INTERVIEW: Genevieve Artadi

Gerard Marcus

Genevieve Artadi, best known as the lead vocalist for LA-based groups KNOWER and Pollyn, has finally gone solo. Her debut LP, genevieve lalala, presented an opportunity to explore sounds and influences outside the scope of her other projects, and the result is a truly stunning work of erratic, experimental pop.

We talked to Genevieve recently about balancing so many different creative outlets, her early days as a student of jazz vocals, and how her experiences as a teacher have influenced her work.

ThrdCoast: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get started in music?

Genevieve Artadi: I'm from Los Angeles and will always call it home. My parents were musicians that did original rock music and pop cover bands, just for the love of it, so they passed that frame of mind on to me. I joined a trip-hop band my senior year of high school and I took it very lightly, with the idea of just having fun making music.

TC: But you ended up going to school for it, right? Can you tell us a little about your time doing Jazz Studies at Cal State Northridge? Did you focus on vocal performance while there?

GA: I felt stuck in a loop writing the same chord progressions, so I took classes at Santa Monica college until my teacher was like, “you took every class, go major in music somewhere.” CSUN took me in as a film scoring major because there was no vocal jazz major. But I was way into jazz, so I took all those classes until my teacher was like “Genevieve, do you want to be a jazz major?” I was the only vocal student in the program. That almost killed me, taking improvisation classes on hard songs with amazing musicians. Sometimes I left class crying because I hated sucking. I still dream of getting really good at improvising. But, other than that it was fun. Especially the hotel-room hangs on jazz festival weekends. So dumb! And the concerts where they'd bring in amazing people including freaking Freddie Hubbard. After that I went to Cal State Long Beach for grad school, because I never felt like I could learn enough. Music goes very deep in many directions.

TC: Would you say your studies translated well to your current career path?

GA: Hell yeah. There's so much great, deep music with big balls that I wouldn't have learned about if it weren't for school. And I believe a lot of aspects of that stuff are fair game to put into pop songs, they keep things interesting. I want to make pop music that’s deep and not boring.

TC: You’ve had your hand in a couple projects that have come out of LA. The first I’m curious about is Pollyn, since it’s hard to place it in a single genre. How did the group form and what were you trying to explore musically?

GA: My cousin invited me to join. We wanted to do stuff like Massive Attack and Portishead, we liked the spookiness mixed with heavy beats. Then we got into Hot Chip and Brazilian Girls, then Talking Heads, C.A.N., Kraftwerk, E.S.G., Janet Jackson. Pollyn is always changing, but the consistent thing is the hard-hitting drums and moody atmosphere.

TC: How did you and Louis Cole meet and form KNOWER?

GA: Louis and I met playing with a great musician named Robby Marshall. Louis was the first drummer who played in a way that I connected to in a really personal, emotional way—it was crusty and bombastic and bullshit-free. About a year later we started writing together, and Jack Conte encouraged us to use YouTube to get heard.

TC: KNOWER in general is really impressive with the sheer size of the sounds you guys produce. What is the writing and production process like between the two of you?

GA: It used to be us bringing in songs separately, but now it's a more streamlined process because of the electronic direction we've taken. We talk concept/groove/idea, and then Louis makes the instrumental sections. We choose the best ones, then we write like twenty melodies for each section, then choose the best ones of those. We write lots of lyrics on a variety of topics, then pick what we like best. I record my vocals, he mixes and masters through the whole process. We listen in the car, tweak, tweak again, and then when it's done, we have pizza.

TC: KNOWER has gained a reputation for really successfully harnessing digital platforms. How do you think those have helped today’s independent artists?

GA: By putting your music online, you become like a magnet for other people who think like you from everywhere on the planet, and you can feel supported while doing whatever the fuck you want creatively! You can be honest and not kiss anyone's ass and get heard!

TC: Can you tell us a little about the songwriting process for your solo album?

GA: These were going to be demos to be recorded with better production later, but I liked the sound so much that I kept them. I recorded when I wasn't needed for Pollyn and KNOWER, as both groups were making new albums at the same time. I sat with my laptop, a MIDI keyboard, and a Snowball USB mic on the bathroom floor, and wrote little by little, recording the ideas a bar at a time. Sometimes the drums first, sometimes the bassline first, sometimes the chords first. But I’d just make sure I liked each idea before I went on to the next one. Album flow-wise, I wanted a variety of grooves, then chose the order last considering the tempos and emotions of each song.

TC: After being in different groups that run the gamut of genres, what inspirations do you draw from in your solo work?

GA: From KNOWER, stretching myself harmonically and doing weird, funky grooves. From Pollyn, cool atmosphere, and hopefully effective simplicity. Influences specifically for genevieve lalala include Nate Wood, Louis Cole’s solo music, E.S.G., Kate Bush, Lætitia Sadier, Ryan Power, Thundercat, Thom Gill, Spencer Cole, a little Debussy and Reich, Goldfrapp, Starfox, Eminem, and Die Antwoord.

TC: What was the recording and production process like for the album?

GA: I tried to feel each step naturally, balancing my brain with my instinct, but trusting in my instinct more. Balance was a big factor. Like on “Whatever Whatever,” if I was doing something super dense and atonal, I would feel for the right time to go to minimal and melodically simple, but then keep hints of the atonal thing in the bassline. Then for the chorus I decided to go groovy with chords I thought were pretty. Then I made a bridge that had momentum while taking a break from the backbeat groove, making the vocal texture have two melodies, and arpeggiating the chords. Then when I thought, “Okay, I’m done,” the song ended. The title track “genevieve lalala” is kind of mathematic, with each part playing its own repeated rhythm pattern. “Song For Popsie” was chords on top of chords all sung, with no keyboards. I didn't have strict rules. The songs are super short, which makes sense with my personality.

TC: Did you have any specific goals for this album artistically? Do you think you achieved those goals?

GA: Yeah, I wanted the album to show my own vibe, and I think I achieved that. As the singer of KNOWER and Pollyn, it's hard to show where my writing ideas start and end. So you can see on my album what kind of chords I like to put where. How pointy or warm I want my sounds to be, even if my production skills are far below those of the guys I work with. What kind of grooves I like, what kind of lyrics I think about without other people's input, etc.

TC: Are you still on the faculty at Musicians Institute, and can you tell us a little about how you got started in teaching and how it has affected you own work?

GA: Yup, I’m there one day a week teaching private voice lessons and performance. In school I directed vocal jazz groups, and I started teaching at MI after spending a couple years making wax hands at Madame Tussaud's wax museum—I wonder if I’m still in the instructional video. Teaching makes me better because I have to solidify and speak my philosophies, and I connect with my technique.

TC: What are your near-term plans? Tour? New music?

GA: I’m performing my solo music in San Francisco at Hotel Utah on July 15th, and I’m planning to book more shows as I get it together. The new Pollyn and KNOWER albums are coming out this year, and we’re definitely going to do some touring. I’m always writing. For the next round of solo music, it's either gonna be me learning electronic production, or live instrumentation. We’ll see!