PREMIERE: Bay Area Neo-Soul Artist Simha Examines Imposter Syndrome on New Single “Losing Focus”

Photo Credit: Holy Smoke Photography

Growing up in the musical melting pot of the Bay Area, neo-soul singer-songwriter Simha gained an ear for both western and eastern musical influences. He seamlessly weaves elements of the Indian classical music of his heritage with jazz and soul sounds, the result being a lush, ethereal vehicle through which he expresses his emotions. He premieres single “Losing Focus” on Audiofemme today.

The song deals with the idea of “imposter syndrome,” a term that’s entered the popular lexicon to loosely mean doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. Simha says that for himself, it manifested as “feeling like doing music was not really something I was good at.” Collaborating with others in the past has helped keep that feeling at bay, but the pandemic forced him to adapt, to look inward and write alone. Though his imposter syndrome initially saddled him with a bad case of writer’s block, “Losing Focus” helped him dig out of it.

“I ended up writing the whole song by myself, and it was a lot of just sitting with myself, and trying to be as honest with myself as possible,” he says. “I still deal with it…but I think now rather than it being, ‘Oh no, this isn’t good enough, no one’s gonna like this,’ it’s more leaning into it and just saying, well maybe the fact that I feel insecure about this might change something about the way I write, or create something new in the music that might capture a different feeling for me.”

And it worked! The solitary time helped Simha to dig into his roots in Indian classical music in a way he hadn’t before, inviting his mother to play the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, on the track. Simha’s mother had enrolled him in Indian classical music classes as a child and practiced with him at home, but collaborating together as two adults was a new experience for them both. “Being able to recreate that experience [of making music with my mother] was really important for me, because it pulled me back to the idea that music isn’t just work for me, it’s fun for me, you know? It’s something that really grounds me to my heritage,” he explains. “We were charting new territory together, and it was really fun, because I think she also discovered new things about herself when it came to her creative process and her expression, just this new thing she’s never done before. It was really insightful and really a beautiful process.”

The result is profoundly unique. The tabla rhythms weave in with jazz and soul sounds, all layered under Simha’s smooth vocals and deeply personal lyrics. A lifelong fan of jazz, soul, and neo-soul, he lists Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Lianne La Havas and Erykah Badu as major influences. They all shine through, but spliced with Simha’s beautifully intentional cultural injections it becomes something all his own. 

He’s working on an EP to hopefully drop late in the summer, and seeking opportunities to perform outside under remaining COVID restrictions. As a queer artist of color, he says that the “biggest thing for me on this EP, that drives it, is mental health, and specifically mental health awareness for queer BIPOC in the music industry.” The EP will emphasize these themes, and while he works on it, he’s collaborating with artist Emma Timberlea Brown (who designs his cover artwork as well) and an organization he started with some friends called The Humxn Collective to drop a merch line where 50% of proceeds will go to an organization that connects queer BIPOC creators with therapists in their own communities. “I’m really excited about that because the biggest thing I really want to do with this project is give back to the community that has basically raised me,” he says. “For the longest time, if it wasn’t for this community, I would be so lost. The influences I get, the support that I get, is really through how tight-knit this community is. I can’t stress that enough, and I’m really grateful for it.”

There’s no doubt that Simha’s community plays a role in quashing that pesky imposter syndrome by allowing him to see the beauty he is capable of offering to the world. He notes that “there’s so much amazing art that has come out during this time, which has been inspired by so many different things, so it’s really beautiful.” Simha’s art was part of this, and even if he doesn’t always see it, it matters.

Follow Simha on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

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

Photo Credit: Lucy Sandler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JM: Big time heartbreak, heartache and healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow IAN SWEET on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Mothica Talks Metamorphosis Ahead of Blue Hour LP Release

Part suburban Oklahoma cowgirl, part Brooklynite, recent LA transplant McKenzie Ellis (who has released two EPs as Mothica) uses her cunning wit to balance clever wordplay while exploring intimate and often dark autobiographical experiences. Mothica is an alter ego that isn’t afraid of honesty, and echoes strength in vulnerability. You can find her distinct, raspy, yet honey-soaked voice speaking directly to her camera lens, breaking the third wall on social media platforms while simultaneously spreading her words of wisdom and personal truth. These truths come in an array of textures and topics, ranging from her passion for Matcha, to her personal journey as a survivor of childhood trauma, substance abuse, and self harm. Her unexpected pop writing style incorporates nocturnal melodies and siren vocals with a metallic silver lining.

Meanwhile, the videos she’s released to promote her forthcoming album Blue Hour are ultra-personal, drawing viewers deep into her world and its history. “Love Me Better,” released in August, was shot on her final days in New York City, just before she moved to the West Coast. And she recently returned to Oklahoma to shoot a mini documentary/album trailer that revisits her now-abandoned childhood home, her high school, and an old chapel scheduled for demolition. Included are home videos and painful confessions, but her message, ultimately, is that there’s hope – Mothica found it in  seeking help outside herself, making sweeping changes in her surroundings, and most of all creating her beautiful new record.

Audiofemme is pleased to host Mothica at our relaunch party on Sunday, 11/17 at 7:30pm at the Rosewood Theater in Manhattan, along with Zola Jesus, Jess Williamson, Purple Pilgrims, tarot readings, and a tattoo booth – if you’re in NYC we hope to see you there! Read on below to hear more about Mothica’s metamorphosis.

AF: How did the mystical Mothica come to exist?

ME: The name Mothica came long before the music. I felt this kinship to moths and my friend made a joke about me being “Mothica” rather than “Gothica.” The metaphor of a moth attracted to the light has been super prevalent in my life. The “light” I’ve been attracted to has changed over time, whether it was chaos, unhealthy relationships, drugs and alcohol, dark thoughts, or recently, self-care and recovery.

AF: Can you talk about growing up in Oklahoma during the age of internet?

ME: Oh, yes! When I was in middle school I had one of those little block Nokia phones with no graphics. My first experience with self-expression and technology was setting my ringtone, and picking from the default backgrounds. I remember the drama of who made it into your top 8 on MySpace, or what your away message displayed on your AIM account. Growing up in suburban Oklahoma, I dreamed of living in a big city. I was always friend requesting musicians and artists from all over the world. Lookbook, Tumblr, and Pinterest were huge tools in visualizing my escape plan.

AF: If you could choose any decade to grow up in – which would it be?

ME: I used to say the ’80s because of the fashion, and because drugs weren’t regulated but that’s probably my addict brain speaking. I still think the ’80s would be an incredible time to make music with all the new synthesizers that were coming out. I’ve always been into John Cusack movies of course.

AF: If there was a glitch in the Matrix and you morphed into another version of yourself – who would this person be?

ME: I think about this a lot, and the concept of reality. Every little decision you make can alter the course of your day and create a domino effect in the rest of your life. I wouldn’t be pursuing music if I hadn’t met certain people. I wouldn’t have met those people if I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. I think in an alternate reality, I’d be pursuing something that combined neuroscience and visual art. My ultimate goal is to live in a unique home outside of a major city. I’d like to be surrounded by nature, with an art studio, small recording studio, lots of books, a grand piano and a dog. To be able to create freely and inspire others. Hopefully that happens in this lifetime and doesn’t involve a glitch in the Matrix.

AF: How do you feel about the shift in the music industry shedding light on Mental Health Awareness?

ME: It’s very necessary, but it has a long way to go. I was just talking on Instagram stories about the conflicted feelings I have towards artists that market themselves as “sad” and make money by selling merchandise that romanticizes mental illness. Depression is a serious disease, not something cool and sellable. My depression has lead to hospitalization, self harm, and suicide attempts. I don’t believe in rocking a shirt that glorifies depression unless the profits are going to a a charitable cause.

AF: Can you discuss the inspiration and backstory of your new song “Love Me Better”?

ME: Some songs come easily, and some take a drawn out, winding journey like this one did. I had the lyric “you love me better than myself” in my notes for years after a writing session in Los Angeles. I occasionally revisited it, trying to work out the concept but I had no idea who the ‘you’ was referring to. I got into a relationship with someone who truly embodied that lyric. I met him when I first started trying to get sober. I was seeking safety in the co-dependency of the relationship, to avoid facing myself. He moved in with me within the first week of the relationship. You can say we jumped in head first. I rarely left the house, because I knew that I would end up in a bar if I did. I had this unrealistic expectation that being with him would somehow ‘save’ me from myself. After months of failing to become sober, I had a drug induced mental breakdown. I self-harmed with the intention of being admitted to a rehab facility. During this time, he stayed with me until I was released from the hospital. The cover artwork is a film photo he took of me on our last trip together. We ended things because I had to focus fully on my recovery. This song was the perfect fit to release before my album, which is about that later journey.

AF: What was the inspiration behind your new single, “NOW”?

ME: “NOW” was the first song I wrote for Blue Hour, and it came out as a freestyle in the vocal booth. I had recently gotten a tattoo that says NOW on my inner arm which helped inspire the title. The song is a warning: “If you expect me to be happy all the time, you better leave now.”

AF: What has the response been like for the powerful mini-doc/album trailer for Blue Hour?

ME: The response to the mini doc has been beautiful. I received a lot of really thoughtful messages, and some heartbreaking stories from people who experienced something similar. It was such an important story for me to tell, and while the quantity of people that have seen it is small, I feel like it had a strong impact.

AF: What are your goals and hopes for the new record? What do you think will surprise listeners most, after you’ve been so open and honest about your personal struggles leading up to its release?

ME: I think these songs are the most true to me, sonically and lyrically. I tried to be a bit more accessible in the past, opting for more upbeat or EDM sounding production to compensate for lyrics that felt TOO dark. In Blue Hour, you’ll hear explicit lyrics, electric guitar, and analog synths – I’ve embraced my darkness.

ONLY NOISE: DJing is My Meditation

The author blisses out on the decks: Dolce Vita at The Lash in Los Angeles, 2018. Photo courtesy Liz Ohanesian

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Liz Ohanesian struggles to focus and live in the moment – until she realizes that’s exactly what she does when she’s spinning records. 

In the midst of a perfect night inside a downtown Los Angeles club, time faded. It didn’t stop or disappear. Seconds counted down toward the end of tracks spinning on the CDJs. Night hours flashed on the cell phone that I sporadically checked. Eventually, the bar lights flickered as last call approached. I was conscious of all that, but none of it mattered. I wasn’t thinking about what happened five songs ago or where I wanted to be in three songs’ time. In fact, I wasn’t really thinking about anything beyond the moment.

This happens a lot when I DJ, although I’m not sure how or why. Maybe it’s a song that pulls me deeper into the mix. Maybe it’s the sight of people vibing with the music. Regardless, I lock into a groove and go with it. The songs will change, the tempos will rise and fall. On this particular night, the genres changed. It was the rare gig with no stylistic restrictions, meaning that I could (and did) play everything from Missy Elliott to Hercules and Love Affair to Dolly Parton. By the end of the night, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened, just that it did happen. Over a year later, this still stands out as one of my favorite gigs. The details are fuzzy, but I remember a blissfulness that was overwhelming. And, mostly, I remember this as the night where I understood what it meant to be present.

By day, I’m a freelance journalist and my work hours – really, most hours that I’m awake – are a constant exercise in juggling multiple stories, in trying to finish assignments while finding new work, in managing an incessant onslaught of emails, multiple social media accounts and monthly/weekly/daily schedules. It’s a lot of work for what is, essentially, a one-person operation, and it often feels overwhelming when you’re the sort of person who is as easily distracted as I am.

I wasn’t always like that. I used to slide so deeply into books that I could finish reading thick ones in just a matter of days. I loved long, subtitled movies. I listened to albums until I had the lyrics memorized. Over the course of the past decade or so, my attention span has gradually shrunk to the point where I can barely get through a book chapter, half-hour television episode or a song without checking my phone. I catch myself thinking, “tl;dr” while reading newspapers. Unless I snapped pics or posted a status update, my memories of the previous day will be far more vague than those of events that went down 20 years ago. I wake up too many times in the middle of the night thinking about too many things that I have to do the next day.

I’ve slipped into this 21st century mind suck, giving away my brain power to platforms that will hold my memories, my time to tech that always wants more of it. On top of that, I’ve become this person who performs productivity, trying to show that I’m always alert, always aware and always working because #Ilovemyjob and want you to #hireme. All of this has come at the expense of my physical and mental well-being and, likely, my personal relationships. That has to stop. I’ve taken steps to do that in various ways from time management apps to yoga. To an extent, this has helped me regain some concentration skills on the daily. Still, nothing seems to push me towards mindfulness like DJing does.

I started DJing back in college and I still step into the DJ role at Los Angeles venues a few times a month. Music and clubs have been a constant throughout the bulk of my adulthood. Even though everything from technology to my own career and personal life have changed over the years, the way I work in the DJ booth hasn’t.

Whether you’re the DJ at a large dance club or an intimate bar, you have certain responsibilities for the night. Your main task is to keep the crowd engaged, which you do by reading the room and making snap decisions on what to play next. If the energy has been building for a few songs, it might be time to drop a big hit. If the crowd has been going hard for a while, you might want to ease up on them for a bit.

Next, and equally important, is that you have make sure everything sounds good. While your eyes are fixed on the floor, your ears are tuned into all the sonic nuances. You may have one ear directed at the monitor to hear the song that’s currently playing while your headphones are cupped to the other ear as you cue the next song. Meanwhile, your hands will be in action as you mix tracks together seamlessly and/or adjust the levels.

As you’re doing all this, you will probably be approached by friends. You may have to field a few requests, sometimes from people who are flat-out obnoxious. If your booth is set up near the dance floor, you’ll most likely have to deal with klutzes knocking into the gear. It takes a lot of focus to get through a DJ set. If someone annoys you, you have to let it go. If you mess up – and everyone does – you can’t dwell on it. If there’s a technical problem, you have to fix it fast and keep moving. You need to stay in the groove until your set ends.

In a way, everything I have been trying to learn from yoga videos and guided meditation recordings was stuff I already knew from my DJ life. I just didn’t have a word to describe the transformation that happens when I’m in the midst of a set. I couldn’t understand why I usually feel so elated when I’m finished or why my gig nights are the only ones followed by uninterrupted sleep. This practice of playing music for people had become a form of meditation. It just took a while to realize that.

It makes perfect sense. Dance music is designed not just to keep you moving, but to make you let go of the stresses and distractions that surround us during the day. Beat-matching is a standard DJ skill because you can keep the music going without people noticing that the songs have changed. Extended remixes of short pop songs exist to heighten the excitement of a tune you already love. There are so many songs about the joy of dancing that it could be its own genre. But, to be the person charged with bringing everyone into the moment is a little different.

Technically, I’m working and doing that in a space that’s surrounded by technology, with both digital and physical distractions – yet, they don’t have the same power over me that they do anywhere else. Maybe it’s not the tech that’s the problem, but the way I’ve trained myself to interact with it that’s become an issue I have to handle. I’m still not sure how to do that, but the answer might be in the club.

INTERVIEW: Taylor Janzen Talks “Shouting Matches,” Dennis Quaid & Mental Health

Taylor Janzen

At just 19 years old, soft-spoken Canadian singer Taylor Janzen tackles big emotions in her songwriting, including navigating her own experiences with anxiety and depression. Through her lyrics, Janzen hopes listeners can see their own feelings reflected and reduce the stigma toward mental health.

She recently dropped her sophomore EP, Shouting Matches, which follows up her co-produced debut EP Interpersonal. When Audiofemme caught up with her after a passionate Bunbury Music Festival performance, the self-named “sad song enthusiast” opened up about using music to cope with mental health, her love for Dennis Quaid, and her latest project.

AF: Your sophomore EP Shouting Matches dropped last month, can you tell me a little bit about it?

TJ: Well, it’s my first release with a full band, which is huge for me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never had the resources to do that. I feel like I’m so picky that if I wanted to do a full band thing, I’d have to do it right, and I got the opportunity to do that and it has been such a cool experience to have the band with me. I like the different textures of having the full band and the EP itself is very personal, lyrically and emotionally charged. I like having a band to support that.

AF: Can you tell me where your inspiration came for the project lyrically?

TJ: All of the songs at some point talk about conflict, whether it’s conflict with yourself or other people or just in general. That’s a huge part of the EP and lyrically I get ideas really randomly. So, for instance, “Dennis Quaid” is a song that I wrote right as I was about to graduate high school, so it was a while ago, and I was super anxious all the time. Like, all the time, and I was like, I just need to yell. So I took my acoustic guitar and went into my basement and just yelled over my guitar and the melody of the chorus just kind of came out my yelling. So that song was designed just for me to be able to yell in the middle of my anxiousness.

AF: Why is addressing mental health in your music important to you?

TJ: I think it’s important because one of the biggest things for me about depression is that I’m feeling things by myself, but when you hear someone else talking about it, it’s kind of like breaking through a wall in your brain, which is nice. It’s nice to feel things with other people. Personally, for me, I write the songs so that I can express myself and find words for things, so it’s kind of like a therapeutic thing for me. I write things to figure out how I feel about them. And then I put them out so that other people can kind of see themselves in it a bit. It’s less about people looking for me in songs and more about people looking for themselves.

Taylor Janzen
Taylor Janzen performing at Bunbury Music Festival on May 31. Photos by Victoria Moorwood.

AF: As a Canadian artist performing in the US, what are some differences you’ve noticed in the stigma and access to mental healthcare?

TJ: The Canadian mental health system is still pretty rough. Unfortunately, mental health is still a bit tricky to get into—long wait periods, sometimes can be a little bit expensive, [and] the free ones are not always great.

AF: What’s something you would like somebody who’s never heard your music to know about you?

TJ: Just like a disclaimer, I’m not sad [laughs]. Sometimes people will hear my music and think, “Oh no!” Like my mom listened and thought that and I was like, “I’m fine.” I think a lot of it speaks for itself, so anybody can head over to it without any context. Another thing, the song “Dennis Quaid” is not about Dennis Quaid. It’s about imposter syndrome anxiety, but I couldn’t figure out a name for it, so I just named it after him [laughing].

AF: But you love him right?

TJ: I do love him, a lot!

AF: Any shows or upcoming music we can look forward to?

TJ: I am playing at my hometown festival. I’m from Winnipeg, I’m playing Winnipeg Folk Fest and I’m very excited because I’ve wanted to since I started playing music. That’s been the goal and now I’m on the lineup, so that’s fun. I’m always recording. I’m always kind of thinking of the next thing, so I’m definitely working, but it’s not very far along yet.

AF: So not this year, but maybe next year?

TJ: Yeah. Stay tuned for a music video for the song “Shouting Matches!”


PLAYING DETROIT: Producer Nydge Confronts Anxiety With Electropop on Datsun Turbo

Detroit-based producer Nydge, born Nigel Van Hemmye, releases his first solo EP, Datsun Turbo, today. While Van Hemmye has spent the last year building an impressive catalog of pop anthems featuring other vocalists, this is his first foray as a solo artist. The EP is centered around Van Hemmye’s experience with severe anxiety and how it manifests itself in different aspects of his life. Although the subject matter is dense, his upbeat electric compositions could easily serve as the soundtrack to a VR race car simulation or modern-day Back to the Future remake.

Van Hymme says the opening track, “Immortal Youth,” is a nostalgic rumination on what life was like before he started having anxiety attacks. It opens with glockenspiel-like synths that recall the innocence of childhood. The lyrics follow suit, reflecting on happier times when debilitating worry didn’t exist. “Immortal youth / we have endless days / to find a happy place / it all comes in waves,” sings Van Hymme.

Datsun Turbo also touches on how anxiety can affect romantic relationships. Van Hymme says “Come Over” is about “the fear of never being able to commit or forgive myself due to my fatalistic inner narrative.” Arguably the EP’s catchiest track, the song tells the story of a yo-yo romance, where both characters keep coming back to a relationship that should be over– a theme that even people who don’t suffer from anxiety can relate to.

Van Hemmye’s also released a video along with the EP that attempts to explain his experience with anxiety further. In the short film, he details his first panic attack: “My heart was racing, and my walls of reality were melting.” The video goes on to give a chillingly accurate visual representation of what it’s like to have an anxiety or panic disorder, melding visions of clarity and beauty with unsettling disorientation. Van Hemmye explains that he started turning to long drives as a coping mechanism for his racing mind and heart. “I think driving has always soothed me because it occupies just enough of my anxious mind to not allow for excessive worrying.”

Van Hemmye says he feels a kinship to the Datsun, an economized version of an expensive European sports car. “That’s kind of how I see myself in music,” says Van Hemmye. “I’m a frugal kid from Detroit who makes accessible and honest music by crafting big pop music sounds in little DIY studios.”

We talked with Nydge about the story behind his first solo project and how dedication to a craft can be the best medication of all.

AF: I heard you were named after a race car driver – who is it and what’s the story behind that?

Nigel Van Hemmye: I was named after Nigel Mansell, who drove in Formula 1 with a thick, caterpillar mustache. After hearing one of the announcers say his name on television one Sunday afternoon, my mom decided not to name me Colin and go with Nigel. My Grandma read Colin as “colon” and that might have influenced her decision as well. Most people I meet associate me with Nigel Thornberry. Every now and then I get an XTC fan sing me, “We’re always making plans for Nigel.” I probably know more dogs named Nigel than I do people. I’m just out here trying to give Nigels a good name.

AF: Although the project definitely feels like electropop, I hear some early 2000’s rock influence — did you listen to a lot of Strokes-era music growing up?

NVH: I was in Germany for an exchange program at 16 for a month. One weekend my new German friends and I went club-hopping in Berlin. All of them were playing The Strokes! I distinctly remember everyone yelling along to the lyrics. Music like Franz Ferdinand, The Shins, and Phoenix bring me back to that moment. Growing up I listened to anything from Nine Inch Nails to Empire of the Sun to really wonderful, obnoxious techno and dubstep. I actually made really bad techno songs under the name “Nydge” in high school.

AF: I know from your film that this album was a coping mechanism for your anxiety, but a lot of the tracks sound upbeat/peppy – can you talk about that choice and how some of these songs came together?

NVF: I think about music as an escape – a place I can go where things make more sense or sometimes don’t have to. There’s an amazing notion in psychology about the concept of “Flow” or being in “The Zone” which I feel like I enter when on stage or producing or jamming. It’s a very soothing and uncomplicated feeling. Anxiety for me has always been the over-abundance of thought: racing mind, paranoia, irritability until it crashes into panic. Learning to do something so naturally that you enter that “zone” or “flow state” is the coping part. It’s the process rather than the product. My greatest hope is to either give a listener a brief escape from the negative or enhance the positive experience they are already having.

Full disclosure – I feel the best foot to put forward is one which is upbeat and peppy. It’s fun to play live, it’s easier to land on movie, TV and commercial work and there’s a huge demand for it on the radio. “Immortal Youth” was actually born out of the skeleton of a song I was writing for sync but decided to keep. “Baby, I” came from what I thought a car commercial would sound like with my voice singing about anxiety.

AF: “Come Over” and “Y U Gotta B” are about how anxiety affects a relationship. Can you talk a little more about the specific experiences/hurdles in a relationship that are a result of anxiety?

NVH: I think from the outside anxiety can present itself in a myriad of different ways. Ultimately for me it’s about stress management. Relationships can be stressful – even the positive parts. Anxiety also presents itself as my relationship with the future. “Come Over was the expression of worry about a future with or without someone. Stress in this way comes from some of the decisions I was refusing to make – either not allowing things to progress forward or not having difficult but important conversations about ending things.

With Kim Vi, Y U Gotta B is a playful take on how confusing and frustrating it can be when you don’t know what the other person is thinking but you’re still very much invested in them. What they do or say is magnified under the lens of your adoration, and anxiety comes in and whispers in your ear: “They’re playing with you. They don’t really like you…” which really comes down to a lack of trust and communication.

AF: This is your first cohesive piece of work where you are the centerpiece – how does that feel?

NVH: It feels great! For the longest time, I felt like I was producing and performing without ever getting to know myself separate of others. I relished in the collaboration and the learning it brought me but I still somehow felt unproven or incomplete. The more I wear the “solo artist” hat, the more I understand the choices other artists make, both personally and within the industry. I’m here to constantly improve, challenge myself and others to create and try their best. On a lighter note, I had these songs, I loved them, I had a platform, and no good answer to the question: why not?

AF: Did making the explanation video for the EP put you in a vulnerable place?

NVH: Yeah, but also no. I’m very up front about my anxiety and panic disorder. I’m not really ashamed of it and I don’t think others should be [ashamed of theirs] either – although I understand why they are. I wrote the whole piece as a short story which I sent to a couple friends who said I should share it. I think I hesitated for a microsecond and then wrote up a shot list for the short film. I acknowledge wholeheartedly I am not perfect and one of the best ways of coping with anxiety is sharing the strategies I’ve garnered over the years with those who struggle as well. At the end of the day, music is my own personal worry stone, something through which I can pour in my doubts, insecurities and feelings and come back with not only something I’m proud of, but a more thoughtful version of myself. The lesson it endlessly teaches me is devotion to a craft or skill is one of the most meaningful relationships you can have with yourself and the world.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: Jesse “De-pression”

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Jesse Jerome Jenkins V will release his solo debut as Jesse on June 23.

As the lead singer of Pure X, Jesse Jerome Jenkins V made hazy psych-pop as blissed out as his band’s moniker would imply. But it’s been three years since the release of Angel, leaving fans to wonder what became of the Austin act. That changed last month when Jesse (going by his first name only) shared “Hard Sky,” the first single from an upcoming album of the same title, slated for release June 23 via Uniform Group. Now, he’s released a second single, “De-pression,” which adds a nuanced new perspective in the growing conversation surrounding mental health.

Though there have been plenty of songs to tackle this weighty topic, there are few that favor chimes and mellotron over guitar-driven angst. Vocally, Jenkins channels Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Mark Bolan in his ruminations on the nature of chemical imbalance. In one choral couplet, Jenkins describes depression “like a hammer down on me” and a “flower just for me” over a nonchalant bass groove; the track is less an attempt to cheer himself up as it is an attempt to embrace the emotional ups and downs so many have experienced. While riding out a depressive episode without professional help isn’t advisable for all, there’s something to be said for Jenkins’ fearless portrayal of his personal struggle. His honest narrative goes a long way toward encouraging dialogue from an angle acceptance, and its melodically soothing tones might provide a salve for frayed nerves in the process.