Angelica Allen of My Midnight Heard is one of Brooklyn's most electric emerging acts. She's toured as part of the nü-disco band Escort and with Trans Siberian Orchestra. If you haven't already heard, her latest album, "Chest of Hearts" is an orchestrated collection of her "dream world". Brooklyn Magazine founder Daniel Stedman sat down with her to find out what makes Brooklyn her home.
DS: You live in Ditmas Park now. Tell me how you made your way to Brooklyn.
AA: When I first moved to New York, I was living in Astoria for a while. I sort of had a love-hate relationship with it. I knew I belonged in New York, but I didn’t quite find my place yet. So some friends were like, “You should check out Ditmas Park.” So I went there once and I was just like, “Yes, I want to live here!” So when I went to look for apartments, it was literally the only neighborhood I looked in. It was the only idea I would entertain because I just knew I wanted to live there. And it feels right. I’ve been here for 3 and a half years and I just love it. It’s so Brooklyn to me, there are these residential houses, huge buildings, lots of trees. There’s the park, good food, and just amazing people from all over the world who live there. It’s great. I love living there. I have a great apartment where I would never go through the moving process if I didn’t have to. I will probably stay forever.
DS: What are your favorite places in the neighborhood?
AA: We have a couple of new places too. My favorite place is Oxcart, a gastropub. They used to serve food right up until they closed. Now they scaled back. It's literally two blocks away from my house. The food’s amazing; it’s a cool hang. We have this steak pizza place called Weeded, which is artisan, delicious pizza and bourbon cocktails . . . because you know, it’s Brooklyn. Then we have a couple of new bars, but it’s a small neighborhood. Every time anything opens, we see it on the Ditmas park blog. Then there’s Sycamore and everyone hangs out there, you know it’s like the hang in the hood. There’s a bunch of great coffee shops. It’s just all growing very fast.
DS: So does Brooklyn mean something to you?
AA: Brooklyn is home in a weird way. It’s not literally, but there is no other place I really felt like I belonged. Even living in Astoria or Manhattan, I always felt like a stranger. Then when I moved to Brooklyn, it just felt like, “Ok, yeah this is where you belong, this is home”. Going back and forth, whenever I come back, it just feels like I’m settled. Maybe not literally, but I just get this feeling like, "This is where you are and where you are supposed to be." I think it’s the most important feeling to feel, like “You’re here”.
DS: Do you think there is a certain romance taken away from one’s favorite artists once they “break-out” from the intimate Brooklyn scene? How can an artist preserve it?
AA: I think it’s in Brooklyn’s head. Even though Brooklyn is an awesome place to be making art where people appreciate it, no one wants to make art for them selves. An artist needs someone to see it to validate why you’re doing it in a way. I have a lot of friends that get mad when a band blows up but every artists goal is to be successful at what their doing. Its doing artists a disservice to say they, “sold out”. For me, music is meant to be shared. I like the idea of romance attached to it, but it’s not realistic to hold on to it so strongly. There is this whole other world besides the island of Brooklyn. It’s an honor to get out there and we should all be supporting one hundred percent of the time.
DS: How was playing Northside Festival?
AA: It was pretty amazing actually. We were pretty new at that point. There’s definitely something about playing in your hometown. You know you cross circles with people all the time, but that was a way to showcase something cool and be apart of something really awesome. There is something about playing a festival where you live and being with everyone you know. The whole day was this crazy Brooklyn energy where you can feel everyone zipping around. It was just like, "How much fun can we have in one day?" I love that feeling in festival season when you're just excited about absorbing as much music as you can. There were new artists, emerging artists, artists that have been around for years. It was this really solid, great memory for me.
DS: Do you have a favorite live performance?
AA: It sounds cliché, but each performance is so different for me. Like playing Northside was a pretty amazing moment because we had worked so hard to get there. It was one of our biggest performances to that date. It felt like this great benchmark kind of moment and on stage, it was the first time feeling like it was all real. The next moment was releasing the EP at Glasslands. We had this physical evidence of what we do and what we had worked so hard on. Having everybody there celebrating with you and having something that people could actually hold on to was another moment. I think there are going to be a lot of moments like that too. In New York, there’s this cycle of trying to get better at what you’re doing. Sometimes you can get caught up in the feelings of "what’s next?" You don’t have time enjoy your triumphs so it’s great to have those moments where I get to pause and feel like I actually accomplished something.
DS: Festival season is approaching. Do you think it’s the crowd or the artist roster that define a music festival?
AA: It depends honestly. With a certain roster, you’re going to attract a certain crowd, but if you’re curating the festival, you’re going to arrange artists based on the crowd. They can directly influence one another in the moment. They are all different. You can have the same group of artists in Madrid or in Brooklyn and it will be a completely different vibe. I’ve been to some really cool festivals and some lame festivals and it’s hard to determine what factor makes it so. You never know which side the energy will be placed on.
DS: Brooklyn is often referred to as this hub for creativity, where one is constantly surrounded by all sorts of fellow artists. How are the people you surround yourself with reflected through your music?
AA: Most of my friends are musicians which makes sense because we all work in the same field and it’s this community of sharing and getting ideas. But we’re all sort of also competing with each other and not in an intense way, but we just are. So there is this constant feeling of always trying to push each other, or I guess push one another away from this pack of extremely talented musicians to separate our selves. There is so much talent in this community and in innovation that you have to constantly be working and getting better at what you do. It’s inspiring and hectic and crazy, but it’s worth it. Now I’m sort of hanging out with visual artists which is so awesome because it’s not really my medium. It’s wonderful to bounce ideas around people who are artistic, but think about things in a completely different way. It helps to shape my music, I haven’t figured out how, but I can feel it shifting. There is this infinite potential in collaborating that is so exciting.
DS: Who are some of your favorite people that you collaborate with?
AA: There is this painter, Jake Nelson that I work with a lot. He does live paintings during gigs and helps me to do visual aspects of shows. Doctor Robert, who did the animation for the music video that I put out and he’s done some remixes for me as well. It’s hard to hear a song you wrote and hear it a totally different way. I sometimes have a hard time putting my art in other people’s hand and saying, “do what you want with it,” but he just treated everything with all the respect you can. Skye Steele is a violin player who plays violin and we’re working on string arrangements, which don’t really exist yet on paper, but it’s exciting to have this limitless potential. It’s exploring different sides of yourself through other people
DS: And who are some of your most inspiring figures?
AA: Björk, Radiohead, bands that I respect and I want to see how they have been successful. I’m sort of starting out in a way and it’s cool to see how they have it together. Just listening to these people I’ve respected for years and years and how they are changing their sounds and progressing. PJ Harvey is another good one. It’s crazy to see how they reinvent themselves every record. She said that each time she writes a record, she wonders how far she can get from the last record she did. It’s a mind-blowing way to think about recreating yourself and being extremely proactive about it. I’m into a lot of surrealist paintings and they influence my art directly. Also film, as well. Salvador Dali and Man ray.
DS: You said before, there was never a beginning to My Midnight Heart, but can you remember the moment you fell in love with music?
AA: When I was a kid, my dad would blast Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey and I felt a connection with that. Also, my mom was very strict and didn’t want us listening to the grunge music that was out there. So she pushed us towards classical music. I think it took me a while to figure out where I belonged in all of it, but I remember the moment I fell in love with songwriting and arranging. When my brother was visiting from college. I was 14 or so. My mom and I were moving in between Syracuse and Virginia and we had this big apartment with no stuff in it and we had these wooden floors. The sound would reverberate off the floors and the walls. My brother was listening to Björk and I could just hear this choir and it just felt like, you know when you see those cartoons when they smell something really good and their just floating, like they can’t help it. I was just drawn to it. I never heard anything like it before. I just remember going in the room and needing to know what it was and at that moment, it changed from singer-songwriter to wanting to create worlds, and build something
DS: Some of your music is pretty intimate. Is there a satisfaction in being able to express and share these parts of yourself with the world or is it still a scary process for you?
AA: I think there are levels of scariness. It feels good. Like when I’m writing, I’ll free-write and then when I’m writing a song, I’ll get a melody or a chord progression in my head. I have years of years of journals. There is a point in time when I’m just getting it out there - actually writing the song - when no one is listening and there’s no vulnerability there cause it’s not real yet. It’s not really until it’s recorded and people are listening until I think about what I actually wrote and at that point, then it becomes scary. It’s also different cause when I’m on stage, I adopt this persona and though the lyrics are personal and sentimental, I think people think it’s attached to this other persona - that isn’t necessarily me. It helps to distance yourself from that. I can’t think too much about that or else maybe the music would suffer. That’s songwriting though. It’s about stripping away these parts of your self and hoping that people can find parts of themselves that relate to it. It’s about taking off these masks and just being bare-naked with all these other people. It’s a community where you have nothing else; all you have to do is share with whatever you have left.