Think Mitski. Think Daniel Joneston. Think Keisha Cole. Now mix it all together, and throw it all out.
Even before I ever talk to Ma$$ank, I’m confident this interview will be the most fun one yet. She has a discography filled with self-aware, witty lyrics, and clever titles (re: “High Functioning Dyke” and the music video for ‘Never Mind!”.) I am right — three minutes after our introduction we’re already laughing.
I sober down and begin by asking, ‘So, when did you start making music?’ as if I didn’t stalk her on Soundcloud the day before.
Ma$$ank thinks for a moment. ‘Well, I got into music when I was really young — maybe in elementary. Music class was my favourite, and there was one project where they asked us to make our own songs, and I think that’s the first time I thought, ‘Damn, you know what? I can kinda sing.’’
And indeed she can.
She continues, ‘It was just a dumb song, but it gave me an opening. Then in high school, I got really into Frankie Cosmos [it was around] when they were still making one-minute songs on Bandcamp. So I began doing that too, literally just using my android phone and my mom’s iPad, and made songs about the worst thing happening to me at the time, which was final exams. And honestly, I was really going through it. It was still a bop, though. I started using Garageband and it just elevated. You could say my origin was from the Tumblr and Bandcamp era.’
‘Me too!’ I squeal, and we both take a moment to lament the decisions in our past.
We share stories about Tumblr, and she continues: ‘But it was a diary, and it helped me get my words out and gain confidence when other people liked them. I’ve been posting on Soundcloud for a while now — almost eight years.’
I tell her that’s amazing, and jump cut to the next question. (This joke makes sense once she answers).
‘What would you say are your musical inspirations?’
‘My inspirations? Okay, there’re two. One is a movie called Climax — it’s a psychological thriller about dancers whose drinks are spiked with LSD, so their night is just chaos. But I actually fell in love with the soundtrack so much, and I really wanted to try diving into that. I’ve literally been obsessed with this movie for two years, but I’ve only watched it once — I’m too scared to watch it again. I remember everything anyway, I think I’ve been permanently scarred.’
We laugh, and she says I should watch the movie to see it’s the scariest shit ever, so I take her word for it with no desire to prove her wrong.
‘The second would probably be Alex G, because, yo, that guy makes every genre, and he has so much fun. He just puts out so many projects — like boom, boom, boom! I love the variety. Nobody really sounds like him either. I like to listen to his one-hour mystery mixes to fall asleep.’
I try roleplaying as my therapist — ‘Do you think being unique is important to you?’
She answers more eloquently than I ever have, therapy or otherwise. ‘More like, being able to delve into multiple genres I think. Of course I like standing out, but to me the most important thing is to be able to play all sorts of genres, because people like listening to all sorts of genres, you know? At least I do. Right now, I’m listening to RnB and techno at the same time.I’ve been obsessed with Keisha Cole recently. So being unique isn’t the goal, but genre-hopping to create sounds that I like is. And yes, naturally the by-product of that is a unique sound. I think I just want to stir the pot, you know?’ She laughs.
‘I’m curious about this movie — not a lot of people have a movie as their inspiration for music.’ I add.
‘Well, I love soundtracks, actually. I’m constantly telling my friends, ‘Oh my god, remember this song from this random episode of this show?!’ And none of them ever know what I’m talking about. For Climax in particular — it’s dark, and hypnotic. It’s difficult to describe, but I just like the idea of noise. I liked its intensity. How in-your-face it was. The movie has a famous opening scene with a track called Supernature by Cerrone, and my co-worker, who I showed the movie to as well — and scarred permanently — cannot listen to the song anymore! She’s like, ‘It makes me remember!’ The song is so good it reminds people of that feeling. Sometimes when I show my friends my music, I ask them, ‘Ok sure, provide feedback, but I wanna know how you felt when you first heard it,’ and that’s what I think is the most important thing for me.’
She pauses. ‘I think I just like the idea of capturing a moment in time with music, the way movies do. When people listen to me, it has to be a whole experience, you know?’
I nod, because I do know. A few nights ago, I played “It’s Not Real”, a dreamy, piano ballad without words and stared at my ceiling. I don’t remember what I was thinking, but the experience, in fact, could be described as unreal.
When someone makes art for a long time, it’s expected that their relationship to it will change, and this is what I ask her, in light of her extensive Soundcloud and Bandcamp discography.
‘Oh yes – my relationship to music definitely changed. I think when I was younger, I was just trying things out, doing it for fun. But as I grew older, it became an outlet. It became almost a coping mechanism. I don’t really have a diary — well, I might write once a year… maybe — but music feels like releasing a burden in my chest. As I grew older, music definitely became a lot more personal. It’s about what I’ve been through now.’
‘Do you try to be vulnerable in your music?’
‘Totally – sometimes I’m even embarrassed! When I show my friends my songs, I have to say, ‘Okay but like, can you listen to this alone? I don’t wanna be there!’ A long time ago I used to be really vague in my lyrics, and then I got into a Madonna phase. I was listening to all the karaoke classics. And I remember thinking, ‘How the fuck do people do this? How do they just say it?’ I feel like I can’t even do that in person, I sugar-coat so much. So I’ve been learning to be more vulnerable for sure.’
I decided to present her with the analysis I did of her music from the night before, at my desk under candlelight with the picture of my English teacher from high school smiling graciously upon me (only half of this is true, and if you guess wrong my English teacher will kill you.)
‘Ok, so hear me out: I think the actual sounds or elements of the music create, like, a barrier to understanding the lyrics, but when you do get down to it, it’s really vulnerable — really open. So there’s layers, but you have to dig a little bit. Do you agree with that? And do you think you do that intentionally?’
She seems impressed, and I send Mrs. O’Sullivan a silent thanks.
‘Honestly, you’re so on point with that. It’s like an illusion! And I definitely do it intentionally. There are some songs where my voice is stronger, but in those songs I’m more comfortable with people hearing what I’m saying, or with the concept. I actually think, ironically, I’m more vulnerable in my most loud, fun music.’
‘And is there anything you struggle with, in terms of your music?’
She laughs. ‘I had a little crisis about this a few months ago, actually. I remember I was on this guy’s Instagram, juss lurking, and seeing all the videos of him playing all the instruments. I was like, holy shit, I can’t actually play an instrument! I’ve taught myself how to play percussion but I’m not really amazing at it. I don’t know that much about music theory — am I really a musician? I’m clicking buttons, and I have these machines, and the keyboard and it sounds like it’s on pitch and it sounds great to me. But what if I’m wrong? And I spiralled a little bit.’
Good ol’ imposter syndrome. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it questioning your every achievement. And Ma$$ank has insane achievements — from her extensive and consistent discography to the shows she’s already performed all around Vancouver, one would be surprised that this is a struggle she faces.
But something I often think about is how artists draw on what they know, which is what forms the basis of my next question: ‘Do you think you’ll musically explore the impact of your identity??’
‘I have been thinking of that recently! To be honest, I feel like right now it doesn’t tie in with my music. And it should — I know. Or should it?! I question that too sometimes. I know for a lot of people it does, but I think for me I would need to really dig deep for that. As a queer POC, it would [make for a]really interesting concept for my next project. The thing is, I’m still trying to find my sound. So I feel like I would want to tackle that when I feel more musically sure of myself, so that I can give those topics the attention they deserve.’
Lastly, I ask her, ‘What songs are you the most proud of, or worked the hardest on?’
‘I’m really proud of how A Time I Thought We Had Lost came together. This was the album I made after watching Climax, and most heavily inspired by it. I think it was my most cohesive album, because I really tried to give it a theme of nostalgia and escapism. I was going out a lot during that time. The first song, the intro, is like when you go to a party and the music is loud and you take a shot, or drugs because the vibe is good. And then when the drug kicks in is when the album starts.’
This idea is so good it gives me goosebumps. The execution of the idea also gives me goosebumps, and when I listen to the song after the interview I feel like, maybe, just maybe, mixing weed and Adderall is not a bad idea.
‘I also really liked Verbal Foreplay — I just thought those lyrics were some of my strongest. The song itself was about my first relationship, and it was my most direct one. I think I was genuinely ready to be vulnerable. I was like ‘let’s do this bitch, let’s write this Tumblr poetry!’ We burst out laughing.
‘And I also was proud of Nevermind! It’s one of those songs that sound really good live. The idea behind the song is like when you meet an ex, and you ask them how they are and who they’re with, and you immediately backtrack and go, “Actually, nevermind, I don’t wanna know.” I found it funny to keep repeating that.’
We talk more about other songs like Otherwise 333 and That Scene From Closer 2004, and I think I finally understand the identity Ma$$ank has created for herself. It is mainly who she is, just projected larger than life. A funny, endearing musician with enough edge and an I-don’t-really-give-a-fuck attitude to experiment unapologetically with music she likes. In the process giving us songs that are funny, light on their feet, but that can provide solace and deep companionship on the days that you don’t feel quite ready to dance. There’s something in it for everyone, and if you’re able to laugh at yourself and like looking at life like it’s a quizzical comedy, then you’ll be able to vibe with Ma$$ank’s music for sure. Check out her next album, titled Once More, The Feeling, dropping this summer on Spotify.