New York pop/R&B singer-songwriter iamchelseaiam meets us at Santa Monica siphon coffee bar Funnel Mill to discuss her EP A Beautiful Mess, the pressure to consistently release something new, and her interesting social media tactics.
So first off, I wanted to give you a huge congratulations on the release of A Beautiful Mess!
iamchelseaiam: Thank you!
What inspired the lyrical and instrumental themes that the listeners hear in the tracks?
iamchelseaiam: So the whole project started with me just doing vocals and guitar, and I would track the demos at my house and send them to different producers to get an idea of what they would do with it. My first real project was a live project called Live at The Bitter End, in which I recorded there at The Bitter End and they did a post-show thing. This time around I wanted to go for a different sound. Musically, it was three different producers JoeisJova, Yonatan Watts, and Ebonie Smith, and I feel like they really came up with the cream of the crop where they were really good tracks. In terms of the lyrical content, the EP actually started out as your typical R&B breakup thing. Last year my grandfather passed away in February, and then a little over a week later my ex who I was writing about passed away, which at the time we were still living together. It ended up becoming a very therapeutic process, and it sort of evolved and helped open up conversations with other people and their loss as well.
Everyone always says that music is, like you said, just so therapeutic and helps people get out of their comfort zones to start talking about these hard-hitting topics. So it’s really great to hear that sadness came something amazing.
Which song was your favorite to write and record?
iamchelseaiam: I think the first song “Pity Party,” because just watching it come together since this is a completely new process for me and because it’s a bit more mid-tempo than the other songs on there. I remember we finished recording it, and I was like, ‘Wow, we definitely have something here!’ So yeah, “Pity Party” was definitely the most fun.
Awesome! And you had mentioned that you also recorded a live EP. What would say some of the major differences, pros, and struggles that you had between recording live and then recording in the studio? I can just imagine that they’re very different.
iamchelseaiam: Live at The Bitter End was rushed, like, the project itself was rushed because I had just got accepted to play this music festival called CMJ. It doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately. I didn’t have anything, and I needed to have something out for this festival. It was rushed. I felt pressured to have everything technically accurate because it was recorded live. I definitely had a lot more fun with the studio sessions because not only were these people, my producers, they were also good acquaintances and good friends, so we had a lot of fun making it and even in the process of putting it out. I definitely enjoyed being in the studio more.
And kind of going on that pressure that you need to have something out before you go do a show or a music festival. Do you think that kind of pressure is occurring more and more with artists doing these big exciting events?
iamchelseaiam: Yes, I do. There’s a lot of instances where either you’re not getting paid a lot or you’re not getting paid at all, so the only payout is the audience itself. It’s like, ‘What am I doing to captivate the audience?’ I’ve got to capture them now so when I progress forward in my career I have them from the beginning. It’s tons of pressure to create content I would say.
Do you feel like in our modern era that there’s this hustle and bustle of needing to put out music right this second, and then a year later needing to release something new again?
iamchelseaiam: I do. I was actually just talking to a friend about this. The only album that I can think that’s out now that the public has been allowing it to breathe is Bruno Mars’ project. I think we’re going on two years with that one.
I think so too, and it’s just an EP with like five songs on it!
iamchelseaiam: Exactly! I appreciate that we were able to digest it. I don’t know if that was like a marketing strategy or what, but the way that he did it, to me at least, is very old-school. I remember when they had projects where every song was released as a single, and the longevity of that song or series of songs lived forever. I feel now in 2018 that’s just not common at all. There is this pressure to keep putting out more, and it’s a lot to handle sometimes.
Yeah, definitely. So you’ve gotten to tour in many different parts of the United States. What are some differences that you’ve seen in regards to the audience taking in the live music and especially from the East Coast and West Coast?
iamchelseaiam: Honestly, within the United States out of the cities that I’ve been in, probably Atlanta I feel was the most engaged. I don’t know if it’s because the nature of that city doesn’t really have a lot of live instrumentation at this point. It could just be like, ‘Wow, she’s playing the guitar!’ *laughs* Overall, out of the places that I’ve been to in general, Toronto consistently shows the most love. I know that’s outside of the U.S., but for some reason, they just show the most love.
Eh. It’s still North America. *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: Yeah, we’ll count it. *laughs*
They’re our sisters from the North! *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: The place we all thought about escaping to. *laughs* But as far as platforms, I would say Sofar Sounds is a good one, regardless of what city, because there’s always a very engaged crowd.
Cool! And kind of going into a bit more on the experience with Sofar Sounds. I’ve had so many musicians mentioned how great of an experience it was and how much they loved it.
How would you say that kind of experience is different than playing a show at some little dive bar or lounge-y place?
iamchelseaiam: Sofar Sounds just allows you to be an artist, you know what I mean? It just depends on what’s going on as far as how you’re monetizing your show. Do you have to sell tickets? There’s a pressure to sell tickets. Is it just a flat rate? Because that’s always the ideal situation. And then you have Sofar Sounds, who basically facilitates your artistry., so I highly appreciate them. Taking part in it actually helped plan some of this tour because some of the stops were for Sofar Sounds.
That’s so awesome! It’s always so cool to hear about the music-focused companies that are, like you said, giving the artistry back to the musician.
iamchelseaiam: Exactly! That’s really all we worry about in those situations.
Even for the listener as well. I mean, I don’t like paying $15 for a ticket at a place around the corner from my house. *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: Right! *laughs* I totally know what you mean. It’s an ownership like, ‘This is my neighborhood.’
Exactly! And then you pay $15 for parking.
iamchelseaiam: And then you get a shirt for $20.
And then plus drinks and you have a $100 local show!
iamchelseaiam: *laughs* Yes, it definitely could be!
The sad, but true reality. So if you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
iamchelseaiam: Mmm. Three artists. I have two out of the three. But that third one though. Hmm. Maybe the first two would be my friends actually, R.Q.Tek and Descendent. And my third would probably be maybe Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. And the name of the tour would be, hmm, maybe we would call it ‘Euphoria’ just because of the energy that would be brought onstage.
And then have it be sponsored by Calvin Klein. *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: Yeah! See, we’ve got a great idea going on here. *laughs*
It’ll be an interactive experience with music and scent. *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: Right! *laughs*
And I actually got to see you perform at this year’s Echo Park Rising, which started off my day perfectly. My very early day. *laughs*
iamchelseaiam: Thank you!
How did the opportunity come about and how was the experience getting to perform an up-and-coming Southern California music festival?
iamchelseaiam: It actually came about through Facebook. I saw the opportunity to apply to perform specifically through What The Sound, which is the company that sponsored that specific stage. So I was in conversation with them and found that it was a good fit. Although, I don’t think I understood the scope of what Echo Park Rising is. I had someone tell me that it was the South By Southwest of Southern California, and I was like, ‘But there’s no film component. Are you sure?’ So I asked a few more people and they all reassured me that it’s a good festival, and it feels pretty cool to be on the ground floor of something that seems to be amazing. Even after we got off stage, me and my bandmate walked around Echo Park and saw that there were a bunch of other venues. I was cool to be able to, as an artist, venue hop and be able to pop in and be like ‘Oooh, this is great!’ So yeah, it was good, a really fun experience overall.
Yeah, this was my first year coming to this and I totally felt like I was at South By, but with everything a little bit further out than right next door like in Austin. And what are some music festivals that you would like to play in the future?
iamchelseaiam: Definitely Afropunk and South By Southwest. There are a few summer stages in New York that I think would be cool to do. There’s one called Celebrate Brooklyn that could be cool. North By Northeast would be cool in Toronto. But yeah, I’m super open to opportunities!
So we had connected via Instagram after Echo Park Rising ended. Would you say that social media is a huge power player in how musicians are discovered right now? And even you said that you got connected with Echo Park Rising via Facebook.
iamchelseaiam: Discovery in terms of viral type things, I would say ‘yes.’ But I think it’s a huge power player for musicians to discover outlets. I’ve met so many people through social media. I’ve sort of booked tours through social media using hashtags, like, when I go to a new city and I’m looking for an open mic I might search #LAMusicScene or anything like that. I think that it can also be negative to an extent, but it depends on how you flip it as an artist.
Do you feel like social media’s prominent role in marketing, in general, makes it easier or harder for artists to be successful?
iamchelseaiam: I think it’s easier to find your niche and your market, but I also think it’s harder to break through the noise of it all and become a super duper star. I guess it depends on the artist and what they’re looking for. Are you looking for the fame or are you looking for sustainability? So I definitely think it’s harder to break through the noise but to find your niche, depending on how you choose to use it, could be a lot easier.
Definitely makes sense. And now kind of going into a bit more deeper questions. Do you think women, especially now, need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful in the entertainment industry?
iamchelseaiam: No. I think the pressure exists, but I think it’s easier to choose not to submit to that pressure. I feel like transparency is a huge thing right now, and people are just really into people being transparent. I think it’s easier to not submit to those pressures even though they exist.
Yeah. I feel like it’s easier to just be yourself now then back when we were kids.
iamchelseaiam: Exactly! I feel the same way!
Do you feel that society is more open-minded to the success of women in the entertainment industry as a whole?
iamchelseaiam: Ah man. This question is just so much, so meaty, but I feel that there are some many strides that women need to take, and I’m speaking more so on the business side of music. Like, those in positions of VPs and Heads of Departments, they’re essentially going to shape what we see as far as entertainment. Right now, you still look and see that it’s all men in those high positions at labels and any type of music company, so there is definitely a need for more women in those positions. There are always organizations that strive to make this happen, like Women In Music and Live The Biz, things like that. But we definitely need more representation overall, it’s essential, because how can you see the scope of the world if you’re not literally looking at every type of person in some type of capacity.
I totally agree, and I really do hope that it gets better. It feels like it’s slowly getting there, but just not quick enough.
iamchelseaiam: Never quick enough.
Yeah. And now for some fun questions! *both laugh* Which artists would you want to collaborate with in the future? To get off the topic of, well, a heavy topic.
iamchelseaiam: I mean, I’m glad that you brought it up because it’s something that needs to be talked about these days. But, hmm, which artists do I want to collaborate with in the future? I actually wouldn’t mind collaborating with more rappers like Aminé and Elle Varner. Throwing it back a little bit, but Monica, she’s one of my favorite R&B acts. I would say a lot of the 90s R&B people. Teddy Riley, he’s a producer. Pharrell. I could have a list that could literally just go on and on. *laughs*
And what one word would you say defines you as an artist?
iamchelseaiam: Wow. What word defines me as an artist? Hmm. I used to have an old stage name called mizzmeasured because I felt misunderstood, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I guess I would have to say ‘transparent,’ because I feel that I really reflect that in my music. I share a lot of my experiences in the hopes that it helps somebody else. So yeah, I’d go with ‘transparent.’ *laughs*
And kind of segwaying into the next question perfectly, what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
iamchelseaiam: That even though things might be bleak right now, there’s always more. Nothing is your defining moment. Your heartache, your pain, those are your defining moments. You define your moment.
Very well said, and very much needs to be reiterated in every possible way.
iamchelseaiam: Thank you!
Lastly, what big exciting thing should we be expecting from you apart from riding the high tides of your EP?
iamchelseaiam: I like that! High tides! Well, I have a music video coming out very soon for my song “Hurt People,” and just wrapping up the tour. Those two things for sure. And just planting seeds to see what comes up!
About Funnel Mill:
Siphoning is absolutely one of the best ways to drink coffee and it’s no surprise that Santa Monica wanted to get in on the fun. Funnel Mill absolutely lives up to its name, in which you are introduced to the many mad scientist lab materials that it takes to brew the coffee. Nestled along its walls are fresh beans and tea leaves, so you’re able to take home the exact beverage you fell in love with, but first, you’ve got to make a decision from their lengthy beverage menu.
Funnel Mill’s menu can feel endless and a bit intimidating to those who are indecisive, but it can also lead to a fun adventuring in tasting. Once you make your decision, you can sit yourself at any of its tall bistro tables or comfy leather couches inside or at a table outside to soak up the fresh beach-y air. It’s not right on the beach, but just close enough for you to walk into if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of crazy parking and sky-high food and drinks.