"Let Yourself Go On The Journey": Drew Citron On Her Solo Album 'Free Now'

[Cover photo credit to Ebru Yildiz]

Singer/songwriter Drew Citron is releasing her debut solo album, Free Now, on October 9th from Park the Van, building on an impressive array of musical experience in bands like Beverly and Public Practice, as well as touring with other bands, building on an Alt-Rock sound with elements of Punk ethos.

Drew Citron's new songs take on sounds that veer in multiple directions that would have been harder to fit under previous umbrellas, but also address a depth of personal experience in a very direct way. Her single "Summertime" was released alongside a video that homages the film King of New York. Today, the release of her new single and video for "Kiss Me" has also given a taste of the album to come. As the title Free Now suggests, Citron is encouraging audiences to go on a journey with her and see what awaits after you go down the rabbit hole.

Drew Citron previously joined us on our Tower Instagram Live show, which you can still catch here, and she also spoke with Tower's PULSE! about her own journey towards her solo album debut below.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Have you been in Brooklyn throughout the pandemic?

Drew Citron: Yes, I’ve been at home in Bushwick.

HMS: How have things been in Brooklyn for you? How does that compare to Manhattan?

DC: The general consensus seems to be, “Just keep wearing your masks and everything is going to be fine.” Aside from not touring or going back to work, I feel a little more back to normal than I did.

HMS: It’s good to have a little bit of breathing room. It’s hard to keep up the pace of panic from the early days.

Congratulations on quite a big process of creating a new album and getting it out there at this time. I think new music is really important for people right now. It brings a bright spot to peoples’ lives.

DC: Thank you, I agree. The response I got to the first single I put out was pretty overwhelming. It came in the wake of the disappointment that I wasn’t going to be able to play any shows or play at SXSW as I had planned to do. So I thought, “Whatever, I’ll just throw it on the internet.” But the response has been really overwhelming. People are at home streaming and watching videos, and they need to explore new things.

There’s also the old school approach to listening to music, where you might hang out with your roommates one night and just put records on. That’s the activity for the evening. It’s really nice. I’m an album-listener, too. I love to listen to something top to bottom and let it grow on me. That’s definitely what this record is and I hope that’s how people listen to it.

HMS: That’s wonderful. I’m secretly really happy when people say that because I like the storytelling aspect of music and how albums fit together. But I never want to insist that that’s the only way to do it, because many people do things differently these days.

I agree with you. Some people are able to listen to music in a more focused way right now. Whole albums, whole libraries. It sounds like you might be a vinyl collector.

DC: I am. I have downsized my collection considerably because I’ve moved apartments several times, but I used to DJ vinyl a lot in Brooklyn. There’s nothing like it. It’s so fun to put together an evening, and throw a party and bring a crate of things you’ve picked out.

I’m like this, on tour especially, but wherever I am, I’ll end up at the local record store, or the local thrift store, or the local bookstore. I’m a physical collector of items. You will never be disappointed starting up a conversation with the people at the record store. That’s kind of what I did when I moved to New York. I just hung out at Academy Records a lot. I’m still friends with those people today. I really do cherish our small, local music-supporting industries. I really hope that these small businesses can survive, including our local venues.

HMS: It’s a big concern right now. I don’t have answers but I’m trying to at least keep an eye on things. I think it’s really cool how some people are streaming concerts from venues and the venue gets the proceeds from the concert. Though I know that’s only a tiny fraction of the deficit right now.

You mentioned the move to New York. I think you’re from the Bay Area, originally. What made you come out to New York and make it part of your musical life?

DC: I came out here for college and I stayed because I don’t know where else I could pursue music with the same level of community, and support, and excitement, and opportunities. A while ago, when I first started playing in bands and touring, it really felt like New York was the place to make it happen. The scene that I came up was so supportive, and there are so many awesome venues. So many have opened in recent years and the calibre of sound is skyrocketing. I’m also a live sound engineer, that’s what I do for work. Everyone is upping their game and it’s awesome. I still think it’s a great place to be in a band, starting out.

HMS: So you engineer sound for live events?

DC: Yes, I’m a front of house engineer. I do sound for shows. I also do my own recording and I’ve recorded other peoples’ bands, too, though I’m less of a studio person. But I did a lot of the recording for this record myself.

HMS: What are your preferences in terms of setting up sound and recording?

DC: I like to experiment. For this record, I got into different ways of demoing. I got into using a 4-track for the first time. I got into using an 8-track that one of my bandmates had borrowed indefinitely. I finally bought my first fancy microphone this year. I had always borrowed what was around my practice space because I happen to be surrounded by a bunch of audiophiles, insane mixers and engineers in their own right. It’s all about experimentation. Like it’s no secret that the iPhone voice memo somehow captures the best acoustic guitar sound possible.

HMS: That is so wild! I’ve heard that.

DC: I’ve talked to a lot of people about that. The compression is amazing. Usually, it’s a process of experimenting, recording something, writing while you’re doing it. Obviously, it starts with a recording, then you demo it. The next stage is usually a process of painstakingly trying to recreate the vibe of the demo using nicer gear. It’s usually just a gut-wrenching leap from the demo to what you end up with.

More often than not, I end up somewhere in between the two, where my mix or my demo might actually make it on the record. That’s what the process has been on this record, and I’m also actually recording my second solo album now. It’s half-way done.

HMS: That’s so amazing. Congratulations. Anyone who can get anything done during this time gets my applause.

DC: Thank you so much, I agree. Quarantine has been good to me, it’s just really, really, depressing and I wrote a lot of music in the beginning of it. In the beginning of quarantine, I was in denial about how long it was going to last. It was because I was in an optimistic headspace that I went to the studio every day. You just gotta strike when the iron is hot on that because it’s rare when the inspiration and productivity align.

HMS: That sounds different from the process of working on Free Now, which took some time, I think.

DC: That took two years [Laughs]. I’m a slow releaser of music, that’s for sure. That’s not to say that I’m not prolific, but it’s been a long path to this release.

HMS: Creating Free Now must be a step toward becoming more of a solo front-person. How does this album help you take that step?

DC: It’s funny because with Beverly, I was the front-person, and it all was really my music. That was really the beginning of that, but this album, and using this name puts me more in the center. The press shots and videos revolve around me. Beverly has always been my music, but I think this is an important distinction that I’ve grown beyond Beverly. The personnel for live shows is changing, though we might not start doing that until next year now.

It’s a good umbrella for me to release the singer/songwriter stuff, the Alternative Folk-leaning stuff, music that really centers on my own experiences and my voice, mainly. Beverly was a band that was very melody-heavy, but it was usually buried in harmonies and reverby vocals, and I think I’m moving more in a direction of being vocally front-and-center. Also, more focused on the personal elements of the songs.

HMS: That makes a lot of sense. Is that at all scary, to be a bit more exposed in having more personal elements in the songs?

DC: It’s terrifying, however a lot of this music meant so much when I was writing it. Those are things that I went through, in some cases, years ago now, and in that sense, I can be a little more removed from the work. It is scary, but sometimes you have to be brave and it’s taken me a long time to get here.

I love the collaborative aspect, too. I love putting a band together, even if it’s me in the front. I love to do behind-the-scenes stuff, too. Behind the scenes like carrying amps at three in the morning.

[Photo credit to Alexandria Spencer Foot]

HMS: I like that example! Are there sound traditions that you were working in when you first got started, and if so, how does that compare with where you are right now?

DC: When I first started Beverly, I started being a powerful stage presence, creating songs that would really allow me to shred and have a fun time on stage. It otherwise felt very gendered, though I hate to say that. Being a girl in a band in 2012 is very different than it is now, even though that wasn’t very long ago. So this was very much about showing up, brushing your shoulders off, and shredding, which was fun.

I was very influenced by a lot of 90s Alt-Rock female-fronted bands. Those were some of my favorite bands growing up, so the whole project was about having fun and rocking. I still think that Kim and Kelley Deal have achieved the greatest guitar tones ever recorded, and the vibiest songs, and I really do still think about them when I’m recording. But also, I’m a little more focused now on songs, and being myself, and having a distinct voice. It kind of doesn’t have to be genre-specific for me. This record is very dynamic, it’s all over the place genre-wise.

HMS: I think it’s really interesting for that reason. I’ll say something controversial: it seems like many of these genre distinctions are getting more and more complicated and less and less possible to keep distinct from each other in terms of what is actually being made. It’s becoming unrealistic for an album to come out all in one genre lately.

DC: I wish I was more like that, to be distinctive. It can be important. Maybe I’ll be more like that on the next record, we’ll see.

HMS: Do you have any hints about the sequencing on the album and how people should listen to it?

DC: I don’t have a good answer for that, but it’s meant to suck you in and take you down the rabbit hole in a certain way. The first track is a slow burn, then you come through the tunnel of that, and it opens up on a bigger landscape. So let yourself go on the journey, I would say, and I’d probably recommend listening to it on a long car ride.

HMS: It’s being released on vinyl, right?

DC: Yes, we’re doing a limited run of colored vinyl.

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