Kacy Hill collides anxiety and ease like few others. Her gorgeous third album, Simple, Sweet, and Smiling, radiates warmth. Produced largely with Jim-E Stack and John Carroll Kirby, it's a streaky LA sunset rendered as lush '80s pop, drawing on the magnetic ambiance of Kirby's music and the glitchy funk of Stack's to create something loose and unburdened. At the same time, Hill's lyrics are as dark as they've ever been: Touching on anxiety, tense relationships and a familial health crisis, it's Hill's most personal, heart-on-sleeve project yet. The title is drawn from Hill's desire for things to be just a little easier: "I would like to be your simple, sweet, and smiling..."
"Easy Going" perfectly encapsulates the tension between brightness and shade that defines Hill's art. Recalling the best of Carly Rae Jepsen's neon-lit synth fantasias, it's a bedroom-pop anthem that builds to one of Simple, Sweet, and Smiling's most indelible choruses: "I'm going through all the motions/ Oh, I gotta be/ They say the storm will stop rolling/ Hoping they're right." Like the title Simple, Sweet, and Smiling itself, it's a manifestation mantra par excellence — one that speaks to the many anxieties of life in 2021. At the same time, it might be one of the most calming pop moments of the year, showcasing the divine smoothness of Hill, Stack, and Ethan Gruska's production. "A lot of the record is written about my anxieties and desire to be a better partner," Hill explains. "I didn't want the music to make it feel melodramatic."
Today, PAPER is premiering Hill's beautiful music video for "Easy Going," a brightly colored tribute to '80s divas that was directed by Lauren Dunn and creative directed by Hill herself. Watch the video and read our interview, below.
Can you tell me a little about how "Easy Going" came about?
I made "Easy Going" with Ethan Gruska and Jim-E Stack. It's actually the only song off the record that I didn't write and record alone in my room. The three of us got together because Jim-E Stack had recently worked with Ethan on something else and showed me his song "Dialing Drunk." I was obsessed and had a feeling we could make something great together.
A lot of your new record sounds very unburdened, in contrast to kind of emotionally heavier lyrics, and I think "Easy Going" kind of typifies that tension. How did you settle on the overall sound of the record?
There was so much heaviness in my life and the world that I felt strongly about not adding any more weight to it. A lot of the record is written about my anxieties and desire to be a better partner, and I didn't want the music to make it feel melodramatic. I think in my own life I tend to downplay my emotions and experiences to other people as well because I hate the idea of someone feeling bad for me.
What role do you think "Easy Going" plays in the overall arc or narrative of Simple, Sweet, and Smiling?
"Easy Going" is a moment of frustration for me where I feel I've done everything I should be doing to feel better or "normal," and still feel anxious and unable to function well in my life. I think it is a moment of surrender, which leads me to a path of beginning to find happiness and normalcy again.
Simple, Sweet, and Smiling draws from this really classic-feeling R&B tradition. What records were touchstones for you when working on the album?
"Dreamlover" by Mariah Carey was definitely an inspiration when finishing production on "Easy Going," though we made many iterations of "Easy Going" that emulated "Dreamlover" a bit closer that never felt right. Other than that, there's not much R&B that I specifically draw from. I love R&B, but I never quite understand the comparison that people get from my music — maybe it's something I can't hear because I'm too close to it. When writing, I draw more closely from country music and artists like Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Christopher Cross and Peter Gabriel.
The video has this '80s diva thing going on. How did you decide on the look and feel of this clip, and the record's visuals as a whole?
I wanted to dig more into the idea of what simple, sweet, and smiling means to me, and what I think the idea of bliss feels like. Growing up I would watch the top 20 countdown music videos on VH1 or MTV, and the pop and country diva videos have always stuck with me. I'm sure I'm romanticizing a lot of this time from my own nostalgia, but I miss music and art before social media. Everything felt a lot more simple and I think the facade of a lot of artists, especially women, was one of bliss and lightness and something that felt easily digestible. I like the idea of the visuals feeling almost a little vapid while the lyrics of the songs are kind of sad or heady.
You self-released your last record and for this one you've gone with Platoon, which is a kind of hybrid label and artist services company. How has your experience been of going through these more independent channels?
I worked with Foundation to release my last record independently. Platoon is basically a step or two up from that in terms of the services they provide and the number of people actually working on a team with me, but ultimately I'm still the one in the driver's seat. It's exciting that there are so many channels for artists to release music independently now. I think most of the independent distributors do the same thing with different variations of resources and money, and it comes down to what an artist wants or expects when collaborating with them to release a record. I'm very thankful to both Platoon and Foundation for helping artists create paths to get their music out into the world.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Dunn