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Navigating the Waters of Change: An Intimate Dive into Strange Tides’ EP ‘Differentiation

In an evocative conversation with Strange Tides, the artist delves into the profound themes encapsulated in their latest EP, ‘Differentiation’. This collection of songs emerges from a decade of transformative experiences, reflecting on personal growth, familial roles, and spiritual introspection. With a candid exploration of breaking away from past influences to forge a unique identity, Strange Tides discusses the intricate process of songwriting that mirrors their journey towards self-definition. This interview not only reveals the artist’s struggle with faith and identity but also showcases their commitment to authentic expression through genre-fluid music.

Strange Tides, thank you for the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss your recent EP, Differentiation; the thematic undercurrents in the lyrical poetry are beyond compelling; can you tell us a little bit about the concept of the release and what inspired its creation?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you! I’m so grateful to have the chance to dig a little deeper into this little packet of songs.

“Differentiation” came out of a process of perpetual disorientation and reorientation that unfolded through my twenties. At the surface, this included a lot of adulthood firsts: first bereavement (Ides of March) and first experience of doubt as a person of faith (Out of Deep Waters, Father of my Father) being the clearest. More abstractly, I also found myself reassessing a lot of assumptions for the first time. In particular, this stage of life saw me examining my role in my family as an adult, my role as a person of faith, and God’s own attitude towards me and humanity at large. While examining these ideas, I spent a lot of time contrasting myself against those around me, or against my past self…. But I continually bumped up against the wonderful reality that, despite all our differences, we are unavoidably shaped by others. These tensions: connectedness in the presence of difference, and the new and old self, were soil from which this record grew.

There’s a strong lyrical emphasis on autonomously determining your own values and goals; how hard do you think it is to separate yourself from social and familial conditioning to know what you truly want and need? 

I suspect the answer to that is some combination of a person’s personality and the dynamic of their family or community of origin. I must admit, with some embarrassment, that I am easily influenced by others, so it is fortunate for me that my parents encouraged me to move away so that I could gain some autonomy and perspective. If not given that freedom externally, I think I would have found it exceptionally difficult to grasp. Even so, the experience of thinking differently from people I love or admire was still painful. There is a core group of people with whom I will always belong, even as my convictions and outlooks shift, but these changes still upset the existing balance of relationships. As I change, there’s a bit of effort required of my loved ones to stay curious about me, and also to stay rooted in their own values, while still being willing to be shaken up every now and again. And I owe them that same effort in return. Indeed, in Father of my Father, you see me in the midst of a battle between my own disappointment with other people’s changes in belief, and my desire to keep my mind and heart wholly open to those people.

Your advocacy for authenticity is made all the more convincing through your distinctive songwriting and genre-fluidity, was this intentional, or did it just happen naturally? 

Thank you! I pride myself on my intentionality in stepping out of my usual habits and matching musical to emotional tone, but there are certainly genres I gravitate to. Breaking out of those requires some effort. I’m not sure I can quite assert that I’ve succeeded in doing this, but I’m certainly taking steps in that direction in songs like “Out of Deep Waters”. This is an example of a song for which I put a great deal of thought into breaking my usual patterns: the verses and bridge employ different chord progressions than I usually go for, and I had to push myself toward a higher tempo than I ever naturally land on. However, the choruses in that song include a major key walk-down that is very instinctive for me (and which shows up again in full force in “Lighthouse”).

We love how your releases can meld grandiosity and intimacy simultaneously, how was this achieved with singles such as Out of Deep Waters? 

I think the answer here is simple: I have a lot of feelings. Conveying these many feelings in the context of a single song creates a lot of drama!

“Out of Deep Waters” specifically took me a long time to get around to writing. I wrote “Lighthouse” in 2018, which I knew would serve as a resolution to some kind of tension; this meant I needed to write a song that would lead into Lighthouse, and which would put across some heavier emotions. I had in mind the idea of using gritty instrumentation and fast pacing, as heard in the verses. But it wasn’t until I was properly writing the song in the summer of 2023 that the lighter choruses bubbled out of me. I felt that the switches between the heavy verses and the lighter choruses could effectively capture that which I had been struggling to convey: joy and despair were both living in my chest, and the frequency with which I bounced between them was dizzying! Even as I was totally dismayed in the face of my own intellectual unbelief, a sense of kinship with the divine, and a connection which seemed to remain through no effort of my own, was a source of joy.

Can we delve deeper into the emotional themes of Out of Deep Waters and the final single on the EP, Lighthouse, and how the instrumentals visualise metaphors for disorientation and resolution? 

“Out of Deep Waters” feels increasingly like the manic creation of somebody who has given up on trying to make sense of things, and perhaps that’s what it is.

This song is first and foremost about the loss (and rediscovery) of my faith, which is why it employs so much resurrection imagery. The experience of letting go of faith is different for different people – towards the end of the song you hear me refer to a friend who was relieved to find herself in a place of unbelief. But for me, it was a profound loss, and you can see me processing that loss in the song’s verses.

The verses describe everything from those early, defensive emotions (e.g. disgruntlement, denial of the situation) to later, deeper ones (grief and loneliness). Musically, they hit hard and fast, because that is how unbelief came to me. Both verses also contain a church organ moment: an obvious nod to the theme at hand and intended to sound a little unnerving. Furthermore, The predictability of the three-beat shots we hear in verse one is broken in verse two, where one beat is missing from each set of shots, creating a sense of confusion.

And yet, hope lies beneath the chaos: the choruses come in with major chords, clean guitar tones, and some charming pizzicato work on the cello to give voice to the uplifting moments that were peppered through an otherwise dark season. In the second chorus, a background voice enters (“Yoohoo! Where are you?”) with an absurd playfulness, as though all I am doing is playing “Hide and Seek” with the divine. Godself echoes this sentiment in the bridge, where a couple of phrases of steady but light baroque piano provides the backbone for a message of assurance in God’s voice.

However, the tension which characterises this song is not yet resolved. Instead, it reaches its apex during the transition into “Lighthouse”, where ever-changing chord progressions, an increasing tempo, and increasingly crowded instrumentation bring about a sense of urgency reflective of my own deepening desperation and confusion. In the climactic moment, a variety of loved ones pull me from the body of water in which I did not realise I was drowning. The baptism metaphor, which was opened with the line “[I] was laid in the sea as they lifted him up” is brought to a close with, “this baptism isn’t quite what I’d imagined \ I break through the surface, and see I’ve been drowning”, leaving the song to resolve with a peaceful bass melody, before flowing into “Lighthouse”.

Where “Out of Deep Waters” is jam-packed with different instrumentation, chord progressions, and emotional tone; “Lighthouse” is a picture of musical predictability, with warm, major chords carrying the listener gently to the end of the album. The voice of God shows up one last time, in the form of a call to rely on loved ones for wisdom and strength (and to provide the same in return, when the time comes). The steady rhythm thumped out on the floor tom and bass guitar during this section provides a sense of confidence and assurance that was conspicuously absent through most of “Out of Deep Waters”. The piano, cello, and lead guitar team up to build to an ending which I hope evokes similar emotions to the experience of receiving kindness from someone during a moment of need.

How did your artistic journey start, and where has it taken you so far? 

My musical journey started at the age of six, in the basement of my first piano teacher’s house. I began learning songs using the Suzuki Method (by ear), before learning to read music and moving through Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music for piano and theory. I expanded to other instruments around the age of ten when I first began to play the guitar and write songs. From there, I was lucky to be a part of a church where my musical gifts were intentionally fostered by leaders and fellow congregants; this is the context in which I first learned to drum and play the bass. I’ve since developed these skills further through lessons and by playing in bands in which I’m held to a high standard!

As I honed more instruments, my at-home recordings of the songs I was writing became more sophisticated, and I began to develop an instinct for production. To this day, creating a dialogue between many musical voices is my favourite part of songwriting.

During my undergraduate years, I picked up the occasional coffee house gig, but it wasn’t until I met my former bandmate, Victoria, that I began gigging on a regular basis. It was at a pub gig together that we met Sound Engineer and Producer, Dan Ponich, who has recorded all of Strange Tides’ songs but one. With Dan’s help, I was able to grow into a co-producer role for this most recent EP: an experience that has shaped my vision for future projects.

How has your songwriting style evolved for this EP? 

This EP marked quite a few shifts for Strange Tides. This is the first Strange Tides record since Victoria’s departure, and for me, it was a return to the practice of writing on my own. I took the opportunity to re-examine some old songs that I had written, but not recorded, and saw the “differentiation” theme tying them together. This motivated me to create a record whose sole purpose was to examine this theme and helped me to crystalise my vision for future EPs. Furthermore, having made a couple of meaningful connections in the music world over the last few years, I had access to musicians capable of doing things I could only dream of doing, so I was able to write with other people’s skill sets in mind. The presence of cello and upright bass on this record is a real treat!

Is it hard to find the balance between following your experimental muse and releasing music that will resonate with your new and existing fans? 

I think this is probably a problem that most musicians grapple with. I profess that the best art comes from whatever is truly within (cheesy, I know), but then I find myself wondering where I should bend to the tastes of the masses so that perhaps reveals a paradox within me. That being said, there is a Venn diagram of that which is marketable, and that in which I find joy and meaning in creating. So perhaps my goal is to find the area of overlap when that which naturally pours out of me can connect well with the listeners.

What’s next for Strange Tides? 

If only I had endless time and money to devote to this project; I have so many ideas I’d like to execute. For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue releasing 4-6 song EPs that each explore a single theme, and I have themes in mind for the next two or three of those EPs, with the themes informing their musical shape. My plan for the remainder of 2024 is to play some gigs (likely more intimate ones), write lots, and create a few demos so that I can record the next record in 2025.

Listen to Strange Tides’ EP Differentiation on Spotify.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Lucy Wroe delivered cultivated consolation in her allegory of heartbreak, Heartbeat Wipers

The Last Dinner Party may have faced a massive backlash after declaring that people want artful escapism instead of post-punk expositions on the cost-of-living crisis, but with her latest single, Heartbeat Wipers, the London-based singer-songwriter, Lucy Wroe, who describes herself as a lovechild of Jessie Ware and the Weeknd, made a compelling case for the catharsis of artfully composed productions.

Every element, from the ornate piano keys to the brooding basslines and the increasing intensity of the synths, in Heartbeat Wipers amplifies the emotional theme of finding strength in independence after losing the person you lent on the most. From the ethereal grace of the intro to the disquietness when the instrumental arrangement amasses intricate all-consuming complexities, each progression is a new chapter in the redemption story that everyone, on some level, can relate to.

The haunting reprise of ‘The same goodbye a million times and I…’ underpins the aura of mourning within the release without overbearing it, ensuring that Heartbeat Wipers, which started with a sample of the mechanical swipes of windscreen wipers batting away torrential rain, is as consoling as it is cultivated.

Heartbeat Wipers was officially released on April 5th; stream the single on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Jessie Berkshires – Enough: An Ethereal Synth-Soaked Lesson in Self-Discovery

Jessie Berkshires’ latest single, Enough, is a masterful blend of alt-pop finesse and 80s nostalgia, wrapped in a neon glow of modernity and soulful conviction. The single opens with Berkshires’ ethereal harmonies which weightlessly drift across the stabbing synth lines.

The intro’s melodic foundation sets the stage for a rhythmically compelling backbeat that kicks against the rest of the reverb-swathed instrumentation to create an immersive experience reminiscent of a neon-drenched dreamscape.

Berkshires’ vocal delivery is a study in artful beguile, echoing the haunting allure of Kate Bush. Her voice, a serene yet strident force, weaves through the track, delivering catharsis and conviction with equal measure. The lyrics, a poignant reflection on independence and empowerment, resonate with a poetic clarity that strikes at the heart.

The track’s production is a deft mix of contemporary magnetism and retro charm. Imagine pouring Warpaint’s style into The Human League’s mould, and you’re close to the unique cocktail that is ‘Enough’. It’s a sound that’s as deliciously poured as it is thoughtfully concocted.

In ‘Enough’, Jessie Berkshires offers a lesson in how to blend past and present, pain and hope, into a track that’s as empowering as it is enchanting.

Enough arrived on the airwaves on February 16. Stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Neil Young meets Pixies in Ryanne + The Rumination’s seminal single, Waste

Indiana’s Ryanne + The Rumination hit the airwaves running with their stylistically expansive self-titled debut LP, which explores the spectrum of human emotions within the psychological ebbs and flows.

The standout single, Wasting, exhibits the duo at their most ethereally magnetic. Ryanne’s crystalline vocal lines cut right through the Pixies-esque atmosphere manifested through the guitar-driven production that exhibits the duo’s influence of Neil Young.

Intimate and profound in equal measure, the artfully immersive single evolves from a dreamy monochromatic release of pent-up emotions to a melancholically stirring alt-pop anthem that won’t fail to pull you into its raw oscillating core. If Ryanne + The Rumination’s is the future of pop, I’m here for it.

Ryanne clearly found her alchemic match in the multi-instrumentalist, Seth Wyatt. The way the single culminates in a post-punk decorated disquiet crescendo after a lament on the frustrations of stagnation is a stunningly affecting way to make an ever-lasting impression.

Waste was officially released on February 9th and is now available to stream with the band’s eponymous LP via Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Slip into a chorally Lynchian delirium with Milk Bar Gang’s latest orchestration, The Accident

Hitting play on the latest single, The Accident, from Milk Bar Gang, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve slipped into a chorally Lynchian delirium as you allow the cultivated hazy dream pop tones to wash over you, submerging you in ethereal Avant-Garde surrealism.

The song’s sonic landscape is a complex tapestry, weaving together elements of Shoegaze’s choral dreaminess and the experimental edge reminiscent of Glenn Branca while the incorporation of jazzy rhythms and darkwave elements contribute to its rich and diverse texture.

Lyrically and thematically, The Accident delves into profound concepts. It reflects on the uncontrollable circumstances of birth and the ensuing struggle against oppression, as well as the emergence of resistance. This philosophical depth is matched by the music’s atmospheric synths and sharp guitar riffs, underlined by a rhythm section that couldn’t be further from archetypal. The unsettling melodies and chord progressions further enhance its impact, creating a sound that is simultaneously bleak and beautiful.

Recorded at home and refined by professionals in Melbourne, the single is a testament to Milk Bar Gang’s commitment to their craft. The band, formed in 2021 by Felix Chapple and Bianca Cao, brings a diverse range of influences and experiences. Chapple’s history with various Melbourne bands and musicians, combined with Cao’s background in dance and visual art from Beijing, contribute to the unique identity of Milk Bar Gang. If this is how they chose to end 2023, we’re aching to hear the artfully cohesive orchestrations that are lurking in the pipelines.

The Accident will debut on New Year’s Eve; hear it on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Emilie Thorsby drenched her latest single ‘Ocean’ in a sea of artful tranquillity

Emilie Thorsby

Capturing the calmingly vast natural beauty of the ocean which allows us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves within a soundscape couldn’t have been an easy feat, but the Danish singer-songwriter, Emilie Thorsby, resoundingly succeeded in her artfully alternative single, Ocean.

Through saturated almost shoegaze-y guitars, an electronica arrangement that breaks down cultural barriers as fluidly as the ocean moves without constraint, and vocal lines that resound with a sense of serenity and spirituality, Emilie Thorsby lived up to the hype that her countless accolades signify.

After releasing six singles, Emilie Thorsby has been recognised by EGW Magazine, several of her singles have gone into rotation on US radio stations, including NBC, and she was also nominated as the female artist of the year in 2022. We can’t wait to see the strides she makes in 2024.

Ocean will be available to stream on Spotify from November 11; stream the scintillating single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Jennifer Jess conjured reclamation in her dark-pop hit, Dark of Night

For her latest single, Dark of Night, the Atlanta, Georgia singer-songwriter Jennifer Jess artfully darkened her pop signature to deliver the ultimate aural reclamation of power. Anyone who has experienced losing themselves in a relationship, which proves that no monster can match the insidiousness of a narcissist, will find fistfuls of resonance within Dark of Night.

The cinematic synthesis of hammering ballad-esque piano keys and the turbulence of the electronic aesthetics, which push Jess’ sound far beyond the contemporary curve, created an arresting platform for her vocals that switch between sultry allure to gravely to strident and back again to deliver an authentically well-rounded hit.

After racking up over 1 million streams on Spotify alone and amassing an engaged audience of 18,000 on Twitch TV with her live pop performances, Jennifer Jess is rightly reigning supreme with her captivating song crafting and vocal range that lingers within the angel-devil dichotomy.

Dark of Night was officially released on October 13; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Kayla Friend quelled the melancholy in her breakup track, Over, with enchanting ethearealism

Before putting down roots in Texas, the California-born, NY-raised singer-songwriter Kayla Friend forged a successful career in theatre before branching out as an independent artist following the pandemic; her experience as a music theatre composer lent itself effortlessly well to her sound. Her enchanting melodies and vivacious vocal harmonies create an otherworldly cinematic atmosphere you can easily lose yourself in before you find yourself in the all too resonant lyricism.

Her latest single, Over, follows the plaintively painful experience of separation; with the blossoming orchestral swells in the indie-pop score, the single is underpinned by a sense of rebirth to quell the melancholy in the perfectly emotionally rounded single. With the guitars that seem to pirouette around her celestial soprano vocal lines, Kayla Friend created one of the most stunning singles we’ve heard in 2023. It’s only a matter of time before she’s snapped up by a major label.

Over will be released on September 22nd; hear it on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

MØNA ripped up fabled tropes in her seminal art-pop hit, fairy tale

MØNA opened a portal to a fantastical realm with the otherworldly synth textures in her latest art-pop hit, fairy tale. Around the domineering oscillations of the basslines, theatrical motifs add a histrionically haunted air to the up-tempo release that challenges stereotypical tropes while narrating a complete story, with the singer-songwriter playing the villain protagonist.

After fairy tales become such a principal fixture of childhood and leave us with lofty ideals of how adulthood will unfold, it is hardly a surprise so many of us naively come of age, realise that sometimes the wolf will get us, and discover that white knights are often as nefarious as what they claim they will save us from. Encompassing all this and more, MØNA’s latest single rips up the fabled tropes in artfully beguiling style. We can’t wait to hear what the icon of Avant-Garde pulls out of the bag next.

fairy tale was officially released on August 18; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Ava Elay – Spell of the Heart: Poetry in Theatrical Pop Motion.

At 15 years old, Ava Elay is already proving to be an unreckonable talented force; her latest single, Spell of the Heart, arrestingly exhibits her unconventionally poetic composition style and the deft touches she puts on her histrionically melodic progressions, undoubtedly influenced by her time studying the dramatic arts in LA.

With vocal lines which carry the same mainstream pop appeal as Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus and swathes of darkly infectious ingenuity within the instrumentals to give her sound an irresistible mutant pop touch, Spell of the Heart is poetry in theatrical pop motion.

Ava Elay has been exploring themes of passion and love since 2019, with her official debut single, Eternity, arriving in 2021. She may be young, but clearly, the singer-songwriter and pianist has exactly what it takes to be as influential as Mitski and Lucy Dacus with the romantic depth within her sonorously beguiling hits.

Through Spell of the Heart, Elay paid homage to the all-consuming nature of obsession, and how impossible it is to escape it once you have embraced it. As many poets have observed, falling in love is the only socially acceptable form of madness; few wordsmiths allude to the visceral sensation as succinctly and viscerally as Elay.

Spell of the Heart debuted on June 30; hear it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast