Many songs slowly sneak up on you, revealing their secrets only on repeat listens; but in the case of Undercurrent, the new EP from Ladycop, the music instantly grabbed us, and dared us not fall for its melodic charms.
What’s so instantly striking about the music of Ladycop is the sheer quality of the three-part vocal harmonies; they brings to mind acts like The Wharves of Warpaint, but somehow have a beguiling quality all of their own. Coupled with the music; a whirl of pulsing bass and swathes of guitar, strings and whatever else the band can lay their hands on, their sound is part experimental psych-folk, part perfect, hazy dream-pop.
Ahead of the release of Undercurrent next week, you can check out the exclusive EP trailer below, and then read our fascinating Q&A with Ladycop front-woman Chelsea Sherman; where she discusses everything from what being a Ladycop in 2016 means to how on earth they got those vocals quite so mesmerising.
FTR:Who/what are Ladycop?
Ladycop is a six-piece music project based in Bloomington, IN. The genre flows between melodic rock, dream pop, and neo-psychedelia.
FTR:You’ve got a new EP coming up, what can you tell us about the recording of Undercurrent?
Undercurrent came to be when I was screwing around with my loop pedal in January 2015. I tapped down a psychy drum beat as a foundation, and started adding “vocal instrumental” layers on top. I write sections by blending piano/bass line compositions and vocal expressions. I’ll transpose a vocal line onto a musical instrument, or use vocal lines themselves as a type of orchestration.
Most of the ideas I end up keeping come out of me through some present, intuitive space, which is what happened with the chorus “ahhs”. I thought the whole tone break was edgy and interesting. All of the songs took some drafting and modification through piano work and various demos I created on a digital 8 track. I presented Undercurrent and the other EP demos to Alex Arnold (of !mindparade), who helped me produce and mix the work.
All of the songs on the Undercurrent EP were composed between 2012-early 2015. They are the first complete songs I’ve ever created. It’s a fun compilation, and I’m really excited to share this initial wave.
FTR: Where does your name come from? What does it mean to be a Ladycop in 2016?
For me, the word “Ladycop” is a feminist re-contextualization of a candied term that expresses coming into one’s authority. It calls to combat adversity with a powerful yet compassionate aptitude, a force that we really need right now in our world. I believe that there is a softness in strength, and I want to demonstrate that. The name itself has nothing to do with our horrifying militarized authoritarian state, an issue that I will empower against until my last breath on this plane of existence.
I first created the name Ladycop in 2012. I was sitting up on the kitchen counter, curled up against the wall, trying to write a melody that would soon become the “Alaska” verse. I had just dropped out of college and was pretty bummed about it. I studied theater and dance in school, and was determined to find my own drive while being immersed in art all the of time. I was also throwing a lot of house shows. I hosted dozens of bands for three years (usually all males), and would sometimes host a hundred or more show-goers at a time, with 3-5 band sets in my basement. (One of my first show houses was called “The Dollhouse”- it was run by four women. There were all these old road signs left in our basement, and I put a giant “men working” sign on the back of the stage area, with a painted “wo” to title it appropriately). I had experimented briefly with songwriting in my teens, and the idea of my own project was a distant dream of mine. After hearing and experiencing so much music in those past few months, I felt really drawn to doing more of my own writing and deeper theory education.
For the next few years I studied, practiced and wrote mainly in secret. While I take responsibility for my own insecurities, I wasn’t always in the best environment back then. The music industry, even on the small midwest scale, is sexist. It vibrates out subconsciously. I connect with a lot of male musicians now who are amazing guys, so I’m not saying all men are like that. But there have been many men I’ve worked with or engaged with who have touched me inappropriately, made undermining jokes, treated me like an object, were generally disrespectful, etc. A lot of times men will just invade your personal space on the street because they feel they have the authorization to do so, which drives me crazy. On a larger scale, the occurrences are small, but the build up of receiving those reactions takes a toll of you. It’s something I’m healing from, and I’m stronger about it now. But women never seem to be talked to or respected on the same “level”, and as a sensitive person I feel that.
I tried to humor other title options when the band was finally being birthed into some sort of reality. I thought the name Ladycop was tongue-and-cheek, tough, and a bit sarcastic. The character Ladycop was a blonde woman who cleverly fought against bigotry and pursued truth in justice (a 1970’s single-issue comic that only displays unsettling gender-charged advertisements between its pages, I’m serious). If you did an image search of “Ladycop”, you would see a myriad of “sexy” halloween costumes. It made me feel diminutive and unable to truly connect with my body, alongside the momentum to rebel against those ideas with what a “Ladycop” should really be. By the time I experienced years of musical trial-and-error, persisted through swells of emotions, charged through illusory social walls, and gathered up the courage to finally present my work and show this new creative jurisdiction I felt within myself- it was hard to go by anything else.
FTR: The EP is coming out on Cassette, what do you make of the cassette revival? Do you like the format?
This will be my first time listening to my work in a non-digital format, which is an exciting experiment. We published the EP on limited edition pink-and-purple swirl tape cassette (mp3 downloads included), as well as CDs. I like cassettes because they are cheaper than vinyl. A lot of time I don’t have the cash to pay for a $20 record. I will admit the lo-fi novelty is also charming to me. A lot of Bloomington folk put out tapes, so it’s pretty standard here. We have a battery operated tape player on top of our record player at my house, and honestly it’s pretty bumpin.
FTR: Why do you make music?
Definitely the feeling of creation. It’s joyful, challenging, invigorating, sometimes euphoric. Being submerged in art feels like home to me. I’ve never really stepped outside to anything else, and when I tried I was miserable. Singing and playing with my friends has also been a truly unforgettable experience. The ability to express is really freeing and terrifying in a great way. Before every show, Biz, Kenzie, and I reflect on each piece so we can deliver that emotion to others, with the hope to create a space for presence and feeling, instead of just “playing at” somebody.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you were making the record?
I’d say I’m influenced the most by Broadcast, early St. Vincent, Melody’s Echo Chamber, and The Dirty Projectors. I grew up in the musical theater/choir culture- I loved jazzy or romantic musical scores and Stephen Sondheim. I like orchestral pop and dreamy melodic pieces. Recently I’ve been getting into more impressionist-era classical music and jazz, as well as more heady pop projects like Deerhoof, or Xenia Rubinos’ first record. I have soft spots for many other projects, and usually have one record by an artist that I will over-listen to.
FTR:Those harmonies are pretty special, have you all had vocal coaching? What made you want to be singers?
Thank you 🙂 Biz, Kenzie and I all started singing at a young age, doing various training and choral work. Kenzie was in one of the best show choirs in the nation, Biz did vocal competitions for seven years, and I was submerged into musical theater up until my teens. It feels amazing to connect and improvise with Biz and Kenzie this past year and a half or so. We’ve been singing together so much that it’s cool to see how we can mold into each others vowels, pitch, and harmony. It’s been an honor to deeply listen and be present with these women.
FTR: What are your aspirations for the EP’s release, do you see music as a viable career?
I’m honestly just so happy to get this little babe out there. It feels wonderful to have this EP finished and ready to share after so many years of trial and gray matter. The early years remind me of when space dust floated and collided about in chaos until finally one day all that rock made a planet. It makes me think of all the little songs and lines I made, floating about somewhere like aesteroids in time. All these songs were created with a sense of novice exhilaration, and I think you can hear that joy on this record. I’ve moved on to more projects and different worlds, so I just feel really grateful to have this creature in the universe to create culture, especially when the ability to make art these days can seem like a dwindling fight against content regulation, fear, and the machine. Plus these songs are always super fun to play live.
When it comes to music being a “viable career”, I just don’t know. The arts are dying and I’m here to help protect it, and help others see the creativity in themselves. That’s always been my job. Obviously in our country right now, it’s difficult to do anything that isn’t medical, technical or financial if you want to live a “stable life”. I do hope that one day it may be possible to sustain myself on art alone, I think deep down that may be every artist’s dream. I teach dance classes and participate in a small modern dance company, so I suppose that’s another career channel of mine. And I still love to act. Right now music has been my main creative drive, but it fluctuates. I’d like one day to go back to school to get a teaching certificate and take more classes, because self education while you’re doing 10 million other things is difficult! But I also don’t want to be enslaved to collegiate debt, so i’ll wait. I don’t make a lot of money, but it comes along with the choice. Making art makes me happier than making money.
FTR: What can you tell us about music in Bloomington? Who else should we be listening to?
Bloomington is a great city. It’s basically this weird little utopia bubble in a sea of cornfield and high conservatism. There is a lot of amazing music and culture being created here. I love the duo Brenda’s Friend, especially their first release “Under the Shrub”. Alex (of Ladycop), is doing a lot of gorgeous work right now for the new !mindparade LP, which I’m really jazzed about. Our soprano Biz Strother also started an R&B synth pop project recently called Daisy Chain, and is putting out a really lush music video/single in mid-November.
FTR: What’s next for Ladycop? Touring? A full-length album?
We just finished recording the last bit of stems for our new LP this past weekend, and are about half-way through with the mixing process. The LP is a compilation of songs and interludes I’ve written in the past year and a half or so. It’s been really cool to progress as a band and see how that has transformed our sound. The Undercurrent EP is a mix of warm studio-pop tracks that we had to work to play live when we started playing out as a group. Our sound is much more raw when we perform, with the three vocalists and rock-oriented percussion by Chuck Roldan. The LP will have much more of that sound. All songs will also feature Biz and Kenzie, which creates a really amazing texture that I look forward to sharing.
We have a release party in Bloomington this Saturday, and then I’m doing a small solo looping tour next weekend. We did a midwest tour and a bunch of regional stints this past year, so we’re going to hibernate for the winter to finish this album. We’re looking forward to playing out again when it’s complete! I’d love to tour in Canada.
Undercurrent is out November 11th via Tree Machine Records. Click HERE for all upcoming Ladycop shows.