Thomas Hagen: What musical backgrounds and experiences, if any, did you both have before you started recording as Naked Lake?
Abbie Painter: I took piano lessons when I was very young for like six years, though I could never really concentrate; it didn’t really go anywhere. But I was really into theater: I grew up around actors because my mom is an actress, and she has this whole little theater school in our hometown, so I would go to voice lessons as well. I was playing piano and I remember playing Lady Gaga songs, and I taught myself guitar—just the basic stuff. But then when I was a senior in high school I recorded and put out an album but basically just for myself, so that was two weeks in my childhood bedroom. During high school and middle school I would host open mics at the school, part of the literary magazine club, and I sometimes would MC or participate, so that was really fun and it was kind of like a G-rated version of basement shows. [laughs] So I had music under an alias, but it’s nothing that I would be like, you should listen!!
Jordan Hartsfield: I started learning guitar on my own when I was 8 or so, mostly learning just by teaching myself songs. Eventually I got a guitar teacher, that lasted like a year but then my grades weren’t good enough and my parents were like, “you can’t go to guitar lessons anymore ’cause your grades are bad.” [laughs] So I was teaching myself and I was in a band in high school, it was this terrible metalcore band and I don’t like metalcore but that was kinda the scene there. At the very least, I picked up the technical skills you need to play that kind of music, which I use in Dreaming Of with the fast picking and strumming—but other than that, no formal music training. A couple years ago I recorded a solo EP, it was just something I recorded in like two weeks, just recorded in my bedroom too. But that was all my experience until Naked Lake, other than playing a few open mics and a few solo shows!
TH: How did you come together to form Naked Lake, and when did you come up with this vision for your album?
AP: We actually first came together with the concept of the album—after quarantine, when I got back to college I had this idea because I had just started my hormones. And I knew I couldn’t do it justice by myself, and I also really wanted to play with people and make it more of a collaboration rather than just me on my own. So I posted in “DIY Philly” and I said, “Heeeeeeyyy I’m trying to find members to make a band and create this concept,” and I didn’t make the ideas all public, but when Jordan then responded, I told them and we had a Zoom.
JH: It’s funny cause I don’t go on Facebook at all anymore, but at the time I would check Facebook maybe once every two weeks ’cause — it feels like a literal lifetime ago — that’s where a lot of the local shows were posted, and that paradigm really shifted over the pandemic. It just happened that I stumbled upon that DIY Philly post, and I thought the project Abbie was doing was really cool, and impactful and meaningful, and I was super excited to be part of the project because I felt I could kind of relate to it, and their ideas were so emotionally charged, and their way of songwriting from their older project was really cool.
There were also two other people that joined in at first, that are doing their own thing now. So it was us four for a month or two, and I was the only one that stuck around. And so me and Abbie kept practicing and finding other musicians to work with, eventually landing on my friend Kelvin [Ayora] who recorded bass on a lot of the album. From there, we started playing some songs I had half-written and fleshed out as a band, and Abbie was like, “We should totally record these and release this as an EP.” So we recorded one song in a studio and recorded the rest in my bedroom, so that took a few months and we put it out and it was awesome. I wrote the songs “Sour Spit” and “Darling, I know”, and then for the other two — “Dreaming Of” and “Haunt Me” — Abbie and I came together, they came up with melodies and lyrics and I did all the instrumentation.
TH: How did the writing process unfold on this album? Did you write a new song every month, or did you have 12 songs prepared before you began recording?
AP: The entire Should We Go Home Now? is a song every single month! So I wrote “Baby Girl,” recorded vocals and actually we kept the trumpets that I recorded on my keyboard, all the day before I started hormones. And I thought, “I want to keep track of this metamorphosis,” because I often feel like I’m not articulate, which is funny because I had written songs. So I would write a song each month, and I would make sure I had it in my calendar, “you need to record vocals by the end of every single month.” Just vocals each month for a year, then after the majority of vocals were recorded, we went into Zach our drummer’s basement where there’s a studio, which is amazing and Zach is unreal, we love him so much, he’s such an amazing person and friend. We spent a lot of time there on instrumentals just pairing up with the vocals, everything stripped except the vocals. And then we built from there—some of the songs are insanely different, like “Fairyhouse”, it is a wild experience to listen to what it was—we would do that over the summer.
There is a song actually in there that I did not write! It was the eighth month song, shit was going on, I had just had a breakup, I wrote the worst song in the world. Because I just was so flat, you know, it was dry, and then I went to Jordan’s house, and we were like, “Aughhh, whaddo we dooo, whaddo we dooo” and they were like, “I just wrote this song this morning!” So we listened to the song twice, and then I just kind of sang it out my ass, and that’s “Aisles,” by the way.
JH: The process of recording was the coolest thing ever, though it was also really challenging, cause we were starting from demos, basically going into the studio with the mindset of fully re-writing these songs. “Fairyhouse,” I believe the chords are even different than what was in the original scratch track. Abbie kept emphasizing, “I want this to be more upbeat, dreamy and kind of chaotic,” so Zach and I took that and really ran with it, and that’s where you get the crazy synth coming in, that part where I’m just tapping the notes and we’re going insane. And that was a lot of fun cause we started with something to build off of, because when I write music I never build off of a vocal track. So it was a challenging procedure doing that for the rest of the songs too, because they really developed and changed in the studio. We would go in one day and do a bunch of recording, then the next day we would listen back like, “What if we changed this entirely?” It was so much fun, it was the best summer.
AP: I brought the bones, and we built the body. [laughs]
JH: I’ll also mention Kelvin, who threw a bunch of really sick basslines in there, that added a lot to the songs, too.
AP: “Under My Skin” I wrote a chorus to, and I wanted Emily Bloom, who is one of my best friends ever, we’ve been best friends since we were 4. And we have actually been talking about things like sexuality and gender since we were that young, so it is perfect that she was so gracefully willing to hop on, especially cause that song is a tear-jerker for us. I basically sent her a karaoke track with my vocals and the empty verse that she sings, then she wrote the verse and recorded it and sent it to us.