Beauty is everywhere in Steph Knipe’s project as Adult Mom. It’s nervous beauty. It’s beauty that wants you to know that everything will be just fine, maybe not today or tomorrow or in a month but eventually. It’s music that celebrates the idea that healing is a never-ending practice—it’s ritual and not optional. For Adult Mom, this kind of healing comes in endless iterations—a need to heal from trauma, from shitty relationships, from having people ignore your queerness and writing you off completely.
When Adult Mom make these emblems of beauty, healing and survival central to their praxis something wonderful happens. These things become their music. They become the songs you listen to on the subway late at night or first thing in the morning when you walk out of your house and into the day, anxiously trying to find your footing both physically and emotionally. The songs they write are the kinds of sounds that stay inside your head and help you find the headspace to breathe. They are ephemeral and diaristic ways of learning how to be ok again.
In the band’s sophomore record Soft Spots, we get to enter a world that sounds like a list of notes and reminders you tell yourself when things aren’t so great. It’s an album full of different avenues to approach the parts of life that are shitty but also the parts of life that feel like magic. It’s an album that is dyadic: it’s as much about bliss and comfort as it is about coping through humor and being genuinely mad at someone. To learn a little more about the kinds of feelings, landmarks and sounds that went into making this album we chatted a little bit with Steph over Skype.
I want to start really generally with the album and some of the things I really loved about it, which is that a lot of the tracks that you wrote deal with these really nice validating adjectives, like being very tender or soft or ephemeral. I guess I’m wondering why those words in particular are important to you in life and in the songs that you write?
I was writing my senior thesis at the same time that I was writing a lot of these songs and was writing a lot about affect and ephemerality and stuff like and so it was really locked in my brain. I was focusing a lot on human emotions—I don’t want to bore you with the theory—so through my writing for my academic stuff I realized there was a bridge with my songwriting. I wanted to focus a lot on the words like that, that I think about all the time when I’m writing my academic stuff or in my prose and was like why can’t I bring that into the songwriting, because those words are super important to me. Softness and tenderness and ephemeralness and all of those words are super hard to understand because they are all very fleeting and weird and strange so it was fun to talk about and like parse through.
Can you talk a little bit more about that bridge?
Like between Prose and songwriting? There’s this definite bridge—I think with songwriting I used to feel like was just like “Oh, this is like the first thing that I need to like spew on a page.” A lot of times I used to feel like “Ok, this is how I’m feeling, this what I am going to write and this is how I can perform it.” With prose there has always been this editing layer. I mean it becomes more thought through in a way because it’s longer, there’s a lot more that you can fit in prose than in a song.
I realized eventually that no, they are actually like exactly the same; it’s just formatted differently. I feel like the bridge comes because there is like a similar care you can take for all of your art-making practices. There’s a certain editor’s eye that you have to have with all of your art making.
Another one of the things I really like about the stuff on this album and just the music you write in general is that you always write these lyrics that feel really personal to me but they’re also like so funny and very relatable and I’m wondering is humor is something you are always trying to inject into your songwriting?
I don’t know, I think humor is so cool, I feel with songs you can get away with so much, with comedy because it’s like cheeky, you can be cheeky! I don’t know I like to be cheeky! I feel like when I put funny lyrics into a song, I’m doing like the Parks and Rec looking into the camera thing. Really serious stuff is serious but also like I’m a person and have the need to be able to process this in a way that I can process it so I do definitely think about that.
Can you give an example of a song where you were kind of thinking about that?
“Full Screen,” for sure, I remember I was not listening in class and wrote down in my journal, “Do you full screen your porn?” I was like, that’s such a funny lyric! But also like that’s so real, I gotta put that—that’s going to be the first line of the song or something.
That’s so brilliant.
I feel like there aren’t many pithy ones on this album…I don’t know…with that one in particular I had kind of written the rest of the song already about like how hard it is dating someone who doesn’t like care about you, like projects on to you and creates this fantasy person, I was really upset about it and was like “Well, this dude sucks and loves porn so like lets work that in. I feel like it’s always a reality check, a mood lightener.
Yeah it’s like very very self-deprecating but in a real way that’s also not self-deprecating? I also feel that way when I read your twitter like I feel like your twitter is one of my favorite twitter accounts. I don’t know I want to ask you about twitter to be totally honest! How is social media influencing the things you’re doing these days?
I don’t know. Twitter is crazy! I used to be a Tumblr person. I didn’t have a huge following but I was like obsessed with Tumblr. I would try like really really hard to be funny on Tumblr. I was in this like network of people who were so funny so I was performing like all the time. I got Tumblr when I was like fourteen and would go to like Tumblr meetups and stuff? Tumblr is the reason I feel like Adult Mom got any at all because at a point Tumblr was like the Bandcamp community you know?
With twitter, I noticed that like a lot of my friends were posting on there and then I was like ok! One day I just changed my personal twitter to Adult Mom and for some reason it really helped our band? Or I don’t know if it has helped our band or like demoralized our presence like I can’t tell at this point! But it’s definitely weird there are like these crazy people that start following you—like musicians you’ve looked up to for your whole life that one day like fave your tweet and start following you, like what the fuck? And so like it can be this weird networking thing, it offers a way to be like “Oh! I can actually connect with people like that, I’m not just going to email out of the blue.”
Do you ever make tour contacts that way?
Well I mean I booked a tour on twitter once, I think it was in like January, end of January and I was like losing my mind and just posted on twitter “I have to get the fuck out of here who wants to book me in these cities!” and then like I just booked the tour in like a day. I guess it’s the same with Facebook though. It’s great. I mean I love it! It’s awesome to be able to talk to other artists and talk to other people and writers, it’s a big community of writers, I feel like every journalist has to have a good twitter presence you know what I mean?
It’s like this funny thing. I love social media.
Me too. I want to go back to the idea of being a Tumblr kid because I really identify with that personally and I think what you were saying is really true, like adults on twitter are just like grown up people that had a minor degree of Tumblr fame. Would you identify with that scene at all? Would you say it was shaping your music taste, shaping the way you were making music?
Yeah, I mean I joined when I was fourteen because I was a Bright Eyes fan and was looking for Bright Eyes message boards and stumbled upon a Tumblr fan blog, so I made one, so I joined the Bright Eyes fan community on Tumblr. That led me to like every Saddle Creek band, like Rilo Kiley, everything in Omaha. That led me to all this other indie stuff and I definitely would have not listened to any of that if I was not on Tumblr, I probably wouldn’t be into half of the stuff I’m into if it wasn’t for Tumblr, because I made a huge community of online friends, they were all into stuff, they would all post stuff and I respected them and trusted them so I was like cool, I want to be into this! It’s crazy, it’s probably one of the biggest identifiers of my teen years, which is weird because it’s a website. I think about it now, I would like come home from school and just go on Tumblr for hours and be like, talking to people, Skyping with someone—like with people from like Australia. Crazy! It definitely shaped me as a person.
This is a little bit different of a question but like where would you say the community you identify with now, musically, as being apart of? Like would you say it’s something more based on the internet or would you just identify as being apart of a really specific scene, geographically?
I don’t feel a part of any physical community. I think that’s for a lot of reasons. I don’t live in a major city. I definitely don’t feel a part of a DIY community but I definitely feel part of one through social media and touring but it’s definitely weird to be a part of DIY through touring because it is very ephemeral—you’re in the place then you leave. But there is this amazing strength in all of these different communities you’re a part of when you’re there and I’m definitely able to keep up with those people on the Internet or over email and I really feel like what they are doing is important and it makes me want to keep doing stuff. It is like frustrating because–like I love Brooklyn DIY but I’m not in Brooklyn, or I went to Purchase but I don’t go to Purchase anymore so it’s like all these things. I’m not really active in the scene, I’m just performing, like I’m not really booking or anything so I feel a little bit like I don’t have any ownership, which is fine.
Another thing, also related to geography, going back to the idea of how your writing feels very narrative for me, you talk about a lot of like specific places and I guess I’m wondering where you feel this album is set and what that means for you?
It’s very much set in Connecticut, like on the shoreline and in Massachusetts and in New York, like the Hudson Valley. It’s very New England, basically I guess. I was just thinking about that too, like the geography and placement of everything. I started writing it in New York and I was seeing someone terrible and then we broke and I kept moving up this way on the map, up towards Connecticut, through my healing—I was thinking about this because I was taking the train and it was like “When I was here, I was feeling crumby.” And then over more towards Connecticut I was starting to feel better and the person I fell in love with was in Connecticut and I would go visit him and stay with him and it was this beautiful respite from my shitty life. I feel like the push and pull of those two places are important to the record. There are songs, like maybe two that are very love-y and the rest are like “hmmm” kind of pushing against the other. I definitely think that is important.
You were talking about healing, were you doing some of that while you were writing this record?
Yeah. I think I’m just healing every day. It’s hard, I feel like it’s hard for me to say I’m always healing when I’m writing but it’s just such a therapeutic process and this record was just so much about coming out of something shitty and traumatic and just go into something beautiful and lovely. And it was really hard. It’s really hard to be in a place where you’re like “I’m ready to feel loved.” After like not feeling that. A lot of this record was just me trying to figure that out and like healing in that way. So yeah.
I guess to end this do you have anything you want to add that we haven’t covered? Any quips?
Shout out to my bandmates! I feel like I never talk about them in interviews and I always feel so bad.
What do you have to say about your bandmates?
They’re amazing! This record was like the most collaborative thing I’ve ever done. They’re the reason why it sounds so good. They’re amazing instrumentalists and creators. Mike recorded us—he’s the guitarist, he’s the shit. They’re all just great! They’re troopers and they’ll do anything. They’re my best friends so it’s cool!
I really liked, I don’t know what you want to call it, like sampling at the beginning of a few of the songs where you’re just saying hi to them I thought that was the sweetest thing ever!
It’s true though, they’re my best friends they care about the songs every time I show them something. Liv is the best drummer, she punks it up. It’s just awesome. They’re all awesome they’re all so great!
Music’s collaborative man!
Keep up with Adult Mom here.