Week in Pop: Amy Reid, Jake Bellissimo, XL Middleton

Sjimon Gompers

Baltimore's shining & rising star Amy Reid; photographed at B. Willow by Audrey Gatewood.

Amy Reid

The awesome & almighty Amy Reid; photographed by Missy Malouff.

Baltimore is home to one of the states’ most exciting hot beds of artists & visionaries. Longtime listeners & readers have seen the rise of Lower Dens, Future Islands, Dan Deacon & so many more who have broken the artifice mold by defying the inertia laws of convention in the name of creating new constructs of previously inconceived realizations. Presenting a first listen to Amy Reid’s debut solo album Hirsute available today from Friends Records where raw connective synergy is explored through electronic r&b channels that are angled toward all of tomorrow’s tributaries. The artist known for work in the band Chiffon with Chase O’Hara & the GRL PWR collective has broke the Bmore mold through international tours & traversing the expressionistic/impressionistic approaches to pop experimentation that Reid described in the following reflections on the song cycle of Hirsute:

These songs felt very personal but, still relatable and emotive, [Hirsute] is a reflection of organic, very human experiences getting tangled with outside factors out of one’s control… These sonic explorations embody experiencing chaos balanced with love and tender moments. Anxiety and serenity.

Amy Reid opens up the album Hirsute like a grand entry way into an electronic temple of meditation & reflection that reverberates like those spaces between awakened life & the pull of the unconscious from the dream world. Ideas of affection & attraction defy the gender normative nomenclatures & roles that find Reid transcending all in a levitating arrangement that expresses endearment through ambient electronic ebbs & tides of the electric oceanic currents & cycles set by solar & lunar interplays. Those upward drifting ascending vocals & instruments rise upward on “Like Laughter” where humors are lifted like helium balloons beyond the rafters & into the infinite atmospheres of the friendly skies. Immediate imperatives & observations collect on “Only Tonight” where beats & electro-impulses move together in concert to spell out an urgency that is reverberated in Amy’s reiterations of if we only have tonight, then what’s your move? “Redmoon” reverberates in aspects that paints a luster over the expanses of evening experiences & essences of the instinctual & intuitive that are elevated to an organized audio illustration. Percussive guided vocals of rich harmonies & incredible atmospheres unfold in the vortex spinning “Tornado” that moves to the footwork beat of something that will make you feel like you’re no longer in Kansas anymore. Hues are flickered & fluttered on “Lavender Blue” that operates in accordance to keys that generate an azure glow that mirrors both sky & earth where ecosystems & human expression are conjoined to resemble something that is one & the same. Feeling bubbles up & everywhere on the illustrious “Saturate” where intimacy is emphasized through aspects of identity & connection to an inner observance & reckoning that is exhibited like the changes of leaf colors with shifts of the seasons. Hirsute arrives at a full circle on “Knife” that cuts with a killer combination of percussive arrangements alongside expression that does battle up against wars of weaponized words that transcends the art of war for a more constructive & progressive conversation. Immediately after the following debut album listen, read our insightful interview with Baltimore’s own Amy Reid:

From Chiffon to solo—how had your collaborative experiences informed your own solo compositions?

A lot of the production from my solo work stems out of play and trying new techniques I’ve been toying with or that I’ve learned from writing with Chiffon. I get obsessed with certain moments through the process and those are usually what I expand upon and turn into solo material if we don’t wind up using it for a chiffon track. I like the balance of having total control over a project as well as the flip, giving up part of that to see how someone can bring their ideas and influences to arrive at an end result my brain would never have thought to create. That balance is really important for me. I think there’s a different kind of meditative writing process that happens alone. When I’m working in my basement studio sometimes, my creative brain hijacks the rational side of brain and allows myself to get deep into entertaining really ridiculous approaches wether that’s me recording whatever is freely coming out of my mouth or obsessing on one sound, melody or rhythm until I can stop hearing over and over again because I’ve fallen in love with it. I love when I go back to something I’ve worked on the night before and have no idea how or why I made it. From there, I try to back track and bring intentionality to the piece, figure out what elements it needs to stand alone and be strong on it’s own.

Tell us about the praxis & process in drafting & sketching out what would be your debut solo album with Hirsute.

Hirsute was kind of like a puzzle and figuring out how to put all the pieces together in a cohesive way creating a larger picture. Once I got to the point of songs being about 75% written and had to keep going back to listen to them all and see what themes existed in them lyrically as well as sonically. Throughout the process I started to really connect with certain textures and synths and tried to pepper them into all of the tracks so there would be a sonic bond. The lyrics were easy to connect because I feel like I am always writing as a way to process or celebrate intense moments in my life. One of my favorite parts of this journey was creating a story arc with the songs to figure out an order that would deliver a narrative. It starts with the breaking point track “Threshold” and works its way up to the reawakening of one’s senses with “Lavender Blue” and ends with the realization that you have to cut negative forces out of your life to be able to return to yourself with the track “Knife.” I think the album has become a pretty vulnerable representation of myself.

The incredible pop genius of Amy Reid; photographed at B. Willow courtesy of Audrey Gatewood.

How did you arrive at the album’s title?

The whole album is really about growth and pushing through really difficult and intense situations. The album to me, feels very organic in a futuristic way. While I was writing this album, my body wen through a change and started producing a beard out of nowhere. I think this had sparked this connection to hair representing growth and literally, pushing through.After reading about the word “hirsute” and seeing the images that came out of my searches, the word was heavily represented by images of cis men in a lot of flannel. I liked the idea of reclaiming this word as a cis woman who exists somewhere between the worlds of androgyny and femme. Visually as well as conceptually, I envisioned myself coming out of these experiences with a beard surrounded by flowers. My friend Sun Hashmi always sends me beautiful images through Instagram when she thinks of me and sent me one of Harnaam Kaur posing for Rock n Roll Bride. Kaur literally engulfs this image of a beautiful bearded woman. If you haven’t seen the iconic photoshoot you should do yourself a favor and check it out. Those images remained in my mind throughout making the album and it seemed that the word “hirsute” became a way to tie the album together visually as well as conceptually.

I love how “Threshold” really does offer something of a terrace/foyer type of entry piece that feels very inviting like entering into someone else’s house. Interested in hearing the story behind the song and how that became the stage setting piece for the record.

Yeah! I’m glad you felt that. I wrote that song when I was literally at a breaking point. I was ending a very long intimate relationship, probably the longest one I’ve ever been in while simultaneously going through really intense times with some of my closest friends and developing a pretty bad drinking habit along the way that got me into some serious trouble. That moment was it, I was at a breaking point and music became my therapy, my best friend to talk to about everything going on, my ability to work through it and regain my sense of self and self worth. That process begins with this song and knowing the limits of one’s love, having spread it too thin and having none left for yourself.

Amy Reid live in the act; press photo courtesy of the artists.

What else can you tell us about your own eclectic approaches to making richly stylistic sounds?

I make sounds in a lot of different ways. On this album, I manipulated my voice to create a lot of the textures happening alongside the dryer main vocals. For me, this was one way to differentiate myself and my sound from others. That’s what I love about vocals so much, everyone’s voice sounds so unique. I like manipulating vocals to kind of create different characters of myself in a sense. I can be my own alien choir, robot back up singers, vocal pad or use my breathing to create a rhythm. Using my voice is a freeing process and electronic programs allow me to shape it into infinite forms. I also tried to use non-traditional sounds in my beats, replacing what might be hit hats or snares. It’s pretty tongue in cheek but, in the track “knife” I sampled various metal, glass, and sword samples to create the rhythm. I like to try and keep my music familiar but also slightly off and uncanny so a listener can have a relationship but it still feel completely new.

What is it about the electronic musical essence that makes it easier to convey constructs of feeling, sensations & perceptions?

I think it’s about sound modification, literally being able to manipulate a sound to the exact sonic representation of what you want it to be. I love playing physical instruments so I try to work that into my process and in a sense, send it to space and back so it becomes something brand new and unrecognizable but maintains familiarity. It’s not realistic to own or have access to every physical instrument I want to use and most programs brings access to that possibility. I can essentially play whatever instrument, texture or sound fits the feeling, sensation or perception I’m trying to achieve and I like that the majority of the time, it’s not a traditional instrument that fulfills that. Electronic music programs make it possible to finally create a sound that represents a feeling that I could never quite achieve with words and I love that about music as communication, people connecting through a sonic feeling. That to me is powerful.

What is currently inspiring you right now in Baltimore?

All of the artists, musicians and energy. Baltimore is a spiritual place and for everything that is imperfect about the city, there is definitely a driving force you feel when you’re here. People are really making moves and Baltimore can be affordable enough to have the space you need to bring ideas to fruition and everyone has a genuine realness. It’s also small enough to make frequent connections with people interested in collaborating with one another. This dancer I admire, Talbolt, came up to me after a show once and was like we have to do something together. As of this past Tuesday, we brainstormed with a film-maker Emily Eaglin and wound up filming a video for “Threshold” that takes place in a radical book shop and cafe where both Emily and Talbolt work. That’s a perfect example of the multiple levels of connection in Baltimore that seem to happen organically.

Amy Reid & the posse; photographed by Missy Malouff.

What does Baltimore need more of right now?

More small and mid sized all age venues, to get rid of ridiculously corrupt cops, a new justice system, education reform, funding and support for people, communities as well as artists already living and doing amazing things here.

What can the world do as a collective body right now to save us from our own selves?

Educate ourselves and be ready to stand up for each other, especially if you are in any form of power. If we see any action that’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic or xenophobic say something and do something. We have to take responsibility for our own actions if we are perpetuating any of those behaviors ourselves. I think that’s where a lot of conflict comes from, this battle with the ego that we can’t possibly ever be wrong.

How can folks get involved both locally & globally?

This is a good question and one that I’m constantly trying to answer. In one way, I feel like local can become global. I think connecting with your community, and I mean not solely one’s artist community but, your neighbors, co-workers, local activist groups and underground economies. Reach out to these people and have conversations about work that people are doing and find out how you can become involved or if you have a skill that could be helpful. Share or donate to your friend’s Go Fund Mes and disaster relief organizations that are actually helping people. Personally, I’m trying to weave my philosophies into my everyday life, my artwork and practice what I preach.

Artists, activists & educators that you would like to recognize?

I’m going to keep it local here because Baltimore City is what’s up; Ami Dang, :3LON, Joy Postell, Pangelica, Abdu Ali, Sun Hashmi, Mathew Starke, April Camlin, Lower Dens, Future Islands, Dj Quit, Pancakes, Trillatured, Isabejja, Genie, Jacob Marley, Hi$to, Matthew Papich, TT the Artist, Waqia Kareem. Rose Buttress, Lab Bodies, Balti Gurls, Tawanda Jones, Erricka Bridgeford, GRL PWR, SWOP Ava Pipitone of the Baltimore Trans Alliance. Educators: Chezia Thompson Cager, Amber Kelsie, Erin Reid, Jordannah Elizabeth, Will Pesta & my partner Kata Frederick.

Amy Reid’s debut album Hirsute is available now via Friends Records.

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