Week in Pop: ETA, Mommy Long Legs, Natural Velvet

Sjimon Gompers

The wonderful, radical & righteous rise of Seattle's Mommy Long Legs; photographed by Sam Leung at Seattle’s High Dive.

Natural Velvet

Basking in the sunlight’s glow with Natural Velvet; photographed by Micah E. Wood.

From Baltimore with love—Natural Velvet presents the world premiere for their music video “It’s All Mine” featured off their upcoming Mirror To Make You available June 2 from Friends Records. Kim Te, Spike Arreaga, Corynne Ostermann & Greg Hatem have been local Bmore scene staples with releases dating back to 2013 (although the group was originally formed in 2012 on an art-school summer break with original percussionist Adam Jones) with their debut Salome With The Head of John the Baptist, 2014’s Shame, their single “Fruits“, She is Me & “Love is Love“—their new album recorded by Martin Bisi & mixed by Rob Girardi fine-tunes the group’s penchant for blistering distorted chords to make for their most righteous & reflective full-length yet with Mirror to Make You.

The video debut for “It’s All Mine” centers around lead singer (painter, poet, etc) Corynne Ostermann surrounded poolside by a plethora of eclectic cabbana hunks waiting upon her every whim, hand & foot, in a queer-positive fashion coupled with eccentric camp (the “It’s All Mine” video itself references this classic performance from the classic film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) . Corynne asserts that she will take what’s hers as her harem of Adonises perform aerobics & poses that exhibit their physical prowess (depicted in an array of positive body images featuring all shapes, sizes, cultures, etc). The visuals for “It’s All Mine” finds Corynne going through a variety of costume changes as she is presented at the center of her own universe that later gets the rest of the band involved in all the action & decadent antics. From glitter clad dudes to sequin-shining-punch-bowl baths; Natural Velvet’s exotic pool party turns into a dive fest of fun where eventually our heroine gets tossed into the water amid an assemblage of pure, unbound & barely-restrained glee. Immediately after the video debut for “It’s All Mine”, read our round-table interview with the band’s Corynne, Greg, Spike & Kim.

Give us the update from the Baltimore scenes….what’s good, what’s not, what’s in, what’s hot, who is, who isn’t, etc?

What’s good:
Hip hop & experimental music in Baltimore is up, girls with guitars, sparkly pop rules the scene. Art collectives. Intersectional Art is in—exclusive art cliques are out.

Who’s doing the most & doing a great job at it: Elon, Purrer, Post Pink, Romantic States, Bond St. District, Ami Dang, Blacksage. The new Future Islands record The Far Field is dope. Maxine is awesome, Baltigurls is awesome, racist skins & misogynists are NOT welcome anymore, and people are finally starting to take notice of their presence, publicly.

What’s cool is new DIY/DIYers really taking a grasp on the scene and either creating new spaces or non-digital ways of disseminating music and happenings—places like Loner’s Club or EMP Collective, or in particular, Amanda Glasser’s Pulp Zine. DIY galleries in Baltimore that offer diverse programming, both large and small, places like Terrault Contemporary, Platform Gallery, Big Friendly Gallery, etc. These people are our family.

The amount of people splitting art practices here is really up, which is wonderful for those of us who do it all! Artist/musicians, poet/filmmakers, artist/performers, etc—the amount of people straddling different scenes and contributing wholly to the culture of Baltimore at large right now is massive! These are the people who we feel are really making a huge difference in the dialogue, as opposed to the traditional dialogues surrounding specialization within a specific medium. They are true multipotentialites.

What’s not cool is what happened to Bell Foundry, a local arts live-work space, where folks were ousted by city government and the landlord of the property under the guise of violation of building code & safety—and now the land & property is up for sale for 1 mil. The quick gentrification of our arts district by folks looking for vibrancy (a word beloved of gentrifiers) and easy-to-swallow culture is real and it is happening in Baltimore city.

Bring us to speed on the creation of the new record Mirror To Make You, and how your previous works She is Me, Shame, Salome With the Head of John the Baptist & more have informed your current creative consciousnesses.

Going into the creation of the new record, Mirror To Make You, we were faced with the opportunity to record in a less DIY fashion—we had a stronger foundation due to investment from Friends Records, plus our previous work and experience culminating. This was something that we jumped at, not out of any distaste for DIY, but because one should grab these opportunities when they present themselves.

Lyrically, this is the most direct of all the albums we have written. On all previous records, Corynne would often couch her emotional content within some sort of critical theory or literary reference—references to Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Heidegger’s Being and Time, and film or literary inspiration, for example, offered a barrier of sorts where the emotional content was made easier to process and perform in a public setting. For a band that’s loud, having to struggle with being emotionally transparent was a way to actually render the songs meaningful to us, and also offered a little glimpse into what we are thinking about.

This newest record, Mirror To Make You, is radically different. Yes, there are some allusions to theory—can’t give up the ghost completely, can we?—but for the most part, it is lyrically direct, explains an exact emotional state or situation, in hopes that others might identify with these specificities.

Part of this was informed by the amount of personal-life stress Corynne was going through—losing a long term relationship, and similarly, the home shared with that person, the closing of a business she had started, a lack of livable income, a childhood friend passing away, plus the real threat of mental-health instability brought on by such stressors.

Corynne: Such things weigh on you, and change you, and change the way you write about your emotions. You give less of a shit of whether you think people will accept such transparency, and just do it anyway.

Getting to know Baltimore’s Natural Velvet; press photo courtesy of the band.

Give us anecdotes about recording at New York’s B.C. Studios with Martin Bisi, to Wrightway Studios with Rob Girardi, to Sarah Register’s mastering.

Working with Martin Bisi was, to say without any hyperbole, a complete dream come true. We had visited the studio sometime in 2015, as friends rather than potential collaborators, and we all left the space absolutely salivating. It is such a special studio, such a special room. It was more than the walls—it was the history within. The L shaped main room, and that one sofa directly behind the mixing board that literally everyone ever has sat on.

The mixing board itself—Young Americans by Bowie was originally recorded on that board at Sigma Sound in Philly. What a history! Martin knew every square inch of that space, he knew how it sounded, and he utilized it completely.

Corynne: I managed to keep it together till the final night of recording. We went out to get drinks to celebrate a job well done, and Martin said that he had recorded Unsane there, at the studio. I lost my shit. Do you know who sang on that Neumann mic that I was recorded on? I do. It is absolutely wild to me that we were given this opportunity, and every now and then I get randomly giddy about it.

Rob Girardi brought some amazing ideas to the table that we would have never thought of, and has an incredible ear. Hearing the final mixes in the studio at Wrightway, we realized his difference in perspective gave the album significant depth. He has all the same reference points, and he knows a lot of the stuff we are pulling from for inspiration, and he brought it to a place that was still different than what we expected. That said, the album turned out really perfect and had a beautiful process because of his involvement. We are lucky that we were able to work with him.

Also, realistically Rob needs to be acknowledged for his work parsing through guitar tracks. Because of how the album was cut, with the room mics as such, there was such a density of tracks, he sifted through, like, 4-6 guitar tracks for each guitar, that’s like, 10-12 guitar tracks, per each song. The man deserves a medal, and he still kept the wildness that we cut at B.C. Studios. We think he managed it masterfully.

Sarah Register was the glue in this entire album. Mastering is such a magician’s process, it’s a wizard thing that we understand better now, thanks to her, but she is The Best. It was also awesome to work with a woman on the mastering side, because this is something that is extremely important to us as a band. Also, her credentials check out, and her music is awesome. Anyone looking for someone to master a record should absolutely call her.

Inside insights from Natural Velvet; press photo courtesy of the band.

What do you all feel are some of the most important activist causes right now in Baltimore, the nation, to the world at large?

When we made this record, Corynne was dealing with some personal issues, and now we have Trump. Things have changed, a little bit. We sit on the precipice of war with a man-child in a shitty diaper who has our nuclear codes and is flaunting them at Mar-a-Lago to his wealthy club clientele. We’ve entered a radically different time, and it puts personal issues into perspective, for sure.

All art is technically political, and it isn’t A-political what we are doing, focusing on the art & theory of it, but we do have a responsibility to be aware and involved. We are engaged, we are here, and we are in the midst of trying to sort out this crazy world and trying to support each other as artists, as community members, and as Baltimoreans.

We’re constantly learning to navigate creative spaces in a segregated city, as millennials, as femme/queer/POC folks, and figuring out where we fit into the Baltimore scene and the DIY scene at large without taking space away from other folks who are culturally oppressed. We want safe spaces, we want shows that start on time, and we want white boys who play music to really consider what they’re bringing to the table, when they make us suffer through their 50-60 min sets.

As an aside, the mayor, Catherine Pugh, vetoed the $15 minimum wage here in Baltimore, which sucks, too, and affects a lot of us artists and people working in the service industry.

Other local, or not so local artists & folks that you all would like to recognize?

Locally, Eva Pipitone and Baltimore Trans Alliance have been going above and beyond in our community, offering public actions like memorials and marches, as well as more private emotional support systems and meetups. This is vital work.

Also here at home, Abdu Ali has been creating magic and a dialogue where diversity in Baltimore must be valued. His work and music brings to the forefront the discussion of Baltimore-native artists, transplant artists, and gentrification. The first time I went to Kahlon (Abdu books and curates) at the Crown, I felt like I walked into a room that was absolutely entranced. We were lucky to have played the second Kahlon, way back in 2014.

In terms of non-localized music, Jenny Hval is really inspiring to us right now, we love the new Blonde Redhead EP, Downtown Boys, Grimes, FKA Twigs, and Corynne has been having a major moment with the newest Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record. We love how there’s a resurgence of guitar bands that are absolutely killing it right now and are finally getting their dues, truth is, none of us ever left.

Shout out to Silent Barn in NYC, and DIY spaces the world over! We cut our teeth there and will likely die there. We need more DIY spaces in Baltimore, lest we lose to impending gentrification.

Shout out to our labelmates at Friends Records, Bond St. District, Blacksage, Wing Dam, Jenny Besetzt, and actually, the entire roster for touring with us, sharing gear with us, laughing with us, and letting us steal your makeup secrets.

Shout out to whoever runs the Shittyflute account on YouTube for making us skip laughing and go straight to sobbing.

Natural Velvet’s Mirror To Make You available June 2 from Friends Records.

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