April 17, 2017

Featuring: Charly Bliss

Charly Bliss blows insecurities out of the water on their upcoming debut Guppy.

A wise man once said “everything in moderation”—and after, Charly Bliss ignored him. From lead vocalist Eva Hendricks’ ear-splitting screams, to the layers of fuzz-infused pop hooks her bandmates weave around her sharply tongued words, there’s very little about the New York-based band one could ever call “restrained.” The group’s sound heavily backs itself on a riotous energy that the four have been perfecting over the past half-decade. However, as their debut LP Guppy proves through its 10 whiplash-inducing power-pop anthems, it’s an energy not based solely on melody, but also on Hendricks herself. As the album endlessly teeters back and forth, it begins to mirror Hendricks inner extremes—her fears, embarrassments, self-criticisms, and joys. Not necessarily to shed those parts of herself, but to indulge herself on their irrelevancy. By subverting the meaning of her insecurities, Charly Bliss reinvents Hendricks' extremities, redefining them, and wrapping them into infectious melodies where listeners can relish in their commonality.

Yet, the road to Guppy was not as simple as it seems. Getting their start at 15 when Hendricks met guitarist Spencer Fox at a local Tokyo Police Club concert, it wasn’t until 2014 when the group, then a newly formed four-piece, released their 3-track EP Soft Serve. Holding on to the slowed-down grittier punk that resonated throughout the early EP, the band released a few more singles and recorded the first version of Guppy. However, after finishing the production of their debut, the four decided to scrap the take and restart. “We all lived with the record for a few months, and I think each of us separately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the best we could do,” Hendricks shares. Even with unanimity within the group, the decision took a toll. “Personally, it was hard to accept at first,” Hendricks further admits, “I’m super hard on myself, and I think I felt some major guilt and disappointment in myself for not getting it right the first time.” Aiming for perfection, the choice to re-record spurred a change in perspective—the group knew they needed to change to move forward.

Setting their sights on pure polished pop, the band narrowed their focus for the second version of their debut. Along with this decision, the group’s production grew tighter, and Hendricks’ words sharper. Taking her humor and wit up a notch, Hendricks maintains but intensifies the bubbly, yet piercing attitude that drenches Charly Bliss’ sound. Showing itself as early as the first lines of the album opener “Percolator,” Hendricks shows her lyrical ability to keep her words light but simultaneously sting, cutting after every line. Peeking through the pounding grit of guitar, Hendricks first jokes of her sensitivity, “I cry all the time / I think that it’s cool / I’m in touch with my feelings”—but as the band drives through the track, Hendricks takes her aim elsewhere, “I’m not scared to lick the floor / Cause I have sucked on something worse / Put your hand on my knee / That’s what friends are for.” This double-edged tone isn't new for Charly Bliss, but as it saturates each track of their debut, Hendricks shows herself growing into her own as a lyricist. As she blends her lines into every hook, Hendricks keeps the album on its toes, never fully repressing or freeing the darker feelings behind her words. Guppy then becomes a balancing act for Hendricks. Through its 10 tracks, there’s a clear struggle of emotional extremes—one relying on the band’s bouncing melodies and spirited lyrics, and the other, where Hendricks’ self-criticisms surface.

Hendricks first sees this as a reflection of herself, “I’m either 0 or 100 about everything, and I see myself always careening between ecstatic joy and feeling completely distraught,” she admits. Un-isolated, these moments fluidly move throughout the record, peering through in many of the group’s songs. One example being the synth-pop infused “Scare U.” whose bright upper melody relentlessly shakes on the drums below, only feeding into Hendricks’ anxiety and indecisiveness about a casual hookup. She repeatedly agonizes to herself, “I wanna talk about it but I don’t know what I mean / I don’t wanna scare you / I don’t wanna share you.” This is only furthered in tracks like Hendricks’ personal favorite, “DQ,” where she reflects on her insecurity in relationships, singing “I laughed when your dog died / Take me back, kiss my soft side / Does he love me most now that his dog is toast?” Through the entire album, each side of Hendricks’ extremes remain at constant contest, forcing herself and the group as a whole to wrestle them into balance. Stemming from deep inside herself, this outward struggle was never purposely embedded into Charly Bliss’ music or in Guppy. Through delving into the polar ends of Hendricks personality and fears, the record became an outlet for her to face her insecurities. Recalling her discovery of an old therapy “worry log,” Hendricks mentions the perspective she gained from reflecting on her past problems; yet, on the other hand, she was also surprised by how relatable they were, “I was like, fuck, I still spend so much hung up on the same general things. Am I disappointing everyone? Am I too much? Am I too loud?” And the singer feels similarly when looking back on Guppy today, “I’m not totally over the hurdle,” she shares, “but I think putting those feelings into lyrics…make[s] me laugh about all my deep, dark, personal fears and self-criticism [and] helps me not feel so consumed by that stuff.”

In writing out her personal anxieties, Hendricks tries to not wallow in them, but strip them of their power and laugh in their face. “To me, hopelessness isn’t really an interesting emotion,” she explains to me, “I think in Charly Bliss, I’m always trying to use our songs as a way to reframe certain things I hate about myself or others as funny, or at least just say, WHO CARES!” By undermining the power of her self-criticism, Hendricks narrows in on her goal of Guppy, or rather, Charly Bliss in general: honesty. “One of the most important things to me when I’m writing lyrics is saying things in the way that I would say them in real life,” she confesses, “I always want to give an accurate portrait of myself and my thoughts, ugly or otherwise.” Whether that means recalling the embarrassing moments of clinginess, or the time she peed herself playing popcorn on a Stanford University trampoline—Hendricks uses Guppy to lay herself out to her listeners, and does so in the most bold, poignant, and fearless way possible; both as an attempt to confront her own insecurities, but also to help others overcome their own and recognize the commonality of their experiences. “I like people who will risk humiliating themselves in order to relate to other people,” Hendricks shares, “It is the most comforting thing in the world to hear that someone else has had the same thought you’ve had that you’re terrified by or embarrassed of. I wan[t] [to] do that for other people more than anything.” As she topples her fears with stark wit and slight, Hendricks ultimately uses Guppy to further and unabashedly pierce deeper into pop’s depth. Finding small moments in each track, Hendricks takes a harsh look at herself in the mirror, but by the end, turns it back onto her listeners. She does so not with the intention of creating anguish or fear of ourselves, but in learning how to appreciate and humor our insecurities, Hendricks tries to teach us and herself one of the most valuable lessons: how to not give a fuck.

Listen to Charly Bliss on bandcamp.

THIS STAFF POST WAS CONTRIBUTED BY:

Amy Garlesky is a philosophy/political science student and freelance writer based in Cleveland, OH and Burlington, VT. Follow her ramblings on twitter @ayygarl.