Listen, I’ve tried to explain to you gormless mouth breathers before that Aqua Girl is pretty freaking special. Her 2018 debut was one of the best albums of the year, a knock out introduction to a talent able to write songs that candidly narrated a perhaps under represented perspective of the transgender and nonbinary experience.
But- and I’ve long been concerned that maybe my review of her debut didn’t properly credit this- she’s not ‘just’ a singing trans woman, her gender identity doesn’t define her- she’s special because she frequently writes fucking bangers! As Elora Driver, she’s already released Sunburn, one of the best songs of 2020 so far, and she’s smart enough to realise that, logically, perfect pop songs rarely need to last longer than two minutes.
When she announced in March that her second album proper was on its way in April, I was, obviously, so excited that I wet myself for three minutes straight. Like, I just drained myself of moisture, you really should have been there. It was clear that I needed to mark this momentous occasion with a blog post, but did this mean a freaking album review?? I hate ‘reviewing albums’! I sit down and have time to listen to the album a dozen times on repeat, then I’m supposed to dribble out 2’500 words on how it made me feel?? I don’t know how it makes me feel! I haven’t lived with it for any decent time, it hasn’t soundtracked any glories or any tragedies in my life yet, I don’t know which track I jump to if I need to be taken up or taken down, I couldn’t yet tell you which track gave me a tiny bit of an erection while I was on the bus last Wednesday morning. If I reviewed it after merely hours after first being introduced to it, I would rate it as ‘pretty good’, as that’s almost all you can say about a piece of art that early on.
So I thought… what if I interview her…? Let her explain her positions in her own words rather than me making widely inaccurate and borderline offensive statements based on me force feeding the work for a handful of listens. I put the idea to her on Twitter and she was kind enough to agree. The following interview took the form of an email exchange over the course of a couple of weeks, but if you’d prefer, picture us both in the bar at Ritz-Carlton, me furiously scribbling Elora’s words of wisdom with a stubby pencil that I store in my cap, while she sprawls back on a chaise lounge with a smirk on her mouth and one eyebrow archly raised as she charmingly answers questions between sips of cognac. All while we keep four feet apart, of course. To be honest, I thought the interview would be more of a frivolous and lighthearted series pf responses to dumb questions, but Aqua Girl actually managed to pull it into engaging and almost profound places through sheer force of charisma, until the interview ends up almost interesting. That might be Aqua Girl’s greatest achievement to date
What have you been doing in the two years since ‘Stereologue‘?
“Working a lot! My day job takes up a lot of my time. I’ve been writing a lot of music too though and I’ve been going to house shows when I can and trying to make friends in the local music community haha”
Are we allowed to know what your day job is, or will that critically damage the mystique?
“I’m a cashier at a grocery store. I’ve talked about it a little bit online so there’s no reason to hide it I just don’t think it’s that interesting.”
Since you are officially now designated an ‘Essential Worker’, shouldn’t you be paid more than almost everyone else??
“Probably. Medical professionals should be getting the most though.”
Is ‘the woods’ more like the movie ‘Cabin in the Woods’, the computer game ‘Night in the Woods’, the golfer Tiger Woods or Woody from Toy Story?
“As much as I’d like to say Woody from Toy Story because cowboys are cool as hell it’s definitely most comparable to Night in the Woods because of the queer existential crisis and spiritual breakdown elements”
Is it more Woodstock 1969 or Woodstock 1999?
“I’ll be honest I don’t know anything about Woodstock. I really like Melanie so I’ll say ’69? Also haha the sex number”
It’s coming out on a Tuesday, is there any deep, meaningful reason behind that?
“Not really! I have Tuesdays off though so it’ll be nice to dedicate the day to getting ready to ship tapes and stuff and see what people think online.”
You changed the album cover of ‘Stereologue’ years after its release! Are artists allowed to do that??
“Yes! I can do what I want and no one can stop me! In all seriousness the reason I did it is I felt like the original artwork kind of hit you over the head with the themes of the album I wanted it to be a little more subtle for new listeners going into it. Album art is a first impression it can be a huge determining factor whether or not someone will give an album a chance so it’s very important to me and i felt that there was a kind of dissonance between the original cover art and the actual songs. I hope that makes sense.”
It makes perfect sense, I really hope this catches on and you’re looked back upon as a pioneer. What albums from the past need a change of cover?
How embarrassed should I be for not knowing who Brockhampton are?? Can you illuminate me?
“You should be a little bit possibly. They’re pretty massive now, so much so that they get lumped in with the whole ‘Mac Demarco worshipping indie boys’ stereotype. I prefer their bangers to their tender emotional songs personally but they’re pretty inspirational as an independent artist.”
What percentage of your life is your music? What do you do with the over percent?
“My own music (or other creative work) probably takes up about 25% of my life. I think about it a lot as a way to pass the time at work. Another 25% goes to consuming other people’s creative work for enjoyment and also to get inspiration. 25% spending time with people I care about and another 25% for whatever I’m obsessed with at the time. Right now it’s looking in eBay for Gameboy colour variants and looking at stuff from the GBA modding community. A few months ago it was memorising all of the lore from the entire Kingdom Hearts series haha”
Can you believe I’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game? (I’ll understand if you want to walk away from this interview in disgust at this point) Where should I start? And are they actually good games, or is dicking around with Disney characters just a thrill?
“They’re kind of terrible, I don’t know how you’d fare because honestly I think a lot of my enjoyment comes from nostalgia. The entire series is ridiculously convoluted which can be fun trying to decipher it but I don’t know if I’d recommend it. ‘Birth by Sleep’ is my favourite because it has the best combat system and focuses less on Disney characters and more on original lore. “
On your first album you asked “When I finally get on estrogen am I gonna feel like myself again?”, do we have any answers to that question yet?
“Honestly I think I’m only just starting to approach having an answer. The content of ‘the woods’ has a lot to do with claiming a sense of identity for myself as I become an adult that’s completely separate from other peoples expectations. So through that kind of process and experience I’ve become more comfortable with myself and discovered a lot of new things about my personality. So in a way I started to feel like myself before I even started HRT. I’ve been on HRT for about 4 months now and I absolutely feel even better than I did before but I’m still only just beginning to feel the emotional ramifications of hormone changes so I expect I’ll continue to write songs about my internal struggle with identity for at least 1 more album. I’ll probably be writing about my internal struggle for a very long time regardless of my trans experience, I just happened to be very focused on it during that album”
“In general it’s hard to comment on because it’s such a clusterfuck. I just want people to be nice to each other and not gatekeep. Every trans person has a different experience and I just try to respect everyone. People want things to be cut and dry and for people to be good or bad but it’s never that simple.”
Actually, do you even identify as a ‘trans woman’ or am I being incredibly offensive right now??
“Don’t worry! I love talking about this and it’s not offensive to me to ask questions in a polite way. I’m a nonbinary trans woman. I tend to express myself in more feminine ways so it’s easier for me to just say trans woman most of the time but I think the entire concept of gender is garbage and the way most people look at it right now kind of needs to die.”
I have a PS4, what essential video games do I need to own?
“Celeste, Stardew Valley, and Hollow Knight. Best games ever made in my opinion. I feel like you can get a very good read on what kind of person I am based on this answer haha”
What music artist did you used to be really into that you’re now mortally embarrassed about?
“I was very sheltered and grew up on Christian alternatives to nu-metal, so basically everything I listened to as a child was embarrassing. Some of my favourites from that phase I’ll stand by to this day but I can’t believe I ever enjoyed this band called Pillar.”
I just listened to some Pillar and… wow… Let’s just say the influence on your current music isn’t immediately obvious. How religious were your family when you were growing up?
“My family was very involved in almost hippie-esque “born again” Christian churches so I grew up around a very weird brand of Christianity. A lot of them were almost progressive but not quite there. It wasn’t terrible but being that intimate with religion led to me being able to scrutinise it very easily and figure out what I believe at a pretty early age. Our pastor believed in the Illuminati and that Hollywood was full of real vampires that drink the blood of the innocent. It was pretty wild so by 16 I had kind of developed my own beliefs.”
Who is the most famous person you’ve had sex with? Feel free to lie
“Trying to think of someone who won’t care if I joke about banging them. Jim Sterling? IDK man, I’m asexual, I don’t bang.”
Jim Sterling is such a bizarre choice to lie about that I’m gonna have to assume it’s true. Tell me about being asexual, is it something you grow to realise or have you just never shared most human’s obsession with rubbing genitals together and only later realised the name for it? What does being asexual mean to you?
“Polyam Boglin man is very comfortable being known as a sex symbol, it’s less bizarre than you might think. I’ve been identifying on the asexual spectrum since I was 14 and to me it means I’m sex indifferent. It’s not something I’m repulsed by but I don’t really have much interest in it as a subject or activity. I still find people attractive but kissing and non sexual physical intimacy is about as far as my desires go.”
After listening to your music, many people will doubtlessly feel moved to get an Aqua Girl tattoo. What should that tattoo say?
“If someone was absolutely dead set on getting an Aqua Girl tattoo but somehow didn’t know what to get I guess I would recommend getting just like a minimalist pine tree or something related but not extremely blatant. Pine trees mean a lot to me I kind of want to get one anyway haha”
Are ‘bedroom pop’ artists like you in their element during quarantine? Should we expect a dozen albums this year?
“It kind of seems like some of us are so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little spike of creative output this year haha. I’ve also heard a lot of people saying they feel like without experiences outside of their bedroom they’re having trouble writing new material which I understand. I’m an essential worker so personally it hasn’t really changed my artistic experience.”
If someone asks you ‘What do you do?’, how do you answer?
“I tend to be a very private person so I normally don’t reveal very much. My music is hyper personal so I feel weird showing it to most people who would ask this kind of question so I normally say something like ‘I’m a musician but it’s just a hobby’.”
What was the best album of 2019? What will be the best album of 2020, aside from yours?
“I unironically enjoy Old Town Road but yes there are better songs. I think one of Lil Nas X’s other songs, Panini, is better actually.”
How big do you want to be, and how big do you deserve to be?
“Big enough to not have to work a day job but small enough to not be famous. The girls in Black Dresses seem to be in a nice sweet spot. I don’t know how I feel about the question of how big I deserve to be though. I just wanna make art and not die haha.
Let’s imagine this lockdown continues for the rest of eternity, what will go down as the last film you ever saw at the cinema? I, unfortunately, saw ‘Bad Boys for Life’ just before the cinemas closed.
“I saw Birds of Prey in an empty theatre with my boyfriend. It was really fun actually we were basically screaming the entire time”
How long have you been with your boyfriend? Do you write songs about him and does he know about them??
“We’ve been together for 3 years! And yes I have written one but it was on an older project.”
What was the first album you fell in love with?
“I think I really got into ‘Demon Days’ by Gorillaz when I was 11 or something. I loved it then and it still holds up!”
What’s the biggest secret you keep from your family? I won’t tell them, promise
“Oh I mean definitely the fact that I’m trans and not Christian anymore, lmao.”
How exactly do you keep the fact you’re trans from your parents?? How often do you see them and do you dress and act differently around them? Or is it a case of them knowing how you are but not knowing how you identify?
“I’m 21 now and I moved out of my parents house at 19. I moved out of their home state (around an 11 hour drive away) so i only see them a couple times a year now. I’ve always been a very private person so it wasn’t that hard for me to hide growing up and since I only really started to go through physical changes since moving its been pretty easy to keep under wraps.”
Have you thought about ‘coming out’ to them or is that more a ‘tomorrow problem’ that you don’t really concern yourself with?
“I’ve thought about it but I don’t want to burn my safety net until I know I’m not going to need it. So I’m sure it will happen once I feel comfortable living on my own and I’m deep enough into transition that they wont think they can stop me. I know if I did it now they’d probably try to cut me off to get me to rethink it so I’d rather wait till I’m far enough in that they’ll realise there isn’t really any going back. “
“I DON’T KNOW HONESTLY. I bought it on cassette when I was 16 and it’s just stuck with me. The lyricism and the songwriting are fantastic and it’s just extraordinary homemade pop music. I think the level of mysteriousness adds to the experience also because they’re so fantastic yet there’s so little information on them online. I’d love to put together a cover compilation of their songs in the hopes that more people would listen to them.”
Do you have any deep, psychological reason why so many bands refuse to use proper capitalisation?
“General anarchist spirit probably.”
You make a new friend, you go back to their house for coffee, then while they’re having a piss you notice an album and a book in their collection that’s an absolute deal breaker, and you run out of their house never to speak to them again. What is that album and what is that book?
“The book ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie or anything along those lines would be a pretty big red flag and then in combination with that any classic rock album like Metallica or some shit would make me very worried for our friendship.”
But… What about ‘Appetite for Destruction’ by Guns n’ Roses…???
“Classic rock is aight as long as it’s not alongside a book about how to trick people into liking you. Something about defining your personality with something so basic and well known at this point just seems fishy to me if it’s in combination with one of those books. Guns and Roses have their moments though haha”
“Oh absolutely. For instance i recently discovered I want to be goth which is gonna make my next album really fun. Hopefully won’t take 2 years this time.”
Finally, and most importantly, who is your favourite wrestler?
“I’m 5’2 so I always latched into Rey Mysterio lmao”
With the relieving realisation that she was able to name a favourite wrestler, the interview was over. In terms of getting to know the artist better, and to have the thoughts and inspirations behind their music explained, it was an unconditional success, and further proof that I am a serious and motherfucking legitimate music journalist. However, I hadn’t heard ‘the woods’ when it was conducted. Have I wasted all that time and effort into promoting a hot piece of garbage?
Thankfully, absolutely not. ‘the woods‘ is a pretty much perfect second album, in that it introduces new (and improved) factors to the sound and marked advancements in the songcraft and production, but still very much aware of the kinds of things that made the music so special in the first place- this is still very much an Aqua Girl album.
And because it’s- and I quote- ‘very much an Aqua Girl album’, you get intense but never overwhelming emotional intimacy; ostensibly tiny sub two minute perfect pop bursts containing a whole universe of significance; and music that might be superficially ‘cute’ in places but is still unafraid to take the listener to dark places lyrically (‘I just need some reassurance/That I’m not the one/Who’s making you feel this pain… So I can ignore/All of the scary things you’re saying’, ‘Life’s really hard/And then we all die’, ‘You bette hold on fucking tight/I’ve got a white jumpsuit and a sharpened knife/And I need some catharsis in my life/Because ever since you stabbed me I’ve been on the defence all of the time.. Did you want me dead?’). The greatest evolution on ‘the woods’ is in the songcraft. Aqua Girl has always had a knack for nailing a great melody and an infectious tune, but ‘the woods’ takes it to the next level. You will have hopefully already heard the irresistible single No Medicine, which is may be Aqua Girl’s most perfect tiny slice of pristine pop music ye, and the album surrounding it is packed tight (22 minutes of perfection) with a practically obscene amount of catchy hooks and well crafted refrains, with songs like Anam Cara and Victim strongly stating their cases to be alternative (maybe even perverse) sounds of the summer. Also, Cloak and Dagger really reminded me of 24.19 by Childish Gambino, which is, like, convergent evolution, and shit, innit?
But I’m not here to review it, I’m hear to recommend it, I’m here to identify it so you dweebs can go out and experience it yourselves. Spend a few hours in ‘the woods’, don’t be scared.
Oh, and Anam Cara is by far the best thing she’s ever done. It would be the best thing most people have ever done.