Young adult life requires us to be shapeshifters. The road between childhood self and the so-called grown-up world is dotted with new friendships and partners, alongside the realization that some are better left behind. There’s joy more acute than ever before, accompanied by lows previously unimaginable. Navigating both demands patience, compassion, and a damn good sense of humor.
These are skills Asheville, North Carolina artist Indigo De Souza has all but mastered. On her sophomore album Any Shape You Take, released by Saddle Creek, she phases from life’s charming to more haunting moments, while morphing genre as an accompaniment.
The majority of tracks were penned at the same time as her 2018 DIY debut I Love My Mom, a period Indigo refers to as the "hardest time in her life." While painted with the darkest shades of mental health struggles, her writing finds solace in the emotional roller coasters we all ride.
“I've always been inspired by the way being a human feels so personal, but at the same time is not special,” she says. “It is a totally collective experience.”
From finding romanticism in grocery stores, positivity in breakups, and cuteness in Auto-Tune, here Indigo De Souza breaks down every track on Any Shape You Take.
KEXP: The record starts with your vocals filtered through Auto-Tune, vocoder. It's an interesting way to begin, because the track doesn't sound like anything else on the album. Why did you want to introduce Any Shape You Take with this song?
Indigo De Souza: "17" is based off a really old demo I made. We had originally wanted to record the song closer to how we do it live, which is more live rock’n’roll, a catharsis sound. Then I showed the old demo to everybody and we felt really inspired by it — we ended up basing all of the elements off of that. I had used the vocal effects on the demo, so it ended up naturally being very different from everything else — it was more my direct influence, rather than a band "hive mind" thing. It felt special for that song to be first since it was so different. I liked the surprise element of it.
Why did you want to explore using those effects, especially when your voice is such a powerful part of you as an artist?
It's just fun. I love live singing into an Auto-Tune effect. I think that Auto-Tune can sound really emotional, especially if you change the pitch up to a higher tone. Something about it is really emotionally cute for me.
You boil down these powerful emotional experiences to super relatable lyrics that you then repeat, almost like a mantra. On "Darker Than Death" you have, ‘Was it something I said.’ In the next song "Die/Cry" — ‘I'd rather die than see you cry.’ Are you consciously trying to write these straightforward, honest feelings in your songs?
Slightly consciously, in the way that I think there was a point in time when I realized that's how I like to write, and shifted into a very raw, honest space. But I naturally repeat things, and change the way I'm saying it each time. It feels like the way things in life are. Sometimes things can be repeated, or mistakes are repeated, or things are communicated again and again, and are changing constantly. It just feels natural.
Do you find the meaning changes when you repeat a certain line over and over? Maybe it started out as one thing, but then by the end of the song, it means something totally different?
For sure. I think it can pass through different layers of humor also. It can mean something really serious, and then mean something funny.
In "Die/Cry" you're tackling this intense existentialism, and it's not the only time you mention death on the record. Are you someone who is hyper-focused on mortality?
I would say I'm definitely hyper-focused on mortality. I think that colors my experience in the world, because I feel as if that focus has granted me the patience to be more present with my life, and people in my life. It has shown me the importance of relationships, and it's allowed me this space to water my relationships in a really special way, and in a way that's very open and connective. I can't imagine my life without holding mortality in the way I do. I think that has been a theme in my music for a while, not forever, but ever since that shift happened for me, which was in my teens.
You definitely take a unique perspective on relationships. I read that when you were writing, you were thinking about how rare it is to have a positive breakup song. Why did you want to bring lightness to this experience that is associated with heartbreak, with loss, with pain?
Mostly because I think it's more common for breakups to not be this huge, very big thing, but to be a small occurrence. Like, 'oh, we're just not right for each other.' I think that happens a lot, where you think someone might be right for you and then you realize they're actually not right for you, in a partnership sense. But you really like them as a person, and you want them to have a good life, and be loved and seen in the right ways. You want that for yourself, too. The only way you can both have that, and both move on for things that are better for you, is to let each other go. To not continue to try and push toward something that isn't real.
I wanted to write a song about that, because that also involves a lot of pain. You have to come to terms with a lot to let someone go. I was going through something like that. I wanted to write about it, and invite other people into that space.
The centerpiece of the album is this song, and the center of the centerpiece is this crowdsourced screaming. You reached out to your fans and loved ones to send voice memos to you. How did that idea come to you, to put that ask out to the world?
When I started writing "Real Pain," I was writing about the way you have to fully engage with pain in order to move through it. That was something I had fully learned around the time I was writing it. It had fully clicked in my mind after going through a very hard breakup, and realizing I couldn't run from the pain. I had to feel it all, and I had to cry a lot. I had to take the time for myself, I needed to heal and move forward.
It was such a humanizing experience, the bottom I went to during that time. I felt a lot of comfort in the idea that so many people in the world had gone through heartbreak. Then when the pandemic happened, I also was inspired by the amount of collective pain that was happening. The collective panic and confusion. I've always been inspired by the way being a human feels so personal, but at the same time is not special. It is a totally collective experience. I wanted to invite many different voices into this one space I was creating to convey that idea.
"Bad Dream" captures the torment of a sleepless night. The music tosses and turns like a night of insomnia. Who are you calling out to when you sing the line, ‘Please send help to me’?
I'm not calling out to anyone in particular, it's more the idea of a cry for help in general. I've had a really turbulent experience with mental health throughout my life. I actually feel, as if for the past couple of years, I am much more on top of my mental health, and much more stable and happy than I've ever been. I remember when I was writing that, it was more conveying a cry for help in a mental health sense, which is something I've felt a lot through my life.
Even though you've said this album is about embracing changes in life, this song represents how difficult that can be. Tell me more about writing this song - was it cathartic to let yourself feel that fear of change?
It's funny, because a lot of the songs I wrote for this album, and then also for [2018’s] I Love My Mom, were written during the hardest time in my life. Because I was doing so bad in the mental health sense, a lot of the stuff feels blacked out. The memories of writing the songs, and being with the songs, feel hard to tap into sometimes. Which is how it is generally — it's subconscious to write songs in general for me.
You just got back from a first headlining tour. Did you have to go back to that place, or do you bring where you're at now when you're performing these songs live?
It's more of a presence thing. I will pull from where I am now and just put the emotional state I'm in now into the songs. Also, I tend to think of that past time when I'm singing the songs now in a loving way. I'm proud of myself for having gone through all of that, and to still be here now, and to still be doing what I love, and having a fearlessness about me. I hold those things when I'm playing the songs now. Try to honor that past self.
You were talking about the recording process for this record, and you said that you associate it with that time in the pandemic when we were all so weird and stressed out about going grocery shopping. Such an everyday occurrence that suddenly felt dangerous. In "Late Night Crawler," you have a really cute line that goes ‘fleeting lover, my grocery goer.’ What does that line represent to you now?
I don't know if that line has changed much for me, but I've always found such a romanticism in the way that people who are partnered together go grocery shopping together, and choose things they like together. That's always been such a funny symbol for me, having different partners in my life, and having to acclimate to each person's things they like to get at the grocery store.
The grocery store has always been a place of stress for me. It's gotten better now, but I have always had a lot of anxiety around people working for me directly, like having to check out at a cashier's register, or having to tell someone what I want on a sandwich at a deli line. It used to be so hard for me when I was young, I used to have really bad anxiety. I could barely leave the house, and I just refused to go through a deli line. I don't know why it's so hard, but I think that I often write about groceries or grocery stores or parking lots for that reason. It is just an existential and existentially heavy place for me.
"Hold U" is such a beautiful expression of community, and celebration of love and friendship. Going back to that period again where you were recording the album in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns, was it a difficult track to dive into during this time of isolation and loneliness?
No, I just remember having so much fun making it. It's such a boppy song and it's really positive. I think I generally am a really boppy and positive person day-to-day. I'm just grateful, I've had beautiful and growing friendships throughout the pandemic, and have created little bubbles with really, really important community members. I felt inspired by that when I was making this song.
That comes across in the music video. It's filled with friendship and dancing and glitter. Are all those people featured in the film, is that your community, your friend group in Asheville [North Carolina]?
A lot of the people in the video are community I created after recording the album. I had a really low point after recording this album, and then I had to rise from the ashes once again. I ended up creating an incredible community of people around me. I have all these really vibrant friends now, and they're all in the video.
Of all the songs on the album, this one makes me the most emotional for the level of compassion you demonstrate in the lines, ‘if you want to change, I'll be here to love you.’ Are you speaking to an external subject, or is it more internal, telling yourself that?
It really feels like both. When I got to the really low place I was talking about...when I came out of that place, I had to find a level of self-love in order to rise. When I did that, I found that having an amount of self-love ended up attracting people to me that treated me really well. Who were healthy in my life, and were uplifting, and who had positive boundaries with me, and who I could learn a lot from. Who also allowed me to shift, and change, and express myself, and work every way I wanted.
In this song, I was thinking about the idea that people who really, really love each other offer each other space to be whatever they are, and to change into whatever they will be. To express themselves fully in every moment, in whatever way they need to. Mutually having that space with other people is what life is about. That's what real love is to me. It's having safe space between people.
I love that you chose to "open with the close.” You released the final track, "Kill Me," of Any Shape You Take as the lead single. What fueled that decision?
A lot of things, but mostly it felt very representative of the new place I had gone to with this album, while also holding elements of I Love My Mom. It felt like a perfect representation of the journey. Also, it was a song I had played live a lot before the pandemic, and I knew it would be special to people who had been following along on the journey to hear that song first. It's representative of that really hard time that inspired all of the songs on this album, and the last. The song really feels like it comes from that time in my life that inspired all of these things.
It's definitely this bridge from I Love My Mom, and demonstrates your growth. The 2018 record was such a beautiful DIY/independent bedroom project, and then "Kill Me" is impeccably produced. How do you hope, or anticipate, to now grow between Any Shape You Take and whatever the next Indigo De Souza project might be?
I expect there to be a lot of growth musically, but to also still hold on to a lot of the same emotional sentiments. During the pandemic I was extremely prolific and I started planning out the next two albums. I wrote so many songs. I was really excited about the shifts I was seeing in the writing during that time. It feels like I was writing from a totally different place, and had a totally different idea of words and how I wanted them to be shaped, and how I wanted the energy of the songs to be. It's hard to explain, but I feel really excited about the new places these new songs will go, and also really excited to explore more pop and electronic elements.