Growing older can be a strange experience, even more so when you are an artist and let your emotional self find way into the works of your creation. For L.A.-bred indie-pop talent Chloe Gallardo, that process has taken its turns all along the process that led to and from the creation of her first full-length Defamator. “You know”, she says at one point in our interview call, “I’m such a different person now, which is like funny because I wrote the songs a really long time ago”. The album has been all set and done for one and a half years now and she has evolved from the persona of the record and become someone else. “[The songs] obviously feel like my songs, but they feel very much like that version.”
Nevertheless, she stresses it remains vital for her to stand behind her feelings about that past version of herself. At its core battling ghosts of her past and shuffling through bleak issues such as trauma and an abusive relationship, the road that the singer went down for Defamator is one that marks a formative time in her life and thus remains a time of great individual progress and therapeutic value. “It was like I was taking a deep dive into every experience that just went south for me”, Chloe remarks. Well, the songs speak for themselves and deserve a proper look.
“People have asked me: ‘why would you put these songs out if that’s not like you anymore? ’But well, it was me at one point. It is really therapeutic to have a chunk of time encapsulated into a piece of art. Even if it wasn’t an awesome time, it still is the reason that I am who I am today. I wouldn’t be living here, I wouldn’t have the friends that I have, I wouldn’t have the boyfriend that I have, if I didn’t go through all these experiences. So I don’t really live with a lot of regrets. It’s all happening for a reason.”
Sweet But Sour
Do not let yourself be fooled by Chloe Gallardo’s voice. Sure, while there is a distinct “prettiness” to it, as she herself almost apologetically remarks, the core of her artistic signature more moves in realms of a dark transcendent indie rock attitude and in that aesthetically calls to mind the likes of Snail Mail, Skullcrusher and Phoebe Bridgers, although with a distinct originality. Sonically a fusion of soft and dreamy landscapes that works through melodic virtue, as “fuzzy effects and kind of like shoegazey” break any harmonious notion, that it remains unclear whether the soft side is broken up by the bleak visions or the other way around. Well, in the end, it doesn’t really matter that much. The twist is there and draws through means of instrumentation, the lyrical side as well as the visual accompaniment to the record.
“I feel like with a lot of my imagery, I’m kind of overcompensating for the prettiness of my voice. I have this image in my head of heavier, darker stuff but my voice is really not like that though.”
“It’s definitely an overcompensation because the original stuff that I put out back in like 2017 is very light and happy with a lot of ukuleles and stuff, which I wouldn’t say is the sound that I am going for”, Chloe adds. “It was kind of what was available to me at the time. So I’m really I’m trying to escape that pretty much.” All the while, it is not that the musician breaks with her style altogether, but lets the two poles – the heavy and the light – coexist in the same realm. The space of Defamator” never really dissolves the occasion and contributes to the tension of the songs with titles such as There Will Be Blood or To See You Go. While the music shuffles between the slow and grungy build-up of tunes such as the hooky Bloodline towards the playful and fuzzy Defamator up to the dream-pop-fused Last Dance, the melodramatic intensity reaches its peak in the middle New Jersey, which quickly escalates from a mellow indie-pop piece to ecstatic eruption.
“When we recorded the demo for ‘New Jersey’, I remember it was missing something. And I was like, I want to scream. Like, ‘can I scream really quick?’ And then I’d pulled out the most blood curdling, horror movie scream. And everybody was like, oh my God. So we just added a bunch of effects and made it sound a little less scary.”
The Politics Of Revenge
As mysterious as the dark-centred cover of Defamator presents itself, with just a small picture frame of a church building in the middle, the overall theme of the record is much more straightforward. You easily get an idea of what the songs are about. The title song “is about somebody personally in my life… well, I guess I dated him. So it’s a breakup song. But we dated and then things ended not awesomely”, Chloe explains. As she dives into how “a very dramatic fling” turned into that person “defacing [her] name through the mud”, I realise how the root of the record lies in the bitter experience of affection turning into malignity and rage. In a bad place like this, one can either run away from the feelings or confront them. Chloe Gallardo has chosen the latter and “did the same to him in [the title] song”.
Though a central theme to the whole record, Defamator is not “just” about this horrible breakup. It explores issues of relationship trauma and abuse at large, laying open emotional scars, and letting the therapeutic and eventually cathartic process become visible. It then amounts to a remedial act itself in how Chloe Gallardo digs through the dark interior of her past, cutting through the insecurities, fear and resentment that have defined the hardships of her coming-of-age.
“So keep my name out of your mouth
I’m not your friend, that is my vow
I fell for all your dirty tricks
Somehow I’m still not over it”
(Chloe Gallardo – New Jersey)
As much as Defamator is a record that showcases a young artist’s rise to self-empowerment by means of exhibiting the painful wrongs she has had to struggle with, it is a display of a profound confrontation with oneself, one that breathes an essential therapeutic spirit. “It’s a story about healing, like going to therapy and letting myself be angry”, Chloe remarks towards the close of our conversation. For all the openness that her record displays, it is not surprising that the artist actually was in therapy around the time the songs of Defamator were conceived, which makes the whole process of coming to terms with past events even more significant and testimony of reflected selfhood.
“There’s definitely some heavier themes and specific songs… a lot of them are just about being in an emotionally abusive relationship and about the trauma that comes with all of that. I mean, probably the main theme is just anger and healing. Healing anger, if you will.”
The process of writing then incidentally marks a new chapter for the artist, as it closes the gap between open wounds and walking toward brighter shores. “I wrote the songs and as soon as I went into the studio, I had kind of cut myself off from everyone that those songs were related to, not even on purpose, it just kind of happened”, Chloe says with relief in her eyes. “And so then I was able to fully let go and take a step outside of the situation and focus on making those songs sound the way that I want them to sound without worrying about what people were gonna say.” That there is dramaturgy in Defamator by accident is ultimately the twist that does justice to the background of its bleak habitat and unfolds a narrative frame to make the gloom-tinted stories legible. They are turned into tales of resistance, personal strength and the will to live.
“In the beginning, the songs are kind of sad, then angrier and then it gets into more self-acceptance, which was honestly an accident because we just picked the order that sounded nice. But when I listened back a few times after we did that, I was like, oh, wait, this is really cool, it totally tells a story.”