Hello, wonderful reader! Thanks for landing here. I’m Sam ‘maSHerman’ Herman, and I help run Nyhla Records. I love my people and I love music. I’ve always wanted a platform to have discussions with my artist friends about their art, and the attitudes behind it - right under my nose the whole time was nyhlarecords.com/blog. So here I am, with a series of conversations I’m going to have with my dear friends about their creativity.
Today, Nyhla’s indie-pop queen (and LA denizen) Billie-Rae released Solo, a beautiful, melancholic & introspective cut about feeling alone in a partnership. I caught up with her to talk about everything from her recent move from Vancouver to California to the minutiae of the Pop music process.
SH: You ready?
SH: Action! How have you been? What has your experience in LA been like so far — met goals or expectations? Did you really have any before diving into this chapter?
BR: Whoah, 10 questions off the bat! Ok let’s go. I’ve been good - good and busy. Moving to LA was such a welcome change of pace for me - I always loved Vancouver and how beautiful the city was, but moving to LA really opened up connections and doors I think may have been closed for me back in Canada. Not to say there aren’t connections to be made in Vancouver still - I love Van and the music community there too. I just felt like a change needed to be made for the kinds of connections I was looking for. So yeah, I guess you could say I had expectations and goals, but everything I’ve been working towards has exceeded them, absolutely. As the great Randy Newman says, I love LA.
SH: Do you feel like your change in surroundings has influenced your sound in new directions? Does your music carry a sense of Vancouver or California energy about it in your eyes or ears?
BR: I definitely feel like I’m being inspired on a different level by my peers here in Los Angeles, for sure, which has in turn influenced my sound and the music I’ve been writing. I’ve also been doing a lot of session writing with super talented artists & producers and learning a lot that way. Which is funny because I wrote Solo a year ago, yet I still feel comfortable releasing it at this point in my life, so I can’t say my style or genre has changed that much - but I’m definitely inspired to keep going farther than what I’m making at the moment, here. I wouldn’t label my music as a “Vancouver” or “LA” sound, solely because I feel like both cities mean so much to me and make me the person I am today, and inform the music I write. So I’m like a hybrid. Like Two-Face from Batman, except without the evilness.
SH: Love that. Personally, when I listen through your music I can sort of hear BC in the more healing, downtempo and introspective cuts and California in your energized, upbeat & empowering songs. Do you think that’s fair to say or could it work the opposite way sometimes?
BR: *laughs* Interesting! I guess I can see that...although I’ve been writing a lot for myself and my EP lately and can definitely say there’s a ballad or two on there written in Los Angeles, that give a downtempo feel. I really just think it’s how I’m feeling in the moment and who I’m collaborating with.
SH: So there is a fair hybridity there, that’s cool. Really informs a fresh sonic universe for you. You mentioned Solo, which is finally out at the time we publish this, is a year old. Can you pinpoint how it’s had so much staying power with you? Do older songs generally lose their power to you as the artist, or do they maintain the same integrity they felt like they started on? Did it grow on you in any sense?
BR: I think on one hand, if I said that as an artist I love every one of my songs, released or unreleased, however old they are, that would be honest because they’re something I created at that point in time - and that’s therapeutic and something to value. On the other hand, growth is so evident when you’re looking at older bodies of work and it’s easy to feel unsure about them. I first showed the Solo demo to you guys at Nyhla a while back, and then it kinda sat on the back burner for a bit. I think you all noticed that I wasn’t planning on releasing it but you guys talked it up so much and gave me the nudge I needed to convince myself to finish it up. So yeah. It represents a time in my life that I felt the need to write about and even though it’s a year later and I don’t feel the same way, I think it’s still an honest and raw experience to share, and that’s worth something.
SH: It’s so good. I’m happy we were part of that push for you. We believe in it a ton. We sort of mark out at most things one of our babies make, but we really got that special feeling about Solo. I’m excited for you! There’s one thing I really want to touch on that I think is a fun conversation for artists like you and ours. Pop music. You would unabashedly say that’s what you write, no?
BR: Yes! I definitely would say I write some version of Pop music. Whether writing for me, or for other artists, my brain melodically goes to a pop/indie-pop headspace and I have always sat somewhat comfortably there. While I’m always trying to push boundaries and have been in writing rooms for other genres before, Pop music is my one true love. Too often, I think, there’s a sort of stigma that comes with writing Pop and my response to that is, look around - pop music and pop influence is everywhere you go. It’s hard to make something that will make people say “oh yeah, this is catchy.” You know how many times ProTools has crashed on me because I’ve recorded 20 vocal takes trying to get a chorus effect? *laughs* We’re all just doing our best and however you feel about Pop, you have to admit that it’s not easy making music of any kind. Then there’s the added dynamic of testing the waters, trying to push pop music into an experimental space - something I’m currently working on with the artists I write for and also for myself on my EP. So many pop artists lately have been coming at the world hard, with fresh and new music that sounds so unique, and I think that’s great. I love it all.
SH: That’s exactly what I wanted to get at. Some people associate pop music with the lowest common denominator, for lack of a better phrase. As if relatability or sticking power inherently comes with some sort of sacrifice in substance. How do you find the balance between putting yourself and your experience into a record that also functionally tries to tease at widespread appeal and ease for entry?
BR: It’s odd. Pop music is short for Popular music but I’ve never really been too concerned about whether what I’m making has widespread appeal or not - at the end of the day, I just want it to sound good to me and the artists in the room. I’d be lying though if I said that other people aren’t concerned with widespread appeal. A music release takes a team, and especially when writing for other artists, we come to the session knowing that we want to make something somewhat likeable, and when other people like something I’ve done - that’s a great feeling. But other days, depending on who I’m collaborating with, it all kind of flies out the window and it’s a “let’s push boundaries” writing day - and those are always fun too. So I guess you could say I fluctuate between the two.
SH: I like that a lot. To know at the end of the day what it is you’re writing, but to proactively table the idea that it needs to have those qualities makes for something unique and objectively good. That comes through in your music I think. It’s cool that you’ve been doing more songwriting! Where’s the balance when you’re working for a different artist project than your own? Do you try to channel their experiences or code your own into those lyric sheets?
BR: Thanks! I hope so. That’s a good question. I used to struggle with the thought of balance, and it took me some time, but ultimately I realized that it doesn’t have to be 50/50 on either side - for my own artist project or writing for other artists. Some days, I write songs that I love for myself, and on other days I write a song that won’t necessarily fit on my project - or I think it would work better with another artist - or I’m in a session with an artist in mind (or in the room), writing for them specifically, and it just kind of goes in that direction. It really is an interesting dynamic but I no longer struggle with the idea of “letting things go”. There’s an endless plethora of songs to write, and a copious amount of cool lyrics to be made - that’s the truth. I also just enjoy meeting new people in the studio and learning from their process and being inspired by their artistic vision. So - to wrap my long-winded answer up - I love writing for myself, but I love writing for other projects equally as much!
SH: We love songs! Thank you for letting me climb into your brain for a minute here, this was so fun. I’m happy I get to do this and I’m double happy I get to be part of your support system. You’re a real one. A capital A, Artist. Want to take a moment to do the classic “let the people know what’s coming next” bit? What can the world expect from your corner beyond Solo?
BR: Yeah, thanks Sam! This was fun. Thanks for being a friend! Beyond Solo, I’m currently writing an EP, that is almost nearly done, so expect that sometime in the coming year! I’m really excited about it, as it’s my first full-bodied piece of work and has a real part of my heart in it. I’ve been working on some literary writing, and am hoping to release a zine with some film photography of mine & a few short stories to accompany it, so that’s something new for me. I’ve also been working closely with some artists here in LA, and I’m excited to have some co-writes on their next projects. I won’t name names but I’m stoked to be a part of those.
SH: And scene!