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OFTEN Reveals Inspiration Behind New EP 'Bad Girls Cry' For Empowering Self-Growth

Often, the LA-based songwriter and producer, creates music to process their religious upbringing, building an intimate safe space to express themself and grow. On April 5th they’re releasing the first part of a year-long project, their new EP, Bad Girls Cry. The EP is about looking inside to solve unhealthy patterns that become obstacles to personal growth.

Often's artistry is deeply rooted in their journey of self-discovery and its complex relationship with religion. Through their music, Often invites us into their room, whispering late-night secrets in our ears. Striving for intimacy and community during the pandemic lockdowns, they started Weekly Reground (now Digital Communion), an online community to share traumas and cosy up into a virtual embrace. Their 2021 release, Dirty Saint, gained recognition, featuring in playlists like New Music Friday and the Outer Banks TV series soundtrack.

ColorBloc Magazine sat down with Often to discuss the new EP, their inspirations, the political involvement and plans for the future.

Photographed by Austin McAllister

Can you describe your musical project in a few words?

Often is born out of me being a very insular teenager, and from my warmest moments growing up during points of my upbringing that were stress-inducing. Being able to just sit in my room on the floor and listen to Fiona Apple, Tracy Chapman or Bonnie Raitt was something that made me feel comforted. So in making the music, I'm trying to contend with parts of my upbringing that were tough, specifically being raised super religious, but also allowing room to feel that comfort that I experienced as a teen from music. And, yeah, it feels minimal, close and intimate.

Talking about Dirty Saint, how much has your music changed since that album?

Dirty Saint, for me, was really about confronting my upbringing and the kind of relationships that spawned out of it. I feel like that album has a lot of different moments. Instrumentally and production-wise, it doesn't necessarily all sound the same. So it's hard for me to even say what I'm going to sound like at any given time. Palm Trees sounds very different from Body but they still sound like me. It's funny because I'm working on a new project right now and I can feel myself being: “Move away from what you did”. But I'm like: “Well, I did a few different things”. I don't ever want to feel boxed because that freaks me out. But I also feel a little bit over myself. I produced that album all on my own and I'm tired of me. In my mind, I want to do bigger productions and more avant-garde work. But then I always love the closeness of someone in your ear, when it feels like we're in the room together. A touchstone for me is Bjork's Hyperballad. I think it’s a song that feels so big but is lyrically so intimate. While a lot is happening in the production and vocally it also feels like being crushed inside and this is what I'm hoping to reach as I move forward.

Photographed by Jireh Deng

About your religious upbringing, what's your relationship with religion and spirituality right now?

I would say it's sort of ever-changing. I made this conscious effort to try and move from it. In my mind, I was like, “I'm gonna allow myself room to do what I want”. But you kind of always have — depending on how intense it was — what you were told in the back of your head. It's a system of processing I grew up within. I didn't realize how much of that I had absorbed until the last few years. I went out and made wild decisions and did things I wasn't supposed to do. But it doesn't mean that it stopped me from how I've been programmed. It's been over the last four years that I've been realizing, “Oh, this response that I have to certain things comes from this place”. There are things I love and appreciate that I got to experience growing up, but I think religion is tough.

For me, the trauma came out through experiencing a lot of paranoia. I was super paranoid. I'm still a little paranoid. My religion had a heavy end-of-the-world message. So pretty much anytime anything happened in the news that felt big, I would think, “Oh my god, it's happening, the world's about to end”. And now I've just come to the realization that the world is always ending and it’s about how we choose to move and be, how we adjust what the world can be. Some endings are good and are an opportunity. But yeah, I definitely have a connection with God, I just redefined what God is. We have a new relationship, and It isn't the God I grew up with. I've been learning that that's okay.

Photographed by  Jireh Deng

You said that endings can be good. Your single Cross Me is also about that idea. In the song, you talk about recognizing red flags. Why did you choose that theme?

I had a really bad habit of just dismissing any red flags if I was interested in a person. I would say, “Who needs a red flag. Go for it!” It comes from a good place. I do ultimately believe that most people are good and I want to be a supportive person. I had to be adaptable growing up and I think being adaptable can be a blessing and a curse. I realized that I was adapting to negative behaviour very easily; finding excuses for people, for how they treated me and even finding excuses for myself. So the song came out of seeing my patterns and habits. I think it's important when you catch that you're doing something over and over that you also catch yourself. You can't always place blame on another party, you have to accept responsibility for your behavior. To some extent, obviously.

Lockdown was a draining time when many artists struggled with creativity. You released/produced Dirty Saint during this time. Do you think that your online community, Digital Communion, helped you with your creative process?

I think community is super restorative. There's something really special about being a smaller artist and the size of room you get to be in with people. I can see you, we can talk, we can experience one another and chat. I didn't necessarily find lockdown draining because I hate working. I wish as a society we could just figure out a way no one had to do anything they didn't want. I should say that I like working for the things I like to do, but the day-to-day survival, I find it really disappointing. Everything is just connected to money. So, being able to be in the house and just think and have a digital space where you can be upfront and honest about how you feel was important to me. I don't do well with casual talk. It's just not my favorite thing. So any space where I can say, ‘I'm not doing great. How are you doing?’ is super restorative to me.

In an interview with Girl Mag you spoke about your experience of moving to several different places. What place shaped you the most as a person and as an artist?

Honestly, I would say Atlanta. Atlanta was a much-needed part of my life. I had lived in New York for five and a half years before that and loved it. And New York was also a really important place for me because it was the first place that I moved to and was openly out and I just allowed myself to be gay. Up until then, I'd been in very Christian spaces. I was sent to a Christian boarding school during high school and then ended up at a Christian college for a couple of years. So when I moved to New York, I was like, I'm not gonna hide anymore. I've known I was gay my entire life. But in terms of actually actively being out, it wasn't until I moved to New York, or I guess that's actually not true. I lived in my hometown of Columbus for a minute and like, met a girl online. We did this whole whirlwind and tried moving to Spain together. It was wild and did not work. Epic failure. But yeah New York was like, “Okay, I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna be gay” and it was wonderful. When I moved to Atlanta, I kind of got to live the college experience I had never had. I lived with people who were younger than me and just graduated from college and our house became really special. Something about that time brought a lot of people together. We had parties and readings, it was really sweet. And also being in Atlanta, which is a city full of so many black people and established by so many black people was really special for me. I grew up going to a lot of predominantly white schools, so to be surrounded by black queer people was wonderful and definitely creatively supportive. It was magical. I love queer Atlanta so much.

Photographed by Jon Del Real

What's your favorite music of all time?

If I'm gonna like go all the way back I'm going to say CeCe Winans was huge for me growing up. She's a Christian gospel singer. Fiona Apple was really big for me, lyrically, she just sent me over the edge. I loved her growing up. Luther Vandross is really big. I feel like any time you put in a good Luther Vandross record, it's like, yeah, we're doing great. Um, who else? The first time I ever heard Tracy Chapman was a transformative moment for me. She's amazing. And Mira was huge for me as well. Bright Eyes. I love their lyrics. Brandi Carlile, I was a huge fan of her and Lauryn Hill. Yeah, Sade. My dad loves Sade and I got it. My dad and my sister saw Sade once when I was out of town and I've never let it go. Yeah, I think that's a good list.

You are very vocal about Palestine on your social media. Are you politically active in general or is this issue particularly important to you?

I would probably never call myself an activist because I've seen people who really are. I'm certainly politically minded. A lot of my politics come from a desire for all of us to be able to feel like we exist within our full personhood and that we are all free. I think even the concept of ‘free Palestine’, ‘free Congo,’ and ‘free Sudan,’ become like slogans. Obviously, I want that, but what does freedom mean? What does freedom look like? Freedom means that I have my needs taken care of, I'm allowed to be myself, I'm allowed to exist in a life that doesn't just benefit an economic system, I’m allowed to be a person and not under some concept of values for someone else.

Photographed by  Jireh Deng

I focus on Palestine in particular because, as a descendant of enslaved people, I don't get the opportunity to know where in Africa my ancestors come from. I'll never have that. It saddens me. I have this deep desire to know my ancestry and I do have a connection to my ancestors. But I don't get to have a connection to land. I think there shouldn't really be borders and that in the end land is land. But on one hand, if we allow people to be occupied and we have been allowing their surveillance for this long, that's an issue. It's confusing that I even have to debate or that it's complicated, when people are dying, like actually being pursued and removed from their homes. At the end of the day, it's just about money. And the way that America moves and spends its money is to the detriment of a lot of the global world.

I believe another kind of world is possible, a better one. But it also requires a lot of us to be uncomfortable. And I think so many of us experience comfort at the expense of other people. And until we care about that. I'm not sure what change we'll make.

Bad Girls Cry album cover art

What's next for Often?

The EP I’m releasing in April is called Bad Girls Cry and is about the recognition of patterned behaviour and obsession with delusion, moving swiftly through a life cycle of growth, change, and acknowledgement that our problems can often be found in the mirror. This is the first trio of songs in a year-long project laced with indie rock sensibilities by way of soulful origins. It’s an inaugural step forward into the abyss trying to find personal placement from a dream world to reality. I'm also hoping to go on tour early this year, but a small one to start. I have never been on tour before and I've always wanted to do it. I've always been a little too scared to do it. Now I’m trying to step out of my own way and just do all the things that I want to do. So yeah, a tour, a new EP, and hopefully just meeting a lot more people.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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