This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.
Songs have long been used to tell stories. From the European folk ballads of the seventeenth century to the triple platinum rap album Good Kid, MA.A.D. City, artists of every era and genre have paired music with lyrics to create and transmit stories.
Pop artist Juletta and DJ-producer Ishan give new meaning to the story song with debut album If I Never Hit Land, a joint record inspired by the stories of 30 New York City women Juletta met during the summer of 2018. “I would conduct interviews with women all over New York City, and then write their stories into songs,” she explained in an interview with American Songwriter. The resulting 12 tracks reflect the narratives Juletta accumulated over the course of the summer, as well as her own experience of finding and processing her subjects’ stories.
If I Never Hit Land is not the first fruit of Juletta and Ishan’s collaborative labors. Shortly after meeting each other in the fall of 2018, the pair released Wild Nature, a folk-pop EP written by Juletta and produced by Ishan. “One of my favorite parts about working with Juletta is her fearlessness,” Ishan told American Songwriter. “She’s willing to write and sing to absolutely everything I give her, no matter what it is."
For their Algorhythm, Juletta discusses her appreciation for the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” and Ishan recalls his introduction to rapper and producer Pi’erre Bourne.
Juletta: Ishan showed me “Surf’s Up—Remastered 2009” by the Beach Boys last winter with an idea to cover it. One of our things is we always have a collaborative Spotify playlist running at all times. 2 years ago when we met, before we even started working together, we got into a conversation about Frank Ocean and James Blake and decided to share playlists. My friends in New York nicknamed me “Muddy,” so that’s what Ishan named the first playlist. From there we made “Muddy 2,” “Muddy 3”...so on. I think we’re on “Muddy 6” now. I remember he added “Surf’s Up” and I started listening to it over and over to learn it for our cover. I hadn’t heard it before, and on the first listen I was hesitant but by the third or fourth replay I was so captivated. The whispery chants coupled with bright piano and Brian Wilson’s seamless harmonies created a nostalgic and cathartic environment for me: I have so many memories listening to the Beach Boys on my mom’s record player when I was a kid. When the bass note comes in on the lyric “I heard the word...Wonderful thing...A children’s song”—wow. Thinking about the scrapped Smile album and where Brian Wilson was mentally at the time gives this song another complex layer. Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics are both brilliant and nonsensical, and every time I listen, I hear a phrase that resonates with me in a new way. On the most recent listen, the background chants “Bygone, bygone” felt like an eerie reminder of time passing quickly.
Ishan: Nick—my roommate, manager, and best friend of 11 years now—has always been ahead of the curve with music. Since we were in 7th grade, he’s introduced me to the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Andy Shauf, Disclosure, and Whitney all before they were big. But the one artist he showed me that sticks out to me right now is Pi’erre Bourne. I remember walking into the kitchen while he was jamming The Life of Pi’erre 4 and being absolutely amazed at what I was hearing. It was trap based, but was somehow psychedelic and really melodic. The beat was squishy and glittery. The crooner was talking about calling his grandmother. I had no idea who it was, and when Nick told me I was taken aback. “Pi’erre Bourne — like the Playboi Carti producer—makes his own music?” Oh yes he does.
My love for hip-hop started in my teens, but as of the last few years I haven’t kept up with so much. Listening to Pi’erre was part of the push in recent months that has been restarting my love for the genre with its bombastic personalities, the hard drums, and the sampling. Pi’erre’s stamp on the music of today is undeniable — just turn on “Guillotine” and float away with me in his warm, synthy pools.
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