Dami Im Sheds Every Illusion on Sixth LP My Reality

Photo Credit: Glenn Hunt

“I feel like this is [the] dream album that I’ve always wanted to make since I was a teenager, so I’m really looking forward to having it out there,” says Korean-Australian pop singer Dami Im of her latest LP, My Reality. With five previous albums and a decade of music industry experience propelled by her success in reality television singing competitions, that’s no small claim. Each step of Im’s journey brought her closer to fully manifesting her artistic vision – honing her voice, sharing her views, building her contacts, and weaving the threads of her identity into one cohesive album. Along with its October 29 release comes a sense of liberation and empowerment, too.

“I needed to understand how to achieve it. I feel like now, I’m at a point where I do have the drive, the maturity and the skills to be able to create what I actually hear in my head, and to try to make the vision come to reality,” Im says. “You can know what you want in your head, but executing it is a different question… I didn’t know how to get there, and work with the right people, collaborate, and follow through with that vision to the end… I feel like I now have that confidence and the strength to do that.”

My Reality is musically-rich, multi-textured pop, drawing from Im’s love of electro, rock and dance and her background in classical and gospel music. Hip-hop and pop producers Andrew Burford, One Above (Hilltop Hoods, Illy), Andy Mak (Vera Blue, Tina Arena) and Konstantin Kersting (Tones And I, Spacey Jane) were all on board for the project. While the album’s title is a cheeky reference to her reality TV fame in Australia, it more importantly illuminates the contrast between knowing someone from the hour or so each week that you see them through a screen, and actually, really knowing someone.

“What I consider to be my reality may be different to how other people perceive it,” she attests. “It’s factual and a fantasy all at the same time. Because of all the television and reality TV shows, people assume they know me and they know me a certain way but I don’t think they know me all the way, all the different ways.”

In Australia, Dami Im first became a household name on the fifth season of popular TV show The X Factor Australia in 2013. In 2016, she represented Australia at Eurovision, becoming the highest scoring Australian entry ever with her “Sound of Silence.” Two years later, she performed at the Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony. In between, there’s been five albums, a reality TV dance show (Dancing With The Stars) and a reality TV cooking competition (Celebrity MasterChef), and number one albums and singles.

But Im’s love of music stretches back much further, to her childhood in Seoul. “My mum was trained in opera and classical singing, so we always had lots of music in the house, lots of classical music. We couldn’t not play music, me and my brother. My dad loved playing a lot of instruments as well, and singing,” she recalls. She began piano lessons at the age of 5, later singing and writing her own songs. When the family moved to Brisbane, music provided a sense of belonging and connection in Im’s new and unfamiliar surroundings.

“Playing the piano was not only helpful for me musically, but I think that’s what gave me some kind of identity and confidence when I first came to Australia,” she says. “I couldn’t speak English very well, so I felt really dumb…[but] whenever it came to music, I could play piano and at that really tiny school, everyone thought that I was the best. I felt really proud as a little kid. Music gave me this other language that I could use.”

By age 11, Im began studying piano at the Young Conservatorium of Music program at Griffith University in Queensland, later becoming a national finalist in the Yamaha Youth Piano Competition. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Queensland with first class honours in a Bachelor of Music, and also completed a Masters of Music Studies degree in contemporary voice. Her formal schooling might have pointed towards a classical career – especially given her mother’s success in that realm – but the art and science of making pop music held heightened allure. Im’s thorough understanding of theory allows her to convey her vision to collaborators and fully realise it, knowing what is technically achievable.

“There’s a lot more to it than musical skills,” she counters. “I got thrown in to the industry pretty quickly through The X Factor and even though I had been making music all my life… it was different when I had to do it on a really big scale, and I had, suddenly, so much pressure… All of a sudden, I had to make something that would be played on radio, and what does that even mean?”

A condition of her X Factor win was signing to Sony Music Australia, which provided her with a recording and management deal after she won with the single “Alive.” She left Sony last year; last month, the label made national news in Australia for an investigative TV revelation on ABC’s 4 Corners of decades of abuse, harassment and systematically firing women when they were on maternity leave.

“I did watch it and yeah, yeah, that’s where I was,” says Im with a nervous laugh. “Whatever the staff experienced there, the artists also experienced…for me, I don’t think I’ve ever been silent about it. I’ve always said things about my experience and I guess people didn’t pay that much attention until now.”

It’s not surprising that artists have been less willing to talk about their experiences with Sony – especially those that still feel indebted to the label, whether emotionally or contractually. Im not only feels she’s paid that debt, but that Sony’s insistence on pushing her to record covers rather than originals sold her extremely short as a creative force, ultimately driving her to sign with competitor ABC Music. “All I can say is when I was at Sony I had some really great opportunities and really great experiences as well… [but] on a creative level, I felt that I needed to have more control,” she admits. “I learnt that I like to be the boss when it comes to my songwriting, so for me it was time to leave.”

There were certainly clues to her struggle in the first singles she released independently, beginning with 2019’s “Crying Underwater,” which addressed the pressure to look content while secretly suffering. Then, in January 2020, “Kiss You Anyway” revealed the more emotive route Im would be taking; she recorded a Korean version in November last year. The third single, “Marching On,” was a love song from a daughter to her mother, anchored by piano and hand-click-style percussion.

After signing to ABC and dropping “Paper Dragon” last year – a siren song that declares her newfound confidence – she followed up with the mid-tempo, sunshine pop of “Lonely Cactus.” A twangy bass line roots the song, layered over with synth claps, funky drums and Im’s lyrical paean to being alone, prickly and defensive. “I try and go to those uncomfortable problems and thoughts and experiences, because I think when I go to those dangerous places, people relate to it more,” she confesses.

All of these songs appear on My Reality, showcasing Im’s emotional versatility. But her latest single, album opener “Pray,” is perhaps one of the most powerful. Im’s literal faith has always been front-and-center in her career, but “Pray” is, perhaps even more poignantly, a celebration of Im’s faith in herself. Never faltering in that belief has resulted in an album of funky, rhythmic, danceable pop that both addresses and unites us in handling everyday injustices and micro-traumas of life – one that Dami Im has every right to be proud of, now that she’s made it a reality.

Follow Dami Im on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Maty Noyes Kisses Major Label Confines Goodbye with Debut LP The Feeling’s Mutual

I first met Maty Noyes at her all ages show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, on a cold December night in 2018. The early show had a hard out and tight crossover leading into the late night event. Over a recent Zoom call, Noyes recalls the infamous load in of cyberpunk go-go dancers dressed to the nines in gothic leather corsets and six inch heels, carrying dungeon whips. “I remember thinking, it’s okay, my fans are going to learn one day how the real world works,” she says. 

By that time, she’d already had an uncredited feature on the Weeknd’s breakout record Beauty Behind The Madness, written an international smash for Kygo, released two EPs, and racked up millions of Spotify plays on singles like “New Friends” and “Say It To My Face.” Under contract, the label machine built momentum but didn’t allow Noyes to evolve artistically. She was kept in a box, styled, dressed, and groomed to stay in the major label pop darling lane. That’s why her highly anticipated debut LP The Feeling’s Mutual, released September 3, is such a revelation; after years of working as a cog in the music industry machine while her team treasure-hunted for the smash hit to make her a star, Noyes decided to make it on her own by unleashing her talent on the world.

The Feeling’s Mutual breaks the mold of straight-forward electro pop; visually, Noyes embodies a classic Marilyn Monroe beauty, while embodying the power, grit, and strength of neon warrior princess. Noyes’ effortless vocals tie the cross-genre record together like a collage of musical chapters. “My dream would be to chart on like every radio station you know in every genre, all at once,” she says. “Because why not? It’s possible.”

And it’s been a long time coming, too. Noyes grew up in a small conservative town in Mississippi, never feeling like she fit in despite floating between different social groups – but music spoke her language. “I was fortunate enough to have a dad who played really great classic rock growing up. The Beatles were a huge sonic influence for me,” she recalls. “I knew from a very young age that I’d dedicate my life to music, even before I really knew I could sing. When I was twelve I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas. Without much thought, a week later I was already writing songs. I just had a lot on my little heart that I wanted to get out.”

Her supportive mother offered incentives for performing. “Basically, she was like, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you play the show. And back then fifty bucks felt like a million dollars,” Noyes says. “A trembling twelve year old, I got up on the tiny stage at our local coffee shop, and sang in public for the first time. I was hooked.”

Uninterested in college, and a self-proclaimed old soul, Noyes convinced her parents to let her move to Nashville at the age of fifteen. Under the stipulation of taking weekly drug tests, financial independence, online schooling, and her promise to attend church every Sunday in her hometown three hours away, Noyes was granted permission to move out as a minor and follow her dream. “I moved to Nashville alone, the day I turned sixteen. I found a place, started babysitting and put a band together with two of my best friends. I was having the time of my life,” she says. “The music I wrote alone back then was so thoughtful and raw.”

In the heart of Music City, Noyes was poised for serendipitous stardom. “One particular night I ended up at a house party in a mansion. I had never experienced that level of wealth, and I suddenly ended up singing to the owner, as he’s accompanying me on the piano,” she remembers. “He turns to me and says ‘You’re really good, but I’m drunk. Why don’t you come back tomorrow so I can really hear your sing?’ The next day I show up, and he ends up being my manager for five years. Literally my first six months of living in Nashville, he and his partner got me signed to a record deal with Lavo, an imprint of Republic.”

A California girl at heart, after signing a publishing deal, Noyes started taking frequent writing trips to LA. She made the official move and got into the studio grind, writing every day with a new person, in a different genre. She quickly learned the nuances of pop music studio culture and found success as a top-line writer almost overnight. “I wrote a song called ‘Stay‘ and it was just like any other day. Suddenly it was picked up by world-famous DJ Kygo and got half a billion streams,” she says. “I’m not even an EDM artist. I didn’t even want that, but it just happened.”

Her ethereal voice was also featured on “Angel,” the closing track on the Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness. Noyes had been working with producer Stephan Moccio via Interscope, who took the risk of asking Noyes to sing on the track without Abel Tesfaye’s permission. Her lush, captivating vocal runs send shivers down your spine, so it’s no surprise that Tesfaye loved her voice, and took it as an honor to break a new artist. But the credit went unlisted, as it would’ve disqualified her from winning a Best New Artist Grammy on her own accord; as a newly signed major label artist, she was already learning the politics at play in pop music.

But perhaps more dismaying was the fact that Noyes was prevented from releasing her own work as her label kept her under lock and key. “A lot of my friends would be hearing all this cool stuff I was doing, but the world would never get to hear it,” she says. Right before the pandemic hit, Noyes decided to cut ties, ditching the publishing deal and dropping her management.

“I’d lost a lot of that fearless independent girl from Nashville,” she explains of the move. “I ended up signing a one-album deal with a new label just to put music out in the meantime and keep creating. During quarantine, I spiritually got a fresh start. I started reconnecting with myself and writing intimate songs in solitude. I was regaining parts of myself that had been lost through my immersion in the industry.”

Releasing The Feeling’s Mutual “feels bittersweet,” says Noyes. “It was finished and supposed to come out two years ago. Sharing the songs with the world feels like a weight lifted off my chest. I can finally start to catch up with myself and feel authentic creatively. I’ve had to live with imposter syndrome.”

Finally free of the major label system, Maty Noyes has regained her autonomy, and her autobiographical lyrics embody her real-time emotional processing. There’s a sharp attention to detail within each sophisticatedly crafted song, and each has become a vehicle for Noyes to grow, heal, and evolve both emotionally and spiritually. “I feel so lucky as a songwriter, because if you stay true to the craft, you really get to see what’s going on with your inner world. You analyze and learn about your patterns, and your intention,” she says. “You get to view your life from a whole-story perspective. It’s like therapy, and a lot of people don’t get the chance to do that.” 

Stylistically, she tries on many hats, and while genre-bending in hip hop, psych-rock, electro pop, and classic jazz, she resonates brutal emotional honesty within each melody. When asked about her personal favorites, Noyes gushes over “Time.” “I love the guitar, and how it gives me a classic blues feel… it’s beautiful, and timeless. It’s the direction I’m heading toward; I’m really proud of that track.”

Lyrically, “Time” captures the feeling of falling in love without getting caught up in the fear of abandonment. It’s an ode to the fool, and fearlessly rushing into the unknown of infatuation and lust. “It’s the most beautiful time of the relationship, the lustful beginnings. This song says, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but we have this beautiful time right now – I want to make it so good, we’ll never forget it,” she explains. “My openness to love, it’s both my superpower and my kryptonite. Getting deep with another person acts as my truest inspiration, my drug. I’ve always been a serial monogamist.”

The silky Mark Ronson-esque samba-infused “Alexander,” another stand-out on the record, exudes a bittersweet longing. “Listening I was really impressed with the way it naturally flowed as such a classic melody,” she says. “It really takes you on an emotional journey.” The last chorus jumps up almost two octaves, a whistling falsetto looping and weaving around her swan song. Its video shows Noyes with a spiritual advisor in a mysterious Plague-Doctor-goes-to-Coachella mask; Noyes takes a magical pill and descends into her fantasy, a technicolor dream world, the depth of the deep sea, the underworld. Caressed by her ego, Noyes morphs into a butterfly, as she moves through floral dimensions of space and time. 

“I made the video for ‘Alexander’ with my friend Marcus, and took on the role of producer and stylist. He was a CGI guy, and had all the equipment and gear we needed. We shot it on barely any budget in my garage. I was so proud of the entire vision coming to fruition,” she says. 

One of the record’s most powerful anthems, “He’s Doing Your Job” is about being attached to an avoidant, “emotionally unavailable” person while another courts her. The chilling lyrics are direct, as Noyes plainly states her desires: “I need someone to ask how I feel/Someone who wants me to heal/Someone who’s holding my hand/When the anxiety gets way too real.” With an easy-going acoustic energy, the track unpacks attachment styles, addressing issues around having a despondent lover from both sides. “That song still gives me goosebumps,” Noyes says.

The Feeling’s Mutual is nothing if not relatable, so much so that it’s hard to believe Noyes was ever discouraged by her label from releasing candid material like this. But she’s taken it all in stride, and shares the hard-earned wisdom from her decade in the entertainment industry with eloquent poise, earnest grace, and a hint of her rebellious heart. “You’re gonna come across people who want to help you, and they’re going to speak in absolute extremes. They’re going to say there’s only one way to do things if you want to make it,” she warns. But Maty Noyes learned long ago that compromise didn’t mesh with her artistic vision. “Listen to your instincts. Don’t make decisions out of fear. You can feel in your soul when you’re crossing the line of your integrity. If it doesn’t feel true to your artistry, you shouldn’t do it.”

Follow Maty Noyes on 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.

Michelle Rose Makes Her Own Dreams Come True “One Promise At a Time”

Photo Credit: Daniel Giovanniello

The same earworm plays in nearly every episode of the final two seasons of Comedy Central’s Broad City; it’s in the bodega, it’s on the radio, someone’s performing it at karaoke. Fans of the show are probably already humming (or belting) its singular refrain: “I am LEAAAAAANNNE!” Though Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson created the show’s most memorable Easter egg as a spoof on Lady Gaga’s Joanne persona, there’s a talented industry vet at the helm of the studio version – and our readers are likely already familiar with her.

Longtime Audiofemme contributor Michelle Rose, in fact, is the Leanne – and she didn’t just stop at tracking vocals for Broad City. She turned “Leanne” into a full-blown performance piece, evidenced by a karaoke-style video shot at Baby’s All Right just after the show’s fifth season wrapped. The opportunity came about because Rose was naturally doing what she does best – striking up a conversation with a random stranger at the right time. “I’m a sticky person who constantly just wants to enter new spaces and meet new people,” she explains. In this case, that person was the show’s music supervisor, MattFX, who brought in Ary Warnaar of ANAMANAGUCHI to helm production; the rest is history.

Rose’s professional history is long and storied: she’s a classically trained cellist and played alongside her sister Sarah Frances in Frances Rose off and on since 2011; she interned at PAPER and worked in experimental theatre; had a songwriting deal with Warner/Chappell; and most recently curated events as the Program Manager at Soho House, where she helmed their Future Female Sounds series. But when the pandemic hit, there was no more networking, no more booking, no more events. Reeling from the loss of her livelihood, in the throes of a toxic relationship mired in tension and distrust, and still grieving her father who’d succumbed to cancer in 2018, Rose set out to fulfill his dying wish.

“One of the last things he wrote down for me after he lost his ability to speak was to use my skills,” Rose says. Coming from a master of the flat-top guitar, music teacher, and mentor who played with Pete Seeger and Les Paul among others, she felt the weight of her dad’s last request heavy on her shoulders. But it would be years before she put pen to paper to write “one promise at a time,” premiering today via Audiofemme.

Written at the start of the pandemic, “one promise” channels the pop-punk energy Rose gravitated toward as an angsty teen coming of age in Hudson Valley, while its DIY production recalls the scrappy grit of Kathleen Hanna’s post-riot grrl electro project Le Tigre. She finally vents long-simmering frustrations built up over years of pushing her own ambitions aside to make other people’s dreams come true. “I love doing that, but I had to find a balance being an artist,” she says. “The song became an anthem for myself that I was ready to call out all of these false promises and expectations that were orbiting my life at the time. I was ready for not only a pivot, but a catalyst of growth.”

That growth is richly documented on Rose’s forthcoming EP, arriving early 2022 (in the meantime, she plans to release a new single every five weeks or so). The EP underscores the importance she felt in showing up as authentic and autonomous, to tell her story transparently, and to put the music first. Appropriately, the EP is called it’s about time, expressing Rose’s playful impatience, as well as holding space for all the weeks, months, and years that slipped by while life got in the way.

“A lot of these songs are about the literal passing of time and personal growth, and over time, coming to these realizations,” she explains. Minimal break-up jam “i don’t see you in my dreams,” for instance, was written before Rose’s doomed relationship officially ended; subconsciously, she knew it was already over. “These songs are a piece of self knowledge,” she says.

They’re also a roadmap to Rose’s eclectic musical tastes. There’s dance punk circa New York City’s electro indie golden era, when Rose first arrived in the city after studying at Bennington College. There are vocal nods to Madonna and Britney Spears and sonic odes to hyperpop and disco. “I just felt like the world really wanted pop music that was coming from a simplistic place, like direct songs from a place of empowerment that didn’t need to be theatrical and larger than life,” Rose says, her music biz savvy showing. “People want brooding, vulnerable, disco songs in simple registers that we can sing along to, these kind of pop punk-adjacent, female-fronted anthems.”

Photo Credit: Daniel Giovanniello

Rose is lyrically vulnerable on each track, but they also embody the lightness of the songs she loved in her youth. “I really love that bright, shimmery, escapist pop,” she enthuses. Surprisingly, most of her demos start out as “sad country songs,” but Rose never felt that was true to what she wanted her sound to be. “I really wanted to make something upbeat and fun and electronic. I have the language and vocabulary for electronic music but I know that I’m not the fastest engineer and can’t really capture my ideas in real time as they come.” She’d often thought to herself, “Why can’t I just meet some indie kid who makes electronic pop music in Brooklyn and like, make a record?” And then, she did.

After dipping her toes into performing solo again (or making a splash, depending on who you ask), a mutual friend introduced her to Godmode alum Tyler McCauley. It had been years since someone had offered to connect Rose with a producer (“Everyone thinks that I know everyone and that I’m just the queen of networking but I had no one to work with!” she says, lamenting the “elaborate coffee meetings” with so-called producers who wanted steep fees for unheard beats).

“I said to him: I don’t really have any kind of budget and no label. I’m looking to do something really collaborative,” Rose remembers. She and McCauley instantly found common ground, surprised they hadn’t met sooner via the one of the many serendipitous links between them. But most importantly, says Rose, “our skillsets worked well together – I was more experienced with pop toplining, writing quick hooks, and song structure, and my ear is really strong. He was a super fast engineer, really good with electronic sounds and synthesizers and disco and dance music.”

“But also, just the fact that he wanted to work together was so meaningful for me,” she adds. “We genuinely had fun together – it was something we looked forward to, an escape. It felt really cosmic and super cool and we just kept going.” “one promise” was the first song they finished together, and in the year since, they’ve completed more than a dozen.

As it’s about time began to take shape, Rose says she felt euphoric. “Any experience I had in the past that made me feel jaded or question if I should keep going totally washed away, because I was having so much fun making this music,” she recalls. “People can really get swept up in the idea of what something can become and then so much time passes you don’t get started. I was told that I’m too pop for indie but too indie for pop. Now that’s a whole genre and there’s space for that.”

And Michelle Rose is done waiting. “I want to re-enter the community with a more authentic sense of self than just being passive and longing,” she says. “I could go all these different directions, do whatever’s on my mind. But I want my passion within pop culture to have substance and to be rooted in something I’m creating. It took a lot to reawaken that, but now it feels nothing but honest to be moving into this next chapter.”

Follow Michelle Rose on Instagram and Facebook 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.

Dream Pop Duo Sungaze Honor Human Connection on Sophomore LP This Dream

Photo Credit: Dana Lentz

Sungaze makes a powerful return with their sophomore album, This Dream. The Cincinnati duo – comprised of husband and wife Ian Hilvert and Ivory Snow – combine cinematic swirls of shoegaze, psychedelic rock and dream pop on their new 8-song offering, released on Friday. Although it was created during 2020 – a year marked by feelings of isolation for many – This Dream is powered by hopefulness, unity in the human experience and the ways that togetherness prevails. 

“I had watched a few videos showing the people of Italy singing to each other from their balconies and found it really moving and beautiful,” Snow tells Audiofemme. “It got me thinking – even more than usual – about what it means to be a human being alive on this planet and what makes it worthwhile to be here. I think the answer is connection—to ourselves, the planet and each other.”

“I don’t know what the world will look like moving forward, but my hope is that it’s less divided, kinder and more loving,” she adds. “That’s always going to be my dream.”

Sungaze began as a four-piece band started by Hilvert, whose years of experience in a metal band shine through ever so slightly on This Dream. Snow joined Hilvert, drummer Tyler Mechlem and bassist Jimmy Rice as a temporary keyboardist, but soon grew into a fixture of the band in her own right. In 2019, the quartet released their debut album, Light in All of It

Now, as a solely husband-and-wife duo, Hilvert and Snow share vocal duties and benefit from their genre-blending influences. Here, Snow talked with Audiofemme about This Dream, the benefits and challenges of being a married couple as well as bandmates, what’s next for Sungaze and more. Read the full interview and stream This Dream below.

AF: Congratulations on releasing This Dream! What was your writing and recording process during quarantine like?

IS: Thank you! As far as recording goes, it actually wasn’t much different from our usual way of doing things—if anything, it was easier. We have a studio space about 10 minutes from our apartment where we do most of our tracking. A lot of other people use rooms in the building for various things and for most of 2020, it was a bit of a ghost town. Ian and I were really the only people there. It was nice to be able to record whenever the inspiration struck and to not have any distractions or other schedules to work around.

Writing was decently different—on the first album, it was mostly collaborative from start to finish, and this time, the collaboration really began in the recording stage. Ian was still working for the first half of 2020, so I had a lot of time to myself at home, and that’s where the bulk of the album was written—from our sunroom couch [laughing].

AF: Now that the album has been released in a post-quarantine world, have the meanings behind any of the songs inspired by or written at the peak of the pandemic changed to you in any way?

IS: I don’t think so! Most of the lyrical content is stuff we think and talk about all the time anyway. There’s really only one specific part that was directly influenced by the pandemic and it’s the section of “This Dream” that goes: “So uncertain/I stay open/To the changes of us/To the will to discover new/Ways of being and relating we/Are not bound by the tides of this time.”

AF: This is also your first album as a duo, as Sungaze was previously a four-person band. How has that changed your process?

IS: It’s definitely opened doors for us to explore new sonic territory. Some of the first album was written in a similar fashion to this one, but a good chunk of those songs came about through jamming out ideas with our previous drummer, Tyler Mechlem. We feel a little less genre-bound this way and were able to work a little quicker, since we can pretty much head into the studio at any time and start recording without needing to make sure other members are on board with whatever we’re working on. I do miss having a full band, but it’s also been enjoyable to work in this stripped-down, more intimate way. It feels kind of sad and kind of freeing at the same time.

AF: What made you choose the title This Dream, and what role did dreams play in the making of this album?

IS: We chose the title shortly after the song “This Dream” was written, sort of on a whim. Some people have assumed we’re talking about sleep dreams, but the dream we’re talking about really has nothing to do with being asleep and everything to do with being awake. It’s the dream of people coming together, having what they need, being cared for and finding a stronger path forward that is more in sync with the planet we live on. It’s also a nod to our personal dreams and goals for this project: “Every dime I have in me/I’ll gamble on this dream.” Maybe someday we’ll share just how true that line ended up being. 

AF: What are some of the challenges and some of the benefits of being a husband-and-wife duo?

IS: The biggest challenge is it’s sometimes hard to compartmentalize the different sides of our relationship. When we’re working together, we do our best to be professional and objective, but sometimes feelings can get hurt and that can leak over a bit into our romantic life together. We’ve done a lot of work, over the last year especially, to separate the two. Also, lots of practice at being straight up and honest with each other, which is something I’ve tended to really struggle with in general because my least favorite thing in the world is disappointing people. 

Benefits – we’re very comfortable around one another and trust each other’s judgment. We know how to motivate and inspire each other, and we usually have a lot of fun while working on things together! 

Another big one is since we spend so much time together, we understand each other’s communication style very well and often just sort of know what the other is wanting. If I tell Ian that I’m hearing a specific guitar line, but I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it exactly, I can just give him a few words or a general feeling for direction and nine times out of 10, what he plays is exactly the thing I was hearing in my head. 

AF: Which instruments did you both play for this album, and were there any unique sounds/instruments featured on this album that you hadn’t used before? 

IS: Ian sang and played guitar, percussion, keys and bass, and I sang and played guitar and keys. Prior to this album I hadn’t written anything using guitar, so that was new for me. Besides that, there’s a squeaky sound towards the end of “Look Away” that almost sounds like a synth, but is actually the sound of my microphone rubbing against the pair of leggings I was wearing when I recorded my vocals for that track; it was initially an accident but we liked the way it sounded so we ended up adding in a few more.

AF: Are you planning to release any more videos in support of the album?

IS: We are working on a lyric video for “This Dream,” which will probably be out in a couple of weeks. 

AF: Do you have any shows coming up?

IS: We’ll be at the Hi-Fi in Indianapolis on October 29 to support our friends Fern Murphy for their album release, very excited for that! We may have a few local shows between now and then and are looking forward to eventually returning to touring.

AF: You recently signed with BMI to license your music for commercial and film use – are there any specific shows you’d love to see your music featured in? 

IS: It’s not a show, but I saw that there is a Legally Blonde 3 in the works and I would love to have “Body in the Mirror” on the soundtrack for that. Our favorite sorts of shows are usually in the coming-of-age, drama, fantasy or mystery categories, so pretty much anything that falls under any of those would be really neat—if it were fitting, having a song in Stranger Things would probably be at the top of the list. And if we could time travel, being a part of the Twin Peaks soundtrack would be a dream come true. 

Follow Sungaze on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Rozzi Takes Down Gaslighters with Video Premiere of “Mad Man”

Photo Credit: Oscar Ouk

Most women have had the experience of apologizing when they didn’t need to — or, in fact, when the other person should have been sorry. That’s why the first verse of pop singer-songwriter Rozzi’s latest single “Mad Man” is so relatable: “Damn right I’m upset/Why am I apologizing/You’re the one that fucked up/But here I am compromising.”

Rozzi wrote the song in collaboration with Liz Rose (Taylor Swift, Nelly Furtado, Jewel) and Jamie Kenney (Miranda Lambert, David Archuleta) about an experience with a man she worked with who would call her hysterical or tell her to calm down when she got mad. “The only way I could get what I wanted or get my opinion heard was if I cloaked my frustration or anger in a sweetness or innocence or a softer voice,” she says. “I found it exhausting because I wasn’t a raging bitch; I was frustrated for a justifiable reason.” In the song’s soulful chorus, Rozzi belts her reaction to the criticism: “No I’m not a monster/Sometimes I get mad man/And I won’t speak softer/Just cause I’m a girl and you don’t think a girl should get mad.”

“Mad Man” originally started off as a poem, which Rozzi saved until she could work with Rose, which had been a dream of hers. Kenney produced the demo and played keys, and a number of producers in London and New York worked on the track. “The song had a few lives and went through a few different iterations before we found it,” says Rozzi.

The song reflects the typical soul influences driving Rozzi’s music, using minimal production and a 6/8 mid-tempo in order to leave room for long notes. “I wanted to make sure we left space so we could hear my voice,” she says. “I wanted it to feel very musical and very soulful and really raw.”

In the video, premiering today via Audiofemme, Rozzi plays to women’s collective rage fantasies: she sits at a dinner table full of men, pleadingly singing to them, then jumps up on the table and knocks everything down. From a lover to an authority figure, all the men represent someone who has treated her as lesser over the course of her life.

“I was acting out this emotion I’ve felt a hundred times over,” she says. “It’s a feeling women, especially women in the music industry, have felt — a certain belittling feeling that someone’s not really listening to you — and I got to enact it on a really animalistic level. I felt anger while I was shooting, and it was really cathartic, and I hope it comes across as an artistic expression of the feeling women feel all the time.”

Her goal is that the song and video help others who have experienced gaslighting feel free to feel whatever they feel. “I would hope it makes them feel like their emotions are not wrong and their emotions are not shameful,” she says. “They are human, and there are plenty of reasons we should be mad, and that’s okay.”

Rozzi was discovered by Adam Levine at age 19, becoming the first artist signed to his label 222 Records in 2012 and touring with Maroon 5, as well as a number of well-known acts such as Owl City. She released her first EPs Space and Time in 2015, followed by her 2018 debut album Bad Together. She plans to release her third EP Hymn for Tomorrow on July 30, followed by an album featuring the seven songs on the EP plus seven more songs later this year.

The Hymn for Tomorrow EP deals with vulnerability, strength, and their interplay, asking the questions: “Does love have to be hard? Does love have to be painful? And in order to feel passion, do you also have to feel unsafe?” Rozzi doesn’t think so, and she made that the mission statement of her EP. “There is such a thing as passion and butterflies and sexiness while feeling safe and secure and really loved in a relationship,” she says. “I liked ending it on that note because there’s enough darkness in the world, and I like to give hope.”

She’s currently wrapping up the creation of her next album and gearing up for some live shows later in the year. She’s also recently been expanding her creative ventures into writing, publishing several pieces in Spin magazine on her own life as well as artists who inspire her. She also co-hosts the podcast Ugh! You’re so Good!, where she interviews people about what makes them good at what they do.

The key to her own success has largely been her ability to write from her heart, creating raw lyrics and vocals that speak to her listeners’ emotions. “I write very personal songs — I don’t know any other way,” she says. “I’ve tried to write songs I don’t connect to on a deep personal level, and I never succeeded, so all the songs are really personal, really intimate, really raw, and I think being vulnerable is one of the strongest things you can do.”

Follow Rozzi on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Squirrel Flower Burns Rubber on New LP Planet (i)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Squirrel Flower on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Betta Lemme Celebrates Pride With Crush-worthy Anthem “Girls”

Photo Credit: Alexis Belhumeur

Pride and the LGBTQ rights movement as a whole often feel dominated by gay men, with some women saying they don’t feel comfortable or welcome at Pride events. It’s often an uphill battle for women who are attracted to women to be taken seriously amid stereotypes that their sexuality is a phase or a performance. In her latest single, “Girls,” Canadian pop singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Betta Lemme challenges these narratives by celebrating those who love women romantically, sexually, and otherwise.

The concept for the song was born in 2018, when Lemme and her co-writers Jenn Decilveo (FLETCHER, Miley Cyrus, Marina) and Jordan Riley (Dua Lipa, Mabel, Sigrid) began talking about their first crushes. For Lemme, who identifies as sexually fluid, it was a tie: David Bowie and Princess Diana. Reflecting the proclivities of Lemme’s younger self, the song is written from the perspective of a young woman realizing she’s “in love with girls.”

“This was without a doubt one of my favorite writing sessions,” Lemme recalls. “Jenn is a brilliant lyricist and producer. Jordan was quiet, adorable, and full of heart. His background singing in church choirs gave the spirit of this song these godly soulful moments while capturing the cheekiness of my confession.”

The single was also loosely based on a letter Lemme wrote to her mom as a kid about the concerns she had for her future, including the fact that her sexual orientation fell outside society’s norms. “Realizing and identifying with fluidity at a young age and coming from a very traditional family, I wanted to give her a heads up on what both of our futures entailed,” she remembers. “I guess you can say I was a meticulously organized and anxious kid. I can confidently say nothing has changed.”

Lemme opens “Girls” with playful verses about realizing she’s in love with a woman and grappling with what that means, then grows increasingly confident over the course of the song, wondering, “Why can’t we just love who we love and have a good time?” The snappy percussion and dreamy synths give the track a fun, celebratory vibe that sounds like it’s made for dancing to during Pride parties (and parties all year round).

“I wanted the listener to feel like they were about to be in on a secret that’s presented with butterflies and confetti, and leave them with a smile,” she says.

Through her lyrics, particularly the infectious, repetitious chorus — “girls, girls, think I’m in love with girls” — Lemme hopes to destigmatize the act of saying you’re in love with the same gender — for women, particularly. “I find it baffling that it’s controversial to say the words ‘I’m in love with girls,'” she says.

In fact, Lemme’s desire for more people to unabashedly discuss their love for women extends beyond romantic or sexual feelings. “Regardless of whether that is of admiration, respect, love, or attraction, the act of loving women at all is still hard to grasp for some,” she explains. “I hope this song is so catchy that literally everyone around the entire world starts singing about how much they love and appreciate women and girls.”

Lemme released her first EP Bambola in 2018, followed by a string of singles, and is gearing up to release her second EP later this summer. It includes “Girls,” her recent singles “Cry” and “Ce Soir,” and several not-yet-released tracks. “Cry” is full of electronic elements and catchy repeated lyrics reminiscent of ’90s dance tunes, while “Ce Soir” is sassy and poppy, with high angelic harmonies.

Influences ranging from Lady Gaga to Abba are evident in the danceable sounds and lyrical themes. All in all, Lemme considers the EP to be about “the dangerously delicious perils of fantasizing, celebrating catharsis whilst relinquishing shame, moments of talking (or in my case, dancing) yourself off the ledge, as well as the duality of wanting to enjoy life but sometimes not knowing how to.”

Despite the lighthearted nature of her songs, Lemme feels the heaviness of some of the subjects she sings about, particularly those relating to marginalized identities. She encourages LGBTQ people who are struggling and need a listening ear to reach out to the Trevor Project, and as far as her own role goes, she hopes that listeners gain strength from her music.

“The highlights of my career are genuinely the moments when listeners reach out and tell me that their music has helped them through a difficult time, helped them feel less alone, or even made them feel confident,” she says. “On days when I question the humanity in what can be an often gnarly and insidious industry, it’s messages and joy from listeners across the globe that literally fill my spirit up with strength and patience to continue.”

Follow Betta Lemme on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Darity Emphasizes the Importance of Relationship Boundaries with Pop Anthem “Out of It”

Darity Out of It
Darity Out of It
Photo Credit: Corynne Staresinic

With her haunting new single “Out of It,” Darity teaches a masterclass on asserting boundaries. The dance-y track combines what the Cincinnati singer-songwriter is best known for – thoughtful lyrics and hypnotic vocals – while delivering a personal message about independence and family. 

“The chorus of ‘Out of It’ was originally written about a rough patch that my dad and I went through while I was in college. I went away to school, and it was really easy to just not engage with the conflict and our differences,” she tells Audiofemme. “After re-writing, it became more about a pattern I had noticed in myself. The verses are reflecting on other situations where I had left people out of things in my life to spare myself the trouble.”

“It’s just easier to leave people out of things. Relationships are complicated. When they get tough, or I feel like they are in my way or not constructive – I tend to just withdraw,” she adds. “It’s just a self-preservation coping thing.”

The accompanying video, aesthetically shot at Cincinnati’s Taft’s Ale House, marks a full-circle moment for Darity, as it stars actual members of her family.


“I am one of eight kids. So, my real parents, boyfriend and a few siblings were in the video,” she explained. “It truly meant a lot. I’m the only one who is pursuing music as a career, so it is kind of foreign to them and to have them a part of it was special.”

“Filming with them was great,” she added. “They were all in good spirits, except my youngest brother, but he is 11 and just wanted to play his Nintendo Switch, which I totally get! There was a lot of laughter and [director] Nick Starensnic was really efficient, which just made it fun.”

Several of the shots feature Darity by herself – sometimes appearing lonely; other times looking empowered. The song works in the same dichotomy, with Darity sometimes reveling in her independence, and other times feeling the weight of her isolation. 

“Autonomy and individuality are very important to me. I want to be free and fully myself,” she says. “I really wanted to figure out my own values and become more of myself, and that definitely resulted in me putting myself out of familiar spaces.” 

“Meanwhile, growing up, and the relational growing pains that came with it, felt really lonely. I think growing up puts you on an island for a while until people know what to do with the adult version of yourself,” she continues. “Because of that, ‘Out of It’ really feels like a bittersweet coming-of-age film for me, personally.”

Darity has dropped a handful of singles this year, releasing “Six Feet” back in March and the uplifting “Everything” this January. “Out of It” continues her momentum, as she gears up to release a new EP. 

“The EP has been less collaborative and more something I’ve been crafting alongside my producer, Jeremy Steckel. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m excited and just taking my time,” she says. She’ll test out some of her recent material during a live show with Leland Blue supporting Michigander this August at Fountain Square.

“The other thing I’ve been working on is launching a Patreon. It’s going to be more personal to me as a songwriter. It’ll feel like a songwriting journal, which will be a look into me as a person – something I haven’t explicitly given people access to,” she adds. “My hope is to form relationships with the people that enjoy my writing.”

Follow Darity on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Jacob Sigman Delivers Existential Power Pop on Latest EP

Photo Credit: Nate Sturley

“Doesn’t it hurt to be/The one they always point and laugh about?” Jacob Sigman asks on the first line of his new record, Why Do I Die in My Dreams, a surprisingly uplifting body of work considering the intro. In six songs, the Detroit-based pop artist and producer unpacks the last year of his life, which was framed by themes of mortality, aging and nostalgia – you know, all the fun stuff. But Sigman packages these heavy reflections in satisfying melodies and bubbly production that leaves the listener feeling comforted instead of morose. 

“I think I’m always trying to be hooky and have [the music] feel good to listen to even if it’s sad,” says Sigman. “I try to say something profound but in a way that will make people want to listen to it again.” He does that well on “When We Were Still Young,” a track that longs for simpler times – something that felt extra prescient in the days of lockdown. He compares the innocent, blind belief of childhood to the existential crisis most 20-somethings experience: “Back when I was seven/I believed in heaven/Hell and everything in between/Now I’m twenty-five living just to stay alive/And I don’t even know what it means.” Ditto, honestly.

But instead of giving us a reason to sulk, Sigman reminds us that it’s not that serious. The chorus brings a wave of positivity that washes over the preceding feelings of doom as he self-soothes with major chords and calming mantras – “What’s within the shadow of a doubt?/Shine a little light and we’ll figure it out/Lately we’ve been coming around.” It’s a refreshing and comforting response to the listlessness we all feel from time to time, without feeling too much like that self-help book your mom gave you after your last breakup. 

Sigman shifts from internal panic to reacting to his environment on the EP’s title track. He explains how the feeling of being surrounded by death on a daily basis caused him to grapple with his own sense of mortality. “It’s one of those things that oftentimes would come into my head and I would just quickly move onto the next thing because I don’t want to think about it,” he says. “But this year, there was no avoiding it.” The song explores his own subconscious fears about death and losing loved ones. Again, he finds words to comfort himself and others through the uncertainty, repeating: “I won’t let darkness take you/I’ll hold you ‘till you wake/Nobody leaves forever/At least that’s what they say.” 

That’s the note that Sigman leaves us on with this project, undoubtedly a time capsule of being unexpectedly stuck in his 700-square-foot apartment (with a roommate), forced to figure out how to process the world around him and coming away with feelings of loss, hope, nostalgia, longing and peace. The vulnerability is palpable in his lyrics and his willingness to admit universal truths that a lot of people tend to shy away from. And doing this without falling into the quicksand of despair is his gift to his fans and himself. “Music has always been a really powerful creative outlet,” says Sigman. “But I don’t think it’s ever been quite as powerful as it was last year making some of those songs.”

Follow Jacob Sigman on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

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

Photo Credit: Jeremy Aguirre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Jodi gives the gift of catharsis in new single “Take Me Seriously”

Photo Credit: Hwa-Jeen Na

In the world of pop music, it’s easy to get put in a category; the “edgy” one, the “hot mess,” the “Queen.” Or, if you’re Karli Morehouse of Grand Rapids indie-pop outfit Lipstick Jodi, the “gay” one. The non-binary songwriter and artist has spent years being labeled and pigeonholed because of their identity and is more than ready to break the constricting molds embedded into the foundation of pop music culture. On their latest single, “Take Me Seriously,” premiering today via Audiofemme, Morehouse brings their frustrations and anxieties to the forefront and gives listeners the chance to do the same. Following the band’s previous single “Notice,” as well as a remix by Now Now, “Take Me Seriously” will appear on the band’s sophomore LP More Like Me, out June 4th via Quite Scientific.

As one of the only openly queer kids in their Midwestern high school growing up, Morehouse has grown accustomed to standing out. And as hard as it was to find people like them in their community, it was even harder to find pop artists that reflected them. Aside from one of Morehouse’s all-time favorite artists, Tegan and Sara, it felt like every big pop star adhered to a very specific set of aesthetic and sonic standards. Nevertheless, Morehouse fell in love with everything about pop music. “This is all I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” they explain.  

Raised on ’80s icons like Prince, Cher and Pat Benatar, Morehouse’s songwriting is imbued with nostalgic synths and infectious melodies, as is evident on “Take Me Seriously.” Marrying their power pop instincts with a desire for inclusivity, Morehouse’s lyrics are intentionally vague, leaving room for people to imbue the song with their own meaning. “They’re specific to me, but… they’re kind of vague statements that can give whoever is listening something to hold on to,” says Morehouse.

They explain that this elasticity is inspired by seeing themselves and other queer artists get tossed around in an echo chamber instead of breaking through to larger audiences.

“I’ve always found that a lot of queer artists just end up playing to queer people, which is fine,” says Morehouse. “But I wanted to reach across the board and just play to whoever wants to listen.” They explain that well-intentioned playlists and charts highlighting “women in music” and “LBGTQ+ musicians” can further isolate marginalized musicians rather than integrating them into the pop mainstream. “If anyone calls me a ‘female artist’ one more time, I swear to god,” says Morehouse. “Not only am I non-binary, but it doesn’t matter, I’m a musician.”

And as the lead singer/songwriter for Lipstick Jodi, Morehouse flexes their lifetime of diverse musicianship. Aside from absorbing the romance and robustness of ’80s pop, they were interested in piano and guitar from an early age. Their grandfather, a career musician, gave them their first kid-sized piano and encouraged them to explore other instruments. “My mom didn’t want to commit me to anything and make me hate it, ‘cause that’s kind of what happened to her,” says Morehouse.

From there came countless performances, including a LeAnn Rimes cover, forming their first band in ninth grade and hitting up the Grand Rapids, Michigan coffee shop and brewery circuit. They founded Lipstick Jodi back in 2014, but only started honing in on their sparkly, synth-driven sound in the last few years. Starting out, Morehouse was quickly introduced to the closed minds of certain audience members or talent buyers. “They would call us the gay band and the girl band all the time,” they say. “I was just like, good job for recognizing a haircut? I don’t know why you’re upset.”

In “Take Me Seriously,” Morehouse distills a universal angst, applicable to anyone experiencing heartbreak, setbacks or haters. Razor sharp guitars, bold percussion and potent vocals deliver their cathartic message of pain and resilience. “I’m able to put whatever anxiety, whatever depression I’m feeling into a statement,” says Morehouse, “and kind of hide behind it and give it to somebody else.” 

Follow Lipstick Jodi on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Babygirl Speaks to the Angsty Teen in All of Us on Debut EP Losers Weepers

Photo Credit: Kate Dockeray

In a time when Taylor Swift is in the midst of re-releasing her entire catalogue, nostalgia is reigning supreme. Millennials long for the days of screaming “Love Story” with the windows down on the way to soccer practice or crying into their diary to “You Belong With Me.” Let’s face it, high school sucks, but it’s looking a lot better than most of our current situations. Toronto-based duo Babygirl harnesses that same raw Y2K teen pop magic on their debut EP, Losers Weepers. 

Kiki Frances and Cameron Breithaupt bring combined influences of Hillary Duff, blink-182, Kelly Clarkson and Alvvays to create self-aware underdog pop for the angsty adolescent in all of us; although their melodies are soaked in nostalgia, their lyrics contain a contemporary exhaustion that feels all too familiar. “Nevermind” encapsulates the residual saltiness that comes with the aftermath of a one-sided relationship. Frances sings, “Thought we were both in the deep-end/But you’re only in town for the weekend,” capturing the non-committal aura surrounding most people in their 20’s. The sun-drenched chorus feels like the sonic child of Sheryl Crow and Avril Lavigne, reminding the listener not to take anyone or anything too serious. “We made an effort to offset some of the bummer lyrics by making the productions playful and sweet, almost hopeful. We always want to make it feel bittersweet,” says the pair.

While most of the songs hover around the context of love lost or found, “Million Dollar Bed” also incorporates a reflection on the futility of chasing money or fame in search of happiness. The lyrics paint a picture of a heartbroken soul replacing love with possessions: “Chasing a daydream to forget we ever happened/Pretty distractions/I’ll be happy when I have them.” This is a deeply relatable sentiment for someone (me) who has turned to online shopping as a coping mechanism during the pandemic, hoping the next box will be the one to restore peace and balance in life. 

There is not a line on this record that isn’t perfectly crafted to stick to your brain like that awkward thing you said in 2007. It makes sense, then, that Frances and Breithaupt met in music school and bonded over their obsession with making top 40 music. “We had similar tastes when it came to pop music and that made us want to try working together,” says Frances. “We were just like, how do we write a hit song? You seem to care as much as me. Let’s figure it out,” adds Breithaupt. The band explains that they have to agree on every part of a song for it to make it out of demo-mode, which makes for a long and sometimes arduous writing process. But despite their calculated approach to writing, Babygirl’s songs don’t come off as try-hard or cringe, but more like a conversation you’d have with your best friend, or yourself.

In “Today Just Isn’t My Day,” Babygirl presents a familiar internal monologue — “I’m all out of steam/I’m all out of weed/Today just isn’t my day.” The song allows the listener to stew in self pity while reminding them not to stay there forever. Simple guitars, percussion bells and wells of strings keep the song from feeling too dark, like laying in bed all day in a sunny room. If the band’s organic arrangements set them apart from most modern popstar hopefuls, their intuitive melodies are what bring them back to center. 

One of the earliest physical copies of an album I remember having was a cassette of Backstreet Boys’ Millennium. That was definitely melodically really important for me,” says Breithaupt. The band recreates the accessible lyrics and melodies of late ’90s, early 2000s pop while leaving most of the melodrama behind. There’s something about hyper-cute lyrics sung in a nonchalant falsetto that just works, and Babygirl seems to get that. Although, their “dream band” would not be as low key:  “Let’s just take Coldplay, make Lindsay Lohan the lead singer, have Ne-Yo write the songs, have Kanye executive produce them, and call it a day,” says Babygirl.

Follow Babygirl on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Tori Helene Teams Up with Natown on Latest Single “Detached”

Cincinnati-based singer/ songwriter Tori Helene has joined forces with frequent collaborator and producer Natown for her first single of the year, “Detached.” Helene says it’s one of her “most empowering” songs yet. “At the time when I was writing this song, I was feeling emotional and dealing with this specific situation that felt pretty one-sided,” she tells Audiofemme. “So, [‘Detached’] was me speaking my truth and my feelings to that person and the situation.”

Helene, who’s made atmospheric vocals and relationship drama her melodic bread and butter, shines on Natown’s minimalistic production. “It’s clear that you just come around only when you get bored/I go along with it though I don’t know what I’m staying for,” she sings, about feeling overlooked by a lover and refusing to settle for less. “You won’t put no time in it/So I won’t put no hope in it.”

Helene finds the courage to walk away from the relationship on the track’s earworm chorus. “Don’t stop me when I leave, ‘cause I ain’t doin’ nothing wrong/And baby I just wanna do me, so I ain’t doin’ nothing wrong,” she croons. 

“Detached” is an accurate sampling of what Helene does best. She consistently serves up the self-assuredness and unapologetic confidence we all want to have, while never losing a relatable sense of vulnerability. “I was really feeling [this song] when I was recording it,” she says of the track.

Helene says that “Detached” was actually written and recorded during sessions for a project that was supposed to come out in 2020 called Chainless. “I decided to start a new project instead,” she explains simply. “[‘Detached’] was one of my favorite songs on there, so I had to release it as a single.” Although she ended up scrapping Chainless, Helene says she may release one other song made during the recording sessions as a future single, and is planning to release her next EP this summer. 

“[It] has a whole different sound and vibe that I’m pretty excited about,” she says of the project. “I’m releasing it in early summer and there are two features on it. That’s all I can say for right now.”

The currently untitled effort will mark Helene’s first project since her 2019 EP, Delusional, which featured Cincinnati rapper D-Eight. Helene followed up the effort with three singles last year, “Get It Right,” “If You’re Lucky” and “Sitting Pretty,” the latter two of which arrived with videos that did not disappoint. Helene says fans can be on the lookout for a “Detached” visual soon.

Turning the conversation over to Women’s History Month and female representation in Cincinnati’s music scene, Helene says the city could be doing better. While Cincy has enjoyed vibrant blooms in hip hop, pop and R&B music the past few years, it’s remained, unfortunately, a bit one-sided. 

“I feel like [women] should be represented more,” Helene says, recommending Elle and LXXS. “I feel like the female artists are overlooked a lot of the time, especially female singers.” With her commanding presence, Tori Helene is certain to be among the Cincinnati artists who will change that.

Follow Tori Helene on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Emlyn Wants to Throw “a thousand parties” For True Love

Photo Credit: Joey Wasilewski

Los Angeles-based pop singer Emlyn is set to have a big year; with two singles (“Had Me At Hello” and “cruel world“) under her belt, she’s prepping an EP to be released this Spring. There’s just one problem: the 24-year-old Nashville native needed a love song to really complete the EP, and she’s never been in love. “A piece of the project that felt like it was missing was a love story. I have never been in love, so it’s like ‘how am I going to accomplish this?’ I want to have this element of love in the whole project,” Emlyn tells Audiofemme.

Luckily, Emlyn’s a practiced songwriter who’s had a hand in co-writes with Kiiara, Stela Cole, Hailey Knox, Eben, and more. And for her latest single, “a thousand parties,” she took a cue from none other than Taylor Swift; after seeing an interview in which Swift discusses her chart-topping album evermore and how she was creatively challenged by writing from other people’s perspectives, Emlyn felt inspired to do the same, though she writes solely first-person narratives.

To that end, Emlyn has crafted her version of a love story with “a thousand parties” (premiering today exclusively on Audiofemme) by drawing from several sources. For one thing, she’s made a habit of putting pen to paper when friends and family share their love stories with her; one that stood out in particular is that of a close friend who told his story of meeting the love of his life, which Emlyn transformed into a rock-infused pop banger.

Additionally, Emlyn became obsessed with the grandiose galas in The Great Gatsby, which the title character would throw at his lavish mansion each night in hopes that his long lost love Daisy would return. Co-written with producer Mike Robinson over Zoom, Emlyn combined elements of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel with the reality of her friend’s love story. “The feeling of being in love, from what I’ve heard, feels like magic, and I’ve never felt [that] magic before,” she says. “[But] there’s something that I feel is really special about this song and this love – there was something when we were writing this song that felt really magical.” 

Though writing from a different viewpoint, Emlyn still manages to infuse her personality into the song by artfully blending wailing electric guitar and slick drums to establish an infectious pop beat that slowly builds to a catchy chorus, the melody juxtaposing the sweetness of the lyrics with the singer’s internal angst. “In any regard, when I’m writing a song, I’m going to implement my own personal touches into it,” Emlyn says. “I think the angst comes from me, because while I’m trying to write from someone else’s perspective, I’m also imagining my own feelings about this. Love is so scary and I’m kind of a tough girl, I have a tough edge to me. I feel like there’s a little bit of fear surrounding love. I have to grunge it up so it’s not too vulnerable.” 

The singer embraces vulnerability by confronting the root of that fear in the song’s haunting third verse, recalling a moment of strife in her friend’s relationship as she sings with smoldering vocals, “I’ll never forget/The night that you cried/Your tears fell too softly to hide/You didn’t need to tell me I hurt you love/‘Cause hearing that hurt me enough.”

The lyrics establish the same pattern Emlyn has noticed in on-screen love stories: the couple meets and falls in love, as told through a series of joyful, laughter-filled sequences. “But then you get to the part in the movie or the TV show where you have to overcome an obstacle, which makes the main characters’ love even stronger, because that’s what life is,” Emlyn analyzes.

She wanted to be intentional about capturing the whole experience of being in a relationship. “The truth of my friend’s love story is that there’s been moments that have not been great. But those moments… stuck out to him, and to me, as moments that were really pivotal in their relationship and building to what they have now,” she observes. “I wanted that moment, both sonically, musically and lyrically to take you out of ‘it’s so great and it’s joyful and it’s love’ to ‘sometimes it’s hard.’ But those moments are when you choose to show up for this person and love them and tell them that you’ve got their back, or run away from it.” 

For Emlyn, the second verse is where she feels most connected to the story, as she admits to not being a fan of crowds nor the type to “lose my mind,” yet would “throw a thousands parties if you’d go” in an effort to “try to love you like hell.” The lyrics capture Emlyn’s personal fantasy of what falling in love will be like for her: letting her guard down, doing “all these stupid, mushy things – spinning me under street lights and locking eyes and just feeling at home with somebody, just having somebody there to be like ‘I’m right here.’” she says. “It’s being able to soften some of the parts of me that are a little tough and hard.” 

The bright-spirited artist is confident that she’ll find that kind of love when the time is right, and she knows exactly what she wants. “I used to think that love was about comfortability in a sense, and I realized over time that some of the things that I am familiar and comfortable with are actually not necessarily what I want,” she says. “I’ve had to really challenge myself to look for relationships that are not necessarily settling into things that I’m familiar with. True love to me is about every day, the consistency of showing up for the person that you’re with, even on the worst days, and vice versa.”

Emlyn theorizes that she’s never been in love because she’s extremely independent, and extra careful about who she lets into her life or shows vulnerability with. She’s looking for someone who will challenge her, and she’s content to wait for it. “I want to feel not just supported, but uplifted. I’ve never wanted to settle because I feel like I’ve learned how to be by myself and thrive by myself. If somebody is going to come into my life, I want to feel like they’re actually making me better, adding something that I can’t provide for myself in some way,” she reflects, while looking toward a hopeful future. “I’m definitely still looking. I definitely am a hopeless romantic – you can hear it through all my songs.”

Follow Emlyn on Instagram and TikTok for ongoing updates.

Piwa Brings the ‘Bass Down’ to Take Her Next Steps as an Artist

Photo Credit: Gracie Hammond Photography

A week-long bootcamp for The Voice was Piwa’s window to the music industry – and its cruelty. 

At age 17, the singer-songwriter, then known as Tapiwa, was in California with her mom for rounds of auditions after a successful submission tape for the Snapchat edition of the NBC singing competition garnered recognition from judges Miley Cyrus and Adam Levine. 

As part of a group told after a round of cuts that they were moving on to the national show, she and the other participants went home to prepare to leave their real lives behind for Hollywood. A few days later, after Piwa had coordinated her schedule with her high school to fit with the show’s timeline, the phone rang.

“I got a call from someone saying ‘Unfortunately, you’re unable to go to the next round at this time.’ I was just like, oh my gosh. It was so heartbreaking. Like you told me, you told me!” she recalls. “But it’s all good. The Voice, with all the auditions and meetings, taught me how the business side really works. It’s very much not an easy game. It’s gonna hurt sometimes, you’re not always gonna get that win.”

Luckily, Piwa didn’t take the missed opportunity to heart. “Them telling me that moment wasn’t my time on that show doesn’t mean I’m not a good singer or exclude me from opportunities after that,” she reconciles. “It’s about learning that things will come.”

While she didn’t make the final cut for the live show, the experience was a catalyst for her creativity upon her return home to Plano, Texas. Taking control, she built her presence on YouTube – crafting unique covers of songs from artists including Arctic Monkeys, Drake, and Hozier. Looking to pursue a degree applicable to her musical pursuits, her path then brought her to Columbia College Chicago.

Now 20, with several singles under her belt as the reinvigorated Piwa, she’s riding high on a wave of renewed artistic momentum. 

After a year of delay due to the pandemic, she’s returned with “Bass Down.” Released Friday, February 26, the new single is a seductive, slinky call for an inconsistent lover to keep up, with an undercurrent of reggae flavoring its rhythms. But the antagonist “lover,” according to the artist, is her own anxiety and fears threatening her work. “It’s basically saying, ‘Step up.’ You’re here to show what you can do; what’s up,” she describes. 

Show up, she did. Showcasing both her powerful low ends and playful higher register, her vocal experimentation is arguably her biggest evolution compared to previous tracks “Love Letters,” “Hundreds” and “Wave.”

“I really feel like [‘Bass Down’] is that song for me,” Piwa continues. “I’m here now. I took a whole year to just fucking work. I want to put myself out there for people to hear.” 

As far as how it was written, she says the verse came in a freestyle as she sang over the instrumental she received one night from producer Sam Pontililo. To his surprise, she emailed him a quick vocal recording in the early hours of the following morning. It all came together with ease, she remembers, and was unlike any process the typically meticulous Piwa had been part of. “It was so nice to have that moment where it just flows,” she laughs, extending the roundness of the “o” sound. “It was really exciting.”

Most inspired lyrically by her own journey, her songs serve as confident reminders of the power of perseverance and preservation. “Love Letters,” the first song she ever produced, details the ways we try to rationalize arguments, red flags and our post-break up peace in intimate relationships, while “Hundreds” doubles-down on affirmations and self-actualization. The atmosphere created by “Wave,” a minimalist, afro-futuristic slow-burner of a R&B track, feels as if you’re being entranced to be kept in her witch’s bottle. 

At just three months old, Piwa emigrated from Zimbabwe to the United States with her parents and older sister. Settling in the Bronx for eight years before moving to Texas, she got involved in the performing arts in middle school and caught the bug quickly. Though she sang in the church choir, she was in and out of school singing groups and orchestra, due to not being able to afford her school’s rental fee for instruments. Her phone, as for most young people, became the center of her world. Different apps served as resources for her do-it-yourself approach, providing the tools she needed to expand her musical education.

“When I was younger, I just wanted to be able to record videos for myself. I started seeing I could be capable of doing more. I had all these big sounds and ideas in my head – I wanted to be able to make those ideas come to life,” the singer says of those early phone app experiments. “It wasn’t pressure; it’s that pull that just grabs you and makes you really want to make music.” 

Then, there was GarageBand. Tinkering with the free version of the app during her spare time, she learned how to build a song from the base beat and up. She’s since graduated to analog instruments, but has a soft spot for songs created entirely digitally. “Love Letters,” she cites – referring to the song as her “baby” – was made solely using her cellphone. 

“It really got me into wanting to do that for myself, and learn and educate myself,” Piwa says excitedly. “Then it was like, I can actually learn with the chance I have of going to college. I can do this and put real time into trying to do what I actually feel like I’m supposed to do.” 

While her family persisted with their own visions for her life (being a doctor, mainly) despite being supportive of her talent show appearances and smaller, local performances for the public, she eventually made headway. Her mom, especially, became her number one fan, helping embolden that soulful, clever voice that brims with assuredness. 

“We’ve had our battles,” she confesses. “She really came through. My mom was like ‘If you want to do this, you do it. Put yourself into it and show them. Tell them, you’ve done this before.'” 

As for many up-and-coming artists, Piwa’s work never stops. After the pandemic shut down music venues, recording studios, festivals and more lifelines for travelling musicians and industry workers, Piwa – like countless others – lost what could have been breakthrough gigs at South by Southwest in Austin and at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. But she hopes the buzz around “Bass Down” will entice more listeners to visit past projects and keep an eye on her and her still-in-the-works EP, while opening doors to new opportunities in 2021. 

“[The pandemic shutdown] opened up a lot of time for everyone to just sit there in their own space and their own company, and it changed a lot for me as far as what I’d hoped for 2020 and what I envisioned would be happening now,” she says. “I know I want my music to be my force. I want to show my force through my music. That’s the main point I grasped out of the fear and sadness of 2020. Now, as I go through this forever process, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on my game plan.”

Follow Piwa on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Supercoolwicked Subverts Pop Paradigm With Shakespearean Self-love Jam “Juliet”

In her new video for “Juliet,” Detroit multidisciplinary artist, singer, and songwriter Morgan Hutson (aka Supercoolwicked) creates a fantasy world of her own – an Afrocentric, baroque daydream that meshes the Shakespearian with the contemporary, the traditional with the subversive. Those who’ve given SCW’s 2019 debut LP High Gloss a spin know that this particular cocktail of familiar and foreign is what makes her music so memorable. And in “Juliet,” she perfects her brand of soliloquiel storytelling both visually and lyrically to deliver a fantasy world full of self-love and artistic actualization. 

Hutson explains that she wrote the lyrics to this song a few years back, when she was going through a breakup, dating through the all-too-familiar string of slacker suitors that seem to follow. “I was just out here swangin’ and just dealing with these men that were not shit and I knew it… but people can be beautiful Band-Aids,” she says. This transition period led her to reflect on what it means to love yourself; she realized she was looking for validation in others instead of within, like so many of us tend to do. “I started to kind of ruminate on it and be like, ‘Girl, you’re everything I need – stop trying with these people, be your own Romeo. Don’t look for romance where it’s not. Or love in general.’”

That realization blossomed into a lavish poetic love letter to the self, released last Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The video for “Juliet” starts out with SCW walking into a medieval-looking church and opening a storybook; as the pages turn, we’re transported into the artist’s shimmering psyche, a romantic realm meshing two of her favorite cinematic inspirations: 1996 Baz Luhrmann classic adaptation William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Hutson pays homage to the films throughout, singing lines like “a rose by any other name just wouldn’t be as sweet,” while gazing at herself in a royal-looking hand mirror and, later, framed lying in a bed of roses, all the while embedding her own artistic vision. With a background in musical theatre and a lifetime of acting on her resume, Hutson has a more intimate relationship than most with the Shakespearean. “Anytime I can be dramatic, I love it,” she says. 

But make no mistake – SCW’s creative choices are driven less by vanity or fandom, and more by self-worth, lived experience, and a love for her culture. By inserting herself into the Shakespearean narrative that has historically been dominated by white/European voices and faces, SCW carves out space for herself and her ancestors to be uplifted and celebrated. “It’s Black history month and I’m very proud of my heritage,” she says. “I know that we’ve been through a lot of things, but I wanted to bring the world of this Afrocentric, baroque idea to life…to meet those two [worlds] because I think that’s kind of where I dwell.”

Aside from realizing her aesthetic aspirations in the video, SCW finds a way to squeeze sophisticated couplets into a tight pop/R&B song framework. She credits trailblazers like Mariah Carey for inspiring her to incorporate her expansive vocabulary into her songwriting. “It’s like, how does she fit all that in there and make it sound so cute? I feel like that’s the ultimate flex,” she muses. “I don’t think that we have to mold ourselves into what people think things are because we create the paradigm as artists. So one of my underlying, subconscious things that I have going on is to subvert the pop paradigm.” 

Supercoolwicked does just that without removing the escapism that makes pop music so attractive to begin with – she creates an entire world for the listener to dwell in and make their own. “I feel like pretend is something we’ve forgotten as adults,” says Hutson. “We can really lean into that part of our inner child, especially during this time, because that’s the way through it.” 

Follow Supercoolwicked on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Feral Reflects on TikTok Fame, Mental Health, and New Music

Photo Credit: Annie Sampson

“Yeah, I’m the crazy ex-girlfriend still writing songs about her high school boyfriend,” says Santa Cruz’s Kelsey Ferrell, not without some exasperation. “But it’s not the only thing I am.” It’s been nearly a year since our last interview, and Ferrell—who goes by the moniker Feral when releasing music—is still trying to make this point, whether it be about her own discography, or about the microcosm we willingly enter whenever we put on an album. “All [songwriters] are writing about our past relationships and our exes and stuff,” she says. “Songs are, by nature, only a couple minutes to tell a whole story.”

That’s also the nature of TikTok, the almost ubiquitous social media app and Gen Z-favorite that has kept a significant amount of the world’s population glued to their phones in lieu of in-person entertainment. In the past year, the app has become an unexpected platform for indie artists and producers. Ferrell can now count herself among those ranks, as a recent post featuring her 2018 track “Fuck the Bourgeoisie” went viral a few days before our interview. Currently at 775k views, her sixty-second video has inspired thousands of comments that range from praise (“The fact that Spotify hasn’t recommended your song to me is honestly a crime” — from user lilveganricewrap) to scorn (“sounds like you were in it cuz he was wealthy” from user chickennnugget_) to…Marxist discourse? 

“I didn’t want to delete any of the conversations [in the comments] about power or privilege or mental health or like, Marxism,” she explains. “Even if they were not very flattering to me.” Predictably, some listeners took issue with the song’s content, a tongue-in-cheek examination of a relationship with an ex-boyfriend whose incredible wealth had a huge impact on Ferrell and how she views the world. “It was stressful,” she says. “I’m not gonna lie. I only had sixty seconds to tell this story. Obviously that’s not enough time to accurately describe an entire two year relationship and all the context behind it. I did my best, but you can’t tell everyone everything in sixty seconds.” And while some people are ready and waiting to judge someone for dredging up old memories for artistic fodder, for Ferrell, the memories aren’t so dusty. 

Recently, she received a PTSD diagnosis that completely reframed the way she had been moving through the world for the past four years, struggling with memories of her complicated relationship and the bullying she received from her peers in her final year of high school. “My strongest symptom is being trapped in a loop of memories that I don’t want to be reliving,” she says. “I was unable to maintain focus on school or maintain long conversations because I was just in my head.”

Just like songwriting can loosen some of the ties that bind us internally, this diagnosis gave Ferrell a name for her struggles — and, therefore, something solid to face. “It was validating and a relief to get the diagnosis,” she says, “because it was like, okay, that explains a lot. But it also was kind of scary…it’s not like there’s a blood test for it or a cure for it like other other kinds of health conditions… so it was kind of tough to be like, ‘Oh, I guess I just have to live with this.’”

If there is anything to take from Ferrell’s last four years, it’s that even if your brain and body are trapping you in the past, it doesn’t mean that your art has to be trapped, too. 

In 2020, Ferrell chose to focus on creating singles, a move that enabled her to take advantage of the never-ending scramble for content that comes with the territory of being a musician in the digital age. Another step forward was working with producer Jim Greer. While she loved working with producer and friend Ian Pillsbury on her first full-length LP, 2018’s Trauma Portfolio, this time, she was ready to step out of her comfort zone and work with someone she didn’t have a personal connection to. “I was scared that I didn’t have the chops to be successful in that environment,” she says. “[But] I kind of surprised myself.”

The first result of this collaboration, “Loser,” sees Ferrell at an impasse between her old and new self. “When I was in college, I got really seduced by the idea of sex positivity,” she says. “It was like, ‘you can just go out and you can sleep with whoever you want and it’s going to be so fun, and you’re going to have a great time!’ And I felt like that was kind of a deceiving narrative because it relied on the assumption that people that you sleep with have your best interests in mind.”

“Loser” is classic Feral, biting and self-deprecating in equal turns. The chorus—“no, you don’t matter that much/you’re not the only loser that I fucked”—was inspired by a former fling who found out she wrote a song about him and started telling people she was obsessed. But, of course, this isn’t the full story. “I drew from multiple experiences and multiple people that I had had encounters with,” she says. “[The song is] about pretty much everybody I’ve ever dated or hooked up with, from my first kiss when I was twelve to the last guy I saw before quarantine started.” Their caricatures figure into the video for “Loser” (directed and produced by Rob Ulitski from Pastel Wasteland), a spoof of the VHS personal ads some lonely singles may have used long before Ferrell herself was even born.

But “Loser” isn’t just a quasi-warning to potential partners. “I do kind of look at it also as sort of harsh reminder to myself—not in like a victim blame-y way—to just stop once in a while and be like, ‘Kelsey, what are you doing? What kind of choices are you making?’” she adds.

On Valentine’s Day, she released a new version of “Native Speaker,” a folk-y pop track ready to rise from the ashes of its previous iteration on her 2020 Bandcamp release, The Quarantine Demos. A whole minute shorter and about three instruments richer, “Native Speaker” feels like Feral at her best— and it’s a standout for her, too. “I think I really transformed it from its original version into something that hits harder and can hold attention better,” she explains. “I’m just really grateful that I got to go to the studio and create that one, because that felt like a life goal for me to put that song out there.”

While the song starts out sparse, not unlike the demo, Ferrell has largely done away with the doubled audio track, letting her voice shine alone against an acoustic guitar. “We’re living in a fascist state/but I still go on dinner dates,” the track begins, setting the tone somewhere between bombast and resignation. The song seems more measured and patient then the demo version, even though there is a lot more going on musically. This is especially clear in the chorus, accompanied by drums and some sparkling percussion that adds a needed touch of whimsy. “You are the one,” Ferrell sings. “And I’m missing the tongue/of my native speaker.”

While Ferrell tells me that people who get the song just really get it, there is a tenderness to the lyrics that makes it work even beyond the realm of lost first loves. Even though the cover—a collaboration between her two close friends, illustrator Ruhee Wadhwania and photographer Annie Sampson—makes the central innuendo clear, it could just as well be about missing the experience of talking to someone who once really understood you.

Next up for release (March 26th) is “Church,” the result of an unexpected period in Ferrell’s writing, where she delved into a lot of religious metaphor. While the framework for the song is about a last-hurrah trip she took with said ex, its greater themes were formed in the fires of adulthood and all the uncertainty that comes along with it. “I always was dismissive of religion as a teenager,” she explains. “When I got older and realized how hard life is, I was like, ‘I get it. I want help.’ It reflects that moment where I started to understand why people are religious and why people need a God and why people need to pray. I had reached those moments in my life where I had become so desperate for relief or so desperate for something to go right for me that I had no other options besides calling on a higher power.”

“I had faith in you but there’s no faith in me,” Ferrell sings in the song’s opening lines. Feral has always had a no-fuss sound, but “Church” feels like a different direction from both the snarl of “Loser” and the lament of “Native Speaker,” choosing instead to take a campground-chant cadence, complete with some gentle handclaps that you might need headphones to catch. Despite the fact that it shares a subject matter with “Speaker,” something about “Church” feels more final: “It’s hurts to feel/God ain’t real/You’re still my whole entire heart/and I’ll never be a believer but I’ll miss playing the part.”

If anything, that line feels like a small relief — playing the part can only work for so long, much like living with undiagnosed mental illness. Now that Ferrell has the latter at least, she’s taking it one day at a time. And, sometimes, those days aren’t too bad. There are merch designs in the works; another song going viral on TikTok; and “Fuck the Bourgeoisie” at more than 55k streams. Not too shabby for a month and change into 2021.

Even if she’s not a believer, Ferrel does know the universe works in mysterious ways. “The week before the TikTok went viral, I sat down and wrote a song about being lost and being 22 and not really knowing what I wanted out of life and wanting to be successful but not knowing how to achieve that,” she recalls. Afterward, Ferrell began writing prolifically, partly to provide content for her newfound audience, partly because she found the success inspiring, and most importantly, because it provided some much-needed validation.

“I kind of felt this feeling of, like, hey—maybe I could do this for real,” she says. “Maybe I do have the talent.”

Aaron Lee Tasjan Talks Most Personal LP to Date, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!

Photo Credit: Curtis Wayne Millard

Aaron Lee Tasjan can still remember watching MTV for the first time while on summer vacation with his family, introduced to the music network by the local high school student his parents hired to babysit him and his sister. “There were two videos that really got me,” he professes. One was Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” which captured his attention with its acoustic riffs, the other being The Black Crowes’ cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” After watching those videos, Tasjan says, “everything in the house became a guitar.” Tasjan happened to find a guitar pick on the floor left behind by a previous guest, which he took as a sign. “I treasured that guitar pick,” he says with emphasis. “I was just so fascinated with it.”

Fate would intervene again four years later when Tasjan’s family relocated to Southern California. A young Tasjan was at Vons grocery store with his mother when he spotted a small guitar shop next door offering lessons (the first was free, a sign announced). The aspiring musician convinced his mother to let him take a lesson, furthering his passion for the instrument.

The family later moved to Ohio; at the age of 16, Tasjan was invited to sing a folk song he wrote about peace at his school’s Columbine remembrance day event. The song led Tasjan to a life-changing opportunity to perform at a safe school conference in Ohio hosted by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary). Yarrow was so moved by Tasjan’s song that he invited Tasjan onstage to sing the Grammy-winning trio’s hit cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” That same year, Tasjan flew to New York with the Columbus Youth Jazz program and won the outstanding guitarist award at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. 

Each of these moments represent a seed planted in the music connoisseur, who’s since flourished into a genre-blending artist with his infusion of psychedelic-rock-meets-interstellar-pop. “My sound is informed mostly by what moves me. I never really thought of music in terms of genre,” he explains. “I have been touching all these different styles of music since I was a kid. It was just that way for me and always has been. All of these things are intentional and they’re done with purpose, and I think that’s why I seem to be able to do different styles of things that still connect with people.”

That’s evident on Tasjan’s brilliant – and most personal to date – solo album Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, out February 5 via New West Records. Introduced with a three-part video series that positions Tasjan as an alien lifeform kept awake by rock ‘n’ roll transmissions in “Up All Night,” searches the universe to fulfill his musical destiny on “Computer Love,” and takes stock of his journey, ultimately beaming his own unique sound into the cosmos with “Don’t Overthink It,” the record is a culmination of both Tasjan’s journey and his retro sensibilities.

Tasjan began honing his sound in earnest after ditching a scholarship at Berklee College of Music and moving to New York at the age of 20, where he met future pop hit songwriter Justin Tranter. The two formed Semi Precious Weapons, alongside Cole Whittle and Dan Crean, in late 2008. In large part to his connection to Tranter, Tasjan became immersed in queer culture, disclosing that he knew at an early age he was queer, yet wasn’t self-aware enough to understand it at the time. “I just knew that I seemed to be attracted to all different kinds of people and I didn’t know what that meant,” Tasjan remarks of having romantic experiences with men and women while in high school. “I never really defined that or thought of that as ‘I need to figure this out’ or anything like that. It was something that felt natural to me, to be able to fall in love with people that captured me in some way.”

Tranter was instrumental in helping to broaden Tasjan’s horizon when it came to queer culture; he’d watch in awe as Tranter orchestrated photo shoots while indie designers Tommy Cole and Roy Caires of fashion brand Alter (formerly known as This Old Thing?) designed the outfits the band wore on stage. The two also attended several drag shows together, Tasjan marveling at the art of performance – and later referencing his relationship with one of the queens in “Up All Night.” “They weren’t just doing this performance, they were living this performance. It gave you a whole new sense of what it meant to really be authentic within the context of whatever it is you’re trying to present in art, but to really come at it with intention and a desire to be seen,” he observes, adding that Tranter pulled inspiration from drag shows into the band’s live shows.

Tranter and Tasjan also experienced the discriminatory side of being openly queer. Tasjan recalls how Tranter would be chased down the street after coming out of a club in certain pars of town, and recounts a frightening experience when the two were chased by a man in his car. “That was not an uncommon part of [Tranter’s] life. Because I was his partner musically and we had this band together, those moments just broke your heart, largely in a way because they felt too common,” Tasjan reflects, adding that he’s been met with a fair share of disapproving looks that were “always interesting.”

In the fertile Lower East Side club scene, they met rising burlesque performer Stefani Germanotta, sharing bills in small LES venues with her as she developed her electronic pop persona Lady Gaga; Semi Precious Weapons would go on to open as special guests for lengthy stretches of her Monster Ball Tour, once her first singles catapulted her to fame. But by then, Tasjan had left Semi Precious Weapons to perform as the lead guitarist for New York Dolls, and formed his own band, The Madison Square Gardeners, before eventually moving to Nashville in 2013.

Staying true to his identity is embedded in Tasjan’s DNA, exemplified by the autobiographical single “Feminine Walk.” Describing the song as “the naked truth,” the song comes halfway through Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, which the artist says he recorded some 22 songs for, filtered down to 11 that “happened to be the ones where I was really singing about me,” he notes, adding that the subject matter of “Feminine Walk” “doesn’t leave room for guessing” in terms of its subject matter. Tasjan candidly sings, “I get one look, two look, three look, four, every time I’m at the bathroom door,” and though the track is ultimately celebratory in feel, he admits the song served as a “good opportunity to use my creativity to challenge my fear beliefs,” he says. “Everything kind of fell out because it was always there. It was like it was just waiting to happen the right way.”

Tasjan entered the writing process with a vivid childhood memory of walking down the street with his dad when he was no older than eight, donning a ’70s style bowl cut and an “androgynous” look that prompted an older child to stop the father-son pair and ask “is that a boy or a girl?” while pointing at the young Tasjan. He recalls another experience in a Denver airport as an adult, standing at the sink in the men’s bathroom washing his hands wearing jeans, a pea coat and hat when another man walked in and saw him, immediately walking out with a spooked look on his face. Moments later, he returned, laughing and saying that he initially thought he walked into the wrong bathroom. Tasjan laughs himself as he recites the memories, void of any animosity or bitterness. “My sense is more that they’re intrigued by it, and that’s what’s angering them more so than who I’m being,” Tasjan points out, using the song to investigate the curiosity of how people carry themselves and the impression it makes on others.

“I thought about that in my life and how some people have these qualities that seem to capture others in all sorts of different ways, but for some reason, people are captured by the way that somebody looks sometimes whether it’s for a good reason or a bad reason,” he muses. “I just happen to be one of those people. Everybody at some point in time has felt insecure about the way in which they’re perceived – we’ve all had an experience like that.”

“I like songs that I feel like are a part of the cannon, a part of the conversation of music that’s been happening for a long time. That song to me felt like it could be a part of that because I wasn’t sure that I had heard a song before where I had heard somebody say it quite like that. So that made me feel like ‘this is a good road to go down with this one,’” he adds. 

“Feminine Walk” allows Tasjan to explore the differences in perception that often translate into vulnerability – and that exploration doesn’t end with those anecdotes. Tasjan shares another distinct memory from his youth when he proudly invited his classmates on the playground to gather around as he attempted to do his impression of Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk, feeling a sense of accomplishment when his peers asked him to do it again, only to realize they were actually making fun of him. It’s a moment that Tasjan says draws a parallel to his life as a performer, inviting people in to explore and immerse themselves in his wonderment – wholly accepting the genuine reactions from each individual.

“People’s perception of everything is going to be colored by their own experience, so you put yourself out there knowing that. It’s not really yours to create the experience for someone else – you have to allow them to have that experience on their own, which means it’s going to take on a different meaning than whatever it was that you intended, and I think you just have to be cool with that,” he observes.

“I seek out these moments purposely. There’s something about testing how far is too far, how much is too much. Something about that does inspire me creatively, or makes me feel like I’m pushing myself into a place that I haven’t been yet,” he says. “That’s my goal to do that on every record.”

Follow Aaron Lee Tasjan on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Darity Restores Hope for 2021 with “Everything”

Darity Everything
Darity Everything
Photo Credit: China Martin

Cincinnati singer/songwriter Linsley Hartenstein, who performs under the moniker Darity, started 2021 on a hopeful note with the release of a new single, “Everything.” The dreampop ballad seems to speak directly to the anxieties of 2020 while offering a soothing optimism as we look onward to the new year. Though it was written during a challenging period in Hartenstein’s life, she reveals that “Everything” has been brewing for a much longer time.

“While the end result is beautiful and encouraging, the writing process of this song was really long,” she tells Audiofemme. “I started writing it while on tour in 2017. Touring is one of my favorite things to do of all time, but this tour specifically revealed how poor my mental health was.”

Struggling with the uphill process of growing an independent band, Hartenstein says she spent the entire tour journaling reasons why she doubted her abilities and her worth. “All the while, I had the chorus to ‘Everything’ stuck in my head,” she says. “It was incredibly frustrating because it felt like a song I couldn’t honestly write because I didn’t believe that I have everything I need. So, I didn’t write it. It just sat in the back of my mind. I would sing it in my room and sing the verses about whatever I was currently feeling down about. It was like the never-ending song.”

After seeking therapy, Darity began playing “Everything” for live audiences. Her friend Alex Alex Hirlinger heard the song and wanted to help her finally record it. “I decided to finish the lyrics and have Alex produce the track because he liked the song and is crazy talented,” she says. “I figured that I’m also probably not the only person that needs space to acknowledge that life gives us so much evidence to not pursue health and what we love, but someday when the fog clears, we will be able to see that everything we have is enough.” 

The single is more pop-leaning than most of Darity’s debut album Bitterroot, which compiled singles five previously released singles with four newer songs. She says it also stands out from her previous releases because of its vulnerable lyrics. “I felt like I was fighting myself a little bit [while recording it,] like, ‘Can you say you have everything you need when you haven’t arrived yet?’” she reflects. “After it’s all said and done, though, I believe I don’t have to have everything figured out to believe in myself.”

The song bears the reminder that even when we’re faced with feelings of self-doubt, the tools for happiness and health are still within reach – sometimes we just need a little patience. “Real healing always takes longer than we would prefer,” Hartenstein says.

“While ‘Everything’ isn’t specifically a song about COVID and all that’s going on in the world, it’s where we are all at,” she says. “The song coincidentally has a lot of relevant imagery, so I wanted to be intentional with the release. I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that this next year and the years to come will probably still be hard, but we can still have hope.”

Darity’s next single will arrive February 19. Until then, Hartenstein hopes that no matter what emotions it awakens, “Everything” will provoke mindfulness. “If this song pisses you off; cool, why? If this song brings you joy; amazing, sit in that. If this song does nothing for you, notice that. I hope [this song] finds people exactly where they are,” she says. “No one is alone in working through believing that we have everything we need.”

Follow Darity on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

How Lady Gaga (and other Pop Heroes) Came to Our Rescue in 2020

In the 1930s, as the world sunk into an unprecedented economic depression, Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s song “Get Happy” prompted the American public to “forget your troubles,” “shout Hallelujah” and “chase all your cares away.” The simplicity of the song, with little in the way of instrumentation and barely any dynamic range, gave it earworm quality. Once heard, it stuck, and became a balm for the troubled minds of people losing their life savings, their jobs, their homes and their hope. The same happened in the 1960s and ‘70s, as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones provided anthems for everyone from school children to their grandparents, escapism from relentless news about war and economic decline.

This year, we’ve faced the biggest health and economic disaster of our lives – one that has left many without work, their relationships strained or broken, and proven a major burden on our collective mental health. Pop music once again responded to the call to keep the human spirit afloat – whether we trepidatiously return to work in less-than-ideal conditions, or remain consigned to our homes, allowed only to walk our dogs and shop for toilet paper. Specifically Lady Gaga came to our rescue with her buoyant Chromatica album, which dropped in May along with videos and imagery in which the singer is depicted as an ethereal pink-haired, sci-fi heroine. Make no mistake. This is not a woman who has been eating microwave nachos and signing up to a bunch of language courses she’s never going to start. Lady Gaga gave us a hero right when we need one.

Gaga’s sixth album is a dance-synth-cyber-pop experience. More than a musical project, it encompasses a whole aesthetic – Gaga’s futuristic cyborg-self dancing fearlessly in the desert (“Rain On Me”) was the exact energy we wanted to channel in our own imagination.

The album’s title refers to a dystopian planet – a setting that felt all too real on Earth this year. For all its glitz, glamour and big beats, the themes of trauma, heartbreak, overcoming internal and external obstacles and seeking a sense of being worthy of a good, fulfilling life all made this one of Gaga’s most vulnerable, powerful works of songwriting.

It’s hard to know how the pandemic will shape music made during this period and released in the months or years to come, but in the past few months we’ve had some truly epic pop albums from Dua Lipa, Jarvis Cocker, The 1975, Róisín Murphy, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. Many musicians who were due to release albums in this spring and summer (right before touring globally, under normal circumstances) changed their plans to prevent the potential loss-making risk of not leveraging the album popularity to sell tour tickets. Others saw the immense opportunity. All these people sitting at home, biting their nails, desperate for entertainment and reassurance from pop culture (since our governments have been unreliable sources of comfort) would surely pay good money for albums and merchandise? After all, music fans had engaged en masse with Instagram DJs and live streams from musicians’ loungerooms – and even drive-in concerts, like Keith Urban, Bush, Phoenix and Groove Armada, offered in the US and UK.

Perhaps there was something of a premonition amongst certain artists. Even the glumly witty Jarvis Cocker had recorded and prepared a pop album full of house music tracks designed for dancing. Prior to its release, his livestreamed Domestic Disco on Instagram attracted millions to watch him DJ from his rural UK lockdown, potted plants and stuffed toys included. JARV IS, the collaboration between Cocker and his live band, released Beyond The Pale, a brilliant throw-back to 90s British post-punk, rave culture and art school dropouts. “Must I Evolve?” delivered the eternal question of anyone over 35 who has become stuck in their personal, professional and creative patterns of thinking and living. The answer, in a nutshell, is yes.

Meanwhile, Dua Lipa’s album Future Nostalgia has heavy 1980s synth-pop vibes that recall Olivia Newton John and Pat Benatar. When it came out, Future Nostalgia debuted at number four on the US Billboard charts (inclusive of downloads). At just under 40 minutes, the music felt like a lump of sherbet melting in the mouth. Intense, sugary, sweet and thrilling, then gone. Tracks like “Don’t Start Now,” “Levitating” and “Physical” kept the momentum high and the melodies relentless. People were craving pure pop music, but not just any pop – nostalgia inducing pop that transported them to better times.

It’s not purely my own speculation and opinion that Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Jarvis Cocker and other pop purveyors were the fuel that kept us going in 2020. A 2010-2013 study at the University of London, part of the Earworm Project, surveyed 3000 people to ascertain the most commonly cited catchy choruses, or earworms. In a list of the top 10 songs, Lady Gaga took the gong with three of her songs listed, including the number one, “Bad Romance” (the others were “Poker Face” and “Alejandro”).

Pop music is powerful – it becomes trapped in our psyches.  Where it is nostalgic, which Lady Gaga does brilliantly in sounding a lot like Madonna-meets-Aretha Franklin, it provides comfort to suffering souls. Nostalgia – both in Gaga’s comic-book stylings and music – has the ability to rouse feelings of confidence and optimism. Most importantly, it is a reminder of our unity and connectedness as human beings. “Let It Rain” and “Free Woman” are the sonic equivalent of putting on lipstick after months of only brushing crumbs off our lips, of actually putting pants on rather than traipsing the house in an oversized t-shirt and tracky dacks. With the musical bounty 2020 has provided, we can conjure up some sense of being part of a larger contingent of a pop-music-loving public, all traipsing off dutifully vaccinated to restart the economy and save the world in 2021.

PREMIERE: Elisia Savoca Celebrates Singlehood with “Do Re Mi”

Breakups are difficult — some more than others. But often, even after the hardest breakups, we realize we’re better off without our exes. In hindsight, we see problems we’d overlooked in the relationship, and we start to enjoy our newfound freedom. That’s how LA-based singer-songwriter Elisia Savoca came to feel after her last relationship, which she channeled into her latest single, “Do Re Mi.”

The sassy, danceable, R&B-inspired song is an ode to new singlehood, encapsulating both the ups and downs of a breakup in poetic, fleeting vignettes: “Speaking words with our tongues/Let go of what we just won/Plans of lovers commit/Damn you make feel shit/Paradise and city on bliss/Nah, don’t wanna forget this/Sunset on my lips high and lows with this.”

“It’s definitely about somebody getting out of a relationship – that freedom when you leave a relationship, just doing what you want and saying what you want. That’s what my message is,” she says. “When I write a song, I say whatever’s on my mind, and it’s like a diary to me. I was trying to get the point across that I don’t need anybody, I can do this myself, and ‘Do Re Mi’ is about that liberation of speaking your mind and saying what you want.”

Savoca and her producer and co-writer Maestro wrote the song in just 10 minutes. “I will never forget the producers working with me that day — we were all so happy to be working together, and the synergy there was just amazing,” she remembers. With Rihanna as its inspiration, the track includes classical piano, guitar, bass, and synths.

Savoca made the video herself during quarantine, using footage of herself singing in a black outfit against a black backdrop. “I just wanted to create this sexy, dark, mysterious vibe,” she says. “It was just a sensual little video I made in like an hour.”

The song will appear on an EP she plans to release next year called Act 1: Manifesto, much of which is about “coming into being a woman and learning responsibility and looking back on my past,” she says. “Every time you kind of leave something in your past, you grow into this more developed being, and it’s so interesting to see these records symbolize that.” In “Falling,” her last single off the EP and the subject of another quarantine video — she sassily tells someone off in a catchy chorus: “Sit down with your ass/You’re gonna get smashed.”

Manifesto is the first of three upcoming EPs, followed by Act 2: Fiasco and Act 3: Vendetta — names inspired by Italian operas. “I really wanted to tap into my Italian side,” she explains. “I was getting into the movie side of things, so I thought it would be interesting to have this medieval times 1700s vibe, incorporating some Latin-rooted words into a project.” Each act represents a different side of her and stage of her life: Manifesto centers on the wide-eyed version of her that first moved to LA; Fiasco portrays her “going through a hard time, smiling through the pain, just kind of hiding it all;” and Vendetta depicts “a really strong, independent woman who is not letting anybody mess with her.”

All the EPs are finished, along with a number of videos — Savoca channeled her quarantine boredom into making 12 videos in a month. “Quarantine really gave me that time to be as creative as I wanted to be and direct my own music videos,” she says. “I never would have been able to do that before, so I’m definitely so happy that I was able to create all these videos during that time and had the chance to figure that part of myself out.”

The 19-year-old was born to a Sicilian family in San Diego. Inspired by the local punk and ska scenes, she taught herself piano and guitar and began singing with local bands. She started playing at talent shows in San Diego when she was 15, working up to a spot in the large punk and alt-rock venue SOMA, then moved to LA and began appearing at more big venues. She released her first EP, One of You, in 2018, following it up her second, Glitch, in 2019.

Even with three EPs on the way, she’s as prolific as ever in making new music. “I’m the kind of person that pumps out five songs in one day — I got to get it out,” she says. “I’m an emotional human being. It gets to the point where I can’t let this go, I’ve got to get this on paper. As a writer, your job never stops. You’re continuously trying to do better than the last song you made. So for me, it’s not a job. I’m trying to do what’s in me. I could never stop making music every day.”

Follow Elisia Savoca on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Stay ‘Up All Night’ with Cincinnati Husband & Wife Pop Duo Moonbeau

Photo Credit: Devyn Glista

As Cincinnati heads into a cold, COVID winter, Moonbeau offers up a much-needed dose of warm, fun-loving pop music with their sophomore album, Up All Night. The duo, made up of husband and wife Christian and Claire Gough, combines dreamy synths and starry-eyed love songs that transport the listener to a time of carefree, pre-pandemic bliss. 

“It was all recorded before COVID hit and when we were about to get it finally mastered and mixed, everything shut down,” Christian tells Audiofemme. “I feel like it’s kind of escapist pop music, and right now, people want to escape more than anything.”

“COVID and everything made it a little bit difficult for us to finish in the timeline that we imagined we would, but we’re happy to be able to put it out now,” Claire adds. 

The 12-track effort was fronted by two easygoing singles, “All Summer” and “Radio,” the latter of which arrived with an equally fun music video that sees the pair sneaking into Central Ohio’s CD102.5 (recently relocated on the dial to 92.9) to get their single on the airwaves.

“I thought it would be kind of a funny thing to do,” Claire says of the clip. “The thing that I thought of first was us showing up on the security camera; we wanted to look like we were trying to not get caught. And when [director] Jack [Campise] reached out to us he had the idea to bring in the janitor – who was really the star of the whole video, just because he was such a great dancer.”

“I wish he would’ve been in the video more,” Christian laughs. 

The couple first met in 2014, while Christian was playing in a band called The Yugos with his brother. “Christian got the opportunity to play in Arizona, and he wanted me to go,” says Claire. “We had already toyed around with the idea of playing music together – we were dating at the time. So, we got to go to Arizona for our first trip to play this festival. And then from there I was like, ‘Ok, I think I’ll do this from now on!’”

Moonbeau released their debut singles, “Are We In Love Yet?” and “In Your Lifetime,” in 2017. Their self-titled debut followed the next year. “Christian wrote our first album, Moonbeau, and most of the ideas were his,” Claire says. “But with this album, it was super collaborative, which I’m really excited about.” 

Although they aren’t able to celebrate Up All Night with an in-person performance, Moonbeau will play a live-streamed set on December 4 from the Woodward Theater. Not only is it one of their favorite venues, it’s where they got married.

“It will be very different from any other live-stream that we’ve done, just because we’re gonna go all out with the lights and the background,” says Claire.

Looking ahead, Moonbeau fans can keep an eye out for remixes and acoustic versions from the album, as well.

Photo Credit: Devyn Glista 

The couple jokes that they’re often asked how being a married duo affects their band chemistry, especially one that capitalizes on lyrical sweet nothings. Besides some laugh-filled banter about the foreseeable challenges, like having to massage the truth rather than bluntly reject ideas (“He’s never told me he doesn’t like my idea – I guess he’s afraid!”), or deciphering whose love song is about who (“Sometimes she’ll be like, ‘That’s not about me!’”), the band operates pretty much like any other. 

“You hope for a certain level of respect and genuine care from anyone that you’re in a band with, so it really helps me feel like I can be open about certain ideas that I have and know that he won’t shut them down,” says Claire. “There’s a lot of confidence that comes with making music with someone you really care about.”

Follow Moonbeau on Instagram for ongoing updates.