Breaking Down BREAKING UP: An Interview with Rural Internet
Rural Internet is a group that has summed up many of my more acute and “meta” feelings over the last year and proposed ideas through their music that I hadn't considered before. Their new record BREAKING UP isn’t actually a breakup album; instead, it’s a watershed moment for the multinational trio that left me with a head-spinning catharsis. There’s a level of eclecticism reached in their music that I feel I’d do a disservice in trying to describe in my own words, so I decided to let Rural Internet give in-depth context to it themselves in their interview debut.
Jesse Taconelli: Something I immediately noticed is that each member has a very distinct vocal style, and I found it easier to distinguish between you more than many projects that trade verses like yourselves. Can you tell me about who and what informs your flows and delivery?
zombAe: My distinctness comes from essentially having a chip on my shoulder. The first record, SHOPPING MUSIC, I was really, really focused on just getting words down on paper more than anything but this time it was a lot about proving myself to stay in the group. I'm the only person in the group with a primary hip-hop background, I was like battle-rapping and shit, on some 8-Mile shit. So my influence is a lot from Wu-Tang, Danny Brown, and so on. But in a modern context, way more than the others. I'm the only one who doesn't produce out of the whole group so I gotta try to have the best verse.
Charlotte Crosby: I started out mostly as a singer, but over the past couple years I've been more and more just inspired by hip hop vocally and rapping. Luca helped out a lot in me learning how to rap, and deconstructing our big influences and why we love them. Also, I feel a large part of my rap sound is from being a trans woman, which means I have to be in a particular register of my voice in order to still sound feminine, but also not just be in falsetto shrills. I've always respected trans vocalists who are willing to just own whatever voice. Personally, I have really bad vocal dysphoria, so I basically had to find the range that I can exist in.
doin’ fine: Something that informs my flow is the mixing pot of influences - a lot of people call out my influence of JPEGMAFIA, or MSI, or any given BROCKHAMPTON member, and I think that's important to recognize - I attach onto flows and strong emotions and emulate it in my unique experiences. Another thing that influences that is the fact that I've got a noticeable Australian accent, and I mean, there's a lot of studies that show how music is very directly affected by different dialects and language regions. When you think of Aussie rappers, you just get people like Iggy Azalea, who's notorious for not doing her accent, so it's important for me, without getting nationalist, to embody that different voice.
JT: Can you walk me through the way many genres are utilized on BREAKING UP? Sometimes there are massive shifts in the same song, or two unique styles juxtaposed at the same time.
DF: My background was EDM for like, 4 years, so it's an inescapable influence for me. In songs like "Government", or "Infested", those songs use a really heavy influence from genres like neurofunk, or dubstep, I’d just call them EDM songs at their core. But name a Rate Your Music user, or a Fantano listener, that has any versed ear in those areas of music? It's not just bringing these sounds to a new listener base, but it's presented in a new, destructive way, where I’m incorporating those heavy bass genres into experimental areas. And of course, it's my own take on the sounds to make them more aggressive or oppressive. When I first discovered that music it blew my mind, and I know I can make it do the same to others, it's just a recontextualization of it to imbue it with genuine life and soul. Luca [zombAe] is totally regretting being in the band because now people only send them Mr. Fijiwiji type beats.
CC: I never really cared about genre boundaries too much. Like I never set out a song and go "this has to be a hip hop song or this has to be a rock song", We just sort of make music using the tools we have at our disposal. Whether we're expressing through guitar solos, rapping, loud 808s, folky banjos, it's all just techniques. Plus if you're not afraid to make those combinations, you are bound to end up making something unique. Rural Internet is kinda built on the philosophy of becoming a beautiful combination of everything you love without compromise, and genre is just a part of that.
Z: It's escape room, essentially. It's a new-ish genre that's defined by ethos rather than simply sonics. You can look it up on Spotify and it's a bunch of weirdness like, Noname to Charli XCX. If you think solely about the sonics it doesn't really make sense but if you think of the experience that these artists bring. It's almost like, not being bound by the expectations of the audience to what you're going to bring to them. That's what I think music's gonna be like in the future because every one of my friends who make music listen to everything and want to make everything. We're all from different backgrounds, I'm from a backpacker hardcore hip hop sort of place, Charlotte's background is metal first and foremost and Vriska [doin' fine] is from EDM. And we're in a band so of course it'll be reflected.
JT: Gender and sexuality are topics explored on both the bangers and more pensive moments. Can you expand on this?
Z: Well, it's like, just a normal thing in a hip-hop context. So many rappers talk about sex, like Megan, DaBaby, stuff like that. You know when Drake's in his bag, he's talking about sex, when Drake's down bad, he's talking about sex. Danny Brown's my favorite rapper and he put it as it is basically the universal topic. A dude in South Africa will react to that the same way to sex as someone from Harlem. Shout out to South Africa. Someone there dropped acid to the album and DMed me about it.
DF: There's a pitfall that can happen as a trans person making art, where with every piece you make, there's some nerd on the internet who inherently links it to your gender no matter what. to some level, my gender influences my experiences a lot, but that doesn't render my art exclusively about that. I can't speak for other people's verses, but personally, on “die girl” and “Beginning of the End'', that's where themes of gender get expressed for me. only two songs, and both pensive, so for me I like to make it sparse yet impactful.
CC: Gender, identity, and sexuality affect me in a lot of different ways so it just makes sense to me to express it a lot of different ways. I just wanted to paint a full picture of my experience on this album.
JT: Charlotte, you play a plethora of instruments on the LP. When did you begin to hone your instrumental abilities, and what has your journey as an artist been like?
CC: I started playing guitar about 9 years ago. My Dad played in a small rock band when I was growing up. He lent me some of his equipment and taught me a little bit of guitar and I played in his bands, mostly playing a lot of rock cover songs. I started to want to record my own music, which required more instruments, and other than my Dad, nobody wanted to play music with me because I didn't really have many friends growing up, so I just learned all those instruments largely out of necessity to get the sounds I wanted for my recordings. Gathering and learning instruments over the years, many of them hand-me-downs, many of them gifts, many of them cheap instruments I bought in a thrift store. I also started learning production and vocals (which most people told me I was terrible at singing, even close family and friends told me not to sing, but it was what I wanted to do). But yeah, eventually I just learned a lot of instruments and now that I know them, they are all used to be part of the greater sound that goes into the band.
JT: Doin' Fine, you have a very interesting catalog of solo work in noise-pop and glitch-pop territory. Does this play into your work at Rural Internet, or are you operating differently in this setting?
DF: My past two albums, TEEN MILF PRIDE FLAG (TMPF) and TWINKS GOING TO HELL FOR BEING TWINKS, despite being really pop-influenced, I don't really perceive them as pop records. It's really my efforts to combine electronica with rock, because I was super influenced by musicians like EDEN, or Stephen, or Crywolf. TMPF was my infatuation with Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest sonically, and the worst year of my life, emotionally, expressed in an hour 25 epic. That album is very much a drum-focused one, a combination of acoustic and electronic drums, often at the same time. Bands like Primal Scream or OTT influenced the groove a lot. TWINKS was me approaching that electronic-rock combination through sampling, instead. Sampling rock to make a folk-punk album, super influenced by AJJ. So I see that solo work as rock over pop, but on an influence level for Rural, it's less the sounds and more the ethos that influences my work on that end with Rural.
JT: Zombae, you have a song coming this week with blackwinterwells. What was it like to work with them?
Z: I love Wells, I kinda just randomly ran into them around the end of last year through one of their friends, dr0wng, and they were super supportive the whole time. Not only are they a giant pioneer in the scene but they're a really good person because they were nothing but embracing when it came to me. This next one is really not what you'd expect from the average blackwinterwells beat, the single's called “Bat” and it's got me getting all aggressive and in your face over a crazy-ass beat. She specifically said that she made the beat weird because she knew I was going to hit it. Anyways, really easy, we've got a couple of songs in the stash together, one produced by her and one featuring her vocally on my next solo tape. One of my best friends on this earth.
JT: The front end of BREAKING UP has these bass-heavy bangers, and slowly opens up in a really beautiful way starting around the track Terror Reid where experimental/indietronica reminiscent elements and personal lyrics take the focus. What informed this decision?
Z: BREAKING UP's progression kind of starts with “Huh.” “Brainworms” was made at the end of recording as sort of like a prologue to the entire album. But, the stretch from “Huh” to “PERSEPHONE” is like, the gradual losing of your mind through isolation. Very inspired by quarantine. “Huh” is about the lack of sleep, a pestering, annoying sort of song that draws up a feeling of unwell. “Government” is about how this is the year where everyone was forced to be political as we saw the systems around us prove to be useless. “Starving” is about an unmitigated, ugly lust from lack of human communication. “Chains” is about being bound to one area of course. And “Infested” and “Persephone” combine as a sort of breaking point, a shattering of your psyche. “Terror Reid” and “Beginning of the End” is (you) slowly bringing yourself back together. “Mars Girls” and “Lets Go” actually manage to be a bit optimistic, with some joyful moments. “Die Girl” is the giant conclusion, simultaneously the darkest thoughts and the most inspiring thoughts of the record to just, move on with your life.
CC: That was something that was very much part of our intention. We had made about 50 or so songs after Shopping Music, so we put together a sort of track listing using the beats and little bits of songs we had and we had put together with the idea of a sort of progression in the sound. A lot of the lyrical themes were built around this progression, and we used it to tell our story of our life in the past year in quarantine.
DF: For me, the switch up at Terror Reid is one that makes a listener go "ooooh, hold on, what's happening here?", like, it totally draws people in cause it creates a sense of genuineness that secures the album as serious to a lot of people - there's direct artistic practice evident. to me it's a hook, it's an engagement point, and that's super valuable in an album's structure.
JT: BREAKING UP doesn't seem to be a breakup album, and there's a point where Charlotte says "the only thing that's breaking up in here is just me." Explain the title and any overarching concept of the LP a bit.
CC: (The project) means a lot of things to me. Specifically, I go a lot into BREAKING UP as in breaking up emotionally and feeling fractured. I'm mentally ill, and a lot of my reality feels fractured and it feels like me, and the world around me is breaking up. Which plays into themes of the album a lot. To me, the album is a lot of struggle, but also fighting back. It's the belief that even us, broken, mentally ill, and scarred, can make it out and survive and make something beautiful.
DF: To me, BREAKING UP is best illustrated with a space shuttle, breaking up on re-entry. It's about this forceful, dissecting crucible that totally obliterates and rearranges yourself. The passage at the end of “Die Girl” is the best summary for me, especially the lyrics "breaking up on re-entry, the core’s caught fire // thrusters on empty, reckon it’s alright // because at least we reached the stars”. That's the best way to put it - yes, you've been completely deconstructed by these god-awful forces in life, but does that make you ruined, or discardable? No, you have to “break up, to break out // break down, to break free”. It's the ultimate absurdist, existential philosophy. You have to keep this trainwreck moving.
Z: BREAKING UP was originally supposed to be released around Valentine's Day, it was supposed to intensely bring up painful experiences. Like, the worst experience most people have, the most traumatic bit is well, a breakup. So we wanted to prepare people, this is a summation of some of the scariest and harmful moments in all of our lives. You have to prepare people for that, and give people the idea that they can move forwards from it.
JT: In which ways do you actively set yourselves aside from the new wave of Internet-based pop and hip-hop?
Z: Most of them are singles artists, you know? We still believe in the album and well, stories and large narratives more than anything, to encompass loss and hurt at a grand level rather than looking for a hit. We lost a lot of inspirers last year, DOOM, Sophie, people like that. We're trying to be people like that rather than being something that can crossover easily. We wanna make music to fight what people are going through rather than being worried about a hit.
DF: To me, the band My Chemical Romance totally embodies that idea. That's like, Gerard Way's mission statement -- it's the subversion of death through experience with it. It’s why one of my favorite choruses of all time is on “Famous Last Words,” (where he says) “I am not afraid to keep on living”. It's not the fear of death, it's the fear of living, and then tackling it head-on, an existence through rebellion and spite. That's extremely important. A trans person (is) dying every other week, and I wanna keep my friends and siblings as alive as possible.
CC: I feel like just having a wide range of influences and our willingness to show off helps us stand out. Whether it be doin' fine's insane production knowledge from coming from EDM, Luca's very deep background in a lot of hip and unique voice and range, me playing a bunch of instruments and incorporating styles from genres that just don't get combined very often, or just a willingness to put a ten-minute song mid-album, or just anything like that. Just being willing to say “I am able to do this, and I like this'' is very powerful.”
BREAKING UP is now available on Rural Internet's BandCamp and on all streaming platforms.