“Know­ing that I was sup­ported emo­tion­ally made it so that, ‘Oh, I can be pissed now! I can say th­ese things, I can be seen.’”

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - PG. 23

ON HER LAST AL­BUM AS U. S. GIRLS, 2015’s Po­laris Mu­sic Prize-short­listed Half Free, Meg Remy’s sam­ple-based song­writ­ing reached sto­ry­telling heights only pre­vi­ously hinted at by turn­ing a spot­light on women’s lives. She used each song to ex­plore “a dif­fer­ent fe­male char­ac­ter that was ex­press­ing some sort of in­ner nar­ra­tive,” she told Im­pose mag­a­zine that year. But where Remy tried to oc­cupy a neu­tral, al­most jour­nal­is­tic space in telling the sto­ries of Half Free’s women, new al­bum In a Poem Un­lim­ited holds noth­ing back. Remy’s pissed.

“When I started mak­ing Half Free,” she says, “Trump was just start­ing to make noise about run­ning.”

The re­lease of that min­i­mal­ist record, which found Remy singing over dis­torted dub, soul and disco sam­ples, was im­mi­nent, and she was about to play a show when she watched the first Repub­li­can de­bate.

“I was so up­set that I lost my voice. The show I had to play, I had no voice, but I was so pissed, I was, like, scream­ing on­stage. Mak­ing [ In a Poem Un­lim­ited] around the time that he was nom­i­nated, every­thing be­came so un­real that you couldn’t even be scared; it felt like a glitch in the pro­gram, so it also felt like I was free to do what I want.”

Remy em­braced her anger, chan­nelling it into songs like “Mad As Hell,” about the way Obama’s charismatic pub­lic im­age ob­scured his trig­ger-happy drone strikes; “In­ci­den­tal Boo­gie,” about a woman who equates phys­i­cal abuse with love; and “Pearly Gates,” in which St. Pe­ter abuses his po­si­tion of di­vine power to co­erce women into sex be­fore en­ter­ing heaven.

If Half Free shone a spot­light on the lives of women, In a Poem Un­lim­ited moves it slightly off-cen­tre, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the men lurk­ing on the shad­owy pe­riph­ery. It of­ten turns ugly, as on “Vel­vet for Sale,” in which one woman im­plores another to get a gun and con­front the man that’s abused her: “Don’t of­fer no rea­son,” she sings; “In­stil in them the fear that comes from be­ing prey.”

It’s a righ­teously an­gry and ex­hil­a­rat­ing song, from its propul­sive breath-based open­ing per­cus­sion and densely har­mo­nized cho­rus to the re­venge fan­tasy lyrics, but look closer and you’ll see the nu­ances that, though they’ve long de­fined Remy’s work, stand out even more starkly here. In the song’s se­cond verse, the first woman of­fers to the se­cond that, “This’ll surely feel against your na­ture, but girl, you gotta move on; guar­an­tee at least one bul­let goes be­hind the eyes, be­cause they al­ways could come back for more.”

Us­ing the gun feels “against [the se­cond woman’s] na­ture,” and why not? Even in a re­venge fan­tasy, Remy’s char­ac­ters aren’t femmes fa­tales — they’re hu­man be­ings.

“So much of the stuff that plays with this fe­male fan­tasy re­venge stuff…” Remy pauses; “I feel like a lot of it that I’ve con­sumed is made by men. And it’s like, ‘That’s not how it would be!’ I was think­ing, if you were armed, would that make you feel dif­fer­ent, would you find a se­cret con­fi­dence and power? I don’t think so. It would be con­flicted; there would be more go­ing on there. I’ve had in­ter­views for this record where the in­ter­view­ers were like, ‘All your char­ac­ters are like Quentin Tarantino char­ac­ters.’ It’s like… okay. They’re not sup­posed to be sexy.”

Adding another layer of com­plex­ity to the the­matic dark­ness of the record is the fact that, son­i­cally, th­ese are some of the most mu­si­cally buoy­ant U.S. Girls songs to date, wrapped in funk and disco genre tropes and sparkling, ra­dio-ready pro­duc­tion.

“A spoon­ful of su­gar makes the medicine go down, you know?” Remy ex­plains. “It’s that con­cept, know­ing full well that if I wanted to re­ally go for it with the lyrics, I’d have to wrap it up in some­thing that was not scary, that was di­gestible.”

More sim­ply, though, th­ese are just the sounds she wanted to ex­plore. Remy hired a band and pro­duc­ers that would turn the sam­ples of Half Free into full-bod­ied funk, pop and soul songs, re­plete with sax­o­phone and a ro­bust rhythm sec­tion.

“The pro­duc­tion, and the ac­tual mu­sic, just kind of went in­sanely in the pop di­rec­tion once we de­cided to do that — that was partly be­cause of the peo­ple we col­lected to play on the record. There are a few dif­fer­ent writ­ers on the al­bum, some of which I’ve been writ­ing with for a while — one of them is my hus­band, Max Turn­bull; another is Louis Per­ci­val, who goes by the name On- ak­abazien; and this guy Rich Morel, who’s from the States — who un­der­stood what we were try­ing to do, un­der­stood the lan­guage and the song con­cepts and were able to re­ally nail it.

“I’m a mu­si­cian,” in­sists Remy. “I’m not a lec­turer, or a re­searcher. I want to have fun, and I want lis­ten­ers to have fun as well, but you can have fun and think at the same time, and work to­wards a greater good.”

That abil­ity to marry seem­ingly in­con­gru­ent things — mur­der­ous re­venge fan­tasy with emo­tional nu­ance, sad mes­sages with up­beat funk — is re­flec­tive of Remy’s mind­set th­ese days. The world is a ter­ri­ble place, she knows, but she’s been able to carve out a space of hap­pi­ness and dis­tance from which she can con­front it and call it out.

“From a young age, I suf­fered abuse, and I was ba­si­cally told, ‘Deal with it. It’s part of life. Men do th­ese things, and it’s our job to not let them crush us, but carry on and don’t say any­thing.’ There was a suc­ces­sion of things, grow­ing up, and it wasn’t un­til I moved out of the U.S. that I iden­ti­fied that anger.

“Hav­ing a bor­der be­tween me and my past made me fear­less. And be­ing in a new fam­ily, my cho­sen fam­ily — my hus­band and his fam­ily and my friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors — made me re­al­ize how much bet­ter it could be. Know­ing that I was sup­ported emo­tion­ally made it so that, ‘Oh, I can be pissed now! I can say th­ese things. I can be seen.’ All in­stinct and the world is telling me, ‘Stay home, read books, maybe go back to school,’ but the pot is boil­ing right now. I have to say this stuff.”

“I was so up­set that I lost my voice. The show I had to play, I had no voice, but I was so pissed, I was scream­ing on­stage.”

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