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Interview: Sweaty Lamarr
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I have my godfather to blame! As a wee precocious bairn, I asked him who the four dudes in turtlenecks were hanging on his living room wall, and we were off - not long after that, I had every Beatles bootleg you could find to the point where even today I'll reach for Past Masters over the official mixes. I was always a musical supporter - I ran a concert promotion in high school, and managed a solo artist (the incredible Matt Olsson) for a few years. I never expected to take up music myself. During the first week of lockdown, I woke up at 3am with lyrics in my head. I typed them out on my phone, thinking I'd use them in a short story or even a novel as I've been working on one for the last two years. Then I sung the lyrics out loud- not well, may I add - and The Curse as I call it was bestowed upon me. Over the pandemic, I wrote about 40 songs and in a mad scramble had to learn how to sing (one to three lessons every week) and how to baby-barre on the guitar because I had zero experience doing either. I’m an executive assistant by trade, a job that requires you to have absolutely no ego, and I think that has not only prepared me to collaborate well with my production teams, but to not take any attention that comes my way too seriously.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I endeavor to be curious until the day I die. I spend much of my time reading work by other authors and wishing I wrote this line or that phrase, listening to music at 3am and getting in my feelings, consuming truly brain-frying hours of television. (I want to pretend that it’s all deeply prestige television, opera on PBS, etc. but a lot of it is sheltered, delusional white women throwing drinks and in one episode someone’s own prosthetic leg at each other.) Much of this, largely excepting the antics of the real house-husbands of New Jersey, makes its way into my music: I might challenge myself to write a song that sounds like Ethel Cain’s masterpiece album Preacher’s Daughter, or watch Joe Versus the Volcano and write a love song from Meg Ryan’s character’s point of view. I am obsessively and constantly consuming art, to the point where I can’t fetch the mail without popping in my earbuds.
And of course I do everyone’s favorite hobby, endlessly chuckling silently to myself at stuff I find scrolling through Twitter.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I grew up five minutes from the actual Bada Bing depicted on The Sopranos. I am very, very Jersey and it’s critical to my identity. First of all, growing up in Springsteenburg is absolutely the reason my music is so sad and so horny. Second, I grew up around a roster of incredible DIY artists in Jersey and during my college years in Philly. Music wasn’t just a shared interest for us; it was our social hierarchy - the musicians of the social group were our version of the cheerleaders and the quarterbacks. We came together to go to their shows and celebrate them. Uplifting other artists is a deep part of my social identity - it was then when I was baking brownies to take to my friends’ concerts and it is now as someone who boosts her friends’ music whenever possible. I was spared from being fooled into thinking I could do it all on my own, and have now welcomed that collaborative spirit as well as the incredible connections I’ve made over the last 15 years. I have seventeen bassists I can call right now to hop on a track. That’s a gift.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Sweaty Lamarr is a play on Hedy Lamarr, the famous scientist and actress (and Grandpa’s crush on Hey, Arnold!). Hedy was a brilliant inventor (her radio guidance system came to aid the Allied forces in World War II and was adapted into modern GPS and Bluetooth technology) and a deeply glamorous actress. Her inner duality resonated with me and I wanted to apply it to my music, which I hope to defy any one genre but contain them all. I chose Sweaty because I think I’m clever and I’m often very sweaty thanks to my Italian genes.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
(I don’t gig yet so I’m picking favorite concerts I’ve been to) I saw Bruce Springsteen do a four-hour set and was so enraptured by the stamina and heart of this man that I didn’t notice a whole drunk man peeing three seats down from me until he was approached by security. You don’t know joy until you have been in the pit of a Harry Styles show in a ridiculous and inconvenient outfit, and I will never forget being front row for the Spice Girls reunion half my lifetime ago. I just saw Coldplay a few days ago, and for all of the grief they’re given about being cheesy or too mainstream, they put together an incredible experience that should be aspirational for any musician: environmentally actionable, full of energy, performed to perfection, visually distinct, and featuring a surprise appearance from Kylie Minogue. You can’t help but get a little emotional hearing 60,000 people singing “Fix You” surrounded by the light show everyone’s LED bracelets creates.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
If I was headlining right now, I would call the amazing New Jersey rockstar queen Little Hag and Shannen Moser out of Philadelphia, one of my favorite musicians to ever get sad and pick up a guitar. If I was opening for someone: Alanis, Carly Rae Jepsen, Hayley Williams, and hell - why not? - Danzig.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Do not be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not Shazam a song while no one is looking and pretend you know it (you will learn so much more about it when you ask someone what you’re hearing). Do not enter bands with problematic people because you’ll eventually have to fire them three days into a 50-city tour. Seriously. I see this happen all the time in the DIY space. If you want to make music like your favorite artist, see who produces or plays for them. Follow those people and read about them. Try sending them a DM. You never know. Find their engineering assistants and interns in the liner notes. Follow those people. Ask them if they’ll produce for you. That’s how I wound up being produced by Lucy Dacus’ bandmate.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Start playing the guitar when you’re six, you colossal dummy.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
“I Have Always Been in Love with You” is the first song I ever released, and may always be my favorite. It is entirely literal to the point where I had to get the blessing of the person I wrote it about to feel right telling our story. That song took 12 years to write, and to me is a miracle because I got to say everything I wanted to tell that person. That song is the complete, unfettered truth, which is all I’m ever trying to sing.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I always say that each relationship I’ve entered is a sheet of glass that you pick up and drop to the floor: sometimes the glass cracks in half and you get two songs out of it. Sometimes you have 65 shards to pick up: one song might be a single day you shared with someone, one might be a throwaway phrase in a conversation, one might be an abstract concept you lived through that you want to dive into in a song. I’ve had three-year relationships that haven’t made their way into a single song, and I’ve had first dates that yielded five.
I am more a lyricist than a musician, so an idea will start coming to me and I will drop literally anything including the Snapple I’m holding to email myself lyrics or sing a voice memo. I more often than not start to hear the melody of the song as the first words take shape, and I will edit the existing lyrics to fit the structure of the song. Then they just…sit in a Google Doc, occasionally edited, until I find the right producer to arrange them (sometimes, and it’s awful of me, having to figure out the chords I’m singing acapella in front of them) and then I co-produce, deciding which instruments we deploy, what key the song should be changed to, suggesting a riff, curating an inspiration playlist and outsourcing any talent we need to perform.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Besides dumb puns and esoteric pop culture references, I almost only explore love. Sometimes that love is hate. Sometimes that love is lust. Often that love is unrequited, and occasionally that love is mundanity. I’ve been told by misogyny in the music industry and in general that writing love songs is somehow lesser than metal dudes who write about giant ogres with swords and how sexy nihilism is or whatever they’re bellowing over the sounds of Civil War soldiers getting amputated. But we all love, and all want to know the answers of love, and I write for water signs, and they’ll love it if they find me. And it delights me that so many of my listeners, according to my listener statistics, are metal dudes!
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
I don’t have a band, unless you count myself and my impostor syndrome, and she and I battle to the death every. Single. Day. We take turns winning.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
After the EP, I want to finish the novel I’ve been writing for a few years now. I have to decide what songs to make next: I write for primarily two sounds, very Phoebe Bridgers atmospheric indie and then Suzi Quatro/Joan Jett/Blondie glammy rock. Going to poll my two fans to see what they want and go from there!