Raw | Interview with Medusa

Describe your sound in three words please!

Cryptid revenge pop.

Why did you choose the name Medusa?

I have two origin stories. The second is much heavier than the first, and it’s a little long, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell it in full for posterity.

Firstly, the fun one: as a terrible little child, I would glare at my family when they frustrated me. To me, the facial expression felt powerful and menacing, but to everyone else, it looked hilarious. If you’d like to imitate it, look in the mirror and bring your chin toward your chest. Then, angry-glare up at your reflection. Your brow ridge or eyebrows should obscure part of your vision if you’re doing it correctly. Anyway, they’d say “oh, don’t turn me to stone! Look out! (Medusa) is going to turn us to stone!” which obviously only made me angrier because I’m, like, eight years old. So I’d glare more. Or scream.

The more serious origin story began at my first university. The school had a residency requirement that only excluded local commuters, so the campus was packed with first-year students. There was also a sister school – the state college by the same name – across the only main road in town. When there were house parties, and there always were, students from both schools would often frequent the same ones. 

At one of these house parties, I had what I thought to be an unremarkable minor altercation with a guy. It was a basic misogynistic frat-boy type of situation: he wanted me to pay non-platonic attention to him, I didn’t want to, he was drunk and angry, etc. I gave him the slip, as one does, and forgot about it.

He, however, did not. For weeks, he fixated on me, I guess out of resentment/hurt pride. The harassment came to a head when he physically assaulted me. But that wasn’t even the part that sucked. 

The worse part was my friends, both my inner and outer circle, somehow coming to the conclusion I had lied about the whole situation. I guess they thought I injured my own face, too? I’m not sure what motivation they thought I had. Maybe they thought I was unstable (we all are, a little, at 19) or something. Unfortunately, they never even had the decency to say this to me outwardly, so when I began to pick up on it, I felt gaslit and paranoid. I never had my suspicions confirmed until months later, during a summer program, when I waved to a visiting friend, a talented artist I really admired and bonded a lot with. He turned the other way, and my stomach fell into my feet. It was f*cking gut-wrenching.

I decided to leave and never come back. The prospect of never knowing who I could and couldn’t trust was too much, and I was too heartbroken to be there. I elected to move to Brooklyn in the fall and spent the rest of the summer learning to produce music digitally. It was cathartic and, being completely alone, I had plenty of time. Somewhere in this time, I saw a picture on tumblr or something that said “Medusa was defending herself” and researched the mythology surrounding how she was assaulted by Poseidon and then turned into a monster. 

Anyway, I really related to being turned into a monster for something that wasn’t my fault. So I embraced it. Like, fine, I’m horrible? I’ll show you how horrible I can be.

And who would you like to be if you weren’t Medusa?

I love being Medusa, honestly. I don’t think there is another route for me. If I could jump into the life of another person, maybe Dolly Parton or Prince. Or, I hear Mozart was shamelessly impulsive and kind of insufferable, and that appeals to me. Maybe Cleopatra’s favorite cat. But also, I would like to be 2-D, like a cartoon gnome/elf or something.

Your music feels production-driven. Tell us a bit more about your creative process.

Production-driven is absolutely accurate! I’m a producer, through and through, before I’m anything else.

When I’m writing a song, the first thing that manifests is the vibe/atmosphere. Like, is it a manic banger? Is it low, slow, and sexy? Is it orchestral and cinematic and contemplative? That informs what sort of instruments I choose. Then I either make the instruments or choose the samples to manipulate, depending. Sometimes, though, I just start to record lines and lines of choir vocals in an empty project. These usually end up becoming a super involved and drawn-out intro I almost always remove.

Recently, I’ve made an effort to stop mixing while I plot the song out, but I’ve wasted a lot of time getting lost in details early on, in the past. That’s the part I tend to geek out about so I get really excited and have to hold back. I would do dumb sh*t just to see if I could, before I even decided if I wanted to.

Dry vocal delivery in the verse is followed by manipulated vocals in the chorus. What do you want to achieve with this?

Being non-binary, I’ve had a contentious relationship with my voice, like many trans people. I used to call myself a “reluctant vocalist,” but that’s become less true as I’ve developed my voice(s) – the thing is, I’m never going to have an indie-girl pop voice, or a deep speaking voice to rap with. I’m only ever going to have mine. But now I’ve gotten to a point where I realize I can have whatever voice I want, and it doesn’t have to be just one.

The opening vocals are mixed pretty dry except for a little reverb (and a tiny bit of formant work) because I challenged myself to use more dry vocals this year. For years, I put guitar distortion on basically every vocal line because I was insecure about my voice’s tone. 

Then, in the pre-chorus, I layered in some of my favorite vocal flavors I’ve come to enjoy: formant-shifted demon-cheerleader layered vocals, muttering in an androgynous range, and distorted yelling in a higher register. When the chorus hits, I wanted it to explode into a monstrous sort of mood, so I left a super character-driven main vocal in the middle, but panned reverbs an octave up on each side to give it a larger-than-life vibe. I was going for, like, you’re at this party and things are weird but it’s going okay, then all of a sudden you realize you’re at this satanic cannibal bacchanal and everything’s in flames.

What does the near future hold for your music?

Had you asked me this a year ago, I would have said a tour. That won’t happen, now, until it’s safe. So, instead, I’m releasing a single every month of 2021. They’re each loosely themed around a different mythological creature / monster / cryptid, like the ones I’ve been turning myself into on my instagram (@adsume). I’d love to make 2021 a highly collaborative year, as well.

Is post-genre “the new black”?

It’s gonna sound like a meme, but I genuinely consider myself post-genre and post-gender. I feel very similarly about both. They’re great. I truly love each genre/gender’s quirks and tropes. That being said, I love cherry picking from different ones even more. Why can’t I have it all, you know? Is some alarm going to go off?

Now more than ever, the industry forces musicians to adhere to genre guidelines in order to game algorithms and get press. Because of the nature of capitalism and clicks and all that, playlisters and blogs favor products that are easy to market to a specific, already-understood audience.

A response I often get when pitching for coverage of my own music, for example, is “I love it! But I wouldn’t know where to put it,” or “It’s great, but it’s too hip-hop/pop/rock.” And it makes me want to kick something. But I know my work would only be reduced by trying to be easier to categorize and understand. So I stay true to myself (and keep wanting to kick something). 

I think there is a steady undercurrent of artists transcending genre, though. I know Grimes recently began campaigning for “ethereal” to be considered a genre, and newer genres like hyperpop materialize periodically. People in their teens and 20s are extremely aware of how corporations use algorithms to categorize and exploit us and I think we are, as a generation, very capable of gaming that system as a result.

Tell us one film you watched recently and hated.

I watch a lot of horror movies. Mostly paranormal or psychological horror – I don’t care much for slashers or gore. Usually, I’m only disappointed if the film relies too heavily on jump scares. I promise I’m not trying to be a contrarian, but I actually can’t think of anything I’ve watched that I’ve truly hated.  Some pieces end up being forgettable or silly but you don’t go to McDonalds to get a filet mignon, you know? Generally, I know what I’m getting into before I watch something, and if it ends up being something I didn’t expect, I just try to enjoy the ride and remind myself dozens (if not hundreds) of people’s work went into creating the film/show/whatever. 

I did watch all 15 seasons of Criminal Minds back-to-back this year, though. I didn’t hate the show, but I do sort of hate that I did that.

Thank you!

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