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  • Writer's pictureBabi PunkMag

Interview with Puddlejumper

Puddlejumper is a band consisting of Soleil Engin as the songwriter, lyricist, guitarist, and producer, and Hannah Wilson-Black as the vocalist. We are both students at the University of Chicago and met in a social science class. Our musical inspirations include Mitski, American Pleasure Club, Soccer Mommy, and Superheaven. In October, they released a debut EP, New Lies. "for reko muse" will be their first release since.

The song title "for reko muse" is inspired by the Reko Muse gallery space that Kathleen Hanna and Tammy Rae Carland opened to display feminist art being censored by their college. The song is about my experiences recovering from a sexual assault committed by one of my high school bandmates and by another student at my college. It is about both making art itself feel like a safe space again, after being assaulted by my bandmate, and using art as a means of healing, as was the case in both incidents. I really liked the idea of Reko Muse and having a safe space for creativity where cisgender heterosexual men were secondary, which is far from reality in the current patriarchal and cisnormative music scene. It is also about rejecting society’s general perception and treatment of sexual assault survivors, from victim shaming to gaslighting to framing the incident as something we should be grateful for since we’ve "learned and grown."

What drew you to the music industry?

Soleil: I’ve always been a creative person, I just never pursued it prior to college because I was so focused on getting to college. Once I had the space to really pursue music, I was just kind of drawn by my own idea of what I wanted my life to look like.

Hannah: My family is pretty musical, and I started singing, playing piano, and writing my own songs at age nine or so, but I’ve always had such a variety of interests that I didn’t start recording and posting my own music on Bandcamp until I was fifteen or sixteen and I wasn’t really interesting in forming a band until I got to college and realized that Soleil’s music fit really well with my vocal range (and I had more time to actually practice and record than I did in my high-pressure high school).

  1. How did you 2 meet?

Soleil: Hannah and I met in a social studies class our freshman year. We also happened to be in the same music club, which is where I heard her sing for the first time and decided I wanted her to be the vocalist of the project.

Hannah: Yeah once Soleil asked me to record vocals for an EP she wanted to put out, the band came together and we started recording music from our respective homes over the summer of 2020. Those songs became our first singles and the album New Lies.

  1. Who are you inspired by?

Soleil: My musical inspirations are quite disjointed. I would say that lyrically, I’m inspired by a lot of hardcore and postcore, especially Movements’ Outgrown Things EP. Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers, and Japanese Breakfast have also had significant influence on my musical style. Current Joys and Teen Suicide heavily influenced my production style. My inspirations are all over the place.

Hannah: I would actually also say that my inspirations are disjoined, but across a different range of genres haha. My normally warm, full, and emotive vocal sound definitely comes from the country and bluegrass music I grew up listening to in Virginia (think Alison Krauss, The Chicks, Amy Grant, and Reba McEntire). I really value songs with meaningful and clever lyrics, which has drawn me to Lorde, Halsey, and Taylor Swift but also to more folk and indie artists like The Last Bison or Lowland Hum.

  1. Please explain your creative process

Soleil: I pretty much always start with lyrics. Usually I’ll just get a line or two in my head, write them down in my notes app, and keep them there until the rest comes to me. It takes a while, but I find that it’s impossible to force creativity if I’m not feeling it. Once the lyrics are around 75% done, I’ll sit down with my guitar and mess around until a riff or chord progression comes to me, and then I put the two together. I also keep my voice memos full of random, little guitar parts I write and sometimes these just happen to fit with the lyrics.

Hannah: Soleil writes our songs and then usually she’ll send the lyrics to me and I’ll touch them up a little bit to make the number of syllables in each line more consistent, make images clearer, or edit out anything that’s repetitive, since I’m the one who will have to fit them on top of the music in a way that sounds natural to me. And she’ll also send me the guitar track and a voice memo of her demonstrating how and where she envisions the lyrics matching up with the guitar, where the chorus is, etc. And then I’ll send her a vocal track back to mix with the guitar. The process would definitely be somewhat different if we were able to record with each other in person all the time, but due to COVID and geographical differences we do a lot of remote production and recording and sending files back and forth.

  1. What’s an average day like for you?

Soleil: The vast majority of it is occupied by school, including both classes and homework. We’re both full time college students. It’s just about finding balance. Usually I spend all day doing school work and find an hour or two at night to work on music. Organization is really important, otherwise I would never have that time. An average day involves a few classes, a whole lot of homework, and a little bit of creative work as an act of self care.

Hannah: Definitely schoolwork is a big priority, and luckily I get to express myself creatively through some of my assignments since I’m a creative writing music. Generally I’ll attend remote classes, do my assignments, and then try to spend some time jogging or rollerblading outside. Time outside is really important to me, as is the time I tend to set aside towards the end of the day for playing music (which usually takes the form of me messing around on the keyboard and writing my own songs or playing covers).

  1. Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?

Soleil: Yes and no. I feel like the lyrics are pretty straightforward and honest, if not metaphorical. But I also really enjoy playing with contrasting a calm and happy sounding song with darker lyrics. I think this introduces an element of duality to the song so that if someone is just casually listening, they’ll miss the darker parts. They have to listen in to actually hear what the song is about.

Hannah: I definitely also try to reemphasize that dark-light contrast when I’m deciding how I want the vocals to sound.

  1. Do you collaborate with others? What is that process?

Soleil: I feel like everything Puddlejumper does is one big act of collaboration. After I write the lyrics and music, I record the guitar part and send it out to Hannah as well as the people who record bass and drums for us. Everyone writes their own part, records it, and sends it back to me. I don’t really specify what the final product should sound like, so it’s basically everyone putting their own spin on their part. I think we all collaborate in that sense; it’s not just one creative vision, but all of ours combined.

  1. What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?

Soleil: My favorite part about being a college artist is just the community it creates. Especially at a place like the University of Chicago, the arts are definitely a secondary if not tertiary focus of the student population as academics and professional development reign supreme. I think student artists like us are really gifted by being able to create community amongst all those interested in art.

Hannah: I always feel at home with people who are creators, whether they’re singers or instrumentalists or photographers or writers, so that’s my favorite part about recording and releasing music and sharing it with others - I love to engage with other people and their art as I’m producing my own. My least favorite part of making music is probably the amount of time I spent on social media to share news or promote songs we have coming out. But I’ve recently cut down a lot on the needless/”doomscrolling” time I spend online so that part of it bothers me much less now. Also sometimes trying to record the perfect vocal track can be frustrating but that’s usually just me holding myself to impossible standards haha.

  1. What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Soleil: Just do what makes you happy. I spent so many of my teenage years being the person I thought other people wanted me to be and absolutely burnt myself out with school as a result. Ultimately this burn out forced me to pursue music, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. Whatever your dream is, find people who whole heartedly support you in it and just go for it. I’m still pursuing a career outside of music too. I want to have options and I’m willing to set that up for myself. No one can tell me I can’t other than myself.

Hannah: You have to put in a fair amount of work just to teach yourself -- or sign up for a class to teach you -- the skills you need to record and produce on your own. Soleil mixes our tracks at the moment, but I’ve also mixed music using Garageband as my weapon of choice, and I’ve watched a lot of online videos about how to fix random little errors when recording and how to use an audio interface. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get the track to sound exactly like you want it to the first time, or the second time, or the tenth time. I promise you’ll notice a change in your sound over time and after a lot of experimenting, it just won’t happen overnight.

  1. How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

Soleil: The internet has made it much easier for smaller, independent artists to find listeners and a niche for themselves. That being said, it has also made surviving as a musician extremely difficult since we really don’t get paid from streaming services. This has been really apparent during COVID while artists and venues alike are struggling to pay rent and just survive really. It’s a difficult time to be financially dependent as an artist, but a great time to simply get your music out into the world.

Hannah: I’d echo everything Soleil says here. I think the Internet has also unfortunately exposed a lot of younger women musicians to comments about their bodies from strangers online (e.g. Billie Eilish). This is one of the reasons I think I would have a hard time taking on a full-blown music career at my age (20), so for now I’m glad to be working towards a college degree.

  1. What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Soleil: The best advice I’ve ever been given is two fold. The first piece came from my childhood guitar teacher. He told me that in order to be respected as a woman-identifying musician, I would have to work twice as hard as the man sitting right next to me. He was right. People look at woman-identifying musicians and start making assumptions about us right away. We have to work twice as hard to get the same respect even if we’re literally better than our male counterparts. The other piece of advice came from another guitar teacher who told me the only way to be a successful musician is to know that you wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I can’t imagine my life without creating music. It’s just a necessity and he helped me realize that.

Hannah: When I was at a vocal performance workshop a few summers ago, the teaching songwriter told all of us that we didn’t need to develop a dramatic vocal style in order to make moving music -- the key was to let the lyrics speak for themselves. For this reason, I always try to sing so the lyrics are clear and so that I’m leaning into the emotion, but not in a showy way.

  1. If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

Soleil: The sexism probably. The alternative music scene is rife with sexual assault, sexism, transphobia, and overall discrimination towards everyone who isn’t a cisgender man. This isn’t to say that these things are better outside the music industry, but they’ve kind of just been brushed under the rug in the alternative music scene as cisgender men put up a facade of being feminists when they really don’t care. I feel like this has been made even more apparent by the Burger Records allegations that broke this year. More changes still need to be made.

Hannah: I agree with Soleil, and I’d also say that I think we need to get rid of this idea that musicians shouldn’t ever express political or more “serious” opinions. Music is an excellent avenue for pushing social change, and I don’t think we can pretend that music exists outside of the rest of the world. I’ve definitely been disappointed by the way musicians -- especially female musicians -- like Beyoncé, The Chicks, or Taylor Swift have faced a lot of backlash for standing up for basic human rights or encouraging protests or voting.

  1. What’s next for you?

Soleil: We should have another single coming out close to summer that I am very excited for; it honestly might be my favorite song I’ve ever written. I don’t want to say too much because it’s so early, but I’ve also started writing our first full length album.

Hannah: When it’s safe again, I’m really looking forward to performing live at on-campus showcases or at other venues in the Chicago area.

We thank Hannah and Soleil for their time.


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