Rising Star

PREMIERE | ANNALIA Traces Human Connections on Debut EP, 'Wavelength'

The bright-eyed upstart needles together love and heartache on her first project.

Pop newcomer bares her heart and soul on her long-awaited debut.

"Human connection requires time, sacrifice and reciprocation. It involves doubt and the need for reassurance. It brings you to the heights of your joy and to the depths of your inner fears; even bringing to light things about yourself you didn't know before. It occurs naturally, but by no coincidence; like stars held together by gravitational attraction," pop upstart ANNALIA describes in a press statement about her debut EP, Wavelength.

It's a collection of shiny, glitter-filled, '80s-encrypted songs about romance and separation, pinned together with a blend of synthetic and organic instruments, which serve to give the music a bit of levity. "Turn the chaos into magic," she confirms on "Dust," a cataclysmic bite of Milky Way delight. The chaos of break-ups and breakdowns is the backbone of the project, steeped in prominent guitar and searing, body-torn intimacy. She holds out her heart, throbbing and bleeding, to us, the willing listener, and we are fated to be wrought with severe emotional punishment, drenched in club-floor psychedelia.

While "Dust" shoots across the sky in stormy warmth, teasing a rather invigorating connection, "Traces" punctuates control between the lovestruck players. Then, "Hurt My Feelings," ANNALIA's most riveting performance so far, strips back the layers for an acoustic, wholly affecting bookend, which "acknowledges the fact that every relationship involves hurt, to some degree. We all hurt one another, intentionally or not," ANNALIA tells Popdust, premiering the EP today. "It was written as a recognition that I was eventually going to feel hurt from the other person, but asking for them not to do it anyways."

Sara Kiesling

"Affinity" and "Wavelength" weave together stimulated confessions about thrilling infatuations and succumbing to those lusts deep down inside. Whether it's a full-on dance track or a subdued and somber prayer-like reflection, ANNALIA's debut is rooted in wanting more of her pop music ⎯⎯ and her life. "I've always wanted a more organic sound. I hear a lot of pop music that's all electronic, and while I do love it, I wanted to create a unique sound that wasn't as prevalent," she says. "I also write from a very real and vulnerable place, so it only felt right to pair that with real instrumentation."

Her lyrics are lethal, often digging under the fingernails for the grittiness of castoff boyfriends and tear-soaked pillows. "I'm see-through / I tell everything to you / Got my heart in your arms and I'm worried that you'll give it back to me in two," she confesses over tinny guitar, flecking in echoes around her, with "Hurt My Feelings." It's that kind of plainspoken honesty that pervades much of the record. Sometimes, she's hardened; other times, she knocks down the walls in ferocious gut-punches. "I realized that I'm not ever going to be where I want to be, career- wise, and to enjoy the process of creating. I confronted insecurities I had within relationships that I never really let myself dissect before, and I discovered my need to be completely involved in the production of my songs," she explains of her emotional journey, etched into the EP's cement but glistening walls. That stamp shimmers throughout the expedition, which seems to not only transform her completely but allow her to shed a former shell of her being.

Along with a trio of producers, Andy Seltzer (also co-writer of the title cut, someone "who really understood my vision and the sound I was going for," she recalls), Abe Stewart and Dominic Florio, ANNALIA crafts a magnetizing world. After writing "Wavelength," which jolts alive via finger snaps and summer-cool synths, she was struck with "such a high because I finally had a demo in my hands that completely nailed what I had been imagining in my head, sonically speaking," she says. "I am a big believer in collaboration in order to bring the songs to life. Each of them brought different elements to the table that pulled the songs together just how I wanted."

ANNALIA's Wavelength EP drops on Friday. Take a listen below:

What human connections have been the most important for you?

Every single connection I have has impacted me in different ways. I don't think one is more important than the next because everyone leaves a mark on me whether I realize it or not… for worse or for the better. And vice versa. But there have been a select special few and they know who they are.

Have you had relationships or friendships where you felt you were to blame for not working as hard as you should have? How did that impact you going forward?

I've always done my best to work hard at my friendships and relationships, but I'm not going to say I've always been perfect at it. None of us can be 100% perfect at navigating every relationship that comes our way. I've just learned to be more cautious of who I allow myself to connect with on a personal level, and I've learned to be more intentional about the people I do connect best with.

There's been so much talk about the lack of women producing in pop music. How important was co-producing this EP for you?

I made sure to be in as many sessions as I physically could be to bring my ideas to life. I call myself a "backseat producer" because I sit with the actual engineers and tell them all the ideas I have in my head. It's necessary for me to get the songs where I want them to be.

Sara Kiesling

"Traces" is a definite standout. It's both vulnerable and sensual. How did that vibe grow?

I wrote this tune by myself in my apartment. It was just me and the keys… my favorite way to start a song. It was super quick and one of those songs that just writes itself. I then brought it into a session and we finished a few lines and developed the sound there. If it feels the most vulnerable, that's because it is! It came from an honest moment by myself; alone with my thoughts, a keyboard, and voice memos.

"Hurt My Feelings" is almost indie-rock underneath. The vocal layering is rather haunting. Was this song always so sparse?

Yes! This song was a voice memo I was holding onto forever. I was tempted to release it as is, but felt that I needed to polish it a little bit. I kept it as raw and live as possible because I didn't want to lose the original character and vulnerability that the voice memo had.

Why end the EP with such a blistering performance?

The EP was written over the span of a relationship I was in. It ended pretty unfortunately, so it felt right to end the EP with a little reality check. Plus, I was holding onto this song for so long, so I figured I should just go with my gut and have it be the last tune. Also, while the other songs lean a bit more positive, I thought it was important to incorporate some of the lows that human relationships include. Otherwise, I wouldn't be properly portraying what a real relationship is like.

When writing such personal songs, do you feel you are sacrificing parts of yourself?

Rather than a it being a sacrifice, I see it as a blessing and an outlet. It's the best way to get a grip on my emotions, process my thoughts and share them with other people who can hopefully relate.

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Sara Kiesling

Jason Scott is a freelance music journalist with bylines in Billboard, PopCrush, Ladygunn, Greatist, AXS, Uproxx, Paste and many others. Follow him on Twitter.

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