Icon in the Making: Kississippi’s Zoe Reynolds Delivers a Rosy Electro-Pop Debut on “Sunset Blush” + Interview

Kississippi’s Zoe Reynolds has a knack for making people feel like she has known them for eons. Upon the first five minutes of meeting, we exchanged several hugs, laughs, glittering gold stickers and a rose quartz rock she calls her “worry stone” backstage. That is just who she is – a genuinely warm person who is trying to figure it all out as she is being catapulted into stardom. At just 23, the Philadelphia-based Zoe and her bandmates have just finished their set opening for emo legends Dashboard Confessional on the “We Fight” tour – an impressive feat for the young musician who currently isn’t signed, yet. It’s also the day of her debut album release Sunset Blush, aptly named after the economical Franzia boxed wine. The album was originally scheduled to come out on April 20 on
SideOne Dummy records, but life happens and Zoe Reynolds made the best of it.

Making music under the moniker Kississippi since 2014, Zoe Reynold’s solidified her place as a musician to watch with the release of 2016’s standout We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed EP. Since then, she has been touring nonstop, has had several line-up changes to her band, experienced the pains of heartbreak, but now on the day of her release, she is all smiles. Sunset Blush sits on the table behind us as today’s celebratory drink of choice.

Ive been tracking your success since I saw you play in Pontiac, MI in January to about 100 people. Just last month you were doing unofficial SXSW in someone’s home! So, to come make that transition to 2,000+ cap shows like every night, how has that been for you?
It’s pretty wild and huge. Like it is a huge transition! But honestly, I was like way more nervous leading up to the tour. Then I have been on the tour, like everyone in Dashboard and Beach Slang are like super, super nice. I was scared because I was like “what if they don’t like me?” I’m just a nerdy little kid and then everyone was just fucking awesome. When I get off the stage I’m like, I just played another show opening for Dashboard Confessional. What the heck. I feel like my stage fright has been less bad on this tour than it has been before. I think it might be because I’m like really comfortable with y’all [referring to her bandmates], but also, I think I’m just desensitized now. We played in St. Petersburg and like I’ve never seen that many people in front of me while we were playing before.

Were you nervous to put out the record? Did you think the day would ever come? Just the way things played out in the grand scheme of things. [In reference to the dramatic changes at SideOne Dummy Records]
Honestly, I have been really nervous to put it out. I’ve been really like excited to too like I’m really confident with the songs, but like there’s like a part of me that was just like really scared to show it to people. Um, but honestly today’s been going really well and like, you know, if people don’t like it, they don’t like it and that’s fine. I mean for a minute there I was getting a little nervous because we went through like all the label changes and stuff like that. Um, honestly like, yeah, it sucked but you know, shit happens. We were supposed to release this record on 4/20 and I was like “oh man, like we’re not going to be able to release the record on time.” I was really bumming about it and we ended up releasing it early. So, it was like fuck it.

You talk about how the album is the music you’ve been wanting to make all along. What finally clicked for you to help you achieve this level of comfort in creating Sunset Blush?
Honestly, we went through a really big lineup change where our guitarist and our drummer both left the band. So, we went through this like panic about replacing them. And then I was dating our bassist at the time and our drummer was our roommate. So, our bassist broke up with me and that led to us parting ways with music. The breakup was kind of messy. So, shit went kinda super south to the point where it was just me leftover in the band and I was like, “OK, I’m going to pull this shit together.” I was playing music with people that kind of had a different vision for it than I did. And then everything kind of fell apart and I had this squad [her current band line-up] and they were all supporting whatever I wanted to do. I just ended up doing the record mostly on my own, outside of like Kyle Pulley who recorded, produced and mixed it. I was just like, the only person who needs to like this is me. I’m going to just do it how I want to do it.

_EAD0450“I have been really nervous to put it out. I’ve been really like excited to too like I’m really confident with the songs, but like there’s like a part of me that was just like really scared to show it to people.”

Did you know you wanted to go a bit electro-pop on the new album? It’s very dreamy, hazy and all while talking about like real life stuff, such as being in a relationship, but also being concerned about self-doubt yet masking it with dreamy keys.
Yeah, I really wanted to go super synth-poppy on this record, but I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. So, I was like it’s a pop record! I would like to do more like super synthy stuff in the future. I’m really digging how this is sounding right now.

Have you always gravitated towards more a pop sound?
Heavily influenced by Carly Rae Jepsen, CHVRCHES, and Purity Ring. When it comes to stuff like those are definitely influences for me. But I also really love like fucking, like Liz Phair and Michelle Branch.

Did you feel the need for it to be like perfect?
I don’t think I am capable of creating anything perfect, but I was definitely spent a lot of time on it during those two years. There were a lot of breaks, but I was touring a lot. Even though we were taking breaks we were spending long days and days doing the record. Yeah, I didn’t expect anything to be perfect because, you know, I make pop, but I definitely was pretty anal about it. I wanted it to be right, but I am not perfect.

The album explores a variety of emotions – rush of new love, self-love, self-doubt, finding your voice, and essentially being your own bad bitch. Does that ring true? Did you want to make a more positive album rather than dwell on the sadness?
You nailed, dude! I think that with our EP a lot of the songs are just like bummer songs that are just like, “I’m sad. Boys suck.” You know, it’s still accurate. My friends are in this band called And the Kids and this is where it got like a big amount of inspiration from. They released a record called Friends Share Lovers and I read some interviews where they talked about that record. They avoiding using any I’s or you’s. It is all like we and us. I was like, “Yo, that shit fucking rocks.” That really puts into perspective for me how much my songs, and some still on this record, are just like, “you hurt me, I’m sad,” you know? And I was like, okay yeah true, but I wanted to say that in a way that’s like empowering instead of making myself feel worse. I guess that these songs are still major bummers. But I went about them in a different way where I was not going to dwell on shit. This is about me getting past shit that messed me up.

_EAD0457“I’ll always feel attached to just like the national DIY scene generally. I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t doing that for the past four years and I’ll definitely still want to be very involved in it.”

Philly is one of my favorite places and just booming with incredibly talented musicians left and right. Has the music scene there been welcoming? Has it kept you grounded?
It’s a good place to live if you play music or are involved in music and like seeing bands, you know. I’ve talked about this in interviews before. When I first moved to Philly, I really didn’t feel very welcome as a younger girl. There was a lot of girl hate. Just showing up to shows and feeling like I didn’t belong there because I was 18 years old and people didn’t like being around kids or something like that. And I think that’s ridiculous because I don’t know when I go to these DIY show and I see like kids at those gigs and I’m like “hell yeah, you’re like our future, you know?” I really think that that’s something that’s changed a whole lot. I think that’s something that like keeps me grounded for sure. It’s like the things that were wrong with it and the things that were toxic people have worked on for sure. And I’m obviously any music scene is going to have its flaws. But I really think that Philly’s is trying a little bit harder and we’re growing so much because music is a huge thing right now. I think that I like push past all of that negative and negativity, and I found a lot of people who I really care about and who like genuinely care about me. That’s just led me to so many other people who I wouldn’t have ever expected to want to be my friend or anything like that, they look out for me and stuff. I guess that’s it, just like people look out for each other and take care of each other. Yeah, those are things that keep me grounded.

It’s day one only of your album release, but I can say with certainty it ranks in the Top 50 Album of the Year in my book. You’ve had an overwhelmingly positive first day and I love it. Will you miss or always feel attached to the DIY scene in Philly?
Absolutely, I mean I’ll always feel attached to just like the national DIY scene generally. I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t doing that for the past four years and I’ll definitely still want to be very involved in it. I mean like I would also like this to be my career so it’s conflicting for sure. Yeah, that I’ll definitely miss it because we kind of went from like being like a band that played like three shows in Philly a month to, oh shit, we can’t be playing this many shows or play every other month. Then I was doing all this solo work just have like slowly kind of like stopped doing as much Philly DIY and started doing more touring. I’m just blabbering right now, but yeah, yeah, I will miss it. I definitely still plan on being active in some way. That’s something that I definitely actually look up to Chris, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. He is like super ingrained in DIY because that’s where he comes from. I’d like to be like Dashboard one day, you know what I mean? I’d like to be playing headlining rooms like this. a big dream, yeah. And like be nice, you know! I mean I might never get there, but if that was the case, I would love to be in his position where he has the power to put smaller bands on a pedestal – which he’s doing for us, which is really fucking cool.

We briefly venture off-path to discuss Paramore’s Hayley Williams and the necessary longing for a strong female idol one needs when growing up wanting to be in music. When discussing Hayley’s impact and trajectory, Zoe says, “I want to be somebody’s Hayley Williams when I was thirteen, you know what I mean?” She continues, “that’s the kind of influence I want to have on someone, you know?

So you want to have a positive influence with your music?
Yeah, for sure. When I was growing up in the emo scene, it was all run by dudes. I didn’t feel like I could make a difference in anything because all the bands that I was seeing and like looked up to were men. was like “oh maybe I could be like a merch person” or something even though I want to be playing music. And then there’s like someone like Hayley Williams! She’s incredible. She shreds and writes beautiful songs. She cares about her fans so much. She’s just a very positive influence for like younger people and that’s the kind of thing that I want to do.

We dive into chatting about the lack of female, POC and non-binary representation in the music scene. Zoe continues to say:
There’s not enough! [Referring to my comment about not having enough positive influences] Not really enough representation for just like non-white dudes generally. It’s definitely getting better, but I mean we gotta still keep pushing for it to be better. That’s something really cool about this tour. Going into it I was like oh, are we going to be the only band with women and non-binary people in it? Then I found out Beach Slang [who they are on tour with] had two new members who are women and I was like, “Oh my god, this rocks!

Words: Annayelli Flores & Photos: Emily Dubin // Sunset Blush is out now via Alcopop! Records.

You can also read the interview here:

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