Abi Reimold and the Pursuit of Pure Expression

Featured Image courtesy of Rachel Del Sordo

Wow, I’m gonna seem like a creep. I thought to myself. I was waiting to meet with Abi Reimold at Boot & Saddle and, to kill time before her arrival, I began to feverishly scan through my stack of notes containing lyrics, snippets from press, and whatever information I could dig up. I glanced up in time to catch Reimold smiling broadly as she approached my end of the bar. Before I could shuffle the pages away, she seated herself across from me and spotted the evident amount of journalistic creeping I had accomplished. I tried to apologize for my my usual brand off-putting enthusiasm, but she laughed and assured me that it was more than okay.

Since the release of her first full-length album Wriggling in late January, Reimold has been one of Philadelphia’s most talked-about new artists earning features from The Fader, Stereogum, Pitchfork, and many more. Written during a dark period two years ago, Wriggling is highlighted by a broad range of dynamics that serve to emphasize her candid lyrics. The album’s artwork, depicting a can containing a massive tangle of worms, represents the journey behind the record.

Album Art Courtesy of the Artist

Album Art Courtesy of the Artist

“Through writing these songs I feel like I was able to close that can and move on,” she revealed to The Fader. “Hopefully on to other cans with cooler stuff in them.” Reimold’s writing and approach to guitar are completely raw, never once sounding contrived as she challenges pop culture’s glorified notions of love, growing up, and relationships. She acknowledges the downsides we chose not to consider, admits her own flaws, and speaks frankly about her own conflicts. It is simply pure expression.

“My whole life people have told me ‘Wow, you’re such a weirdo,’” Reimold said. “I became really self-conscious about being or thinking differently. My music is kind of like processing what I think is right compared to what I’m being told.” There’s a certain sense of discovery within the songs on Wriggling, each one a revelation that could have only come from her. No one recognizes this more than Scott Stitzer, drummer for Philly Punk band Mumblr and the producer behind Reimold’s debut EP Forget and Wriggling.

“Abi isn’t somebody who makes mistakes because she is so unabashedly herself when she sings these songs.” Stitzer said. “When I listen to those songs, all I can think is ‘You feel that way and that’s why you wrote that song!’” Stitzer was in the process of recording Mumblr’s Full of Snakes as well as two other projects when Reimold approached him to record the Forget EP.

“There was something about her that [got] everyone excited,” Stitzer recalls. “I was [thrilled] she even asked me!” Stitzer filled in behind the boards and drums while Mumblr’s guitarist Nick Morrison assisted on bass. The guitars and lyrics were all written by Reimold. By the time Forget was released in February of 2014, however, Reimold had already started work on what would be her first full-length.

Abi Reimold

Photo courtesy of Rachel Del Sordo

The Wriggling sessions began with a few new faces. After spending time performing together, Reimold invited drummer Kevin Pascal, Mumblr guitarist Ian Amidon, and Nick Morrison to become her full band onstage and in the studio. Stitzer returned to produce, this time with engineer and production partner Nick Barnes. It began with Reimold teaching the band her tunes before tracking the entire album live with this lineup.

The band was quick to point out Stitzer’s role in the process, though you’ll never hear him admit to it.

“Any good producer takes no credit because I’m only useful when [I’m working] with someone like her,” he said. “A record is made great by the artist, and she really is an artist. She has something to say.”

In one of the many articles I had gathered, Reimold had alluded to exploring different ways of tuning and playing the guitar. According to Stitzer, Reimold had actually borrowed a friend’s guitar to record her parts. During the vocal and multi-tracking, however, Stitzer recalls Reimold’s frustration with how the guitar had turned out on the recording. It wasn’t until they had finished recording the vocals when Reimold bought a Fender Telecaster (two humbuckers, black body with a white pick-guard, specifically) from Mumblr’s Sean Reilly.

“She told me, ‘This is my guitar, this is my sound, this sounds exactly the way I want it to,’” Stitzer remembers. “Her and that guitar work well together and it allowed her to write parts much more easily than before. It did what she wanted it to.” Reimold immediately went back and re-recorded all the original guitar parts with her new Tele and has used the same guitar for recording and performing ever since.

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Del Sordo

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Del Sordo

The music is only half of Reimold’s strength as an artist. As a songwriter, she is able to empower her listeners rather than burden them. The opener “Arranged” sets the tone, beginning with Reimold crooning hoarsely over a quiet, plucky guitar riff before it erupts into a storm of distortion with her voice howling “My heart tells me I do too much I push myself till it gets stuck/in cycles of not holding back to dwelling on the things I lack.” It’s a honest self-examination that, nonetheless, draws you into the small worlds she has created within this record. One track that continues to stand out to me is “Clouded,” which illustrates the consequences of entering a relationship in order to avoid our own fear of loneliness.

“We’re told being lonely is bad,” Reimold adds. “[When] it’s about taking time to look inside yourself to become the best person you can be before you can be with someone else. Otherwise, you’re just going to be miserable with someone else.” Reimold remains conscientious of herself as well as her place in the world around her. This resonates the most on Wriggling’s penultimate track “Masks.” Reimold uses the song to point out how we all put up facades to get us through the day while we cope with our personal conflicts. In writing ‘Masks’ Reimold hopes to make her listeners more conscious of what’s going on with the people around us.

“I know it’s kind of a cliché but if you’re not nice to someone they could go home, feel worthless, and hurt themselves.” she reasons. “That’s tragic. So, if you can play some small part in making someone’s life better, that’s awesome.”

Reimold is more than aware of how the subject matter of her music impacts its reach. She admits that people need to be ready for that before they can listen to it, but remains unafraid to tread that territory. Reimold personally loves artists who manage to inspire others by just being unapologetically themselves.

“Every type of music has already been made,” she said. “Whatever your message is, whatever you have to say, however you can encourage people to be and love themselves… I don’t know if my music does that, but I love other people’s music that makes me feel that way.” She flashes a self-deprecating smile before adding “So anyone who has the emotional energy to listen to my record: bless your heart.”


Photo Courtesy of Rachel Del Sordo

The day after my interview with Reimold, I went out to Johnny Brenda’s where she was performing with her full band. Attending the show were a number of her friends and some Wriggling’s key contributors like Stitzer, drummer Kevin Pascal and Nick Morrison, who were more than happy to discuss their experience on performing alongside Reimold.

“Playing with Abi makes me think about how people would describe being in James Brown’s band.” Pascal said. “They’re apples and oranges as musicians, but they used to say that James Brown never played the same song the same way twice. As a performer, that’s honestly how it feels to play with Abi. I never know what to expect.”

“Sometimes she won’t even tell us what the setlist is until we’re already up there.” adds Morrison. Just as he mentions this, I spot Reimold approaching us wearing a knowing smile before darting past us as Pascal call after her wondering where their setlists were.

Without even intending it, I was able to see just how much Reimold’s friends and bandmates love and admire her. There were a lot of questions from spending so much time with Wriggling and wondering about the artist behind it. It soon became clear that she has largely left that time in her life behind.

“The record came from a part of my life, a growing process where I was learning about life.” she said. “It doesn’t represent where I am now.” For now, the future looks exceedingly bright for the young Philly artist. She continues to push herself as a musician and has already started work on her follow-up to Wriggling. On a personal level, Reimold remains grounded and unburdened, happy to revel in her success with the people she loves.

Be sure to catch Abi Reimold’s full band set at Johnny Brenda’s celebrating Wriggling’s release this Thursday April 28th at 9pm. Tickets are available here.

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