McCall Talks New EP, Fake IDs and Self-Imposed Isolation [Q+A]
Atlanta-born artist McCall released her latest EP On Self Loathing on Friday, September 18. With lyrics as straightforward and cutting as its title, the candid 5-track project shows McCall at one of the lowest points in her life and understandably so - as she admits, it's been a volatile last few years. Speaking to her now, however, it seems like she is in a much better place than On Self Loathing suggests. Coolly, she tells me about her plans to move to Minneapolis for the year to make her next project with producer Bobby Rethwish. "I feel extremely free right now," she notes. "I think it's a little ridiculous that as an artist you're expected to live in LA. I've been inspired by artists like Bon Iver and Imogen Heap who don't live in a music capital. I'm pretty grateful quarantine has allowed me to see beyond the big city."
According to McCall, making this record was "like therapy," a way to identify and unravel the deep insecurities that have been holding her back. Overall, the most remarkable attribute of McCall's On Self Loathing is its ability to discuss mental health while avoiding cliche, preachiness or melodrama. It is obvious that her pain is heartfelt and legitimate, as McCall believes that she has let everyone in her life down, including herself. At times, it even feels as though the record is a form of penance as she fixates on the same issues over and over but that is what gives On Self Loathing its sincerity - it sounds just like anxiety and self-hatred feels.
Its production underscores this feeling with precision. In the project's midway point "Without Even Trying," McCall sings, "I'm sorry I can't come out / I really hate myself right now." Punctuated by frenetic drums and assorted synth noises, played staccato, the track's production draws unexpected inspiration from hyper-pop. But although much of hyper-pop feels cartoonish and ironic, McCall's On Self Loathing is grounded, using the eccentricities of the sub-genre without any trace of its ridiculousness.
Carefully assembled, the record was written in a self-imposed exile from October 2019 to January 2020, and the artist's attention to detail is transparent across On Self Loathing. Ones to Watch had the opportunity to talk with McCall about her latest project, fake IDs, and becoming nomadic. Read the transcription below.
Ones to Watch: You got your start using fake IDs to play in bars when you were a teenager. How did these early moments shape your identity as an artist and person?
McCall: Growing up I didn't ever really want to go out to bars and drink or anything like that, but I got a fake ID for the purpose of playing shows. It didn't feel risky or sneaky to me. I thought "I don't want to give up these opportunities to play shows just because of my age." It was a very natural, easy choice for me. I'm very lucky, though, to have had a lot of older people in the scene that looked out for me… I guess it taught me that rules are extremely arbitrary, and if I want to do something, I can find a way to do it. The pursuit of music is very holy to me, and I'm not going to give up.
Because music is so important to you, I imagine you had to overcome a lot of obstacles, beyond just a fake ID, to make it work. Has quarantine presented any major issues for you as an artist?
I started making this project in October 2019, and I kind of put myself in a self-imposed quarantine to focus on it from November to January. I told my friends "if you want to see me, you'll need to show up at my doorstep! I'm not going out." Bobby [Rethwish] and I have always worked remotely, so we worked on this alone from our bedrooms. I had no idea, but the writing of On Self Loathing did condition me to handle COVID, I guess [laughs].
Have there been any benefits to getting locked down right after your self-imposed isolation?
Yeah, honestly, it gave me the freedom to move back home to Atlanta for a bit. I've been in LA for the last few years. I think it's a little ridiculous that as an artist you're expected to live in LA. I've been inspired by artists like Bon Iver and Imogen Heap who don't live in a music capital. I'm pretty grateful quarantine has allowed me to see beyond the big city, and now, I plan to live in Minneapolis for a while to make another record with Bobby. You can make music in so many other places besides LA. I'm excited about moving away.
I feel it's outlandish to expect all musicians, many of which aren't making solid returns on their work yet, to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. There's also definitely something to be said about fostering a local music scene.
Yes, exactly. In the not-so-distant past, before recorded music, musicians were minstrels, traveling around the country. They were not glamorized. I think there's something religious to me about being a nomadic artist.
Is there anything in particular about On Self Loathing that you are especially excited to share?
I'm obviously so excited for people to hear the music itself, but I wrote a book of essays to go along with it that explain where I was mentally when i wrote the songs and what I did to not feel that way anymore. This record was like therapy to me, but I also took a lot of time afterwards to work through these things. I want to stress that. I didn't write this dark project and then go on my merry way. I wrote it, worked through my issues, and now, I'm ready to release it. I'm excited for everyone to hear it.
Now that you've left this period of your life which produced On Self Loathing, does it feel at all like a time capsule of where you once were?
For sure, honestly it feels like a turning point. The process of writing this EP was like a before and after. I'm a completely different person. It truly helped so much to write this and I feel so much lighter now.
For someone approaching this record for the first time, what would you say its overarching theme is?
I didn't like myself very much. The EP captures different aspects of my personality that I didn't really like. In the essays, I phrased it as having a lot of little demons in my head, and they wouldn't stop making me feel bad. The only way I could get rid of them was to give them space to say everything they wanted to say. Once it was done, I looked at everything and was able to see that I was no worse or better than anyone else.