lindsay powell makes triumphant pop music to cry to in your bedroom
Artist and producer Lindsay Powell on how her 'pop star' alter-egos, Fielded and Tapioca, have changed her outlook on the music industry.
Lindsay Powell exudes the feeling that she's been crafted from raw earth. She is small and compact, and, whenever she performs, her shadow looks smoothed by hand on a spinning wheel, broadcast behind her by the stage light. It seems useless to separate her out into her many parts. As a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, creative director, engineer, performer, costumer, and more, she contains multitudes.
A lifelong creative, currently based in Brooklyn (who also works as a yoga instructor and one half of an improvisational comedy duo, along with her older sister), Powell sharpened her teeth as the vocalist and keyboardist for the Chicago prog outfit Ga'an. These days, she's best known for her solo work as Fielded, her electronic "future-pop" project that calls to mind everyone from Kate Bush to Nick Cave and Mary J. Blige.
Her latest recording as Fielded, Boy Angel, was self-released on her label Universally Handsome. Start to finish, Boy Angel is a good, long cry. The album as a whole is emotive and gut-wrenching, designed to be sung along to in bedrooms around the world, tears and snot running down your face while you wave your hands, triumphant and tired, in the air. The instrumentation hangs in a delicate balance between Arthur Russell and Grimes; it is as radio-friendly as it is wounding. Songs like "I Choose You" are vertiginous updates to "I Will Survive," playing forever in an all-girl roller rink in purgatory, pop to be played while you cry and skate faster.
In the absence of a hair shirt, Powell chooses to wear her triumphant ode to absent love around her neck: she released the album in the form of a USB key necklace. She wears hers every single day, as much to incite conversation about her album and label as to remind herself of who she is and what she was put here to do.
She is, in a word, obsessed with exploring and dissecting the pop archetype and the traditional female pop star narrative. She calls it being "inspired by those who are liberated and those attempting to liberate themselves." As the fourth wall comes down between artist, management, and audience, we've become conscious of the truly Odyssean trials female pop stars go through on the road to stardom. It's only fitting that Lindsay has embarked on a mission to make music from the other side, taking on these stories of manipulation of the feminine and abuse of power as a lens through which to view her own work.
Powell's commitment to embodying as many female pop archetypes as possible — both as artist and producer — has led to the creation of another solo alter-ego: Tapioca. If Fielded is the smock-wearing, introspective high school poetry nerd, then Tapioca may be her cheerleader cousin, beloved by the student body, smoking Capris behind the gym after practice. With Tapioca, she engages with the legacy of early-90s sex positivity insofar as it relates to contemporary issues of body shame, lack of sufficient sex education, and the epidemics of rape and sexual assault that continue to plague people around the world.
She's adamant that her projects, though fantastic in the truest sense, are rooted in real life. These albums are "not my fantasy world," she elucidates, "but a sort of total stab at a contemporary pop album that's not full of garbage, but actually full of real emotions. And exploring myself as a different kind of musician, coming from the noise scene and saying, look, I can make a pop song."
"I would say I'm trying to showcase the nuance between archetypes in a female pop star — a quote unquote 'pop star' — because so many of us are not allowed to be anything but the one thing we 'choose' — which is actually the thing the media chooses for us. To do anything outside of those boundaries is not allowed. So why not just do one thing under one name, then do it another way under a different name, then start this other project, and not follow any of the rules."
It's the right time to take on a lifestyle project of this depth and breadth, one that is incredibly difficult to label. With make-your-own graduate study programs popping up at major universities across the country and, of course, the explosion of social media, artists have more authority than ever when it comes to asserting their voice and defining themselves before their labels have a chance to speak for them.
"When I sent [Boy Angel] out to people, I didn't know I was about to have this explosive, inevitable reaction to being in the music industry," says Powell. "I still really care about Boy Angel, but that album ultimately has led me to a place of being like, 'Oh, I'm not a musician. I'm an artist, and cool, that means I can say what I want to say the way I want to say it, and it doesn't have to rely on release schedules, or SXSW, tour schedules, or meeting the 'right people'.'"
"I feel so lucky that I've actually met so many people [in the music industry] who are sincere, rad people, and I'm sure I'll meet more," she continues. "But I'm currently working through what it means to identify with these feelings of, 'Maybe I don't trust this world at all with my livelihood as a woman and as an artist. Maybe I don't trust these people to represent me in the right way.' I think it's important to be mistrustful. Then you're like, 'Well, I'm not gonna just stop making shit, so what fucking route do I take? How do I be a strong capable person?'"
In answer to that, we present the first two Tapioca singles, "Takes A Freak" and "Never Again."
Text Meredith Graves
Image courtesy Lindsay Powell