An Interview with Brett Miller, Brainheart

A couple of weeks ago, artists Brett Miller and Brainheart joined forces again for “As Long As You Love Me“, the most recent banger on a long list of collaborations between the pair. A few months ago in July, Brett Miller joined me on Indie Pong’s Instagram Live for a special interview regarding a previous project (see interview here) and today I am excited to share an interview with Brett Miller and Brainheart (Roi).

How did you two come into existence with each other and decide to start working together?

Brett Miller: We met over Instagram. Roi messaged over summer of 2020 and shared some of his latest unreleased music, and asked if I could write and record over them. I loved his style and sound and we agreed to start working together. In fact, the first track he shared that I wanted to write on would eventually be “Surface”, which we released in February 2021. After our first project, we made plans to create more music and set a goal to release an EP containing all of our work. That EP is set to release in early 2022.

Brett, we learned a lot about you and your musical variety and your Floridian roots earlier this year when you did a live interview with me. Brainheart, can you tell us more about yourself and your background?

Brainheart : I am an independent music producer, songwriter, and DJ from Israel. Over the years, I struggled severely in the school system and felt that I was wasting my time. My first introduction to music was through playing piano at the age of 15. Music started out as a way to distract myself from struggles at school, but it quickly became much more than that. Today, unbound by genres I want to make a lasting impact and be an inspiration for many generations to come.

How does your partnership work together, especially considering the physical distance? Do you have creative brainstorms virtually, or do you send work back and forth to each other?

Brett Miller: That’s a great question. There’s a bit of a challenge to it, but over time, we’ve gotten very fluid with how we make music. having never met each other in person. We both play different roles for each song we make. Brainheart produces, composes, and engineers the tracks, and I handle writing the lyrics and vocal melodies, and recording my vocals, harmonies, etc, with some involvement on piano for certain songs. It’s a partnership that focuses on each of our strengths as music makers. So, to answer your question, it’s the latter. We send things back and forth to each other, while also having facetimes to go over ideas and notes…which we’re doing right now as we answer these questions. This collaboration is totally made possible by Facebook messenger, WeTransfer, and Distrokid. (Not sponsored)

What was the inspiration for the latest song “As Long As You Love Me”?

Brainheart: I heard the song “Hollywood’s Bleeding” by Post Malone and the production blew my mind. I was inspired to make a dark pop/hip hop song. Honestly I produced a full demo in 2 days and sent it to Brett. He loved it and started to write a story over the production.

Brett Miller: Yeah it was awesome! I knew I wanted to write something big over Roi’s haunting production. The production brought a whole new energy out of me, and it dared me to write something revealing to my personality. Some of it may have been dramatized, but I was inspired to stir up an emotion and thought process I’ve felt before in past relationships and even current ones. In an effort to leave enough to the imagination, suffice it to say, I’m always inspired to write about the dynamic between lovers, since it’s always so electric. In my experience, the highs can be euphoric, and the lows can be heartbreaking. I guess this song is just my way of mitigating risk to maximize reward.

What can you tell me about the music video? Where did you shoot it, what was the experience like, etc.? Is this something the both of you work on together?

Brett Miller: So, unfortunately, it’s a whole different obstacle when we want to make visual content together. We did a great job with our song “Wasted Years” with combining footage; me in the US, and Roi in Israel, but some visual ideas like these don’t always work with the song concept. “As Long As You Love Me” was one of those songs. I handled the scripting and directing of the music video with a small team and cast in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a very memorable experience, with just a healthy hint of stress to get things together on time. Gotta love working under pressure. Shoutout to the Nashville crew: Chaz, Chelsea, Greg, and Fiona (the star of the video).

The two of you have released quite a few songs together – have you or would you consider performing live together? How would that look?

Brainheart: Hell yeah, that would be great. I think it’s really important for collaborators to perform together. The connection between me and Brett can create something really special live. The electronic production + Brett’s voice could work really well at festivals.

Bret Miller: Absolutely! We’re obviously anticipating meeting each other one day soon. Roi really wants to come to the US, and I want to start performing worldwide. All this new music in 2021 is setting us up for some big shows in the future! Picture festival stages at Ultra Music Fest or Coachella, Brainheart behind the mix deck, and I’ll grab the mic to pump up the crowds to throw their hands up and sing these choruses with me! It’s gonna be epic!

Do you feel like it’s necessary to work in collaborations these days, or is your relationship more organic?

Brainheart: Honestly, in the beginning I thought we would create just 1 song together, but after we finished the first one and loved it, we decided to keep making music together and create a full EP. Our relationship has grown very organically. We work really well together, and we are very good friends. Our friendship definitely goes past music.

Brett Miller: There’s no right or wrong answer with making music. Some people do really well by themselves. I’ve experienced both: writing and releasing music independently, and with other creators. I do prefer the latter, since we can divide and conquer. I usually get better quality music out faster than if I did it alone. I’ve enjoyed working with Roi. He’s very driven and his talent level is growing fast. It’s been a very fruitful partnership and friendship. I definitely recommend artists team up with other creators, since you can make music better and faster, and forge strong relationships along the way.

How do you feel about the societal importance of social media tied to musicians’ careers?

Brainheart: It’s really tough. I believe that every artist wants to concentrate on making music. It takes a lot of time to build a fanbase and I believe that every artist should be very active on social media. Honestly, I hate being bothered with it, but it’s a great tool to make more fans and spread my music.

Brett Miller: Ditto. 

Who are your top 3 most played artists?

Brainheart: 1. Coldplay 2. Illenium 3. Ed Sheeran

Brett: A bit harder for me to list….for now:  1. Kevin Garrett  2. Incubus  3. Leon Bridges

What’s next on the Brett Miller/Brainheart agenda?

Brett Miller: Definitely our EP in early 2022. We are packaging together all our latest releases, with one more new track to release. This EP is the grand finale, and we have a lot of awesome content to surround it leading up. After that, we’ve got our sights set on performing the moment we get the chance to, given the state of the world. Either way, we’re staying patient, staying humble, staying grateful, and can’t wait to share more music and experiences with IndiePong and the world!

Thanks so much – Brett & Roi

Wednesday: Interview and Live Performance

Read a story of perseverance and triumph against all odds as I recap my interview with one of my favorite bands, Wednesday.

This interview was off to a blazing hot start from the get go as Karly Hartzman announced that there was a bear (a fucking bear) in their yard.

Jake Lenderman (guitar) and Xandy Rooben (muse of the band) joined us for one of my favorite interviews to date as the three of them were an absolute joy to talk to and left zero doubt as to why they are on such a fast ascent to stardom. We were excited to begin discussing new singles ‘Handsome Man’ and ‘Cody’s Only’ and the upcoming probably AOTY coming on 8/13…

That’s when things got blurry.

During the most important interview to ever be conducted in history, my home experienced a power outage. My neighbor called and LADWP said it was an 1800 home outage.

Sadly along with my unprecedentedly pink and blurry face, my audio had also become distorted, to the point that it made the interview unwatchable.

Ben Affleck Smoking Through the Pain of Existence

Fortunately Wednesday’s answers came through clearly, which is why this time around I am transcribing the interview here on the blog.

Even more fortunately, Wednesday’s PERFORMANCE CAME THROUGH CRYSTAL CLEAR, giving some some quality footage to use.

Extremely Happy GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Here’s the full interview video for anyone who wants to watch, but be forewarned that the audio makes it tough at times:

Without further ado:

What moment in music history would you buy as an NFT?

NFTs are bad for the environment, but let’s say in an ideal world where they weren’t for this example.

Jake: George Jones driving a tractor to the liquor store after a several day drinking binge

I didn’t know about this lol

Karly: Dolly Parton’s nails from the classic concert that Dust To Digital just released on video

Alan (via comments): Smashing Pumpkins, London ’93

What are some of your biggest musical influences?

Karly: This past year and right around the time we were recording it was Unwound, a big one for me right now.

Jake: Smashing Pumpkins. We try to layer guitars like that.

Karly: I like the Swirlies a lot, they’re one of my favorite bands ever. We also like a lot fo country music, especially when we’re grilling or sitting on the porch, it’s like the only thing that makes sense for what we’re look at and what we’re eating, which is usually hot dogs.

Besides from music, what are some other mediums of art that you think have influenced you?

Karly: I do a lot of sewing, I’m actually about to drop a bunch of Wednesday shirts that are handmade. Jake likes to paint trucks, and Xandy is a baker, which actually plays into the way we write music.

As we went in depth into this Karly mentioned that she a line of brand new handmade Wednesday shirts, available here. Here’s a preview:

What artists are killing it right now, and who should we watch out for?

Jake: Dan Wriggins, Michael Cormier, Fust, Colin Miller, bandmate Margo recommends Lavender Blue

Karly: Space Heater, Orindal Records, Dearlife Records, Jake’s album (MJ Lenderman), Walkhome, Zach Romeo, Harsh Realm

Xandy: Green-House

And also SECRET SHAME (of the 2020 Indie Pong playlist 🙂)

What artist’s discography would you take with you to a desert island for a month?

Xandy: Arthur Russell

Karly: Space Heater, final answer

Jake: Island Book Soundtrack by Lewis Dahm (made for the graphic novel Island Book by Evan Dahm)

In addition to all of this we discussed fun things to do in Asheville, shopping local and avoiding the new chains popping up (especially Harvest Records), baking on tour, and a myriad of other fun topics.

Anyways, take it away Wednesday!

NEW EP: On ‘Welcome to the Witching Hour,’ MyKey Makes Space for Late-Night Thinkers

There’s something old-school about MyKey.

Maybe it’s the fact he doesn’t really know how TikTok works, despite being on the Gen Z cusp age of 24 (and almost 25). Or maybe it’s because when he hops on our video call, he informs me that he’s on his grocery store weekly tour, checking out what four different supermarkets in L.A. have to offer.

“I’m literally an old man in that way,” he says, chuckling.

Today, MyKey released his debut EP Welcome to the Witching Hour, coming on the heels of a sprawling, 16-track album back in 2017 when he was in his early days of releasing music. He started taking guitar lessons at age seven, then stuck with guitar, going to a bluegrass event at age 10 and joining local Maryland bluegrass band Flower Hill String Band after connecting with them at that show.

MyKey makes music that draws from folk, while he’s part of a broader bedroom pop generation that has been sweeping the industry. On Welcome to the Witching Hour, he unexpectedly draws parallels to the genesis of his artistry– his first-ever song was called ‘Vin Diesel Runs on Gasoline,’ and it wasn’t until after he put together his EP that he released the sixth track is called ‘Vin Diesel,’ an unintentional callback to his early songwriting.

Welcome to the Witching Hour strays from his first album, Faces, in several ways. For one, the new project was written entirely in an Airbnb getaway, as MyKey and his friends/collaborators melted their minds together in one big effort rather than piecing together the album.

“I really went at it completely alone for the first album. This time around, my friends and I truly collaborated on this little getaway, which was something I’d never done prior. It was a really fun way of doing it.”

MyKey still stands by the new EP being ‘just as chaotic as the first album,’ in that he continues explores a bevy of genres. On Faces, for example, he involved folk, pop, black metal, jazz and rock. This time, though, it’s more of a communal project.

“I really wanted to let me friends’ work shine, whether it be on the production, or some of the songwriting. As a whole, though, Welcome to the Witching Hour contains way more of my own stories than Faces did. I always used to hate writing about my own experiences, and would make songs out of my friends’ stories, so this is much more of a personal record.”

Photo credit: Axel Kabundji

“It feels really weird, though,” he continues, “To put my own opinion on my emotions. And then release it out into the world. Like, people are hearing my takes on my own emotions and shit. That’s a new level of vulnerability for me.”

Songs like ‘Emily’ and ‘Marshmallow Moons’ are perfect for when you want to fashion yourself a teen movie star, looking out of a train window at a gray sky and thinking about that someone who makes your palms sweaty. Listening to ‘Mazda5’ will convince you that you, too, had a Mazda in high school, reliably getting you to school, to see a friend, to blast your favorite album in or to cry in. And for all of his old-man-cosplay, ‘Sweet Tooth’ could easily be a TikTok viral hit– it’s of the same ilk as the sleepy, viral smash ‘death bed (coffee for your head)’ by powfu and Beabadoobee.

Like the EP’s namesake, I can’t think of a better time to listen to this than in the middle of the night, when the threads of reality unspool a bit and you can go on an introspective journey without the noise of reality dragging you down.

MyKey’s friends and sometimes-collaborators are all up-and-comers in the space, including names like REI AMI, Adam Melchor, spill tab, Marinelli and bennytheghost, to name a few.

When I ask about a dream collaborator, his old-school brain takes over control, replying with certainty.

“Bruce Springsteen. I’ve always wanted to make music with him. My mid-life crisis moment would ideally be a collab with him.”

You can find MyKey on Instagram (though he ‘barely understands it.’)

NEW EP: On ‘Cruise Control,’ Ben Kessler Explores Introspective Pop with Energetic Production

Philly native and Nashville lingerer Ben Kessler is making indie pop music that melds two inherent truths of today: as humans, we are looking inwards more than ever before, while in music, our sonic landscape continues to push boundaries with digitized, vibe-y production. Fold one into the other, or vice versa, and that’s the avenue you’ll find Kessler wandering down.


On his debut EP Cruise Control, which the pandemic has forced him to create from his parents’ basement on the heels of graduating from Vanderbilt University, he finds himself growing into this intersection of songwriting and production.

The EP consists of five songs, two of which have already been released as singles.

“I knew I wanted to do the EP at the end of 2019,” says Kessler, “and have it come out in the year after finishing up at Vanderbilt.”

“I was waiting to graduate, and the plan was initially to do that, then stay in Nashville and make the EP. But, obviously, the floor disappeared from under me; all my friends were moving, my lease was up, and it felt like my world was shutting down. Music was changing, too, and it suddenly wasn’t clear what releasing would be like.”

Needless to say, Kessler explains that the EP was born out of a place of uncertainty and anxiety.

“I love writing about inward-looking things, and I want to make music that is self-aware and reflective. ‘Cruise Control’ [the title track] was the first song I wrote for the EP, and it was one that I had written early on, had kind of forgotten about, and then rediscovered it. I thought, ‘Oh, this says everything I want to say with this EP, and it’s all in this one song. That’s perfect.'”

The song ‘Cruise Control,’ is definitely a bop, starting off with an immediate flurry of stressed-out, emotive lyrical contradictions.

One foot on the gas, one foot on the brake
All the things that I love, all the things that I hate
I breathe deep or I suffocate
I feel numb or I feel everything

His voice wafts atop woozy keys to start, but the production builds into so much more, eventually layering his singing with warped, pitched-up vocals that give way to a very electronic bridge. The track ends with the warped, pitched-up vocals once more, this time isolated, and leaves you craving more. (Every PR release says that a track will leave you ‘craving more’ but I am being 100% serious when I say that.)

Kessler was inspired by acts like Coldplay and John Mayer when he was young, then as he got into high school and older, his taste expanded, and he began closely following the careers of indie juggernauts like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. When he was barely a teenager, he was going to live music shows in Philly, and he burned his first EP on a bunch of physical CDs to pass out at a radio show.

“I would go to these free Friday concerts hosted by Philly radio station WXPN, and radio DJ Helen Leicht took my CD and put it on nationally syndicated radio. She’s been so supportive always, and that radio placement helped book shows in Philly and New York. I’d also see these really great acts at these shows, people like Ingrid Michaelson, Ray LaMontagne, even Kevin Bacon.”

Photo credit: Josefine Cardoni

Like many new artists trying to make it in the music industry, Kessler has had that initial struggle: how can he juggle making music for him and making what the industry wants? What does the industry even want?

“Suddenly, whatever type of pop song that is doing well commercially becomes your (and the industry’s) main definition of what makes a good song. So when people hear I’m a singer-songwriter, they either want me to go co-write in that direction or do a very stripped-down, acoustic-only sound when I’m making my own stuff. That doesn’t feel like me.”

When I mention ELIO, an up-and-coming indie pop talent who is being creatively managed by none other than Charli XCX, Kessler lights up. ELIO, though a burgeoning artist herself, has already pinpointed lively pop music with killer songwriting and sharp, futuristic production; she and Kessler both draw inspiration from The 1975, funnily enough.

“Production is so important; it can really transform an artist. I think you can take a lot of demos and put the hyperpop production spin on it, and that’s what a lot of people wanted me to do. But I wasn’t enjoying those sessions. I was like, ‘well this song could be a hyperpop song, but can’t we let it exist in another sound or genre?’ And I think this EP shows that sound I’m trying to accomplish, where I can be inward-looking with my lyrics while experimenting with the production and keeping the energy there.”

Lately, Kessler has been listening to artists like SG Lewis, Verzache, Jim-E Stack and Jimi Somewhere. When I ask about who his dream collaborator would be, I get two answers.

“High school me would say John Mayer. Current me would say James Blake.”

BEMATA Knows That Fantasy Is Essential

Dance music deals with the magic of energy, and energy is a guiding topic during my recent conversation with Brooklyn-based talent BEMATA.

As we near the one-year anniversary of locked-in living, and snowstorms ravage the United States, let’s not lie; our collective energy is down. We can craft as many routines and concoct as many indoor hobbies as we’d like, but we haven’t been able to replicate the social, communal power that dance music offers in a non-pandemic setting.

BEMATA, who just released her second single, titled ‘New Level // SUPERWATER,’ was faced with a bit of a conundrum in late winter 2020. Her debut single, ‘Need U 2,’ was ready for release. After moving from a corporate communications job to a freelance set-up, committing herself to making music professionally, the start of the pandemic peppered the beginning of her career with uncertainties.

Photo credit: Eric Lopez (@ericl0pez)

“I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, I shared ‘Need U 2’ with my dad. And he was like, ‘Oh wow. This is really a club song, a dance song. Is this the moment to share that?’ And I was like, ‘You know what, yeah, this is actually THE moment to share that.’ I wanted it to cut through everything going on.”

BEMATA’s music will sound familiar if you’re a fan of dance auteurs like Aluna or KAYTRANADA, or vibe purveyors like Kelela. When asked about who her dream collaborators would be, she pauses to think, then rattles off an eclectic collection of names: Cher, Timbaland, Toro y Moi, Little Dragon, M.I.A. Her taste is impeccable, of course, and her influences span genre and time.

Before getting to the point of releasing music, Boston native BEMATA was following a curiosity for knowing the world, working at a small brand strategy agency and taking a logical next step after studying communications in college. She and her coworkers were collaborating on agency projects with people all over the globe.

“I love learning about people and humans and cultures,” she said. “That job was such an amazing opportunity to do that, and the work was directly inspiring my songwriting.”

Eventually, she realized making music couldn’t just happen on the weekends. ‘Bemata’ means ‘by night’ in Amharic, the language spoken in her native country of Ethiopia, and she began staying up on weeknights and after hours to make her music. Despite her name, it was early mornings while growing up that she began to get attuned to music, hearing her mom playing the radio before dawn.

“My mom would wake up at like four or five AM for work,” says BEMATA. “She would play the radio to get her energized.”

“So I remember hearing a lot of Fleetwood Mac and soft rock. Other than that, there were a lot of CDs in my house. Tina Turner, Cher, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, and then a bunch of Ethiopian sounds too, like Aster Aweke. She’s like the Beyonce of Ethiopia. Music was everywhere in my house, and oftentimes my mom, dad and sister would have dance parties while cleaning, and that’s when artists like ABBA and Tina Turner would get their moment.”

BEMATA also grew up adoring Mariah Carey’s vocal abilities. At the end of the day, listening to many different kinds of music is almost spiritual for her.

“I like listening to music from so many different cultures– it makes you so aware of your place in the world and your connection to other folks. It was powerful to know that music was bigger than my friends, my school, my town. In my music, I’m always pushing for that global sound; I know that sounds cliche, but I want to cultivate a sound that reminds you that there are other worlds outside of the one you know, that energizes you to imagine.”

For those whose lives are intertwined with music, dance and togetherness, like many of us at Indie Pong, the pandemic makes us painfully aware of what we don’t have access to. It’s the same for BEMATA.

“Man. I really miss dancing. I really miss going out in Brooklyn having really late nights. I miss being at Elsewhere or Baby’s All Right, or just having unpredictable nights, sweating it out.”

BEMATA isn’t the biggest fan of Zoom performances and digital connection, which were popular especially in the early pandemic months.

“I think we’re all in this moment of adaption and just being like, ‘okay, if this is our world right now, how can we really make the best of it?’ We used to have the dance floor, a place we could all come and have unforgettable experiences together. I think we need to keep being creative about what we can offer in the meantime. Maybe it’s not a live performance on Twitch. Maybe it’s crafting something that’s mailed to your house that feels really special. Or maybe it’s a different way of connecting with someone across the screen.”

“We definitely need to keep that humanity and rawness from dance culture alive. And I’m sure it’ll come back. But man, I can’t wait for that moment where I can create experiences for people in real life.”

For now, we rely on fantasy. Dance music and dance communities have always been a vessel, helping transport people from their darkest problems or from their most mundane trivialities. What does BEMATA think about the word ‘fantasy?’

“I love that word. Fantasy means many worlds are possible. Fantasy means knowing ambition… it means dramatic on purpose. It’s unhinged and artful and beautiful.”

Follow BEMATA on Instagram at @BEMATA__ and find her music on streaming services. BEMATA is also part of the Pushing Buttons Collective, an inclusive community of creators making progressive instrumentalist music.

New Music Flavor – Taali “When Did The World Start Ending?”

Taali starts the new year with “When Did The World Start Ending? (Live at Levon Helm Studios“, the first single off her upcoming album of the same name due in March.

This song prompts reflection and inspires a positive outlook in terms of restructuring our lives in a COVID induced world.

“If the world is ending, I’ll build a new one with you”

If you’re looking to be uplifted, doused with beautiful vocals, or to feel inspired by the future – Taali is your gal. She is a multi-talented artist who also runs Rainbow Blonde Records alongside Brian Bender and José James. Plus, she always seems to be baking enough yummy goodness to feed an army in an outfit that will rock your world.

No big deal or anything, Taali was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instruments + Vocals for “Slow Burn” alongside Nic Hard and Becca Stevens.

Want to know the CRAZIEST part about all of this? Taali actually agreed to an interview with Indie Pong. That’s right, tune in to our IG Live tomorrow at 10am PST, 7pm CET to catch this goddess in all her glory. Bring your questions!

Newcomer Darian Chen Talks ‘TESLA’ and Jumping Between Edmonton and a Remote Mountain Village in China

21-year-old Darian Chen splits his time between Edmonton, Canada, and a remote mountain village in China called Anhai.

Darian is FaceTiming me from Edmonton, where it’s snowing and face-burningly frigid. He tells me he needed some fresh air, regardless of the cold, because he was cooking fish in his apartment and ended up burning it.

The origin story of his new song, ‘TESLA,’ produced by his friend BQ, is also pretty gross. While staying in a youth hostel in China, his roommate made a ~deposit~ in the toilet, only to realize the toilet wouldn’t flush. Without skipping a beat, she picked up her ~excretion~ and tossed it out of the window, hence the euphemistic lyric, ‘you took a log and threw it on my car.’

Disgusting origin stories aside, the track opens with orchestral strings before dropping the listener into a dark, distorted production. Chen’s vocals are restrained on the verses, but he dodges in and out of the chorus with agility. On the final verse, the chorus repeats itself into implosion, fading out in combination with what Chen describes as a ‘coked-out synth solo.’

It’s a fun track, the verses something you might hear Billie Eilish whisper over and the tumbling chorus the kind of party pulse not dissimilar from The Weeknd‘s latest album. (Shout out The Weeknd and an album that should’ve racked up a bunch of Grammy noms!)

Chen, who first ventured into music as a kid, his parents putting him into piano lessons. In high school, he began getting into jazz and then making jazz-inspired beats, which led to the space he’s in now creating popular music.

Chen says his biggest inspirations include Michael Jackson, Prince and Ryiuchi Sakamoto. While he admits his music doesn’t exactly resemble them, he loves pop stars who push the envelope of what’s possible.

“When I was younger, I was elitist about it,” says Chen. “I was like, ‘pop music is not cool.'”

“But then later on I realized I was being kind of a dick about it, and secretly I’d enjoyed pop music all along. My guilty pleasure was listening to 1989 by Taylor Swift, the record with ‘Blank Space’ on it; my transition into admitting I liked pop and then making it wasn’t exactly smooth, but it happened over time.”

While he might’ve turned his nose up at the concept of pop early on, now it’s the realm he plays in artistically. His unique set-up, which includes bouncing back and forth between snowy Canada and rural China, gives him an interesting angle to approach his song-making process.

“When I’m in Canada, or anywhere in the West really, the music and sounds I hear feel very familiar, in a good way. With EP 2020, the project I put out before ‘Tesla,’ I wanted to explore sounds I wasn’t as familiar with, though. I was in China, in this mountain village where my dad’s family grew up, and I went to these ritual and temple ceremonies to absorb that culture.”

“I don’t want to like, play this cliche card, but since I’m Chinese I definitely wanted to be in tune with that part of me. So I wanted my first EP to blend the Western sounds I was familiar with and the sounds of where I’m from in China that I was really getting in touch with.”

Chen says that while the pandemic has helped give him time to sit down and write and produce, he’s all about collaborations, and he misses being more in-touch with the community, especially his friends back in China.

“I have these friends in China who are working on this hyperpop project, and I wish I could be there collabbing with them.”

Find Darian Chen on streaming services like Spotify, and follow him on Instagram @darianjch for new music updates on his journey.

New Music Flavor – “illusion”

I have a terrible feeling…this song is going to both make and break your day.  

My ears. My heart. My soul. I’m conflicted by this beautiful song filled with pain and grief from a combination of artists who have witnessed and experienced tragedy and injustice.

Grayson, Uruguay and Danny Denial came together virtually over quarantine to create and produce this beautiful and bone-chilling piece of art called “illusion”.

These musicians have come together in a collaboration that melts so smoothly together, yet is so unapologetically representative of each of their sounds. You’d never know it by their smooth transitions, but these four musicians were never all in the same room while creating this track as they all live in different areas of the US and are all practicing social distancing and proper quarantine protocol.

While this song is emo and depressing and makes my heart hurt for all the friends I can’t protect right now, Stepha Murphy (half of Uruguay) insists that the song is also meant to be hopeful, as it is giving a voice to those who otherwise might not have one.

I think song also gives hope and inspiration to creatives and dreamers who feel stuck and helpless. If these four musicians can create such a seamless work of art from opposite sides of the country, you too can find a way to make your dreams a reality during quarantine. We are limited, but have extensive potential.

Shit is insane right now, for the love of your friends and family – PLEASE VOTE PLEASE PLEASE. Use the voice you have and scream with it, for not everyone receives that same privilege.

Tune in to Indie Pong Instagram Live TONIGHT AT 5PM PST/8PM EST for an exclusive interview with these cool cats! Stepha Murphy of Uruguay is doing our first “Friends of Indie Pong” takeover and will be interviewing both Grayson and Danny Denial.

INTERVIEW: St. Louis’s Luke Markinson is PC Music’s Latest Offspring

First, everyone called PC Music, a collective of producers and artists headed by names like Charli XCX, A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, the future. Oft-likened to banging pots and pans together (usually SOPHIE gets that designation), PC Music, or hyperpop, or glitchpop (I can’t really keep track) has since been labeled as more an ‘expression of the present’ than a sign of the future.

In PAPER, Shaad D’Souza reviewed Charli’s quarantine album how i’m feeling now and said that PC Music and its contemporaries are more reflective of our ‘present dystopia’ than anything else. In The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber kind of snubs Charli’s magnum opus album (in my opinion) Charli, saying that Charli herself is just ‘playing with’ the future and that the album doesn’t have a ‘triumph’ track. Has he listened to ‘Gone’ more than once? Pfft.

In any case, PC Music is indubitably a key influence in the indie-pop space. I recently Facetimed with one of the newest offsprings from the PC generation (note: not PC as in politically correct, lol), college sophomore Luke Markinson, to talk about his PC and PC-adjacent inspirations and making and releasing DIY music in this hellscape year.

“I started making music on Vine,” he tells me, before I make an unfunny joke that he’s like an alt Shawn Mendes.

“Once Vine shut down, I wasn’t really able to translate my music and following somewhere else. But when the pandemic got bad, and everything started to close, I was bored and began writing music and working with producer friends and making things happen.”

Markinson, a Los Angeles native who just began his sophomore year at WashU in St. Louis, cites the typical crew as his influences; Charli and the PC Music collective, Troye Sivan, Tove Lo and The 1975, to name a few.

He also mentions artists like Flume, the megastar producer who first went viral by cutting together scintillating remixes of Disclosure‘s ‘You & Me’ and Lorde‘s ‘Tennis Court,’ as an inspiration. Louis the Child and Whethan are two other examples, also Midwest talents, of springboarding from remixes and re-works to putting out full original albums and developing their own sounds.

I ask Markinson where he records his stuff; being stuffed in a dorm in a pandemic can’t lend itself to the most comfortable music-making experience.

“Literally from my closet,” he says, laughing about the double entendre as his first song, ‘Never Alone,’ is about the relationship he had with his now-ex boyfriend.

“We were recording at my friend’s house inside before I came back to school, but then because of COVID-19 his parents were actually like, ‘Mmm we’re not comfortable with you being all inside right now,’ so we actually recorded some of the song out on his porch.”

‘Never Alone’ is a bouncy love bop, reminiscent of the cutecore (cutecore = word I just established which is like the Y2K aesthetic but re-fitted for 2020; it’s digitized and photobooth-y and emotionally motivated) that Charli’s quarantine album how i’m feeling now embodies, especially tracks like ‘detonate’ and ‘party 4 u.’

Fittingly, Charli herself found the song, and put it on an Apple Music playlist she curates. Queen of paying it forward!

Markinson says he commented on a post of hers where she was asking for people to share their music. He also replied to a similar tweet of hers, linking the song. Days later, he found out she must’ve seen his comment or tweet and liked the song enough to give it some playlist love.

In any case, Markinson followed up ‘Never Alone’ with a more cosmic, whimsical track called ‘Gimme Ur Love,’ and then a glitchy number with his latest, ‘Blastoff.’ I guess Gen Z loves PC!

When he’s not closet-recording, Markinson is studying for a psychology degree at WashU. You can see him perform soon; he tells me he’s playing at Uncultured Festival, which is running its next show November 20-22 on Minecraft and will benefit the Trevor Project.

New Music Flavor – Juno Francis “Oyster Love”

Today, the world welcomes Oyster Love with open arms – the new EP baby from retro-esque duo Juno Francis (Angelica Ranåsen and Jacob Fagerstå). Self described as “the lovechild of a 60s gentleman and an 80s lady”, this Berlin based duo first caught my ears on Instagram with their track “Queen’s Anthem”, which yes, I do believe was written for me personally and remains one of my go-to songs.

The sonic journey of Oyster Love begins with “Follow the Stars”, a dreamy lil tune that makes me feel like I’m in a peaceful forest feeding deer and singing to squirrels. How delightful is that?

Next up is the title track, which is self described as “the darker side of a romantic world view and the sacrifices made to chase self-fulfillment”. As a former emo kid who has recently recently returned to bad habits, this track is a great representation of my anxiety and current state of mind. Upbeat, jivey keys that get you dancing and leaves a smile with some badass, darker lyrics that keep it real and leave you just a touch antsy.

FINALLY WE GET TO “FIGHT”, THE SONG THAT I CAN’T STOP HUMMING TO. It’s so magical and sensual, I can see this track closing out a Twin Peaks Season 3 episode. David Lynch, if you’re reading this, I have your next featured artist.

With the final touch, “I Wanna Run Away” – about the only thing I have to say about this track is SAME! I can’t think of a sentiment I’ve repeated more over the last six months than expressing how much I want to run away to live in a cave on the beach, completely isolated. However, I’d make an exception for Juno Francis. They’re welcome in my hideout any day, as long as they bring the slinkin’ grooves.

Listen to the EP in full here! You’ll have it on repeat all weekend. I say that a lot, but you should know by now that I’m not writing about a song or an artist unless I truly believe you can jam the heck out to it.

Can’t get enough of Juno Francis? Tune into Indie Pong’s Instagram Live TOMORROW at 11am PST for an exclusive interview with Angelica and Jacob.