Brooklyn band Charly Bliss have long specialized in bratty, ’90s-worshipping, bubblegum poppy-rock, dosed in sick riffs and kitschy lyrical metaphor. In the two years since their debut album, Guppy, and on their forthcoming sophomore release Young Enough, the group, fronted by the inimitable rasp of vocalist Eva Hendricks, has evolved: they’ve ditched protracted guitar solos for synths and drum machines, narrative revelations for emotive ones. That’s evident in their latest single “Chatroom,” and its cultish video, which debuts on Jezebel today.
Hendricks and I spoke over the phone about the song. “I was sexually assaulted by someone I dated and I wrote ‘Chatroom,’ and most of Young Enough, as a way of processing that experience and explaining it to myself,” she shared in a statement prior to our talk. “‘Chatroom’ is a song about reaching ecstatic joy through consuming rage. Simply put, it’s a colossal ‘fuck you’ and a celebration of reaching the point of a ‘fuck you’ that isn’t diluted by self-blame or apologies.”
Watch the video and read our conversation below, which has been edited for clarity and length.
JEZEBEL: The most noticeable shift in your new material compared to your older stuff is the introduction of synth. Both on “Chatroom,” and the other single from your forthcoming album Young Enough, “Capacity,” which has a drum machine on it. Was that intentional, or the result of experimentation?
EVA HENDRICKS, CHARLY BLISS: I think it’s a little bit of both. We didn’t want to make the same album twice, especially with how much time went into Guppy, and how many times we remade it. We recorded it twice. By the time we put it out, in that specific style of music, we had said exactly what we wanted to say and it was time to move on and challenge ourselves in a new way.
We all love pop music, increasingly so. In general, the attitude towards pop music has really changed, I think, in a positive way. People are less embarrassed to admit they are a super big fan of Kesha or Carly Rae Jepsen or Lorde and that was the music we’d been listening to [while recording], to be honest. It made sense to move towards new instrumentation in order to communicate those ideas, of what has been most interesting to us in the last couple of years.
In the fall of last year, you released “Heaven,” a shoegaze-y song unique to your repertoire because it not only sounds joyous, but it is joyous. Most of your songs tend to sound upbeat but deal with personal hardship. When “Heaven” came out, you said you were scared that once you found happiness, you wouldn’t have anything to write about; that songwriting was a coping mechanism. Do you still feel that way? Do you feel you’ve run out of things to write about?
No. The opposite. It’s definitely still a coping mechanism for me. It’s not the only thing that works for me, I’m a huge proponent of therapy, but I really feel that so much of what I was going through while writing this record didn’t make sense to me while it was still in my brain. I needed to get it out of my head and be able to look at it, and make something out of it, in order to have it make sense to me. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that, or I don’t think I would’ve been brave enough to do that, if I didn’t have a really solid foundation in my life that I’ve built over the last couple of years. In having stability in my life, my writing has gotten more interesting because I’m afforded the opportunity to step back and actually look at things instead of being in the middle of some high drama, glancing at [the problem] before moving onto the next emergency situation.
When you’re in one of those emergency situations, you not only don’t have space to reflect, you don’t even know what that space looks like or that it even exists. You don’t have a language for it.
Exactly, like the subject matter of “Chatroom.” It took me years to accept that something that had happened to me, that I had been in a situation that was abusive and really dark. If I hadn’t been able to reach a point of knowing that I had people around me who would hear me, and believe me, and trust me, and be there for me—especially now, in this situation, where I must stand behind this album that I wrote—[it wouldn’t be] an ultimately therapeutic process. And now I’ve shared it with the world and it’s difficult and scary... All I can do is tell the truth, and beyond that, I’ll figure it out from there.
I grew a lot from confronting the situation and now I’m putting myself through the ringer and confronting it again, in a public way. The song is definitely the most direct pop song we’ve ever written. I needed it to be a pop song, because pop music makes me feel strong. Pop music is a communal experience. It’s meant to be something you experience with other people, whether that is through dancing or screaming along with your friends. For me, while I was really knee-deep in the process of confronting what had happened to me, pop music is what got me through that. The Kesha album, Rainbow, was so important to me. I needed to get to a point where I could get angry about what had happened. As a people pleaser, and someone who finds it easier to blame myself then blame other people, it was a really important moment for me to get angry and to write an angry song, but I think the overwhelming mood of “Chatroom” and the album, is joy and relief. I think rage and joy, as emotions, are very similar. They’re high energy.
You wrote that “‘Chatroom’ is a song about reaching ecstatic joy through consuming rage.” That strikes me as a powerful articulation of what can happen following an abusive event—the shame that you feel, and eventual realization that your anger can be weaponized for good, to restore your sense of self. At the risk of sounding obtuse, how do you turn a painful and personal event into a pop song?
It was necessary for me. I think of songwriting as a survival mechanism in my brain that coincides directly with the other things I do for my own mental preservation, like exercise, and talking to a therapist, and meditating. I’ve always felt that when I keep things in my brain it has so much power over me. It’s not until I can communicate that to someone else, whether it’s through a conversation or through song, that I feel it doesn’t have power over me anymore and I can purge it from my brain. I don’t think I ever directly realize that’s what I’m doing when I’m writing a song, but that’s my relationship with songwriting.
In a way, finding the words—not only the words, but in “Chatroom,” the explosiveness of it, I love the way the song sounds, it makes me feel invincible when I listen to it—that’s how I know how to work through things that are painful. There’s something really beautiful about turning something dark into something that is sparkly. And I don’t mean that in a way that is, “Now I’ve just happy-washed it. It’s not bad anymore, it’s all good.” That’s not it at all. Feeling super strong on “Chatroom,”—and that is how I felt writing it and how I feel listening to it—is not how I feel all the time. But once again, if I don’t confront it, it has power over me.
And you can always return to “Chatroom.” The song is a gift to yourself.
That’s a perfect way of putting it.
I want to talk about the “Chatroom” video. Your band has always done really narrative-driven videos, often deep with pop culture references. Who came up with the concept?
We’ve always made videos that highlight the mood of the song more so than the lyrics of the song, which is [usually] fine and great but I don’t think it would’ve been honest [for “Chatroom.”] I think it would’ve been hard for me to stand by a video for this song that was just communicating the tone of the song.
When I got on the phone with [director] Maegan [Houang], I was really honest about the subject matter of the song, and she had been through something similar, and I think that it immediately clicked. It really felt like she understood the responsibility of making a video for the song. What I really love about the concept of the video is that it really illuminates the lyrics of the song in an ingenious way: It still communicates these big ideas of mind control, and manipulation, and misogyny, and abuse without being totally literal. It’s adjacent to the subject matter, it’s related to it, but it’s not a literal interpretation. I definitely didn’t want something that screamed, “This is what it’s about!” That would’ve been the wrong thing to do.
Because there’s this cult metaphor and not some inappropriate portrayal of abuse, there’s a malleable, emotional arc applicable to many people’s experiences inside of and beyond sexual assault: it could resonate with any situation in which you are subject to some powerful force.
That’s exactly what I wanted. Ultimately, the event of what happened, the sexual assault, was very difficult. In a way, sometimes what feels more difficult is the idea of being manipulated by someone and letting a really duplicitous person into my life. I don’t necessarily want the album to be defined by one facet of what happened. Everyone has experienced being infatuated with someone who then goes on to prove themselves to not be what they presented themselves to be. The feeling of betrayal, and the feeling of, ‘Did I miss something? Am I part of the problem? Did I willfully ignore certain things?’—that, more than anything, was what was occupying my mind.