Shygirl Discovers Her Ultimate Fantasy on 'Nymph'

Shygirl Discovers Her Ultimate Fantasy on 'Nymph'

From the screen to the stage to the sunlit booth of her hotel's restaurant, Shygirl is ethereal. Her supple skin and bleached brows echo the hyper-stylized Kewpie dolls and chibi characters that dominated so much early '00s imagery. The 29-year-old musician is often defined by her raunchiness in her lyricism, made even more tantalizing by her whisper. However, there has always been a delicateness to it.

This musician that I've held on such a high pedestal since the release of her dizzyingly chaotic Cruel Practice EP in 2018 sits in front of me, dressed in a cropped t-shirt and bare face that the oppressive New York humidity demands. When our pizzas arrive, I try to hide and cringe at the whole tomato slices draped on top of the cheese. She peels them off. I tell her that I dislike whole tomatoes too and, in tandem, we exclaim, "It changes the texture!"

While tomatoes may be too wet for her, everything else about her music indicates that's not a problem. Her hit 2020 EP ALIAS set everything in motion, cranking the distortion to an 11 as she slinks across each track with a hypnotizing sensuality. She zooms in on the hands-on, kinesthetic forms of intimacy whether it be grabbing, rubbing or biting. From dancefloor to bedroom, Shygirl's claustrophobic music begs for listeners to get as close as possible, learning to navigate discomfort.

While her intense sex bangers made a name for herself, Shygirl's proper debut, Nymph, strips back the dark allure. She's fresh-faced and joyful as she taps into the wistful and the unattainable. The rapper/singer finds the sounds and words to represent the silence in intimacy, the excitement in longing and the joy in safety. That's not to say there isn't a shortage of dirty club hits, and "Nike" is going to definitely provide some warmth as the fall and winter months creep in, but the musician finally feels like she has the experience and vocabulary to create a once-in-a-lifetime debut.

Shygirl welcomes PAPER into the world of Nymph, and the growth it took to open it to visitors.

You have an interesting background since you started in artist management, DJing, etc.

I used to work at a label because I needed a full-time job. When I started doing music, I wasn't taking it that seriously to be honest. I was DJing then and I still DJ now. Around that time, I was hanging out in the studio with Sega [Bodega] and we've been friends for years. We just started making music. It was just a really fun and organic thing that I realized I like doing. It's all about timing I guess. I didn't really have an end goal. I just liked following threads of my interest.

You also have a photography background, and I think that shows in your attention to your visuals which is such a huge part of your artistry.

I always liked expressing myself visually and showing people. . . I guess things that I considered beautiful. That's how I thought of photography. It was like giving someone the opportunity to look through my eye, you know? And I still think of music like that. It's just a broader sense of the world and how I engage with it, but there's loads of things that I like doing. Like I love writing! And for me, that was my main access to music — through writing. And I guess it's just somewhere where I could blend all the parts of my taste because it really is about that tastemaking in a way. I don't produce in the technical sense of making any beats. I'm fine with staying in the room and making the melodies and directing a producer with my ideas, but they would only come to fruition through collaborations because I wouldn't be able to make them by myself. I really enjoy that way of connecting. If I took the people I had as photo subjects, it was still like... I didn't really see it entirely as a collaboration. It was like, for me, it was something I was taking from the subjects. They were unaware of how I would photograph them until the photograph was made. I always got the upper hand slightly because only you know how you see something.

Whereas when I'm collaborating, there is an equal playing field. As much as I know a sense of the direction that I want something to go in, there's still so much room for the other person to engage with that. It can go off in a different direction, but actually, I think because of the intention there, it has a thorough line of my energy. That's why the record sounds like me, even though there are so many different sounds going on around.

Did you experience having to relinquish some of that control when you went from independent to releasing with a label and having all these resources?

There was no relinquishing of control, to be honest. It was just more resources. For me, as much as you go into an agreement, no one can tell me to do something I don't want to do. All these agreements, they're tied to legalities but I still have my freedom, you know? I like making choices. I like living by the choices I make and the new environments they create and how that affects my creativity. I enjoy changing things up and having to adapt and maintain authenticity. I need to be provoked, and I think that is something that does provoke me. It makes me think, “How can I still get what I want out of this?” And I think it's like being forged, you know? Some of the constraints of some things can make diamonds out of the pressure.

How did your record label experience inform your artistry now?

I was running Nuxxe with Sega. I started that label to better understand how labels work so that I could then work with a label. I always knew I didn't want to have a full-time job running a label. That does not interest me, but I wanted to learn something for myself so I could better work with a label and instruct people, you know, like figure out what I actually needed, rather than go blindly into somebody and expect them to anticipate my needs.

With Because Music, it's still technically an independent label, so they don't have the same motivations as a major label. They have a bit more room to allow for the artist's creativity, and that's why I chose them instead of a major. At this point in my life, it didn't interest me because I knew I wanted ownership of work. What I was doing creatively, that is the thing that made the music interesting!

I find it incredibly privileged that I get this space to just be experimental and explore. Weirdly enough, I actually listened to the record again last night in its entirety without skipping anything, because obviously, when the singles come out, I'm so over them and I skip them because I've heard them the most. I've just made a video as well. But obviously, I made the track arrangement to be heard in that order. It has a journey in itself. So yeah, it was funny listening to it. I played it for two friends that hadn't heard it. And, it's like a thing to have to sit down and listen to an album, which I haven't done for so long and I had only done it really in making mine. It's been a while since I was engaged with any album like that. The intention behind the album was a theme, and I knew that every time something happened like when we finished a song, I knew I was getting closer to understanding what the intention was. It's like you're trying to reveal something that's in your subconscious.

So you started this process without an idea or intention for an album?

Yeah, I didn't know that. It wasn't entirely clear to me. I was like, "Yeah, I need this vibe!" It was a little emotional and instinctive. In hindsight, now having the finished product, announcing it and working on the creative, the visuals and everything is just a part of the dialogue and is me understanding what I'm trying to say to myself. The music was the first part but I could never fully understand the clarity of what the final intention is until I started making the visuals.

Now I have done that and watched the journey that I’ve made as a person, it's funny listening back to it now and seeing me reaching out in exploration in these tracks, searching to get to know myself sonically through the songs. ‘Cause it is! It's like a statement of who I am right now, but I'm also trying to get to know myself. The conversation is with me first and then everyone else second.

You’ve been making music for quite some time now and it’s great how people are taking more time to release their debut. It’s a lot of pressure.

And it's kind of weird, because I know that ALIAS was an EP, but for some people, it's been received as an album.

For me, it was Cruel Practice. Then again, the differences between EPs and albums are so confusing nowadays.

Well, that's the thing! It doesn't really matter. The titling is really only for me and how I need to explore things. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't. And I think that's interesting because even the technical terms, for me, I've been in the audience a lot longer than I've been making music. I wasn't the type of listener who was engaging with all the technicalities of music. I liked being ignorant and just hearing beautiful sounds.

“Ignorance” is a good way to put it.

It is! I just enjoyed it. It was one area where I wasn't so focused on heightening my intelligence. I do really love being the smartest person in the room sometimes, but the music, I just enjoy. I think that's why it was a career that I didn't see for myself. It was just something that was natural and intuitive, but there was a moment of ego for me. That was actually quite rare for someone who considers themself a creative to not have their ego in the work. I think that's one thing that's made it good, because when you have yourself as your own muse plus the ego involved, I don't know how good the music would be! [laughs]

You have to strip down a little bit and I think I've really tried to do that more so on this album. As soon as you realize you have some audience, it gets really easy to rely on that a little bit and feed into it more and give the audience what you think they want. I think I rejected that initially and was just like, "Well, what do I need? What am I getting from this audience interaction, truly, that is beneficial to me?" And for me, it was like being provoked to dig deeper into where my voice was and my opinion about all these other voices that I started to hear. And, you know, also being on stage in front of that audience, how vulnerable I felt and how thrilling it was to come offstage and have a cheer behind me. It was something that I never saw for myself. It wasn't my dream making music being on stage. I then wanted to inject that vulnerability aspect back into the studio. How else do I feel like I'm on stage again like we're baring something that they haven't seen before? And it was to be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more sensitive. Because I've made this image of myself back then that was full of bravado because I needed to hear it for myself from those last two projects. I needed to embolden myself. And now I had that. Part of the journey to get to that space was being sensitive and super emotional and I forgot to say that part of it explicitly. So that's what I've kind of tried to do a little bit while also still making space for a little bit of bravado.

You need a bit of spice.

To know me is to know both parts. That's what my friends know. I'm really trying to open up the door to that kind of insight with the world.

And speaking of capturing that live feeling, there’s some form of vulnerability and excitement to release something into the world and know that, in some way, it’s not yours anymore.

Until you feel that, it's not completed. You don't get the satisfaction of being able to move away from it. I've looked forward to seeing how I feel when other people are picking it apart. Like something that you've treasured, you almost feed to the vultures, like every morsel.

Do you read reviews?

Yeah! I read reviews, but I haven't really been thinking about them so much. It's funny, because I'm a very precocious person, so if someone has said something, I'm like, “Well, that's not how I felt!” But it provoked me to think about it if I didn’t. Even with interviews, if you have no one ask you about your intentions, would you be able to find what your intentions were? It's like therapizing the work almost.

I had to deal with crit in art school and stuff like that. You need opposing opinions or perspectives that you didn't account for to be able to look at your work in different ways.

It’s beneficial for you to have that experience with good-faith criticism of your work because there’s unfortunately some artists who think criticism is an attack on them as a person.

Yeah, and that's the thing! I want people to have an opinion. I also would love critical discourse around the work.

Precisely, as long as it isn’t just “Oh this is stupid and I hate it.”

That's the thing! I would hope to use it to fine-tune my craft. I really want to exist in this creativity and find my own way of expressing myself, but also, I do feel gratified when I'm doing things that I think can be agreed upon as “good.” That's always been something that I know has enriched me. I like getting good grades! But essentially, if you've done it differently, and you have a different route to getting the answer, that is even more gratifying. But I don't assume that I'll get there straight away on the first album. I'm really hoping to leave space to get better because it was a bit daunting if you didn't have room to grow because people didn't give you that room. I see music is a big part of my life now and I really hope to make the space I need out of it and live in it for a long time.

I may be biased, but I think Nymph is lovely.

Thank you! As long it means something to someone! Something I did for myself is always gonna be a happy accident when it means something to someone else, you know? And that I have really learned to appreciate, even meeting the fans and stuff. I've always felt like an outsider on the inside sometimes, you know? In school, I've never really not been popular, but I've never really felt like I was like the other kids either. I could assimilate really well and I felt like I had the tools to always have conversations with people, but it's really gratifying for me to see people who also consider themselves outsiders or alternative thinkers connecting with my music. Because I do see myself in that crowd. Ultimately, if it didn't serve those people, then I'd just feel that I was doing something wrong or not worthwhile.

It is a lonely space to be in when you’re not an outcast but you’re also not super popular. Everyone liked me growing up, but I also was never invited to parties or prom.

It's so lonely! There's no depth to those relationships because you still don't feel like you connect. There's loads of people I know from school, but they're not people who I count as my friends. I found my friends when I was in my early 20s when I started to find myself and make space for myself and not assimilating to what I thought people needed from me.

And it's more difficult to make relationships as you get older. It was easier back then because we were forced to be with each other for eight hours a day.

I think some people don't realize, once you make a friend who could be considered a family member or the depth of love in that friendship runs like that, then you realize it's possible. Once I knew that I could have that, I opened myself up more to having more of that. Before that, I didn't know that could exist. I was so close to my mom and my mom was my best friend because that's the only person I felt like really understood me. I could let her in. If you feel like you can't have that, you don't let anyone else in.

There's societal expectations set in place to not love as much as we may want.

I went to therapy the other day, and then she was like, "You don't have any boundaries." And I was like, "Because my parents didn't have boundaries!" That's not necessarily a wholly bad thing, but everything comes with pros and cons. And for me, not having any boundaries has been such a pro for so long in my life because it made me question all the ones that were naturally there in society and in social situations. I was like, "Why? Why not just like, be yourself and be free? What happens?" You know what I mean? But then in this instance, the social dynamics for me have changed recently because of my public perception and approachability. Because when you're where I'm at, which I think is this cusp of still being very underground and have people still having real close attachment to your growth and then also such visibility, my everyday social interactions have definitely changed. People come up to me all the time internationally, which is crazy to me and not something I ever expected. I found it really hard to adjust to because I was so used to being able to watch other people as a photographer and have autonomy, and then all of a sudden, people know something more about me than I know about them. I've sent that message forward. That was me. No one else did it. Now I have to assimilate to the consequences of that. I did find that hard to adjust to it and I still find that quite hard to adjust to because I don't have natural barriers and I'm quite open. You can't rush to be like that with everyone, sometimes.

How do you protect yourself with social media? You seem to know how to engage while also keeping some of that mystery.

I think, for me, it's still feeling like I can communicate. There's times when I've found it hard to communicate how I feel in certain situations because it's hard to figure out how to in real-time. You could have been uncomfortable but you don't know why because you don't know how to articulate it.

I think that's why I make music and stuff, to be introspective and to be able to find the words to articulate how I feel. It's like doing a rehearsal when I'm making the music and it starts to help me better identify the emotions again when they come up. And that's across the board. Even in my romantic relationships and my personal friendships and in my everyday instances, making music helped me build the language to communicate my emotions and to be assertive about the environment that I need to exist within. I definitely enjoy sharing myself with people and sharing my work, but to be able to continue doing that, I know that I have to nurture that space and make sure that I'm doing okay and that the interaction is always healthy and that whatever anyone's desire from me, I don't have to provide it. I don't have to satisfy it. Some disappointment is a healthy part of life. I don't mind interacting with or disappointing some people because then the times that I have been disappointed, it has provoked good content, you know? So I definitely see the benefit of the back and forth. I feel like sometimes it's hard to say no.

I find it harder and harder recently, even with working on my communication,. When making music in the mechanism or promoting, it has been hard to identify what I say yes to what I say no to even in my interviews because I'm not a machine. There's a hundred million things in a day, but people will ask that of you. And if you do it, then they'll just keep asking of you without knowing where your cutoff point is. And I just want to make sure that every part of this works properly and I am the thing that outputs the most!

It’s all about keeping that balance.

I do like pushing it to the limit though. I like to get to know really what you can do. I'm definitely someone who will prioritize chilling over making something harder for myself. I'll be like, "No, the quality of life should be luxury!" Because I didn't grow up like that and so I really appreciate times when I can do that for myself, but it's been really good to be physically exhausted sometimes. In June or July or whatever, I was doing three shows a week for the whole month. I had one day off that month and I was physically on the road, shooting the music video, thinking of all the creative, signing off on everything. It was really tiring, but it was good to be like, "I did that!"

It feels good to be busy.

For sure! I would much rather be busy and let my brain and my body be active than be idle.

Are there any songs on Nymph that you are particularly attached to?

There's probably four, and three of them are the tracks at the beginning, middle, and end of the album. It's "Woe," "Heaven," and "Wildfire.” They are real anchors for me, but "Shlut" is almost like. . .if there was going to be a title track on the album, it would be that. If I had to get rid of all the other songs, that one could exist and still, I think, have the ethos of the album both lyrically and melodically because it has a mix of melody in the hook and the rapping center point of it all. The narrative being the center point of that song and the people involved in making it are intrinsic to my growth in life because Sega and Cassia are my two best friends and have been such valuable musical companions as well, and I really loved the synergy of having both of their eyes on that record.

Personally, that was really gratifying to be able to share the space with people that I love, but also what I'm saying is that all the lyrics are about being self-aware and about acknowledging my quest to satiate those needs. It's not just physically or romantically, but it's just that pursuit of happiness in that way. That's how I pursue my happiness. And I acknowledge all the pitfalls of what it is to be me and the consequences of it, but I enjoy it because I must if I'm singing a song about it.

But yeah, "Shlut" for me is that song, but then the other ones on the album would be "Woe," "Heaven," and "Wildfire," and I think they kind of dictate the "edges" of the album. "Woe" is sentimental and emotional, and languishes in an emotion of being irritated at times by fan engagement, but actually acknowledging that I did the same thing. The middle verse is me talking about someone that I feel entitled to, even though I'm commenting on that same commitment to me, and so it's almost like acknoweldging that that's human nature. "Heaven" was me allowing myself this childish desire of when you break up with your ex, and you're like, "Can we forget everything and just be back together again?" It's like something that is non-tangible because you can't just forget everything., but you could only say in a song. And "Wildfire" is me being a fantasist, and that is generally what I am. I'm a romantic and a fantasist and I'm talking about imagining seeing someone from across the bonfire and being like, "I love that person!" Like catching their eyes and seeing the flames in their eyes and being like, "I think we'd be so good together!"

There is something so beautiful and naive about fantasizing about someone.

It's been rare. The times when I have been in a reciprocated, loving relationship, the feelings I've had in that relationship have not been the ones I anticipated. They've been entirely different to what I could have imagined. The ones I've been lusting after for so long, it's whole projection of what you want from them. And that's a very familiar feeling for me, but the feeling of actually being in love with someone and being in a relationship where that love is shared, every time that's happened to me, I'm like, "Woah, this feels good! This feels weird!" I still feel so excited by it, and I think that's why I'm always gonna write about it in some way, the effect of love in my life.

Your music definitely channels the idea that love and intimacy aren’t confined to romantic relationships. Our generation has definitely started to redefine love.

All my closest friendships are romantic in some way because I feel like I need that level of love in my life, you know? I really care about my friends because, at times when you need them, they are there because they're good friends. And I've had lovers that are not there in those times like my friends have. Friendship is such a unique experience and having a lover is a trope that we all experience. A good friendship offers you all the things a lover can offer you and more. And I really appreciate that experience. I think it's emboldened me to be able to tell the stories that I do. Everyone I work with, in some way, has either been a friend already or become a friend. I need that connection in my music. I need that space to emulate how I exist in life.

What would you say has been the most challenging part of making this record?

I haven't really found it “hard” in that respect, but it’s been frustrating when I'm trying to articulate my taste and like random things and be like the advertiser.

I also have no patience. I did a test, my brother gave me the tests to see if I have ADD and I'm highly likely for it. I don't know whether that's just because of my environment and that chain reaction. I found it hard because, if I'm failing with some of the messages I'm trying to get across, I look inwards at myself at what I'm failing at communicating and I get frustrated. And oftentimes there's no failure in my communication, it's just that we engage with things differently. Things are obvious to me because I'm looking at them. I'm looking for those things and they're not obvious to everyone else. It's been a really hard thing for me to understand that, but the process of that has tempered how I approach making the actual sentiment of the music. There's things I didn't take for granted and things I doubled down on, I guess more implicitly, and I tried to amplify that in the visuals because this is really important for me to get across. I don't want to assume that someone's just gonna get that from the music. I want to put that message across.

A lot of artists don’t like to explain themselves but I like how you really want to make sure your intention comes across.

There's a lynchpin of intention somewhere, and I want people to interpret things as they wish, but I do want them to engage around something. If I feel something is important or if there's something that's changed me, then I'm just trying to share that privilege and engage with an emotion that I think is for me. With the earlier stuff, it was to be provocative lyrically, but this time, I wanted everything to homogenize a little bit more and to have a bit more balance and work in tandem — me, my voice, the lyrics, and the sonics of the track. I really wanted to test my musical knowledge and my expertise and how I'm engaging with those elements. If I think about the last two EPs as initial endeavors when learning a new language, music was an entirely new language. It was like hearing people talk French for ages and just now deciding to speak with them. But that's the difference between me being in the audience listening to music and then now trying to put music out myself. Obviously, I'm going to have more limited conversations because you don't have all the dialogue available, and I would only hope that the more music I make, the broader the conversations will be.

What were you consuming, music or otherwise, that informed this album? I sense a lot of nostalgia and fantasy.

I was looking at a lot of books I read when I was growing up like Tess of the d'Urbervilles and other Thomas Hardy books that I really loved. I started revisiting why I loved them because I didn't try and pick it apart too much at the time. I was looking at romanticism in art and in literature. I realized I'm always engaging with this. I love brutalism sometimes — the portrayal of human nature and nature and the relationship between the two. I think that's kind of something that really inspired me when approaching this album. Having that in the background of my mind was something that I wanted to engage with slightly and was why I wanted to present nature a bit more in my work. It was something that I did engage with in my real life and I did use it as a basis for reflection and balance for what I hadn't really felt like I had ownership of presenting in my work because of the perception of who tells the stories about engaging with nature. It wasn't always perceived as something a Black person from London would be talking about.

A lot of Nymph seems to grapple with both wanting control and realizing that there is still so much that we have to leave to chance.

I think it's just acknowledging that that's fine. I always say that life shouldn't happen at you all the time, but it's also fine when it does. That's the thing. When that does happen, sometimes you might have to read into the things that life is telling you like the things I reach out for and I push towards, but also the things I maneuver around. I don't like to balk at every perceived block. I'm like, "Actually, what is this teaching me? What am I learning? How do I need to adapt? Actually, do I need to get to the destination I asked for in the beginning?"

It's kind of taking the new ingredients that life is feeding you. For me, when I read the stories like Tess of the d'Urbervilles and stuff, and even looking back a lot of Victorian literature, they're always telling you about the heroine and what they wanted. The outcome is not what they asked for, but there's some moral endeavor on the way. So I guess I've always engaged around moralistic stories of some kind. I think, even as an artist, you kind of have this, for lack of a better word, preachy space because you have people that are listening to you. If there is a space where I think I do have a bit of an ego, it's a bit where I have had experiences that are worth telling and I do think other people could learn something from them in some ways. I would hope because I have learned some stuff from them.

But also, there's other things. Like "Coochie," I was thinking about Princess Bride when the granddad was telling the grandson about how beautiful this love was between this man and woman, and imagining a space where people gave that same sentiment about a relationship between the two women. That's what I wanted the song to be about — about me and my adoration of women, and of the space that it's allowed me. Like how nice it is being able to think like that and angling it in a way that is directed towards a younger audience, in a sense, because I want people to just be exposed to that sentiment in life. I wasn't trying to preach directly. I just wanted to be filtered into the atmosphere in the same way that all this messaging filtered down to me when I was younger through these movies like Princess Bride, The NeverEnding Story and even Grease! I was thinking about "Beauty School Dropout," like the way the song is, that's kind of how I was leaning into the melody of "Coochie" and having it be doo-woppy because it was about things that feel familiar but turning the sentiment into something that I think is needed. "Nike" is more me just using my experience growing up as a teenager. Me and Oscar [Sheller] were actually listening to a recording he took on the bus of some girls talking. They were talking as girls do about nothing but there was conviction. And I was that girl. My friends would ask me about all sorts of shit I have no experience on, but I would talk like I knew something. And I was just like, "How funny!" And now I do know some things and it's so funny to still use that attitude and go back into that space a little bit to be playful and make fun of it, but also appreciate it. I think a lot of the music sometimes is me appreciating the journey I've taken to get to who I am today.

I think that’s why we love media that captures adolescence. You don’t realize how universal the experience is.

You realize so many people have the same experience! School is so universal. I speak to so many people who went to school in America and we still have very similar experiences. It's just part of growing up, and when I was growing up, I was so focused on growing up. So now that I'm grown up, I can languish in the journey it took to get there and still kind of turn things over. You're still learning so much. I feel like you have to turn over the pieces of your memory and see how they consolidate into your life now. I just always want to make space for that inner child, because I was so busy trying to make her grow up.

It must be so empowering to be able to have the resources to do what you couldn’t as a child, especially getting that money from music!

As soon as I had money, all I would buy from the supermarket was the food that my mom didn't let me buy.

I was literally buying a PSP because my brother had a PSP and I was like, "I just like the design of it and all those games." I was just looking to see if I could still get a Polly Pocket.

They brought those back and it’s not the same.

I had so many when I was younger. My granddad had collected toy cars and trains and stuff, so we used to go to the swap meets or whatever. He wanted me and my brothers to get into toy collecting. I remember I had all those Beanie Babies, Polly Pockets and Barbies. He used to buy so many toys because wanted us to be into toys. It was so funny.

I have such bad taste in my home because I'm just buying things I wanted as a kid. My friends all really cute furniture and stuff, but I'm buying fluffy cushions and teddies and blankets.

It’s so rewarding to have your own space, mismatched decor and all.

Yeah, I'm literally just like, "No, I need things that make me feel good!" But I feel incredibly lucky that I get to make music and get to travel, but I also have worked really hard to be here and if I wasn't doing this, I'd be working harder on something else. I think that's the one thing I really enjoy. I wanted to make an album to feel like it was worth it. I made a bunch of music in lockdown that was fun and super easy. It was probably the record that people expected me to make a little bit, and knowing that didn't feel hard enough. I was like, "Actually, I just wanna see what else I can do.” If I don't give myself that space to myself, no one is! No one's gonna expect me to do anything else.

Were all the songs made within the past year?

The earliest on the album is from 2018, and that's "Company," which I made at the same time as I made "Watch" with Arca, and I'd been holding it back for ages because I knew. . .

It was part of something bigger?

Yeah, I kind of knew it was something else. And it's funny, when you make music like that, when you're writing things for yourself, there's no order. I feel like that half of the time because I've written things that make more sense to me further down the line than they do at the time of writing. And it's funny how words mature like that and melodies mature. I'm really enjoying my process with music. And with "Missin u" and "Nike." "Nike" was written in lockdown at the same time as I wrote "TASTY" and "Missin u." I think it was post-lockdown? I don't know. No, it was like February 2020. I wrote that because it was the first time of many times my boyfriend and I broke up. They're all disjointed because they all just come from an intuitive moment, but the bulk of it got made in December last year. November, I made "Woe" and "Coochie." When we made "Woe," I was like, "This is what I want to do! This is going to be the first track on the album! I want everything to feel like this or to be able to homogenize with this song."

And then I went to LA with Sasha and Sega with that intention. I was like, "We're gonna do sessions with some people who I met early on in the year like Noah and BloodPop and Kingdom. In those other sessions, they're like mixer sessions. You're hanging out and you're just seeing what you do and kinda get to know each other. In those sessions, I knew I want to make my album. And I already know what I have in the bank for this album, so if there are things we make, I'm going to direct them with that in mind. And we made "Heaven," "Firefly," "Wildfire" and "Shlut." So all of those were made in December. And then, when I got back, I made "Poison" and "Dummy" with Sega. It must've been like January or February.

I'd made so much music before then as well. I haven't stopped making music and I only stopped making music for a little bit after we made the album because I was mixing everything and going back and forth and finishing the tracks. Everyone will be like, "Oh, it feels done!" I'm like, "It's not done! I know when it's done." When I'm getting what I need from it, then I know it's done and no one else knows that moment apart from me. Then you have to pick it all apart again when you go into the mix. It's such a process mixing down the record because for me, I'm not technically versed in the mixing process. I'll be like, "Yeah, that sounds the same," which is why I wanted to work with Sega with me executive producing because there'd be moments like that where I need to go back and forth with someone and be like, "Do you see anything? Is it doing that?" And he'll be like, "Yeah, it's fine," and I'll be like, "No, it's not! The bass is not doing what it needs to do." He has different things than me as well. Having someone else to go back and forth with, I definitely needed that for the same kind of vested interest. It wasn't just me asking random producers that were working on it how they felt because it would be too many opinions. I said to him, "Will you executive producer this record with me?" I knew at the end he was invested in it as much as I was.

And you already have a pre-existing relationship and trust each other, especially if you're going back to taste, you know that there's somebody who’s on that same wavelength with you.

Or anticipate mine, and there were points where we did not see eye-to-eye but at the end of the day, I sat down with his opinion and I waited to see how it resonated for me and stuff like that. We have kind of sibling relationship at some points. We went back and forth on the tracklist so much and how to arrange everything. We both had our own playlists and we would change it every day. Every day was testing another arrangement and we would sit and listen to it. That's why I only just listened to the album again the other day, because listening to it through, I did it about a million times in different orders to see how we wanted the tracklist to be. I feel like ALIAS just kind of slotted together, but that's the difference between the EP and album to me, is that it's a more considered journey.

Sequencing is so important, because if the first track isn’t good, what makes you think they’ll continue listening?

That and also, it's the same as when you have a warm-up DJ. Every song warms you up for the next one in some way — kind of sets the groundwork.

A bad DJ is a bad DJ, and I've experienced so many of them in New York.

And I pride myself on being a good selector. So yeah, last night, I was like, "Okay, maybe I'll listen to it." Because you still don't think like, "Should I have put this song next to this one?" But at the time when we were doing that, I think Adele had just dropped her record and made it so that you couldn't shuffle it. I want to do what I wanted to do for me and people do whatever they want to do. Who am I to say exactly how someone's going to engage with it? The sentiment for me is there and if someone else is the same as me out there then they'll see it the same, which is nice. I like planning that out. I do share takes with other people. That's the nice thing about reading reviews and think pieces about the work. When people get it right or my intentions right at least, then I'm like, "Oh, maybe I'm not a fucking alien! I'm actually not that hard to work out!"

It's sometimes helpful to pretend you're some alien that no one will understand!

I'm just an angsty teen at heartwhere I'm like, "No one will understand me," and then everyone does every time and I'm actually like—

It’s so fun to be moody.

I think we all need those moments, but I actually have really enjoyed the audience telling me that they understand me entirely.

Photos courtesy of Shygirl