I think all the elements for “My Finest Work Yet” are absolutely fantastic. I saw the press release and I was like one, it’s called “My Finest Work Yet.” I love that little bit. I love the album artwork and I love “Sisyphus” being a song. I was like these are all things that are absolutely perfect. How did you pick the album artwork for it?
Well I had the title first, so I needed something that would play off that in just the right way. It’s tricky when you start with a title and work towards an image. It’s referring to this painting by Jacque-Louis David. If you don’t know the history of the painting you just say, “Oh that’s just suffering poet on his deathbed painting his final words.”
The history has to do with the French Revolution and this guy had been assassinated and he’s in this bathtub and it’s very dramatic. I thought something dramatic and the suffering poet would make sense with “My Finest Work Yet,” just kind of to take it over the top. But we recreated that painting as a photograph very painstakingly in every detail.
Wow, where did you take the photograph?
In a studio not too far from my house. Amanda Demme shot it, who’s an amazing photographer out here and she wanted me to wax my chest to get the texture of the painting because this guy is in a bathtub. I was trying to figure out for a few days before whether she was testing my commitment to the whole concept. I honestly couldn’t find anyone to wax my chest at the last minute. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. But you know, it was that kind of, “How far do we take this?”
You tried to find someone at the last second to wax your chest?
You know I’m glad we’re talking about this because yeah [laughs]. I did go into several spas and asked if they had someone on site who can do it quick, but it didn’t pan out.
[Laughs] So, we’ve been playing “Sisyphus” and when I put the song on, it came across the wire or Twitter as I was about to jump onto a plane and I went onto it and I was like, “This is absolutely fantastic.”
Where they’re from: Los Angeles, CA (formerly Milwaukee)
Songs you’ve heard on 88Nine: “What’s the Rhythm”
RIYL: garage rock, Ramones, power-pop
I loved growing up in Tosa because I had the suburban childhood I wanted as far as county parks, running around with my friends in the woods, skateboarding on empty suburban streets on summer nights, going to football fields and lighting off fireworks and doing all this fun stuff, but also being so close to Milwaukee and going to Atomic Records, Shank Hall, The Rave, The Globe and seeing bands. Having that experience of having someone’s mom drive us down in a mini-van and we’d go to Phase II and Atomic Records and Mike’s Super Subs for lunch. We would make a trip of it on a Saturday. I had a lot of fond memories and that’s kind of what formed me into the current lifestyle I still live — which is eating sandwiches and record shopping.
I haven’t recorded recently. In the press release for this new album it says it was recorded over the course of two years over three different locations–Nashville, L.A. and Milwaukee. While that is true, the stuff I recorded in Milwaukee was just some demos that ended up being better takes so I used them on the album. But I didn’t actually go to a studio to record in Milwaukee. Between the Turkey tour ending and me recording this album, I moved back home to my parents’ house for a month. So, I was writing and demo-ing stuff.
That must have been a trip to go back to your parents’ house and that headspace…
It was great and that’s the crux of the album—returning to my roots, trying to find the spark of what got me interested in music in the first place and what got me interested in songwriting. And like I said, I grew up playing drums in high school, but around sophomore, junior year I started playing guitar and messing around on a four-track in the basement and writing my own songs that way. So, that was what got me into songwriting and home recording was those years, being in my parents’ basement.
Going back, moving home, living in my parents’ house was a return to form—picking up guitar, playing power chords, trying to write songs that felt like that energy and excitement.
It was in June.
I made the album there, the last six months of me being in Milwaukee. I was less interested in recording other people and more interested in experimenting and working on my own stuff. I finished the record and then I left. I feel like it’s kind of a catchy title, too. I don’t want it to be misconstrued as me throwing shade or anything.
Chicago was never my destination. A good friend of mine lived here for four years now and had a room open that he needed to fill in his apartment and he asked me. We had talked about it at bars and stuff when he was in town, drunk talk. I had wanted to get out of Milwaukee for a long time. Not because I have anything against it, but I haven’t lived anywhere else and I had been feeling stagnant for long time. It seemed like an easy and low-risk way to do that. I was feeling if I didn’t move somewhere soon, I just never would. Even if I don’t stay here, which, right now it feels like I’m not going to. It at least got my confidence up. Now I’ve done this before, so now I can move anywhere that I want.
So, you’re back in Milwaukee. I want to talk about how you first got into making music here and what was the process that allowed you to make music here?
So, firstly making music in Milwaukee for me as far as the process goes… it really was just a hobby. It started as just a hobby. I would write everyday after school. But at the same time, I went to Messmer High School. We had a theater and above the theater was a studio. A music studio in there that a lot of the kids really didn’t know about, but the music teacher knew about it.
Who’s that music teacher?
The music teacher’s name was G. Flattery. G Flat, that’s like my mentor I would say as far as starting in the Mil. He gave us like, the space to be able to do it. And this is something like, the school wasn’t announcing that they had a studio or anything. It was kind of just like if you knew, you knew.
G Flat, he let us know like, “You know the school is opening a studio. This is the equipment that we have now. If you all want to go in there and kind of set it up.” We were like, “Alright.” So, we all went in there. This was me, Boodah was there and a few other friends in the Milwaukee area. We would just go in there after school and that would be our recording space. We’d record music there for an hour, two hours after school everyday.
From that, that was how I began to be able to make music here starting in high school. From then on, that’s how I met my engineer at the time. It was my guy from high school. He was an engineer and he learned it while in high school. No college experience, but just YouTube and really just learning some dos and don’ts.
It was high quality though. It was quality enough to touch people and for people to take it serious. So, we kind of went full throttle with that and as far as moving forward…Once we were out of high school, he did open a studio and so it was already love, because we were coming fresh out of high school making music.
Now, he’s got a real studio and everybody else kind of went off to college. It worked for who it worked for. I just restocked really the same resources from high school to kind of find a home base, once I wanted to take it full on.
That has really taken off for you. How did that happen?
So, that was really a lot of dedication. A lot of dedication, hard work. We were anal. The team was tight.
Starting with my guy Mag in high school. We were really just learning the ropes with music, but he was making sure the studio was taken care of, engineering and just really any and everything else that could be able to be taken care of was. Once we really took that serious it was just move after move and email after email.
In listening to “Lovers Rock,” I feel like it is an album that you had to decide to make.
Why did you want to make lovers rock?
I think it was kind about time for me [laughs].
Ever since I put “Come Over“ out on “Shine,” the resounding request was like, “Can you do a whole reggae album?” I was like, “Umm yeah at some point, like give me a second.”
You know to me, you say reggae album I automatically go to lovers rock. I automatically go to roots music or dance hall, but I’m not really a DJ, so I go to the singing side of it. It was more like okay it’s about time to do it now and it was a perfect time. I felt grown enough to do it if you know what I mean.
I felt like I could do it justice and it would be believable and not just some young girl trying to sing love songs that she had no resonance with. So I think it was about time.
What did you do in the writing of the album to get into the feel of it?
I always take everything from my personal experiences. So as I started to write, I started to realize I was kind of repeating myself. So the songs and the subjects I was writing about, I kind of ending up feeling like they were the same subjects on “Shine.” I was like, “Well girl you’ve been writing the same thing for 10 years [laughs]. It’s 10 years later, what have you done? Where have you grown? What’s going on?”
So I started personally doing some work and like really get into knowing myself. Every single record is really personal to me. Every single song I’ve written, every single song I’ve sung, I have to resonate with it in such a way because I have to sing it over and over again. I am the kind of artist that never stops singing. I will never stop.
So people always want me to sing “Conqueror” and “Thank You” and “American Boy” and I’m like “Okay I have to get back into the space in my brain and where I was.” So every song is super personal and I need to be able to access it.