illuminati hotties on “Let Me Do One More” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, November 30th, 2023  

illuminati hotties on “Let Me Do One More”

Urge Against Overkill

Oct 04, 2021 Photography by Courtney Coles Web Exclusive
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Sarah Tudzin, aka illuminati hotties, has a unique way of stretching pop dynamics like silly putty, shaping them into her own self-coined “tenderpunk” vernacular. A former student of the Berklee College of Music and already a seasoned engineer in her mid-20s, her own pet project was initially meant as a reference point for clientele who wished to make good use of her unique set of skills.

But in reality, well, things turned a lot more volatile, thrilling, and dizzying for illuminati hotties than even Tudzin herself probably could have envisioned. Her 2018 debut Kiss Yr Frenemies established her unique knack for marrying slam dunk one-liners with more emotionally complex narratives, straddling her mastery of myriad recording methods with a high roller’s bluster. Because of some drama surrounding former label Tiny Engines, Tudzin impulsively recorded the mixtape Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For, its bold experimentation and swing-for-the-fences candor earning some serendipitous acclaim.

This ad hoc release secured illuminati hotties’ cult status, signifying the endearing stumble before the coup de grace that is Let Me Do One More, an all-killer/no-filler joyride of a record that touches base with all the distinct qualities Tudzin possesses: making records sound really really great, flying off the rails with mischievous wit, plus a cinematic lyrical prowess that often paints a scene within just a single line. Let Me Do One More rejoices in all its peaks and valleys, hysterical power pop-bangers (“Pool Hopping”), elegant ’60s pop (the Buck Meek duet “u v v p”), Pinback-esque bedroom pop (“Protector”), and bratty punk rock anthems (“Joni: LAs No 1 Health Goth”). We linked up via Zoom with Tudzin to learn more about her craft, and what makes Let Me Do One More such an invigorating, fist-pumping affair.

Jasper Willems (Under the Radar): You just dropped this tour announcement but you also mentioned in-between this book on surfing? Are you writing that?

Sarah Tudzin: No, I’m reading a book on surfing. I just finished it, it’s an awesome book. It’s called Barbarian Days. It’s about this journalist’s life as a surfer. It’s amazing, it’s like reading Hemingway or something. Very niche details and broad strokes on how he lived his life, with regards to surfing. It’s really inspiring for anyone who is obsessed with anything,

Did you find any parallels between his process and your process? Or eureka moments of wisdom?

Totally! I think the main through-line is that despite his own best intentions, he can not say “no” to a great wave. I feel like that often about music. No matter what’s going on, or no matter what responsibilities I have, or what’s going on the next day, I can’t turn down an opportunity to work on new music, or to go see music. Or play music with friends. It’s just this undercurrent running into the back of my head. It’s sort of how he describes surfing as well; he’s constantly looking for the perfect wave. If he’s out and he sees it, he’s gotta pull his board out of the car and go surf, you know?

It does say something about immediacy, or acting on impulse. The rollout for Let Me Do One More is a little more conventional than the one you did for the mixtape Free I.H.. So what’s the next impulse you’re chasing as a musician, the next wave you’re trying to catch right now?

Right now, getting this record off the ground has been taking up a lot of my time, and making sure this album release is received in a way I was hoping it would be. Putting in the work to make the album show go really well. I announced this tour that’s through the top of 2022. So moving pieces of getting that to happen. In between all that, if a song idea strikes, I gotta jump at it.

Chronologically speaking, Let Me Do One More is kind of a doozy. You made this mixtape record that generated some fortuitous buzz amidst all this label bullshit. Free I.H.—and correct me if I’m wrong—has more recent material than Let Me Do One More. So you have been tinkering with this record for a longer period. Did you develop a healthy emotional distance from these songs because of that?

Yeah, I think in some ways the distance from this record was difficult. I took a quick left turn to make Free I.H.. At first it was hard to pull myself back in the circumstances to approach these songs in a natural way. And in other ways, it was a little bit easier to have some distance because then I could sort of treat it as purely a checklist of stuff I needed to get done. And that was helpful. It forced me to work quickly once I got back to it. The lesson I learned doing Free I.H. was not to be too precious, and I was definitely being too precious with Let Me Do One More. So when I reapproached it, I could kind of see what I was doing was overkill. And how I could button up the songs that still needed to be done.

How did the Buck Meek collaboration on “u v v p” take shape?

I wanted some kind of lonesome traveler to narrate the end of that song. I was listening to Buck’s record, and his voice is so beautiful and perfect. I just sent him an email and crossed my fingers, and he sent me something back. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. I gave him a script I wrote out for him. I just told him to have fun with it and use your best judgement. I think he played with it a little bit.

It’s cool to write words from another person’s perspective too, do you want to experiment with that more often?

Oh yeah, I would say I’m doing that all the time. I think there’s a lot of stuff in my music that applies to my life, that’s from a natural perspective. But I also don’t want to let truth get in the way of art, and tell a story I find interesting and might be something that’s not happening in my life.

On “Cheap Shoes” there’s this crazy breakdown that almost feels like that song is shattering and imploding under its own fervor. Can you tell me a bit how you pulled that magic?

I had that riff on guitar and I tracked multiple drum takes. Which I do for almost everything, but in this song I had panned two drum takes wide so they were kind of call-and-responding to one another. As well as this sort of cool half-time riff. Then I was asking myself: should I write lyrics for this? I didn’t know what to put in the middle. So I just played this guitar solo very sloppily in a bunch of pieces and I trapped it up in the computer and rearranged it all. That’s how it got all glitchy and turned around. And then I replayed that new glitched version on an acoustic guitar.

Do songs also stem from sounds with illuminati hotties sometimes? I’m curious whether Let Me Do One More had a couple of “woah, this actually works”-moments you might wanna spill.

Yeah, I think that break on “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” was a big one, where I threw as much crazy sounds into it as I could, then had to reorganise it in a way that wasn’t too distracting. Or too random. And I think I got close, you know, I think there’s moments where you’re like “woah, this is chaotic in the right way” and I hope I didn’t go too overkill with some of those things. I was mostly just making a lot of noise with Jacob [Blizard], who played a lot of guitar on this record. And the two of us were sort of making guitar pedal noise and amp noise. And figuring out how to thin that out later was my main challenge.

Lyrically speaking, the songs feel collage-y too: sometimes it feels kitchen sink and very close to home, other times it’s very much punk rock sloganeering. My fav song on the record is “Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism.” I’m probably going to overthink this, but it made me think a lot about how love and capitalism aren’t and never will become great bedfellows. The idea that buying your favorite brand of breakfast muffins is the key to eternal happiness.

I mean, I think it all stems from exactly what you just said. That we sort of believed this giant con, that we have to buy into this machine to feel like we’re a part of the universe. When in reality, if we loosened the reins of that machine we’d all be much better off. And we’d feel much more part of the same universe. At the same time, it’s foolish to think that that’s going to go away in my lifetime. All I can really do is hopefully set up steps so it becomes less of a necessity and more of an open world for the next generations.

In the song you acutely talk about cause and effect, how those things are directly related to one another, as if they’re in essence the same thing. You sort of conflate those two things, how our personal relationships are strained by the machineries of capitalism. It’s not just a matter of liking each other: we weigh in financial stability and all these things capitalism forces us to think about, that complicates our relationships. It feels like you thought that through on this song.

A hundred percent. It’s definitely this ominous cloud that hangs over everybody’s life. And despite our best intentions we all have to pay our rent, eat, and do all the things it takes to live the way we want to live, and I think that affects our social interactions deeply. Both romantically and in friendships.

In the last song, “Growth,” you mention this dog that isn’t around anymore. I’m wondering what the story behind that is.

That was a little nod to the dog I grew up with; it’s one of the older songs on the record. I wrote it within a year of when that dog passed away. I grew up with her. I’ve had her since I was a little kid. I was maybe eight or nine. I think it’s a very hollow and familiar feeling, to expect the dog waiting at the door and feeling eerily quiet.

It’s interesting: I hear a lot of narratives about dogs in pop music lately. Japanese Breakfast has several songs about her dog. Clairo based her new record more or less about her dog, and Lorde wrote a song about her dog dying. Of course Fiona Apple. I wonder if there’s more to it, what do you think?

Totally. I think people have always been writing about their dogs. There are Harry Nilsson songs about dogs, there are Paul Simon songs about dogs. A dog is sort of a universally understood companion, in some ways even more than romantic love can be for some people. I think having a dog, or any pet, is instinctual for us as humans, to want to take care of animals like that, and want to have them as creatures that make us happy too. We can all sort of relate to the love and the loss and the friendship that comes along with having a pet. It’s been happening in music, now a lot of the artists you mentioned are at an age they’re either getting dogs of their own or losing family pets that have been in their life for a long time.

The pacing and sequencing of this record is so good. It makes me feel very nostalgic, kind of like how Rilo Kiley or The Breeders made me feel. There’s something cinematic about it too, like every song representing a different scene. So I’m wondering about your thought process behind the sequencing, the flow of the record. Are you deliberate about that stuff?

Oh yeah, totally. I don’t think there’s really a narrative in this album that other albums sometimes have, but energetically for sure. I was very nerdy about that and I love how other people lay that stuff out on record. I think a lot about tempo and the musical relationship between the keys, how they sort of play together. I wanted it to feel like an experience that shouldn’t be interrupted.

There can be energy drops or enhancements when you go from key to key, and when they are related, they can lock together in a cool way. Or sometimes too same-y; you don’t want it to feel like it’s one giant song, but sometimes it’s cool to be able to segway into a song that feels like it’s a comfortable key. Also, I once heard Paul Simon giving a clinic to a college I went to that I wasn’t able to attend. But I asked a friend who went and they said he had this crazy method of sequencing; the energy should be going up at all times, unless it’s an intentional drop.

So if a song is slower than the song before it, it should be ramped up in key in some kind of way, so you’re feeling the forward momentum of the whole album. So I think about that a little bit too, so when the tempo drops, how to keep people engaged. Which isn’t always the way, but it was an interesting thing I hadn’t thought of until I heard this person talk about it.

There’s an effortless swagger to it, like every song is supposed to happen then and there. It seems you’ve really attuned to the psychology behind keeping listeners engaged. Do you also study other records, to see why they click, and apply some of those dynamics within your own vernacular?

Totally, a hundred percent. I feel my whole job is studying records, and I love to do it. I love to see how people lay stuff out. Especially now we’re getting hip-hop records that are like 19 tracks and an hour and 15 minutes long. I mean, how do you even begin to approach sequencing? All singles at the top or thought through and sort of a psychological way like we were talking about.

I’m interested to do sort of a Song Exploder thing with “Cheap Shoes,” just to give an idea of how your songs take shape: can you take me from the first stage to the final stage?

With that song I wanted to challenge myself to show the chorus in as many places as I possibly could. So I had the chorus, I had no idea what to use for verses. I tracked a bunch of stuff with Tim [Kmet] and Zach [Bilson] with drums and bass and none of it worked. It was so clunky and weird. But I had another song; and I was able to sort of smash them together. The verse was a separate song idea that got ejected into this chorus idea. Same thing with like the bridge and the outro: a riff idea that I had that was floating around. I wanted to use it somewhere but I didn’t really know where it’d fit yet. It was three separate puzzle pieces that I put in a new order.

Is it more common that your songs are like Frankenstein monsters of scattered ideas, but also with chords and words, and you build the sonic ideas and textures from there?

I mean, definitely my preferred way of writing is what you just mentioned. Writing a song with chords that you kind of know what the structure is, you know that it’s telling a story, you know where it begins and ends. That I think is what usually makes the best songs. But I also think you can collage together a great song using a bunch of pieces, and when it does fit, it makes sense instantly. But yeah, I do love to write in a more traditional way, where beginning and ending something feels like the same beast.

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