My Midnight Heart on Exploring Opposites + Why Nightmares Are Cheat-Sheets
Hold your breath.
My Midnight Heart's debut, 'Chest of Hearts EP,' is like soaring into darkness. The woman behind the music, Angelica Allen, delicately layers ethereal sounds with images of doubt, creating a three-song release that is as weightless as it is heavy.
Naturally, we wanted to know more about how she began making music and where she seeks inspiration. Angelica was kind enough to let us pick her brain about interpreting the subconscious and why she incorporates so many celestial references in her music.
You dropped out of journalism school to pursue music, but how did you first begin to write and produce?
Writing music always came naturally to me. I don't mean that as I was some kind of prodigy busting out perfection like [Kate Bush's] ‘Running Up That Hill’ or [Radiohead's] ‘Idioteque’ at six, but it just made sense that I would pick that as my outlet. I had a serious persecution complex, loved to sing, and thought everyone should care about my feelings. Plus, my mom really only listens to ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ soundtrack, Vivaldi, and Marc Anthony, and was pretty firm in her belief that that's all my brother, sister, and I should listen to as well. So I was like "F--- this, I'll write my own music." Thus began the reign of super-emo mini-me songwriting.
My intro to production was around 12 when my dad bought a copy of Cakewalk and introduced my brother and I to the magic of midi. I was like, "Oh my god, you can key anything in on this grid and then turn it into a pan flute or an entire orchestra?!" I was so down. Every composition was dripping with pan flutes. They were terrible, but it blew my mind.
I read that you want to be the curator of what you put in your head. Do you find yourself reading anything in particular when you’re in the songwriting process?
I try as much as I can to isolate myself mentally during the songwriting process. The ‘Chest of Hearts EP’ is ethereal, childlike in it's optimism, but plagued by doubt. I wanted to capture this feeling of soaring and pair it with a sense of invisible, encroaching, and all-encompassing darkness. To help me, I was reading a lot of Greek and Norse mythology, ‘The NeverEnding Story,’ His Dark Materials, and the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales -- which are actually super dark and end up getting whitewashed a bunch.
Anyways, I had just moved to New York when I wrote a lot of these songs and felt very much ill prepared for my life all of the sudden. I wanted to capture that naivety and insecurity. Now I'm reading a bunch of different books about female surrealist artists like Kay Sage, Lénor Fini, and Frida Kahlo… So I guess we'll see what exactly is going to come out of that.
Between your moniker and the lyrics of ‘Nightlight’ and ‘Solace’ you make a lot of celestial references. Can you explain why you’re drawn to these images?
I'm drawn to imagery that is basic enough that we all share it, but as complex an idea as "the universe,” which we'll never actually be able to fully “get.” I say the line "stars that float too high" in both ‘Solace’ and ‘Nightlight’ because those songs are very ‘Through the Looking Glass’ to me. They're meant to be opposite sides of the same idea. And yeah, we all understand what it feels like when the stars are literally floating right above us, but just out of reach. I wanted to create a feeling of awe and hope mixed with defeat, that “Oh my god, I'm so small" feeling. That's cool, but terrifying. Everyone understands that.
My Midnight Heart is meant to be an exploration of opposites -- dark and light, euphoria and devastation, dreams and nightmares -- and find the grey area between the two; the place where opposites overlap. The imagery keeps it from being too esoteric.
I saw you tweeted, “Are you worthy of nightmares?” and I think that’s a really cool sentiment. Can you elaborate on what you meant?
I'm really into the subconscious. I feel like my dreams are just my brain trying to communicate with me through symbols … symbols mixed with utter randomness. My nightmares are my doubts amplified to the extent that they cause physical/mental fear. It's basically my head being like, "Hey, this is important! Pay attention to why you're so bothered by this and do something about it!" I feel like nightmares are a cheat-sheet to life. If you don't pay attention to that, are you worthy of having them? It's like someone's giving you a gift and you're just like "I'll pass.” F--- that.
Are you interested in collaborating with anyone in the future? If so, who would be a dream collaborator?
Collaboration is terrifying to me. You have to look at the same heap of nothingness and not only share similar enough tastes to understand the other person's vision of what that could be, but also bring something to the table that's complimentary. At this point I'm scared to try to compliment someone else's vision or vice versa. But I think if I was to choose, I would say PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, or Thom Yorke. And apparently I wish I was English. But seriously, I'm just in awe of how progressive they've been in reinventing themselves over the years and being open to completely different ways to express themselves sonically. A little out of my league at this point, but aim high, right?
You have fantastic style. Can you talk about what you like to wear on stage?
What I wear on stage is basically what an amplified, untouchable projection of myself would wear. It's a combination of goddess-style ensembles, mixed with the power-suit '80s aesthetic, mixed with me now. So like Athena plus Cleopatra plus Vanity plus, like, Angelica. I aim for my style to be ethereal and mysterious, but still very strong and in control. And I throw in the "me" part of the outfits so it doesn't look like I'm dressing up as a superhero… It's still modern. It's still pop. The style is meant to lend itself to the idea and persona behind music. If it's distracting, I'm doing it wrong.
You just released your EP. Any plans to release a full-length project?
I think there's probably one more EP that needs to come out before the full-length. Maybe not but, I want the full-length to be very cohesive -- not homogenous and boring, but definitely cohesive. I feel like a lot of newer artists pressure themselves into a full-length and it ends up sounding all over the place. Like there's a Motown-sounding track, and then a super-orchestrated electro-pop anthem, and later a trap music track because that's "the thing" right now in indie pop.
When my album comes out, I want people to really understand who I am and what I'm doing. Whether people dig it or not, I want them to be able to be like, "Ok, cool. Angelica is about ___ .” Rushing the new songs and mixing them with the older ones we've been playing out live for a while will only make all of them suffer. The album needs to be 100 percent intentional.