Producer, alt pop Singer/Songwriter and Engineer Party Nails Talks About New Music, Upcoming Projects and More

Party Nails burst onto the music scene in 2015 with her debut single “Break,” showcased on Neon Gold’s prestigious blog. The track combined heartbreak with infectious dance-pop elements, drawing inspiration from the likes of “Dancing On My Own” and “Blue Monday.” The following year, Party Nails unveiled “No Pressure” on Vice’s Noisey blog, featuring Haim-esque instrumentals fused with Taylor Swift-worthy melodies. Opting to leave a 360 deal, she embarked on an independent journey. Her debut album, “Past Lives and Paychecks,” showcased her versatility as both a collaborator and self-producer, incorporating the talents of Caleb Shreve, Ryan Nasci, and Mereki Beach. With an electrifying stage presence drawing influence from Madonna, Hayley Williams, and Sheryl Crow, Party Nails’ studio endeavors find inspiration in artists like Robyn, Prince, SZA, and Dolly Parton.


You’ve had a diverse musical journey, starting from your debut on Neon Gold’s blog to releasing your first full-length album independently. How has your artistic vision and sound evolved throughout the years, and what have been the key influences behind this evolution?
Before Party Nails I spent years making electronic music (some of it was good I think) and years before that I was studying fingerstyle blues guitar and American folk songwriting with my hometown music store owner, Rob Caldwell (he and his store Musica are now in New Orleans). Party Nails is the collision of those two worlds for sure, plus whatever other stuff I’ve picked up along the way. Once I was independent from my 360 deal, my vision for Party Nails became to empower people through my music, and through the imagery associated with my music. Lyrically, sonically, visually, I want people to feel like I took a risk in spite of my own fears vulnerabilities, and that taking risks doesn’t also require an apology. No “I’m sorry, I’m just trying!” and instead “This is me, 100%, in this moment, at the top of my lungs.” That’s easier said than done, but that’s the vision. Sonically I love pop and I love weird, so I do what I’m drawn to as far as letting my sound evolve.

“Bull In A China Shop” was written during the lockdown period, and you mentioned that it reflects the feelings of confusion and darkness. Can you elaborate on the creative process behind the song and how you managed to infuse a sense of fun into the production despite the heavy subject matter?
That’s a great question! A lot of my songs, and pop in general, can feel dark when you take away the fun production. I think that with Bull In A China Shop I’d gotten used to writing a brooding folk/country song with my guitar and then knowing it would somehow become a fun pop song, because I’d been working to achieve that on my previous albums and had put a lot of work into that process. I don’t think there’s ever a “correct” way to produce a song, but there is a way that presents itself to you when you set a goal to spend time with a song in that capacity. So, bit by bit, that’s what happened with Bull. First some synths, then some 707 drums and a weird vocal effect, then chopping vocals, then sculpting and adding sound effects…each of these elements revealed other fun things that could be emphasized in the production. I thought it was still kind of brooding, even with the electronic production, until I showed it to some friends and they thought it was super fun. So my instincts were still a little off. I’m glad I got that feedback.


Your live performances have been highly praised, drawing comparisons to Madonna, Hayley Williams, and Sheryl Crow. How do you approach translating your music into captivating and energetic live experiences? Are there any particular aspects or elements that you focus on to engage your audience?
Yes. It’s really important to take the audience with you on a journey, no matter how hard that may seem. Embody each lyric with…your body! Haha. Remember how it felt when you wrote it. Look into their eyes. Get off the stage and into their space, encouraging them to move or giggle or sing along. Tell stories and jokes while you tune your guitar. I practice with my gear a LOT so that I can deal with almost any issue while a show is happening, so that it doesn’t show on my face during the performance that there is an issue. I just deal with the issue and get on with it. You want to know your set front to back so that when you get up there you can give it your all. If that means simplifying some things, do it. The main example of that for me is playing guitar and bass on stage. I love those instruments and play them all over my records, but I can’t play and sing some of the more complex parts at the same time AND also be an engaging performer. Instead I rely on other musicians on stage and creative use of backing tracks and electronics. Younger me would have thought this was a horrible compromise, but older wiser me is happier when I can move and get the audience on board with me, even if that means I’m “just” singing.


Collaborations have been an important part of your career, both as a songwriter and a vocalist. Can you share your experiences working with artists like Deap Vally and contributing to projects such as Central Park? How do these collaborations enhance your creativity and expand your artistic boundaries?
I absolutely love projects like those you mention. It’s very important to me to work to bridge the gender gap in music tech spaces (audio engineering, music production, live sound) so working with Deap Vally was special in that I was engineering and producing for a great band and I wasn’t brought in just to write or sing—they did that part. They treated me like a capable person (as opposed to skeptical, which is more common for non-male engineers and producers) and it was great. I love engineering because it soothes my nerd brain, and production is like songwriting but without words—you find the “colors” you want to work with and get to work bringing the vision to life. My song for Central Park, “Rockin On The Rag” could not have felt more divinely appointed. I had actually been asked to write a different song earlier in the season but with Covid things got jumbled, and when we came back up for air the task was to write from the perspective of a mom trying to pep her daughter after she gets her first period, the daughter being less than thrilled. My mom really empowered me when it came to menstruation (my song “Cut To Bleed” is about this), and we even had a party for the one year anniversary of my first period. Naturally I felt like I was born to write exactly this song haha. I let the concept percolate and then one day when I was watching tv I heard it in my head…so I grabbed a guitar and wrote it out. There were a few drafts before the final, but that initial seed was what got the ball rolling. Without projects like these I would feel less fulfilled as a musician for sure.


As an artist, you’ve been inspired by musicians like Robyn, Prince, SZA, and Dolly Parton. How have these influences shaped your approach to songwriting, production, and overall musical style?
Oh wow. I can’t think of anything they do that doesn’t influence me. Some things that stand out as inspiration are: Robyn’s emotive and joyful approach to pop, SZA’s frankness about womanhood and the way her voice tumbles out of her as though she’s making it up right then and there, Prince’s fearlessness in building something we’ve never heard before, and the way Dolly holds songwriting as powerful, valuable, and one of the most intimate things you can do with another person.

Your songwriting often touches on personal experiences and emotions. How do you balance vulnerability and storytelling within your lyrics, and what do you hope listeners will take away from your songs?
I don’t like lyrics that don’t feel like something I would actually say, or write in a poem or personal essay. I also don’t like similes very much, unless they’re funny—and funny is often super real or vulnerable. Sometimes I’ll have a feeling that envelopes my mind, and in order to not be eaten up by it, I have to figure out how to make a song out of it. How to put that feeling into words and music. So I attempt to do that, to my taste, over and over again. Sometimes those attempts become songs. I hope listeners can feel the real, and feel less alone, and have fun singing along.


Being based in Los Angeles, a city known for its vibrant music scene, how has the local music community influenced your growth as an artist? Are there any particular experiences or connections that have had a significant impact on your journey?
Moving to Los Angeles from New York in 2014 was a game changer for me. I met Caleb Shreve, who now runs Killphonic Rights, who back then was producing and mixing. He taught me so much about how to make a record, just answering my questions and giving me tips, and never for a second made me feel weird for being a woman wanting to produce, engineer and mix. He just kept encouraging me. 
LA is also shameless—everyone is trying to make it in some way. It can feel odd to be around this type of energy sometimes, but without it I never would have been Party Nails. In New York City and even my small hometown (Chatham, New York), it was more important to me to not totally embarrass myself than it was to DO the thing I wanted to do. I didn’t even know what exactly I wanted, because I was so afraid of embarrassing myself. Now I willingly embarrass myself all the time! It’s part of discovering what works and what doesn’t. I feel very lucky to be part of the community/communities I’ve grown to be part of in Los Angeles, and feel very grateful for all the people involved.
Femme House, FemSynthLab, The Girl Den, SoundGirls, Beats By Girlz, Beat Lab Academy, and Women’s Audio Mission are just a handful of the organizations that are worth checking out. (Some of these are LA-only, others are US, and others are global.)

In recent years, the music industry has undergone significant changes. How have you navigated the challenges and opportunities as an independent artist, and what advice would you give to aspiring musicians looking to establish themselves in today’s music landscape?
The music industry is both in constant motion and also rooted in structures that are, at best, relics from another time. There is also a focus on popularity (the idea is that popularity will make money quickly) over talent and an artist’s contribution to culture. All of this is incredibly disheartening. When you think about the what we are missing out on as a society as a result, it is also heartbreaking. But try to make this the reason why you must do it. It helps to be willing to learn—always willing to learn. Have a vision and be restless in your quest for quality. You may be exhausted by the constant changes and ways royalties work and all the noise about how to go viral, but don’t let all of that stuff ruin your passion to be engaged in something you care about. When you’re tired of social media, take a break. When you’re tired of writing or mixing, design some merch. Start a zine. Engage with your fanbase on a Discord. You are creating a little party of everyone that has ever wanted to come to the party of your music, and that’s such a cool thing, so cherish it. Make shows happen. Make tours happen. Make albums happen. Do it against all odds. Do it with no money in the bank. Be bold. Tell your story.


Your music seamlessly blends elements of pop, alternative, and dance genres. How do you approach genre-blending and experimentation in your songwriting and production, and what excites you most about exploring different musical styles?
I guess I don’t think of it consciously as genre blending! I trust my instincts and go with what the song is asking for I think. When I listen to music that I love, I listen really closely and study what it is that I love so much. Is it a vocal chain, or the reverb on the snare, or the dryness off the whole mix? The songwriting, the throbbing bass? I kind of take note of all of these and collect them like I do songwriting ideas. Then when I’m working on a song, I’ll pull ideas out and see how they work. 
In cases where I am collaborating, I really trust the other person/people to do a good job in achieving what they set out to do. If they need a creative ear or nudge I provide that, but I’m happy to just stay out of the way too. “Like U” with Boy Sim is an example of this. I didn’t have any production notes. I co-wrote it, sang it, and mixed it. The production was great without a lot of my input.
When I’m producing other artists—the cases where I am not the artist at all, or even the songwriter sometimes—I just try to do what the client is asking me to do! The only reason we are working together to begin with is because we like each other’s perspectives, so showing up as myself makes sense. I may have more of an Americana bent one day and a dance vibe the next, depending on what we are doing. In short, I think it’s a “follow your joy” kind of thing. It becomes your nature, maybe.

Looking ahead, what can fans expect from Party Nails in terms of future releases, projects, or collaborations?
I’m playing a release party at Programme Skate in Fullerton, CA on July 3! I’m going on tour in the middle of July. I’m DJing a lot more than I used to—my next DJ set is at the Love Song in LA on July 13. I hope to start a dance party in LA this year. I also just launched a zine where people send their art and writing and I mail physical copies out once a month (there is more info on my website if you’re curious!). I’ll be releasing a lot more new music this year too.


Are there any specific goals or dreams you hope to achieve in your musical career?
I want to own a zero-emissions tour bus with an all-pink fuzzy interior, and bring a bunch of rescue pitties on tour with me all the time! They will be friends with the band and crew. I also want to open for Miley Cyrus on a world tour. And I want to make so much more music—both my own and producing for other artists—and compose for feature films and tv series. Maybe create a rock opera one day. Hedwig and the Angry Inch was my lifeblood as a teen. 


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