First things first: Rontoms makes a workman’s mojito.
It might sound oxymoronic, and it’s certainly a jest, but that fast and dirty drink is old dependable for this hipster in grandpa casual getup needing a pick-me-up. Eight hours of sleep just didn’t do the job after spending 42 hours running alumni events for my college fraternity in McMinnville.
But this probably has nothing on Angel Abaya and company. Her band had voyaged from Salt Lake to Boise to Portland in a span of 72 hours on an album release mini-tour commemorating her debut record, The Bubble.
Abaya is a multiform artist, a filmmaker-musician based in Los Angeles, but hailing from Boise and this show at Rontoms constitutes the second time I’ve seen her live.
I first met the chanteuse in Boise while covering Treefort Music Festival’s return for Atwood Magazine. I was press and she was press relations. I didn’t know she was an artist until midway through Friday of the five day festival. And I didn’t see her play until the following March.
Her band played tight and the music had variety, but not until we danced to Neil Frances later that night did we proceed from acquainted networkers to working friendship. Thus, she’s not Abaya to me; she’s just Angel.
Even still, there’s only a handful of bands that have a must-see live appeal to me. Names like the Grateful Dead or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. What I needed was a long-player from Angel. Something to make it tangible beyond just a single experience.
Thus The Bubble.
Thus why I’m sitting there by the merch table, a Gonzo journalist in a geriatric hipster’s cardigan and fabric jeans, sipping on my post-rumspringa rumspringer, trying to come up with some questions for an interview and generally absorbing the open studio plan of this Burnside barclub nameplace.
Boutique armchairs and wide booths lined the perimeter windows. Abstract paintings, lines thick and texture-splattered filled the corner wallspace. Lowcut sofas and coffee tables collared a recessed stage/dancefloor under a warm orange light. One side reserved, the other not. A rustic-industrial fan circled overhead with pipes and conduits scrambled on the ceiling of this square, Rent-chic setting.
A combination of brutalist architecture and modernist furniture for the layperson. If Vintage Pink designed a bar, it would look like what I just described.
The bar was on the right side of the center floor, tended by a no-nonsense but cheerful crew of ladies. All of their drinks were workhorses, not just my mojito. The garnish was pragmatic. An orange twist there, a mint sprig here, nothing too flashy. You might not have the right glass for your drink, but it’ll be the next best thing.
The alcohol is all that matters, right?
In front of the stage is a small piece of tech essential to the whole operation. About twenty or so paces from the stage is the soundboard tech. About thirty paces behind him is me, at the merchandising table.
Angel’s made good on the merch this mini-tour: she’s down to three shirts, a baby onesie and a field of buttons. Supporting her is the Portland-based neo-cumbia band, Caicedo. They have a whole Pottery Barn section of ceramics on offer and will weirdly play after Angel.
You just don’t see that often. Then again, they are the hometown heroes and a fast replacement for the originally scheduled band. I can’t remember the name—the rum’s at work—but the connection was made through bandmate Nick Archibald.
Archibald is another mutual acquaintance and another reason to listen to The Bubble. Archibald met Angel at the Boise Rock School, a music education non-profit aimed at teaching kids how to become an artist. However, I’m nowhere near close enough to him to dare break protocol with the Associated Press. I fear Mr. Thompson—my college journalism professor—might have a conniption as it is if I mention Angel by her first name again.
[Angel. Angel. Angel.]
In the meantime, Angel is playing “I Don’t Need a Boyfriend.” It’s a track that was so-so on first listening from the record, but then again, the record didn’t come with a picture show. The projector is playing a scene from The Powerpuff Girls and Bubbles is sending out an all-points bulletin for household animals. Now it’s my new anthem for a No-Nonsense Summer.
[A No-Nonsense Summer being the gritty Hot Girls’ Summer sequel, as Angel and I laughed about over text.]
I’m on to a pear cider, thinking up questions to ask after the show. It’s not my first choice, but I love a good hard cider. Part of me wants to do this interview off the cuff, but the tape recorder sticks in my pocket. A nascent migraine is starting to clobber my head and cloud out the brainstorming.
I think I should have stuck with the mojitos.
Later, after a text exchange…
Your debut album has been a process, a long time coming; when would you say your first ideas for an album began to percolate?
Yes, it’s been quite the journey! I wrote this record in the Fall/Winter, 20/21 but I would say that this album was inspired by a lot of things that happened to me right before the pandemic started.
This record is about my early twenties and all the growth and challenges that can happen at that time. I wrote a song in the spring of 2020 called “Turning A Circle Into A Line,” which is funny because I was already thinking about circle shapes.
I mean, I’ve been obsessed with circles, spirals, cycles, etc., my entire life, so The Bubble is no surprise to me. But this song lyrically and musically set the tone for the songs I would write six months later that would ultimately become The Bubble.
There’s a lot of great moments within the music, from whirling keys on the title track, to pert punk yelps and arpeggiating synths on “Over / On / Under” to a slide guitar turned theremin on “Becoming (Is It Forgotten?)” but I’m wondering what moment you had the most fun with while making the record?
We also recorded me blowing bubbles in a bowl for “Over / On / Under”. Jared had a waterproof microphone so we recorded the bubbles from inside the bowl, and we also had a mic on top of the bowl. Over and under.
Which song came easiest? Which song had to be teased out?
Overall the album came out of me rapidly. It felt like a purge. I wrote “The Bubble” in two hours. I wrote “Through The Glass” in a similar fashion. Most songs took a day or two to finish. The writing period for this album was only a few months.
One of the last songs to get put together was actually “I Don’t Need A Boyfriend”. My friend wrote the chorus, but other than that, we didn’t really have a structure for the song until right before we recorded, and even then, we changed it a bit when mixing. It’s definitely the most manufactured song on the album.
What challenge posed the most difficulty during the making of the debut? What challenge did you not expect?
The biggest challenge, as well as the biggest reward, was doing most of the work myself. I had a lot of people who supported me and helped make this happen, but at the end of the day, it was very much a one-man show.
I was challenged constantly to show up for myself; did I believe in myself enough? Did I believe in my art enough? How could I support myself better?
It’s expensive to make a record! To make art! Certainly doesn’t always have to be expensive but a big project adds up. It’s 100% worth it though—there’s nothing I’d rather spend my time, money, energy on than art.
Can you explain the story behind partnering with Earth Libraries?
I connected with Earth Libraries in 2020 when I created an EP/short film called Quaranmood for a project called the Covid Cultural Commission in Boise. They put that out with me and a couple more singles before The Bubble.
The album is released and the release shows are finished; what’s next?
I have a few shows in LA coming up and some more shows to be announced. I’m looking forward to making tunes and having fun this summer.
If being objective in the world of music is impossible, then being the objective keeper of truth for a friend’s music is unfathomable.
Rockwell is my least favourite rock critic to read. Not because he’s a poor writer, mind you. Rockwell’s a well-reasoned, technically savvy and intensely academic essayist. But reading his defense or disregard for an artist is to directly apply hand sanitizer to the face, it burns my eyes and dries my skin.
His one writing that stands out most comes from the Greil Marcus compilation Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. A collection of twenty essays from twenty writers asking: “if you could bring one record to a deserted island, what would it be?”
Rockwell, for his part, chooses a Linda Ronstadt offering from Asylum records. In his essay, he describes his friendship with Ronstadt, defends her against flimsy critique and then shows the rest of us ingrates how it’s done.
But that is my project as I stand near the entrance to Rontoms, trying to find a good angle for pictures on my phone. Normally, I would be cursing myself not just bringing the camera. Yet all I can think about is John Rockwell.
He picks apart her vocal register piece by piece to demonstrate her merits as a vocalist across the album. An album he picks to take with him to a deserted island for presumably the rest of his life. It’s a personal exile to St. Helena set to Living in the U.S.A.
Or, as journos like to call it: on-site at a remote location.
The accompanying manifesto is so dense and vocational that it could anesthetize you for your next root canal. Personally, I woke up without my wisdom teeth after reading. But damn, if he doesn’t defend the pick.
However, I am not going to essay a defense for The Bubble as a desert island disc. It’s a damn fine first record but it’s too early for such categorical selection. Instead, I am going do something I would have balked at at a younger age: I am going to be like John Rockwell and counter some assumptions.
Assumption Number One: Angel Abaya is just another standard-fare or otherwise one-note indie artist.
Not at all.
And I understand, it’s an easy path to be cynical when critiquing. It’s also a great method to never listen to, see or experience anything new.
One might see Angel at first glance and thinks she’ll sing some indie-tinged derivative of country. But that’s forgetting she has a foot set in Boise and Los Angeles. Undaunted by any assumption, she dips toes in folk and punk energy, crafting an appeal somewhere between Slow Pulp and Indigo De Souza.
Sprightly in the pop rock moments, nervy in the punk garage ones, Angel wants it all. From the folksy title track to the dreampop drama of “Becoming (Is It Forgotten);” from the bubble machine start of “Over/Under/On” to the dancepunk finale of “GET;” Angel wants it all.
Assumption #2:The Bubble might have great musical moments, but there’s no high concept.
Her conceit has a simple gravity, revolving around the idea of bubbles; be they social, geographical or temporal. Images of kings, queens, princesses, and paupers abound on this record. Angel also references multiple bubbleforms, from atmospheres and clouds, and the things that craft them, like castles or cellular phones.
It’s no high-concept prog-rock project, but it’s no low-brow slouchpop, either. The approachable indie rock object is refreshing without devolving into lovelorn slop. Bubbles on this record are described as devouring, encompassing and restrictive and it’s true; creative endeavours often have an isolating effect: “No, I can’t go out tonight, I have to track this song;” “Sorry, man, gotta refine this poem;” or “can’t make it, mate—finishing a painting” becomes a matter of course. The prospect of a breakthrough quickens the senses and transfixes itself inevitably.
For Angel, however, the social, professional and creative bubbles merge into one. The Bubble is a reflection on her life during her early-twenties. It all springs from Angel’s own path toward becoming a recording artist. Those devouring, all-encompassing moments are a reflection that she is drawn to her work first, romance later.
It was only a matter of time before her dogged determination would leave this album done and dusted.
Assumption #3: Lyrics don’t matter anyway; they’re just a texture to the music.
Well, yes and no. Certainly, lyrics have less impact live if you are without a word sheet or memorized lines. But there’s plenty of poetry here worth remembering.
How can one argue with the opening lines of “Becoming (Is It Forgotten?)” and its monsoon rains of irony: “Terrible news/ I am the storm/ All the chaos in my life/ Keeps me warm.”
How can one not feel the strife in double-whammy stanzas that punch up “So Easy” from filler to killer?
I want to love you
Not take care of you
I hardly care for myself
I want to fuck you-“So Easy” by Angel Abaya
Don’t want to fuck you
Out of being somebody else
There’s no real misstep forward on the record. Maybe Angel’s enunciation during certain lyrics needs work. But shit, man, singing is supposed to communicate beyond just a lyric, and she communicates plenty across the record.
When I hear “bubble”, I think of a political bubble, but I’m wondering what your interpretation of The Bubble is? What other bubbles do we form?
The Bubble is more about social, emotional, spiritual bubbles, if you will. The Bubble for me is Boise. My community. My scene. My friends. My loved ones. Myself. Sometimes your bubbles can be sweet and comforting, and other times they can be chaotic and confining. The Bubble is trying to navigate how all these relationships can be both.
How much does pursuing creative endeavors craft a bubble?
When you’re making something, anything, it creates its own aura, its own shape, its own world. Everything is a bubble!
How do you find balance between your creative self, your professional self and your social self?
Oh boy. Well, first off, I’m a Libra. Always searching for balance but also always testing out the scales. I would also argue that all of these selves are one self. I am tethered and tied to my creativity, my professional, and my social. They’re interwoven.
You split time between L.A. and Boise, could you explain your history with the Boise bubble?
I was raised in Boise. I lived there my whole life until a year and a half ago when I moved to LA. I grew up in the Boise arts scene, performing in bands, and working for local art organizations like Boise Rock School, LED, and Treefort Music Fest. I was the Program Director of LED for a couple years and a longtime member of their band. I played a big role in the culture building of Boise. I love my Boise community!
The producer of The Bubble, Jared Goodpaster, was my boss when I worked at Boise Rock School, a music education non-profit. Over the years he’s become more and more known for being a great producer so when it came time to record this album he was the first one who came to mind.
What’s one lesson you learned from working with Treefort and Duck Club?
Community is everything. Support cool shit.
Your show at Rontom’s in Portland featured this great picture show to accompany the music. How did those videos come together?
I first started editing clips together of old film that inspired me while writing The Bubble. But there’s also some home video from when I was a kid, lot of bubbles, lots of references to my childhood (Spongebob, The Little Rascals, Magic School Bus, etc.)
The home video section shows a date of March 2001, what about that time lends itself to such nostalgia beyond being a kid?
The home video was shot on this big bulky camera so it naturally has this vintage look. 2001 lends itself to the whole y2k craze right now? I don’t know. We’re re-remembering this era as a society at the moment.
Why is Bubbles the best Powerpuff girl? Make the case.
Bubbles is the most emotional, sensitive Powerpuff Girl. This might make her sound weaker, but really this lends to her having a larger range of motion. Yes at times she can be shy, but other times she can be super fierce. That’s why she’s the mascot of The Bubble.
Are bubbles made to be burst?
I wouldn’t say they’re made to burst. But they do. Often. Bubbles are unstable, ever transforming objects. Just like all things. Are we born to die?
During the performance, I snap in and out of my inner thoughts like those above.
Now, I am standing stage left. Near the bar, right next to the speaker, watching Archibald work his synths and trying to time pictures with that essential little piece of technology in front of Angel.
If my head throbbed before, now it was absolutely clanging.
But Archibald plays his key parts perfectly, borrowing variant tones from G-Funk and stringing together melodic flourishes. Whether it’s the title track, “Planté Là” or the current last song, “GET.”
Bassist Matt Fabbi and drummer Joe Steiner, play tight, jealously guarding the tempo. Guitarist Dylan Eller is one of many trying to ensure a steady flow of bubbles in front of Angel.
Unable to rely on an automatic machine or a soundboard with a big red button, it’s come down to audience participation to ensure the bubbles keep coming. For the brave few, it’s well worth bursting a social bubble.
Sometimes the button is pressed long enough that the bubble machine keeps going even when no one is there. But only for a small moment. A small, glorious moment. The band finishes “GET,” and I am ready to go home.
I don’t think I’ll be asking Angel questions today.
The Bubble – Angel Abaya
Producer: Jared Goodpaster
Label: Earth Libraries
Genre: Indie Rock
Release: May 5th, 2023
- The Bubble
- I Don’t Need A Boyfriend
- Through The Glass
- Becoming (Is It Forgotten?)
- Planté Là
- So Easy
- Sending Wind
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