“Migraineur” is a unique pop record, one that is textured without being full of overdubs. Brambila’s voice and melodies are works of brilliance, and the mood they create sound fresh and present in a world of over-saturated, compressed music. After watching Brambila perform these songs at Athens Popfest this summer, I waited eagerly for the record to come out. After listening, I wanted to speak with her regarding the creation of the record and the zine that accompanied the release.
The mood on “Migraineur” is definitely haunting and bare. What art – musical, literary, or otherwise – influenced the sound and feel of the album?
I have a playlist of songs (I called "Hildegard" after the medieval Benedictine saint, a migraineur and visual artist) that help me with my migraines because they're structurally interesting in a way that gets me out of my head and body. My migraines most commonly manifest as a needle of pain in my left eye, and usually all I can do is to hide in the dark and lie down.
A couple years ago, I put on the song "Born To" by Jesca Hoop during a migraine attack, and I realized that, somehow, singing along to this poetic and powerful song alleviated my symptoms. To know that singing could feel like healing was revelatory. I wanted to make an album that reflected what that feels like: hiding in the dark, feeling powerless and alone, and still being able to find lasting and beautiful things in that space.
Check out Lydia’s "Songs for Migraineurs" playlist on Spotify:
“Migraineur” is an absolutely beautiful listen. What was the recording process like for these songs?
Thank you kindly! I had originally planned on heavily overdubbing my solo takes with lots of auxiliary instrumentation, but the more I listened to my mixes, the more I wanted the album to reflect my live performances of these songs, which are ultimately just me and a guitar.
I ended up stripping away most of the other instruments I'd recorded during the mixing process except for the vocal harmonies and the effects that Zeke added to the guitar during the mixing process. I'm glad that I simplified things. It felt like the space was necessary. I'd like to play with having more accompaniment in the future and incorporate that more seamlessly into the writing and recording process.
In the description of the album, you wrote that these are “songs about trees, water, fauns, and flight.” Do fantasy and imagination play a role in the lyrics?
Probably the most literal experiences I share in my music are the things I see when I walk my dog in my neighborhood. I tend to walk him either very early or very late, and I get to see the neighborhood when people's lawns turn into nurseries for fauns. I'm starting to record the sounds of the animals in the trees and how loud it all gets after it rains, and I'd like to incorporate these sounds into my next album somehow.
Very rarely do I feel that I can write about my personal experiences in a literal way. The songs I try to write about what I perceive is my personal experience end up being directive and sappy, and I usually scrap them in favor of something more oblique. I'm more likely to write songs based on responses to poems or novels that crop up like tarot cards whenever I need an answer to a problem I'm having.
One of my favorite novels, “Possession” by A.S. Byatt, is something between a straightforward romance and an academic farce, and the two main characters are English scholars who critically analyze fantasy symbols but end up living these archetypes in hapless, romantic ways. "Melusine" explores some of the tensions and symbols in “Possession” and relates it to some of my own experiences more indirectly. I find that the more visual and archetypal I am in my songs, the more they seem to connect.
I saw your set at Athens Popfest. During your set, you talked a lot about chronic pain and the strain that we put on our bodies by working, over-extending ourselves, etc. Did these ideas play a major role in writing “Migraineur”?
I get migraines multiple times a week, sometimes nonstop for a week at a time. I've lately realized that, while there are environmental triggers that can cause my migraines, my most reliable triggers are the embodied feedback loops of anxiety, perfectionism, and powerlessness that arise from over-committing myself. I think a lot of people my age are wired (partly by devices, partly by an ever higher-stakes education system) to have terrible boundaries around their labor, whether it's paid or unpaid. In my case, the symptoms of being overworked arise as migraines that keep me from living my life. The body screams when the mind refuses to say no.
I was inspired in part by my workers' union to learn more about labor and my rights in the workplace, and this helped me to start thinking more critically about my personal relationship with the labor of making art. I try to be candid in my live shows about all of the material constraints that keep artists from devoting more time and resources to the thing they love doing, and also how invalidating it can feel to be unable manufacture a profitable art product on top of all the other work you need to do to survive.
Madeleine L'Engle explores some of these ideas in a spiritual way in her non-fiction book “A Circle of Quiet,” and thinking about the songwriting process as a series of circles of quiet I give to myself has helped me to focus more on the intangible and healing qualities of making art. Songwriting has been really helpful in my own process of healing from trauma and chronic pain, and it's so important to support each other in our pursuit of the time and space that's necessary to make art and to heal on our own terms.
You also put together a zine to accompany the cassette release. What was the process like for putting together this zine?
I used to do book repair, and I missed the process of working with paper and coming out with a tangible, useful object. When I realized that I could bind my own zines using materials I already owned (paper, ink, embroidery floss and an awl), I was excited to try it out. I ended up calling it a "Songbook of Lyrics and Spells," and it includes some of the prayers/intentions I use when I'm having a hard time emotionally or feel a migraine coming on. I'm thankful for how receptive folks have been to this.
I also made these zines in part because it would have been really expensive to have liner notes with my cassette tapes, and I wanted to have the space to be upfront about how much of a magpie I am in my lyrics. Luckily, I could use the zine to add some citations to the work I'm inspired by. (I don't think I could forgive myself if I got accused of plagiarism, no matter how well-intentioned or indirect.)
What excited you the most about releasing this album?
I love that I finally have something tangible to share that was made in collaboration with people I really respect. For a long time, all that I had were some demos that I literally recorded with the microphone built into my laptop, and I'm so glad to have something more polished to share.
My good friend Bill Fortenberry recorded these songs in his home last year. Zeke Sayer mixed them and added some texture to the tracks at his studio in Lavonia, this incredibly haunted warehouse where the energy is super electric, and I had the record mastered by Nicholas Wilbur at Anacortes Unknown. I was really moved by the album artwork that Sarah Christine Mars did for the album cover based on the experiences with migraines I shared with her, and it's been such a privilege to get to work with all of these folks.
What’s next for you? Any plans for a follow up? Upcoming shows?
I'm a little over halfway done with my second album, and I'm hoping to have it released in August of 2019. I'll also be playing Latinx Fest at Little Kings here in Athens, GA on October 13th.
Pick up a copy of “Migraineur” at Brambila’s Bandcamp page.