In January of 2021, a faceless bedroom-pop project called HIDDEN PPL dropped its debut single, "ROMANCE IN THE PARK," without revealing any information about the identity behind it. Clocking in at just under one minute and 30 seconds (very PinkPantheress), the sparkly track led with fast, pitched up vocals, making it even more difficult to distinguish the mysterious singer
HIDDEN PPL continued releasing monthly songs over the year — now 12 in total — all of which are featured on its first full-length album, DON'T LET IT DIE, out today. Covering a range of topics from love to growth and hope, the track list is perfectly bite-sized, and packed with bright, efficient melodies and easy production that can be streamed, from start to finish, in less than 20 minutes.
Today, the musician responsible for HIDDEN PPL has revealed himself to be BRONZE AVERY, the LA-based queer artist who's been building his own solo career for quite some time now (and recently found a fan in Charli XCX). Exclusively for PAPER, AVERY talks through making his new album, and all the lessons he learned from writing and releasing an anonymous project, below.
Why, initially, did you want to approach making this music project completely anonymous?
The music industry can be very self-serving, while also actively trying to tear you apart. So much of your success is directly correlated to your personality, your physical appearance and what you can offer the world. It can sometimes feel like the music comes last and I wanted to start a project where the music came first.
What’s the significance of the project name, HIDDEN PPL, beyond its tie to anonymity?
I think when you decide to hide, the world has a way of trying to find you. The name HIDDEN PPL isn’t about hiding, but more about being found. Sometimes you have to go away so that people can actually listen to what you have to say.
Along the way, what did anonymity grant you creatively that you don’t have as BRONZE AVERY?
There’s a beautiful sense of “nobody really cares about this but me right now,” so I was able to take risks and go for choices I normally wouldn’t. I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do and I didn’t have to worry about anyone judging me. It taught me so much about my personal music and inspired me to make art in a similar format. It also gave me the confidence that I could make a really cohesive album for myself, which is something I’ve started to work on this year.
Photography: Bronze Avery
When you look at this body of work, what are some of the larger themes you explored lyrically?
It's thematically connected by romance, change, growth and hope. There’s this constant push and pull of being angry that situations aren’t working out and being hopeful that they might one day. There’s also a heavy presence of the word “yeah.” I think it’s used somewhere close to 90 times on the record.
You’re rare in that you sing, write and also self-produce. How did that process change or develop for HIDDEN PPL?
In so many ways, HIDDEN PPL taught me how to be an even better producer, writer and singer. This project gave me the freedom to be experimental and write completely off the cuff. With that being said, I’m thankful for Hayden Scott, Emily Vaughn, Shawn Binder, Tyler Aubrey, Carmen Vandenberg and Saint Wade for their contributions, as well. I tagged them in for very small and specific purposes. They were the only other musicians I told about this project and I trust them deeply.
Otherwise, most of everything for DON'T LET IT DIE was produced/ written by me within an hour or two and I would spend much more time getting the mixes right afterward. I think the primal/ instinctual quality of this music has totally changed how I make and perceive music in my life now. Everything I’m making today tends to be raw, lo-fi, dance forward and immediate, with a slight dreamy sheen.
Photography: Bronze Avery
I love that the songs are all so short. Did you go into creating them knowing you wanted this length? Do you think music is moving in this direction as a result of short attention spans and social media?
I love that the songs are so short too. To be honest, my favorite songs on longer records tend to be short little blips or interludes, so I think it's natural that all of the songs aren't what's standard to radio in terms of length. I think music is naturally heading in this direction with a heavier demand on quantity and the increasing speed of which we share music. We see this on TikTok all the time. When you lean into it, it's really beautiful to constantly share what you're working on, even if it's not perfect or just an idea. Also, since I put pressure on myself to release a song a month, the songs had to be shorter to give me a bit of legroom to actually pull it off.
Did you find freedom in pitching up your vocals? Something interesting happens where it's no longer tied to a gender or age. How do you think that impacts the storytelling and relatability?
The first song I ever made for this project was "FAST FLIGHT." It was about a long-distance fling during the height of the pandemic. I watched this video on how Kota Banks made her song "Never Sleep" and I tried some of the techniques. It basically consists of me slowing the entire track down, singing my takes, and then placing everything back in normal speed, which naturally pitches the vocals 20% higher.
Pitching the vocals created this sense of anonymity in the project, which is something I realized I had been dying for. You can hear your thoughts and musical ideas with much more focused clarity when it's not coming from the sound of your own voice. I found myself crying a lot of the time to these songs, and I had never done that with my own music before. It just cuts deeper when someone else is singing your feelings to you.
Is there a lyric you’re most proud of on this project? Why?
“Like fire and metal we melt ’til we settle/ Mold into place ’til we're something unique.” It’s a lyric from the last song on the album, called “CHANCE IT.” Every time I hear that lyric I want to cry. I think when people come into your life it can be similar to igniting a spark. We as humans can be so hard on the exterior, just like metal, but when we meet someone special, that solid exterior starts to melt down. It can never be the same way again, but it starts to shift and form into something special. Something that could only be made by that connection or that flame.
Photography: Bronze Avery
How long have you been working on this project? How did it develop or evolve over the duration of this time?
The first song was made June 2020, so it's been over a year and a half. The goal was to release a song a month in 2021, which leads into the album that exists here today. I fought so hard for this project. I had so many insecurities: Will people think I'm weird for doing this? People aren't gonna understand the vocals. They're just gonna be mad these aren't my songs. He’s entering his flop era. But I just pushed out those thoughts and leaned into the process. I knew at the end of everything, it would all make sense. It’s also why I kept it a secret, I couldn’t have any outside opinions straying me off my path. Now there's an album. I don’t think it could have happened any other way.
How do you think the album title, DON’T LET IT DIE, fully represents or embodies this project?
DON’T LET IT DIE explores the depths we’re willing to navigate to keep something alive. Just like flowers, we plant seeds with the hope something beautiful will sprout. We hold onto the hope that enough flowers will grow in our garden to keep us happy forever. Some flowers bloom and wilt quickly, while others stick around. Despite the seasons and the bloom they bring, we never stop planting those seeds and hoping the care we give them is enough.
Photography: Cara Friedman