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Eliza McLamb Is Processing Prisms of Emotion

Eliza McLamb's most recent single, "Glitter” is a whirlwind spectacle of girlhood that peeks through the intimate depth of female friendships. In an elusive detailing that yearns for teenage nostalgia, she sings of the early relationships that blur the lines between romantic and platonic love, and those who teach you everything you know about love and connection. On her upcoming album “Going Through It,” McLamb expands on a similar emotional unraveling of her past, using tender instrumental to process trauma through softly spoken confessional ethos, a playful nod towards a weighty subject. Entering the music scene after sharing her songwriting on TikTok during the pandemic, McLamb quickly amassed a community of listeners, releasing her debut album Salt Circle in 2022, and is currently preparing for her sophomore release in January of 2024. In an interview with INTERSECT, the artist offers her candid opinions on everything from female friendships to the current landscape of artists on TikTok, opening up about her experiences that lend a hand to her vivid songwriting.

Your music is incredibly transparent, from trauma to familial turmoil, it feels like a candid page out of your personal diary. What about music coaxes that honesty out of you? And how do you maintain a balance between your personal life and the outside world when your songs are so vulnerable?

I think music for me has always been an avenue for expression and figuring stuff out, in that way, it’s sort of a necessity that it has to involve my emotions and that transparency because that’s the value that I get out of it. I think definitely when I write songs that in some way involve other people it's ultimately a subjective reckoning with myself, I'm always sort of having a conversation with myself through a prism of emotion that can sometimes involve more complex emotions. But frankly, I don’t usually consider what other listeners want to hear, that would kind of be antithetical to the whole reason I make music. I really love when it connects to people when it happens, but the whole point for me is that it's more of a lifeboat, I don’t really think of it in career terms as much as I think about it as something I’ve always loved doing and just now happened to have a career from it.

When did you realize that music served as a lifeboat for you, what was the first experience that allowed you to experience the cathartic symptoms of music?

I’ve been writing songs since I was six years old, so it’s always been a format that worked for me. I think it’s the perfect balance of, there is a certain structure that a song has that just made intuitive sense for me. I write most of my songs chronologically, so the first verse is the thing I usually write and then I figure it out from there in that way. So it’s always been a good format for me to process my emotions.

Glitter is a deeply personal narrative about platonic love and the ebb and flow of childhood friendships, especially those you have with your girlfriends. What is your relationship with this kind of experience? And how do you feel that these kinds of early relationships influence your perspective on romantic relationships and love?

Yeah I think I’ve always been a person that’s centered my platonic friendships, I’ve always had like a best friend and always felt like there’s that one person that I really connect with in that way. And I think I really embrace the spectrum of love and this sliding scale between platonic and romantic relationships always exists especially in relationships between women. It occurred to me when my friend Kate was going to move with me for a summer and live in my studio apartment with me and a bunch of people said to them, why would you move all the way across the country just to be with your friend but if it were my boyfriend no one would say anything. I've just found those relationships so meaningful and transformative and they are such a big part of my life. So that’s why there are so many love songs I’ve written about friends because it's the relationships with my female friends that have taught me how to love and receive love in a way that feels affirming to the whole person that I am because I think oftentimes with men I’ve felt valued as a caricature of myself. Historically speaking, I've really felt the most seen in my friendships and relationships with women and those have always been really important to me.

In sharing such an open visual into your world with your listeners, when do you feel most inspired to sit down and write?

I’m really inspired by people who dedicate time in their day to practicing their craft and I think that’s really impressive and admirable, but unfortunately, that’s never worked for me. I write when I feel really compelled to, which is often when I have complex emotions about something and I can’t quite figure out what’s happening, and my writing is actually a way of figuring it out. My best songs are the ones that embrace that complexity, that have multiple things going on and aren’t just about one clear cut emotion and circumstance.

When your music started taking off and you started working with your team to initiate PR campaigns and marketing, how did you maintain the genuine relationships you built with your music?

I’m grateful that everybody that I work with has no intention of changing the substance of my art, I’ve been really careful to select people on my team that are going to let me do what I want, and simultaneously selecting people who have a talent in the marketing sense that are able to distill these more emotional and nebulous things into a press briefing that people can understand on a marketing level. I've had many opportunities in my career to fast-track a way to more success or more money at the expense of my art and I decided early on that wasn’t something I was interested in doing. I’m looking to build a sustainable and honest career and if that means it takes a little bit longer or I never reach super star fame, I’m okay with that.

Looking back on the first couple years of your fame, especially in the pandemic age when you started to get traction on TikTok and artists were capitalizing on the phenomenon of instant virality, what was the biggest thing you learned, and would you do anything differently now?

No, I think I needed to learn a lot of those lessons, there are definitely decisions that I made that I wouldn't make now, but the only reason I wouldn’t make them now is because I already made them. I think as an artist in this social media landscape where things move so fast and you’re constantly encouraged to write quicker songs, more immediately gratifying songs, I think I needed that period of my life where TikTok did affect my writing and I was writing songs that were much more reductive and much more immediately satisfying but ultimately less true and meaningful. I think I needed that initial hit of viral attention to be like oh, this isn’t enough and this isn’t the point. So getting to the point where I could see a pathway. I had this song called “Pornstar Tits” that blew up on TikTok and was very much a TikTok song, it was my number-one song and was really popular. But I saw then a path that I could take where I could lean into this kind of cheeky, gimmicky songwriting and get really famous. But I decided that’s not what I wanted and I ultimately took that song down off streaming because it didn’t represent me and I’m not proud of it the way I'm proud of my other work. So I'm thankful for that period because it allowed me to see what really mattered to me in the end.

With such instant success especially on TikTok early on, how did you manage to maintain your authenticity in your voice and lyrics? Has your songwriting inspiration changed since the beginning?

I definitely think my songwriting went from something that was purely diaristic and cathartic for me, to something that I really started to approach as a craft. There’s a song that you can write that is very honest and true but there’s a way it also could be worked on to be literally a better song, a better representation of what you are trying to say. So I think that’s what the process is that I’ve moved into, is I will start to think consciously about the craft of the song as I’m writing it, so it’s this mix between cathartic pure emotional writing and a more general view of what I’m trying to do.

You first got your start on TikTok but have moved away from the platform since in terms of relying on it heavily to promote your music. Given your personal experience in the early stages, what is your opinion on TikTok as a streaming platform? And what do you think the downsides are to the instant virality?

I’ve written extensively about this and the commodification of songwriters and the effects that it’s having on young songwriters. The truth is that TikTok used to be a place for sharing and community because nobody was making money off it at the time, but as soon as people started making money off of it, it became an advertising platform for musicians. Which is a good thing in some respects, that as a platform it’s been democratized so that people without a ton of label money and without a ton of resources can have the opportunity to promote their music. But the reward system for TikTok is not in conjunction with the reward system looking for truly great art. TikTok is going to promote things that are immediately gratifying, that are simple, and that have mass appeal. Sometimes there are songs that fit all three of those categories and are great songs, but there are a lot of songs that have great qualities but won’t fit any of those, and those are the songs that don’t see success on the platform. In that case, if you’re a young songwriter on TikTok wanting to be successful through this avenue without other resources it’s harder, you know music is an increasingly difficult avenue to make any money through, and then in this way, you’re encouraged to simplify your art or commodify it in some way that’s easily digestible and I think that’s really bad for art. We are seeing a lot of the same songs without staying power and I’m not saying TikTok songs are bad at all, but the success of songs on TikTok is a very small window so my concern is that people are feeling the pressure of only making things that fit inside that window.


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