Described as a deeply personal coming-of-age record, New York-based musician Aerial East is preparing to release her poetic new album, Try Harder, on 12th February. Set to be released via Partisan Records, the LP tentatively explores East’s experiences of disconnection, loneliness, suicide, friendships, gender roles and breakups, whilst also embracing the simple beauty that life can unexpectedly bestow upon us.
We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Aerial East to ask about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have inspired her song-writing techniques. Check out her choices below and scroll down to watch Aerial East’s latest video for ‘Try Harder’ at the end of this post.
1. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
This album just keeps giving. When I first heard it in 2010 I had a really negative reaction to it. I was already a big fan having binged The Milk Eyed Mender and Ys after high school. A friend of mine made a comment about her during this time that was something like “I would marry her without even meeting her” and I followed an immature impulse to prove that she wasn’t that amazing by rejecting the overwhelming 3 disc record. By 2011 though I was feeling heartbroken and I found myself uncontrollably humming and singing ‘On a Good Day’, the most digestible song on the epic breakup record. The more heartbroken I felt the more I threw myself into the record. I must have listened to this album thousands of times – probably more than any other. It is so familiar to me and feels like home. It still makes me cry. My friend Kelly once said that she feels like herself when she hears it. I feel that way too. I still don’t always know what is going to happen next when I listen though. I haven’t yet memorized the lyrics, melodies and structures of the songs and that makes for stimulating repeated listens. I saw her perform again in 2019 and it sent me into a satisfying spiral of obsessively analyzing her lyrics and reading about her that really helped me think and write about my own songs.
2. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
The Kick Inside gives this one a run for its money but Hounds of Love is the record I put on to cheer myself up when I’m feeling depressed. I actually first heard the song ‘Hounds of Love’ in high school when the Futureheads covered it and didn’t discover Bush until years later when I moved to New York. I was immediately drawn in when I first saw her dancing in the red dress video for ‘Wuthering Heights’. I remember thinking I had heard the song as a child but I later realized I was remembering ‘Come to My Window’ by Melissa Etheridge. Anyway, Bush’s videos are all amazing. I wanted to study mime for a long time because of her. I still kind of do. Hounds of Love is one of the best records ever made.
3. Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Ethiopiques, vol. 21: Emahoy (Piano Solo)
This record centers me. It was all I could listen to in 2016 and I don’t play piano but I wanted my record Try Harder to feel like this. I first heard it when I was working at Dimes, a restaurant I have worked at since 2013. I used to listen to it often while setting up for my night shift that the closing daytime server would put it on when they saw me arrive. Emahoy, homemade pizza, and David Attenborough got me through 2016. A good remedy for anxiety.
4. Joni Mitchell – Blue
I mean, come on. It’s so good! I actually didn’t get into Joni Mitchell until Teeny Leiberson and Rachel Pazdan invited me to perform in their HUM Joni Mitchell tribute show. There was a lot to dig into and I said yes obviously, but then I had a deadline to familiarize myself with her work – she is pretty prolific – and choose a song I wanted to sing. I ended up doing ‘My Old Man’ because I don’t really write love songs even though I’m very romantic and ‘Hana’ from 2007’s Shine, because I wanted to acknowledge her as a contemporary artist. This is one of those records that just makes me feel good when it comes on. It came out the same year as Carole King’s Tapestry and I like thinking about the two different song-writing styles. Tapestry has so many crazy big hit songs that you are like “wait, she wrote that song too?!” They are such perfectly written pop songs but Blue is full of weird idiosyncratic songs that only really make sense if Joni is singing them. I love both albums so much and I imagine Carole made more money off of Tapestry because those songs are so widely covered and licensed, but if I could choose I would rather have made Blue.
5. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Beautiful melodies, beautiful harmonies, dizzying layered vocals, heart-breaking lyrics produced joyfully. I’m not sure if it was the first time I heard this record but I remember listening to these songs upstate and crying and everyone in the room politely pretending not to see. Pet Sounds was a big reference when I was producing my first record Rooms.
Thanks to Aerial for sharing her favourites with us!
Watch Aerial East’s video for ‘Try Harder’ below.
You can pre-order Aerial East’s new album Try Harder here.