INTRODUCING INTERVIEW: x/o

A creative polymath with a curious mind, Vietnamese-Canadian producer, vocalist and filmmaker x/o creates cinematic electronic soundscapes exploring the revelations and challenges that come with undergoing a personal metamorphosis. Their debut album, Chaos Butterfly, is an altruistic journey towards self-acceptance, full of eclectic beats, urgent vocals and a myriad of synthetic sounds. We caught up with x/o to talk about their new record, what inspired the sound of Chaos Butterfly, and the importance of duality within their work…

 

What are your earliest memories of making music? Can you remember who or what inspired you to start creating your own sounds?

When I was little, my family introduced me to karaoke and Vietnamese variety shows like Paris by Night and I was obsessed. I remember telling my mom I wanted to either be a singer on Paris by Night or a computer programmer. It’s funny how producing electronic music in the present day still makes sense to my childhood dreams. But strangely enough, as obsessed with music as I was, I never did take any music/band classes in school.

It wasn’t till I was 19 or so, that I heard you could make music on garage band and was curious about playing with the software. I had to get my first laptop for school, so ended up getting a basic MacBook and tinkered from there. I tend to have a lot of DIY energy when it comes to learning new software and I had previously taught myself how to use photoshop. The inspiration came from the accessibility of instruments and tools in the software that I didn’t have prior. The idea of limitless possibilities was very exciting to me.

It’s nice to hear that you’re living some of your childhood dreams through music!

You’ve recently released your debut album Chaos Butterfly. It’s loosely based around the narrative of “an anti-hero navigating trauma…a vengeful spirit who finds true strength in inner healing and forgiveness.” Can you elaborate on this concept? How did you translate this narrative into the music for the record?

Chaos Butterfly is the parallel sequel to my previous EP, Cocoon Egg. Parallel in the sense that both works deal with healing over adversity, and a sequel in the sense that the butterfly is the evolved form. But the narrative came from wanting to portray duality in contrast with the previous EP. I often play with different visual and sonic elements – soft/hard, masculine/feminine, light/dark, external/internal, etc. – and experiment with the loose narrative from there.

When I work on an album or EP, I love the idea of it being a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Meant to be listened to from front to back, the narrative is translated through the emotional journey in each passing track with the song titles as additional hints for your imagination.

Your music is very cinematic. I know you’ve also described Chaos Butterfly as “a journey of self-acceptance and reflection…towards your non-binary identity.” Was creating the album an empowering process because of this?

Because I wrote this over five years, the process was one that grew as I grew. When I began I was still figuring it out myself and questioning a lot of things, but with time it was like a slow building of confidence and self-acceptance that led me to find this empowerment through music to be comfortable in my own skin in my own way.

With the project x/o, it had been a safe haven for me to express and explore gender in this way long before I had the actual words to articulate what it meant to me. It took a long time to have the courage to talk about my gender fluidity. So in many ways, the evolution of the project really is a transformative butterfly experience for me.

What would you say are you most proud of about this record? Do you have a favourite track?

‘Hea11ng Ca11’ is one of my favourite tracks. It’s the ending of the album and there’s a wave of relief that washes over you after having listened to the intensity of the journey prior. It’s also parallel to the ending of Cocoon Egg’s ‘love and reb1111rth’ – a hopeful path towards healing and growth.

I’m really proud to have pushed my skill sets to the limit and to have challenged myself a lot during this project. It was important to me to produce, record, and mix the project myself but also explore other avenues like screenwriting, film and art direction for the project. For instance, writing and directing for music video/short film ‘Red Alert’, the animated visualizer series ‘Chrysalis Wrath’ and ‘Initiation Relic’. I’m excited to share more visual world-building explorations very soon.

Speaking about visuals, can you talk us through the concepts behind your beautiful videos for singles ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Chrysalis Wrath’?

As duality is a key theme in my work, ‘Red Alert’ was a great opportunity for me to explore these themes in a visual context. In the music video/short film, the lead character is fearfully confronted by numerous red signs. This eventually consumes them as they become the colour red itself. There’s an interesting dynamic between white vs red selves being safe vs dangerous/angel vs devil, the different levels of subconscious, and instinct/intuition at play. I worked with a small talented film crew to make it happen.

For ‘Chrysalis Wrath’, for a long time now I have been interested in both feminine and masculine tropes in my practice as another extension of duality, and in particular subverting seemingly “feminine iconography” like eggs and butterflies in a way that gives it a more “masculine” energy. I worked with fantasy illustrator NicoSaba to make these ideas come to life.

Do you have any plans to perform your new album live this year?

Yes, I just had the opportunity to perform with Brussels collectives He4rtbroken and Slagwerk at Listen Festival, and I am planning to perform a number of dates in Europe where I will be based for the next few months.

That’s exciting! Finally, as we’re a new music blog, we always ask artists to recommend a band or another artist that they’ve been listening to. Can you recommend someone to us?

Definitely check out artist Bela. They are an incredible electronic artist from South Korea and their EP Guidelines released on Editions Apparent is full of powerfully refreshing takes on experimental music informed by Korean folk music.

Thanks to x/o for chatting with us!

Follow x/o on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter & Instagram

Listen to/buy Chaos Butterfly here

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

Introducing Interview: Bestfriend

Following last year’s debut EP, places i’ve lived, LGBTQ Vancouver/Toronto based bedroom-pop duo Bestfriend have now announced the release of their upcoming new EP, due out in the summer. Ahead of the EP, they have now shared an utterly dreamy new offering. Reflecting on the optimistic feelings of a new crush, ‘Someplace Else’ oozes a lush, ethereal soundscape as sugar-sweet harmonies flow with a shimmering, uplifting energy.

We caught up with Stacy and Kaelan to find out more…

Hi Bestfriend! Welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Stacy: A tough one right off the bat! I should format this one like a tinder bio. Stacy, 6’11 (if that matters). 
Kaelan: Kaelan, I have no bio but my anthem is set as a song from the ’90s so you know I’m really cool.

Are you able to tell us a bit about how you initially started creating music together?
S: Instagram DMs. I love the internet.
K: One of those “I follow you because I’m good friends with your good friend but we’ve never met” kind of situations for like five years before that. Funny.

I love your dreamy electro-pop sounds, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
S: Thank you! I have a lot of songwriting influences and a lot of production influences, which I suppose is actually the point of this question you’ve asked here- lots of songwriters I love are generally really quiet, sad, indie singer-songwriters: Julia Jacklin, Big Thief, The National, to name a few. Production-wise, Kaelan and I have the exact same inspo artists, so I’ll let him take that one. 
K: We both listened to a whole lot of absolutely anything Justin Vernon did growing up. Quite the fella. 

You’ve just released your new single ‘Someplace Else’, taken from your upcoming EP, places i’ve left, which is set for release in the summer. Are you able to tell us a bit about the EP? Are there any particular themes running throughout it?
S: Yes! I’m so excited! places i’ve left is the sister EP for places i’ve lived, which we considered to be, like, a series of love letters to our past lives – college life, relationships, friendships, all of the places we used to live, et cetera. places i’ve left is going to close this era out for us, and is really going to be a series of songs that are forward-looking: What are we doing now? What are we dealing with now, good or bad? What are we, as people, but also as Bestfriend, going to do from here?

How have you found recording and promoting an EP during these strange times?
S: Love this question, because the answer is that it really hasn’t changed for us at all! We’ve been making music remotely since 2018, figuring out promotion and releases remotely. 

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? And do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and LGBTQ+ artists?
S: Oof, I definitely have a lot of feelings about this. New artists in general I think are turning what I think is one of the weirdest corners to have come around in a long time in the industry. We now have this chance for literally everyone and anyone to put their music out there and be heard. The only music I listened to in high school was music I learned about through word of mouth, one-off random shows I’d go to, the radio… Now, it’s just a matter of, like, going to Spotify/Apple Music/whatever DSP and literally typing in “new music”. So, on one hand – awesome, getting your music heard is less of a problem, but on the other, you’re really hard-pressed to find a way to stand out in a super saturated digital world of networking, business, “working the industry”, all that. And I think, personally speaking, it’s become a small percentage less about just the music, and a lot more about the Music Business. As for the treatment of female/LGBTQ+ artists, lots of feelings on this as well. It’s amazing that we’re now at a point where LGBTQ+ folks are openly singing about their experiences without the veiled pronouns layered within metaphors. It’s really freeing. It feels amazing. But I think it’d be remiss to not say that there’s still a long way to go. I’m finding that intersectionality in LGBTQ+ music is still insanely difficult to come by, and LGBTQ+ artists are still sort of being tokenized as LGBTQ+ artists, and not just… Musicians. Not to sound like a pessimist! Silver linings everywhere. Just lots of work to be done still.

You’re based in Vancouver and Toronto, how is the music scene there? Do you feel that the live music community there has recovered since the pandemic?
S: Vancouver, not really yet. Though I’ve definitely been seeing more and more shows happening, so I’m really excited for it to come back.
K: I could write essays about the Toronto indie rock scene of the late ’00s & early ’10s. Definitely don’t think the city has found its groove again post-pandemic but we’ll get there. Seasons for everything.

 As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
S: Hoodie Browns & The Neighbourhood Strangers – insanely cool group who have been playing lots of local shows here and I think have been working on some releases. Keep an eye out for them. I cannot stress enough how cool they are. 
K: I’ll actually just take the opportunity to hop on the back of what Stacy said and shout out a truly great live show I cannot wait to see again. Busty and the Bass – they’re a group of like 8-10 dudes that met while at school for music and just said “hey, let’s write the coolest like, electro soul adjacent music ever and put on shows with all the coolest instruments (which we of course all mastered at music school) and make everyone dance all night.”

In addition to the EP release, what does the rest of the year have in store for Bestfriend?
S: Live shows! Writing! A lot of fun stuff!

Massive thanks to Stacy and Kaelan for answering our questions!

places i’ve left, the upcoming new EP from Bestfriend, is set for release this summer.

Introducing Interview: King Hannah

Having been massive fans of Liverpool duo Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle – aka King Hannah – for a couple of years now, we’re extremely excited to hear about the release of their debut album, I’m Not Sorry I Was Just Being Me, later this month. And, with acclaim from the likes of The Guardian, Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan already under their belts, it seems as though this year is going to see big things for them.And, with their knack for creating a beautifully atmospheric musicality, paired with Merrick’s trademark rich, sultry vocals and a spellbinding, iridescent splendour, the album promises to be a truly compelling listen.

We caught up with Hannah and Craig to find out more about the album, what inspires them and what’s next… Have a read!

Hi King Hannah, welcome to Get Inn Her Ears! Are you able to tell us a bit about how you initially started creating music together?
Craig: We met when working in a bar together, but I had seen Hannah performing at a university band night a few years before and she had blown me away with how good she was. So, we quite quickly got to talking about music and got along really well, then eventually we would meet up before night shifts and play music together. It was a very slow, natural process for us – getting to know each other, figuring out what we liked in music and how we wanted to sound.

I’ve been a big fan of your exquisite, spellbinding sounds for some time, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Thank you so much! And thank you for being so supportive for so long, longer than anyone else! You were one of the first sites and radio shows to shout about ‘Creme Brulee’, back when we self-released it!! Our influences change a lot from month to month, but our biggest influences at the minute are artists like Bill Callahan, Mazzy Star, Courtney Barnett, PJ Harvey, Silver Jews… People who make honest, real music.

You’ve just announced the release of your debut album I’m Not Sorry I Was Just Being Me – which is so exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about it? Are there any particular themes running throughout the album?
Yeah, we are super excited! And nervous, but mostly excited. We wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered the record in about eight months, which is really quick for us. It was full on. There are no intentional themes; we didn’t set out to write about anything in particular, but there is a definite feeling of nostalgia and sentiment on the album, and quite a few of the songs tend to be about childhood and memories and the warmth that they bring to us.

Do you have a favourite track on the album? And if so, why?
C: I have a few! I’m really liking one called ‘Go-Kart Kid (HELL NO!)’ at the minute. I remember Hannah showing me this song on her acoustic and being blown away, I felt like I was right there with her during her childhood, her writing is so vivid and personal. I just love it. And then it also has this grungy, sludgy, 90s end that is really loud and aggressive. It has a bit of everything that we like in music.
Hannah: I’m big into that one too but also really like ‘The Moods That I Get In’ and ‘A Well-Made Woman’. When touring the UK last October, we experimented a little with a few of the songs live, ‘The Moods That I Get In’ being one of them and it completely grew into this body of work that no one expected. And I just love ‘A Well-Made Woman’ as it’s so dark and sounds like it’s from the 90s… well it does to me at least! Plus Craig’s guitar work is phenomenal, as always.

How have you found recording and promoting an album during these strange times?
Well, we have nothing to compare it to really! The recording process was probably helped by the fact the world wasn’t fully open – it gave us more time to devote to the writing and making of the album, and we used that as much as we could.

How is the music scene in Liverpool at the moment? Would you say live music has made a full recovery after the last couple of years?
We have weirdly never really felt a big part of the Liverpool music scene. We’ve always just quietly done our own thing, building towards this. I don’t think the music scene has fully recovered – some people are still rightly apprehensive about being in crowded spaces, and gigs can be cancelled at such short notice if cases rise or someone tests positive. We think that uncertainty and apprehension will be lingering for a long time over live music, unfortunately.

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
C: I don’t know what the cut-off for ‘new’ music is, but I’m in love with a band called Babehoven at the minute, and their album Nastavi, Calliope. I think they’re based in Portland, and they make this beautiful, lo-fi, intimate music. Their latest single ‘Fugazi’ is on repeat in my bedroom right now.
H: I’m absolutely shocking for discovering new artists… It’s something I really need to get better at!! When I ‘discover’ an artist, I later discover that they’ve been around since the ’90s!

In addition to the album release, what does the rest of the year have in store for King Hannah?
C: We have our first ever EU tour and our first ever US tour coming up! Which is so surreal, it still hasn’t sunk in that we will be playing in all these wonderful places.
H: Totally!! We often get asked how all of this feels, but honestly, it’s all happening so fast that we very rarely actually sit down and chat the whole thing through! It’s a whirlwind and we’re so incredibly grateful. Thank you so much for having us and again, for your continued support!! You guys are the best!!

Massive thanks to Hannah and Craig for answering our questions!

King Hannah’s debut album I’m Not Sorry I Was Just Being Me is out this Friday, 25th February via City Slang. And, for a taster, watch their latest video for spellbinding single ‘All Being Fine’ here:

Introducing Interview: Dyan Valdés

Having been involved in the music industry for twenty years, Berlin-based Cuban-American artist Dyan Valdés has played in esteemed bands such as The Blood Arm and Die Sterne, and has now released her first solo material. Taken from her upcoming debut solo album, ‘Fade Away’ offers an immersive shimmering soundscape; propelled by layers of synth and driving beats alongside Valdés’ luscious vocals, it’s a poignant, twinkling message of hope at a time when things can feel hopeless.

We caught up with Dyan to find out more…

Hi Dyan Valdés, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! Thanks for having me. I’m a music industry lifer – I got together with my first band, indie rockers The Blood Arm when we were at university in 2002. After releasing five albums and two EPs, touring the world and moving to Berlin together, we went on hiatus in 2017. The singer and I formed the synth punk trio Mexican Radio in 2017, and released another two albums under that name. The band hosted a radio show on KCRW Berlin for 2 years, in which I interviewed artists such as Stereo Total, Sleaford Mods, Ian Svenonius, Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, and many more. I’ve been playing with Hamburger Schule legends Die Sterne since 2012. ‘Fade Away’ is my debut single as a solo artist and Stand will be my first solo album.

How did you initially start creating music?
I never thought I would make my own solo music – I’ve always been a supporting player, co-writing the music and singing backing vocals. But, the pandemic changed things. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I was attacked by a strange man in broad daylight on the streets of Berlin. I recognised that my already precarious safety as a woman was even more threatened by pandemic circumstances. I arrived home, overwhelmed by my experience and by reports of increased domestic violence and the exploitation of female labour at the frontlines of the pandemic. I wrote and recorded the protest song ‘Stand’ that weekend – feeling that I needed to create something that would make me feel powerful again. This was the first time I had created a piece entirely on my own. After cancelled tours and rehearsals, I was alone in my home studio and could not fall back on my bandmates to provide a creative outlet. I stepped up and did it myself.

Throughout my music career, I have often been the only woman in the room. When I was attacked, I felt alienated and alone. I realised that on some level, I’ve felt the same way in the music industry for years – moving through spaces that are not designed to fit my body, protect my safety, or elevate my voice. What would our industry and our art look like if this model were flipped on its head? In order for the process of this album to line up with the sentiment, I employed women at every level of the project: production, artwork, video, photography, PR, styling, and marketing. 

We really love your recent single ‘Fade Away’ – can you tell us what it’s all about?
‘Fade Away’ is about looking around and saying to yourself “this isn’t good enough”, and dreaming that someday you’ll find yourself in a situation that is. I imagined this feeling of being locked in a house – either by someone else or by myself – and wanting the ceilings and walls to just disappear so that I could be free. The song is sad but hopeful – the “different day” hasn’t come yet, but I believe that it will. I dedicate the song to anyone who has ever felt trapped, marginalized or silenced. The song came to me extremely quickly – I wrote all of the lyrics, melodies and music and then recorded the basic tracks at home within about four hours from start to finish. I felt like the words and music just came through me from a place where they had already been written.

You’ve been compared to the likes of PJ Harvey and Bat For Lashes, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Probably my life-long biggest influence is David Bowie, who was never afraid to take big swings and explore all kinds of different directions. I thought about him a lot when making this record, just in terms of pushing myself to take risks. PJ Harvey is also a big influence, as is Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Peaches, Courtney Love and Tori Amos (obviously – I’m a keyboard player!) I was also very influenced by books that I was reading while writing this record. I’ve been a proud feminist my whole life, but while working on the album I really did a deep-dive into a lot of feminist writing. That helped me sharpen the messages that I wanted to deliver: who benefits from the oppression of and violence against women? How is capitalist society complicit? How am I complicit? I did a lot of self-examination on this record, and I hope that comes across.

What can fans expect from your live shows?
Since I’ve been playing in bands for nearly 20 years, I wanted to do something different with my solo show. Instead of hiding behind my keyboard, I’m challenging myself to be a real pop diva and sing and dance throughout the show. I have two backing dancers with me, and one of my producers Maya Postepski (who releases music under the name Princess Century and plays drums with Peaches), will be playing drums on stage. It will be a high-energy rousing pop spectacle!

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any new/upcoming bands or artists you’d recommend we check out?
Sadly, I usually discover new bands by happening upon them live, which hasn’t been possible in the last year and a half. However, when I was hosting the radio show, I had the pleasure of discovering a lot of new and exciting bands: Sweeping Promises, Big Joanie, Special Interest, Automatic and Surfbort were a few of my favourite discoveries.

And how do you feel the music industry is for new bands at the moment – would you say it’s difficult to get noticed?
When I started, my band The Blood Arm was part of the last generation of bands that really had the “get signed, get an advance, get label support for touring and PR” trajectory. It’s very different now – in some ways, you have more direct access to fans, but because everyone else does too, you have to find a way to stand out. I think the difference is now I’m not trying to get “label attention”, but rather to reach out directly to the fans. If new artists can manage to make a direct connection with people who like their music, that can be very powerful.

Finally, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for you?
Now that live music is opening up again, I’m touring a lot with my German band Die Sterne and doing some recording with them as well. Following ‘Fade Away’, I’ve just released a second single, ‘Be My Revolution’. There will be a third single (‘Irregular’) in January and the album Stand will come out in February. We are also choreographing and developing the live show, so it will be a busy time! But, after such a lull in the industry, I’m excited to get back on stage and even more excited to share my solo music with the world.

Massive thanks to Dyan for answering our questions!

Stand, the debut solo album from Dyan Valdés, is set for release on 11th February 2022 via R.I.P Ben Lee Records.