Anika Pyle: “It’s Important to Tell Your Story.”
After beloved pop punk band Chumped disbanded earlier this year, singer Anika Pyle moved to Philly, where she had a lot of friends, including Augusta Koch of Cayetana. Our Sydney Schaefer listened as the two met up at Chapterhouse Cafe and talked about songwriting and life in Philly.
Augusta: So, you’ve had a lot of changes in your life recently, Anika, from parting ways with Chumped to starting Katie Ellen, making the move from New York to Philly. What about Philly attracts you as an artist?
Anika: I moved to Philly for many reasons but one of them was the robust community of creatives who live here, like you and so many friends that I’ve met playing music, a bunch of people I haven’t met but that I admire. I think it’s just one of the best towns to be in if you make any kind of indie, emo, punk, DIY music.
I wanted to devote more time to making art and getting better at doing that,.So, I thought it would be a really good move to surround myself with people who are doing the same. I think when you belong to a community, you can do all that cool stuff – support each other, be inspired by each other, learn from each other. Hopefully, that will help me want to keep going and do better.
Augusta: Totally. It’s affordable too.
Anika: Yeah, that’s the other thing. New York’s a tough place to be if you’re a creative who doesn’t work in a money-making creative industry. It’s really hard. It’s cool because it’s nice to have access to a bunch of people who you work with, or publications. It’s a nice place to get exposure. But it’s so expensive. It’s also that I was so stressed all the time, constantly stressed trying to make my rent, constantly stressed trying to devote myself to a bunch of different projects that didn’t allow me to experience joy but just helped me avoid the pain of reality. So, it’s like, I don’t wanna be working seven days a week and commuting two hours a day and hoping to find time to write when I get home or write poetry on my shift break.
So that’s nice. That’s a big stress reliever. Philly’s just a more manageable city. It’s nice. I can think more. And hopefully apply that thought to making music.
Augusta: You recently released a split with the legendary Mikey Erg, who plays in the Philly band Warriors and, like, 18 other bands. You released it under your own name for the first time and you recorded all the songs using your iPhone. How did it feel to share such an intimate, raw product?
Anika: It felt a lot less scary than sharing other things, I don’t know why. I just made a bunch of music that was, like, in a studio, more produced, than anything I made before. It was really nice to just be like, “OK, well, I just wrote this song. I just recorded it. And I sent it to only one person on the planet.” Then, to capture that moment of vulnerability or complete nakedness, and then just send it straight to vinyl, it felt a little scary because there’s always the concern that people might not get the point, which is to share something. Like, get back to the very root of songwriting, which is about the song.
I did have a little bit of fear, being like, “OK. This is the first thing I release under my own name. What if everyone thinks that I just put voice memos out, and that I can’t sing as well as I can into a fancy microphone, and maybe that I didn’t put a lot of thought into it?”
But, A). I’m trying not to care what people think because it’s not really about them and B). I think it’s important to send a message that if you want to write a song, or you want to to make something, you can do it. And it doesn’t take thousands of dollars and a bunch of equipment. If you want to write a song, you can write a song without even having an instrument.
Augusta: It’s easy now too with computers and phones. I did that the other day and I posted it on my Facebook and XPN reposted it. But it was just a cover because I was bored. And then I was like, “Damn. This is on the Internet now.”
Anika: Yeah, it’s crazy!
Augusta: I think that’s empowering for people because recording is expensive.
Anika: Yeah, and I think we’ve seen that shift. It’s hard for people to think back to the “golden age” of rock ’n’ roll. Think of, like, Fleetwood Mac making a studio record. It cost like $200,000. Or a band like Nirvana, an idolized grunge-punk band, that makes a record in a really expensive studio and puts it out on a really prestigious label and there wasn’t a lot of distribution. Before the Internet, before GarageBand, before your smartphone, how did you record music? Like an 8-track?
And now I think that’s opened up this crazy world of possibilities for so many different kinds of music. That’s why there’s so much more obviously electronic music then there has been before. But it’s pretty amazing. There’s less of a barrier to entry, which also means that there’s a lot more content that you have to sift through to find something that you connect to.
Augusta: What I’ve interpreted from a lot of your newer work is a feeling of craving truly intimate relationships with others and yourself. How do you feel like your music has changed since leaving Chumped?
Anika: I think these songs, the songs that I’ve written since Chumped disbanded, are a lot more candid. They’re more thoughtful. Not because I didn’t think about the songs I was writing in Chumped, but that was the first time I had written music since…
I’ve been writing songs since I was 5 but I’d never written them with the intention to record them or release them or put them out. So, I’ve gotten a lot better at songwriting. More honest. I think I have a fresh start and a little bit of a fresh perspective in the new project, so it’s nice to let my guard down and allow myself to say some things that I didn’t feel as comfortable saying or talking about in my first project. I think they’re a lot more politically motivated and a lot more feminine. They’re softer, even though they’re still rockin.’
Augusta: A lot of your songs incorporate a lot of strong, feminist ideals, both directly and indirectly. What does feminism mean to you and how does it affect you as an artist?
Anika: I think feminism fundamentally is about equality. The equality of the sexes. I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersections of feminist and queer theory because my experience is very specific. I’m saying something like, “Feminism is about equality of the sexes,” and then in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “Well, your sex is not always cut and dry.” There’s a lot more of a spectrum to both sexualities and, as we have learned and are learning, it is becoming more of a mainstream conversation.
Feminism is about understanding that women are marginalized and have been marginalized because we live in a patriarchy. That means that most positions of power, in all areas of life, are held by men. We strive to break down that barrier, to get increased visibility and opportunity for women to participate in every aspect of society. That’s what feminism means to me.
I think that directly influences my songwriting because, to increase visibility and opportunity, you have to tell people’s stories. You have to make people aware of the experience of marginalization or the experience of oppression.
I’m a woman experiencing things like sexual objectification and discrimination in the workplace, economic discrimination, a constant fear of being assaulted or abused or violated. Those are realities of living in a patriarchal society. A lot of people, when they say, “Well, sexism is dead. Feminism doesn’t mean anything anymore. You have all the rights that you need. You have all the economic, social and political rights that you need. Yeah, you might make 70 cents on the dollar but that’s just because women aren’t good at being CEOs.” Those are people’s real-life responses. We’re seeing this so violently in our political landscape right now. It’s disgusting.
Augusta: Oh, you mean Trump?
Anika: Yes, Trump. Even the experience of, like, watching Hillary Clinton, whether you like her or not, it is amazing and so inspiring to see her as a presidential candidate. That means so much for so many people. That is the most intense kind of visibility that you can gain as a woman.
And so, when I write a song, my experience is coming from the feminine. I’m a woman and therefore everything I write, in some way, is from the standpoint of feminism. But, as I’m writing more and more, I think specifically speaking about my experience in all these different realms of society. My experience as a woman has driven a lot of my songwriting recently because it’s important to tell your story. That way people understand your struggle. When people understand your struggle, they may or may not get behind it, but at least they’ve heard where you’re coming from.
Augusta: You’re always very open with your fans and me, your friend. You talk about the importance of self-care and growth often. Have you always been that way? Was there anything that gave you the strength to share your vulnerability so freely?
Anika: I’ve always been a vulnerable person. I’ve always been an emotional, candid, open person. I think that being compassionate, empathetic and willing to share are qualities that I’ve always really admired in myself.
It has taken a really long time to say something like that, but I think vulnerability is like the first pillar of being able to trust someone.
I’m in the period of my life when I’m trying to learn to balance my own vulnerability. You can get hurt if you have a lack of boundaries and you can also do a lot of things that you don’t want to do. But, that said, I think you can’t truly connect with someone unless you’re willing to open yourself to them. That’s where I find the most joy in this life, being able to share something that’s intimate, personal. I can trust in someone. I think that’s where you make the most strides in personal growth, allowing yourself to learn from other people, allowing yourself to share with other people, and seeing where that takes you.
I guess I’ve really always been that way but definitely, dealing with hardships and constant change, personally has required a lot of opening up. Although I’m an emotionally open person, I’m also a person who keeps a lot of things I’m afraid to share. I’ve had a bad habit in the past of withholding feelings and withholding emotions that I’m afraid will hurt other people’s feelings. So, I haven’t been able to be as honest because I’m protecting somebody else.
Augusta: Do you think it has to do with moving around so much? Maybe moving to Philly and all the stuff that’s changed, that’s given you the strength to be more honest? I’ve seen that change in you, even playing on your own now or playing in your new band. It’s different than I feel like you used to be.
Anika: I think the loss of significant relationships in your life, to people and places and partnerships, a band or a project, that forces you to reset. Change is almost always difficult but you can either take it positively or negatively. I’m a person who doesn’t always deal well with change but I’ve accepted this place in my life. I used it as an opportunity to make a lot of improvements in myself, and to find strength in vulnerability, even if that is a scary place to be.
Augusta: If you could tour with any band – living or dead, besides Cayetana, who would it be and why?
Anika: I would love to tour with Dolly Parton. It depends what you want out of the experience. I would definitely go on tour with Whitney Houston, just to hear Whitney Houston sing every night. I just want to tour with a strong, talented, woman. I want to learn from people. I just want to feel the energy.
Augusta: Since we’re here at this lovely coffee shop and you love coffee so much, I put down here that you’re a coffee connoisseur. I had to Google how to spell connoisseur. It’s French and I am not. If you were a coffee drink, what would you be and why? This is hard.
Anika: Black coffee. Straight up, hot, black coffee. The working people’s beverage. I just like it, You can do anything with it. It’s a blank slate.