Just a few years ago Chelsea Cutler was busy making music in her dorm room at Amherst College, putting songs on SoundCloud, and steadily cultivating a loyal fanbase. Each year she was hitting new landmarks in her career. Supporting Quinn XCII on tour in 2018, headlining two of her own national tours between 2018-2019, collaborating with Jeremy Zucker on their joint album Brent, and then delivering a veritable sad-girl anthem alongside Kygo with “Not Okay.”
Now at 22, Cutler has released her first solo album while being signed under Republic Records. How To Be Human is the career-defining album that is poised to put her in front of a whole new audience. It’s a 16-track “story of [her] experiences with love, pain, god, and existentialism as [she] learns what it means to be 22 and alive”.
Cutler brings you on her journey to becoming human through all the little bumps that life throws in your direction. As the primary writer and producer, with help from a few co-writers and co-producers on select tracks, this album is Cutler to her core. When you listen to each song, it’s almost like peeking into her diary; it’s impossible not to relate to each and every word she says.
I had the chance to sit down with Cutler at Republic Records the day after her late-night television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers. We discussed everything from her debut album, writing process, biggest musical influences, to the exact tattoos she references in “The Human Condition.”
Ones To Watch: Last night was a big night for you. You performed “Sad Tonight” on Late Night with Seth Meyers. How was it?
Chelsea Cutler: Last night I was definitely buzzing! We rehearsed “Sad Tonight” for a few days, just doing that one song, so I’m so thrilled that it went well. Otherwise, I would’ve been like, “How do you mess up a song that you’ve just rehearsed for two days straight.” And Seth is such a cool guy, my parents got the cue card from when he announced my name and then he signed that for them.
The praise for this album has been overwhelming! Tell me how you’re feeling.
It’s been a good response! I definitely feel good, I feel happy! But it’s a weird feeling, I don’t really take accomplishments super to heart, because it’s always kind of like… onto the next. Once I accomplish something, I’m already on to the next goal. So, right now, I’m just focusing on being present and actually feeling this, really feeling this, and not just plowing through it, because that’s definitely usually my tendency. To go on autopilot and put my head down and just go onto the next thing.
Did you find yourself writing and producing this album differently than your previous EPs and songs?
The album was significantly more organic than previous music I’ve put out. It’s more instrument-oriented and less electronic-oriented, which I like because it felt more wholesome and more honest. And as a writer and producer, I just make songs that I think are cool, that I want to listen to. I enjoy listening to my own music.
Do you have a process for putting together a song?
Totally changes. Totally changes, which I think is so fun and so freeing because sometimes I’ll get a lyric or melody idea and then start toying around with it or I’ll just be bored and start laying down production and kind of see where that goes.
Who are some of your biggest influences when writing?
Oh, probably The 1975. They are huge for me. I’ve been listening to them since their EP Sex came out… I am one of those The 1975 fans. Matty Healy‘s writing has probably been the most influential for me, because it’s really rhythmic. I love that it’s not these simple pop melodies that you try to fill with lyrics. It’s instead choppy rhythmic lyrics. He also does a really good job of keeping his personal life personal but still being so vulnerable and honest.
And just like Matty, you don’t shy away from talking about your personal struggles in your songs. Was it a little nerve-wracking to fully open herself up on this record?
Yeah, it was definitely scary. But, actually, I’m way more scared for people I know hearing it than people I don’t know. There’s a bit more safety in the anonymity, like, it’s way easier to give parts of yourself to strangers than to your most intimate relationships. I listened to Halsey’s new album and the whole time I was thinking, I love how deep she’s going, and I want to push myself to go even deeper.
Which song were you most nervous to put out?
“nj.” 100%. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad it’s out, but yeah, it was terrifying. I was terrified for my parents to hear it. I love this song. I think from a lyrical standpoint it’s a really cool story and also just production-wise I think it’s formatted in a really interesting way. I think it’s going to be this really grand moment on the live set.
Religion was an explored theme in this album. How did that play a part for you?
My dad’s Jewish and my mom’s Roman Catholic. Growing up with two religions showed me that there is no one passage to truth. You can kind of take what you want from each one and assemble your own. So for me, especially having major depressive episodes and going through difficult times, I was looking for anything to grab on to.
In “The Human Condition,” you mention you got some tattoos to pay tribute to the role religion played in your healing.
Yeah! I got Roman numerals for 27:17, 17:27, 10:13, 8:18 on my hand. I don’t know what books they are from or anything, I just really like what each verse says.
Also, impermanence is a huge factor in your life. What does it mean to you?
Writing the whole album taught me a lot about impermanence and about life in general. So much of being in our 20s is learning how to cope with the changes that happen, the emotions that we’re feeling, learning how to communicate better with the people around us and with ourselves. Every emotion we have is fleeting, every relationship we have changes for the most part. Whether it stays or goes, the dynamic definitely changes. Where we live changes. I think, if you can come to terms with all the changes, then you’re in a better position.
You have your third headlining tour coming in a few weeks. What can we expect from this tour?
Well, the production is going to be next level, which I’m really stoked about! The rooms are going to be bigger too which will be great – some more energy. I’m just stoked to finally play new music. I love my old stuff, of course, but we’ve been doing it for the last year-and-a-half. Also, I now understand live shows better, so programming the set is way more fun and innovative for me.
And Alexander 23 will be your supporting act! What a duo.
Oh yeah, I’m so stoked for that! It’s the first time I’ve toured with someone that I have a song with since Quinn XCII. I’m excited for that because it really comes full circle. It’s a really special thing.
Make sure to buy, stream, or download Chelsea Cutler’s album, How To Be Human. It’s heartbreaking, it’s raw, it’s fun; but above all else, each song comes together to create a truly phenomenal piece of work.