Earleine Premieres “Rita,” a Poppy Murder Ballad for the Sober Movement

Photo Credit: Kendall Bailey

Ashley Wright was playing a festival when she heard about Rita for the first time. Rita wasn’t another performer on the bill or a mutual friend, but an alter-ego that had been emerging from Wright’s blackout drunkenness for years without her ever knowing. Someone who had met Rita the night before raved the next morning about how funny the persona was – “this buffet waitress who smokes two packs a day” – and when Wright asked friends about it they confirmed that Rita was no stranger to them, either. Rita lived in Ashley Wright’s body, but Wright was the only one not in on the joke.

“I was totally mortified. It’s a very surreal thing,” Wright says. “If I can have a whole other character that I have no memory of, what else am I capable of doing when I’m intoxicated? That’s the scary part for me.” Wright did what any good songwriter would do – she dissected those feelings of shame and embarrassment lyrically, and set them to music. Though it didn’t happen right away, once she sat down to examine her risky behaviors around alcohol consumption – to have a chat directly with “Rita,” as it were – the song just tumbled out of her.

Wright says her songs, which she performs under the moniker Earleine – a nod to the acquaintances she made while working anonymously as a civilian in a military training program – tend to either be extremely personal or more of an exercise in hyperbole, but never a combination of both. “Rita” was an exorcism, and ultimately an example of stark contrast between the using songwriting as a positive tool for unpacking complex emotions, versus the crutch of substance abuse, which Wright admits “always made things worse.”

When she performed the song live, it always had a heavy, mournful vibe; after all, the musical alter-ego, Earleine, is essentially killing off the blackout alter-ego, a murder ballad for the sober movement. But as a performer who often found that acoustic guitar pigeonholed her as an Americana artist, the sounds Wright heard in her mind veered closer to indie folk. So she enlisted the help of producer Saman Khoujinian, co-founder of Carrboro, North Carolina-based Sleepy Cat Records, to bring that vision to life. The result is a deceptively poppy, woodwind-laced take on a dark subject matter, in the vein of Third Eye Blind’s meth chronicle “Semi-Charmed Life,” though certainly not as dated.

Wright has always found an escape in music, but didn’t start playing guitar until she was 17, living in Tennessee just North of Nashville. She wrote songs secretly in her bedroom for years before performing at a talent show, which she likens to an out-of-body experience that christened her dedication to writing and performing. But her path from then on was pretty circuitous as she bounced from three semesters of college to playing covers in a retirement town, commanding army trainees with the codename Earl, and finally landing in the prolific North Carolina Triangle scene. She met Khoujinian at a local dive called The Kraken, ended up sending him some demos, and they eventually put together Earleine’s debut EP, out July 24.

Across four tracks, listeners get the brutal honestly of songs like “Rita,” thoughtful examinations of Wright’s frustrations as a woman raised in patriarchal Southern culture (“Less of the Same”), miminalist metaphors for dealing with anxiety and depression (“Let That River Roar”), and “Still Call,” which Wright calls the “token heartbreak anthem” on the EP, about her first civil, amicable, mutual “grown up breakup.” Like the oboe on “Rita,” there are unexpected, quirky flourishes throughout the four tracks that set it apart from genres the project might have been lumped in with in the past, making the debut effort distinctive – and promising.

Earleine has many more songs in her repertoire, but like so many aspects of life, the pandemic has put plans to record a full-length on hold. For now, Wright is focused on introducing “Rita” to the world – and kissing her goodbye. “If you make music that touches on personal topics, topics that might be considered taboo, [like] alcohol addiction, I feel like it’s important to put it out just to connect with those who might be feeling too embarrassed or too scared to talk about it,” Wright says. “I’m hoping, in putting out this EP, that I can reach people who can connect with it in some way, that it brings them some sort of solace, or comfort, or inspiration.”

Follow Earleine on Facebook for ongoing updates.

LIVE REVIEW: Best Coast @ The Novo


Best Coast, the LA-based alt-rock duo consisting of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bethany Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, released their latest album Always Tomorrow in February and began the album’s tour in their home state, making their second stop at LA’s Novo on Friday, February 28.

After Philadelphia-based indie punk band Mannequin Pussy opened with raw, head-banging tracks like “Drunk II,” Best Coast began with an old favorite, the exultant eponymous track off 2015’s California Nights: “California nights / Make me feel so happy I could die / But I try to stay alive / I never wanna get so high / That I can’t come back down to real life / And look you in the eyes and say ‘Baby, you are mine.'” Next came the chill, uplifting breakup song “For the First Time,” with catchy bass tunes and infectious harmonies.

Cosentino, who took the stage in a blue pantsuit, has a clean, clear, emotive voice reminiscent of Neko Case and Jenny Lewis. She sings in an animated, almost theatrical style, swaying from side to side, gesturing with her hands, and enunciating each word as if she’s telling a story. Bruno was equally dynamic, jumping up and down as he strummed his guitar. They were joined by Joe Bautista on guitar and keyboard, Brett Mielke on bass and background vocals, and Dylan Wood on drums.

Cosentino exudes a rare combination of rockstar energy and relatability. She spoke to the audience throughout the show in a refreshingly honest manner. “I was really in my own head, like, no one’s gonna fucking come to this show,” she admitted before performing a crowd favorite, “The Only Place,” speaking some of the lyrics, with the audience singing along to the refrain: “Why would you live anywhere else?”

The band’s frontwoman took on an angrier tone for “Seeing Red,” singing about a different side of a breakup than “For the First Time” presents: “It’s so hard / When everything you’ve ever known is gone / And it’s okay to feel weak / It’s okay to be shaky / But god, I wish that I could just move on.”

Before performing an emotional “No One Like You,” a song about persevering through relationship issues, Cosentino announced that she was playing a love song and advised the singles in the crowd to love themselves. “You’re the nicest,” she said as the audience cheered.

Best Coast gave the crowd a taste of their latest album with “Rollercoaster,” which has the same beachy rock-and-roll vibes as their old music, before treating them to the catchy “Feeling OK” and revisiting the new album with the energetic “Make It Last” — with Cosentino screaming the lyrics “We can’t let this go on any further” and “I just want you to be happy with another” — and the angsty, guitar-heavy “Graceless Kids.”

Then, Cosentino gave the audience a heartfelt thank you, referencing the turn from her anxiety-ridden party girl persona to finding sobriety in 2017, a major theme on Always Tomorrow: “You guys fucking loved me when I hated myself and didn’t know how to love myself, and you just fucking lifted my ass up. I don’t know you, but you are the sweetest.”

Of course, the crowd beckoned the band back up for an encore, during which they played two classics: Cosentino started off the fun, cheerful “When I’m With You” slowly with just her voice and guitar, then the band joined in and picked up the pace. “What do we have? Fun!” she playfully prompted the audience to yell. They closed the show with the wistful “Boyfriend.”

After people trickled out of the venue, they blasted Best Coast’s music on the street outside the Novo. I left feeling as if I’d truly gotten a glimpse into the soul of Cosentino and her bandmates. The show captured the spirit of the first song they played: through their music and performance, they’d created another breathtaking California night.

What Alanis Morissette Taught Me About Anger – Now That I’m Sober

Alanis Morissette plays Jagged Little Pill at the Apollo (YouTube screenshot).

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Tawny Lara details how a landmark ’90s album allowed her to feel a brewing childhood rage – and all the things she has to celebrate 25 years later.

November 30th, 2019 marked four years of my continuous sobriety. Each anniversary is celebrated with what I call a SoBerthday gift; past Soberthday gifts to myself have often been travel or some form of live entertainment. When I saw that Alanis Morissette was scheduled to perform a one-night-only show at the legendary Apollo Theater on December 2nd, I knew that was how I’d kick off my 4th year without booze. This special performance consisted of her singing Jagged Little Pill in its entirety to celebrate Jagged Little Pill: The Musical debuting on Broadway, as well as the 25th anniversary of the album itself.

I was nine years old when Jagged Little Pill took the world by storm. Mom and I had just relocated from Northern California to Waco, Texas. Dad stayed behind. They were never married. In fact, I never knew them as a couple. Dad was and is a heavy metal musician. For much of my young life, he was on tour. Going back and forth between Mom and Dad, between Concord and Alameda, then from Texas to California, took a toll on me – a toll I didn’t realize until I heard Jagged Little Pill and saw the video for “You Oughta Know.” It was the first time I heard a woman express what I now know as rage. Her pain was my pain.

It was the first time I saw a woman on TV who didn’t feel the need to present herself as society’s ever-evolving yet ever-unrealistic standard of “feminine.” Decades later I’d finally understand that expressing emotions – all emotions, including rage and anger – is absolutely feminine. But back then, nine-year-old me equated femininity with dresses and makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. Alanis’s demeanor and her sound were an act of rebellion.

Watching Alanis yell into the microphone in a gritty, sienna-toned video helped me learn that it’s okay to be angry and want to scream. I learned that there’s nothing wrong with expressing how I feel. Though I wasn’t old enough to experience a broken heart from romantic love as Alanis had, I had my own sadness from wishing my dad was around more. I missed my friends and family back in California. Starting over in third grade was hard. I didn’t understand why I had to move to a new city and home with my mom. Alanis and I both felt different types of heartache.

The range of emotions represented on Jagged Little Pill helped me identify my own emotions. The lyrics to “You Learn” served as my first self-help book. The simplicity of the music video for “Head Over Feet” captivated me. Even though nothing was happening, I was pulled in and couldn’t look away. Sometimes she’d look at the camera. Sometimes she’d sing with the song. But the whole time she was being authentically Alanis. I wanted to be like that.

As life progressed, I subconsciously learned to suppress my rage and other emotions as a way to cope. I didn’t know how to deal with trauma or anxiety or depression so I drank. And I drugged. And I drank some more. I suppressed said feelings until they erupted from me. I often cried when I drank. Or picked fights – both verbal and physical – with people I loved. I hid from my feelings so often that when I finally let myself feel them, it was too much to handle. So I drank even more until I got sober at age 29.

Jagged Little Pill aged with me. I went back to it when I wanted to feel comfortable. I’ve purchased it in nearly every available format: cassette, CD, mp3, iTunes download, and now stream it on Spotify. This album has been in my pocket (pun intended) for the last 25 years.

At the Apollo, she mentioned that she wrote the album when she was 19 years old. Though I knew the album was turning 25 and that she was now 45, it hadn’t occurred to me to do the math to see how old she was when she literally changed the world. I was in awe of the fact that a teenager wrote an album that spoke to people of all ages, races, sexualities, and genders. How can one album inspire nine-year-old me to connect with the rage I didn’t know I felt while simultaneously inspiring my 34-year-old aunt to finally get a long-overdue divorce? How can that same album still stand to the test of time a quarter of a century later to evolve into a Broadway musical? Because… Alanis.

Her show at The Apollo had campfire sing-along vibes. She sang Jagged Little Pill all the way through, plus “Thank U,” “Uninvited,” and a few new tracks. The sold-out crowd in the 1,500 seat theater sang every single word with her. A steady pool of water collected in my tear ducts throughout the duration of the two-hour show. Being in the same room as the woman who had such a significant impact on my life, on my emotions, was overwhelming. Again, she gave me permission to feel.

Sobriety is like being that nine year girl who just heard “You Oughta Know” for the first time: feelings are brand new again. I can no longer hide from sadness or anger or rage by abusing substances. I have to let myself feel. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, but so much growth comes out of it. Finding ways to process emotions in a healthy way is still a work in progress, but like Alanis tells us: we live, we learn.