Charly Bliss Just Want To Make Pop That Feels Invincible
"Hearing other women speak out about it was the only way I was able to make sense of my own experiences."
For a lot of people, Charly Bliss came out of nowhere.
2017 saw the Brooklyn band release their debut album, Guppy, to glowing reviews across the board — an urgent sugar-rush of guitar pop that goes by so quickly it technically can’t even count as a half-hour of power (it misses the mark by 34 seconds).
It also earned the band the unique genre tag of “bubblegrunge” — all the sweetness of bubblegum pop with all the thrashing drums and churning guitars of grunge; together at last. With Guppy, it felt as though the band had materialised out of thin air and pulled a rabbit out of their hat. The truth of the matter, however, is that this 29-minute triumph almost didn’t see the light of day.
“We wrote Guppy over the course of about five years,” says Eva Hendricks, the band’s lead singer, rhythm guitarist and primary lyricist. “There were two different versions, and it felt like we were never going to be able to put it out — or, at least, find someone who could help us put it out.”
With such a struggle as part of their back-story, it’s somewhat surprising to find them just over two years later with a brand-new studio album ready to go. Yes, it’s true what they say — you get your whole life to write your first album and three months to write your second. Let the record show, however, that the new album in question — entitled Young Enough — was far from a cheap rush-job. “It was a totally different process,” says Hendricks.
“For a part of the time we were writing Guppy, I was a college student. We were all working shifts at restaurants and bars around town, too. We were writing and rehearsing in whatever time we had off from all of that.”
By means of contrast, no-one in Charly Bliss had day-jobs when making Young Enough. The success of Guppy had allowed the band to focus on touring full-time, which gave them a new sense of purpose and intent. “We were very focused,” says Hendricks.
“For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to just write songs every single day. In that first batch, we wrote about 10 songs that felt like they could have been on Guppy, or at least felt like a logical continuation of that. It was when we pushed past those songs and kept writing that we figured out what we wanted to do.”
“My experience of pop music is screaming it in my car with my best friends and feeling totally invincible.”
So, what did Charly Bliss want to do exactly? As it turns out, a lot of things. They wanted to make a record that’s fun and bright in tone, but also layered and textured across its runtime. They wanted to make a record that incorporates new elements, yet still has some degree of through-line to the point of still being identifiably theirs. Really, the only thing Charly Bliss didn’t want to do was make their debut again.
“We knew from the outset we didn’t want this to be Guppy 2.0,” says Hendricks. “We wanted to move in a new direction — one that felt really natural to us. We’re all massive fans of pop music. I feel like there were a lot of pop sensibilities on Guppy, so it didn’t feel such a massive shift for us. These songs felt really new to us. It was uncharted territory, which felt really exciting.”
To navigate their way through this new terrain, the band enlisted veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli to get behind the boards. “He’s worked with so many heroes of ours,” says Hendricks excitedly. “You look at his body of work and you can see everyone from Elton John to Broken Social Scene. We were super excited to have him on board.”
Hendricks goes on to note Chiccarelli’s influence over the entire creative process, which allowed them to cut down from some 30 songs written for the album to the final form that listeners will experience come May 10.
“When we did pre-production — which is something we’ve never done before — he flew out to New York and we played every song we had for him,” she says. “He gave us tonnes of feedback, and so every track that made it onto the album is a result of us working together really hard to create something we were all super proud of.” It’s with this that one views Young Enough as a finely-crafted pop record — and no, that’s not a dirty word around these parts.
The album seems to take from two very different schools of the genre. The first is the outsider innovation that took place in the ’80s, turning former niche artists into global megastars. It was part of growing up for the Hendricks siblings (Eva’s brother, Sam, is the band’s drummer), although it was an influence that seeped slowly into their beings rather than an instant.
“Growing up, our parents always had on records by Blondie, Talking Heads, David Bowie… a lot of that kind of music,” says Hendricks. “I don’t think we really appreciated all of it until we were a bit older — especially Talking Heads. By the time Spencer and I were teenagers, we were obsessed with them. I’m pretty sure every paper I ever wrote when I was in college was about David Byrne in one way or another.”
Perhaps more prevalent, however, is the influence from the current pop climate. Hendricks talks uninterrupted for nearly two minutes straight about how much she loves Melodrama, the second studio album by Lorde, which came out only two months after Guppy was released in the second quarter of 2017. “We all just thought it was so incredible,” she says of the album.
Hendricks talks uninterrupted for nearly two minutes straight about how much she loves Melodrama, the second studio album by Lorde.
“It’s a perfect pop record, but it’s a pop record that sounds like nothing else on the market. We were really inspired by that. The songwriting, the production… it’s all in this very singular universe. Lyrically, too, it felt like she was so unafraid to say everything. The embarrassing things, the hard things… she dug as deep as she possibly could. They’re such beautiful words.”
It makes sense that someone like Hendricks would put emphasis and consideration into the lyrics. As a songwriter, she’s crafted enough Trojan horses to infiltrate an entire nation. On Guppy you got so lost in the major chords and the sense of urgency to the music itself, you often wouldn’t realise until later some of the really nasty stuff you’d been singing along to. “I laughed when your dog died/It is cruel, but it’s true,” Hendricks sang on ‘DQ.’ On ‘Glitter,’ she confesses: “I can’t cum, and I can’t lie/I can’t stop making myself cry.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too.
“When Guppy came out and people started talking about the lyrics that way, it hadn’t even occurred to me,” says Hendricks. “It was like, ‘Oh yeah, I guess that is true.’ I can honestly say, though — neither on Guppy or on Young Enough — did I ever sit down and intentionally write about something dark just to contrast it with the music itself. More often than not, the reason why that happens is because I’ve reached this new point of understanding about whatever it might be that I’m writing about.”
Hendricks points to the album’s second single, ‘Chatroom,’ as the proverbial pudding within which one would find the proof. Written around the events of an abusive relationship and sexual assault, the confessional lyrics are set to a confident, major-chord roller disco — perhaps closer to Amanda Palmer’s ‘Oasis’ than, say, Camp Cope’s ‘The Face of God.’ The music isn’t meant to trivialise the subject matter, however — rather, it’s a reflection on how things had changed in Hendricks’ own life.
“I’d come to a turning point in regards to this really difficult moment,” she explains. “Instead of blaming myself for what happened, I finally properly placed the blame on the other person — and that felt really freeing. It’s a song about achieving a moment of autonomy and confidence. It feels like a really big victory.”
“Instead of blaming myself for what happened, I finally properly placed the blame on the other person — and that felt really freeing.”
It took a lot for Hendricks to be able to get to that place, however — a few months prior, she fell into a depression when considering how to address the themes of the album to the media and to the band’s fans. What got her through was the support of her bandmates — Sam, guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure – who have been by Hendricks’ side throughout everything that she has been through.
“I’m very fortunate in the sense that my bandmates really are the closest friends I have,” she says. “Not just because my older brother is the drummer — the other two I’ve been friends with since middle school and high school, respectively. Everything that I wrote about on Young Enough is stuff that they went through with me. Their experience may be different, but it’s still part of it. As these new songs have come out, I really feel as though I made the right decision to write the way that I did for this record.”
Hendricks, particularly, was moved by the public reception to ‘Chatroom.’ Since its release in early March, she has been flooded with messages across the band’s social media, all expressing empathy and support for her situation — as well as noting that they have been through the same thing.
For Hendricks, making fellow survivors feel less alone — to feel empowered — is one of the greatest things she could ask for. “In our country, there’s such a massive moment of reckoning right now,” she says.
“For me, hearing other women speak out about it was the only way I was able to make sense of my own experiences. Something like the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearing… it was so heartbreaking to watch, but at the same time it was so inspiring to watch Christine Blasey Ford stand trial in front of the entire country.
“She had all of these people, weighing in on this incredibly traumatic incident, and she still went through with it. So many of the women in my life have been through something similar, and I feel really proud that I could speak for some of them through my music. It’s the best possible outcome.”
There’s an old Leonard Cohen lyric from his track ‘Anthem’ that gets quoted a lot: “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Listening to Young Enough, you can simultaneously appreciate that a lot of it comes from a dark, broken place as well as the fact it’s laced with enough hope for you to be able to find your way out of it.
“Pop music makes me feel strong,” Hendricks reasons. “My experience of pop music is screaming it in my car with my best friends and feeling totally invincible. In a way, it makes sense for me to place lyrics in a pop song that would otherwise be really tough for me to talk about…it makes me feel bulletproof.”
Charly Bliss’ new album Young Enough is out May 10 through Pod/Inertia Music.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster. He’s no longer on Twitter, so just go to davidjamesyoung.com if you want to say hi.