Charly Bliss on Being Strong Enough to Write the Truth

Interviews
06/19/2019
Jasmine Albertson
photo by Matthew B. Thompson

Last month, New York quartet Charly Bliss unveiled their sophomore record, Young Enough. Unapologetically pop, the record bursts with sparkling effervescence while the lyrics tackle some incredibly deep and dark subject matters, including frontwoman Eva Hendricks experience with sexual assault.

The record sees Hendricks flexing her songwriting muscles, writing about her experiences in an honest and authentic but also funny and charming way. A longtime lover of pop, she channels artists like Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Jenny Lewis in her work to create songs that encapsulate the feminine experience in such a visceral way that there’s potential for her to become one of the greatest songwriters around.

KEXP had the opportunity to speak to Hendricks about the process of writing about trauma, the pop stars that inspire her, and the need for Riverdale to step up its game musically if it wants to be the next The OC.

 


KEXP: The new album, Young Enough, is really fantastic. It’s been out a little over a month now, how are you feeling about the reception?

Eva Hendricks: It's just has felt so incredible. I think with our first album Guppy, it took us years to get that album out and it was a really fraught and difficult experience. I think that by the time that album came out, we were all just kind of relieved that it was out at all and kind of frustrated. I feel like it just has been such a different experience having Young Enough come out. We still feel so connected to these songs and we were in the studio making this album back in April of 2018 so it all feels really recent for us still.

So, being able to play these songs for people has just been a really gratifying experience. It still feels like we really love these songs and still really relate to them. We all just feel so proud of the album. So it's been a really, really great month since it's been out.

I just love how you wear your pop influences on your sleeve. You cite artists like Lorde and All American Rejects and Fountains of Wayne as influences. It’s really cool, to me, how the culture has shifted towards recognizing the power and beauty of pop because for so long it felt like indie rock was so pretentious and anti-pop. Even just five years ago no serious band would’ve cited Fountains of Wayne as an influence. Did you guys ever go through that anti-pop phase or have you always been aware and upfront about your love of and desire to make pop music?

You know it's funny. I think that when I was even in high school, I remember feeling so divided between music that I would admit to people that I listen to and music that I actually listened to. I remember feeling as if I was trying to impress somebody then there are certain bands that I would say and then certain ones I wouldn't admit that I also listened to like Miley Cyrus. And it's so funny because I really believe that it would be so hard to find a person who truly can't get behind any pop music and, quite frankly, I wouldn't want to meet that person.

I think it's really wonderful that music has kind of shifted in the perception of pop music. I think that almost everyone is down to admit that they love Carly Rae Jepsen just as much as they love Radiohead. You know, it's just different moods and different moments that you would want to listen to those two types of artists. Something that I feel so strongly about is that so often pop artists get dismissed as writing just fluff. And, absolutely, there is music like that out there. Artists like Taylor Swift, I think that her ability to write songs that reach so many people, that so many people can plug into and say, “Oh my God it feels like she's singing a song that's about something exactly like what I went through. She must have somehow listened in on my phone calls and read my diary.”

Writing songs like that is actually really, really difficult and I do commend her ability to do that. So, I think that, to me, in a way pop music is like the most competitive form of music because you always feel like you have to one-up yourself. You always feel like you have to one-up the last melody that you wrote and write a catchier song and I think just for the four of us, as people, I think that's an ethos that we respond to and can get behind.

Yeah absolutely and, truly, you’re an amazing songwriter. I’m just so grateful for songwriters like you that are able to write about the female experience in such an honest way. You’re so great at capturing the little intricacies of the feminine experience where certain lines have just hit me in such a relatable way. One of my favorites, which will probably be very telling about me and I’m not sure if it’s in a good way per se but it’s the opening lines from “Hard to Believe” - “I'm kissing everything that moves / I'm kissing anything that takes me far away from you.” I’m just like "Yup, been there.'

[Laughs] Absolutely, I mean my favorite artist growing up was Jenny Lewis from the band Rilo Kiley and I'd never really experienced an artist in that way that was fronting a band and writing so honestly about the female experience. And it didn't seem like she was trying to hide it behind anything, it seems like she was kind of celebrating that in her music and that is something that really had a tremendous impact on me. I think with all music, you can only really write from a place of honesty.

Something that I'm so proud of on this album is, whereas on Guppy there are a few moments where I would get close to saying something that felt really honest and then kind of dodge and make a joke instead. On Young Enough, it was just really important to me to say something that felt embarrassing to me and something that felt scary to admit. And, yeah, absolutely that opening line in “Hard to Believe” about just like, “Ugh I just don't want to be stuck in this relationship anymore. I just want to make out with anybody, anything that will just push me away from being attracted to this person who I know is so wrong for me.” You know, we've all been there.

 

Let's talk more about some of that honesty. I know you’ve already talked quite a bit about this in previous interviews, but I think it’s important enough to revisit and unpack this a bit again for those unaware. A lot of the songs on the album – but primarily“Chatroom” – upon the first few listens feels like an exuberant fun pop song but its subject matter is actually rather dark. Very real, but dark. It’s about the sexual assault you experienced with a previous partner and your struggle to tell people about it. I think that’s an incredibly important story to tell and I’d love to hear about your process of writing about the experience?

Absolutely. You know, that's something that happened to me years ago and it's kind of amazing what your brain can do to bury an experience like that and kind of try to force you to move on from it and not look at it and not acknowledge it. You're trying to convince yourself that it didn't happen and I think that there's only so long that you can get away with that before it sort of starts coming out in different ways, in ways that are beyond your control.

My experience of writing this album was not that I went into it saying that I wanted to write an album about sexual assault or a really manipulative and toxic relationship that I went into. I think it just kind of slowly started happening and it felt beyond my control. For a song like “Chatroom,” I remember writing that song and I was working on writing lyrics for a song that my brother Sam had written. I was kind of struggling to come up with something that fit the melody that he had written and kind of out of nowhere the entire first verse of “Chatroom” with the lyrics and the melody just kind of came out.

I think it's really interesting how your subconscious works in that way. It was almost only after writing some of these songs that I could kind of read them and read the lyrics back and start to confront the fact that this is something that had happened to me and that it was something that was really weighing on me. The process of writing the songs wasn't something that was at all difficult to me, it felt like it happened really easily. It is so obvious to me now that these were all things that were kind of bubbling up from inside of me that I hadn't really been able to talk to anybody about.

The process that was actually much harder was deciding whether or not I wanted to be upfront and honest about the fact that that's what these lyrics were referring to when it came time to do press for the album. That was a really difficult decision. I think that's something that's so important to me in songwriting is just the idea, as we were talking about before, with artists like Taylor Swift and with any musician, I think the ability to plug into a song no matter what it's about and be able to relate it to what you are going through and feel like there's room for you in the song and there's room for the listener in the song to relate to it and to connect to it is so important to me.

I didn't ever want to be so explicit about what I was feeling when I wrote a song or about the true subject matter of the song that people couldn't connect to it in their own way. But, something that's been really incredible is I feel like the opposite has happened since we've put the songs out. It feels like our fans and the people who listen to our music have been, because we've been so honest with them, have been so honest and vulnerable with us in return and the shows have felt so powerful and energetic because of that. It's kind of forced me, in a way, to confront this experience and talk to my family about it and talk to my friends about it. And now I'm in a position where I talk about it often with people I've never met all over the world. I've found that that's something that's actually brought me a lot of strength.

I've never felt like keeping something in has helped me at all. It's always felt like the more I talk about it and the more I relate to other people and connect with other people about it, the stronger I feel. It's definitely not been completely easy or simple, it's been a difficult experience, but it's been something that's ultimately brought about out far more good than bad.

 

Was there a line or a lyric there was especially difficult for you to write?

Well, the song “Chatroom” is really a celebration. And so, that song felt really incredible to write, actually. It kind of felt like I was shedding this really difficult experience and kind of finally placing the blame on the right person instead of directing it inwards. So that song was just a total joy to write. I think the songs that were harder to write were songs like “The Truth,” which I think is a really brutal and violent song and, once again, sounds like a really happy song.

I would say that the details in “The Truth,” of “Silent scathing smile / The family planning aisle / I can feel my sanity dissolve.” Those were some of the harder lyrics to write. And, even now, when we sing that song back or I listen to it, in a way, it's one of my favorite songs because it's so honest and because it was so hard to write those lyrics. But, you know, still sometimes it catches me off guard and it's just a brutal song.

Absolutely, I feel like the line in “Chatroom,” “I was fazed in the spotlight—his word against mine / Everybody knows you're the second coming” is an especially important one. The wake of the #MeToo movement has certainly made sexual assault and accusations of sexual assault a less stigmatized thing but it’s still incredibly scary to tell that story because there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t believe you which adds an incredibly upsetting layer. Have you experienced any backlash like that after telling your story on the album?

I've been really lucky in the sense that I feel like I told my story but I wasn't in a position that so many women have been in who have been so brave and come forward and named their abuser. That's not something that I've chosen to do with this experience. So, in that sense, I haven't put myself in a position to experience that type of backlash because once you name someone, of course, there's always going to be someone who says, “No, that person's amazing. No, there's no way that person could have done that.”

In the moment, in my personal life, when I first went through that, yes, there were definitely experiences where I would build up the courage to say to someone, “You know, that relationship was really awful and that person really is not who they say they are.” And they would say,” Oh, there's no way” or “Oh, you misinterpreted it” or “Oh, I can't believe that” and it's awful. It's an awful feeling and I have so much respect for women who come forward because, exactly as you said, it's just part of the world that we live in and part of just human nature and I think the Internet is something that makes that so much more dangerous. It's so easy to read something and then shove out into the universe something like “Oh I don’t believe that” or whatever. And you forget that these are real people who have experienced this and reading that back is so damaging to see that there are people who, in your moment of total vulnerability, are rejecting something that's so hard to talk about.

So I feel really grateful to our fans who have been so respectful and really have honored my decision to talk about this. I so appreciate when they come to me and tell me that they've been through something similar and that the songs have been helpful for them.

 

The video for “Chatroom” is also super intense. I physically gasped at one point. It sees you in this cult where a group of women all live to serve this one man who periodically picks a new girl as his chosen one, which all the girls strive for. When your time finally comes to be chosen and you’re taken into a back room you find the previously chosen girl tied up and it seems the man expects you to fight or kill her? But jokes on him. Instead, you ban together to take him down. It’s incredibly powerful. Whose idea was the concept for the video?

Well, we are so lucky to get to work with a close friend Maegan Houang on this video. From the very beginning, I was really honest with her about the subject matter of the song and she had also been through something similar. So, from the very beginning, I just felt that there was a lot of trust in that relationship and I knew that she would be able to translate the subject matter of the song into something felt really apt and correct. She just really took my lyrics and the intention behind the song and created something really dark and beautiful but I appreciated the fact that it wasn't a direct translation of the lyrics. We felt that it was very important that the music video didn't include sexual assault in any way and instead highlighted just the manipulative and toxic relationship between the cult women and the cult leader.

That felt really really important to us but it was absolutely her idea and I'm so proud of that video. I have to be honest, it was a kind of emotionally taxing video to make. I grew up doing musical theater and I grew up acting but I'd never really been in a position to act in something that was that dark and a totally traumatic role and so I was really nervous. And also, it's one of our only videos where my bandmates aren't right beside me throughout the whole experience and shooting. It was really nerve-wracking and especially for a song like that, that’s so special to me. I really feel so proud of it. And it felt so important to me to make a video that really did justice to the lyrics and the intention behind that song and I think that Megan just did such a brilliant job. I'm super proud of that video.

Yeah, it's fantastic, incredibly cinematic. Now that you’re on the road, do you have a favorite line or lines from Young Enough that you feel particularly proud of or have grown on you or hit you in a different way?

You know, I will say, not to make this all about “Chatroom,” but playing “Chatroom” every night is electric, totally amazing experience because I really do feel like our fans know what that song is about. And so, when it gets to that point in the set I feel like the love that they give us back and the support that they give us is just really really special.

Also playing the song “Young Enough” is a really special experience. Just because on our first album, Guppy, all of the songs were high octane like 100 percent of the time. It was kind of always going at full blast and it's felt really cool on this album, not only just in the recording process but then translating that to the live experience, playing a set that is more diverse, that has some space and more of a build. Playing a song like “Young Enough” feels like we're able to connect with the audience in a totally different way. Whereas most of our songs we’re hoping that people jump around and dance and go nuts, it's kind of this really still and peaceful but still really high energy connection in a totally different way than we've ever had before in a set and that feels really incredible every night.

Are there certain female songwriters that have influenced your work?

Absolutely. You know, we've talked a lot about Lorde and the album Melodrama influencing this album and I just feel like in so many ways that album was a guiding light for us. Her lyrics and just how totally fearless she is on that album was so inspiring to me. I really feel like while we were writing this album, it kind of forced me to always go back, even when I thought a song was done, and make sure that I really said everything and said the embarrassing thing and the difficult thing and the angry thing and whatever I was really feeling because I just feel like Melodrama as an album touches on absolutely everything. She is totally unflinching in her songwriting and her lyric writing and that was a total inspiration to me.

We talked about Jenny Lewis and Carly Rae Jepsen and I'm just really inspired by the pop scene right now. I got to see Taylor Swift in concert for the first time a year ago with my mom and my sister in law. It was such a tremendous show and her ability to connect with her fans even when she's playing massive stadiums is really really super inspiring to me. And Charli XCX. Lizzo. I could go on forever. Those are all my favorites right now.

Totally agree. There are so many women just killing it right now.

Absolutely. It's really amazing.

 

I read that you’ve been able to leave your day jobs to focus on being a full-time musician, which is so great and, unfortunately, so rare. We’ve been talking a lot at KEXP lately about how difficult it is for musicians to sustain themselves solely through music and how unfair that is and discussing what needs to change in the music industry in order for musicians to be able to financially thrive. Do you have any thoughts or ideas of what could change to get musicians compensated more fairly?

I wish I did. I don't really know. All I can say is it's really difficult. I mean, we are doing it, we are supporting ourselves off of our music, but I will say that it's definitely difficult. We're not in a position where we're supporting ourselves in the traditional sense. I mean to say that we can pay our rent but beyond that not much. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we've done it but only partially because of the fact that we couldn't really keep our day jobs.

It's kind of difficult to stay working at a coffee shop or, you know, bartending when you are constantly away and constantly have to be giving up shifts. At the coffee shop where I worked, I had so many wonderful friends who were always helping me out but you just start to feel like you're reaching a point where it's running thin and you don't want to let people down. So it felt like we had no choice but to quit our day jobs. We are barely able to get by off of it. But we also feel like we are so excited by what's happening in our career and it feels so important to be able to devote as much time as possible to being on tour and to writing and to do this.

I definitely don't think we could have written an album like Young Enough if we had also been working day jobs. It just felt like we were touring so much that it felt entirely necessary that we be able to focus on writing while we were home and solely focus on that. In terms of ideas that I have for how it could change, I mean, I know that it's kind of tough that everyone's in the same boat. Labels are in the same boat because of streaming and because of Spotify and everyone's kind of trying to figure it out. All I can say is that I hope that it changes because I don't want to live in a world where only one percent of artists are able to live off of their careers. I don't think that's a world that we want.

I think that art is so important and obviously I love mega pop stars and I am all in favor of that world but I also really believe that something that music streaming has given us is the fact that we can listen to so many artists from around the world and music from around the world and I think that's a wonderful thing. I don't want people to be discouraged from making art just because it feels like this isn't a viable career choice. I really hope that something changes. And, for us, I think we just continue hoping that if we work hard and we keep doing this that it will hopefully get easier and easier. And I really hope that's true. I just try to stay positive and hope that things are changing for the better.

Yeah I mean it's a conversation that it seems like a lot of people are having. It's clearly something that everyone's concerned about.

I think it's so important to be transparent about this because I've had so many people from high school reach out to me and be like, “Oh my God, your band’s in Rolling Stone, like you're selling out shows you must be like totally rich.” [Laughs] And I'm like, “No way. I wish.” You know, we were featured in that Vulture article where so many artists came forward and were talking about their financial realities and I think it's so important. I think people don't realize that this is what's happening. I definitely don't know what the solution is but I definitely feel like people being made aware of this is definitely the beginning and it's something that's really important to me so I'm glad you asked me about it.

Yeah, I completely agree. So I'm going to do a hard pivot here. I heard you love The OC. I, too, was, am, and forever will be an OC superfan. I literally went into like a week-long depression spiral when Marissa died.

Oh yeah, me too. Oh my God, it’s such a brutal episode to watch.

I guess that’s kind of a spoiler alert but if you haven't watched the OC at this point then I’m sorry, that’s your own fault.

Exactly. Watch it.

Can we talk for a second about how life-changing the OC soundtracks were?

Absolutely. Well, yes, first of all, Death Cab for Cutie being on that episode was so amazing. And Rooney and Tally Hall being in an episode and – what was the other band that I freaked out about them being on? Not Jonathan Fire Eater...The Walkmen! So good.

That brings me to another one of my favorite television shows which is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I really feel like we need another TV show that has bands on it. It's so cool when a show writes bands into the scripts. I think it's a genius idea and I feel like on Buffy all of the bands that played the Bronze, I mean Cibo Matto and the Breeders, were so good. I really wish there was a TV show that was doing that now.

One of my favorite current TV shows is Riverdale and I love that they incorporate music into the show but I've always felt like there's a huge opportunity to do that on that show. I think it's mutually beneficial, it's beneficial to the artists and to the TV show as well. I’ve really wanted a TV show to embrace that. I also feel like on Riverdale, this is totally a side note, I love that they incorporate music into the TV show but I really feel like there's a huge opportunity for them to write original songs for the characters in that show. And I so wish they would! Especially because it's part of the whole Josie the Pussycats universe which we've talked a lot about being a huge influence on our band. I really feel like they should totally go for it and write original songs. I think people would flip.

I agree. Well, where’s Josh Schwartz at right now? What’s he doing? I feel like when he made Gossip Girl I was like, “Oh, the music on this show is gonna be just as amazing and important as the OC,” but I feel like he kind of dropped the ball with Gossip Girl.

Oh yeah, totally dropped the ball. It wasn’t the same. Yeah, the OC brought so much great indie music to so many people who would never have otherwise heard it. Amazing show. I can't get enough of it. You're making me want to re-watch.

 

I know, me too. Well, I'm sure you need something to watch while you're on tour with those long drives. Speaking of, you'll be in Seattle on June 22nd to play the Crocodile, with a KEXP in-studio the day before which you'd think means you have a free night. But it looks like you're going back down to Portland after your in-studio and then coming back up?

We're doing a whole crazy thing. We're flying from Salt Lake City to Seattle then playing the KEXP session then driving down to Portland, then driving back up to Seattle.

Hustling! Is there anything new or different that you're adding to your life performance behind the new record?

Yeah, I feel like the live performance is just so much more cohesive. We really wanted to just do everything we can to make our live show feel like more of an experience. We love playing shows and especially because, by the time Guppy came out, we'd been playing some of those songs for five years already so it just feels really amazing for us to have so many new songs in the set. So, it’ll be different just purely based off the fact that there's a lot of new material in the set but also, oh my God, we've been making crazy stage outfits. I'm dressed like a gigantic cupcake every day, the boys are wearing matching outfits, and we've got like a giant glitter curtain. It just felt really fun making the live set feel special.

We got to tour with so many incredible bands in the past year or so and one band that was a huge influence on us was the band Bleachers. It just felt like they did such an incredible job of making their shows feel so special every night. Also, practically, we incorporated more synths into this new album and eventually it came time to figure out how we were going to play them live which has been a really awesome experience. We originally were thinking that we were going to have to add a fifth member but then we kind of felt like it was a really fun challenge to figure out how to do it just the four of us. So, another way we inspired by Bleachers is that they have these stations set up on stage and all of the bandmates kind of move around stage and switch up playing at these different stations with different instruments and so we've been definitely aping that and doing that in our set as well and all of us take turns playing synths.

It's been really cool kind of pushing ourselves with this new set. So definitely expect a lot of surprises, a lot of new stuff. It’s very fun to play these new songs.


Charly Bliss will perform live on KEXP on Friday, June 21 at noon. The following day, Saturday, June 22 they'll play the Crocodile. Below, watch Charly Bliss KEXP in-studio performance from 2017.

 

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