Music Lists

Slept On: Underground Acts You Need to Listen to Today

These acts have gone underappreciated for far too long

The highly anticipated return of Lady Gaga, the unexpected collaborative drop between Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, the sensual R&B crooner Ro James returning for his sophomore go-round: These are but a handful of big-time releases that will consume the masses today.

With an overwhelming amount of new music presented each Friday, it's important to shine a light on the hard-working underdogs, the artists who are putting out captivating tracks without mainstream recognition. Below are a handful of independent acts that also released new projects today. From the silky bravado of Keffa to the idiosyncrasies of Deem Spencer, here are underground releases that need to be on your radar.

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New Releases

Celebrate Trans Day of Visibility with Benjamin Scheuer's "I Am Samantha"

Scheuer met Samantha Williams at a coffee shop in NYC and decided to write a song about her.

Noa Griffel

It's International Trans Day of Visibility, a day meant to celebrate trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Transphobia still runs rampant in America and across the world, and trans people face death and erasure at extreme rates. Visibility, therefore, can be a radical act and a joyful celebration.

That's the motivation behind "I Am Samantha," a charming and euphoric new single released by songwriter and playwright Benjamin Scheuer. It tells the story of Samantha, a trans woman who Scheuer met in a coffee shop in NYC. He decided to write a song about her, and today it's been released along with a heart-warming, tear-jerking video that stars 27 trans actors. It's about unity and solidarity, a heartwarming message for these times and always.

Benjamin Scheuer - I Am Samantha [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com

The release was accompanied by a behind-the-scenes video from Allison Glock-Cooper in partnership with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), GLAAD, Trans Lifeline and The Ally Coalition.

Samantha explained the story of the song and video in her own words. "He's a customer at the West Village coffee shop where I work, a fellow artist (I'm a writer; he's a musician) who attended a reading of one of my screenplays and gave truly helpful notes," Samantha said of Benjamin. She described him as "a tall guy with a boyish face and steampunk style, with cherry-dyed hair, elaborate boots and epaulets, and yet announcing his presence most resoundingly with his seemingly ever-present smile and earnest, enthusiastic greetings."

Soon after the two met, Samantha complained to him that she didn't know any popular songs that use the name Samantha, which was the name she had taken a year prior. Her relationship with the name goes way back, though. "'Samantha' had been the only name my parents could agree on prior to my birth, not yet knowing what was between my legs—which would ultimately lead to a name I went by for decades before all but erasing it from identifying documents (Ohio being one of four states that don't allow changes to one's birth certificate)," she added.

Inspired by Samantha's story, Benjamin set about writing and recording a song for Samantha. "Benjamin and those involved in every aspect of the recording, producing and upcoming release of 'I Am Samantha' have each endeavored to understand and do right by the story of my transition from [dead name] to the fully realized, confident person I am today," she said. "Each of them I've had the pleasure of meeting is just as evidently excited as I am to share this song, this story of struggle and self-discovery, with the world—so that it might do what art uniquely can, which is to increase empathy by revealing the world through someone else's eyes, while also, I can attest, making some of us feel just a little less lonely."

Benjamin Scheuer - I Am Samantha [Behind The Scenes] www.youtube.com

Follow Benjamin Scheuer on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and his website.

MUSIC

Interview: Dayglow Makes Sugary DIY Earworms—Just Don't Call It Bedroom Pop

Sloan Struble of Dayglow talks to Popdust about growing up in small-town Texas, selling out a tour that got canceled, and the viral success of his single "Can I Call You Tonight?"

Nick Wong

Things haven't really gone according to plan lately for Sloan Struble.

The 20-year-old singer-songwriter-producer is calling me from Aledo, Texas, a 5,000-person town just west of Fort Worth. Not too long ago, Struble was an advertising student at the University of Texas at Austin. After his song "Can I Call You Tonight?" went viral, he left school to pursue his indie-pop project, Dayglow, full-time. But things took an unfortunate turn when—as with just about every active artist you can think of right now—Dayglow's sold-out tour scheduled to begin this spring was canceled due to the worldwide health concerns. So Struble packed his things and headed to his childhood home, the same place where he self-recorded his debut album, Fuzzybrain, which is out now.

"I'll definitely look back at this past year and think, what the heck happened?" Struble tells me with palpable disbelief, referring to both the current pandemic (which prevented this interview from happening in-person) and his rapid rise to indie notoriety. To Struble, a job in advertising was a tolerable back-up plan—maybe he'd make commercials or music videos—but after his cousin showed him the magic of GarageBand when he was ten years old, a career in music was his main goal.

"I've always definitely wanted to do this," Struble says. "But it felt really out of reach. So I felt like once it was really obvious that I was not going to do advertising and be a musician instead, that's when I would do it."

Dayglow - Can I Call You Tonight? (Official Video) www.youtube.com


With mentions in a handful of local blogs, a shoutout from Gen-Z tastemaker Emma Chamberlain, and an album reissue on innovative record label AWAL, a path in music was undeniable for Struble. Below, he tells Popdust about those revelatory moments, how Fuzzybrain came together, and the future of Dayglow.

Obviously, Austin is known for its music scene. How did living there shape the way you make music?

I actually moved to Austin about a year and a half ago for school at UT. There's really not much of an artistic scene here [in Aledo]. It's kind of, like, Friday Night Lights-ish, where football is the thing that everybody does. So I kind of felt creatively isolated while I was growing up. I spent most of my time just seeing what people were doing with music via the Internet, and not really from anybody who was actually around me, which would have been the case in Austin.

Which artists in particular inspired you while making Fuzzybrain?

I was really trying to lean into, like, 2009 to 2011 big indie pop names. I thought that was a great era that went by really quick. Phoenix, I still love a lot, but I was really into Phoenix while making the record. Passion Pit a little bit, too.

Tell me about how "Can I Call You Tonight?" started going viral.

I was going to be an advertising student in school, so I can't help but think about advertising and marketing tying in with music, because that definitely is a part of being an artist, for better or worse. I was very careful in the way that I presented it, but I didn't do too much in terms of promoting it. I just kind of had faith that if I just let it go and the timing was right, then it would kind of just fit into that pocket of YouTube and Spotify. I emailed a couple of small blogs. There was one in particular called Honey Punch, who is awesome—it's run by two sisters. I sent them an email, and I was like, "Hey, I have this song, I feel like you might like it." And they posted about it. At the time, I didn't have any related artists on Spotify, but because they wrote about it at the right time, all of my related artists afterwards were COIN and other big indie names right now. I think all of that somehow got it into the algorithm—it sounds kind of like the matrix when I'm like, it's in this algorithm!—but yeah, I feel really, really blessed. I mean, I don't want to discredit my hard work because obviously I spent a lot of time working on it, but I also feel really lucky that it just worked, you know?

So what was the timeline of all of this?

I think I put "Can I Call You Tonight?" out on Spotify in late January 2018, and then I made the music video a couple months later. And then those, hand-in-hand, started growing. It's been seriously pretty mind-blowing, because it blows up more each day. It's reacting a lot stronger now than it did initially, and it's almost two years old. So it's pretty cool that it's still growing and seems like it still has a lot of room to grow, which is really exciting.

Dayglow - Listerine (Official Video) www.youtube.com


You'd be on tour right now if it weren't for everything going on, and I know a lot of independent artists are taking a huge hit because of it. How are you coping, and how can fans help their favorite artists in lieu of tours?

I really, really love playing shows, and I think a very big part of why I want to do music is so I can be on stage and perform. But thankfully for me, most of the money I'm making right now is from streaming. Touring is new for me, so personally, I'm not necessarily taking a huge financial hit, but I know a lot of other people are, and my bandmates are. I think it's been pretty encouraging how the first question everyone's asking is "how can we help you?" I think that's pretty awesome that everybody's concerned about artists, and that makes me feel good. But buying merch [helps]. People are probably listening to a lot more music now that they have the time at home, so just keep listening to music. Hopefully this ends soon, and I can go on tour again, so come to those shows!

You originally self-released Fuzzybrain and recorded and performed everything yourself. Why did you go that route?

Since a very young age, I always thought it'd be really cool to be in a band, but I didn't grow up in a place where a lot of people had that same idea. I was making music on GarageBand, and I kind of reached the point where I had used all of the loops GarageBand had available. So I was like, "If I want to make music, I have to know how to play these other instruments," because I didn't really know anybody else that wanted to. So I taught myself the bare minimum of each instrument, and over time, I've just gotten better at each of them. But yeah, it just came from a very personal passion. It's just something I love to do and I love being in creative control.

You get associated with a lot of "bedroom pop" artists, which of course is a very literal descriptor in your case. I remember around the time that Clairo's first EP came out, she said she felt limited by the "bedroom pop" label. How do you feel about that term?

It's hard to address, because bedroom pop is a very specific sound, I think. And I just really don't sound like it, in my opinion. I know I'm young and making music in my bedroom, but I definitely don't think I associate with the bedroom pop scene. It totally makes sense why I've been placed in it, but I think recently, people have kind of realized that I don't really fit into that. I still want people to know I'm really creatively involved in DIY, but I also feel like bedroom pop a lot of times is made to be played in a bedroom, you know? It's mood music, or for when you're chilling out—I want my songs to be festival songs. But that's interesting that Clairo said that. And now she's playing shows with MGMT and Tame Impala! I'm so jealous.

That's a good segue into my next question, because you have a song seemingly about wanting to run the world ("Run the World!!!"). Is there any truth in that?

[Laughs] It's very sarcastic. I mean, I think I'm a fairly levelheaded and humble person when people get to know me. I obviously put that song out without knowing so many people were gonna hear it. It's a song that I knew people close to me were going to hear and immediately laugh. But now it's strange, because people who have no idea who I am hear it, and I'm like, "Do they actually think I think that?" But I think it's always fun to be ironic and sarcastic with music because I want to be optimistic and show people that I'm having fun with what I'm doing. But in order for the optimism to not be ignorant, I think you have to address things like [narcissism and pessimism]. I think it's fun to poke fun at things without being mean.

How have you been adjusting to people who don't know you listening to your music, and making assumptions of you based on your art?

It's really strange, if I'm being honest. I think it's incredible that more people are listening, but nothing can really prepare you for it. At the end of the day, I'm just a person, but it's a really weird thing when most of the people who know who you are only view you as an artist. It's taken me a while to view myself as a person who makes art. It's an incredible opportunity, but it's definitely a weird transition.

Where do you see your career headed?

I have no idea. That's the thing—I wish I could get my mind to think of something [regarding the future], but everything so far has just blown my mind so much that I can't set goals. I want things to keep going the way they are. I hope people are still listening and I'm still making things that I'm proud of. And I guess that's all I can try to do.

What's been your favorite memory over the past year or so?

Everything's so wild right now. I mean, I guess the most iconic thing is that I had a completely sold out tour that didn't exist. It's kind of funny, but obviously terrible. But I played Austin City Limits last fall, which was the biggest click of, like, "This is crazy!" That was a really big moment for me.

Dayglow - Hot Rod (Official Video) www.youtube.com