgeously kitschy – and Crawley’s part-time gig had a lot to do with the aesthetic. “The video is inspired by asking a date at the time to take me to a drive-in, but he never did,” Crawley explains. “I started working part-time at a drive-in cinema, which is the first time I’d been to the movies in America. All those retro ads – dancing drinks and dancing sausages – seemed to fit with the song. It also made me think that dating can be a bit like fast food, so throw-away, too.”

That dovetails with the lyrical inspiration for the song, as well. “I did a little bit of online dating when I first got here, then I realised that it’s a bit early for that. Being new to the country, I wanted to make friends. I did a bit of Facetime dating, but mostly I was observing other people doing it,” says Crawley. “The song is based on observing the dating culture here. I grew up in a pretty traditional environment [in Auckland, New Zealand], so it’s pretty eye-opening. It’s harder to get away with in smaller cities and countries, but here you think you want something – you have it – and then some tiny thing sets you off to the next option. It’s easy when swiping on dating apps to be so judgmental. Being ghosted, it’s never fun. It’s about that person that’s never happy no matter what they have, because there’s always something wrong no matter what.”

From the opening seconds of reverberating bassline, Crawley hooks you. The tropical vibe is all sunshine, cocktails and romance novels by the hotel pool. For any Audiofemme readers who were teenagers in the 1990s, or have schooled themselves in radio playlists of the era, they might find themselves recalling Swedish band The Cardigans when listening to Crawley. There’s something of the playful, poppy, ultra-feminine Nina Elsabet Persson in Crawley’s delivery.

That carefree execution belies the stress Crawley was under in her first few months of living in the States. The Artist VISA requires applicants to show that what they bring to the table is unique and that they have work lined up in their field – music, in Crawley’s case. It’s a lengthy, expensive process and Crawley didn’t want to set herself back since the VISA lasts three years and took multiple letters from colleagues to support her case. When lockdown happened, she was determined to stick it out.

“I’m in a tiny studio apartment in Franklin Village,” she says. “Something I enjoyed doing in Melbourne was improv comedy and I thought it would be fun to live around this area because I’m living next door to the Upright Citizens’ Brigade. I had to take an online improv comedy course with them even though they’re right next door!”

Crawley admits it was an extremely lonely experience to move to Hollywood and find herself isolated so soon. “It’s been really lonely, so I fostered a cat called Iris, because I’d had a cat in New Zealand and Australia for 20 years. In fact, I didn’t apply for a VISA until my cat was really elderly. She was like my child, but when she passed I applied.”

She only had two months to try to find work and meet people, and she did have a good run initially. “I got booked for some gigs and worked with other artists, but I don’t want this to be a ‘poor me’ story. I had help from Support Act in Victoria; they gave out grants which was definitely helpful since I was living off my Patreon. I had a placement on a TV show, Nancy Drew – a song ‘You Won’t Be There‘ played, and that helped, too.”

On fact, one of the draws of moving to LA was writing and working with TV and film. Five years ago, Crawley began networking in LA with film and TV insiders to kickstart the opportunities for getting her work on screen. A conference in Hawaii introduced her to a sync licensing company that began to set her up with writers and enabled opportunities to place her music on shows. It can be highly lucrative, however varied. “It is one of the few ways that artists can make money these days,” she admits. “Streaming…well, I’m sure you’ve heard the numbers.”

Crawley has scored her friend’s web series, Ex-Sisters In Law (still playing festivals, but not publicly available yet). She’d been a guest musician on Tuesdays@9, which organises test scenes between actors and writers; it was via that group that she was introduced to Ex-Sisters, co-written by Suzan Mikiel. It’s only one of the many collaborative projects Crawley is involved in, as much as it has felt like she’s alone. It reminds her of her first solo travel, post-school.

For four months, aged 19, she worked in a very isolated Japanese town, Atami, “with no internet, in the middle of nowhere.” She was working seven nights a week in a hotel, performing the same show – singing, dancing and piano – to entertain tourists in the hotel bar. Since 15, she’d played in bars at night and churches in the mornings while also writing her own music, so entertainment is in her blood.

“I became more of an introvert after that Japan experience,” she says. But with plans to venture out and explore America – Nashville, Austin, New York and New Orleans all beckon – it’s hard to imagine Crawley can maintain her introvert status for long.

Follow Lisa Crawley 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.

How a Red Wig and the Madonna Inn Led to Latest LVXURI Single “Consulate Lust”

Photo Credit: Kristin Cofer

When Sera Beth Timms came across a long, red wig at a store down the street from her home, the components of what would become LVXURI began to coalesce. “When I got the wig, I wanted to know who the character was,” says Timms by phone from Troy, New York. One thing was clear: “This isn’t Sera doing LVXURI.” Instead, the project centers around the character Aurora Dawn, a fierce and flamboyant woman with a mystical streak, who dispenses the tales of her life over slow, slithery grooves. On June 18, Timms releases her most recent LVXURI single, “Consulate Lust,” premiering exclusively on Audiofemme today.

At the time of LXURI’s inception, Timms lived in Los Angeles and was best known for her work as Black Mare and in the band Ides of Gemini. Where her previous projects had been heavy and more rock-oriented, Timms grew inspired by hip-hop beats, and was yearning to make something lighter and more danceable. She considered exploring different themes in her work as well. Somewhere in her notes, maybe a year or so earlier, she had written down the name Aurora Dawn. “I didn’t know who Aurora Dawn was or what I was going to do with Aurora Dawn, but I knew it had to do with the sun and some incarnation of solar energy,” she explains. 

Timms had written one song and played it for two close friends— one of whom was photographer Nedda Afsari— and they decided to film a video for it on a planned trip to The Madonna Inn. “There are so many bands I know that have filmed in different rooms at the Madonna Inn. It’s such a great set,” says Timms of the hotel on California’s Central Coast that’s famed for its themed guestrooms. Timms found the wig right before that adventure and Aurora Dawn first came to life in the resulting clip for “Decussata,” released in 2019. 

The video prompted an invitation to open for performance art rock outfit Stuntdriver at Los Angeles venue Zebulon. “I always need motivation to finish things because I’m always doing a million things at once,” says Timms. This show, she says, was a great opportunity to push herself to write more songs. 

With her previous project, Black Mare, Timms made her own beats, but LVXURI required a different approach. “The beats for LVXURI are supposed to be a lot more sleek than the drums for Black Mare,” she says. “I started getting into that and realized that I didn’t have the chops to get as many songs done in that short amount of time to be ready for a show in a month.” She then turned to her friend Dylan Neal, from the band Thief, to collaborate with her. 

Aurora Dawn and LVXURI continued to evolve in 2020, albeit not necessarily in a way that Timms anticipated. “I had all these grand ideas about performances that I was going to do and couldn’t do any of that in 2020,” she says. Instead, she began to incorporate mystical elements into Aurora Dawn’s personality and performance. As Aurora Dawn, Timms read tarot and sold crystals on Instagram.

She shot a few more videos as well. The clip for “Headlights” was made in the midst of the March 2020 lockdown in Los Angeles and was directed by her then-roommate Sean Russel Herman. “Aurora Dawn, the character, she loves to be directed and told what to do,” says Timms. 

By the time Timms made the video for the song “Aurora Dawn,” her own life was in the midst of transition. “I was definitely living in a very intuitive zone,” she says. Timms left Los Angeles, initially to move in with a friend in Florida. On the drive east, she stopped in Las Vegas to film a video, without knowing which song she would shoot or, really, how she would do it. As a former video editor, Timms relied on her iPhone with a lens attachment for footage. “I was traveling by myself, with my cats, and I didn’t know anybody in Vegas,” she recalls. “There’s no real budget behind LVXURI, it’s just out of pocket for everything. I didn’t have the time or budget to hire a fancy camera person, so I just decided: let’s go with it. Let’s see what we can do, what we can get.”

“Consulate Lust” will be the last LVXURI single for a while, as Timms has plans to finish up work on a full-length release, which she says will include some of the previously released singles. Still, Aurora Dawn continues to have a hold on her creator. Timms shops specifically for the character, even when she’s not actively trying to build Aurora Dawn’s ultra-glam wardrobe. She says, “I go into an Aurora Dawn trance and I don’t even know what I’m doing.” 

Follow LVXURI on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

John Errol is on Fire with Genre-Melting Debut LP Inferno

Photo By Lili Pepper, Art Direction by Nic Viollet

Creating dense, nostalgic soundscapes somewhere between Elliott Smith, Nine Inch Nails, and Britney Spears’ 2007 magnum opus record Blackout, John Errol lands squarely in his own unique, postmodern iteration of pop with debut LP Inferno. Dreamlike production weaves together self-reflective narratives depicting a world of haunting silhouettes, mischievous cowboys, and goth phantoms up to no good. Errol offers us a selective journey into his intimate, pulsating, and immediate songwriting. Each track on Inferno exists as its own mini episode built around nuanced, detail-oriented musical arrangement. The completely self-produced LP swells and expands deeper upon each listen.

With contemporary cutting wit and a dark LA-darling demeanor, Errol has the soul of a seasoned creative veteran, and comes off as a man who’s lived many lives by the tender yet dangerous age of twenty-seven. He’s an internal adventurer ready to guide you into the emotional fires of his musical revolution. In a collection of ten songs, John Errol unleashes a suitcase of inner demons into a nebulous healing chamber, accessible to the rest of us through headphones.

Inferno starts off with “Run Wild,” a poetic intro to Errol’s origin story backed by a Laurie Anderson-esque arpeggiator. “I stared into the sun/Saw a vision that was never mine/I thought, what have I done?/Started out so simple with a piano my granddad gave/He always wanted me to play a song when I was little/But now he says my tune has changed.” The lyrics reflect the musical dichotomy that has sustained and driven Errol since childhood.

Born in London and raised in LA by Turkish and Greek immigrant parents (his maternal grandmother owned the nightclub where his parents met in the ’80s, while his father was on a business trip), Errol has a way of compartmentalizing his backstory with comedic timing and handful of blunt one-liners. “My mom is a failed classical pianist. She’s incredible, don’t get me wrong, way more technically proficient than me,” he says. “But my immigrant grandmother pushed her really hard into a more traditionally Western occupation.” Not allowed to pursue music professionally, Errol’s mother made sure music was a large part of her children’s lives, and an outlet for expression from a very young age.

As a young child, Errol recalls being essentially mute. “An ideal weekend for me was playing the piano, and going to Color Me Mine Pottery studios to paint mermaid statues. I was literally on my own planet,” he recalls. He attended prestigious prep school Harvard Westlake, “which was nothing short of a nightmare,” he says. “I was an overachiever, and I worked my ass off to get there, but… I was in culture shock, and it was a huge wake up call.”

As a teenager he became obsessed with alternative music, taken under the wing of his older cousin. His first large-scale live music experience at the formative age of eleven was Curiosa at The Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. “Growing up, I was very misanthropic, a bit cliché,” he says. “I was cripplingly shy, and the editor of my school’s literary magazine. That demeanor works against me, even to this day; people think I’m an asshole at first glance. As for my music taste, I was listening to a lot of Robert Smith, and got a little Satanic at one point. I was obsessed with Jack Off Jill and Babes in Toyland. I went through a whole punk phase. In terms of the music I played, I kept it safe with just classical piano and jazz guitar.” 

Errol took regimented piano lessons from five to fourteen, then segued into the guitar through jazz combos in high school. The early classical training led him to focus on ear training, partially out of dread of sight reading, which enhanced his sonic abilities and allowed him to become a self-sufficient artist and producer, as well as a mixing and mastering machine. The creative control he exerted over Inferno takes a page from the playbook of The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye; interestingly enough, Errol recently starred as the masked new wave keyboardist in “Save Your Tears.”

While he doesn’t have to share any of the engineering or creative duties involved with making a record, this visionary quality also drove him into the ground. Inferno was five years in the making, mostly because Errol endlessly rerecorded the tracks, experimenting with various sound palettes. He’d find himself up until the sunrise dragging amps into the shower, just for the reverb plate of the bathroom’s tile walls. It took a global pandemic for the record to be marked complete.

Making a record over the course of five years becomes an interesting journey because throughout the creative process the industry had dramatically shifted. “Spotify runs the world, essentially. And it’s created a genre of music unto itself, a hazy innocuous bedroom pop which I personally fucking hate,” Errol scoffs. “A quote I saw on Twitter summed it up so well: Songs are the new albums, playlists are the new artists. It was one of the most disturbing yet accurate summaries of what has happened to the musical landscape.”

Inferno stands in contrast to that model, demanding to be consumed as a comprehensive work of pop art. Its centerpiece is the eight-minute-plus “Blue Flame,” a multi-dimensional coming of age story. “Muted dreams won’t give you many signs to read/Better do what you’re told/And swallow your pride/A path has been laid in a prison built along the line,” Errol sings, his voice drenched in deeply resonating vocoder, merging classical piano with industrial synthetic drums, infectious guitar leads, and soothingly smooth melancholic yet melodic top lines. After many iterations of the track, he nailed it.

Though he could easily be a phantom figure from the future, traveling back in time, swaying under pink stage lights in a hazy Lynchian fog to an ’80s beat in a discotheque, the actual path that led Errol to present day is almost more interesting. The contrarian found his way to the East Coast, attending Bard College. “I had this idea of LA being this vapid center of bimbo culture. Now there’s a very established art scene, but as a kid I was never really around people who were interested in the same things,” he says. “At Bard, I entered this universe where there were people like me. I met my closest friends and collaborators. I think it was my second day, I met Adinah [Dancyger] who directed [my music videos].”

During his formative years Errol took a weekend job in New York City, crashing at a friend’s NYU dorm, and began keeping an ear to the ground for modern music in the New York scene. He snatched up his first professional music industry gig while working retail at Opening Ceremony, when he stumbled into buzz band Starred; after professing his admiration, they scooped him up to play keyboards on their tour with Courtney Love. “I was just stunned every night getting to watch her, because as a kid I was actually a major Courtney Love fan,” Errol says. “For my sixth grade talent show at my Catholic school in KoreaTown, I sat on the stage and played and sang a rendition of ‘Doll Parts’ – just chubby little me in a Catholic uniform. It was dramatic, and I was just so clearly a homosexual.” 

When Starred disbanded, Errol re-emerged with with the knowledge that he wanted to pursue music professionally; he was no longer the kid at Kulak’s Woodshed Monday Open Mic on Laurel Canyon drowning himself in Elliott Smith-inspired laments (what the bubbly yet self-deprecating Erroll calls “the worst music of all time – how could I have gone out to sing those songs?”). He finished up at Bard with a thesis on Faulkner, but as his idiosyncratic blend of everything from industrial to country began to take shape, he found there were few who understood his vision.

“Past managers I tried to work with would say, what is all this insane, crazy industrial stuff you’re making? It’s incohesive, don’t do that. Don’t waste your time with it,” Erroll says. “I want to try a million different outfits, and find a common thread between all of them. I’m not as interested in focusing on songs that will ‘do well,’ because I don’t think pop music is guaranteed to do well or have a certain outcome.”

After parting ways from various managers and agents, Errol sought solitude and sobriety to regain his sense of purpose and center from the highs and lows of too much industry attention too soon. “Being in the process of assembling a professional team, while struggling with addiction, made me incapable of finishing music,” Errol says. “I just had this wall and blockage. I was a living cliché of the saying, ‘You’re your own worst enemy.’ That really was my main problem, and why it took me five years to finish the record.” Separating himself from his self-destructive tendencies, he instead found solace in 5am studio sessions. Now self-managed under the guidance of his distro company Terrible Records, Errol feels secure in following his own artistic and musical instincts.

On “Unbelievable” he describes these trials and tribulations, as well as the discomfort of self-marketing. His magnetic, twisted persona shines and his wit reigns free in the video’s satanic rituals, campy red gels, blood, gore, chaos and, surprisingly, choreography. Errol croons, “I lied my age/I stole my name/My head keeps spinning/And I can’t seem to stop/A million lies/I can’t rewind/A life that isn’t there/I am unbelievable.”

That self awareness only adds to John Errol’s mystique and charm as a brilliant and truly actualized artist. Through making Inferno, he has come to terms with personal demons, from his battle with addiction to his struggle with mental health, and the resulting album resonates themes of personal growth, happiness, and self acceptance. After a year of sobriety (during a global pandemic no less), John Errol has emerged as one of music’s most exciting up-and-coming queer indie pop stars.

Follow John Errol on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

How ’80s and ’90s Horror Films Inspired Latest Glaare LP Your Hellbound Heart

Photo Credit: Brandon Pierce, Julian Medina & Meg Wad

Rachael Margaret Kime, vocalist for L.A.-based band Glaare, hadn’t seen Hellraiser until recently. But, she had been watching and re-watching a lot of ’80s movies when her husband and bandmate, Brandon Pierce, suggested naming Glaare’s second album after The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker’s book upon which the now-classic horror film is based. 

“It’s so fitting,” says Kime on a recent phone call, since she was writing songs based on movies that she was either watching for the first time, or for the first time in years; when she finally saw Hellraiser, she connected with it and wrote another song.

Your Hellbound Heart is a journey into the dark, twisted cinema of the late 20th century. There are nods to Terminator 2, Total Recall, Prince of Darkness and They Live, as well as cult classic Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on the album. However, the film references are there to make a bigger point. 

Take “Divine Excess” for example. It’s inspired by They Live, specifically, the Bearded Man, who breaks through television broadcasts to speak of the ills of the capitalist world. “I think a lot of what we’re experiencing in this society is a collective madness based on what capitalism has done to us and we’re all after that divine excess,” says Kime, “as though it’s going to make us closer to God in some way, to achieve this excess.”

She adds, “Essentially, I was in the exact opposite position, where I just wanted to destroy everything. I don’t want to build anything. I don’t want to acquire anything. I want to destroy everything and burn it all down. That’s how I wrote the words to that song.”

Glaare began working on what would become The Hellbound Heart in in late 2018. At around the same time, Kime’s father had died. She was drawn the “heady, strange, existential scenes about mankind and the ego and the relationship between it all and how the polarities are working together at the same time in this very harmonious, catastrophic way” that’s often so characteristic of the horror genre. As she watched those movies, she found a similarity amongst the characters that resonated with her. They were often trying to tell a truth to people who simply didn’t believe them. “That’s what I felt like at the time,” she says. 

It was a crucial point of inspiration for Glaare. Since their 2017 debut album, To Deaf and Day, the group has established a reputation for their darkwave sound, but Kime also refers to Glaare as a “cinematic band.”

“We always seen ourselves as scoring a movie that doesn’t exist,” she says, “like we’ve written this non sequitur Lynchian movie that we’re scoring.”

Your Hellbound Heart would prove to be a difficult album to make. The band would spend a few months at work on it and then have to put it aside. They upgraded equipment after finishing the demos, which created some challenges while re-recording vocals. “The vocal takes that we got in the demos were just so raw and they sounded awesome,” she says. However, they weren’t of a high enough quality to mix with the new equipment. Kime adds that her preference is to use the vocals recorded in a first take. “You can’t try to repeat a performance because it will just sound contrived,” she says. “It’ll sound like walking in the uncanny valley.” For the songs on Your Hellbound Heart, they found a solution. “We were able to kind of tuck some of the initial demo vocals in with the new vocals to beef it up and keep it raw sounding.”

In the midst of working on the album, Glaare’s lineup changed as well. When their original guitarist left the fold, bassist Rex Elle stepped in to the spot. Then the band snagged Marisa Prietto as their new bassist. 

“We saw her play years ago with Wax Idols and we just fell in love with her,” says Kime of Prietto. “She’s such a spitfire on stage. I’ve never seen someone move on stage in heels while singing and playing guitar like that. It was un-fucking-real. We were afraid to talk to her because she was so cool.”

In the end, they made a passionate and energetic sophomore album, one that’s dance floor-friendly, while retaining the dark aural aesthetic of their debut. Your Hellbound Heart is as much about the images it might conjure in listener’s heads as it is about the beats and hooks. 

Released on April 30 via Weyrd Son Records, Your Hellbound Heart has been garnering a good response, which makes Kime happy. “I just want truly for people to connect with this,” she says. “I don’t care how many it is, and I don’t care who they are, just as long as somebody is able to feel like there’s someone out there that understands them.”

Follow Glaare on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

BIIANCO is the Ex-Slaying, Banger-Producing BFF Everyone Deserves

Photo Credit: Scott Fleishman

Gabby Bianco is exactly the kind of friend you want in your corner – stylish and cool, equally down to provide the soundtrack for a night on the town or give you some pointers on how to make music in your bedroom. And when you need a reality check, she’s the type to tell it like it is, boost your confidence, and help you move on.

That’s the idea behind the LA-based producer’s latest single (released under her eponymous stage name BIIANCO) “that’s what friends are for.” Though she’s lived on the West Coast for over a decade, she still rocks her ride-or-die Italian New Yorker roots, best heard in ball-busting lines like “Screw you ex/He’s a bitch and so are all his friends/I wouldn’t say a goddamn thing to them/’Bout who you are or where you been/Thick or thin.” Atmospheric synths and a slow-burning beat give the track a cinematic, ’80s horror-redux vibe, so it’s only fitting that the video for the track take that motif a step further; in it, she and her gal pals fend off a series of exes who have come back from the dead – quite literally.

But this isn’t just a music video. It’s a music video game. Via BIIANCO’s website, you can test what kind of a friend you really are by helping the characters choose whether to give their exes a second chance, or slay their proverbial relationship demons (the version below is the “winning scenario,” but playing for yourself is much more fun).

BIIANCO had been percolating the idea for a while. “This was one of the first songs I had written and produced and I thought to myself years ago, this has to be a zombie video – like us destroying zombies in slow motion and stuff. But I was like, how do I nail this concept in a way that doesn’t just feel like a cliché horror kinda thing?” she recalls. “At the same time, over the past two years, I’ve watched my friends and also felt myself go through some really toxic relationships and breakups and [seen] people, especially in quarantine, not acting themselves or exes doing horrible things. Everybody has a relationship that ended in a way they’re not proud of – no one’s perfect. People become the worst versions of themselves, almost like they’re fucking zombies or something. It’s kinda this affliction of people just not having basic coping mechanisms in breakups, where no one’s the best version of themselves.”

It’s a salient metaphor, one that makes very clear that we shouldn’t indulge our desires to rekindle relationships that don’t serve us – but it’s a lot easier to make that decision when our exes’ flesh is rotting right before our eyes. Still, incorporating a decision-making element for the viewer felt central to BIIANCO’s concept – even more so as a self-professed “video game nerd” with a penchant for classic RPGS like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Working alongside longtime friend and director Scott Fleishman, she combined the nostalgia of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Goosebumps novels with the modern tech of Black Mirror interactive movie Bandersnatch into an interactive, but streamlined take on the pitfalls of dating, even calling out bi erasure, a subject near and dear to her heart as a gender-bending, queer pansexual femme.

“When we realized what would be required in order to achieve this I was like, holy fuck! We basically shot eight music videos, and had to plot the whole thing out beforehand, and then had to edit eight music videos and code an entire website. It was wild,” BIIANCO laughs. “I’m such an Aries that if anything sounds hard, I probably wanna do it at some point.”

Being a loyal, trusted friend certainly paid off for BIIANCO – pooling her talented circle for everything from direction to motorcycle rental to special effects to building the website that allows viewers to play along, she was able to create what looks like six-figure shoot on a shoestring. “I basically have found myself in this fucking amazing collective of friends, where people are all in the creative industry in some way,” she explains. “Literally my best friend since friggin’ kindergarten is an incredible programmer; he coded the website. He wanted to buy a new motorcycle, so he rented a Ducati for the weekend [but let me] ride it for five minutes for the video.”

By casting her friends and styling the shoot straight from her own closet, she was able to allocate a bigger budget for special effects. “I was like, if we’re doing this, we’re doing this for real, not like shitty Frankenstein makeup. We’re getting makeup artists from The Walking Dead. Everybody knew somebody who was really great at what they did, and it’s such a passion project for everyone that you end up in this really amazing situation where everybody’s willing to work on a budget or work within the confines,” BIIANCO says. “It always goes multiple ways – I’ll help somebody set up their whole tour rig, or somebody will come to me with an idea and want to co-direct something. I try to be as supportive as they are to me. Get you a pod, a group of friends, where you have something to contribute to their lives and they have something to contribute to yours.”

BIIANCO doesn’t stop at contributing to her friends’ creative projects; on TikTok, she offers production pointers with a good dose of her exuberant personality. She started doing mini-lessons on how to achieve certain effects on a whim, but ended up amassing thousands of views, building her audience from there. Demystifying her process as a producer is essential, she says, to getting more women involved in the production side of music.

For her part, she started off as a classically trained pianist, eventually adding singing, guitar and drums to her repertoire before studying film scoring at UCLA. She’d been an early adopter of GarageBand and later, Ableton, expanding to production and musical direction for live shows as a member of Smoke Season. But a women’s Ableton retreat in Joshua Tree changed everything; not only did she meet talented women producers (some of whom, like Madame Gandhi, would eventually become collaborators), but it shifted her perception of herself as an artist in incredible ways and opened up her next creative chapter.

“That was such a pivotal moment in my career because I left that retreat like, I’m a producer, from that moment on. I came out of that like, I have a new solo project, I’m gonna use my last name, and I’m gonna produce everything myself and just lean into that. That was the birth of BIIANCO,” she says. “It’s been a really fluid thought process because it’s all coming from my brain. It tends to be really undiluted and actually very consistent. I’m just going for aesthetics I love. My music is darker, it has some creepy undertones; my aesthetic is darker so that ends up just coming very naturally. It sounds like it’s always in the same world; it’s very easy to write in it and create in it because it’s just basically in my head.” BIIANCO plans to release a mixtape combining some of her previous singles later this year; it will tie in thematically with a book of poetry she published in February titled This Will Wreck Your Heart, which centers on unpacking the four stages of surviving toxic relationships.

BIIANCO felt she needed to be “as loud as possible” to get more women involved in production, not only to earn her own respect, but so that other women, particularly younger women, could envision themselves in that role, too. “When I first started producing there was an emotional element kind of like despair, because subliminally and subconsciously, culture and society teaches [women] that’s not really your role,” she explains. “I never even thought about it being a viable route, so I never was in the room at the age of 21, or the age of 16, learning what a vocal chain should look like with a pre-amp and how it goes into a DAW and using an interface. I just realized the gap is so fundamentally huge in experience and it’s because of this very subconsciously perpetuated idea.”

Lately, she’s noticed an uptick – partly due to the pandemic – in women producing their own work, and though that’s heartening, she points out there’s still one huge hurdle for women producers to jump.

“We might have more exposure, but when it comes to money, like when it comes to getting in the room, the labels and the publishers and the big time managers are still fucking choosing the men to produce. I don’t blame the artists, though I hope that the artists start to understand that is where women are completely devoid from the conversation, except when an artist like Taylor Swift intentionally chooses a woman producer,” BIIANCO says. “That’s where the money is, really, like being a Mark Ronson or a Benny Blanco, getting called to do a Selena [Gomez] track. We have placated the issue into thinking like, this is really not that big of a deal anymore, cause don’t you see on Instagram so many women are producers? And I’m like yeah, but they’re not making the same money, they’re not given the same opportunities.”

Just like the no-nonsense advice she gives on “that’s what friends are for,” BIIANCO has a reality check for the music industry. “Don’t think that just because Fader put out a list of the top five women producers to keep an eye on, don’t think just because Grimes has made a couple of records, that you have fixed the problem,” she says. “We are devoid from the conversation in those big money moments. Labels don’t see us as viable options or they just don’t think about it, and that is the next frontier that I think we’re all trying to fucking blow up. Honestly.”

Follow BIIANCO on Instagram for ongoing updates.

How Maila Nurmi’s Niece Unearthed the Hidden History of Goth Icon Vampira

Maila Nurmi came to Hollywood in the 1940s, dreaming of fame and fortune. And after more than a decade of ups and downs, she had, briefly, attained it. She achieved international renown as Vampira, the world’s first horror movie TV host, setting the standard for what a horror queen femme fatale should aspire to, as well as laying the groundwork for the goth look decades before its time. Her cult status was further assured by her role in Ed Wood’s classic no-budget feature Plan 9 From Outer Space. And over the course of her eventful life, she crossed paths with numerous legends: James Dean, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley.

But that was then. When her niece, Sandra Niemi, cleared out her aunt’s apartment after her death in 2008, she found that Maila Nurmi had died in poverty. The only pieces of furniture she owned were a sofa and a plastic patio chair. Friends had often paid her rent, or the phone bill. But amidst her other possessions — the clothes, the memorabilia, the 30 pounds of beads — Sandra made an astonishing discovery. Maila had been chronicling her story over the years, “Pages and pages and pages of handwritten writings,” Sandra says. “Letters that she either forgot to mail, or it was a first draft. Scraps of paper, just a sentence or two, written in the margin of a calendar or a newspaper. Or just a scrap of paper by itself, sometimes wadded up and put in a pocket of an old jacket or a purse. Just a memory here and a memory there.”

When Sandra gathered up all the bits and pieces, they filled two plastic garbage bags. “I knew I had to put this together. And I wasn’t thinking ‘book.’ I was thinking, I’m going to find out who Maila is, and what she did with her life. What I always wanted to know and never could find out.”

But this was a tale that begged to be told to a wider audience, and over the next twelve years, Maila Nurmi’s niece sifted through her aunt’s writings, added her own research, and finally published Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi (Feral House). It’s the remarkable story of a cultural icon, whose personal idiosyncrasies curtailed a career that might have gone further, while her disdain of anything that smacked of conventionality meant she was a stranger to her own family. “I got to thinking, I’m the only one that has all this information about Maila,” Sandra explains. “There was more to her than just Vampira; that was such a brief part of her life. I thought, you’ve got to do a book, because if you don’t, Maila will only be a footnote in history. I didn’t want her to be a footnote. She deserved a lot more than that.”

Maila Nurmi was born Maila Elizabeth Niemi to Finnish parents on December 11, 1922, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her father moved the family frequently as he pursued a career as a journalist and editor, and by the time Maila graduated from high school, she was living on the other side of the country, in the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon. Not wishing to be sentenced to a lifetime’s work the local fish cannery, Maila escaped to Los Angeles in 1941, appeasing her father’s disapproval by initially living with relatives.

Her early attempts to launch a career provided a rude awakening. A talent agent, luring her with prospects of future work, persuaded her to pose topless, after which no future work materialized. She escaped assault from another agent by smacking him in the eye. “No more showbusiness for me,” she wrote on one of those scraps of paper. “Everyone concerned is FILTHY!”

But still, she persisted. She eventually found work as a model. While living in New York, she appeared in Catherine Was Great with Mae West. Her dancing skeleton routine in the show Spook Scandals landed her a screen test with noted director Howard Hawks. But then her independent streak kicked in. Outraged that Hawks said she’d need to get her teeth fixed, she tore up her contract, told the director, “I am not a commodity to be traded or sold to the highest bidder!” and stalked out of the office, to his astonishment.

“She shut the door on any movie career she would have had,” Sandra observes. “And she very well could have had a great career. She was insulted that he thought she was less than perfect. And she didn’t want her teeth fixed; she was afraid of dentists. So that was the end of that. Of course, she was young; twenty-one, twenty-two, thinking, ‘Well, the world is my oyster. I can have any job I want. I don’t need him.’ And she did need him. But she did it her own way.”

Maila continued working on the fringes of the entertainment industry, getting gigs as a model, a photographer’s assistant, in the chorus line, bit parts in films. A liaison with Orson Welles brought no physical pleasure (“Orson was not a gentle lover and was possessed of an urgency to complete the act”), but did result in the birth of a son, who was given up for adoption. Childbirth proved to be such an excruciating experience she vowed to never again have children.

She could still play the part of a star even if she wasn’t one yet. Sandra was enamored when she first met her aunt in 1953, as a six-year-old. “I had never seen anyone so beautiful,” she says. “She walked out of the back bedroom to make her entrance — now I know that’s what she was doing — and she was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.” Wearing a shimmering gold lamé dress, shoes with transparent heels, and colorful makeup (bright blue eye shadow that went “from the eyelashes all the way up to her eyebrow,” vibrant red lipstick), she seemed like something out of a fairytale. “I was looking at this goddess thinking, wow, that’s my aunt Maila! She was my own private Cinderella.”

The next year, Maila’s moment arrived. Her prize-winning attire as a black-shrouded zombie (inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams) at a costume ball attracted the attention of Hunt Stromberg, Jr., KABC-TV’s program director, who was looking for someone to host the station’s screenings of old horror films. Maila decided to sex the character up for her audition, turning the black dress around so the zipper was in front, cinching her already slender waist (the result of excessive dieting), and padding her bust and hips. A black wig and three-inch fingernails provided the final ghoulish touches. Vampira was born.

Nightmare Attic, soon to be renamed The Vampira Show, debuted on May 1, 1954. Vampira opened the shows by slinking down a cobwebbed hallway toward the camera, finally erupting in a blood-curdling scream. She delivered black-humored commentary (“I went to a delightful funeral yesterday. We buried a friend of mine — alive”) while sipping on cocktails like the “Mortician’s Martini” (one part formaldehyde, one part rattlesnake venom, a dash of culture blood, garnished with an eyeball). She was an immediate sensation, and Maila found herself being inundated with requests for personal appearances, profiled in Life, Newsweek, and TV Guide, and an in-demand guest at film premieres. Stardom was hers for the taking.

But her explosive success burned out all too soon. She soon came into conflict with the station’s management, resenting their attempts to pair her with the host for their romance film slot, a softer character named “Voluptua.” She had to learn to get along with her bosses, she was told. But as always, she did things her own way. Things came to a crashing halt in 1955 when she disobeyed KABC’s demand that she not appear on a rival network’s program; the infraction led to The Vampira Show being cancelled. There was a short-lived revival the following year on KHJ-TV. But Maila felt the show was hampered by the poor quality of the writers, and it was cancelled after 12 episodes. Vampira’s run was over.

There were also personal disappointments. Her common-law marriage to screenwriter Dean “Dink” Riesner ended. She was shattered by the death of her close friend, James Dean in 1955. “She felt like he was the first person she ever, ever met that was from the same planet,” Sandra says. “And then he was gone and she was alone again. She never got over his death, ever.”

Her relationship with her family fractured as well. When Maila’s mother died in 1957, Sandra and parents came to LA for the funeral. To Sandra, the Cinderella princess was now a “sad girl in rags,” who didn’t change her clothes during the entire visit. “She asked my mother, ‘What are you going to wear to the funeral?’ And my mother thought, ‘Oh, thank God, she’s going to change her clothes!’ But she didn’t. She just turned her sweater inside out. And I’m sure now, looking back on it, it was to say, ‘My life has been turned inside out.’”

It was the last time Maila would ever see her brother Bobbie. “My father wanted to have a relationship with his sister,” Sandra says. “But to Maila, he represented everything she despised. He and my mother had built this little tiny two-bedroom house, and he had a job, and he had a family. And that’s everything she did not want. She did not want to be domestic in any way.” An invitation to visit Astoria was rejected. Maila dropped out of sight. “I’d say to my dad, ‘I wonder where she is, I wonder what she’s doing.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, you know, she doesn’t want to be found.’”

Self Portrait with Chuck Beadles

Maila did what she could to get by as her opportunities seemed to dry up; she had small parts in films like Plan 9, The Beat Generation, Sex Kittens Go to College. She worked as a housecleaner. She entered into a short marriage of convenience with Italian actor Fabrizio Mioni. She owned an antique shop, Vampira’s Attic. She perused swap meets, dressed up her finds with feathers and beads, then sold her wares from a table on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Havenhurst Drive (Grace Slick and Shelley Winters were customers). She provided fire-and-brimstone recitations on the single “I’m Damned”/“Genocide Utopia” by garage rockers Satan’s Cheerleaders. She moved frequently, and changed her name more than once. Marlon Brando, a former paramour, sent her money when she was hard up.

Sandra never stopped wondering what happened to her aunt. “I knew nothing about her,” she says, “And I was always obsessed with finding out. I had written to many, many newspapers, magazines, and television shows, asking if anybody knew where Maila Nurmi was, Maila Nurmi who had been Vampira. I never got one response. So I didn’t know if she was dead or alive.” When Sandra’s father died in 1977, she asked the Red Cross for help in finding her aunt so that she could let her know he had passed. “They couldn’t find her. Little did I know that she was going under the alias of ‘Helen Heaven’ then.”

Then, in October 1988, Sandra spied an item in Star magazine about a lawsuit Maila had filed against KHJ-TV actress Cassandra Peterson and other associated parties over their syndicated show Elvira’s Movie Macabre, which she contended infringed upon the trademark she held for Vampira (Maila ultimately lost the case). Sandra reached out to Maila through her attorneys, and soon her long-lost aunt replied with an eleven-page letter. “To think that Bobbie has died and I didn’t know,” she wrote. “Shame on me.”

In August 1989, Sandra and her daughter Amy drove to LA for a visit. “Maila was living in a reconverted garage with no refrigerator and no stove,” she recalls. “She had a hot plate. And just a toilet. She didn’t have a shower; she had to wash out of the sink. And there was one window in the living room, way up high like you would find in a garage, and that’s where Stinky Two lived. He was an abandoned bird that couldn’t fly, so Maila took him in and he lived there up on the window ledge.”

Despite the lack of amenities, hey had a wonderful time. As they drove around town, Maila regaled them with anecdotes and pointed out sights of interest (“That’s the hospital where all the celebrities go to dry out or die”). They splurged for a brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel, running into I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden and getting her autograph. They drove to Griffith Park, where scenes from Rebel Without a Cause had been shot, to see the commemorative bust of James Dean. And the stories never stopped. “Maila never lacked for commentary,” Sandra chuckles. “She loved gossip, and she had lots of gossip to say.”

On their last night together, Maila unearthed some treasures for Sandra: family photos, Vampira scripts, a love letter from Marlon Brando proposing marriage (Maila turned him down: “He was a sex addict and a hypocrite”). She talked about Orson Welles, and the son she’d given up, wondering where was he was now. She recalled her brief affair with Elvis, whom she’d met in Las Vegas (“The way he moved those hips on stage, I was expecting a symphony, but I got Johnny One-Note”). They ended the night by singing the Finnish national anthem, and went to sleep on the floor, as Maila had no bed. Sandra told her aunt the week they’d spent together had been one of the best times of her life.

The two corresponded until 1991. Then, once again, Maila dropped out of sight. She was often without a working phone (and wouldn’t always answer when she had one), and when she moved again, Sandra couldn’t even reach her by letter. She never knew why her aunt stopped writing, but thinks it may be because Maila’s life was becoming more active. The 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards had named Plan 9 as “the worst movie of all time,” rekindling interest in the film and its director, Ed Wood. She was interviewed for Rudolph Grey’s 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., and Tim Burton’s 1994 bio pic Ed Wood raised her profile even higher. “She was in demand,” says Sandra, “and I guess she just blossomed.” Maila had been on disability since she was diagnosed with pernicious anemia at age 46, which impaired her ability to walk. The income she received from convention and film appearances was most welcome. She also began painting, and selling her work online.

On January 10, 2008, Maila was found dead in her apartment, due to heart failure. She was 86. Sandra read about her aunt’s death in the paper, and headed to LA. “Through what can only be described as a miracle,” she finally found her aunt’s last residence, and the written record of her life that she’d worked on for decades.

Work on the book was a challenge. Some of Maila’s writings were dated, others were not. “Some were just a sentence or two; who she hated now, what they had done to her. One was an ‘Autistic List.’ I showed it to her friend Stuart Timmons, and I said, ‘You’re on this list. Do you think maybe she meant Artistic List? And he goes, ‘No. It’s Autistic.’” There were also the understandable nerves of a first-time author. “I’d write a little bit and think, well, this is crap. Nobody cares. I mean, horrible, horrible self-doubt. Awful, awful. Put it away for a year. Come back to it. It just haunted me.”

Then inspiration arrived, via a twist that nobody was expecting. In 2017, Sandra had given her daughter a DNA kit from as a Christmas gift. Two years later, Amy came up with a match, and delivered the stunning results to her mother: “I know who Maila’s son is. I know his name. I know where he lives and I know his phone number.” Maila’s son, whom she claimed was the offspring of Orson Welles, turned out to be David Putter, a retired lawyer who’d served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Vermont. David had never known his birth parents, and his adoptive mother died when he was four. “So he’s kind of a motherless waif,” says Sandra.

In their first phone conversation, David asked Sandra if she knew who his birth mother was. “I said, ‘Oh, do I know who your mother is? You’re talking to the only person on the planet that is just finishing up her biography!’ Then I told him that she was Maila Nurmi — Vampira. And he said, ‘Oh my God. I waited seventy-five years to find out who my mother is. And I find out that she’s a vampire!’”

Finding Maila’s son broke through Sandra’s writer’s block, and the biography was finally finished. “I just wanted Maila’s story to be out there because she deserved it,” says Sandra. “She deserved a little immortality, and I was the only one that could do it. I wanted people to know that she was very intelligent. She was funny. She was extremely creative, resourceful, and she never sold out. People all through her life tried to buy Vampira. And as poor and poverty stricken as she was, she never sold out. She hung on to Vampira, until her last breath.”

Today, Maila Nurmi can be found at one of her favorite places: the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, situated behind the Paramount Studios lot, and the final resting place for luminaries like Judy Garland, silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, Wizard of Oz director Victor Fleming, and singer Yma Sumac. It was paid for by her friend, Dana Gould, whom Maila met when he was the host of The Big Scary Movie Show on the Sci-Fi Network. “She’s right on the roadway, and directly across the roadway is the huge lake with swans on it, the most beautiful spot in the entire cemetery. She has a primo spot; I couldn’t have handpicked a better place for her to be,” says Sandra.

“And Maila spent a lot of time in that cemetery. I have pictures of her in Hollywood Forever, sitting on one of the great director’s tombstones,” she adds. “She liked to be there. Her friend Greg Herger told me they went there often, and would have their lunch and just sit there and talk. She’d said, ‘I love this place,’ and now she’s there. I’m thrilled with where she is.” An image of Maila as Vampira is on her headstone. And when you look at it, you can almost hear her saying, “This is Vampira, until next week, wishing you bad dreams, darling.”

Sunny War Reconnects with Blues Roots on Latest LP Simple Syrup

In her young life, Sunny War has been through more than most—homelessness, drug addiction, even making her first album in a sober living home as a teen. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, forcing much of the world into sudden, extended isolation—physically, socially, and emotionally—War, like a butterfly, began shrugging off her cocoon in unexpected ways.

“The only good thing I learned from last year is how to love and value my friends and family,” War tells Audiofemme from her home in Los Angeles, weeks before the release of her new album Simple Syrup. “My family started a group chat, and we talk more now than we ever did. I have also reconnected with old friends and talked with them for hours, like we were kids again. I’ve got a new roller-skating crew I meet up with at the park now. Before COVID I really hated people. Now I am more aware of how precious and fragile life is and I feel more connected to everyone [because] we are all trying to overcome this whole thing together.”

War has also been busy founding an L.A. chapter of the non-profit organization Food Not Bombs, which provides vegan meals to community members living on the streets through volunteer-driven services.

Aside from activism, re-connecting and roller skating, War also found a new passion for programming beats. After her tour was cancelled, War initially decided to wait out the pandemic before releasing new music. But the prolific poet and lyricist realized that she needed to translate this moment in history into song.

Simple Syrup was originally intended for release last year, a companion to the EP War released in March entitled Can I Sit With You? The EP centered on those who go unnoticed and uncared for, those lost and without a net when things go awry. An heir to Nina Simone’s legacy of unvarnished, hard-earned truth-telling through elegant, raw music, War brought those quiet emotional battles to the fore by cutting straight to the heart of trauma to speak for the disregarded and unseen.

Now she’s back with Simple Syrup, recorded at Venice Beach hangout Hen House Studios, with producer Harlan Steinberger at the helm. “Some songs were written before COVID and some during COVID. Making the album was a lot of fun because a few tracks we recorded live as a band. I had actually never recorded live with a band before then,” she says. The album includes contributions from War’s live band (bassist Ayron Davis and drummer Paul Allen) as well as guest appearances by several friends, like Fishbone’s Angelo Moore and fellow Venice Beach busker Milo Gonzalez. “The song ‘Like Nina’ is a live duet with me and Milo and we took like a million takes,” War says. “I feel like there were maybe more chances taken with this record. It strays from my typical Americana stuff a bit.”

Simple Syrup captivates from the beginning. War’s voice, lyrics and delivery are packed with wisdom and astute observations, but tracks like “Eyes” hold even greater significance—War wrote the song while “processing a lot of death and mourning,” having lost numerous friends to drug addiction and street life. “‘Eyes’ is about my ancestors and my dead friends. I am very certain they reach out to me and warn me about shady people and situations regularly. I am pretty sure I’d be dead without them. They are the eyes in the back of my head,” War explains. “A friend of mine died and I was up all night, drinking and crying, and then he came and visited me. I don’t know if he was really there or not, but I saw and felt him and I’ve felt him ever since. Then I realized I feel my grandparents and all my loved ones on the other side as well. I have an army and I will see them all again.”

Delving deeper into the spiritual has not only sparked healing, but revealed new musical paths as well. “I feel like I kinda reconnected with my roots on this album,” War says. “Blues and jazz are definitely back in my music and not as subtle as before.” Featuring her folk palette with shades of lush jazz, War was inspired by the works of Joan Armatrading and Nick Drake, as well as the saxophone. And while 2020 saw her less focused on her once ubiquitous guitar, the instrument remains a deep extension of her as a woman and artist. “I turn to the guitar for meditation,” she says. “I like to play trancey repetitive loops. I haven’t found my voice as a guitarist yet, but I think I’m getting closer.”

As vaccinations become more readily available and a summer of love seems possible, Sunny War hopes to return to touring and the people who keep her inspired to make music and tell stories. “I hope [Simple Syrup] can give someone a brief break from our current reality. I hope it can be a relaxing album for folks when they want to listen to something soft and emo,” says War. “I am just honored that anyone would even give me their ears and be interested in checking it out.”

Follow Sunny War on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.