Julien Baker: Staying Power

Julien Baker begins to make peace with her demons and the spotlight

Julien Baker was an 18-year-old at Middle Tennessee State University when she took a trip to Richmond, Va., to record an album with the help of a friend who had a couple days of studio time. It was private music made privately. Sprained Ankle featured little more than Baker’s guitar and voice, but it had the emotional intensity of a bloodletting. Baker’s roots are in punk-rock house concerts and emo—and also in Christianity—although Sprained Ankle has more of the coiled restraint of Sharon Van Etten or Torres. The self-aware, self-lacerating album quickly found an audience, and the teenager found herself talking to lots of journalists (including, for instance, The New Yorker, for a lengthy profile) and topping many best-of-2015 album lists.

Which totally changed the conditions for making her sophomore album, Turn Out The Lights (Matador). Baker, who recently turned 22 and is currently based in Nashville, is gracious, earnest and a bit breathless when talking about her creative process. She was on her way to being an English major in college when her music career interfered, and she likes to analyze through a critical lens.

“I write songs to process trauma or sadness,” she says. “Music is my primary method of coping with all of the things that I feel. I think on Sprained Ankle, until I started doing interviews about the subject matter of the songs, I did not realize that I had just had this moment of vomiting my feelings out and getting them down on a page.”

Baker also became aware of the tension between the private nature of the songs and the public nature of performance and popularity. “I joke about singing ‘Everybody Does’ (from Sprained Ankle) because sometimes if people sing along, I end up smiling so big, because it’s my favorite thing in the world when people sing along and I can hear all of their voices and not my own,” she says. “Then I realize that I’m beaming and singing this song about how I’m calling myself garbage and a piece of trash.”

Whereas Sprained Ankle was full of notes to self, Turn Out The Lights grows from conversations with friends—sometimes literally, as on “Even,” which is based on a debate Baker had about “whether a good person could do bad things and still be good.” The songs often hinge on reminders that struggle to find reasons for optimism. “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right/I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is,” she sings on “Appointments,” and that may be the album’s credo. Or maybe it’s “I don’t do too well when nobody’s worried about me,” from “Sour Breath.” In any case, Baker’s left an opening that allows for an audience to participate in something with a hint of redemption. And that’s deliberate.

“It’s almost an off-limits or taboo territory to talk about awareness of a listenership influencing a record’s creation, right?” she says. “Ideally, art would exist and be able to preserve its uninfluenced authenticity. But I think there’s something to be said for being honest. By merit of my own honesty or not, or just by happenstance or whatever combination of things, I’ve been afforded the great pleasure of a musical platform that is larger than others. That has made me aware of what my music could be utilized for, how it could be purposed. After years of touring in front of people and talking about it and deconstructing the subconscious themes of it in interviews, I wanted to write a record that allowed for other people’s voices to be elevated … I wanted this record to be more accessible as stories so that people could connect with it and feel that it wasn’t just me rehashing that self-centered narrative in a song.”

The distinction is most striking in the contrasting ways the two albums conclude. “Go Home,” Sprained Ankle’s closer, finishes with a wish to end one’s earthly suffering and pass on to heaven. “Claws In Your Back” is, instead, an affirmation: “I’m better off learning how to be living with demons mistaken for saints … I take it all back, I change my mind/I wanted to stay.”

While Baker’s lens has adjusted on Turn Out The Lights, she chose to keep the arrangements sparse when she recorded the album at Memphis’ famed Ardent Studios. She wanted to make sure to preserve the crux of the song, and she accompanies herself on guitar or piano, adorned with little more than some ghostly strings.

“I love the approach of less is more,” Baker says. “Not saying that my songs have necessarily achieved any of this, but think about the Leonard Cohens and Paul Simons and Patti Smiths of the world: What makes their songs great is that you could strip all the extras away, you could strip all the guitar solos and bass lines, and the poetry and the evocative human element of the songs would still be intact.”

Baker reserves the right to continue to evolve. “Maybe record three is like, ‘Let’s see how it sounds with a full band,’ which is something I’d love to do and probably will happen eventually,” she says. “It’s really scary, but it’s a good challenge for me.”

—Steve Klinge

The Barr Brothers: Raising The Barrs

By looking backward, the Barr Brothers are leaping forward

Queens Of The Breakers (Secret City), the new album from Montreal indie-roots outfit the Barr Brothers, has a hazy kind of nostalgia to it, an echo of the afternoons the two brothers at the heart of the band, Andrew and Brad Barr, spent as young men cruising the streets and beaches of Newport, R.I., with their friends. As Brad relates it, they’d dress up in someone’s mom’s clothes and go out to crash parties, fancy restaurant soirées and, once, Newport’s Vanderbilt mansion itself, called The Breakers.

“It was my first group of beloved friends,” says Brad. “Some of them I barely speak with, but I would still go to the ends of the earth for them.”

Themes of love and loss, the bittersweet formula for nostalgia, are rife throughout the record, and there’s a kind of resigned sadness at the heart of the music. Shimmering vocal harmonies and a rolling undercurrent of acoustic/electric guitar and harp bring the brothers’ summer memories to life, evoking filtered images of sun-bleached hair and skin left tacky by the salt air. It’s a remarkably visual album in this way, different from previous Barr Brothers LPs, which have relied more on the diverse soundscapes of the brothers’ Montreal home. You’d think that some of the record’s themes would have come from both Andrew and Brad’s new forays into fatherhood. When the topic comes up, however, Brad insists being a parent hasn’t much altered his musical process.

“Writing and recording music has always been, for me, part struggle, part revelation,” he says. “That hasn’t changed. Performing music has always been the reward. That hasn’t changed, either. One thing I noticed was that it became harder to stay interested in the kinds of self-reflections, or reflections on the world, that I used to rely on for songwriting. They were way less interesting to me than how my son saw the world, or how he saw me. But this person’s life becomes a part of you, and you eventually carry on with a new subconscious.”

—Devon Leger

Tortoise: Document And Eyewitness

The Catastrophist Tour Book captures Tortoise’s onstage energy

“Nothing in Tortoise ever happens quickly,” says bassist/guitarist Doug McCombs, in what might be the driest joke ever cracked in a music interview. “Over the years we’ve gotten into this cycle where it takes us five, six years to get an album out. In between we try to think of non-album-oriented projects we can work on, to let people know we’re still alive. Often we aren’t able to come up with anything, just because we can’t think of something that hasn’t been done a million times. But we’d known Andrew (Paynter) for quite a while—20 years or so—and we really dig his photography. We thought it’d be interesting to try to document the tour.”

In addition to the two decades of friendship, Paynter, a San Francisco-based film artist, had résumé cred with Tortoise already. Among other collaborations, he’d directed the video for “Prepare Your Coffin,” from 2009’s Beacons Of Ancestorship. So when the chance to document the West Coast leg of the venerable post-rock outfit came along, Paynter signed on immediately.

“It’s harder now for those guys than most people realize,” says Paynter of the Chicago-born Tortoise. “We’re all older now, of course, but some of the guys are fathers, and they live all over the country. So logistically, it’s tough to arrange getting everyone in the same place. But they’re very utilitarian guys, a working band, and that’s what I wanted to record.”

The Catastrophist Tour Book (Thrill Jockey), its name drawn from the title of Tortoise’s 2016 album, comes packaged with a rerelease of that LP with new artwork and live tracks. Paynter’s approach to the project balanced an intuitive and adaptive process with an aesthetic that focused on the room’s energy: In several shots, the audience becomes a part of the evening’s visual record, occupying equal compositional space in the photo with the band.

“We’re longtime collaborators,” says Paynter. “But when you interrupt a tour to be on the bus with a band, you can easily change the natural dynamic. My goal was to document them as an insider—to get intimate moments but real moments. I wanted pictures that portrayed the tour, but I also felt the need to honor the audience; these guys (in Tortoise) are very appreciative of the audiences that come out to hear them. Without them, there’s no music. So, say, for a project like this you expect performance pictures. All right, but anyone in the audience can take those. I made sure that all of the performance shots in the book were taken from stage side, the back of the stage or the rigging, from the band’s perspective.”

Working largely without a flash and with high-speed shutter settings, Paynter was able to catch moments that visually echo Tortoise’s high-energy rhythmic sense and complex timing. Here’s McCombs leaning way the hell over in the middle of a fretboard run; there’s percussionist John McEntire surrounded by skins and cymbals that seem to radiate out from his head like cartoon word balloons. But, too, there’s guitarist Jeff Parker caught grinning in the middle of a feet-up stretch on a beat-up leather recliner, double-cutaway propped on his belly. There’s a rig full of analog pedals sitting on a scuffed-up stage matting, a bank of drum heads on a wall shelf in a gear shop in Portland. It’s an old cinematic saw that proper lighting can make even the mundane dramatic; from the 70-plus rolls of film Paynter shot on that tour leg, the essence of a working band’s road life is distilled and crystallized into a series of evocative shapes, faces and gestures.

It helped Paynter’s you-are-there approach that Tortoise is, and has always been, supremely uninterested in whatever might pass for the star system in brainy instrumental rock circles. His record of the Catastrophist shows is light on “backstage pass”-type imagery but long on shots that capture the job of work that is a touring band’s road haul.

“Not many of us, or really any of the people we’ve associated with over the years, are at all interested in the idea of celebrity,” says McCombs. “It’s more about making interesting work. Andrew’s the same way. He wanted to capture some peripheral stuff, not just to create a mood but also to show the stuff people don’t see a lot when we play. We encouraged all of that. Really, everything coming through his eye, however mundane (the subject), ended up looking great.”

Eric Waggoner

Destroyer: Use Your Delusion

With his new Destroyer album, Dan Bejar once again renews his license to confuse

When John Ashbery died in September, he was celebrated as the great American poet of the avant-garde. The New York Times obituary quoted a comment he once made in an NPR interview, explaining the nonlinear logic in most of his poems: “What they are is about the privacy of all of us, and the difficulty of our own thinking … And in that way, they are, I think, accessible if anyone cares to access them.”

It makes sense that Destroyer’s Dan Bejar feels an affinity with Ashbery. His lyrics work in similarly interior, non-sequitur style, full of abrupt allusions, shifting perspectives and witty asides. And he’s been accused of being obscure even as he’s praised for being brilliant.

“I’ve often been tempted to look up whatever various defenses Ashbery had for himself when having to answer for his style, and I thought I would maybe rip some of those off verbatim,” says Bejar. “He always seemed to have simple but elegant responses to a certain legion of people who feel the need to say, ‘What the fuck is this guy talking about?’”

On ken (Merge), his 12th Destroyer LP, Bejar seems to be talking about madness and the fall of capitalism and the end of the world and other madcap theatrics. It’s colored by a musical palette drawn from late-’80s British alternative rock, what he calls “the late Thatcher era” of the House Of Love (“druggy, mystic, moody stuff”), the first solo album from Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch (“There’s this kind of mournful, post-punk Leonard Cohen quality that he’s trying to dream up”) and Australia’s the Church (“People never thought that was a really cool band”). There are explicit musical allusions to New Order on the Peter Hook-like bass lines of “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood” and “Sometimes In The World,” and lyrical allusions to the Smiths on the opening lines of “Cover From The Sun” and elsewhere.

“I will say that the Smiths and New Order are groups that have haunted Destroyer records for decades now,” says Bejar. “They’re like a specter; I feel constantly that I live in their shadow. Even on records where it hasn’t been as overt as on this one, or people haven’t heard it, it’s there, especially Morrissey and Bernard (Sumner) as singers and writers. That sounds like a strange thing to say about New Order, but there’s always been this kind of awkward speaking quality to Bernard as a singer that I loved from when I heard it when I was 13 in suburban Vancouver.”

Absent this time are the strings of 2015’s Poison Season and the smooth, lush grooves of 2011’s Kaputt. In their place are electric guitars and synthesizers and a punchier production style courtesy of drummer Josh Wells; Bejar calls it “darker and harsher and more minimalist than any other Destroyer record I’ve made.” For the first time in a decade Bejar wrote the songs on guitar, and they’re leaner and more linear, at least musically.

“Even lyrically, I feel like the narrator is coming from a more specific place,” he says of ken. “When I listen to the songs, there’s usually someone who is either seeking isolation or singing from a place of isolation, or of abandonment or seeking to abandon, or wandering away from and isolating themselves from a world. That voice usually describes the world in terms of three or four different qualities that keep cropping up in the songs, and those qualities are a world that is insane or sick or decadent or violent. It’s cool in the sense that it’s a limited palette. I like those themes, and I think they’re easily trackable, which is different from a record like Poison Season.”

The album’s name comes from an alternative title for Suede’s 1994 ballad “The Wild Ones.” Says Bejar, “There was the epiphany moment when I was cruising through the extra tracks on this deluxe Dog Man Star CD, and there it was, that ‘The Wild Ones,’ which is kind of a huge song in my mind, was originally called ‘Ken.’ I was more interested in the way that language can instantly transform meaning: It was as if you found out that ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was originally called ‘Buddy.’ ‘The Wild Ones’ is kind of this moment of debauched grandeur and English melodrama, while ‘Ken,’ it’s such an old-fashioned English name, it’s such a modest little word. It kind of created this instant hidden meaning to some other secret path in the song. It’s 100 percent delusional on my part, but those are the kinds of delusions I’ve been coming up with for 30 years.”

But the Destroyer album title is not uppercase “Ken,” as in Barbie’s boyfriend (which Bejar feared might be a misinterpretation) but lowercase. “It’s a neat expression that you don’t hear much anymore, the old usage of the word about something being beyond my ken, meaning beyond my scope of understanding or beyond my field of vision,” he says.

In other words, if something is beyond your ken, you might ask, “What the fuck is this guy talking about?”

One answer: Don’t ask. Just listen, and Destroyer can be within your ken.

—Steve Klinge

End Christian: Extreme Makeover

With End Christian, members of Hex Inverter, Brutal Truth, Dälek and others explore their subdued sides

“Indie-rock disco” was how End Christian drummer Richard Hoak initially, and facetiously, responds when asked to describe the new collective’s sound. It’s a description that, in looking at the players involved, you wouldn’t think would be anywhere near the ballpark. But it’s apparently what happens when you get members of hard ’n’ heavy bands like Brutal Truth, Total Fucking Destruction, Starkweather, Fad Nauseam, Hex Inverter and former Dälek noise maestro/producer Alap Momin together to explore their subdued sides.

“At a big party at a motorcycle shop, Christian (McKenna) told me he had some crazy songs I would probably hate, but if not, would I wanna play drums on his unusual musical project,” says Hoak. “I prefer unusual music, so I was psyched to help out.”

“The idea was primarily based on songs I had written,” says McKenna. “I wanted conviction and feeling; I also wanted collaboration and input. Musically, the intent was to create stuff that was heavy on feel and not to lean on technicality. I’ve grown very tired of the traditional band setting: weekly practices, live performances, rehashing material to keep sharp for a set. End Christian, as a name, means to put a stop to the creative rut I’ve been in and to the way I’ve been doing things. This record is me spending more time in the moment.”

Debut album Energy & Strength (Translation Loss) showcases sonic restraint, melodic exploration and a thrust of bleakness into the musical conversation via strains of ’80s post-punk and no-wave with synth-wave soundscapes and slo-mo psychedelic pulses providing the heartbeat.

“Making this record was a learning process, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” says McKenna. “I’m even more excited about what’s next. I’m excited to have Alap more involved in the writing process. Mike Hill from Tombs is playing on some of the new stuff to add a different element. Sheena Powell, who sang a little on the first record, has already contributed to songs for the follow-up. I’m grateful I have all these amazing musicians along for the ride.”

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

The Horrors: The Brat Pack

Britain’s the Horrors go totally ’80s on their fifth album

In retrospect, Faris Badwan sheepishly admits that he didn’t think it all the way through. But when his friend and fellow Brit, video artist Chris Cunningham, recently suggested that they toss water balloons from his attic onto the streets below, he instantly agreed.

“I won’t say exactly what we did, but the evening ended with both of us, chest down on the floor, making sure we were out of sight from the open windows, so the police car down below couldn’t see us,” chuckles the wraithlike, six-foot-five frontman for the Horrors. “And it got so bad, we were seriously considering going out the back window and climbing down the drainpipe to make our escape.”

The breathless caper is exactly why the 30-year-old Badwan loves hanging out with Cunningham, 16 years his senior. “He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, and he’s basically a big kid, and that comes from his curiosity,” he says.

Badwan’s own irrepressible curiosity is the creative force that propels him in his artwork (usually dark and detailed, it’s lately drifted into bright watercolors that he’ll soon exhibit); the imprint he launched to sign inventive young artists, RAFT Records; Cat’s Eyes (an ethereal duo he formed with significant other Rachel Zeffira, currently at work on its third album); and most assuredly V (Wolftone/Caroline). The latest sonically adventurous Horrors effort was overseen by noted pop producer Paul Epworth, who’s worked with Adele and Florence And The Machine.

The original Horrors sound was inspired by American acts like the Cramps and the Gun Club, and it manifested on gravelly goth/garage 2007 debut Strange House, then matured into the dreamier neo-psychedelia of 2011’s Skying and 2014’s Luminous. But on V, Epworth heavily emphasizes the retro-miasmic keyboards of Tom Cowan as well as Badwan’s spooky, crypt-echoed vocals, arriving at a collection of ’80s-retro anthems that resembles the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie.

The opening, wall-of-sinister-keyboards “Hologram” echoes Modern English, the funeral-parlor-toned “Weighed Down” could pass for classic OMD, “Point Of No Reply” touches on vintage Simple Minds, and the closing “Something To Remember Me By” could be a remnant of Dare-era Human League.

Only one V morsel was left untreated. Straightforward folk jangler “Gathering” is representative of a new Horrors approach. “Rhys (Webb, bassist) and I did try writing songs in a more traditional sense, which we hadn’t done before,” says Badwan, who has composed an entire album in said mode that he hopes to record. Adding to that Breakfast Club aura: The group opened for New Order last year, and Depeche Mode this summer. Badwan also just did a shoot with legendary English fashion photographer David Bailey, who taunted him by suggesting he looked like a Yorkshire terrier and then inquired, “Is there ever any hope in your eyes?”

As usual, Badwan was undaunted. “For some reason, I’ve never had much fear of consequence, and my risk assessment is not really there,” he says, water balloons be damned. “That’s kind of where I’m at now, for better or worse.”

Tom Lanham

Normal History Vol. 458: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Mecca Normal is writing new songs, my favorite of which (so far) is “In The Highly Nuanced Life Of The Conqueror,” which is about becoming desensitized to violence, basically. I came up with the words as I heard the music for the first time, and as we always do, I recorded it. This is our longstanding and one of our most solid methods of songwriting. Dave has the music worked out, and sometimes I have lyrics; other times, I “write them” while hearing the song. We’re aiming to record in the spring, and ideally, we’ll use this method of working while we’re in the studio.

“You Heard It All” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

Pine Barons: Isolation Drills

The rural Jerseyites in Pine Barons make the most of their teenage wasteland

Speaking of making music in Shamong, a sparse township at the mouth of New Jersey’s huge, desolate Wharton State Forest, Pine Barons guitarist Brad Pulley says, “It felt like we were the only ones doing something like that in our neck of the woods. In our high school, there was maybe another band or two, but they were doing pop/punk and hardcore.”

By comparison, his band’s guitar-driven anthems recall the introspective bravado of Built To Spill, while its left-of-center psych pastiche production feels very indebted to Dr. Dog and, naturally, the Beatles. Founded as teenagers in 2012 by Pulley, singer/songwriter Keith Abrams and drummer Collin Smith, with longtime bud Shane Hower on bass, Pine Barons just released long-simmering debut LP The Acchin Book (pronounced “the action book”) on the Grind Select label. (The band also includes keyboardist Alex Beebe.)

Abrams and Smith had been kicking around in various projects since grade school but didn’t play a ton outside of their parents’ homes; they knew Pulley from their world of rural Garden State creatives. But is that, like, a big scene? Practically in unison, the band members shake their heads and exclaim, “No!”

There were no all-ages venues or cool record stores to congregate around; kids got their culture a half hour away at the Cherry Hill Mall. Or at home.

“I think it was just the internet,” Hower says of finding the artists who inspired them. “When I started hanging out with these guys, they were the first people who I realized, ‘Oh, you guys like this kind of music, too.’”

But that creative isolation brought the like-minded players closer together than they might’ve been in a more saturated, scenester-y urban community. U.S. tours with the Districts solidified their bond, and some familial influence further opened their ears. Pulley’s older brother Kyle plays in popular punk outfit Thin Lips and also recorded The Acchin Book at his Headroom Studio in Philly.

“When I was in middle school, my brother had bands that played in the city, so I always had an idea that that’s something I wanted to do,” says Pulley. “Having an older sibling who is into music is great; you kind of inherit what’s cool before the kids your age get into it.”

—John Vettese

Tom Hickox: Orchestral Manoeuvres

Songwriter/composer Tom Hickox gets expansive on Monsters In The Deep

Tom Hickox’s first album, 2014’s well-received War, Peace And Diplomacy, was a fair effort by a songwriter whose smart lyrics and resonant baritone voice garnered frequent comparisons to Morrissey and Leonard Cohen.

Musically speaking, follow-up Monsters In The Deep (Family Tree/Warner Chappell) is as hard a left turn as you could imagine, a spectacular carnival of styles and production settings after the manner of Pet Sounds and 1960s-era Harry Nilsson, each one of which shows off the range and power of Hickox’s vocal instrument in a distinct context. It’s an ambitious gamble that pays off handsomely, from the haunting solo finger-plucked balladry of “The Plough” to the soaring, heavily layered global pop of “Istanbul” and back again.

Hickox comes by this eclectic approach honestly—his father Richard was a celebrated English conductor, while mother Frances Sheldon-Williams was a lifelong timpanist—and he was determined to let the songs on his second album range freely over the sonic terrain they seemed to want to explore.

“Chris (Hill), my producer, and I thought, ‘Right, let’s work out what (arrangement and instrumentation) is best for each song, and not apply any limitations to what kind of world or orchestration the song should live in. We were always trying to find something searching and interesting, and also trying to give the listener a rich and exciting journey to go on, so that you don’t get four or five tracks in and feel like you know what’s coming next.”

Like his first album, Monsters In The Deep is the work of a lyrical songwriter. But Hickox’s palette runs much deeper and broader here, an expansive quality that makes his sophomore effort feel as though all of his formidable composition and arrangement skills are on display.

“When I sit down to write, I’m usually drawn to other people’s experiences,” he says. “But inhabiting the voice of another character is intriguing because it allows you to reveal things about yourself in quite interesting ways. You’re able to layer the truth in the song. I’m able to write more truthfully about myself, maybe, when I write in character.”

—Eric Waggoner

Colleen: Less Is Roar

On A flame my love, a frequency, Colleen exorcises her demons—and maybe ours

Composer Cécile Schott was on an overnight to Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, the night a group of young men detonated suicide bombs and engaged in mass shootings in a coordinated terrorist attack. The next morning, on a train bound out of the country, she found herself engaging in a very human, very familiar practice.

“I spent the next two weeks glued to internet news,” she says. “You watch things on repeat; you think that’s going to help you understand this sort of action, the hatred behind it. But then I realized I had to cut off from it because there wasn’t any in-depth analysis that was going to bring me any understanding. That’s when I decided I had to get back into the natural world and go back to work.”

A flame my love, a frequency (Thrill Jockey), Schott’s seventh LP under the name Colleen, is an album of spare, minimalist compositions. The record both furthers and complicates Schott’s body of work, presenting melodies played on pocket digital synths set to emulate analog sounds, then run through one or two analog effects pedals.

“My production style doesn’t embrace the big sound these days, where everything is pushed to the front,” she says. “The way I make music is mostly a matter of experimenting, then choosing what feels right with a given sound or compositional idea. It starts with discovering song structures as a result of that exploration, then building from there.”

Schott’s recent explorations were focused on matters both public and personal. As it happened, Schott was in Paris on the night of the terrorist attack because she’d traveled there to visit an ill relative. Much of A flame’s sound, like its spare lyrical content, deals with fear of death and loss—that most private, yet most commonplace, experience.

“The subject matter of this record, it really doesn’t get more personal,” she says. “But it also doesn’t get more universal. It’s almost a concept album on death, the fear of death, as it intrudes upon our lives. Everyone experiences it. Not a single one of us is shielded from losing someone, or fearing we will, or the fear of our own disappearance as well.”

Like the composers and artists Schott claims as touchpoints, she produces music that perhaps sounds left-brain at first, until repeated listening reveals the considerable heart beneath it. “My framework of references is rooted in the past, composers like Raymond Scott and Laurie Anderson,” says Schott. “But I also love the Silver Apples/Suicide family of musicians: artists whose music has a pop element in the broadest sense of the word but is uninterested in the pop design elements of its time. It creates its own world.”

Born in France, Schott is currently based in Spain. Incredibly, not a day after we discussed A flame my love, a frequency’s emergence from her meditations on mortality, Barcelona became the site of yet another terrorist attack when a van plowed into a public crowd, leaving 16 dead. In the following days, Schott and I emailed briefly, and our conversation turned to the idea of music as healing therapy.

“The title alludes to that,” she wrote. “A flame my love, a frequency refers to the need for something that can somehow give us hope. It could be a flame, literally, but also objectively. Anything that brings back the light; and ‘a frequency’ is because of the power of music to help us feel better.”

—Eric Waggoner