As the late great Brandon Lee once said: “It can’t rain all the time.”
But if you’re a songwriter that started with heartbreak, what comes next?
When Brooklyn-based pronoun released her first EP in 2016, it came from a very specific, raw place. The record was entitled ‘There’s No One New Around You’, a title inspired by the phrase that pops up on Tinder when you’ve run out of potential matches in your area.
pronoun (real name: Alyse Vellturo) admits that the creative lightning bolt that made it happen was the disintegration of a long-term relationship. That inspiration is obvious in the open wounds of songs like ‘a million other things’, which cries out for a distant love to “Come back baby / Even if it hurts.”
So where is pronoun now, on this cool spring day in 2018?
“That first EP was originally going to be an album,” she says. “But when I finished ‘snowed in’, it just felt like it was done. So a lot of the new stuff is drawn from ideas I was originally going to put on a full-length record.”
“‘There’s No One New Around You’ was kind of sad and helpless, with that hopeless feeling of ‘Where do I go now?’ This one is more ‘F U.’ But as I’m finishing it, I’m feeling less and less angry. I joke that...it’s like, the first verse might start out heart-wrenching and then the second is, ‘Well, I don’t like your new haircut, so there.’
“In a way though, it’s nice that the emerging theme is standing up for yourself more and being like, ‘No, I don’t deserve this.’ I suppose it will be more empowering and hopeful for people that are in a bad place.”
pronoun’s had an eventful year. She’s set up a label called Sleep Well Records, and one of her label signees Cape Francis joined her on the trip to Austin. She’s also working on new material, and road-tested a song live at her shows at SXSW this year.
‘run’ is a head-back, top-down, wind-in-the-hair track that emerged from a bedroom recording session in December. Drawing from the wellspring of inspiration that produced the previous EP, it tackles the moment when you feel a break-up hurtling toward you like a thundering lorry.
“It’s about knowing a person, and knowing them so well that you know they’re going to disappear and there’s no way they’re coming back.”
“I took a week off in December to finish the album, and I didn’t. But I finished ‘run’ in my bedroom, because I was pushing myself to put out new material before SXSW. I did a little dinky guitar solo, and realised this was the song we were going to put out. I wasn’t even expecting it to be on the album.”
The song - and the album that will most likely follow at the end of the year - are the next leg in a journey for the self-proclaimed “salty emo indie pop” artist. As a teenager, she wanted to be Paramore’s Hayley Williams, before shifting to production in music college.
She describes her sound as “layered”, with harmonies and simple drum patterns. She’s particularly fond of expressive guitar and instrumental parts “that can make you feel a certain way without saying a word.”
“I picked up the music business as a side thing, and I wasn’t even making any music until two years after the break-up. Then I’d just go home from work and make tracks in my bedroom as an outlet.”
“It was actually very cool because I was like, ‘Whoa, I made a song, and this didn’t exist an hour ago’.”
pronoun and her band are on tour through May with Basement and Citizen, and after that she hopes to get stuck into tweaking the album. In the meantime, she’s also working on her label.
“I really want to take the time to develop that more, because I want to help those artists in the way my label helped me. I work in distribution, and it’s so hard to cut through the noise right now.”
“It’s the best and worst time to be an artist, because you have to be your own business and the rules change all the time. So I want to find more artists that I love and take a chance on them. With the ones I’ve signed already, I don’t even see it as taking a chance, as I’ve found some I really believe in.”
She’s also been touring the old-fashioned way, cramming into a van with other bands. So how is she enjoying the glamorous rock and roll lifestyle?
“Actually, most of our shows are on the way back. But we played a great one in DC, and then in North Carolina, and we did Savanna Stopover,which is one of my favourite festivals.”
“I’ve got another two artists in the van with me. So it’s making it financially okay because we’re splitting the Airbnbs and getting Subway because that’s the healthiest thing on the road even though it’s not healthy at all. So it’s been a lot of driving and a van full of boys, and a lot more pee breaks than I would like to admit.”
Find pronoun’s full tour dates at musicpronoun.com
Words: John Hill
Photography: Thomas Jackson
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