Emily started recording her own music at home back in 2017, and she chatted with us a bit about how she got started with little more than her phone, a laptop, a Rock Band mic, and some headphones.
My first question for you is, I understand that you’re involved with a LOT of music projects. How many bands are you a part of?
Currently active bands…I’m in three with a fourth that’s kind of being put together at the moment. There’s Take Today, where I do bass and backing vocals, but I don’t do any writing for them. Danger Club, where I am the vocalist and songwriter, specifically lyricist.
Then, How I Became Invisible, which is my baby and I do every part of it, including most of the instrumentation. I’ll have friends that do guest parts, but it’s mostly all me. And then, the one that’s currently being put together is called Emily and the Endings, but I’m still not quite sure what that’s going to end up being.
So How I Became Invisible is like, THE Emily project, yeah?
How would you describe your sound with those songs?
For a long time, I didn’t know how to describe it. I was like, “they’re songs about science and they’re songs about sadness, and then eventually they became songs about transition and bittersweet triumph.” Eventually, my friend said, “you are trans punk space emo,” and I was like, you know what? I’ll take that! How I Became Invisible: Trans Punk Space Emo.
I love that. So your latest release here is Another Ceiling, and that was recorded 2018 – 2021, right?
Yup! So, the idea with that one is – I had all these tracks from compilations and B-sides, and all this stuff that I had done but hadn’t really put anywhere. So I was like, “I’m just going to do a compilation album since I haven’t done a full length since 2020!”
It was a fun little project, going through all the stuff I’d recorded before and updating things. I did two completely new songs, one of which was “The Ghost of the Future” and another one that was a remix that a friend of mine did. It’s a song from the third EP from last year, “Thoughts on the Flood” from The End of the Dark. And she fuckin’ knocked it out of the park! She was like, “oh I’ve been messing around with it, just want to know what you think of it,” and I listened to it and was like, “oh my God, this is me?! This rules, can you remix all of my songs?!” [laughs]
Since Another Ceiling had songs from the course of three or so years, I was curious if the way you approached the recordings was different from 2018 vs 2020.
Yeah, kinda. Well, first of all, I didn’t really start recording myself until 2017. I have a ten-year-old Macbook, which is where I do all my recording, and I have GarageBand. I would use those to do live acoustic demos, and I would then overdub acoustic parts just to get an idea of what I wanted, and then send it to my band.
Oh, neat, so this album is sort of like a journey through your whole self-production era, in a way. Do you have much experience with studio recording?
In the case of my first album, Planetary, I did that in a full studio, my friend Bruce [Wiegner] produced it. He had done an album for my old band, Robots and Racecars, called Rage Quit, which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever been on, and he did the Danger Club album, The Good Times Are Over. So he’s an amazing producer, and I picked up a lot of tricks from him like layering tracks and things like that.
Most of my life I’ve been in punk rock bands, and my mentality was like, “I don’t know, I show up, I plug in, I play, I leave.” I had never really messed around with pedals or anything, it was just – I turn my amp up to the appropriate level and go. I needed to change my mentality when recording my own stuff. So in 2017, I started messing around with multi-track recording with a little iRig that was kind of garbage, but it helped me learn what I needed to do. The signal latency on that was terrible, I’d have to constantly go back and re-time things. And I used a Rock Band mic for vocal stuff, like the USB mic.
Wait, a ROCK BAND MICROPHONE? That’s as DIY as it gets, I love that.
I will say, that did not last very long – I eventually got real stuff! The first few recordings I did were covers – I was in this weird writer’s block for a while. Danger Club had done The Good Times Are Over album, and that came out the Friday after Trump got elected. I poured a lot of my anxieties and fears and feelings about what I had been thinking at that point.
I had severe writer’s block for a couple of years after that, and the other big thing that happened in 2016 was I realized I was transgender and a woman. And that was a big messing with my head thing, because I was like – wait, I’ve been going about this whole life thing all wrong! There was a lot going on, so I was just not writing things.
Instead, I started working with covers. I did a cover of “Where Is My Mind?”, and for that, I used my phone to record the vocals and sent myself the files. I really didn’t have a lot of equipment – I had my Macbook, a couple of guitars, my bass, my crap Rock Band mic, but I didn’t have an interface. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had been learning it all on the fly.
What I discovered was the keyboard – musical typing, I think they call it – where you use the actual QWERTY keyboard as a music keyboard. So I started messing around with that and doing electronic music, making little thirty-second bits of music and loops and things like that. Those were fun, so I started doing more of it, and that’s where the Voyagers EP came from – that’s my first self-released, self-recorded EP. And doing that helped kind of unlock the writer’s block portion of my brain. I started writing more song songs, and lyrics.
That all kind of led me to be like, “well I can record on my own now, this rules! I can do How I Became Invisible stuff!” And I got lucky in that a friend of mine was downsizing and getting rid of a lot of equipment that he had. He was like, “do you want this mic, do you want this key station, do you want this Line 6 POD,” and I was like, hell yeah I do! So I got half my recording equipment set up for free from a friend.
Yeah, I was going to say, I noticed that you are very much not using a Rock Band microphone for this interview.
Oh no, not anymore! I had to learn what phantom power meant and get an interface and, all this other stuff that I had no idea what I was doing with. Basically, I learned how to record just by doing it.
In terms of learning by doing, I think that’s an important thing to talk about. A lot of people get hung up on wanting to like, be perfect and learn a million things before they even start recording. And then they burn themselves out on information overload and never record…
Yeah, that was a thing I went through. I started and I wanted to learn all of it at once. Like, there was a YouTube channel called The GarageBand Guide, and like, I started trying to dive into everything and had to stop because I was confusing myself.
What I decided to do was use things like that as a resource only if I needed to research a specific thing. It’s easier and more fun to just do it and find out if I’m doing it wrong after the fact. People have asked me, “I’ve always wanted to record but I just could never figure out how to do it, how do you do it?” And it’s like well…the only way to really do it is to just, you know, do it!
Right. Just let it flow and go from there.
Yeah! Like, my Emily and the Endings release…I kind of had a depressive episode yesterday, so I wrote like nine songs and recorded them on my phone. That’s going to be the first thing I put out for that project. Of course, I just released an album so I shouldn’t immediately put out another one, but…
No, do it! Your music, your rules!
Yeah! But really though, making music is just like, how I deal with shit. I deal with the feelings then and there with recording.
And you don’t have to have a bunch of expensive stuff like amps and compressors and giant monitors…at this point, you don’t even really NEED a laptop, just a phone and some headphones.
For the songs on Another Ceiling, those were all recorded in your own home then?
Yup, everything except that remix. They were all done in my bedroom, and some of it was literally done while I was laid up after a foot surgery and couldn’t do much else. Ultimately, I don’t have the ability to go to a studio monetarily or, in the case of The End Times pandemic stuff, physically. So, I just do it right here!
It’s funny because, when I think about people recording in their bedroom, I think of minimalist acoustic pop songs – but the stuff with How I Became Invisible feels bigger than that. Like, when I was listening to “Topside,” I was like, this was done in your ROOM? How do you make punk music in a small space?
Uh, very carefully. [laughs] No but, that’s just how my brain works. I like pop punk, I like fast and loud, and that’s where my default is. Either fast and loud or sad and acoustic.
In the case of “Topside,” that was the first time I tried to write something with that fast punk beat and hardcore yelling. That track specifically has a LOT of vocals on it, because what I did is I asked all of my friends and randos on Twitter, “hey, do you want to sing on this? Do it however you want, sing these lines at this point, and then send it to me.” I met my friend Nick from the band Blue Vines through that. My ex-wife is on it, a bunch of my bandmates are on it, St. Judas has a vocal track on it…all kinds of people. That’s probably the most buckwild amount of vocals I had to mix on my own at this point! I don’t think my computer could really handle it…it kept crashing when I was trying to export.
Oh, that was done on the ten-year-old MacBook? That’s impressive it’s still working, actually.
Yeah, I had a Macbook that I used for years that I got in 2011, and it broke in the middle of recording Unidentified in 2019. Like, riiiight as I was finishing mixing the last track, and I lost my shit. What I ended up doing was getting a refurbished Macbook. So that’s what I’ve been using since then, and I only use it for music. …Well, music and this interview. [laughs]
Do you have a full time job in addition to making music?
Yes, I do.
How do you balance that? I know it can be hard to get into any kind of creative mindset after a long day of work, so I wanted to know how you approach that.
It’s a balance, I guess. Not even just between work, but I mean, I also have those two other bands. With work, it’s pretty easy, because I work from home for the unforeseeable future. Which rips, to be honest! It was a harder balance before, though, which is why I forced myself to slow down and just do those three EPs, because I was either working, recording, or sleeping. And wow, that was doable in an anxiety-ridden state, but not if you want to be a functioning social human being!
Have you been able to do live performances much with the pandemic?
There have been a few Take Today shows, we gained a lot of momentum lately. Danger Club had our first live show since before The End Times a few months ago. Nothing for How I Became Invisible, though – that’s a unique headache with pulling a full live band together.
In the entire existence of this project, which technically has existed since around 2008, there have been two full band live performances. Mostly it’s just me doing acoustic stuff. I’m kind of reupping this desire to have a more permanent band situation, but it’s very slow going because you have to get a practice space and find people and make sure they can learn the stuff that I don’t know how to play anymore…that’s a problem with self-recording because sometimes it’s me just riffing and not writing stuff in advance. So I have no idea what I played!
Oh yeah, I was doing another interview for this project and he said the same thing! He video records himself as he’s playing because if not, he won’t remember what they are. So that sounds like a common issue.
Yeah, that tracks.
I can say that there will be a How I Became Invisible show later in the summer! It’ll be a Weezer cover set, for a show that’s specifically dedicated to playing 2000s covers. Every band picks a band to cover, and I’m cheating by choosing Weezer and only doing their 90s stuff.
My final question for you is – what is next for you?
Well, Take Today has a bunch of unfinished recordings. We did three different sessions over the course of a year or so, so we have a shit ton of songs that have to be finished. Danger Club started writing new songs, which I’m really excited about.
But for How I Became Invisible? I don’t know…I have an unfinished instrumental EP about my favorite comic, The Invisibles, and also Chernobyl? It’s a weird one, but I don’t know when it’ll come out. I’m at a crossroads because I really want to do things as Emily and the Endings because it’s a cool name and I want to use it! But either way, I’ve been writing a lot, so…keep your eyes on the skies! Go birds!
Check out How I Became Invisible’s latest release, Another Ceiling, on bandcamp today, and follow Emily over on Twitter @emdashreed. She’s a bajillion other places, too, so check out her linktree here for more info.