14 min read

Getting It Together with Anika Pyle

Talking about community-building content and arguing over five bucks

I met Anika Pyle what now qualifies as a long time ago while playing a basement show in New Jersey with her band Chumped and Adult Dude. They gave me a ride back to Brooklyn and it was the first time in years that I had the active thought of I really want to be friends with these people!

I’m proud to now call Anika a friend and watch as life grows from basement shows to bigger tours to figuring out a creative practice during a pandemic. After playing in Chumped, Anika went on to form her band Katie Ellen, along with another collaborative project called Sheena, Anika, Augusta with Sheena Ozzella (Lemuria) and Augusta Koch (Gladie, Cayetana).

On February 12, Anika released her first solo album, Wild River. The record combines songs, poetry, and other audio recordings to reflect on the beauty of failure, self-care, and the loss of her father. It’s a beautiful work to listen to front-to-back. You definitely want to listen to it in order. Stereogum called it stunning, and I agree.

Last year Anika launched her Patreon, Life is a Funny Haha, where she shares not only her music but also poetry, zines, mini-workshops, conversation livestreams, and more. I’ve mentioned before the way she combines the different formats of her practice with a sense of community and sharing. It’s this practice, along with the collage-like nature of Wild River that prompted this interview. It’s a long one, and maybe should’ve been a podcast, but not everything has to be a podcast, ok?

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I wanted to start off by asking about the way that your Patreon and Wild River combine parts of your practice that aren’t necessarily typical for musicians. I know those weren’t necessarily new to you in 2020 but how do you think being cooped up at home influenced how you’re combining those things now?

The biggest shift in my creative life this year has been not working three jobs. So just even having any substantial time to devote to a creative practice has been revolutionary for engaging with it. I would say that’s the biggest influence. And then just the desire to reach out. It’s not that you’re not aware of the community you have before the world disaster where we all had to stay inside [laughs], or the lucky people of us who were able to stay inside… but once it’s taken away from you, you become acutely aware of how hard you need to work to maintain it.

I wanted to start sharing poetry because that’s my form of private practice more than music, but by reaching out to people with what I was feeling maybe it would make people feel more connected. I think that became the purpose for everything that I did, I mean other than the motivation to sustain myself and my own artmaking practice. Someone said the phrase “community building content” and I hate the word content, because it’s like the word brand, really masturbatory and repulsive to me. But for some reason putting community-building before it, I was like “oh yeah! That is what I’m trying to do.” I want my Patreon to be interactive. I don’t want to just be like [vapid voice] “This is me… Here’s what I do…”

I love the way you engage other people for your newsletter, that you are referring to other people’s work. It feels participatory and I kinda wanted to bring people into my creative practice and make people feel less alone at a time where it’s really fucking lonely.

That’s really sweet and that also seems like a very organic thing for you already. I think it’s a special thing that this weird time has brought out of people. Do you think that you would’ve tried to start something more participatory without the current state of affairs?

I think I would’ve been a lot more afraid because I would’ve been intimidated by the necessity of doing it in person. I feel like if I add the yoga practice into the mix. To teach yoga I have to be in a studio and that really intimidated me. I didn’t want to do it at first. And I was teaching just to people who are my friends out of Jess Flynn’s photo studio, which felt more natural to me than the fear of teaching a stranger in a studio. I hate the internet but there is something really powerful if you’re privileged enough to have access to it, about how it can break down some of those scary barriers. So I feel like practicing the community-building content in the internet world will hopefully help me maintain that practice off of the internet when we can be together again, or appreciate the space that is the digital space a little bit more than I have. I think making it less scary was a big thing. And there’s space limitations. I was like, I want to teach free yoga but I don’t have a space to do it. Or I want to have a community event, like a poetry workshop. Where the fuck are you going to do that except for your own house? Taking away the physical space of it opened up possibilities.

Are there things that now you want to do in-person? Has this led you to more ideas for in-person events when that’s possible?

Definitely. I think it’s definitely made me want to play music in front of people more. Sometimes I’ve been a little bit daunted by the idea of going on tour or being on the road. It’s hard when you’re working constantly and you’re tired and playing doesn’t feel like an escape, it feels like another job. I’m really looking forward to playing music. I’d like to do more poetry reading stuff. I’d love to do more making art together stuff. I’d like to create those opportunities more to just get people together and make things. Or learn things. I can’t even imagine that world right now, but I know that it will be out there one day.

Same, I feel like I fall into that hole of the possibilities of when we can gather. I’ve heard you talk about how in the poetry world, it’s really difficult to get your poems published, and it’s a completely different world from music. The way that you combined poetry with your music on Wild River instantly makes me think that you were influenced by having been in bands and having to just work with the resources that you have to make things happen. We’re both people who have moved away from the strictly DIY punk zone, so I’m wondering how you think that has impacted what you’re making now. Your trajectory from Chumped to Katie Ellen to your solo work.

I feel like this is the most DIY I’ve ever been. In terms of releasing records, I’m doing it myself whereas previously I didn’t put them out myself. A big push to do that was trying to get poems published. I’m a very goal-oriented person. It’s funny, I was just talking to Jeff Rosenstock the other day and he was like “I’m not a goal-oriented person.” I was like, “How do you get so much done then? [laughs]” How do I have 16 goals and I don’t do anything all day. Maybe I need to change my mindset.

But if my goal is to publish poetry, well how do I get poetry published? I’m going to look at a journal and be like well I want to publish my poetry here. Then you click the link and go to Submittable, which is the big backend most publications use if you’re trying to publish writing. You create a profile and enter your work or whatever and you spend $10 to $25 every time. After I spent $250 and then got rejection letter after rejection letter, nine months later? I was like “I can’t afford this! This is fucking stupid!” And I know it’s to pay the people who get published, but why aren’t you putting the onus on the consumer and not the creator?

I was taken back to this place, trying to post my poetry when I was first making music where I was like “well I don’t know how to do this so I’m just going to do what I know how to do and just go to a practice space, practice twice a week, and try to play at Lulu’s every Friday.” I was taken back to this place of “I’m not sure what the game is. I don’t even know how to choose my playing piece. I am just going to do what I know how to do, which is do it real scrappy style.” And so that really drove me to want to make this record the way that I did and do it differently. It’s definitely not a hit factory. There’s not even a single on it. It’s more like a piece of something, which is very counter to what most people who play music like to do. I was happy to not have to worry about anyone telling me what to do. Also not having to be in debt to anybody.

But in terms of the DIY “scene”, I feel like I don’t know if anyone who ever listened to Chumped will relate to or like it at all or ever want to listen to it. I have no idea. And that’s ok, because if you’ve been following along, you’ve been watching the progression of changing sonic music. As much as I felt like I was part of a large community in the DIY punk scene, I do feel like as with any cultural construction, you create unintentional barriers and expectations, like you said. I feel sort of more freed from that in a way. I don’t necessarily know where the things I make belong now. I have no idea. But that’s ok.

If your work was only being seen in the context of pop punk bands, which it’s not, then it would be more of a problem or an issue. But it has been slowly but surely moving outside of that.

I still struggle with the “do I want to try and financially support myself with this work or do I want to separate the financially supporting of myself from the work?” Part of the motivation for putting out the record myself was the record isn’t gonna make very much money so I don’t want to give half of it away! [laughs] I think it’s ok to want to have longevity in your career, and you can’t have longevity in your career if you’re constantly obsessed about money. I think people don’t like to talk about that. You can accept that the world runs on money and wish that it didn’t and try to live outside of that.

There’s a difference between being “in it for the money” and just trying to make the thing you’re doing sustainable. The longer your career is the more you realize that the conversation you’re trying to have isn’t about being greedy about money, it’s worrying about if you’re in debt to the label, or giving away 50% of your five bucks.

No one prepared me for that when Chumped signed to a record label that was a small record label. It was like, “yeah we’re gonna put your record out like this, and after you recoup you get 50%.” And it’s like, “Cool! I just want to make music! I don’t care about the money.” That is a good place to be but if there is money involved and labels or business people or you’re paying someone 10% to do the things that you’re doing, you can’t just be like “I don’t care about money.” Then don’t make money if you don’t care about it, I guess. But don’t let it drive your creative process. It’s weird. I feel like the visual artists I follow on the internet are a lot better at talking about how to sustain themselves financially or how to price their work accordingly.

While we’re still having the argument of should shows be five bucks or not.

Yeah! And also, I feel like musicians are really weird about resource sharing or talking about things. Especially talking about money. Maybe we’re aware that there’s not that much of it, but there’s actually a lot more than you think there is and it’s just not going to the right people. It’s going to the pockets of the CEOs of Spotify. That’s what’s really empowering about Petron but also very scary. It gives people an avenue to support you and an opportunity to explain the traditional ways that people think are supportive. Maybe someone sees that you have 800 followers on Spotify and are like “oh they must be rolling in the big bucks!” And it’s like, that’s not exactly how it works. There’s just some education that needs to be involved and I like it when people are vocal about that. I’m trying to be more transparent about what I’m trying to do and how I do it.

Are there other people that you’re inspired by in terms of their approach to their practice? Or people who go about things in a way that you align with?

I feel like I always think of Jeff [Rosenstock]. I feel like he’s someone who I’m like… how do I remain ethical and authentic to who I am as a person and also be willing to put myself out there and be ok with…I guess success? I feel like people who I’ve talked to about this are you, Jeff, and then people who aren’t musicians who are part of my team. Like Aaron from Lauren Records. I respect the way that he runs Lauren Records and he learned a lot of stuff from Mike Park who is someone who I also really respect the way they run things. But in terms of musicians, I have close friends who I’m trying to learn from. I keep saying I wish there was a mentorship program. I’d really love to have a mentor. And I would be happy to be some young musician’s mentor, although I don’t know that much and I haven’t been very, on a grand scale, successful, but I’d be happy to tell someone everything I know.

I think there’s a lot you end up learning through trial and error that you think, why didn’t someone just tell me to do it this way the first time?

I know! It’s kind of strange. I had someone reach out to me this week, who is also a poet and musician. We started following each other on the internet last week. They were like, “Can I talk to you about the process of putting out the record yourself?” They know a lot of good things and I told them everything that I could think of. Like, what are all the things I wish someone had told me? Register your songs on SoundExchange. Put something out and then talk about it for a whole year. Keep a mailing list! Register your songs on ASCAP! Things like that. I wish that someone had said these things. Even just where you should press your records or how much you should price a t-shirt for. Everybody does it differently, but I think it’s an issue of scarcity.

I was really thinking about this issue of creating a scarcity thing and where that pang comes from where you see someone doing something. It’s not like when you go to your first show and you think “I could do that, that looks awesome! I want to do that!” It’s more like, “why didn’t I do that? I can’t do that now.” Why do I feel like that? I don’t need to feel like that. We’re all different people and we all have our own things that we’re doing, and you can tell the same story in 8 billion different ways because there’s 8 billion different people on the planet. I don’t really think there are 8 billion people on the planet. I don’t know [laughs] but I think there’s a financial scarcity thing too and I also think there’s this weird protective thing where you can’t make too much money or else you’re a sellout and you can’t make too little money – I guess there’s a thing of making too little money in the eyes of other people – but yeah there’s just the business administration aspect of music that I don’t want to think about it but if you’re going to start asking people for money then you need to be good about it and you need to do the right thing, but some people don’t. But if we talked about it more then maybe they would.

If more people saw it as a sustainability thing than trying to monetize things, then it wouldn’t feel as self-conscious. I usually ask folks if you have a part of your practice that you don’t share publicly, whether that’s a different medium or a hobby, but I’d be surprised if you had a secret weaving habit!

I journal pretty extensively. Everything originates from that space. I collage there, I write poetry there, I write songs there, and sometimes I’ll share an entry straight from it. I thought about how there are some things there that I want to share that resonate, but I try not to because I’m cognizant of the fine line between having the anticipation anxiety of sharing infect the work that you’re doing. I need to have some space. I love to share because I love watching people get better at what they do. I love to include people in my journey. I always think of watching Jonathan Van Ness get better at figure skating. What a brave thing to suck at this and then share it with these people! And then a year later you’re doing a triple-axel or something and I’m so proud of you and I don’t know you – and I know that that’s a weird celebrity thing – but the same thing happens when I watch friends share parts of their process. I want to keep my journaling practice as a very private practice.

The one thing I was thinking about your new record is that the way you put it together is like a collage. It seems very reflective of your practice in general, and I wonder if that approach to piecing things together is going to keep going.

I’ve been thinking about that because I’m the kind of person who sits on a lot of stuff and then I can’t release anything until one thing is done. So now I’m trying to re-work some old material and write songs again, which feels very hard. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write songs. But it’s also liberating and exciting. I don’t want it to feel contrived. I don’t want to put poetry on the record because now I’m a poetry guy. But I think what was so special about the process of making Wild River was that it was very much…it was like a collage! See, I learned something. I hadn’t considered that before!

The thing about my collage practice that I love and why I love collage, is that you’re pulling from found things and then turning them into something else. It feels not only accessible because you’re pulling from existing things that are speaking to you, but it’s also very malleable. It’s easier to move one thing on top of another, and over and under, than it is to paint, for instance. I find painting very intimidating because if you fuck it up, it’s really hard to come back from it! With a collage, I can find a space to start over. The process of making Wild River was very pulling from found evidence from lots of places and trying to help them help me say what I was trying to say. So, I leant myself to the process of finding those things and letting them come together instead of starting with point Z and working my way there. I’m hoping with the next thing I make I can allow myself that creative space again.

If you’re still reading, maybe you’d like to see the other interviews I’ve done with these friends:

Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!
Jeff Rosenstock of BTMI, Craig of the Creek, etc.
Marisa Dabice from Mannequin Pussy
Chris Gethard from things like Beautiful/Anonymous and The Chris Gethard Show
Author and pizza lover Colin Hagendorf
David Combs, aka Spoonboy, from Bad Moves
Sarah Tudzin from Illuminati Hotties

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