Nadia Hulett is best known for her strong vocals on Phantom Posse and Steve Sobs songs such as “Story City” and “Impulse“. Hulett is a core member of both of those projects and plays synths on many of the tracks, but when she sings there is a compelling clarity to her voice that shines through the often murky ambience of those dreamscapes.
Self-recorded solo music has a reputation for being toned-down: muffled by deliberately lo-fi production, heavy reverb, and layered vocals. Whether it’s meant to mimic the sonic depth of playing with multiple people, to replicate the cloudy headspace of hiding out in your room for prolonged periods of time, or to downplay the amount of willpower it takes to honor an idea enough to make a thing and share it with people without running it through various tiers of approval, it’s an aesthetic trope that’s permeated “bedroom pop”. It’s the ultimate paradox: unlike capital-p Pop songs, in which legions of producers work behind the scenes to hone songs meant to sound like a particular individual’s singular vision, bedroom pop songs are often actually created by one person in isolation but feel more like pixels in a larger collective consciousness.
i’m your protector now is a bedroom pop album with a capital-P pop clarity. Hulett’s voice is front and center, mixed on top of downtempo R&B and lounge-pop tracks filled out by soft drums, dreamy synthesizer ebbs and romantic keyboard melodies. There’s a warmth to it that reinforces running themes of protection, reassurance, emotional intelligence, and communication. Fittingly, it ends on a cover of Miley Cyrus’s “I Adore You”, proving that you don’t need pop-level capital to have pop-level faith.
The EP is streaming in full below and on bandcamp. We caught up over email to talk about solo work, ritual, and striving to locate confidence in your own guidance rather than in the approval others.
Do your band members from those projects (Eric, Chris, etc) play on this also or did you do the instrumentation solo as well?
Some of the more sparse instrumentation like the interludes and “Survival Mode” were things I did alone and we pretty much left them alone. Or I began with some simple synth lines and a melody and fleshed it out with my partner Eric (also known as Steve Sobs/Phantom Power/Posse).
Two songs started from a lounge project we thought about doing a couple years ago. This is very much part of that realm, but also something else…
Though other Posse members didn’t play on this one, some of them (Tom/Eric and possibly Cale and Chris) will be accompanying me at my shows in Austin. Possibly future shows too we’ll see.
How was making a solo EP different from working on Phantom Posse / Steve Sobs stuff? What was your process for working on this like?
Making this solo EP was/is different because it’s me starting to tell my own story. Not that I don’t when I make other songs for Posse or Steve Sobs, but I/we went into this with that in mind. It’s been too precious for me. Because it’s so important. That’s why it’s been harder and longer than necessary. Posse is more carefree. Songs happen faster.
Process hmm…in a way the process of making these songs was similar except that I was much more on my own. Even though I am still collaborating with Eric, I’m on a solo journey. A lot of writing is trying to figure out what I’m thinking and what the burning things inside of me are.
The titles have a lot of references to “new agey” stuff (“Believer”, “Retrograde”, “Ritual Time”). What is your relationship with that aspect? How does it inform your work if at all?
Yes, I have a relationship to the new agey side of things. It’s funny because I’ve inherited much skepticism from my mom and environment I guess, but I am so so drawn to holistic healing and alternative forms of wellness. I do think of it as healing.
I spent a good chunk of time rejecting any beliefs (after I renounced Catholicism in high school) and now it’s really important for me to define some sort of belief system for myself. That’s especially important when attempting to make something and share it people.
Small rituals played a part in this process for sure. I set up an altar in my studio, I started writing everyday, mostly free writing or stream of consciousness, with the purpose of just getting unexpressed emotions released. A huge part of this for me has been exercising these unspoken parts. I remember saying like a year ago to a friend that I was craving rituals, and it surprised me. All I wanted was some simple gestures or activities that I could repeat and turn to for some sense of safety.
I realized with the title that I just had to call myself my own protector…Sometimes you just have give something a name and then it is that thing.
What are a couple of thoughts or ideas present in your life while you were making this? (about music or life or being a human in the universe or books you were reading or conversations you were having or anything)
Definitely was thinking about skepticism and believing. Conversations—Questioning my ability to make something at all. Books—rereading the Queer Art of Failure (encouraging me to do it anyway!) Also a workshop called “Making Work” I did last year with Miguel Guitierezz (performance artist choreographer extraordinare) That has been with me this whole time.
I love that this album is so present and has all these running themes of reassurance and confidence and protection (the title ‘i am your protector’ but also things like ‘really you got this’ and even the clarity of the vocals).
Reassurance and self-confidence have definitely been themes for the past year or so. If my first instinct with something in the past was, “show it to someone else, see what they think,” the goal now is moving into my own sense of security in the choices I make, what I create and share. As clunky as “really you got this” is for a title, it means something to me. My new mantra, maybe.
The trouble with performing is there’s always going to be a little bit of approval-seeking because it’s just part of sharing with people and sometimes it seems that what happened was a total mystery and [you’re thinking] “god damn it, tell me you loved me!!!” I think I’m trying to get right with myself though so that the approval of others doesn’t come into the equation in the making and creation stages because that’s where it’s been very detrimental for me. I’m getting myself to play more so it feels less like a serious thing that I need other people’s serious opinions and feelings about.
The whole protector piece is tied into this theme too. For awhile I couldn’t stop wondering where the guiding voice in my head was…I was like, “people know how to do things? They make choices and something inside of them tells them to go for it…” And I was searching and searching for mine.
In this last week of wrapping the EP up, I realized with the title that I just had to call myself my own protector. Like Alex Drewchin was talking about in the Eartheater interview! Naming things. Sometimes you just have give something a name and then it is that thing. Like when little kids (I’m the babysitter for all children of Brooklyn) just decide that a spoon is a microscope or some rocks are a dinner feast.