Table of Contents 1.3 - The Interview Issue FEATURES Now Playing: The Harmonious Return of Dayglow’s Sloan Struble - 20 Not Taking Things So Seriously: An Interview with Marshall Vore - 36
Q&As Valley on Nostalgia and Redefining Connection - 6 Unpacking PACKS: A Sit-Down with Maddie Link - 12 An Interview with Olly Taylor of Trudy and the Romance: On Concept Albums, 1950s Aesthetics, and TikTok - 30 Literature and Letting Go: EDITRIX on Their Creative Process and New Projects - 40 An Interview with St. Terrible’s Zachary Herbert - 46 Maisyn Isn’t Your Cool Grl - 48
EDITORIAL Diving into NewDad’s Debut EP, Waves - 22 Tackling Sexual Violence and Predatory Behavior in the Music Industry - 26
MISCELLANEOUS Poster Tear-outs - 10,11 What Does Your Indie Crush Say About You? Quiz - 19
Who is Penny? FOUNDER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Erin Christie ASSISTANT EDITORS Morgan Hooks Mina Johnson WRITERS Molly Alexander 6 Erin Christie 12 Hannah Forsyth 22 Morgan Hooks 20 Meg McCarney 30 Melody J Myers 48 Skylar O’Kane 46 Zhenzhen Yu 40 Sarah Zimmer 26, 36 GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Aubrey Calapp 10, 20, 46 Chanelle Diaz 12, 30 Charis Forrester Cover, 2 Rachel Laurie 19, 26, 36 Eddy Lopez 6, 11, 40 Maanasa Manikandan 22, 48
Letter from the Editor Hey everyone! To begin, thanks for sticking around if you’ve read our past issues, and welcome if this is your first time around — I’m honored that you’ve taken the time to sit down with our material! The Interview Issue has been gestating for a few months now, with lots of us finishing up our semesters and even graduating (congrats if you did!), working like mad on other projects, and just dealing with the banal struggles of the everyday. Despite it all, I’m pleased to present what we’ve been able to come up with, which is indeed the biggest, most star-studded print issue of our publication thus far (huge thanks to Sloan and his team for believing in us so early on)! I’m beyond proud of our team and the amazing output everyone — from writers and photographers to graphic designers and editors — has put forth to create what you’re about to delve into. And special shout-out to Melody, who shot the very first Penny portraits, which you can view beginning on page 48. I’m excited to see where Penny is going and, trust me, there are big things ahead, hopefully soon! We’ll keep you posted, but for now, enjoy Penny 1.3 and thank you again for taking the time to check it out. Sending love,
Erin Christie Penny Founder and EIC
Album Release June 11th 2021 10
Written by Erin Christie Photos by Calm Elliot-Amstrong PACKS began as the solo songwriting project of Toronto musician Madeline “Maddie” Link, a means by which she could, as she describes it, use “songwriting to survive.” With time, however, the venture took on new life in the form of a four-piece band, finding Maddie joined by members Shane Hooper (drums), Noah O’Neil (bass), and Dexter Nash (lead guitar). As a group, the foursome thus carved out a name for themselves, cementing their place among local ranks with a handful of singles, including their debut release, “Hangman,” a wiry acoustic crooner decorated with swelling, warbled strumming. As of more recently, PACKS have taken the indie-rock cornerstone they’ve built and expanded upon it, seen aptly with a set of new tracks, including “New TV,” in which the group joins fuzzy guitar solos with
headspace affected the final output?
To usher in this new sonic era, PACKS will be welcoming their official debut album, Take The Cake, on May 21st (via Fire Talk Records ML: Definitely, yeah. I & Royal Mountain Records). Composed of material that was even find that just writing predominantly written during the past year spent in quarantine — songs in my parents’ with the members of the group isolated from one another across house is different from separate regions of Canada — the album takes a blunt and writing songs in the house realistic approach to the trials of existing and the malleability that I used to live in, in of the everyday, from navigating a tricky break-up and coping Toronto. I’m doing a different in the aftermath, to dealing with the state of life postjob here now, and, in almost coming-of-age (and in a current timeline as chaotic as this). every aspect, the things that I Subsequently, it timestamps this particularly tricky period see everyday are different — and of time for Maddie and her band, a time where they’re that’s what I write about, the things learning to reckon with their own sense of growth, and that I see every day. And the fact as they’re coming to understand the fact that while that we, each bandmate, recorded they’re growing individually, the world around them in isolation, I think that’s affected is, too. These honest, existential ideas are joined the songs more than anything else, with instrumentation that’s bound to get your toes because we haven’t been able to jam tapping, and possibly forget about the crushing them out. Like, a lot of the time, I’ll bring weight of your own existence. a song to them and I’ll have these weird chords that I’ll play, and they’ll be like, Prior to the release of Take The Cake, we sat “That chord sounds weird!” And then I’ll down with Maddie over Zoom to discuss writing change it and the song will take on a new life. in quarantine, PACKS’ transition into this new But, if I just send them the song point blank age, and the fact that her hands might just have with the weird chords and everything, they’re minds of their own. just gonna do what they do, you know? Well, first, how are you doing? It’s nice to meet you! Maddie Link: You too! I’m pretty good. We just got news that we’re going into like our third lockdown. Oh, man. I heard that you were quarantining with your parents, at least for a while. Are you still there? How is that going?
It’s kind of like when you’re having a conversation with someone over email and you’re waiting for their response. It’s not natural. ML: Yeah, it’s like, there’s way too much time to overthink, too, in that situation, and then you end up writing a novel [laughs].
ML: Mmm hmm. It’s good. I just got a car to cope with it [laughs], so I feel more freedom now that I have that to get me out of here.
And how long would you say like the writing process for this project was? Was it written over a decent period of time prior to quarantine, or was it mostly written as of the past year?
Speaking of being at your parents’, since half of the upcoming album, Take The Cake, was written back in Toronto versus the other half that was written while living with your parents, do you think that change in location and
ML: So, all the songs that were recorded before quarantine were written in the span of a year — that was like, I don’t know, five songs. But there are a couple songs that I wrote that were part of a double-single release kind of thing that
aren’t included on the album. So, I would say, over the course of a year, we wrote six songs, but we wrote a lot more and played them live, but we just hadn’t recorded them. So, yeah, the songwriting process was kind of steady, and it was kind of in accordance with the amount of shows that we were playing. So, we’d play a show a month, and we’d just bring new content every month, but it wouldn’t be too much. And then, I wrote six songs that are on the record in one month... Oh, wow. Definite change. With all those specific songs being written at once, would you say that there’s a thread that runs through them, and possibly throughout the whole record? Or do most of the songs have their own individual lives, but come together sonically?
anybody can tack whatever they want on to it, which I guess is cool. ML: Yeah, it’s so funny. Like, even with “New TV,” there was a blog that like, “Yeah, she’s comparing her body to a couch.” Because, in the press release, I said something about an ugly couch that was sold on Craigslist, and they thought that the first lyrics of the song are about me being like, “Oh, that couch looks like my body” [laughs]. But that’s the thing, like, that interpretation is funny and I’m not gonna message them and be like, “That’s wrong,” because that’s what they think. But it is wrong [laughs]. Speaking of “New TV,” was there a reason behind it and “Silvertongue” being the first official singles that would introduce this ideation of PACKS?
ML: Yeah, I think it’s more so each song is about its own little chunk, but some of the ML: So, the very first [single] that we went out songs are about one relationship and the with was “Hangman,” which, anyone who knew degradation of that relationship. So, there’s PACKS before, knew that song. And so, going threads there, but they’re more like threads forward, [the label] wanted to really only release in my head, like, I don’t think anyone songs that hadn’t ever been heard before [prior to listening would be like, “Oh, yeah, this the album’s release]. So, there’s gonna be one more song happened and clearly preceded single before the album comes out, and then a single this song and this one is the result the week that the album comes out, so, basically, pretty of that...” much all of the songs that no one’s heard before are going to be heard before the album comes out [laughs]. Yeah, it’s funny, because someone listening And regarding your relationship with Fire Talk and Royal wouldn’t know where Mountain Records, how did that come about? Has it been brewing your head was at for a while? when you were ML: Yeah, so, there’s this guy in this band called Ducks Unlimited — Tom writing or what Avis. So, Tom Avis is a publicist, but he’s also in this band, and we’d played was inspiring with Tom before. I think he just heard all the PACKS stuff coming out, and he the material, connected me with Trevor from Fire Talk in January of 2020, okay. And he was so it’s kind just like, “Hey,” and I was like, “Hi,” and that was it. of like Then when COVID hit, they messaged me being like, “Hey, we want to do a reissue of some of the singles that you’ve released.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m actually like, going insane here writing songs. Because I’m going crazy, so I have some new songs. And then they’re like, “Okay, cool. Send them over.” And so, I sent them over, and then then they’re like, “Oh, okay, we want to make an album of it” and they’re like, “We’ll give you a month to polish these up.” So, I was like, okay, so I have like, a month to just record everything, and they didn’t
even say “You need to write more songs,” but I was just like, I don’t want to just re-release all the songs that I’ve already released for free; that doesn’t make any sense. I just tried to add value here. Yeah, so it was almost like introducing a new chapter of the project instead of turning back to what you’d already done. ML: Yeah, and then the Royal Mountain thing — I had been speaking with my manager Mark, who works at Royal Mountain; he was our manager, but we weren’t being managed in any way through Royal Mountain, he was just independently managing us. And, so, he was like, “Hey, Royal Mountain would like to also be a part of this,” and I was like, “Is that a good idea? I don’t know!” And then, I don’t know how it happened but I connected them together, and they met and they got along... So, I guess it worked out! And going back a little bit, did you have any set intentions in regard to what you want to get across when writing new material for Take The Cake, or was it more organic and, like you said, based on what was happening at the time? ML: Yeah, because songwriting is something that I do to survive basically, like to process things, I can’t really set intention. I could try to set an intention, but it’ll probably fall to the wayside, because my brain and whatever part of my body I use to songwrite —w hen you pick up the guitar and want to make a song about something, it’s not always gonna end up that way. So, I never really tried to write a song about [something specific]. And the songs that I do try to write, like, I sit down, say, “I’m gonna write a song about this because it’s bothering me,” it ends up crappy. It’s just not good. Is it almost robotic when you’re not letting your body and your mind guide you, in a way? ML: Exactly! It’s a bit like they end up sounding robotic and a little bit strained and derivative — not that derivative is necessarily bad — but it just sounds like I lost steam after the first second. It sounds like a narration over Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist or, you know, just cheesy. So, of the stuff that you were really happy with that found its way onto the album, is there anything that you’re most proud of or that you’re most excited for people to finally hear? Maddie Link: I’m really excited in general because I do think that even though the songs were written totally separately and it’s not like a thematic album where I like went into the woods and was like, “I’m giving myself to the woods, come at me,” just taking the energy, it is totally a thematic album. And the songs, all the progression of the songs, make sense, more so than just hearing the singles. I’m really excited for people to hear the single
that’s coming out next, which is called “Two Hands;” I’m quite proud of it. Is it about the brains in your two hands? ML: [Laughs] I didn’t name it because of that, but I’ve always just loved my hands, and I love other people’s hands. But like, a lot of the things that I did on that album, I made a decision — whether it was graphic design, or music, or whatever — and then, afterwards, I realize like, “Oh, my God, that totally relates, like, that totally makes sense and has a purpose.” Almost everything I do is like that! So, it’s kind of like the whole product itself is like something that needs to be seen together as an entire album as opposed to individual songs, which makes total sense. ML: Well, yeah, cuz it’s like with my favorite albums, outside of the context of me listening to the whole album, I can totally be like, “Oh, yeah, hands down this song is my favorite [song].” But then, while I’m listening to the whole thing, I’m like, “No, this was my favorite one.” And then the next one comes on like, “No, this one.” So, it really is important to me to hear all of it together. On another note, are there also going to be more visuals and music videos and stuff that are going to come out with the rest of the album in mind? ML: Yeah, there’s gonna be a music video for “Two Hands,” and that was filmed kind of like jankily [laughs] like, before I knew I might have a budget for videos. So, that was zero budget and it was also part of the conversation where Fire Talk was like, “At the end of this month, make two videos for two of the
songs in case we want to do the rollout next month or whatever.” So, it was a very quickly made, quickly edited video, but it was fun. So, that’s the only music video that’s coming out, but I do want to make another music video for a song that was released before with my bandmates. The thing is, the reason why it’s just me in all these videos is cuz, it makes me sad, but I’m just here in Ottawa just by myself. So, my drummer and guitarist are still in Toronto, and then my bassist is all the way in Victoria in BC. And so it’s like, I can’t do a music video with just the drummer and the guitarist because everyone would be like, “Well, where’s the bassist? What happened?” But, you know, if this lockdown doesn’t prevent the bassist from coming from BC, we’re all gonna see each other this coming week! So, I want to just take that opportunity to actually shoot a music video with all four of us and like, just use it for a song, any song. And do you think you guys are all planning to go back to Toronto at some point? Or would you be planning to do so individually? ML: I don’t really want to go back to live in Toronto, mainly because...well, there’s a lot of reasons. It’s just really expensive, and the gentrification is nonstop, and I’m sure I’ve contributed to the gentrification because I moved there in 2014 and probably, you know, patronized businesses like the juice bar that opened up in the cheap neighborhood... But, then, everyone else started moving, and it was just sad. And there’s something very sad that’s happening in Toronto now, too. Like, everywhere that I’ve lived, there’s been a condo that’s built literally
right next door. And there’s so many closed businesses on the main streets, there’s so many empty storefronts. It’s like, “What?” I don’t know how people are staying afloat. In my head, I feel like there should be a thing for people under the age of 45, like, that, as soon as everyone has a vaccine, or you know, as soon as it is safe to go full force back into business, there should be big grants for young people to start businesses and open businesses, and also just a universal, global lowering of rent. Because there are so many people who want to start businesses, or wanted to, and it’s like, I guess [they have to] find a different passion. And it’s like that with music, too, which is obviously extremely depressing. But, you know, we’re learning to adapt, I suppose. And is the vaccine over there in Canada yet? How is that progressing ML: I think we’re supposed to get them from Europe. But they’re being really...what’s it called? Shady? But I think basically every protocol put in place in Canada has not been the right call. So, you know, even the vaccines that we do have are not being administered, especially in Ontario. Like, you can’t go to a pharmacy to get your vaccine. It’s like, go to City Hall and there’s, like, 500 senior citizens talking to people with clipboards that are just like, [stressed tone] “Stand over here, stand over here.” Hopefully it gets sorted out! And, speaking of, the virus is obviously affecting the ability to gather and tour — regarding the thought of audiences eventually hearing this new content, have you guys been thinking at all about what you would want to do when you’re able to perform? Is there anything you’d be pretty stoked about playing in front of people? ML: So, actually, since the bassist is coming from BC next week, we’re gonna start practicing because we’re recording a livestream set two Saturdays from now [April 17th]. So, that would
be our first time playing songs intentionally without being able to mess any of them up, which is kind of what playing live is like. But then, in terms of actually playing a show, that will be freakin amazing. I want to do that in the fall, if we can, but also, if it doesn’t happen, it’s fine. I just don’t really want to be one of the first bands to go on tour. Like, imagine that article [laughs], like, “Everywhere this band went, there was an outbreak.” I know, and it’s really morally conflicting, because as these shows are opening up, of course I want to support artists and venues, but I don’t want to be an idiot and make things worse in that area. ML: This [situation] makes it so that you do have to think about the whole of the thing and not just go out to play a show. You have to think about the neighborhood, your audience, and so many things that I can’t even think about right now. But, I know money is a huge thing. I actually just saw this article that was like, you can go anywhere in Israel — there’s a COVID passport and you have it on your phone and can show it to the server, or the doorperson, like, “I’m good to go!” But, anyway, if we perform, ideally, the first show we play would be free for anyone and everyone, and outside maybe... Yeah, that’d be fun. Like a park tour. ML: Yeah, like Flight of the Conchords! And to begin to wrap everything up, for anyone who might not know you and isn’t aware of PACKS still, how would you describe this project and your music? And what do you think is like most important for people to be aware of regarding everything? ML: I don’t know, it’s hard. Honestly, I didn’t ever really know how to describe it to anyone that asked until all these articles were like “slacker rock” [laughs].
I saw that, too. I was like, what does that mean? ML: I’m like, I’m actually not a slacker [laughs]. I think it’s less intense than grunge, like, I’m not doing the [imitates Kurt Cobain] vocals. Maybe it’s the fact that my vocals are so lackadaisical? They sound like I’m slacking off? But anyway, maybe the important thing to know is that we’re not nonchalant, and we’re not slackers, and we work very hard. Also, I always want to try to be able to have my music help in any way it can. And like, if [my song] is a song that you play, and you feel better after, I would love that. And then, also, if we do start to make money, obviously, monetarily, we want to destroy the system and distribute the wealth. Finally, is there anything else on your agenda that’s this keeping you going through this dark time? ML: The thing that is motivating me through each day is the idea that, when this lockdown is over, I’m gonna get to see my best friends. They’ve been in Ottawa this whole time, and now that I’m back living here, it’s like it’s a heaven send that I get to see them. So, just the fact that I’m going to be able to chill with them outside and have some beers in the sun, that’s keeping me going. But, also, the huge thing that I maybe haven’t even really grasped, that hasn’t dawned on me yet, is that I’m really excited about the feeling of holding the record in my hands. And that’s not coming out until July, but July is also my birthday month! Make sure to listen to Take The Cake when it comes out on May 21st and keep up with Maddie and PACKS via their socials.
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alex turner of Arctic Monkeys Your friends don’t let you pick the movie anymore because it’s always a slow moving indie film. You’re addicted to buying over-priced band tees. You love playing ‘Wonderwall’ at parties on your acoustic guitar you’ve had since you were 16.
Dayglow — the indie pop outlet of Texan singer-songwriter and producer Sloan Struble — is slated to return with the arrival of Harmony House, his second full-length album. The record, which is set for release on May 21st through Stuble’s own Very Nice Records in partnership with AWAL, is a much anticipated return for Dayglow, especially following the acclaim of his debut, 2018’s Fuzzybrain, and the waves of viral successes that followed in the time since (including “Can I Call You Tonight?” going certified gold in January of this year). In totality, Harmony House introduces the listener to a more personal side of Struble, whose record offers the same dance-worthy, feel-good sound that Dayglow has built a worldwide community around, while prompting the listener to think deeper. For example, “Something,” one of two singles released and the forefronting track, starts out strong. Accompanied by a riff a la Talking Heads, Struble first asks the listener about the state of the world, pondering, “Ain’t it a wonder that we’re going under, but everyone’s high?” “Close to You,” the first single released this year and the album’s fifth track, gives listeners an initial taste of the aforementioned synthesizers from the first beat onward. I am far too young to visualize what an ‘80s club would have entailed, but I believe that “Close to You” can transport me there. Follow up with track two, “Medicine” and your travels take you even further to the middle of the ‘70s dance scene. Later, Struble slows the synthesizers down for “December,” which reflects on unwanted change. “So my friend, just remember, every year has its December” is wholeheartedly one of my favorite and most-resonated-with lyrics on the record.
by Morgan Hooks Photography by Pooneh Ghana
Struble nails the ‘80s heartbreak sound with the sixth track, “Crying on the Dancefloor,” with slow, soulful keys and a groovy bass in the background, and following through with this on track seven, “Into Blue.” On “Moving Out,” the eighth track, the good vibrations return with the signature Dayglow guitar. Following the reflectiveness of the tracks before, “Moving Out” shows Struble’s own evolution outside of Dayglow, as the lyrics tackle accepting and overcoming the aforementioned change. Next, “Woah Man,” the ninth track, is an atmospheric song fit for a film score. Struble guides listeners through Harmony House as the songs dance through different tempos, but still capture their ears and surprise them second-by-second. Harmony House is an album that I’m itching to dance to in the middle of a crowded venue, a feeling that Struble shares. It’s a feeling that he and Dayglow fans can, hopefully, soon share in harmony. In anticipation of Harmony House’s release, we recently sat down with Struble via Zoom for a conversation on his new songs, synthesizers, social media, and how Dayglow has evolved in the quietness of quarantine. When asked what was teasable about Harmony House and the evolution of Dayglow’s sound and style on the forthcoming album, Struble replied with a smile. “I’ve been really stoked about sharing [Harmony House] for a while. It’s super ‘80s/’70s inspired,” he said. “For the people who really care about audio and recording gear: a lot if it’s made on vintage synthesizers and lots of things like that. It’s mostly what I’ve been listening to.”
Struble’s aim with “Something,” however, goes beyond bringing awareness to these topics. “My attempt with ‘Something’ is to put the listener in a reflective state,” he explained. He then recalled the slew of songs released in recent years in the realm of the iconic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, songs in which the perspective of the song’s subject matter is that of the listener. “The way in which I wrote ‘Something’ — it’s kind of like you are experiencing this, and [that allows] the listener to reflect and internalize what I’m talking about.” While on the topic of social media, I asked Struble about his feelings towards the social media platform TikTok, which is where a portion of newcomers to Dayglow’s music, including myself, discovered his discography. I referenced “Can I Call You Tonight?” reigning as a popular TikTok ‘sound’ for creators to use in their videos, and asked Struble what his thoughts on TikTok being utilized as a music-sharing platform were. Struble and I agreed that if we were to time travel to the nineteenth century and we were to give anything to the people then, it would be TikTok. He joked that the platform would be met with the question, “What in the world is happening to humanity?” He continued with, “It’s just so crazy how accurate the algorithm is in knowing what you want and how it takes people’s time. It’s so entertaining and fun. I know a lot of people on TikTok. As a musician, it’s an incredible, mind-blowing platform, potentially, where things can just blow up. ‘Can I Call You Tonight?’ definitely had its moment on TikTok.” Dayglow is among a growing setlist of artists who have found viral success on the platform. Struble shared how friend and fellow artist Jack, who writes music as Ritt Momney, had his song “Put Your Records On” (a cover of the original track by Corinne Bailey Rae) blow up and become the soundtrack of a popular TikTok trend. “It’s just crazy that that happens. Because we look back at viral moments on YouTube and, five years ago, a viral moment- it would get one hundred thousand views overnight and people would be interviewed on the news like, ‘What’s it like to go viral?’ It’s this crazy thing where, now, viral means millions in minutes. It’s crazy how quick things happen. It’s wild.”
Even in the lockdown, Struble was able to reach an immense audience following Dayglow’s moment on TikTok and gained, subsequently, many streams on platforms such as Spotify. Many of these newcomer fans arrived in time to experience the nearing Dayglow release. When asked about his own experience in lockdown, Struble shared what it was like to write an album in isolation, and how his creative process has evolved in the process. “Me, personally, I’m totally insular, meaning that I make all my music on my own. I record and make all the music. So, in a way, nothing changed. I still am doing exactly what I love to do, which is an incredible blessing that I have this opportunity to just keep going.” “It would be nice to take breaks. I’ve spent too many hours probably just sitting and messing with sounds. More than the human brain should.” Struble laughed. “But it’s been really awesome. I had written most of the songs on Harmony House before lockdown happened, but I hadn’t mixed it. This time definitely allowed me to revise the songs a little bit, but also to mix it on my own, which I definitely wouldn't have been able to do if it weren't for lockdown because I would have been touring all year. It’s kind of a weird blessing. It’s also a curse because I’m really stoked to meet everybody and play shows, but it’s been really nice to have all this time.” We both reflected on the influx of new projects that arrived from artists — even those on seeming hiatuses — throughout the duration of lockdown thus far. Throughout it all, something that stood out to me as I continued my chat with Struble was his optimism. Regardless if we were discussing the wonders of David Byrne or the wickedness of social media, Struble answered with a smile. With the anticipation of meeting the musical community that Dayglow has built in mind, I finally asked Struble what songs he was most stoked about performing live when concerts return to us: “I’m really excited for shows!” — the eagerness in his voice was contagious. “I’m a live show geek, meaning I love high production and playing stuff out. So, I’m really excited, honestly, for the whole next record. ‘Can I Call You Tonight?’ — to be able to play it in front of tons of people for the first time is going to be pretty nuts. For a lot of people, it’s going to be, like, a song that they used to listen to. It’s crazy. And [then] I’ll play it. That’s going to be awesome.” Make sure to listen to Harmony House on any of your favorite streaming platforms when it comes out on May 21st. Additionally, check out Dayglow on tour with Arlie this fall.
Written by Sarah Zimmer
TW: MENTION OF ABUSE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE
A cursory Google search of “sexual violence in the music industry” yields both far less and far more results than one would hope to find. Other music journalists have tackled this issue, from Forbes to Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, but very little reckoning has been done yielding either justice for survivors or prevention of this type of abuse. Few powerful organizations and folks of the industry have addressed or sought solutions to the consistent power-based violence that occurs in the industry. However, you can find lists on lists of perpetrators, both big names and small, both suspected and confirmed. My Masters’ research focused on consent-practices in undergraduate performing and film arts classrooms at Emerson College in Boston. I saw as a graduate student, and experienced as an undergraduate student, the ways in which the nature of the art and performance-based industries themselves breed opportunity for abuse and violence. Furthermore, I’ve seen firsthand how young artists have rarely been taught that they are allowed to set boundaries for themselves in these industries, lest lose out on opportunities to advance their professional careers. Broadway and Hollywood, in some ways, have reckoned and responded to this toxic environment that has festered not under everyone's noses, but right in front of them. Intimacy Direction, a practice in which it is someone’s job to create a safe and consent-based rehearsal space, and to be an entity who advocates for the actors when there is any sort of power-based violence on set, is a now recognized profession protected under SAG-AFTRA, the union that collectively represents all sorts of film industry professions. It’s on its way to recognition in Actor’s Equity Association, but even now very few productions with this sort of content (on any national or regional scale, at least) could get by unnoticed by actors or fans for lack of an ID. Thus, there is accountability, to a degree, in the space with the most potential for abuse — the creative space. In Hollywood, Broadway, and the music industry, stories on predators such as Scott Rudin, Harvey Weinstein, or Marilyn Manson .
reach the public due to brave survivors who have trickled out information over the years. This information was, in some cases, held in press purgatory, but music journalists have also found themselves breaking news for survivors before anyone was the wiser. Subsequently, public pressure has more often than not been the impetus for consequence for a perpetrator, requiring survivors to out themselves and put their reputation on the line, people to corroborate on social media, and fans to put pressure on executives. It also leaves listeners with the agency to make their own decisions about consuming certain people’s art, a perpetual moral riddle that divides people like politics do. While fans may be contributing to some financial gain towards problematic artists, it is often labels and their executives who stand to lose the most money from an artist being “cancelled” One doesn’t hear about predators dealt with internally, not because it’s an industry secret, but because that almost never happens. People who yield power are never the ones putting their reputation on the line to protect their employees or change the industry. For example, the Grammys’ Rock category being dominated by women this year, Doja Cat’s producer was nominated. Why does this matter? Well, the “Say So” producer was none other than Dr. Luke — in 2014, Ke$ha sued him for a series of charges ranging from sexual assault to unfair business practices. The claims of sexual abuse and harassment were ultimately thrown out by a judge who cited that the incidents were outside of the statute of limitations. Dr. Luke clearly prevented Ke$ha from releasing music, or controlling her work, and both the lawsuit and public opinion on Dr. Luke remains ongoing. However, at the 2017 Grammys’, the year Ke$ha released her first album after her contract with Dr. Luke was dissolved, she was selected to perform “Praying,” a song about her experience with Dr. Luke. Janelle Monae, introducing her, evoked in her speech the “Times Up” campaign, born out of 2016’s #MeToo movement, in which artistic industries (led by survivors) sought solutions and justice for survivors of abuse. The Grammy institution
remains a disappointment, content with cognitive dissonance, though it should come as no surprise from an institution that has and continues to uphold sexism, gender binaries, and racism in their infrastructure and decisions. Recognition of artistry, in my opinion, cannot and should not come at the expense of anyone when it comes to these types of crimes, and while the Grammys aren’t the end-all-be-all in considering the status of the music industry, they are the largest gathering of every type of person in a largely decentralized industry. It’s a significant touchpoint in understanding who is complicit in stagnating any change of meaningful change and action in the industry. This is an unfair reality for any artists, new and old, to experience and exist in. Like Ke$ha, other musicians have written tracks outlining their struggles — such as Phoebe Bridgers’ “Motion Sickness,” which narrates an emotional abusive relationship at the hand of singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, over 20 years her senior. Most recently, Billie Eilish released her single, “Your Power,” about grooming of young artists in the industry. In doing so, these women have created something rather beautiful out of this mess. To have agency over one’s art is deeply necessary and demonstrated again and again by Phoebe, Ke$ha, and many others throughout rock history. These women have created a community of survivors, and reclamation of agency over their narratives. Still, there is no blanket way of understanding this pheomenon. For every story that the public has heard, there are 10 stories that you’d have to be in the industry or following it closely to know. For example, this past year saw a social media storm of allegations and actions against many bands in the LA indie scene, many of whom were represented by one record label Burger Records. Members were accused of grooming and assault against underage fans, which is, unfortunately, not an uncommon story for many young women who attend shows of almost any genre.1 In an entirely different part of the industry landscape, Republic Records VP Charlie Walk (who defends his innocence) was recently dismissed from the charges he faced beginning in 2018,
when several women came forward with allegations of harassment, spanning decades. 2 Allegations against small and large artists show no sign of slowing down, but why? An obvious observation is that the US legal system already does not work in the interest of survivors of sexual assault, emotional abuse, or gender-based violence. Our society, nor our government(s), have yet condem- ned this type of violence or its wide- spread nature, and even less-so, 2 condemned it internationally. American society still does not value the arts, as say, the UK does, directly contributing to the lack of protections artists have the same way any other employee would potentially have. To further complicate things, the music industry is really several different industries with no managing body. There are the people creating the content - producers, artists,video directors - then people getting the content to the - producers, artists, video directors - then people getting the content to the public - business managers and label employees interface to get their client’s content to the customer-facing side of things, whether that's streaming distribution or tour booking. Thus, it’s difficult to set standards across an industry so varied in practice, purpose, location — despite the fact that the actions of one person in one part of the industry can affect another person in a completely separate part of the industry. Additionally — aside from those working in office-based environments where HR would be available — there is very little oversight or protection for artists and gig workers, which is an additional problem. While some musicians are eligible for unions (such as SAG-AFTRA and AFM), such is primarily only applicable to
orchestral, operatic, or musical theatre-types, or major name artists. Furthermore, a Berklee College of Music professor cited that only 10% of his students had any idea that they were eligible for this protection (including legal assistance), which, considering the fact that survivors often face legal retaliation for speaking out, is a pretty big deal that music students could be so unaware, likely because the information was never made accessible enough to them. 3 Of course, there are some historical and social contexts to this issue. Most articles examining this phenomenon, rightfully, cite the age-old motto of the industry – “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.” In a recent Guardian article, gender studies professor, Dr. Rosemary Lucy Hill from U of Leeds, summarizes her studies on ‘groupies,’ with reference to the experience of women who slept with Mick Jagger, or Jim Morrison and have since spoken out3 about their experiences.4 Hill describes the fine line between the stated consensual nature of many of these interactions, and the expectations and power dynamics that accompany sleeping with a rockstar. Not to mention, many of these women were underage. While rock music may have freedom on one hand, on the other is the musicians that take advantage of youthful exploration for their own gain. With the workplace being festivals, or recording sessions, business and pleasure are difficult to separate, affording predators the opportunity when drugs, alcohol and privacy are in the mix and unregulated. Music is intimate and vulnerable, and lines of what is appropriate that may be more clearly drawn, or clearly understood, are much more blurry in any creative industry. During my research at Emerson, I noticed that early-career performing arts and film arts students (training as actors, directors, lighting designers, and so forth) were being told, for the first time, that they were able to say “no'' in this field, or in their classes, by us. Myself and my colleague ran Intimacy Direction work workshops, offering tools and language to communicate their boundaries, as well as report boundaries, as well as ways to well as ways to report violations, to undergraduate students who just began their training. Being not much older than them, I recall thinking how useful this sort of training would have been to me as a young artist who felt uncomfortable in rehearsal spaces and didn’t know how to voice my concerns. Success as a musician or music industry professional, however you want to 28
measure it, is a commodity, and in the arts (music or otherwise), there’s a culture of taking advantage of any opportunity you get, and a culture of being told you need to be easy to work with in order to be successful. Thus, it isn’t hard to understand why someone would feel as if they need to stay quiet in order to continue rising up the ranks of the industry, an idea that is subliminally drilled into early career artists. As a result, powerful people have the ability to stagnate individuals’artistic careers (their jobs) and both emotionally and physically take advantage of artists. Powerful labels have the ability to continue making money off artists they are fully aware have been predatory (see: Marilyn Manson). The cult of money, the cult of fame, and the cult of personality are tropes in this narrative. One famous example of a “cult of persona” is R. Kelly. Black women have consistently faced a significantly tougher time being believed when it comes to allegations of sexual violence, and their pepertrators have a harder time receiving justice. Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records, and R. Kelly, two pioneers of the genre, have both faced charges of astounding numbers of all types of sexual misconduct allegations. Even so, R. Kelly remains free and many of his survivors go on without justice, despite the fact that, as recently as 2019, he allegedly holds two women in captivity. Simmons fled abroad in response to the uproar, and there, he is unable to be extradited back to the States. Drew Dixon, who was A&R for Def Jam when Simmons was there, remarked upon the problems that have piled on regarding these cases, and the inherent racism and weight that hip-hop critics balance with real instances of abuse, remarking, “She didn’t want to let the culture down” by exposing the harassment she faced, going on to acknowledge the crux of the issue: “Hip-hop, as an originally Black art form, is more vulnerable to criticism, but rape culture is pervasive — it’s something that the music industry inherited from the broader culture. Black music certainly did not create this.” 5 This is hardly a one dimensional narrative with any simple answer. What is clear, is that the instances of abuse in the music industry have failed to move purposefully from public awareness, to action steps to address the pervasiveness of the problem. Lady Gaga, a pop superstar, acknowledged this issue in 2016 saying, “We don’t have a union as artists. We’re just fighting for ourselves.” What I hope this piece lends itself to is a birdseye examination of the intersecting issues that makes
In response to a lacking representation of non-men across the industry, a non-profit We Are Moving The Needle 7 is on a mission to empower, provide resources, and foster inclusivity for women in the recording industry, with artists such as Maggie Rogers and HAIM on their advisory board. Furthermore, Secretly Group, an international conglomerate with massive indie artists under their many subsidiary labels (including Bon Iver, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, Bright Eyes and more), very recently announced its plan to recognize a workers’ union as a result of the public pressure that ensued following the release of a staff-written letter, detailing poor wages, systemic race and gender inequality, unfair expectations of employees, and, ultimately, the label not listening to marginalized voices or worker concerns. The recognition of this union is a step in the right direction and may set a strong precedent for other labels — for example, Republic Records, who represent major artists such as Ariana Grande, recently installed an action committee that seeks to tackle these issues amongst others. Additionally, an organization called Music Workers Alliance seeks economic and social justice for artists, and Future of Music, a non-profit fighting for the rights of artists, is focusing on everything such as fair streaming pay, to harassment protection. 8 Unionizing and organizing seems to be the beginning of an answer. One particularly exciting union, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) was built and driven by musicians entirely online during the course of the pandemic. The organizers began with one-off efforts such as No Musicians for ICE, demonstrating the power of collective action. Gig workers of any industry have had to do the same and fight for their protections, as history has shown, time and time again, that those in power will take advantage of people without protections, hence, why they aren’t given by people in power in the first place. Thus, UMAW addresses the void AFM and SAG leaves, allowing independent musicians to find solidarity and protections for systemic issues of
racism and sexism, as well as fair and equitable pay. One particularly exciting union, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) was built and driven by musicians entirely online during the course of the pandemic. The organizers began with one-off efforts such as No Musicians for ICE, demonstrating the power of collective action. 9 Gig workers of any industry have had to do the same and fight for their protections, as history has shown, time and time again, that those in power will take advantage of people without protections, hence, why they aren’t given by people in power in the first place. Thus, UMAW addresses the void AFM and SAG leaves, allowing independent musicians to find solidarity and protections for systemic issues of racism and sexism, as well as fair and equitable pay. I believe that focusing on the industry’s lack of centralized leadership is paramount in tackling this issue, as it is hindering sustainable change. Consider this: in Boston, a set of standards, the Line Drawn Theatre Standards, were created by the New England Theatre Community in an effort to create safe working spaces through actionable items, from EDI to Intimacy Direction, to ensure artists know how and where they can report misconduct, should they need to. 10 The music industry, whether it be label by label, or a larger collective effort, should consider enacting a similar set of standards, developed in working groups of musicians, industry stakeholders, legislators, academics, and more. This issue demands deeper research and organization to acquire radical policy change and accountability in the industry. There should be trauma-informed practices and mental health resources for such a vulnerable job. Early career professionals in training programs deserve better education without instruction to expect certain issues in the industry, but seek to question and change them, and minors who attend shows deserve safety and more visible recourse options to hold the musicians and/or label accountable. Trauma is a lifelong battle that nobody should have to face, nor combat in public. While there is an expectation for artists to speak about issues such as this one on social media, and the response to worldwide social injustices have blurred lines between activists and musicians, who we should really be expecting vocality from is the people who have the ability to provide change, to amend the inadequate protections and culture of abuse that has been allowed to continue in this industry for so many decades. Executives need to listen. The musicians are gathering. It is time for change.
abuse in the industry go unchecked. Clearly, long-term, sustainable, and standard structures and protections are necessary for the music industry to continue to breed exceptional art, free from interruption of abuse. Male musicians and executives have a responsibility to not enable harmful behavior, to speak up and speak out, and to place more marginalized voices in their ranks, in addition to making adequate space for those who have created their own spaces. The makeup of female and non-binary music executives remains staggeringly low, not to mention non-cismen executives still get paid 30 percent less than men and only 15 percent of women in music run labels. Even on the creative side, a recent USC study assessing the industry’s level of inclusion based on the Billboard Hot 100 charts from 2012-2020 found that women comprised only 21.7% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters, and 2.1% of producers. 6 With so few women allowed entry into the industry, and even fewer allowed into executive roles — which we know is not for lack of skill — this adds to an environment with little advocacy for the issues women face in the workplace.
1. Ellise Shafer, “‘It’s About Damn Time’: Anti-Sexual Assault Movement Takes Root in L.A.’s Indie Music Scene,” Variety, September, 24, 2020. 2. Jason Newman, “Charlie Walk: Top Music Executive Accused of Sexual Misconduct Over Decades,” Rolling Stone, February 22, 2018. 3. Elias Leight, “There’s a Musician’s Union. Many Musicians Are Unaware — or Unable to Join,” Rolling Stone, May 6, 2019. 4. Thea De Gallier, “'I wouldn’t want this for anybody’s daughter': will #MeToo kill off the rock'n'roll groupie?,” The Guardian, March 15, 2018. 5. Janell Hobson, “Black Women, Hip-Hop &
‘On the Record’ Spotlights Music Industry,” MS. Magazine, May 27, 2020. 6. Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Karla Hernandez & Kevin Yao, “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?: Gender and Race/Ethnicity ofArtists, Songwriters & Producers across 900 Popular Songs from 2012-2020,” USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, March 2021. 7. Wearemovingtheneedle.org 8. Futureofmusic.org 9. Liz Pelly, “With Gigs Canceled and No Relief, Musicians Form a Nationwide Union,” In These Times, December 7, 2020. 10. Line Drawn Harassment Initiative, stagesource.org
AN INTERVIEW WITH
OLLY TAYLOR OF TRUDY AND THE ROMANCE:
On Concept Albums, 1950s Aesthetics, and TikTok
Written by Meg McCarney Photos by Chloe Sheppard and Percey Waker Smith Drop the phrase “’50s mutant pop” in casual conversation and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone up to the challenge of describing it — least of all the band who claimed the sound as their own niche. For Liverpool-based alt-rock band Trudy and the Romance, ’50s mutant pop is less of a genre you can confine to words and more of an effort to, sonically, resurrect the aesthetic and feeling of an entire era. Trudy and the Romance’s ambitious, signature brand of woozy, technicolor nods to the 1950s takes listeners on a romp of pure, saccharine fun. On Sandman (2019) — the group’s concept album about a boy in love whose fictional band is on the brink of success, and the difficult choice he must make between his heart’s two callings — they honor the cartoonish tropes and imagery of the decade in unabashedly skittish (and sentimental) ballads. Partially based on lead singer Olly Taylor’s romantic experiences, Sandman harkens back to a time of adolescent pining. The album is refreshingly unfettered, and charming in its overtly nostalgic and syrupy depiction of romance. The lyrics wax poetic but remain accessible, walking that tender line between self-indulgence and mass relatability. The concept album features protagonist Johnny, his true love Emma, Melanie (the girl he sleeps with to take his mind off of his beloved), and the Original Doo-Wop Spacemen, Johnny’s fictional band. Looming large above them all is the antagonist of this album, the Sandman. He’s a notorious figure, haunting Johnny’s dreams and plaguing the hopeful beginnings of every new relationship. The Sandman serves as a thinly-veiled reminder of the impetus behind this album — coming-of-age, lust, longing, and heartache.
At moments, the hip-swaying, anthemic potential of songs such as “Doghouse” present the group as a classic rock’n’roll band. Later, on tracks like “That’s Not Me,” you can almost see Taylor performing onstage on prom night, desperately crooning and serenading the lovesick. Even still, on “The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen,” as Taylor’s warbled vocals dove-tail with the harmonies of his bandmates, they sound like a pinstriped and bow-tied barbershop quartet. The album is moody and introspective one moment, capturing the melodrama of adolescence with precision, then alive with throbbing guitar riffs and peppy drums the next. Sandman crafts a world that’s hard to resist falling in love with; blame it on the too-sweet-to-resist romantic language and the fact that the album is an endearing, sonic misfit. Its laundry list of midcentury influences runs on for ages; there’s a lot of Elvis and Buddy Holly, some James Dean-esque brooding, and a little of The Beach Boys’ breeziness. It’s clear that so many legendary acts have inspired this work, but Trudy and the Romance infuse Sandman with their own rose-colored nostalgia and brash instrumentation to make their album less of a carbon copy of their influences and more of a wholly intriguing love letter to an era, and perhaps a state of being, gone by. While Sandman debuted in 2019, a Deluxe Version boasting four live tracks and recorded midpandemic at Liverpool’s hallowed Parr Street Studios was released earlier this year. In a sit-down with Penny, frontman Olly Taylor discussed the re-release of Trudy and the Romance’s debut album, his musical influences, and TikTok. Hey Olly! Did you have tour plans for 2020 or 2021 that got pushed back because of the pandemic? Olly Taylor: No, but we would’ve probably gotten something in. I was writing [the next record], so I was going to be more focused on that, but I’m sure we would have done something. We didn’t have anything booked around March when everything got cancelled. I guess all plans just kind of went [astray] after that and everyone was a bit emo. It’s been really, really hard for a lot of those
musicians to have support and then they all just got cancelled and stuff. I can’t even [imagine], especially if they’ve just had a release. Hopefully, they’ll get to come full force now; they’ll probably have another album ready as well [when the pandemic ends], so they’ll just be on fire. I hope so! Even for me, it’s been tough as someone who was enjoying going to gigs a lot. I can only imagine what it’s been like, like you said, for folks who are reliant on live music for income or were dependent on a tour cycle to promote a new album. I know we’ve had a couple of venues in the Boston area that have had to close because they struggled without their usual cycle of bands coming in and out. It’s been tough to watch. OT: They’ve not been looked after, and they’ve just been out of business? Yeah, that’s what’s happened. They haven’t really been able to use the venue spaces for anything since last March, so some of the really small indie venues have gone under. It is really sad because without them, you’re left with huge, 20,000-capacity arenas and those don’t always offer the same atmosphere to see a show in. OT: That’s really all the heritage places. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a strange one, isn’t it? I guess places like that were struggling anyway. It’s almost, like, just hitting fast-forward on it, but they would have had a lot more time [if not for the pandemic]. I don’t know, it’s different trends, isn’t it? It’s just a tragedy, really. Those are the sort of venues we’ll play when we go around the country. We’ll play those sort of one hundred-capacity venues. It’s great when
you get to play the ones that have actually got heritage; they’ll have in-house sound guys, and the owners really care about stuff. I don’t know, it’s not good at all [that they’re closing]. I feel like there really isn’t a positive way to sum it up. Fingers crossed that by the end of the year, maybe early next year, things will move in a better direction. Do you mind if I ask a couple of questions about Sandman? OT: Not at all! What was the rationale behind re-releasing Sandman now? OT: I think we just wanted to give it another life, really, before the next record. I think the idea was to record some sessions that didn’t sound as low-fi as the album. I feel like the direction [on the next record] is going to be maybe even more poppy. It was also just to help it sort of circulate a little bit more for when we start releasing again, to, hopefully, throw in a new audience, or just keep fresh in people’s minds, I guess. I get that! On a related note, I was reading through comments on the band’s YouTube page and apparently you guys have some songs on TikTok, so hopefully that’ll boost the record a bit more. OT: Is that true? I guess so! I was reading YouTube comments and there were a handful of them that said, “I found this through TikTok!” or “Thank you to TikTok for showing me this song!,” so apparently your music has made it onto the platform! OT: I wonder what [song] that is. That’s crazy. I’ve
got a friend who’s actually just made a TikTok account. He’s actually in the band. He’s a little bit late to the TikTok party, but he’ll be able to search it. Yeah, it’s wild. We’re at a moment in time where if you can crack into the TikTok algorithm, you can crack into the music industry. OT: I guess there’s nothing we can really do about it. That’s good, though, to get people over to YouTube. I’m glad it’s going down on TikTok, that’s great. I don’t even know what TikTok really is. Strange, isn’t it? I guess it’s the first platform [that] has really been focused on music. Instagram or Snapchat or whatever never really had that music focus. No, not really, that’s true. I think I probably need to be four or five years younger to really understand TikTok, but it’s fun to watch for sure. Beyond that, I’m wondering what the process of re-releasing an album looks like during COVID-19. Were you able to get together as a band or was that something you had to do remotely? OT: Well, there was actually a way to get back together around [last] summertime and that’s when we filmed the session, but we did that quite quickly. We did two tracks off the album and we did play some others, as well “[Is There A Place I Can Go” from the 2017 Junkyard Jazz EP, and an unreleased track, “Wings In the Wind”]. That’s all we had to do really, to get together, but I guess it was quite a remote thing, that’s why it was in the live setting. Little things like that can good to do. I mean, obviously, I’m really looking make a really big difference, from it sounding forward to putting out new stuff, and maybe that’s a lot punkier or distorted or reverb. We’re the problem, as well; in lockdown, there’s too just moving a bit more, I guess, in the singermuch time for revisiting and scrapping stuff, songwriter direction. I feel like friends and family but it’s a good thing, also. I mean, if there was seem to really enjoy it, maybe [those] who might no lockdown, the [new] album would have not have even enjoyed the tracks before [will too]. been finished, but now, it’s so different. I think it was a good gateway. It was tough to do four It just makes you really wonder why you tracks in one day, but I’m pretty chuffed. It’s a good liked the first version so much. cheap thing to do for anyone. It sounds like an interesting I think it’s funny that you talk about giving family and experience to be able to revisit friends that didn’t necessarily get into the tracks the tracks like that. It must be neat for first time a second chance to look at them. That makes me you as an artist to have a chance wonder about your music holistically, especially when we’re to rework things and change your talking about specific genres and influences. Nobody is really mind and doing Doo-Wop anymore. Nobody is doing “’50s mutant pop;” do them over. that’s very much a self-made genre. I wonder, what was the intention behind bringing that era back and those influences into OT: Yeah, it’s a bit of the 21st century? a stepping stone for restructuring the sound of OT: Well, I think, I really do like it. Naturally, I started writing in that the band, as well. We just 6-6-8-6-8 sort of time signature, which is the old Doo-Wop thing. On sort of softened up a the album, there’s like five tracks in that time signature. I mean, a lot of little bit and started to people do use it, but I think the thing is, I wasn’t [before Sandman]. I was use acoustic guitars never really a lyricist, so I think I just decided to find an identity through
that sort of ’50s chatter. It was just the easiest thing to do because I like the films. I like the music there, so I just [started to] use that sort of, I don’t know, “bubblegum ice cream” language and did simple love songs through that. I wanted the album to be a concept album, so it went a little bit deeper than that, and you have this story. I think I was basically just clutching an identity, which came really naturally. But, yeah, I’m moving away from that a little bit now. I’m trying to have kind of like an “American country” lingo. I’m still always working in genres. I think it’s like the way Quentin Tarantino would make a film and it’d be based on all the films he loves and stuff. I think it’s a similar thing with the music. I was just wanting to write those perfect versions of those Doo-Wop songs. While we’re on the subject of figures and inspirations on your concept album, there are so many characters and places that listeners are introduced to throughout it. You list them by name on the tracks. Are these characters and places in any way autobiographical? If not, what was the source of inspiration behind them? OT: Well, yeah, it is kind of based on my truth in a way. It was just good fun. The Spacemen [are] just based on the band when we were really trying to get together and stuff. The Blue World is just that old town, your hometown. The New World’s just the new anything that gets you away from that old place, and then, within that experience, you’ve got the dreams and the daydreams that you have. That’s where the Sandman character comes in and he’s this thing that stuck around from all your relationships; maybe I made it too obvious on the record or maybe I didn’t, I don’t know. I had a lot of love songs and coming-of-age songs. I just wanted to wrap them all together, you know, for an album. So, there’s a little bit of a storyline, then the second half jumps a bit more into [the] dream world.
But it was [inspired by] this obsession with debut albums. You know, Vampire Weekend has a concept album about vampires taking over on college campuses. I imagine The Strokes’ first album is probably a bit concept-y, too. I just really wanted to make a coming-of-age sort of album. I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t be able to make that album anymore; you really cannot make that when you’re not coming of age. I think, in the future, in terms of concepts, I’d like to get more conceptual on individual tracks and try to get deeper stories in. Hopefully, just doing that in itself, when you pull an album together, it’ll be, you know…if [the record’s] by the same voice, it’ll have its own concept of what’s happening at that time, anyway. So, do you think you would ever do another concept album again? Or do you think you would just micro-focus on concepts or themes in individual tracks, like you mentioned? I’m curious how big of an undertaking a full concept album is. OT: It’s always really tempting [to do another concept album]. Like I said, I’ve never really thought of myself as much of a lyricist, so I don’t mind playing around. I think, maybe, if I could just get enough story and narrative in on individual songs, hopefully, whatever is going on there will reflect what’s happening in my life and
that will be the concept in itself. I like to picture that kind of atmosphere and those sorts of characters being carried [through] the whole album. Hopefully, in a way, that will be a constant. In thinking a little more about your concept album, on Sandman there’s this idea of escape, of outrunning the Blue World and moving onto something on the other side. Do you find that making music in itself is a form of escapism or an outlet for release for you? OT: I think you summed that up really well. But, yeah, with the new stuff, I’ve still got that theme of escaping and trying to accomplish something and build something and be something, big or small. It’s quite philosophical. I think in general, what I’m trying to do at the minute is establish who I am and, hopefully, have the music follow. Naturally, I think a lot of musicians have that sort of “woe is me” approach to things. The thing is, I remember a Neil Young quote where he says something like, “As soon as you start worrying about anyone else, you’re ruined.” You’ve got to be really self-involved, not completely in your own life, but so self-involved that you get to a point that’s pretty universal, I guess. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to be like that in relationships with people, but in what you may be singing about. It’s maybe not such a bad thing to really focus on how you feel and how you sing songs. Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you feel is important to mention about Trudy and the Romance or Sandman? OT: We just really want to get over to the States, I think is what the main thing is. We really want to start touring and getting around. I just hope that our stuff has got the thing that Americans want. I think it seems to have done that already; Americans like it more than our own citizens like it and I’m really happy about that, you know. I love a lot of American bands. We’re just really looking forward to putting out the next [record] and hoping that it gives an avenue for us to start jumping from city to city. Make sure to keep up with Trudy and the Romance on their socials and check out Sandman (Deluxe Edition) now.
An Interview with
Mar s h all
r e m m i Z S a y h r a B n e t t i r W
I spoke with multi-instrumentalist and producer Marshall Vore via a Zoom call after he spent a long day in the studio, and listening back on our conversation was just as engaging as it was when we were having it — his honesty and insightfulness is matched only by his work in music. Vore is probably best known as a co-writer and drummer for Phoebe Bridgers, and while he credits his work on Stranger in the Alps (2017) and Punisher (2020) as formative to him as a producer, engineer, or writer, his individual artistry, ideas, and persona stand strong in their own right. “I didn’t go to school for recording; I went to a music program for drums for a year and half and dropped out,” said Vore as we kicked off our call. “Watching Phoebe’s album get made, both her and I learned how records were made through that process. Nowadays, I find myself asking more people, ‘How did you get this sound? How did you record it?’” Of course, I had to then ask him if there were any production easter eggs on Punisher. “God there are so many,” he laughed. “Tony and Ethan [Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska co-produced both of Phoebe’s records] are recording engineers, but they are really sound designers. They mic’d the piano normally, and took headphones — which they were doing a lot at the time — and I didn’t know this, but headphones are really just micro- phones in reverse.” I didn’t know this either. We took a moment to marvel at that.
“I think a lot of people associate their self-worth and identity and career — big mistake, I learned.” “‘Do I really love drums?’ I like playing drums, but I
was really playing drums to just be a part of music, and that was a hard thing to realize of this whole thing I based my identity around.” Vore, now 34, remarks that he has a different relationship with the instrument these days. He doesn’t really practiceplaying drumsunless there’s a gig, but he says that playing is fun and he’d like to keep it that way, a continued sentiment that I noticed throughout our conversation. Vore co-wrote many beloved Bridgers songs (such as “Scott Street,” “Smoke Signals,” “ICU,” and “Garden Song”) and has provided vocals on her recorded tracks and live shows, making him an important part of her discography, from start to finish as a close collaborator and friend. During our chat, I additionally mentioned that I took bass lessions with his bandmate, Emily Retsas, to which he remarked with a giggle, “I love Emily. She got me a super nice candle for my birthday. Phoebe’s birthday gift to me has been in the mail for, like 6 months.”
I think a lot of people associate their self-worth and identity and career - big mistake.
“So, we recorded the piano through the headphones running through an amp, and [it made] this weird, filtery, strange sound for the keys on the song ‘Punisher’ — it had this cool vibrato. And then, we duplicated the track and pitched it up,” he continued. On the process of recording drums for Punisher, Vore explained that playing drums on Phoebe’s records is a specific task, but that he has a knack for making drum parts that keep her slower, sadder songs incredibly interesting, in addition to highlighting the emotional center of each track, while also staying out of its way. “I don’t need to play drums all over [a] song,” he said. “I play them the way I want to hear them as a fan of the music and the song, not as the drummer.” Speaking on his trajectory as a drummer, he explained that he initially wanted to be a session drummer, but he “had no music success whatsoever by [his] mid-twenties.” “At the time, I was grappling with who I was, if [I wasn’t] a musician for my job,” he recalled.
Apart from his work with Bridhers and as a session/touring drummer, Vore has a catalogue spanning from co-writing, engineering, production, mixing, mastering, and anything else under the sun you can think of. I’d recommend checking out his work on Charlie Hickey’s EP Count the Stairs (he’ll be working on his LP this summer), as well as Christian Lee Hutson’s LP Beginners. Despite his work on highly anticipated albums such as Punisher, and the massive amount of time he spends in his home studio, Vore says he’s happiest just sitting at a piano and writing, noting that he tries to write or co-write everyday. “I have this childish wonder when you discover something that you like. I feel like a 12-year-old,” he said. “I can’t really play but, when I sit down, I’m like, ‘God, this is so cool.’ I love writing the most, yet I fucking hate writing, [too] — I feel like people who write in any capacity probably feel the same. Writing isn’t about talent as much as being a really good curator of ideas and allowing yourself to look at the bad shit, but there might be one cool idea in there.
What it takes to make something really valuable is stepping away from it; if you can do that, you can write songs that are valuable and effective. Someone somewhere will feel something from it.” He continued, “Great songwriters and great musicians, in general, are very important, but not one songwriter is going to change the world. I think we're all just students, just searching around on instruments trying to find something compelling. Sometimes, people hit that by accident.” Perhaps one example of “hitting that by accident” is Vore’s project with his girlfriend Ruby, which is only available to stream on SoundCloud — continuing to highlight his ability as a songwriter. The pair wrote the collection of songs in their living room and recorded it over 1-2 days with the extra time they had at the beginning of lockdown last year. Personally, it was one of my favorite quarantine projects, chock full of raw emotion and billowing synths, mixed with Midwest emo and the sentiment of a couple deeply in love. Vore recalled that he wasn’t sure if they were going to release it at first, but is really proud of how it turned out: “The thing I think people forget in music is it is fun; there are no rules. I think it's really important to not take it so damn seriously,” he emphasized. This was perhaps the first time I heard that reminder in a while. “The thing I think people forget in music is it is fun; there are no rules. I think it's really important to not take it so damn seriously.” Continuing, Vore said that his musical journey is a moving target, and he also loves producing. At the time we spoke in March, he was finishing up a record: “This is probably the first record I’m making right now where I feel kind of competent. All the other stuff I’ve done, [I] was really learning and I didn’t achieve what I wanted in my head, and now, I'm kind of surprising myself. It feels really good but I’m trying really hard to not get my self worth wrapped up in it.” Throughout our conversation, Vore often caught himself trying not to attach his worth to his work, and said he does feel the pressure of what’s expected of him, especially with this recent project in mind. “Whether I'm cowriting, or whether I'm producing, people expect the quality of what I did with Phoebe. She set a very high bar for that,” he explained. “The album I’m involved in now is the artist’s debut LP — they were signed and there’s an album budget, and there’s one month to make it. If I push play at the end of the process and stuff sucks, it all points at me. But, at the same time, none of that really bothers me. People want this big plan and a concept of what they want their album to sound like, and I'm kind of the opposite. No matter if you have a plan or not, you do something and it sucks, but then you try something else and go ‘Woah, that’s cool.” 38
So, it’s basically [just] showing up everyday and going ‘Woah,’ and being honest with them until I get out of them what I know they can do to make the best version of the song. That seems to add up well, but time and scheduling can get really fucked up. I’m booked until June with performances and cowriting. If I don’t finish in the next, like, seven days, I can’t do anything else until June. I’m feeling a bit stressed, but when I do, I just go into problem-solving mode. ”
What it takes to make something really valuable is stepping away from it; if you can do that, you can write songs that are valuable and effective. Someone somewhere will feel something from it. Regarding his current project, I asked Vore how his experience recording with an artist he doesn’t know well compared to his experiences collaborating with someone familiar like Phoebe. “Certain social cues are really difficult for me,” he began. “There are times where I'm like, ‘I didn't really recognize that social cue.’ I’m, maybe for the first time, working with someone I never met, and have to do this whole process, [so it’s like] ‘what if it's very difficult?’ The difference is you have to spend time developing a relationship of some kind, and hopefully a trusting one, trying to figure out what are this person’s needs and not spending time on things they don’t care about or being blasé about things they really care about. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence. I try to make it a safe space to sing badly, to show bad ideas. I’m not judging. Once people spend time with me, I think they see ‘he really means that’ and I am genuine, and then we can get to really working and experimenting. “The role of the producer has changed a lot,” he continued. ‘When I was a kid, there was more money in music, but people mostly only did one thing — [they] just engineered, or just wrote songs — and the producer was really just directing. People would take 6 months to a year to make an album, and that has changed. People come to me and they are like, ‘We want you to co-write on everything, change the songs to make them as good as they can be, be an amazing engineer, play on the album, and produce it for as close to free as possible.’ You always feel inadequate, but that’s normal — everyone feels inadequate.” Related to the pressure he feels in the studio, I asked Vore to give his thoughts on the expectations of artists on social media, as Internet activism and engagement only grows by the day.
“People overvalue artists in the wrong ways. They associate the person with the way they feel when listening to a song, and prop artists up too much as people and make them into demigod,” said Vore. “When you witness that, and you see your friends and family give attention to you when you do something really great, you feel like you need to do [what pleases them] all the time. You get paranoid, get insecure, and it can result in a lot of bad behavior and self doubt. Of course nobody can do that. Social media has gotten rid of gatekeepers — it’s changed the world — but algorithms push content to keep people's attention, and the Internet has radicalized people to the point it terrifies me. You have to remember that social media companies want attention. People engage more when they are enraged and depressed; they want you to be enraged and depressed. That’s not a conspiracy, it’s not hyperbolic, it’s true.”
really drink, but other people do. You can’t really leave the house without seeing people drinking. Now, it’s not hard, but I am left with an immense amount of anxiety which is a problem when I’m working; it can be hard to focus. I don’t really have cravings now. I mean, yeah, I was just drinking when it was, like, not an appropriate place to drink; I couldn’t do it and would run across the street to drink at a bar and come back. It was out of my control. I’m glad I did [get sober]. If anyone else is reading this [and] questioning if it’s possible, if it's difficult, it doesn't stay that way. It doesn't go away, but it gets manageable. If you’re even asking yourself the question, that’s a sign something might be up.”
“Recently, I'm trying to engage less with the the Internet and engage more with people,” he expressed. So, whereas I may have been posting more a year ago, I’m doing more stuff like this with you where I’m having more conversations with people.
Before we ended our call, he gave me some fast facts about himself, including the tidbit that he used to work at a Guitar Center and two different Whole Foods. Finally, he offered another piece of insight: “Everyone should make music and not care or consider it a validator for your existence. More people need to make music for fun. Like learning piano - pick up an instrument and write a song. Like Daniel Johnston wasn’t particularly good at singing or piano, but his songs were amazing. People need to hear that.”
It’s better for my mental health. We don’t need more of my voice. It’s why I never made my own solo music because do we really need another sad guy with an acoustic guitar? Probably not. I have the resources and connections to help other people, and lift up other voices. That’s fulfilling enough, and I hope I can continue doing that.” Vore seems to have found himself content in how he is spending his time currently, a sentiment, I think, that should not be understated. As a contrast, I then asked Vore about his past — he says he wasn’t always so aware of his relationship to himself, music, or others. He grew up extremely poor and partially homeless in Idaho, and once he got to LA, he couch-surfed for a while. He also noted that he has struggled with his relationship to alcohol and has been sober for a year and half. We celebrated that for a moment. “Alcohol was my problem,” he explained. “It made me impulsive in a way that made me really uncomfortable. I think a lot of people use
This is another poignant piece of advice from Vore, right alongside the advice to have fun with your music, and to not attach your self-worth or identity to your work.
With COVID considered, Vore said he’s trying to make a living by recording artists. Like many of us, he says he needs money to continue doing what he loves, sustainably and without stress. He proclaims, relatably, that he “doesn’t love to worry” and he just loves playing music live. Additionally, he doesn’t really want to add any more touring (besides his gig with Phoebe) to his list either: “I want to stay home more, maybe get a new cat, and spend time with my friends, and talk to family,” he explains. Before signing off, he added one more thing: “Having more than a billion dollars should be illegal.” Keep up to date with Marshall Vore via his socials (iG and Twitter: @marshall_vore) and check him out on SoundCloud.
The thing I think people forget in music is it is fun; there are no rules. I think it's really important to not take it so damn seriously. alcohol to justify bad behavior, but yeah, I was very genuinely different. That’s why I got sober.” “Touring and playing was difficult at first,” he continued. “Luckily touring with Phoebe, she doesn’t
St. Terrible: An Interview with Zachary Herbert “Small, wonderful little things.” St. Terrible are a freak folk/experimental folk band based in Boise, Idaho. Ever-changing in style, members, and scale, the band’s one constant is Zachary Herbert, lead lyricist, vocalist, and frontman. The first song I remember hearing from the band is “The Youth and Cannibalism,” a bouncing folk song about an interesting relationship. The song is far from the band's most experimental work, but it displays Herbert’s artful storytelling that really utilizes the conventions of the folk genre. After hearing this first song, I listened to the rest of their album, looked for live performances, listened to everything else I could find, and then, listened again. While the band's sound often changes between albums and even individual performances, their music never feels unfamiliar — St. Terrible are distinctive and recognisable. From the live performances to videos of Herbert playing banjo and singing in a swamp, to their flawlessly produced albums, their songwriting shines through and makes it unmistakable who you’re listening to. About two years after I came across them and almost three years after their last release, St. Terrible released a new EP called An Endless Fiction (on January 16), alongside an accompanying short film. Utilizing drone synths, saxophone, piano, and several other instruments, the band creates their most experimental sound throughout this record and pairs such with their most ambitious visual display yet. A few months following the arrival of An Endless Fiction, Herbert and I discussed the makings of and inspirations behind St. Terrible, this release, and more, via email. How would you describe St. Terrible to new listeners and what songs would you recommend to get people interested? Zachary Herbert: I figured I'd keep it simple and give you the basic bio that I use for festivals: "St. Terrible is an Idaho-based music [project] created by Zach Herbert. The project incorporates a multidisciplinary approach (ie film, dance, storytelling, theatre, etcetera) into a wide-range of musical genres to create philosophically-charged experiences that range from the bizarre to the beautiful." As far as what songs I recommend starting with, if they like folk: “The Youth and Cannibalism” or “Nothingness vs. the Optimistic Spirit.” If they like more experimental Indie: “Emptiness Pt. II & III.”
Could you tell us where your musical journey began? What was your first instrument, when did you decide that you wanted to make your own music?
By Skylar O’Kane Photography by Karlie Jeneson ZH: While my journey technically began with my playing the trumpet in middle school, and later progressed to my beginning to write songs in highschool with my longtime friend and current collaborator Sean Dahlman (during which time we played in a band called Toast), the path I'm currently on as a musician didn't begin to take shape until late 2011. I was 20-years-old, had recently moved to Phoenix, AZ, and had lost a friend and fellow artist. Born out of grief, I took my guitar and spent many of my evenings playing on the sidewalks of the city. I'd improvise songs for hours. I'd come home with barely any voice left or having broken all the strings on my guitar, but then I'd head out again the next night. I was looking for a way to mourn and a way to escape the boredom and misery of that city, so music became an act of necessity. I wanted some way to keep in contact with that person I'd lost and was desperately looking for the forms of expression that allowed me to most immediately do so. Through that process, I discovered a very different approach to music and art, one that felt far more authentic than anything I'd made up to that point. It felt like that music was holding the space that they'd left behind after their passing, and later, like it was a tool for making sense of it. So, I understand that the band has grown over the years. Did that change how you wrote music? ZH: It initially grew because I started writing music that required a larger ensemble, especially during the Gospel of Nothingness shows, which were these large-scale immersive shows that included not only a huge band, but dancers, performers, and stagehands. It fluctuated a lot over the years in size, just depending on what the current project requires. I usually let the projects dictate what the size of the band will be. That being said, there has been a consistent core group of musical collaborators over the past 3 or 4 years and their contributions almost always change the final approach to writing.
You mentioned the dancers at your live shows, and obviously your recent project An Endless Fiction was accompanied by an amazing video. Did you always want St. Terrible to be a visual and multidisciplinary project or was that something you began thinking about as it went on? ZH: It grew into that, though that kind of multidisciplinary approach was always living in my mind. I had this world of ideas that were growing and growing, but I kept thinking I'd have to wait until I was older and had the time, experience, resources etcetera to turn them into anything. But I ended up sharing my ideas with my dear friend Brenna and she told me I had to make it. She really pushed me to start doing these ambitious multidisciplinary projects, and with her help, we made the Gospel of Nothingness shows. After that, St. Terrible has become more and more expansive in what approaches it takes and what mediums it uses. It's less of a band/strictly music these days, and more and more of a platform to make a very certain kind of world visible. I think as I become more ambitious in what I want to do with art, it has to spill out beyond just music. I briefly mentioned your latest EP, An Endless Fiction — could you tell us about that? ZH: The project can be found in two different forms: the four-song EP and the eleven-minute short film. The film attempts to recognize, if not deal with, aspects of trauma and mental illness. I drew mostly from my own experiences with the aforementioned themes and from my chronic night terrors. The whole film was a community effort of sorts — almost everyone who'd been involved in a St. Terrible project up to that point was involved in some way, and it was just a lot of friends stopping by and donating their time. Some would just stop by for a few hours to help us build props or decorate the house; others came over to be in the cast or cook. It was wonderful. I co-directed with my close friend Meredith Richardson, who really could be said to have set the film into motion in the first place. The initial shoot lasted two nights. Our neighbour thought we were having some strange party (I can only imagine). The whole scene from the outside was absolutely bizarre, the whole house lit up like it was going to take off, people passing by the windows in red sheets. It was, at times, a hilarious process, and others, fairly intense and exhausting. We shot the bulk of it in 3 days, and the rest, Cody Gittings [cinematographer] and I shot over the following months.
The EP, most which can be heard in the film, was a labour. It went on and on, and never felt finished. The fact it only came out as 4 songs felt almost like an insult at the time, but a work has to be what is necessary and nothing more, so I'm getting over it. It was a difficult project, start to finish, for me at least. I can't speak for Sean, Aaron, or Ashton [the other members/collaborators]. It was a bit like reopening a wound over and over. It took Aaron telling me to "stop trying to put a hat on a hat" for me to just call it done. It seems to be, on the surface, our most experimental project thus far. Where past projects have turned to guitar and heavy percussion parts, this project relies far more on drones, ambient synth, and minimalism. We did our best to make it lush. It's themes aren't all that different from our last EP (of which it is the accompanying movement). Both pieces deal with fear and doubt, both on an existential and personal level, and the suffering that can arise from such doubt. I think An Endless Fiction lives in a space between beauty and terror. Hopefully, we did our job and left enough room for listeners and viewers to inject as much of their own meaning as possible. Both the film and EP are small for a reason. They're supposed to be this beautiful and terrifying moment. And then they're done. Something small but hopefully potent. I love works like that: small, wonderful things. You released this EP at a time when live shows aren’t really possible. Do you have any ideas about how your live show will be different once live music comes back and you get to perform these new songs live? ZH: I wish I had a clear answer, but right now, we're trying to figure that out ourselves. We've been talking and sharing ideas but haven't come to anything definitive yet. It does look very likely that we'll be doing some shows this summer, though. While we wait to hear about what the future might hold for St. Terrible, visit any of your favorite streaming platforms to check out their discography, from the painful “GONE” to the strangely catchy “Dirty Talking with the Spirits.”
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Issue 1.2 ft. Goat Girl is