CrowJane Flexes Her Visual Art Skills in Music Videos For Her First Solo Album

In her video for “The Pharmacy,” singer CrowJane appears as a demon with blank eyes and a mouth oozing black goo as she writhes in chains, her long, sharp fingernails nearly scratching herself as her shackled hands clench and release.

CrowJane (sometimes also credited as Heather Galipo) is best known for her work as guitarist for the goth-leaning, post-punk band Egrets on Ergot and vocalist for the noise rock outfit Prissy Whip. She’s also a makeup artist in the film industry, whose professional work includes special effects makeup. With her debut full-length, Mater Dolorosa, out on September 15, and its accompanying videos, CrowJane merges her aural and visual creative pursuits.

“I do this to so many people,” she says by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “It’s always good to get a taste of what it’s like to be in the makeup because then you remember, this kind of sucks. You can barely see. You can’t touch things. You have a bunch of black stuff in your mouth and it tastes gross.”


She worked with Paul Roessler, the musician and producer who has been active in the L.A. scene since the punk era, with credits that include The Screamers, Nina Hagen and 45 Grave.

The two first bonded when Roessler produced music for Egrets on Ergot. Galipo recalls Roessler bringing her into the studio and encouraging her to write songs. She had intended to stick with an acoustic guitar, but, as they worked, the music morphed into something experimental. They made percussion instruments and created tracks that would become rhythmic and atmospheric.

“It sort of started as a therapy session, to be honest,” says Galipo about the album. “It was a way to get through a battle with addiction and different hardships in my life having to do with abuse and the list could go on and on.”

Roessler became her “spiritual guide,” in addition to her producer, co-writer and friend, on what would be both a musical and personal journey (Galipo has now been sober for almost five years).

She had put those ten songs aside, though, while focusing on her other projects and they would stay on the back burner for several years. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, she was left without work and had spare time on her hands. Galipo had considered releasing the album herself, but Roessler suggested that she try to work with a label. That led CrowJane to Kitten Robot, which is run by new wave singer Josie Cotton.

With the album release coming at a time when work is slim in the film world, CrowJane had friends join forces to (safely) make music videos.

The first of those clips, “Terminal Secrets,” was released in August and is an exercise in stop-motion animation, where CrowJane made masks of her own face. “I had never shot anything in stop-motion before and I really admire it,” she says. The clip was shot at 12 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second. “Even then, we would work for 10 hours or maybe a little less and then walk out of there with maybe 10 seconds of footage,” she says.

For a forthcoming video of her cover of James Brown’s song “Man’s World,” she used leftover prop hands to make a pet that looks like a hand in a snail shell. It’s her favorite piece that she’s made for the videos so far.

“Part of the reason that I got into makeup effects is because I was so in awe into what these people can create,” says Galipo. Having the opportunity to bring together her love of movie makeup and effects with her own music has been a special experience. “I get to exercise the muscles of all the things that I love to do creatively and it all comes together,” she says.

The timing of the album presented CrowJane with an opportunity to flex her visual art skills as part of the project in a way that might not have otherwise been possible. Also, the time that elapsed between recording the album and the release of it gave her a chance to reflect on the material. She says that the meaning of some of the lyrics have changed for her over the years.

“If I hear the words that I wrote, some of the things that I would write about my abusers, I realized that I was writing more about myself,” she says. “Now that I look back, it’s interesting to see how that progresses. I’m grateful for everything that I did. My life is in a much better place and I appreciate everything that art has given me.”

Follow CrowJane on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Brit Drodza Shines a “Spotlight” on Female Friendship with New Visual

Photo Credit: Richard Israel

Throughout her music career, Charlotte, NC-based pop-folk artist Brit Drozda has counted on her female friends to cheer her on – and like any good friend, she’s more than happy to return the favor. After offering support to one of her pals, she took the conversation a step further and wrote “Spotlight,” an ode friendships where women uplift one another.

“Do you know how happy it makes me to see you in the spotlight?” she sings in a bright, cheery melody against bluesy guitar and minimalistic percussion. Her voice is rich and deep, a bit reminiscent of Florence Welsh, as she addresses a friend with feel-good lyrics like “Please be proud, because I am/Just to call you my friend.”

Inspiration struck Drozda when a friend revealed something personal to her and seemed to be making strides toward being herself more fully. “She was stepping into the spotlight, and I was so proud of her and excited to see how her life unfolded from there,” she remembers. “I have several really tight friendships, and it’s primarily women who have cheered me on as I’ve been on stage, and I think it’s so important to recognize people when they’re in their element and to commend and support them.”

Drodza originally wrote the song on piano, then arranged it for the guitar, giving it a fun, light, laid-back feel. She added handclaps to the beginning to convey the sentiment of cheering someone on. “I just wanted it to feel like a conversation of something I would say to my friend,” she says.

A visual for the song features the lyrics against colorful images of women’s faces by Charlotte-based artist Windy O’Connor, who has a collection of these paintings that she calls “chicas.”

“Each face looks different, and I think it’s this anthem of stepping into your own and owning your self-expression and supporting people as they find that,” says Drodza. “Every time I see those chicas, I think of people who are embodying who they are. They just fit so well when I put the lyrics to it.”

The single will appear on Drodza’s upcoming EP, Seashells & Stories (out October 9), a name inspired by the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451. The title track and first single, “Seashells & Stories,” references the book’s protagonist’s wife, who puts seashells in her ears to tune him out. “It’s about trying to connect in a relationship and having someone be kind of distant,” she says. “The overarching theme of that song is about trying to make human connection and trying to step back into a relationship and to really communicate.”

In “Avalanche,” another song off the EP, she uses the image of an avalanche to describe the snowballing effects of fear, belting, “an avalanche is coming through” against ambient keyboard, guitar, and harmonies that fade like gusts of wind. The upbeat, poppy “Rose Colored Glasses” reflects on the way we idealize relationships, and the dreamy “You Were Right” throws up a white flag after an argument with delicate, high piano notes and a soaring, melodic chorus.

Drodza came into the studio with the lyrics and melodies written and played piano and keys, and producer Scott Jacoby (Coldplay, Vampire Weekend, Sia) helped put the rest together. “The really amazing thing about these songs is, I feel like vocally, it’s akin to a thumbprint of my vocals,” she says. “I hadn’t been able to quite get there with the nuances and the subtle sonic things with my voice that make it what it is, and [Jacoby] just really captured that through his recording techniques.”

Trained in classical piano, Drodza started a band with her brother that she describes as No Doubt meets The Killers, then took some time off before launching her career as a solo artist. She’s released two albums thus far, 2016’s Let Me Hang the Moon and 2019’s Make Something Beautiful, along with the 2018 EP You Can’t Take It With You When You Go. Most recently, she’s been spending her time going outside, teaching her kids to cook, and writing new music that she plans to record soon. “The sound [of Seashells & Stories] is in the vein of what you’ll be hearing from here on out,” she says.

Follow Brit Drozda on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Samantha Tieger Illuminates the Power of Human Connection with Premiere of “You Light Me Up”

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Samantha Tieger has two passions in life: music and language. “I really have this strong desire to connect with other people, whether it’s through language or music,” the Cincinnati-born, now Nashville-based singer professes.

She marries these two passions on her debut self-titled EP – particularly on poignant closing number, “You Light Me Up,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. Tieger has established a self-described “chill pop” sound: cinematic violin and piano layered over soft vocals that evoke a dreamlike feeling, capturing the sense of peace Tieger felt in the relationship that inspired the lyrics. “You light me up with your love,” Tieger sings, comparing that feeling to walking on air and brightening up the night. “I think it can be so easy to write about heartache and the negatives in a relationship, and for me, writing is such a good way to work through all of that,” she explains. “In this song, I really wanted to focus on positive elements of a relationship and I wanted the production and the vocal elements to reflect comfort and peace and joy.”

Tieger drew inspiration from the “good parts” of a previous relationship that were as sweet and simple as watching TV and cooking dinner together. When writing the gentle number with Ed O’Donnell, Tieger had a specific idea in mind of wanting the listener to feel as if a weight had been lifted off one’s shoulders. “I wanted the song to be like a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air of ‘now I feel okay at the end of the day because of you,’” she describes. “You Light Me Up” is the light at the end of an EP that was born out of a series of emotional experiences Tieger endured through past relationships and breakups. “Close My Eyes” is particularly relevant, as Tieger wrote it about feeling distanced from her friends and family a year before the COVID-19 pandemic kept the world six feet apart.

At that time, writing the EP was simply about Tieger processing complex emotions. “I think it’s easier for me to close the book on certain chapters in my life after I’ve written about them. I feel really frustrated and sad about certain things and once I’ve written it down, I can move on,” she says. “To hear a song come to life that I wrote about an experience that was so emotional for me to go through, hearing the music come together, it’s thrilling and emotional at the same time.”

The EP is a reflection of Tieger being a lifelong learner of music and language. She grew up studying Spanish, French and Latin around the same time she had a budding interest in music. She later pursued a degree in Romance Studies at Duke University, her language studies taking her to immersion programs around the world in such countries as Spain, Argentina and Costa Rica. “Somebody recently said ‘you just have this strong desire to connect,’ and I think language is such a key to connection and music is a key to connection,” Tieger analyzes. The singer at one time was writing music in Spanish and French, a skill she hopes to resume in the form of cover songs in foreign languages.

It’s through the relationship between music and language that Tieger learned how to communicate her emotions, a gift she combines with her global perspective and transcendental sound that’s bound to leave a distinct mark on the Nashville scene. “Music really became a way for me to understand my thoughts and feelings and what I was going through,” she asserts. “Life’s too short to not tell people how you really feel.”

Samantha Tieger’s self-titled EP is available everywhere September 4. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Frankie Simone Navigates Polyamory in “On Our Own”

Photo Credit: MISS PRYS

Traditionally, the way music represents love has been limited — not just in terms of who is typically featured in love songs (i.e. heterosexual couples) but also in terms of the types of relationships people sing about (i.e., monogamous ones). Non-binary, Latinx pop artist Frankie Simone is changing this on both fronts with music inspired by the challenges and rewards of navigating a queer, polyamorous relationship.

Simone’s latest single, “On Our Own,” was written during a difficult time in their relationship with their wife Che Che Luna, when their needs differed so much they had to turn away from each other and focus on themselves. But the single is is nevertheless uplifting – on the fun, catchy, EDM-infused track, Simone combines melodic electronic instrumentals and a prominent keyboard track with an anthemic chorus and danceable beat in the vein of Kygo or Galantis. “We can heal our hearts if we move to the rhythm/It’s in the melody and no don’t forget it/There’s a song we sing and oh won’t you sing it/All together now,” multiple voices chant in the refrain. 

“I wrote ‘On Our Own’ as a mantra for healing, to help expand my perspective, and provide myself with a different vantage point as I navigated extremely challenging times in my relationship,” says Simone. “Writing this song helped me regain my own personal power and, in a lot of ways, find the light at the end of the tunnel. This song feels so relevant right now during this time of extreme isolation. I hope folks can listen to it and feel less alone amidst the pandemic and current state of the world.”

The track is off Simone’s debut LP Sensitive Creature, much of which is dedicated to their relationship with Luna, whom they’ve been with for eight years. Even though it was written while in partnership, Simone wrote it largely about turning inward as the couple explored polyamory for the first time, guided by the question: “How can we allow ourselves the space and room to continue to grow and shape-shift and change as we get older, and how can we do that in partnership?”

The answer to these questions was an album with an overarching message of independence. In the R&B-inspired “Be Myself” featuring KayelaJ, Simone sings about remaining true to themself even while coupled. In the sassy Sleigh Bells-esque “KING,” they rap about celebrating their body and sexuality. In the poppy “Slow Down,” they talk about rising above obstacles in their relationship.

While most of the songs have a positive spin, many of them were borne from heartache as Simone watched their wife fall in love with someone else. “It’s taking the listener through the depths of the darkest depression in my life,” they explain. “I chose to turn inwards and really found a well of personal discovery and radical self-love. It’s truly the first time in my life that I’ve fallen in love with myself. A lot of the songs,I wrote from this perspective of my ideal self speaking to this deeply depressed Frankie to help pull me through it.”

They hope the album sets an example for others interested in polyamory, or simply shows them it’s a possibility. “We’re kind of proof of that, as we’ve moved through this really fucking intense journey, and throughout this journey, we’ve found incredible amounts of healing,” they say.

The album also explores other adjacent themes, including mental health and identity. “Goddexx,” for instance, validates the worth of people marginalized by society: “I am womxn/I am queer/I am brown/All that you fear/Like it or not I, I am a goddexx/I deserve to be worshipped.”

Simone released their first EP, LOVE/WARRIOR, in 2018, with similarly fun, electronically infused pop exploring queer identity and relationships. “I think about my first record, and it felt almost like I had so much to say, I was screaming about it, especially with my queer identity,” they reflect. “I wanted to have positive queer music people could find or discover or connect with.” While the new album is more about Simone’s inward journey in their relationship, their goal of encouraging and uplifting queer listeners hasn’t changed.

Simone is aiming to release a video for every song on the LP to create a visual album. So far, they and Luna star in a flirty video for “Slow Down,” and she dances alongside KayelaJ in the “Be Myself” video.

While Sensitive Creature documents Simone’s path toward accepting their wife’s other partnership, they’ve since formed an additional relationship of their own as well, which has inspired more music. That’s the exciting thing about Frankie Simone’s ever-evolving exploration of love in various forms: their fans get to be on that journey with them.

Follow Frankie Simone on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: NIKO Revisits Euro Roots With Provocative New Love Song “Try”

NIKO’s love for his partner runs very deep. So much so, he decided to write a song about it. His new single, called “Try,” throbs from the inside out, a euro-pop filter glistening the edges, and his voice glides along as smooth as ever. “Been a lot of places/Wearing different faces,” he sings. “I put up walls/And you see through them with the best intentions.”

Originally from Milan, Italy, the rising pop singer-songwriter readies the follow-up to his debut EP, 2019’s RMNC 21, an impressive, four-track bow that danced just outside the R&B/pop fusion. With “Try,” he fully saunters right out into the light and commands both genres with ease. “‘I don’t wanna live a life/Dancing on my own at night/I’m just tryna figure out/There’s so much I wanna say/That I wanna say, so I’ll try, try,” he vows.

“I’ve been reflecting on my life and my relationships,” he tells Audiofemme. That included his upbringing, and various residences in the U.K. and New York City for six years. He has since moved to the West Coast, trying his hand at the City of Angels, and it all comes to a head with the new song. He continues, “I’ve lived in many different cities and countries. After many experiences, I think I’ve found a safe place in the relationship with my partner. I wanted to celebrate our love in a song.”

Musically, “Try” mirrors the close tangle of two lovers, silky synths twisting together into an inseparable embrace. “I wanted it to feel like an intimate kiss shared on an empty beach,” he says. NIKO first began working with producer Abe Stewart back in 2017, and the relationship naturally turned into a friendship. “When we are in the studio, we have an amazing flow and connect immediately on ideas, sounds, and themes,” he says.

Upon his 2019 EP release, NIKO’s budding creative prowess began to morph into something completely unexpected, a transformation that noticeably coincided with his LA move. “After getting settled, I started working on new ideas and music,” he recalls. “It all didn’t really click until I had a big ‘aha!’ moment. I was so happy that I moved to LA ─ a lifelong dream ─ but at the same time, I was the furthest away from Milan than ever before. That really changed the direction of the sounds and themes I wanted to explore.”

NIKO’s vision is to build records greatly informed by his European roots, most notably “the long, leisurely, beautiful Mediterranean summers,” he teases. “This [decision] led me to collaborate with producers not only from the U.S, like Abe, but also from Sweden and Norway.”

There will also be prominent visual and audio components to his next chapter. “The cover was designed by this amazing Polish artist called Natalia Pawlak, and we’re going to be working together on all other artworks and posters for the project. I’m also looking to include some actor friends for some spoken poetry in some of the songs.” “Try” is only the beginning of an ambitious poetic journey.

Follow NIKO on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for ongoing updates.

With “Enable Me,” Sister Duo KTJ & Carly Empower Listeners to Think For Themselves

Music has a tendency to run in the family. There are a multitude of bands proving that statement to be true, from the iconic Sister Sledge and ESG to the more recent success of sister bands like First Aid Kit and Haim. The latest to be added to this list is KTJ & Carly. Comprised of identical twin sisters Kathryn (Katie) and Caroline Haynes, the Texas-born duo have been releasing singles since 2019. Premiering their latest single “Enable Me,” the sisters spoke to Audiofemme about what inspired the track: amidst the the back-drop of an influencer-saturated society, they examine pressures to fall in love before having even developed conviction in themselves.

When creating the track, KTJ & Carly wanted to offer a retort to those who make falling in love look easy, despite the difficulty and work inherent in maintaining a real relationships. In positioning their partners as someone who will provide a salve for all their insecurities and make all their woes a distant memory, these couples goad single people into rushing headfirst into romance with unrealistic expectations. The track tackles the risk of sacrificing too much for this kind of love; in the lyrics, KTJ & Carly point out that this damaging attitude not only applies to love and dating but extends to other aspects of influencer culture as well. “Easy to fall for, like one, two, three/When I can’t see/Trust your bad eyes guiding me.”

“Enable Me” begins with the sound of a dial tone; from there, ghostly, distorted vocals emerge like whispers, until the sisters’ pop siren vocals set a sinister stage: “Head is down, my feet off the ground/Enablers got his hands on me now/You’re balanced babe, the right amount/Enablers turned my sight inside out/You draw me in more ways I can count/Blinded by your devil’s playground.” The subtle atmospherics and driving beat encourage the listener to move, but listen closely lest they lose themselves. “The sounds in this song are very inviting and sensual,” the sisters explain via email, its sonic appeal adding to the urgency of the duo’s message. “The lyrics are type A toxicity! We wrote this song with our good friend from Texas, Elise Howard, and we were talking about how easy it is to get sucked into the game of players. Most people write this topic acknowledging the hurt and pain, but we wanted to take another angle and focus on the part where you still have hope.”

The track also showcases the sisters’ wide vocal range, and KTJ & Carly use it to communicate a sense of escalation throughout the song, creating a feeling of momentum. Verses are fleshed out by a lyrical back-and-forth between the sisters, reminiscent of Chloe x Halle, who are noted influences on the pair. Like a kettle whistling, their vocals build in tone to represent that pressure to find “the one” and the reckless willingness of people to ignore warning signs in the pursuit love. While this narrative used to more readily apply to 30-somethings, à la Bridget Jones’s Diary, the sisters believe the rise in dating apps and social media has created an apparent necessity to shack up with someone at a much younger age. “We feel like [technology] exacerbates the whole ‘you have to be married and have kids by the time you’re 25-32′ deal. The fact that dating is now at our fingertips, it’s so easy to always have someone,” they point out. But that can lead to serious consequences; when you’re young, you’re still finding your sense of self. Without a strong foundation, you’re more likely to be pushed, pulled, and gaslighted into toxic situations.

“We’re all nomads, constantly changing and making choices, just trying to figure this ‘life’ thing out, so we should let people thrive and be whoever the hell they want to be!” they agree. “There should be a dating app where you date yourself. When you love yourself— it doesn’t matter whether or not you have someone there because you have yourself.” While social media only encourages betterment in relations to how outward forces view us, there’s no substitution for finding our own happiness from within – with or without a partner that “completes” us.

The ingenuity of “Enable Me” is that KTJ & Carly’s lyrics also apply to this wide range of situations. When we as people allow ourselves to be swayed, at varying degrees, by those who have either more power, shout the loudest or, in some cases, both, negative ideologies are prone to creep in, dictating everything from how a woman should dress to fake news influencing how we should vote. An inability to think for ourselves has provided a fertile breeding ground for many toxic and dangerous views. “It is important to firstly know what YOU want,” the pair warn. “Social media and outside forces can make that difficult. If you know what you want and figure that out first before you take on advice or inspiration from ‘influencers,’ we would all be much happier with any choice we made. Meditation is great, or just spending a few hours in the day to yourself to do what you want to do. Simple moments like this will help you combat this tendency.”

Razor-sharp perception is a running theme in the duo’s current catalog of work. “Enable Me” will appear on the sisters’ forthcoming debut EP Identity, which focuses on how we view ourselves as individuals within a society. “The whole EP is about finding and becoming your one true self; anyone you want to be, despite what anyone else’s opinions are on the matter,” they say.

KTJ & Carly’s message is clear; stop and think about what you genuinely want, instead of bowing under the pressures from outside forces. The sisters hope that with “Enable Me” and, later down the line, Identity, more people will learn to be authentic to themselves. In that way, they want to become enablers themselves – but for a greater purpose, one rooted in the solid foundations of belief in oneself. It is a process, and processes take time, but KTJ & Carly are happy to provide the soundtrack.

Follow KTJ & Carly on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Girl Friday Rebels Against Gendered Limitations on “Earthquake”

Most women have at some point been prohibited from doing something they wanted to do because of their gender, whether due to subtle stereotyping or overt oppression. “Earthquake,” the latest single by L.A.-based, riot grrrl-inspired indie rock band Girl Friday, is an anthem for women who are sick of these kinds of limitations. “I have a lot of friends whose brothers did things like skateboarding or sports or things that were kind of messy and were told over and over again, ‘Don’t do that because you’ll get hurt, but your brother will be fine,'” explains guitarist Sierra Scott. “So it’s that energy of ‘you can’t do things that are destructive’ — it’s kind of just screaming for the sake of letting things happen.”

With a fun punk beat, angsty shouted lyrics, and energetic guitar riffs that evoke a feeling of mischief, the single is intended to sound like “an explosion of energy” and capture the feeling of being “stuck and trapped and wanting to shake things up,” both on an individual and a societal level, says singer/guitarist Vera Ellen. “I just want to feel like an earthquake/Everything is boring for fuck’s sake,” they belt in the chorus. Drummer Virginia Pettis remembers recording it in a basement with a floor covered in guitar pedals. “I feel like I saw the biggest pedal board in my life,” she says.

“Earthquake” is one of several highlights off the band’s debut full-length album, Androgynous Mary, out on August 21 via Hardly Art. On the LP’s first single, “Amber’s Knees: A Matter of Concern,” chaotic electric guitars take the listener through a narrative about watching reality TV and turning a blind eye to society’s injustices. On “Clotting,” a slower-paced, more classically indie track, the band sings of “exorcising demons like they own me.” The opening track and second single, “This Is Not the Indie Rock I Signed Up For,” is also mellow, but still uplifting, serving as a tribute to the band’s memories together. “Little burning and little lies/They pull at my hair and tell me what I’m like/But I’m so happy you’re here/I’m so happy you’re with me,” goes the heartwarming chorus.

“A lot of it is little moments of a lot of the past couple years of us being in a band, just kind of trying to paint small moments of community among darker times, connecting with other people or with yourself in ways and maybe in little unexpected moments that might otherwise go unacknowledged,” says Scott. In the same spirit, the video features campy vignettes of the band — which includes Ellen, Scott, Pettis, and Libby Hsieh (bass and vocals) — touring, then collapsing into giggles.

The friendship that’s so palpable in Girl Friday’s music and videos stems back to their days in college together at UCLA. After playing their first music together in Pettis’s room in 2017, they performed at house parties around campus before touring professionally. Their band name comes from a film class Ellen took where she learned about the trope of the “Girl Friday” — the secretary behind a powerful man who actually does all the work (they soon learned that they shared their name with many secretary agencies).

Playing with loaded phrases and layers of meaning is something Girl Friday does exceptionally well. Though it’s steeped in metaphors and knotty guitar licks, “Public Bodies” is meant to convey “the idea of being under the foot of somebody else or disadvantaged in some way and trying to push the foot off, get out from under the foot,” says Ellen – in that way, it’s thematically similar to “Earthquake.” In the video, the band looks after a collection of plants – some real, some animated, perhaps in a nod to the millenial horticultural self-care boom – until kitschy stop-motion weeds threaten that peace of mind. It’s playful, but it’s also not hard to draw a parallel to the very real frustration with the patriarchy and how it can interrupt someone’s well-being. “Does the average man feel like he’s on the outside?” asks the song’s deadpan lyrics. “When I say I’m in pain, they don’t believe it.”


The title for the album is similarly intriguing – while the group was walking around, they passed a mural of what looked like an androgynous Virgin Mary, and something about the image spoke to them. “Androgynous Mary is all of us — she lives within you,” Hsieh jokes, describing the music as less clean and edited and more aggressive than the band’s past EPs, mimicking their live sound. “When we recorded the songs, we tried to get everything live and dub over to sound thicker or heavier and get different tones,” Scott explains.

The band members, currently in different parts of the world, have been working on music independently and plan to record more together once they’re in the same place again. In the meantime, their album serves as a testament to the bonds that remain unlimited by constraints, whether temporal, geographical, or societal.

Follow Girl Friday on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Whoa Dakota Dances Away Her Pain On Disco-Pop Jam “Walk Right By”

Photo Credit: Brandon Hunter / BESHOOTiN

Singer-songwriter Whoa Dakota released her 2018 album, Patterns, to much-deserved critical acclaim. The record, a woven fabric of spoken word and impressive indie songwriting, left an indelible mark, and people were paying attention. However, things weren’t so kosher behind the scenes. Relationships with her creative team and producers unraveled, and she soon parted ways. “The falling out left some emotional scar tissue for me,” says Jessica Ott, the mastermind behind the project.

The Nashville musician scoops up that pain into her new song and music video “Walk Right By,” premiering today, and it’s very clear she’s regained some of her swagger. Set inside Smack Clothing, a trendy hot-spot in Midtown, Ott browses through the racks and even becomes part of the display herself. “I caught you looking at me/And it felt nice,” she sings. “Red velvet blur, and my faux fur down to my thighs/You never make it easy/To change my mind/Yeah, I can tell by the way you stare/You’ve got a lot to hide.”

Ott dresses her lyrics with ripe imagery and metaphor, but her message still cuts deep. The album’s producers were unfortunately also close friends, and when the split happened, the pain shocked her system. “They weren’t bigwigs by any means,” she tells Audiofemme, “but it occurred to me how quickly people can turn on you when the idea they had about your relationship and who you represented for them feels threatened.”

She began to ponder the commodification of her art – and of herself. “It’s the music, too, but really, I get turned into a product,” she says. “The thing that’s tough about that is that in order to be a good human you have to be willing to change, grow, evolve, and be fallible. But it seems like in order to be a good product, the industry wants you unchanging, predictable, and to easily fall in line with whatever trends are currently returning the highest profits.”

In the two years since Patterns, Ott took plenty of time reassessing her life and what she wanted her music to be. She was unchained by a toxic past, so possibilities were endless. “I spent a lot of time sort of redefining how I approached music on my own without their input and gained a lot of empowerment around my abilities as a writer, composer, and producer in my own right,” she says.

She toured extensively to promote the record, too, which allowed her to hit thrilling creative strides in her career. The chance to perform in front of audiences was unmistakably vital to her craft and the ability to figure out “how those songs felt on stage and how we could apply them to a live setting in a way that felt both engaging and authentic,” she says.

“Walk Right By” (co-written with Nathaniel Banks of indie band Arlie, BESHOOTiN, and producer Timothy Ryssemus) is markedly different in style from her previous work. She leans hard into disco-pop and R&B, her vocals like a chameleon changing its colors. “And in my mind, you’re all I need/To get me higher, to get me higher,” she coos over a delicious sparkle. “But every time you worry me/I’ll walk right by ya / I’ll walk right by ya.”

The song began with its pulsating bass line, courtesy of Ryssemus, who had it on loop. On that particular day, Ott sauntered into the studio wearing “this great vintage fur coat with some red cowboy boots, so that sort of set the tone for the imagery,” she recalls. “That bass line and the imagery combined sort of created this ‘70s ‘don’t fuck with me’ kind of vibe, and we went with it. Then, BESHOOTiN added the screams that you hear in the background throughout the chorus, and it gave me major ‘Maggot Brain‘ vibes. And I just get so tickled every time I hear it.”

The visual, directed by BESHOOTiN, who also works as a prolific photographer in town, celebrates the song’s innate quirks and utilizes a host of creepy mannequins as a metaphor for the soulless poseurs that lurk in the music industry. “I think it’s great that the mannequins are creepy,” she remarks. “It’s creepy the music execs try to water down something as complicated as a human and lead the collective to believe that that’s all that person is.”

“I knew I wanted Be to film the visual. I’ve followed his photographs and video work for years. He’s got such an intuitive and authentic eye,” she raves. “I said I wanted a vintage ‘70s vibe and wanted to be dancing around, and he nailed it. The mannequins were his idea, and I love it.”

Ott’s willingness to dabble and stretch her chops marks an exciting chapter for her. She is now free to soar, explore, and create something new. Oddly enough, her renaissance and recent immersion in the Nashville songwriting community wouldn’t have been possible if not for the current pandemic. She explains, “In many ways, it’s opened me up creatively because I’m no longer burned out from working two jobs and trying to tour in between. Had it not been for the pandemic, I’m not sure I would have started writing country and setting up co-writes and trying to get into the ‘songwriter’ world of Nashville.”

“There’s only so much time in a day. So, when you’re working full time at a restaurant, and trying to get your business afloat, and be creative and inspired, sometimes something isn’t gonna get done,” she continues. “I realized for me what wasn’t getting done was having the time and space to get creative and really listen to what I had to say.”

However, the last five months have wrought anxiety, anger, and fear, too. “I’m terrified that we as a country won’t wake up to the role racism plays in our culture. I hate that we could have allowed such injustice to ever happen, and I’m afraid that we won’t rise to the occasion to be our higher selves and really come together in unity to get to the root of this problem. I’m terrified about the election” she expresses. “I don’t feel confident in any of our leadership to guide us through the pandemic. Some days, I’m afraid to be in this country at all. I have a scheme to book a house show tour in Europe whenever we’re allowed in and just play music there for a few months.”

Even more, she’s concerned “music will never really take off for me now because I’m 30 and this whole shit storm has really thrown a wrench in the plan. I’m afraid I’ll run out of time and will have to start thinking about kids before my career is able to stay afloat. The list goes on…”

“Walk Right By” is a call for liberation. Whoa Dakota exchanges her pain and disappointment for redemption, hope, and light. She learned what she needed to, and now she can stand in the sun. As much as she would love to be gearing up for a new album, it might not be totally realistic right now. “I don’t even think in terms of a full record these days,” she says. “It’s a bummer but it’s true.”

Recording even a nine or 10-song record can bear a considerably hefty price tag. As an independent artist, it’s too risky to dive head-first into another full-length. Instead, she eyes a series of singles and EPs. “I’m trying to be very smart about how I spend my money. I also have to be cognizant of the fact that records aren’t always the thing people are drawn to now. I love them. I love making them. Ideally, when I [make an album] again, I will have financial backing or will have placed some of my singles and created some capital for myself.”

To tide us over, Whoa Dakota and Collin Gundry (of Tuxedo Wildlife) are teaming up for a new project called Rodeo Glow. Details are forthcoming. “It does feel sometimes like we as artists have to be a canvas for whatever is currently trending in order to be relevant,” she says. “I’m okay with the work. I’m here to work, and it’s ultimately rewarding. But between all the social media platforms and different hats I have to wear, I sometimes forget about just sitting alone in my room strumming some chords and singing whatever the hell I want. That’s it’s own reward.”

Follow Whoa Dakota on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Olivia Henry Premieres First-Ever Music Video for “Beautiful”

Photo Credit: Jesse Saler

Singer-songwriter Olivia Henry’s first-ever music video has been a long time coming. Having released several singles, an EP, and her debut LP Expectations earlier this year, Henry was more than ready for a bold visual, and on “Beautiful,” she delivers. It’s all too fitting that the track – with its acoustic guitar, an R&B thickness, and Henry’s songbird warble – is all about anticipation and release. In the visual, the LA native celebrates pulsing intimacy and sexuality, as she tangles with a chiseled-jaw beau.

“Beautiful,”  produced by Stephen Douglas Makuta, makes a bold statement. In many ways, it is the culmination of Henry’s entire journey and a rallying crying for herself. Following the release of her 2014 debut EP, Sessions, she was diagnosed with various autoimmune conditions and was forced to take a lengthy hiatus. Henry, whose style naturally leans neo-soul and jazz, did not reemerge until 2018’s “Gotta Run” and “In My Touch,” the album’s magnetic lead-in issued in early 2019.

Expectations is a sharp eight-track release. Olivia Henry bares her soul, from the venomous “In My Touch” to the haunting “Love Me” and piano-tuned closer “Crazy.” Her musical adeptness is as charming and transfixing as her vocal prowess. As far as debuts go, it shows undeniable promise for a lengthy, totally satisfying career.

In writing “Beautiful,” the opera-trained performer leaned into its “provocative, vampish, seductie” nature to craft a style all her own. That commitment to dripping sensuality, musically and lyrically, pulls the listener into a Nora Roberts romance novel. She also plays with “juxtaposing flirtatious lyrics with slow chord progressions and a haunting acoustic guitar,” she tells Audiofemme. 

The video supplies the necessary color palettes, camera work, and performances to punctuate all of the above. Every single frame tantalizes the viewer; it’s an invitation to reconnect with one’s own fantasies. “My desire for the video was to encompass all of that, while still maintaining an intimacy in the storytelling,” she explains. Henry worked closely with director and dear friend Cat Ventura in plotting out the video, initially exchanging ideas over tea and coffee at a cafe nestled in Los Feliz.

Ventura sought to create “a world you could luxuriate in, and as she put it: ‘get lost in the intoxicating feeling of new love without sacrificing the ability [for me] to have the freedom to follow [my] instincts as an artist,’” Henry remembers. “Then, it was all hands on deck with my micro, independent artist budget, and we knocked it out in a 12-hour day. I am incredibly proud of how it turned out, and so grateful for the unbelievable group of people who worked on it as well. Did I say I was excited?”

Follow Olivia Henry on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Alex McArtor Critiques Celebrity Worship in “Biggest Fan” Visualizer

Credit: Lexi McArtor

Growing up in Austin, 18-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist Alex McArtor would often attend concerts and music festivals as a kid. These were the earliest inspiration for her music career – and they also led her to reflect on the mystique surrounding musicians.

“I grew up around music, and my parents were always talking about the Elvises and stuff like that, and how ‘Oh my god, they were so amazing,'” she recalls. “I grew up seeing these people as not human.” She remembers going to one particular festival in middle school and “worshipping” a band that was playing, then feeling underwhelmed when she actually met the members. “When you see something from far away, it can be anything you want it to be — say some guy on stage looking like a total god,” she says. “And then you meet him and it just kills that magic of that.”

That experience was the inspiration for her latest single, “Biggest Fan,” which was actually one of the first songs she wrote many years ago. McArtor’s deep, crisp voice, acoustic guitar, and somber lyrics conjure up Lana del Rey with a hint of classic rock as she paints a picture of a woman following a glamorous rockstar to his room, a “silver castle on the moon” that nevertheless “tastes like litter and cheap perfume.” In the catchy chorus, she sings: “Starry-eyed, she’s hypnotized/Wants to stay with him for the night/Says I’m your biggest fan.”

Inspired by The Carpenters’ “Superstar” (and Sonic Youth’s cover of it), McArtor used lots of reverb, echoing effects, and weighed-down electric guitar toward the end. “[Sonic Youth] gave it a very whimsical kind of alternate reality,” she says. “There was just a feeling when you heard it, and I kind of wanted to use the same instrumentation for my song as they did.” McArtor also uses film as songwriting inspiration, playing the music as she watches a movie on mute or looks at a still. For this one, she used The Virgin Suicides, perhaps apt given the naive yet disillusioned woman at the center of the song.

She worked with an artist called MadHag to create a dream-like visualizer for the single. MadHag drew a man and a woman outside amid giant flowers and a colorful, starry sky, and then animated it. “I’m a big fan of supporting young artists because I’m also an artist, especially girls,” says McArtor. “I was like, ‘Tell me what you see when you hear this song.’ I wanted this to be youthful and almost naive in the artwork, and she gave that to me. You have the stars, and it’s very whimsical.”

McArtor released her first two EPs, Spoken Word and Heart Talk, Vol. I, last year, showcasing dark, dramatic rock songs like “Touch” as well as folkier ones like “East Coast.” Despite her age, many of her songs have an older sound to them, which she chalks up to influences like Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. With plans to complete her senior year of high school in New Hampshire – after spending the past year homeschooling in Dallas – she’s still not sure if she wants to go to college or not. But she’ll certainly continue to write new music — a promising endeavor, as her earliest work already displays an impressive mastery of sound and lyrical depth.

Follow Alex McArtor on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Evangeline Gentle Celebrates “Ordinary People” with Acoustic Performance Video

Photo Credit: Kristal Jones

As the world seems to go through one travail after another, sometimes all we can count on to lift us up are the kind words and love of the people around us (or on our screens, as is often the case nowadays). That’s what queer, gender-fluid Scottish-Canadian singer-songwriter Evangeline Gentle reminds us of in their single, “Ordinary People,” an ode to “loved ones who keep me soft when I’m feeling hardened by the world,” they explain.

“It’s brave to be hopeful in this world/It’s brave to be kind,” they sing in a live acoustic performance being released on video today. “Just when I think I’d had enough, your love is a little bit of sweetness/Life softens at your touch.” Though the song was written a while ago, some of the lyrics seem suited to the current moment, such as “Headline after headline draining me/Oh the ugly things ordinary people do for more money.”

With Gentle’s voice front and center against acoustic guitar, the song is simple and sweet, as is the video, which was filmed in Peterborough, Ontario at the Sisters of St. Joseph’s convent. “I had been filming another full production video in their old laundry building, and the director Rob Viscardis and I decided to film a live version of ‘Ordinary People’ for the fun of it while we were there with the crew,” Gentle remembers.

Gentle’s past music embodies the same minimalist aesthetic as “Ordinary People.” Their latest singles, “You and I” and “Black is the Colour,” were both done a cappella and sound almost like old hymns, with repetitive melodies and universal, timeless lyrics.

On August 21, they’re releasing their first album, which will include the studio version of “Ordinary People” and other songs with a similar overarching message – “that despite all of the ways that we are different, we do share the same visceral experience of life,” they explain, quoting a line from “Black is the Colour.” “It’s hard not to feel connected when we realize this.”

The 23-year-old began writing the album at age 19, and the years it was in the making were full of self-discovery and coming-of-age moments, as well as artistic growth. At the end, Gentle realized that each of the songs in their own way was about the struggle to remain open-hearted amid pain and uncertainty.

“[The album is] driven by the belief that it takes extreme strength to be vulnerable, but that the rewards of doing so are far greater than those of being closed-off in the name of self-preservation,” they explain. This idea led to the chorus of the final track: “How do we become good and guided by the heart?”

Gentle, who started performing live by opening for touring bands in high school, considers the female icons of folk, like the Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton, their biggest influences, though they’re also a big Taylor Swift fan who’s admittedly listened to “Lover” 50 times in a row.

Their goal with the new album was to incorporate poppier elements and expand on the traditional folk genre. “I wanted to experiment with synth arrangements, and I wanted to step outside of the genre I’d felt pigeonholed into as a ‘female singer-songwriter,'” they say.

Pigeonholing is something Gentle is familiar with as a queer artist, but ultimately something they’ve moved beyond. “I’ve spent lots of time struggling with internalized queer-phobia and this idea that I’m less likely to achieve what I want to with my life because of who I am,” they explain. “I don’t feel like that anymore. My hope has always been that in being an openly queer musician, I might help somebody feel less alone or inspire somebody held back by the same shame I have been to imagine a brighter future for themselves and the world.”

Follow Evangeline Gentle on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Teddi Gold Honors Two Fathers With Bombastic Pride Anthem, ‘Boom Boom’

Teddi Gold was six years old when her biological father came out. Little changed within the very modern family dynamic, but folks in the community began to see him differently.

“All of a sudden, some parents would not let their kids come to my dad’s house,” Gold tells Audiofemme. Throughout her childhood, she observed blatant disrespect and discrimination. “My whole life, I have been aware of how they were treated differently. I’ve felt protective of their identity, and it scares me that this administration is actively trying to dismantle the progress we have made – progress that has taken lifetimes,” she says. “I fight for the underdog and for equality. It’s been a cornerstone of my life, family and identity.”

When it comes to her brand new single “Boom Boom,” premiering today, she celebrates the queer love of her two fathers, whose story taught her the meaning of true love, empathy, compassion, and family. “[The song] is an anthem for equality, an anthem for unity, a celebration of diversity.” All of the proceeds made from streaming will be donated to the ACLU in support of the LGTBQ+ community and #BlackLivesMatter.

Gold originally hails from Seattle, but when her parents divorced, they all moved to Saint John, the smallest of the three Virgin Islands, situated due East of Puerto Rico. “Me, my brothers, my mom, and my dad and his ex-boyfriend all moved into the same house,” she says. “It was a real ‘modern family.’ We were surrounded by a more accepting community, and there was this sense of freedom. Our community was made up of people from many walks of life.”

Life took a turn, and for the better. “Days were slower. I went to school with fifteen other kids, and on Wednesdays, we had science class in the ocean and learned about coral reefs. It was idyllic. I remember being outside constantly, connected to nature,” she remembers. “Creativity was encouraged and television wasn’t. I think I was able to develop my sense of self without the constant noise.”

Gold later returned to the states, settling down with her two fathers in West Hollywood, but it took some time to acclimate again. “I felt disconnected from mainstream culture because I didn’t grow up with it. There were things I missed out on completely or didn’t even know about. I felt out of place. I think that has definitely had an effect on the way I make music.”

In writing “Boom Boom,” a deliciously rhythmic slice of pop, she was instantly swept back into an ocean of memories. Carnival and Pride were the most potent images flooding her mind, allowing herself to really ground her headspace and honor her fathers. “When we were living on the island, I would dance in the Carnival every year. The festival was huge ─ a celebration of life with music, dancing, and steel drums. I also thought about the previous Prides I attended.”

The song’s tropical base sprouted quite naturally, as it often does in her music. “My dad’s first boyfriend, who I was close to, was a piano player on a cruise ship. Sometimes, we traveled on the ship with him to watch him play, so I got to visit many different islands and countries. I was lucky to be introduced to a variety of musical instruments and styles at a young age,” she remembers. “I love percussive instruments, and this song in particular has a variety of them. I never thought I would end up making music. In my head, I am still a kid climbing trees on St. John pretending to be a secret agent. I’ve discovered through music that my upbringing has had a huge impact on my creativity. So, I guess you can say that I am learning about myself, too.”

“Boom Boom” explodes from the inside out, a joyous and infectious soundtrack for a time in history when rights are being threatened, if not taken away completely. For now, Gold considers the lessons her fathers have taught her most about life: “Respect others. Treat others with love. Be kind. Be accepting of others. Have room in your heart for others,” she offers. “Speak up for people who can’t speak up. Be yourself, even if you are afraid of judgement.”

Follow Teddi Gold on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Am Taylor Offers Therapeutic Space-Rock on “Bright Yellow Sun”

Am Taylor’s music is rich and contemplative, with intricate, dreamy guitar layers that mirror the lyrics’ multiple meanings. Formerly the lead singer of the Atlanta band Sexual Side Effects, Taylor recently took a hiatus to launch their solo project, and today, they’re releasing their second single, “Bright Yellow Sun.”

In the hypnotic track, Taylor blends elements of psychedelic rock and early Radiohead, with powerful guitar riffs and echoey, drawn-out vocals. The singer/songwriter/guitarist played with guitar pedal sounds to give the song a “dramatic, explosive vibe,” they explain.

The original inspiration for the song came from a partner of Taylor’s who expressed suicidal thoughts; they wrote it about what they were feeling in that moment. But then, the imagery took on a life of its own, and it became about runner-chaser relationship dynamics and anxious and avoidant attachment styles, with the metaphor of the sun chasing the moon.

“I think a lot of songs I’ve written are love songs, but — and I think all musicians do this — they come from a place of some kind of psychological shadow they’re working through or something deeper within their psyche,” they say.

Back in the days of live performances, Taylor would play the song amid a cloud of fog with lights behind them for a “weird psychedelic other-worldly vibe.” The video produces the same effect, with rainbow colors swirling around Taylor along with images of ancient Mexican temples. They used a projector to create the cosmic backgrounds, aiming to visually represent the feeling of a bright yellow sun and to express their interest in New Age beliefs and the supernatural.

Since the days of Sexual Side Effects’ rock and roll, Taylor has been doing more acoustic songs and incorporating psychedelia and dream-pop. The dream-pop influences in particular are audible on their first single as a solo artist, “Driving on the Edge of Night,” where you can also hear classic rock influences and a slow, meditative beat a bit reminiscent of The Velvet Underground.

On top of their music, Taylor recently took some time to work on illustrations that incorporate their interest in the occult, which they’ll eventually sell alongside more traditional band merch on their website. “After touring and playing a lot and dealing with bands breaking up and all that drama, I kind of became a hermit and started doing a lot of artwork, and it was a lot easier to sit around and do art and not have to try to get publicity or go on tour,” they reflect.

Though Taylor is working on a full-length album that they plan to put out at some point, they’re initially focusing on releasing singles on Spotify in order to gain attention as a solo artist before the album release. They’re also collaborating with Jayne County, the first openly trans singer in a punk-rock band and the inspiration for the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, on several songs. Together, they’re preparing to launch a debut single called “I Don’t Fit in Anywhere,” which County wrote about her experience with gender identity.

Taylor, however, doesn’t generally write about being trans; they prefer to just let their life speak and be an inspiration for others. “I feel like my purpose within gender identity is to just be who I am as a person and let everybody else kind of interpret it and figure it out for themselves,” they explain. “When you’re just a human being and you’re being who you are and connect on that level, I think people see that, and if they had preconceived notions about what you’d expect, they can be shifted. I think my purpose in life is to just be who I am and let the world know it’s OK to just be who you are.”

Follow Am Taylor on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Sarah Hollins Reframes Queer Anthems with Personal Coming Out Story on “Starlight”

Los Angeles-based nondenominational megachurch Mosaic has a storied history in how it handles LGBTQ+ issues. Many queer individuals have professed an inviting and warm environment ─ but for singer-songwriter Sarah Hollins, and countless others, the experience was downright toxic. “[My friends and I] personally witnessed or experienced homophobia, lack of inclusivity, and ostracizing from members within the church and felt obligated to speak up about it,” the New Jersey native tells Audiofemme.

Last summer, Hollins participated in an episode of Refinery29’s “State of Grace,” a series which analyzes faith and identity. She was not publicly out at the time, but the decision to bare her heart on-camera is truly an act of bravery. “It was honestly really terrifying, and I didn’t know how my family was going to handle it. Even though it was so scary and stressful to come out in such a public way, I’m so glad that I did it,” she says. “It kickstarted a whole year of change for me, including my first relationship with a girl that I was able to lead in my public life.”

Like so many before her, Hollins held her secret tightly in her heart for a very long time. It was a long, winding journey she needed to take, and only now has finally discovered new-found peace. “So many people – even past therapists – over the years told me that I would feel so much better once I came out and that I would feel a huge weight lifted, but the fear of coming out kept me closeted for a long time,” she offers. “I have to say, they were definitely right.”

“Obviously, it’s not always safe for everyone to come out, and I definitely recognize the privileges I had of having a support system and relatively minor pushback from my family,” she continues, “but I would really recommend coming out. I’m such a happier person, and so many people who’ve known me my whole life have told me it’s the first time they’ve seen me truly happy and joyful.”

Her new song “Starlight,” premiering today, arrives with tremendous emotional baggage. “They all said it couldn’t ever feel like this / They all said it’s only hers and his,” she sings, her voice gliding through fuzzy electric guitar. “They all said I’m dead or better off that way / If my stupid head fell in love with her pretty face.”

The first stanzas examine her deep-rooted fears of harassment and abuse, and the melancholic chords evoke her psychological anguish. While concealing her own identity, Hollins “always stood up for queer people in smaller circles, like church youth groups, but was fearful to talk about my feelings because the conversations were so hostile,” she recalls.

She recalls one example from 2009, when renewed conversation around lesbianism, as Hollins knew it, had been reignited courtesy of Katy Perry’s hit debut single “I Kissed a Girl.” “I remember, my senior of high school, a lesbian at our school cut her hair and brought her girlfriend to prom, where she wore a suit,” Hollins remembers. “That brave girl was ridiculed by most of the school, and it really shamed me and scared me further into the closet. I was too scared to explore my sexuality until college.”

Still, “Starlight” expands well beyond the scope of Hollins’ own experiences. “They all punched us on the city bus / They’d rather hurt us than let us love / They all strung us to the metal fence / Told our families they’re better off / never seeing us again,” she warbles on the third verse, referencing the 2019 London bus attack against a lesbian couple and the 1998 brutal slaying of Matthew Shepard.

“Since the first part of the song talked about my experience coming out and the homophobia surrounding that, I wanted to use the last verse of the song to show what happens to queer people in society when they experience homophobia and when our society fosters environments that perpetuate it,” she explains. “I learned about Matthew when I was 14, thanks to a local production of The Laramie Project play, and I could never forget about what happened to him, how they attacked him, tied him to a fence, and left him to die. I wanted to use an incident from the ‘90s and an incident from the past few years to show how the queer community is still experiencing violence and hatred just for being themselves.”

Hollins wrote “Starlight” last September. At the time, she and her girlfriend had been planning holiday travel for Thanksgiving but soon discovered the family members hosting dinner were outright homophobic. “I didn’t want to subject my girlfriend and I to their hatred. The song sort of poured out of me and helped me work through my feelings about their homophobia – and some of the internalized homophobia and shame I had held in for years,” she says. “It helped me talk about how I was feeling at the time about my family, the church, and church communities I had left behind, and it helped me look back at how I’d always been closeted, even from a very young age.”

Musically, the four-minute song reframes classic ‘80s guitar tones (think The Cure and Springsteen), often made through a JC-22 amp, for a queer new context. “Those tones have been typically used for a lot of straight male stories, especially throughout the ‘80s. I think it’s fresh to use those tones to tell a queer story and prove that a song about queer people can be just as anthemic,” she says. “We have so many queer ‘bops’ and songs that are used to party at Pride, and while those songs are great and really help our community feel bright and joyful, I think it’s also useful to have cathartic songs that let us cry and talk about the hardships surrounding being queer.”

With guitarist and friend Taylor LeBowe, Hollins was able to flesh out her initial chord progression; layered harmonies and grander guitars were added much later. Mark McKee joined in to engineer the song to really underscore not only the emotional thread but the rich musical depth.

As heavy as it is (and needed to be), “Starlight” is also a celebration of hope, love, and freedom. “I fell in love with my girlfriend, and our love was worth coming out for,” Hollins says. “I wasn’t necessarily able to come out for me, but I could definitely come out for her. This song is actually the first song I’ve produced myself, and it’s the first song I’ve released that talks about my bisexuality.”

“The chorus really expresses the resilience of queer people and queer love – our deep desire and call to be ourselves is something we wish for so desperately that we will sacrifice everything for the chance to be our true selves. Our love is so pure, so beautiful, so magical, so life changing, that we will risk everything for it,” she says. “We’ll risk being disowned by family members, having to live a life alone, and with no familial support, homophobia and ostracizing from society, violence and hate. It’s all worth it because our love really is true and real and right.”

Since the release of 2018’s debut EP Heartbeat, Hollins has entered a creative renaissance these days, allowing herself to “write rock and guitar based songs that really inspire me and allow me to lean on my strengths as a songwriter,” she says. “I’m not putting myself into any sort of musical box, but I’m also learning which tools and paintbrushes really feel more like my signature or go-to sonic aesthetic.”

Another new, as-yet-unreleased song called “Catholic Guilt” leans more funky but still feels like a natural extension of her voice. “I’ve gotten a lot better at guitar over the past few years, and I’m really excited to utilize it as a foundation for these new songs I’m working on,” she says. “I think it’s really exciting to hear more and more music made by people using real instruments in a room together. Those organic elements feel so much more exciting and are way more interesting to hear people use at live shows than a sea full of artists singing to backing tracks.”

In addition to her musical pursuits, Hollins recently enrolled in graduate school to earn her Masters in Library and Information Science, a decision born out of today’s troubling state of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. “I want to find and exhaust all ways that I can be helpful to my community and to marginalized communities. I’m hoping to be able to do that through my music and through professional activism in the library field,” she says. “I think that it’s a time for everyone to ask themselves what else they can be doing for society and how they can really contribute to positive reform and change. I love writing and creating music and will continue to release my original art, but I also want to contribute in other meaningful and impactful social ways. I’m really excited to be a librarian by day and an indie-rocker by night.”

Follow Sarah Hollins on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Solvej Schou Speaks to Universal Need for Closeness with “No One Can Take Our Love” Video

Photo Credit: Ted Newsome

I have a duty as a human being and a white Jewish American feminist to educate myself, learn, listen and fight every day against systemic racism, white supremacy, police brutality and anti-Black violence with dollars, words and actions. Many Black musicians have inspired me, from Aretha Franklin to Etta James, Billie Holiday, Sharon Jones, Prince, Bill Withers and Otis Redding. I know their incredible words and voices, but I do not know their struggle. With this video premiere, I’m donating 100% of all sales of my album Quiet For Too Long and my other music on Bandcamp to two organizations: Ethel’s Club, founded by Naj Austin and named after her grandmother Ethel Lucas, with the mission of creating healing spaces that center and celebrate people of color; and the National Bail Out, a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. BLACK LIVES MATTER. – Solvej Schou

When Solvej Schou wrote “No One Can Take Our Love,” it took a different turn from her other songs for the 2019 album, Quiet for Too Long. By phone from her home in Pasadena, just outside of Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter describes it as perhaps “the most positive song on the album.”

On Quiet for Too Long, Schou digs into politics, beauty standards, mental health and loss. “No One Can Take Our Love,” is, as the title implies, a love song, which she wrote for her husband. “I also wanted to have a universal theme, like love in the face of hate,” she says. “Even writing a love song,” she says, “there has to be intensity in there.”

Schou commissioned experimental filmmaker Meejin Hong to create an animated video, which premieres today. In the video, desert cacti transform into loving, clasped hands and the world splits into lip-locked faces. “The video was all about closeness. It’s all about love,” says Schou. “It’s all about physical togetherness.”

In the time that passed between when Schou commissioned the video and its premiere, both the song and the clip have taken on new meaning. On March 13, Schou developed a cough. About a week and a half later, the day after she received the video, the she was told by the doctor to consider the cough to be COVID-19 and advised to distance herself from her husband. “We ended up doing that for three weeks,” Schou recalls. “He slept separately from me. We separated everything in our kitchen and our bathroom. I didn’t leave the house.”

Meanwhile, the video that she had commissioned, and just received, was a celebration of physical connection. “There’s this weird irony in having this video all about coming together and being this unit and having to distance from my husband and see him from afar,” she says. In the midst of a very personal period of social distancing, the song and video became symbolic of everything Schou had to temporarily avoid. “It’s maybe the sense of aspiration of touch, even though it was made before the pandemic,” she says. “Seeing it for the first time felt even more powerful to me.”

Even the song itself plays as if it has been written for this specific time. Schou references a lyric, “When the world feels like a bubble that’s about to explode, you’re not alone,” that’s all-too-relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re living in the precipice of great collective grief and loss and we’re so isolated,” she says. “Yet, at the core of being human, we’re not alone.”

When Schou was able to get a COVID-19 test in late April, the results came back negative. It wasn’t an antibody test, so she doesn’t know for sure if she had the illness or another respiratory ailment. “I know there are other people in the situation of just not knowing, having that uncertainty,” she says.

Schou, who is also a writer and  penned several essays for the 2018 book Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girls Groups to Riot Grrrl., grew up in Los Angeles and was influenced by a mixture of rock, blues and soul artists. Quiet for Too Long is her second solo album, the first to include a full band, and draws heavily from her political and feminist values. The album’s title comes from opening track “America.”

“The song ‘America’ came out of my horror at the murder of unarmed black men and women by police,” says Schou. “It also talked about immigration and gun control and a lot of issues pertaining to America.” Elsewhere on the album, “Age and Beauty” refers to women growing older and “Flicker Away” is about “being a woman and dealing with anxiety and depression and how to survive, push through that.”

The title of the album, she says, came as a surprise to some who knew her. “There is a part of me that loves talking to people, that has a lot of experience interviewing people because of having been a writer for so long, that loves singing loud and forceful,” she says. “Then there’s a part of me that’s pretty introverted and feels comfortable processing things alone. Quiet for Too Long can be interpreted in different ways.”

After recovering from her illness, Schou is regaining her own voice as well. “It is literally my therapy, singing everything out of me,” she says.

Solvej Schou performs live on Instagram this Saturday, June 13. Follow her on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Kat Meoz Perseveres Through Rejection With “Back for More”

Kat Meoz’s gritty, high-energy rock is as motivational as it is catchy. On “Royalty,” the title track off an EP released last year, she sings about refusing to settle for less than royal treatment. “Whatever I Want,” from the same EP, declares her unwillingness to follow others’ rules, and on “Are You Ready?” she announces to the world that she’s “on a mission” and won’t be stopped. Her latest single, “Back for More,” continues this same theme of confidence and boldness, asserting that she’ll respond to failure by trying again with even more resolve.

The Los Angeles-based, Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter, composer, and producer wrote the track about rejections she received from people in the music industry she’d been wanting to work with, which “was okay because I wasn’t going to give up on the idea of working with them,” she says. “So, I thought, I’ll be back to offer them more music they can’t say no to, soon.”

The sound of the single mirrors the meaning, with Meoz powerfully belting, “Bet your life/I’m coming back for more” in the chorus and repeating the lyrics “It’s the bait and switch/Makin’ poor men rich” in an infectious, almost conversationally sung pre-chorus. “Back for More” is more bluesy than some of Meoz’s past work, but it intentionally matches the exuberant spirit of her entire catalog, while highlighting her tenacity.

The sentiment of the song also mirrors the process of making it. Meoz first wrote “Back for More” two years ago and began working with her producers Jake Bowman and Teddy Roxpin on it, then decided to rehash it with a different tune almost a year later. “It’s not every day you can have a finished song and then reach out to people several months later to say, ‘Hey, remember that finished song we have? Can we completely redo it and just keep the lyrics?'” she says. “I think their excitement and hard work matched mine perfectly, and the combination of our efforts and good vibes is bringing this song into the world.”

Meoz’s professional accomplishments support the assertion at the heart of “Back for More” – that she can accomplish whatever she wants in her career. She regularly writes songs for ads, TV, and film, which she describes as “a sensory overload that gifts me a feeling of accomplishment like nothing else.” Her favorite role of this kind was as executive music producer for The Dust Storm, a movie about musicians in Nashville for which she got to wear multiple hats, including coaching actors for live performances. “It’s full circle hearing a song that came from the ethers of my mind in someone else’s creation,” she says.

Her impressive list of credentials also includes singing backup vocals on Iggy Azalea and Quavo’s 2018 single “Savior,” which she remembers as “somewhat intimidating,” since she was meeting Azalea for the first time. “One of the first things you learn in recording school is to read a room and have studio etiquette,” she says. “So, when Iggy arrived, the atmosphere became more serious because essentially the boss had arrived.”

A lesser-known highlight of her career was performing “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band in several locations through LA in a video for Hear the Music: West Hollywood,  a campaign to promote LA tourism. “It was just the coolest experience to get to represent West Hollywood and have it be so connected to music,” she says. “It plays overseas and I get messages from people in the Middle East frequently saying they love my cover of ‘Boogie Shoes,'” she says.

Meoz is currently working on an EP that continues the guitar-centered “swagger rock” vibe of her past work, with hints of  Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and Bishop Briggs. On top of that, she plans to release a soul EP later this year under an alias. It’s unclear what’s next after that, but what’s certain is that she’ll be back for more.

Follow Kat Meoz on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Jessie Hyde Finds Catalyst for Healing on Debut EP UNSUPERVISED


Jessie Hyde had no clue how cathartic making her first EP would be. With a background in modeling, tech, and entrepreneurship (as the founder of Glucose Goddess), songwriting revealed itself after an especially brutal breakup. She knew she had to rediscover herself, and through her writing, greatly influenced by Katie Melua and Norah Jones, she found the peace she long desired.

“Making music and releasing this first EP has changed my life. I gained a connection to a calling that I didn’t know existed inside of me, and it makes me feel more authentic,” the San Francisco singer-songwriter tells Audiofemme. “I found a refuge in music, a new nook in which to ground, extract and sublimate my feelings. Making music also invited incredible people into my life, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Hyde’s EP, called UNSUPERVISED, is raw and barebones in tone and structure, as she sifts through the rubble of her aching heart. A minimalist by nature, she rebuilds boundaries in her life with opener “Charity,” crunchy flickers pulsating against a bedrock of keyboard. A heavenly serenity sprouts from her fingertips, even when her lyrics are coarse and unapologetic. Therein lies her greatest strength.

Elsewhere, she braids together her French roots (she was born in Basque Country and later raised in Paris) with “Petite Fille,” a gritty, fear-confronting setpiece. Then, “Perpetuate” closes the release with a choir of songbirds, whose tender warbles backdrop her liberation as she finally, once and for all, declares her self-worth. “My shadow eats pieces of all the women before me,” she sings, cutting the shackles of the past.

Hyde is a monster of instinct, driven to bend her raw, intense emotions into her songwriting. Over the last seven or eight months, she came to understand the importance of honesty in her work, as well as how to define a singular voice. “Inspiration starts with a feeling. I can’t write unless I am experiencing a feeling. I can’t force it or tell myself that the next song I’ll write will be about this or that,” she explains. “It happens in the moment. A feeling comes up inside me, I find a pen and paper as quickly as possible, and I write words immediately.”

She is also “at the mercy of some sort of creative god when it comes time to go to my keyboard and try to put the words onto a melody,” she admits. “I just write words first; I never know what the song is going to sound like until I get to the keyboard. I get excited and nervous as my hands hover over the keys, and I try out a chord progression.”

The chords, melody, and words fly from her being, erupting from some dark crevice in her soul, and even when the parts don’t quite fit together, there is still a lesson to be learned. She surrenders herself to the process, and whatever will be will be. “I don’t get hard on myself if it doesn’t work. It’s not about me. It’s about something I can’t control,” she says.

As much emotion spins around on only four songs, there is an equal two-ton weight still hovering over her heart. The process of healing, from the dark depths of pain to enlightenment, is never really over. “Writing songs is the best catalyst for healing that I’ve ever found. When I have a rough day, feel overwhelmed or sad, I write a song about it in my bedroom and turn the tears into lyrics,” she says. “I extract the pain through this process, and that’s how I heal the wounds. I’ve been through the most growth and healing of my life since I started making music.”

Fear continues haunting her, however, and it’ll take even more time to mend those wounds. “I was really nervous that [this EP] would be bad. I was nervous [about] what people would think once I made the music public. My fear told me that I needed to find a co-writer, a partner, or someone to make the beats, give me their opinion, stir me into a ‘better” direction.’ I felt insecure and like my work wasn’t professional enough,” she says. “Ultimately, I worked through the fear and realized, you know, I’m just proud of myself for doing it and putting something out and learning so much.”

Jessie Hyde stakes her claim with UNSUPERVISED, a four-song anthology of her life, coursing from songs about “boys boys boys” to “more interesting territory” around womanhood and fearlessness. “I know I speak from pure truth and am not scared of telling things like they are. I have a lot to say as it relates to being honest with ourselves and others, having compassion for our process, and making space for healing and finding our power as women.”

Follow Jessie Hyde on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Siv Disa Evokes Unsettling Familiarity with “Fear” Video

NYC-based singer, songwriter, and pianist Siv Disa’s musical style is unmistakable; minor chords and dissonant sounds give her songs a haunting feel, while her warm, soft voice invites the listener into even the darkest of stories. Her latest single, “Fear,” released by Irish singer-songwriter Maija Sofia’s record label Trapped Animal Records, is an embodiment of this distinct sound she’s mastered.

Disa’s delicate vocals, conversational lyrical style, and synths in the song are reminiscent of indie pop bands like The Blow, while the instrumentals and subject matter conjure up gloomier acts like Orion Rigel Dommisse. The video follows the latter thread, showing Disa wandering through an abandoned road, a dark wooden house, and a winter forest as she sings, “I’m a little bit in love with everyone I’ve ever touched/Come a little bit undone then disconnect before it comes to much.”

It seems fitting that the song was conceived while Disa was walking between New York City subway platforms. “I’d just left someone’s place who I was seeing at the time,” she remembers. “It was so blisteringly meaningless. I remember floating out of my body and watching both of us so politely pretending that we cared more about one another than we did because that’s just what everyone does. Seeing someone else carry out the same delusion broke the spell of my own. I worried that even if I could give someone the room to actually matter to me, it wouldn’t grant me the ability to feel connected to another human being.”

Disa describes the end of the chorus — “I don’t really like to think about that too much/There are an awful lot of doors that I keep shut” — as an expression of her “life philosophy” at the time the song was written. “Staying in motion has always been the method of self-preservation I revert to, but it makes you a bit divorced from reality,” she says. “It tricks you into thinking you’re the puppet master of not just your own life, but your entire world.”

Disa says she was more involved in the production of this song than her earlier projects. She and her producer Sam Palmer made their own vocoder, and the spoken lines in the beginning are a crossfade of Palmer’s voice into her own. “From the first second of the song, we wanted to create a sound world that felt familiar, but somehow off,” she says.

She’s directed many of her own videos, including this one, which was recorded at a country farmhouse on an old Kodak Easyshare camera. “Since the budget of this video was about zero dollars, I wanted the DIY aesthetic to feel intentional,” she explains. “Working with that constraint was a fun challenge. I think art that is low-budget is always more effective when it stays self-aware of that.”

She crafted the storyline with the aesthetic of ’70s B-movies and homemade horror in mind, aiming to give off the appearance of “a video that someone might find on a camcorder in their attic, something that enhanced the feeling of the song being both familiar and unsettling,” she explains. “I wanted the viewer to be able to step into the role of monster, victim, and voyeuristic witness as they transitioned from scene to scene.”

Disa is currently halfway through recording a full-length album, making do with the limits on her activity by recording at home on a Tascam 8 track, and is working on videos for some of the album’s songs.

Lately, she’s been learning to take the same experimental approach to songwriting and production as she has to video-making. “Women and nonbinary people are much more likely to wait to release something until they’re as prepared as they can be, whereas men learn as they go and share the products of that process with the outside world proudly,” she says. “I’m always finding new ways to get out of my own way, because I live in a world that asks women to get in their own way.”

Follow Siv Disa on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Killer Workout Draws on Love of Campy Horror for “Figure it Out” Video

Photo Credit: Brady Harvey

About three years ago, Adrienne Clark and Anthony Darnell, bandmates in Seattle new wave dance pop group Killer Workout, replied to an ad from a man who had bought out the stock of a closed-down video store. Interest piqued, they rolled up to find a garage full of thousands of their favorite horror and sci-fi VHS tapes.

“The guy told us we had to take everything, but I didn’t realize how many VHS he actually had. He had a giant garage—well over two thousand VHS tapes—but we were in a 1998 Corolla, so he gave us 30 minutes to go through and grab as many as we could,” remembers Darnell.

This was the beginning of Clark and Darnell’s collection of campy horror, sci-fi, and action VHS, a passion and aesthetic which has spilled over into their music as Killer Workout—from the band’s namesake to their forthcoming 3-song EP, Four : Three, which references the 4:3 aspect ratio common in ‘80s and ‘90s VHS tapes and television. “The name Four : Three doesn’t tell you too much, but it gives you a clue of who we are. Like, we’re sitting in a room right now with a hundred VHS tapes of horror movies. We’re kind of obsessed,” says Clark, laughing. “We’re big cinephiles and whenever we’re collaborating, we reference films and visual art that could inspire the work.”

This inspiration is clear in video for the song “Figure it Out,” premiering today. It’s one of three music videos the band commissioned from @video_macabro, a popular Instagram personality who cuts up and collages obscure VHS movies and posts it with interesting music. “He’ll take some weird Japanese robot movie that you’ve never heard of and put dark dance music to it,” said Darnell. “It just really resonated with me, so we asked him to do all three videos.”

For “Figure it Out,” the director spliced together scenes from 1979 film The Driller Killer, a slasher flick about an artist who’s driven into insanity and begins killing people with a power drill. The effect is undeniably perfect for the song – the unison eighth-note bass and drum patterns have ’80s vibes, but with a twist unique to the band, which includes guitarist Reed Griffin, bassist/vocalist Jon Swihart, and drummer Bob Husak (who also collects and sells vintage vinyl, books and tapes).

“With some of the newer stuff we’ve been trying to play with structure,” said Darnell. “I thought, we’re stuck in a rut of emulating this [post-punk] sound, why don’t we try and play with some of these elements—make it darker than it typically would be, more haunting.” The EP arrives June 26 – they’ve already released its first single, “Too Late.”

On “Figure it Out,” Clark’s otherworldly keyboard line connects the straight-ahead post-punk vocals to some far-out dimension, while the heavy, reverb-y guitar conjures up a horror movie score – as they say, “Tangerine Dream-style.” Lyrically, this song began as a way to process Donald Trump’s election. Over time, Darnell says its morphed into more of a reflection on the balance between fitting in and standing out, which, against the backdrop of a misfit impaling someone with his drill, adds a layer of deliciously dark humor, a la Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”

“It’s a song about realizing everyone is a big nerd like you are, so what does it matter [if you fit in or not]?” said Darnell. “I mean, I’m into weird horror movies and sci-fi stuff that a lot of people think is weird or too obscure.  But everyone has these fears and anxieties. So ‘Figure it Out’ has a hopeful message against a dark backdrop.”

Follow Killer Workout on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Natalie Schlabs Provides Hope Amid Hardship in “See What I See”

If your life feels like an endless struggle right now, folk singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs has a message of hope for you. Her latest single, “See What I See,” reassures people in various difficult situations that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even if they can’t see it at the moment.

“Are you lost in the dark?/Look again, you might see a shooting star/Honey, you are the sky/you hold the sun /you hold the shadow-side,” Schlabs’ sweet, clear voice sings in a verse aimed at someone with depression. Another verse of the song speaks to someone dealing with a chronic illness.

“I think we can all offer our eyes to someone when they’re having a hard time, imagining they will be OK again,” says Schlabs.

The song is on her sophomore album, Don’t Look Too Close, which comes out in October. Written during Schlabs’ pregnancy with her first child, the album addresses family relationships, friendship, romantic love, vulnerability, and death, as well as “the hope that can still be girded underneath despair” and “the pain of letting someone go and allowing them to make their own decisions, even when you feel it is harming them,” as she puts it. “Basically, a lot of life lessons that come up when you enter your 30s.”

Parenting is a central theme throughout the album: “Ophelia” was written for a friend who lost her daughter, “Endless Love” is a love song to Schlabs’ own son, and “Don’t Look Too Close” is about not wanting your children to see your dark or dysfunctional side.

“Being pregnant, I naturally did a lot more reflection, as well as thinking of the future and what I wanted to pass down. I think that probably led to more honest songwriting,” she says. “I’m exploring the tension of being the best you can for your kid or loved one and knowing you’re a flawed human who is going to fuck up. You realize it was the same with your own parents and loved ones. There is a parallel line there that is interesting to me.”

The album features slow, gentle melodies, layered vocals and guitars, and indie and pop sensibilities combined with Schlabs’ usual Americana style; she says that bands like Big Thief and The War on Drugs influenced the sound. The instrumentals include Caleb Hickman on saxophone and Joshua Rogers, Schlabs’ husband, on bass.

“This time, I was able to see the studio as an instrument to experiment with,” she adds. “I wasn’t afraid to try things like running my vocal mic through a guitar amp.”

The Nashville-based artist’s other passion is cooking; she used to have her own catering business and wrote songs between food prep. Nowadays, her Patreon is dedicated to music, recipes, and even music-recipe pairings.

Schlabs is currently working on creating a home studio as she writes more songs. In the meantime, her music serves as a reminder for those of us stuck at home to believe in better days ahead, and to cherish the people we’re stuck with.

Follow Natalie Schlabs on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Lenii Launches Tea Sessions With Backyard “Cereal” Performance

Photo Credit: Baby Bill

Lenii likes to drink tea (Barry’s Tea to be exact). While in quarantine with two friends, musicians Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Baby Bill, the trio easily down 12 or 13 cups of a day ─ apiece. Having grown up in Cork, Ireland, Lenii was accustomed to the culture ─ one which bred an environment of gabbing over tea with friends and loved ones. There’s something soothing about hearing someone say, “I’ll put the kettle on.” Whatever you might be feeling that day, it all washes down with some piping hot tea and good conversation.

“In Ireland, people drink like eight cups of tea a day,” Lenii tells Audiofemme. “If you visit someone’s house, the tea is offered before you even get through the door. I even have a tea cup tattooed on my arm because it reminds me so much of home.”

So, it only seemed natural to launch a “Tea Sessions” series during these very uncertain times. Born Ellen Murphy, Lenii launches this creative endeavor with a stripped-down version of her song “Cereal,” shedding away the gummy layers for a guitar and keyboard-driven performance. “I got lucky enough to be locked down in a house in LA with two amazing musicians, also from Ireland,” she says.

“We were just jamming one day playing each other’s songs and drinking tea, so I just thought it would be cool to film us,” says Lenii, whose voice is given a proper showcase. “The first episode was really spontaneous, and I loved the idea of a low-pressure quarantine ‘tiny desk’ type series.”

The original iteration of “Cereal” (co-written with and produced by Nick Sadler) unleashes a more biting attack, while the live performance video allows Lenii to feel looser within its structure. “The ‘Tea Sessions’ version of [this song] was really just myself and the boys having fun so the song took on a whole different mood. A little less aggressive and a bit more jazzy. Playing it outside was cool, too.”

Vibrant greenery frames the video, somehow drawing you into her world, if only for a moment. In many ways, this “Cereal” performance taps into the lack of human connection these days. Lenii admits the last few months have “definitely [been] emotional,” she says, “as I’m sure is the same for everyone. I miss playing live and going to sessions, but I’ve been quarantined with two writers so we’re still getting a lot done. There’s a lot of pressure to use this time to be productive so just remembering that it’s okay to not feel creative all the time is super important.”

Of course, worry often tends to seep into her mind. “It’s very strange being so far from my family at a time like this, so I think about that a lot. But [I’m] trying to go with the flow and not worry too much,” she says. “In the music world, I know playing live won’t be the same for a long time, and I think there will be a major shift in how the industry works.”

Earlier this month, Lenni’s 2019 song “Yellow” was named Adult Contemporary winner of the International Songwriting Competition, a distinction that certainly threw her for a loop. “I honestly didn’t even know ‘Yellow’ fell into ‘adult contemporary,’ so I was shocked,” she admits. “I came second in that category in 2017, so I was like, maybe A/C is my calling.”

She adds, “I would continue, regardless, and aim to get better all the time, but it’s a really cool bit of validation that I’m heading in the right direction.”

Lenii continues riding high on a string of singles, including “Regular 10,” the newly released “I (Don’t) Miss You” and “Crave U,” which was recently remixed by Cyril M. Though social distancing may have temporarily altered her trajectory, the “Tea Sessions” offer a fun, intimate portrait of an artist on the rise, doing her part to keep calm and put a kettle on for all of us.

Follow Lenii on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

YouTube Star Ariel McCleary Has a Lot to Say About Social Media with Debut Video “Sheep”

When a friend of Ariel McCleary’s took up the ukulele, she was inspired to learn the instrument too, just for fun. To document her progress, she uploaded videos of herself covering various popular songs to YouTube, and soon, what began as a hobby had garnered a surprising amount of traction. In November 2015, she shared a cover of Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride,” which quickly reached a million views and now has over three million.

McCleary’s appeal comes not just from her music but also from her personality. One distinctive feature of her videos is their personable, often silly introductions; she prefaces her “Ride” cover with, “I’m gonna strum this thing, and then my mouth is gonna rap some stuff. Not like Christmas wrapping, but like Eminem rapping. Yeah, I’m just trying to find a clever way to say I’m doing a cover of a song.”

Her 2018 rendition of Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” which now has nearly nine million views, was a request from the students she taught English to in  Ourense, Spain. She moved to Madrid soon after and still lives there, but music has become her full-time job. “Covering other people’s songs taught me a lot about song structures and how chord progressions work, and along the way, I wanted to write my own music,” she says.

Last year, she released her first single, “One-Way Signs,” which describes the thrill and chaos of traveling and living abroad. One-Way Signs is also the title of her first EP, which came out in January and incorporates influences ranging from pop to British rock to bossa nova.

McCleary’s first official music video, released today, is a lyric video for “Sheep,” a track from her EP criticizing social media culture. The idea for the song came to her when she was scrolling through Instagram and saw a people posting the same photos about their monotonous lives repeatedly.

“A lot of people are too caught in their comfort zones, and they post the same things and kind of follow each other and don’t really step out of their comfort zones,” she says. “And I thought, ‘I could never live like that,’ and I wanted to continue challenging myself. And everyone’s a follower — I’m of course a follower too in some cases — but I try to not get stuck and try to travel and have an adventurous lifestyle.”

The video is simple but humorous, with the lyrics overlaying footage of actual sheep.

While a lot of McCleary’s success comes from social media, she tries to use it “as a connector instead of a way to preach or a way to show off,” she explains. One way she does this is through her “You, Me, & Tea” videos, where she shares updates from her life.

“Since 2011, I’ve been uploading videos, and as I’ve gotten comfortable talking in front of a camera and to an audience for the past nine years, it’s helped me develop a confidence in knowing that I don’t need to put on an alternate personality and a mask,” she says. “My ‘You, Me, & Tea’ series was formed around that idea of wanting to make a personal connection with my audience members, with each of them. And so, to have me talk about deep topics — about anxiety, about therapy, about how I write music — to talk about it in an honest way, an open way, a cup of tea in my room feels very casual and personal.”

McCleary is about to move back home to Ohio and work on building a music career within the U.S., which will include recording a full-length album and filming a music video. “Now that I’ve grown in Europe, I want to bring it back to America,” she says. Luckily, her online presence will let fans all over the world keep up with her music and her life.

Follow Ariel McCleary on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Let Go of Longing with “Wanted” by Quiet Takes

Credit: Andrea Larson

Sarah Magill has been playing in bands, singing jazz and other genres, and writing music for several years, putting out her first EP, Ahem., under the name MYRY in 2018. This year, after noticing another artist releasing music as Myry and growing frustrated with people thinking it was her real name, she’s back under a different moniker, Quiet Takes, which not only references the production process of layering soft vocal takes on top of each other but also provides a subtle critique of our fast-paced internet culture full of “hot takes.”

On “Wanted,” her first single as Quiet Takes and part of an upcoming EP, Magill sings what much of the world is thinking right now: “There better be better days.” With strikingly clear, crisp audio production, the focus of the song is on Magill’s vocals, the lyrics highly audible amid the slow tempo, in the vein of acts like Azure Ray and Bat for Lashes. Magill also filmed a stunning, meditative lyric video for the song while on a trip across the country.

We talked to Magill about the inspiration behind her new music and her creative process.

AF: What is the song “Wanted” about?

SM: To me, “Wanted” is about the space between acknowledging you want something you can’t have… and letting that desire go. The track lives in those ellipses, that gap. I had planned to put out this stripped down version after the release of an upcoming EP (which has a more produced version of “Wanted” on it), but then everything changed. Beyond the pandemic’s catastrophic casualties, we are all grappling with lesser losses: plans, jobs, dreams, relationships, routines, shows, savings, physical touch. Sometimes we only realize what we want when it’s absent. That’s the gift in the grief, but it stings.

AF: Did something in particular inspire it?

SM: I’m very attuned to the feeling of longing. Overly attuned. (Other Enneagram 4s will be able to relate.) I’ve been learning to not be scared or ashamed of that longing, but to be curious about it instead. I’ve learned so much by examining desire instead of ignoring it: Why did I want that job, that experience, that attention, that connection, that relationship, that affirmation? Often, there’s a deeper hunger under the surface longing. The song is inspired by that realization: There’s power in simply stating what you want—or wanted! There’s also power in knowing your worth isn’t attached to whether or not you get what you want. There’s value in examining the longing itself. 

AF: What was the concept behind the video? 

SM: At least once a year, I take a road trip out west to sing to myself while I drive and gather melodies for new songs. I feel creatively alive but a little untethered during these trips, which usually involve spending days on end alone. Quarantining solo is unearthing similar emotions, as well as a longing for the lost freedom of long drives. So, I went through my old roadtrip footage (all shot on highways between Kansas City and Los Angeles) and edited together some of my favorite clips to create this lyric video. It’s a tribute to those outside-of-time road trips I hope to be able to take again soon. 

AF: What was behind the decision to make it black and white? I appreciated the contrast between these visuals and the line, “Starting to buy colors again / Wearing cherries, drinking late gin.”

SM: The decision came from a combination of nostalgia and self-doubt — and it did create a nice paradox with the “colors” line. Nostalgia: I grew up loving black-and-white photography. I shot a lot of Tri-X Pan film for 4-H photography projects! My grandpa had a hobby darkroom at home, and I learned to process black-and-white film as part of high school journalism classes. Self-doubt: I’ve worked with extremely talented visual artists who track color trends and have a deep knowledge of color theory. I admire their command of color, and I don’t trust myself to do color well! So when I’m creating my own visual content, I stick to what I know: black-and-white.

AF: Tell me about the EP you’re working on. What do you sing about on it? 

SM: It’s a six-song EP that expands on the theme of longing in “Wanted.” I wrote several of the songs a few years ago, but about half emerged from those road-trip car-singing sessions depicted in “Wanted”’s lyric video. David Bennett (Akkilles) produced the EP. He plays on it, as does [his bandmates in Akkilles] keyboardist Ian Thompson [and] percussionist Bryan Koehler, and [Shy Boys] drummer Kyle Rausch.

AF: How has the quarantine affected how you make music?

SM: Fortunately, all the tracking on the EP is done, with the exception of a few small vocal fixes. David is also mixing the album, which he’s able to do in isolation. My mastering engineer, Zach Hanson, also has a home studio, so we’ll be able to finish this project while quarantining. I’m really grateful for that.  

As far as new music goes, I’ve been talking with David about possible isolation recording workflows. I’ve been learning ProTools and Luna and practicing my home recording skills. But I’m also trying to be gentle with myself and not expect too much productivity out of this season. I’ve got a bunch of song starts that I’ll finish eventually, as long as I stay healthy (mentally and physically) during this strange season. I’m prioritizing health!

AF: What are your next plans?

SM: I’m starting to plot the release of that upcoming EP. I’m really excited to share that work, but plans have definitely shifted post-pandemic. I’m currently looking at late summer, but we’ll see. I also have a growing stack of stream-of-consciousness lyric notes and late-night voice notes to go through to see where the next songs will be coming from.

Follow Quiet Takes on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Bryce Drew Gets Candid About Singlehood in “21” Video

Many people currently quarantined without a partner are feeling their singlehood extra strongly right now, and that can be both a liberating thing and a lonely thing. Singer-songwriter Bryce Drew explores both aspects of the single life in her music, but her song “21” focuses on the lonely side.

“When I was younger, it all seemed so simple / Thought meeting someone was inevitable / I’m not talking diamond rings / Just looking for someone who gets me,” Drew sings candidly, about making it to 21 without ever being in love.

The rest of her songs share the same relatable, conversational lyrics and mellow sound, inviting the listener into her life as she tells little bits of stories like “I thought I found my dream apartment / With all I ever wanted, turned out / It could’ve been a closet” (“Lucky Number”) and “I have an entire queen bed to myself / I don’t have to share the covers with someone else” (“Love Life”). Her videos have the same effect, showing vignettes of what the viewer could imagine as her life, or even as their own lives.

For the release of the video for “21,” we talked to her about the inspiration behind her songs and her path to becoming a musician.

AF: Tell me about your musical background and how you got where you are today.

BD: I’ve been singing my entire life. I was obsessed with music as a kid, memorized every word to every song in every movie. I was pretty shy when it came to singing in front of other people, though, so I joined the choir. That’s how I got my start on stage. I went on to attend music magnet programs for middle and high school and picked up the guitar on my own at 16.

Sixteen was a year full of loss for my family and I, and my first songs came out of coping with that loss. It was then that I really realized the power of music and the level of passion I had for it. A few years later, I moved to Nashville to study songwriting at Belmont University. My four years there were spent building my craft, writing every day, playing, and going to as many shows as possible. I was on a writing trip to LA a year after graduating when I found myself in Greg Wells’ [Adele/Katy Perry/One Republic  producer] studio. I played him three of my songs, and he said, “Let’s make a record.” So I jumped at the opportunity, moved to LA a few months later, and began recording. And that’s what you’re hearing now. “21” was the first song I played for Greg that day.

AF: What inspired the song “21”?

BD: I wrote “21” in college on a night I called all my friends to meet up and they were all out on dates. I think it just hit me that everyone around me seemed to have found some version of love, and I was still waiting. The song to me is about patience, expectations, acceptance, and the frustration that naturally comes with those things. The age “21” is a standout one to me because it’s the age my parents were when they first met, and the age most of my favorite artists were on their first records about love and heartbreak, so I guess I always had a vision for where I’d be romantically by then.

AF: What was the concept behind the video?

BD: The video was filmed in my apartment and on one of my favorite beaches in Malibu, Zuma. I am from Miami, Florida, with a Trinidadian background, so I’m sure you can guess that the ocean is an important place to me. It’s where I run to process life and emotions. So, the concept is me venting to the ocean, asking for patience and understanding in love.

AF: A lot of people can probably relate to the idea of expecting to find love by a certain age and then not having that happen. What would be your advice for other people in that situation?

BD: Comparison kills. It’s also natural. Allow yourself to feel, but remember that we all are on our own path. Try and enjoy your life where you are at as much as you can and let it unfold as it does.

AF: How does your song “Love Life” relate to this subject?

BD: “Love Life” is the sister song to “21”! It’s about me deciding to let go and enjoy my life being single in the meantime, making it clear that I’m not just sitting around waiting.

AF: What about your song “Lucky Number” — was there a particular experience that inspired that?

BD: “Lucky Number” was inspired by my move to LA. I was having the hardest time finding a place to live but was constantly seeing my lucky number everywhere. As difficult as the move was, it felt right in my gut, and that thing was my surefire reminder.

AF: The entire writing, recording, mixing and mastering process for “Lucky Number” was documented in an 11-part web series—what was the process like?

BD: It was crazy! Writing and recording are two really vulnerable things, and I’d never had a film crew in the studio before. It was nerve-wracking and exciting at once. I am so glad we have the process filmed to look back on because it was the first song Greg and I wrote together and the first song I ever released as an artist. On top of that, so many got to watch the song unfold and feel like they were a part of the process. Special stuff.

AF: What was it like to study songwriting, and how does that influence your music today?

BD: Studying songwriting was everything I needed as an 18-year-old with three songs in her pocket. I am a total music nerd and could talk about songwriting forever, so getting to break down lyric, melody, and song structure with my friends was right up my alley. It taught me a lot about how to navigate when I get stuck in a bit of a block. My professors used to speak about “keeping the antenna up” for lyric starts, and I find myself searching for inspiration everywhere I can because of that practice. It also taught me that a small edit can make a song a whole lot better and prepared me to be open to criticism.

AF: What are you working on now?

BD: I am currently editing the next music video! I am also writing for a bigger project to come. It feels nice to finally have music out and be able to connect with everyone through it. So, staying connected and building my audience is a big focus right now, too.

AF: What are your future aspirations down the line? 

BD: When we can again, I want to tour! Internationally! With a full band! Have a fashion line. Make multiple full albums… create a world. I got dreams. This is just the start of them.

Follow Bryce Drew on Facebook for ongoing updates.