A.O. Gerber is an LA-based singer-songwriter. Her latest album, Meet Me At The Gloaming, is out now on Father/Daughter Records.
(Photo Credit: Seannie Bryan)
A.O. Gerber is an LA-based singer-songwriter; Miya Folick is also an LA-based singer-songwriter, whose EP 2007 just came out last month. A.O.’s latest album, Meet Me At The Gloaming, was just released, too (via Father/Daughter Records), so celebrate, the two friends got together and caught up about it all.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
A.O. Gerber: You just got back from tour.
Miya Folick: I did, yeah, from a little short jaunt up the West Coast. We had a conversation about whether or not you could call that a tour.
A.O.: Oh, really?
Miya: I think we decided that it’s not a tour.
A.O.: Oh, what is it? It’s a jaunt?
Miya: It’s a jaunt. It’s some shows. It’s a handful of appearances. [Laughs.]
A.O.: [Laughs.] I like that.
Miya: But yeah, it was amazing. It was so exactly what I needed. Seattle right now is gorgeous. I just walked through forests and ate good food. And I saw Wand play with that Japanese band Melt Banana.
A.O.: Oh, I’m not familiar.
Miya: It was a super fun show.
A.O.: I feel like on a West Coast jaunt, shows are always whatever they are, but I’m always pretty stoked to get that nature time.
Miya: Yeah, we did a lot of nature time.
A.O.: That’s very good. I’m needing that. I’m going to be [playing some shows in the UK] in mid-November, and then towards the end of it I have this extra week that I’m going to do some writing. And then also I’m going to Wales, and I’m just going to, like, look at the water. [Laughs.] Right now I’m coming back on the 23rd, but part of me kind of would be stoked to just totally miss Thanksgiving.
Miya: I feel like I plan on missing Thanksgiving, because we end the tour in Stockholm and I’ve not really spent much time there.
A.O.: That seems like a very good place to be, rather than coming back, if only for the fact that LAX will just be hell. I had that thought — I was like, Oh, that’s going to be the worst time to come back.
Miya: We could have an entire conversation about how LAX is always hell.
A.O.: [Laughs.] But we shan’t.
Miya: [Laughs.] I actually weirdly enjoy airports, but even for me, LAX has been testing me.
A.O.: In what ways? So, we are going to have this conversation. [Laughs.]
Miya: It’s just getting worse.
A.O.: It does. It never ceases to get worse.
Miya: I’m choosing to believe that it’s getting worse on its way to getting better. It feels like when you are cleaning out your closet and part of the process is just taking everything out and dumping it on the floor.
A.O.: Oh, so you’re hopeful. You have optimism for LAX.
Miya: I do. It’s just so interesting — LAX feels like it was not designed with expansion in mind at all. It’s a closed system. So I don’t know how they’re going to make it better, but I still kind of have faith that they will make it better. I’m trying to think of some sort of metaphor about like…
A.O.: I feel like you have it in you. I love how much thought you’ve given to the architectural structure that is that hellscape.
Miya: Yeah. I don’t think this is a perfect analogue, but the first thing that came to mind was — I think this is a completely different thing, but I think during the pandemic, my whole personality and emotional range had become this very limited enclosed structure of only really having to deal with a few personalities at once, and being alone all the time. And now in this new place where we’re at, encountering on some days hundreds of people all at once, I feel like that maybe is what it feels like. Like, I was made as this airport for this many people, but now there’s this many people!
A.O.: And it hasn’t caught up.
Miya: I can’t catch up.
A.O.: [Laughs.] LAX has social anxiety. No, I will pretty much do most things in my power to avoid having to actually go inside there. I’m very happy to pick people up — there’s something very powerful about being the friend that’s willing to bring people to LAX, or get them from the airport. Especially in LA. I feel like there’s something very tender about that offering, because everyone knows it’s hell.
Miya: Yeah. I like picking people up from the airport as well. But I didn’t know that about you!
A.O.: Oh, yeah? Call me, Miya! I think it’s so nice. Especially as somebody who has to travel for work sometimes, I know how stressful it can be to be in that position of like, Oh, my god, I’m going to have to go through all these layers just to even get there.
I still have this — it feels almost kind of childish. I think I didn’t grow up in a space where, like, “acts of service” was the kind of love that was exchanged commonly, so any time somebody is willing to do something like that, I just feel this overwhelming awe. I just almost went on this last minute two-and-a-half week tour that I didn’t do, but I basically had to go through all of the motions to figure out whether it was possible — you know, like get work covered, get somebody to watch my dog — and I was so overwhelmed. But it could have happened: the dog had somebody to watch him, people were like, “Just go do it.” And even though it was such a stressful experience… I don’t know, music can be such a self-involved thing, and it’s very sweet when I witness community around it and people feeling supportive.
Miya: I feel like that’s a question I get so often in interviews — “Is music competitive,” or, “do you feel competitive?” I think people expect, because we live in Los Angeles, the answer to be, “Yes, it’s cutthroat.” But it’s really not. It’s just everyone trying to help each other, because everyone knows how hard it is.
Miya: I’ve never felt like music in LA is super competitive at all. More than anything, I feel like people are inspired by each other. And yeah, you might feel a little bit jealous of people who are exceptional — I definitely feel jealousy towards people who are exceptional — but I feel like that never translates into competition, which I think is completely different thing.
A.O.: That’s a really good point. It’s like the difference between the externalities of what competition looks like, versus a sort of internal shame or jealousy or whatever is going on. I feel like I’ve witnessed, and at times have certainly experienced, that internal battle. But it’s true that it doesn’t translate to an external — like there’s not pettiness. It is just that inspiration and sharing of resources. Hopefully.
Miya: I’m sure there are people who are petty and mean.
A.O.: Yeah, maybe.
Miya: Maybe I’ve just chose not to be… Or maybe I used to be petty! I don’t know. I think wherever I am right now, it feels extremely supportive and community-minded. And I think people understand that it’s hard out there for everyone right now.
A.O.: That was my profound experience when I moved to LA. That’s kind of the reason I’m even still here — I moved here very certain that I wasn’t going to last. Because I just grew up, you know, north of here, hearing all the terrible things that LA is. And then I was just truly in shock — because I lived in New York, too, and I feel like there when you meet somebody and say you’re a musician, there’s just this eye roll-y, like, Yeah, you and everybody else, kind of energy. And then when I got here, I didn’t even have music out and people would be like, “Oh, you’re a musician? Let me introduce you to my boyfriend who is a producer!” And like, “I have a show, do you want to play it even though I’ve never heard your songs?” [Laughs.] Almost to an eerie… But it is that. Because people know, Oh, you’re a musician who just moved to LA? You’re probably screwed, so we’re going to help you…
A.O.: I have a continued experience of community coming together through having a dog — I feel like having an animal really requires you to ask for help. And that’s another layer of building community that I’m… It’s really hard to ask for help.
Miya: That’s so interesting. I don’t have any pets, so I’ve never really thought about that. But yeah, that’s absolutely true.
A.O.: It’s a thing that I certainly didn’t give a lot of thought to — that in getting a dog, you’re actually taking on a requirement that at certain times you’re going to have to ask for support. For me, it was a really interesting thing of realizing how much shame there is in having to ask for help. Like, I feel so much guilt every time I ask — which is so interesting because it’s like, people can say yes or no… People can tend to themselves. But I feel like guilt even in asking.
I mean, we’ve talked about how I just feel like there’s so many things being a musician that happen that are extra-musical — you have to run your social media, you have to lead a band, you have to—
Miya: [Laughs.] Figure out who’s going to watch your dog.
A.O.: So many of those things that require asking for help! And it’s all really hard.
Miya: Asking for his help is really interesting, because while we’re talking about this, my first thought was, Oh, I actually think I’m really good at asking for help. And then my second thought was, I think my managers would disagree. Or maybe they wouldn’t, I don’t know. I think it depends on what the thing is. I think there are certain things that, it’s not even that I’m afraid of asking for help, it’s that if I’m not quite sure what needs to be done, I don’t know what to ask for. I think I encounter so many situations in music where I know I need help because I feel overwhelmed, but the process is so creative that I don’t know how or what to ask for.
Miya: If I’m dealing with a lot of different creative things all at once, and I really need support in some way, but I don’t know what it is… I think sometimes the help that I need is someone to just say, “Things are not as important as you think they are.” [Laughs.] The relief sometimes is somebody giving me the permission to release myself from my perfectionism. Because I think certain work, I can’t be helped — stuff like, I need to finish this song, I need to write a song for this commission thing, I need to record vocals, I need to figure out what my live show needs to sound like — I don’t know who could help me with that. I have to do it myself. And I think the help that I need is someone to… believe in me. [Laughs.]
A.O.: Totally. And also remind you—
Miya: That the world will not end if every single thing isn’t perfect. Which is, I think, the way that my mind tends to go. I don’t even it’s not even that I’m consciously thinking, If I don’t do this perfectly, the world is going to end. But I think that’s the way I operate. I go into this place of fear, and then it’s so difficult to make work from that place, because my entire body is tense and I think that tension doesn’t help the creative process at all. And especially physical tension, because I think it affects the way I play and I sing, because music is so physical.
It’s interesting. I think I really struggle to take days off to just… um, do whatever a person would do on a day off. [Laughs.]
A.O.: [Laughs.] Miya does not know — somebody send recommendations!
Miya: [Laughs.] But I used to do it more, and I’ve been trying to reintroduce that part of me into my life again. And even days like today: I woke up at 7, and then from 7 to when I met up with you, I just listened to music, played guitar, drank too much coffee, kind of like lazily responded to some emails. But I think the way that I wake up usually is so, like, almost immediately firing on all cylinders. What do I need to get done? Which way will I get done that? It was just so nice to have this feeling of like, I’m just going to be in my pajamas for three hours.
The other thing about these days that I allow myself to take things slower is that it reminds me of why I love playing music, and the wonderful feeling of knowing your guitar is in your bedroom and having that impulsive desire to pick it up and play. That, I think, is harder to feel when I’m when I’m in this place of pressure and anxiety and stress. Then it’s like, I have to pick up my guitar and I have to make something. And to just allow myself to want to figure out my guitar and want to make something is such a beautiful feeling. And such a relief — it honestly made me cry today to pick up my guitar and be like, Oh, this feels good. I like this. This is why I do this.
I don’t know. I think there’s the obvious — knowing that this conversation is going to be published, I think there’s a part of me that feels it necessary to add that I feel extremely lucky to be where I am. To be busy in music, I think, is a privilege. A lot of people are desperate to fill their music cup and to fill their schedule, and for mine to be so full that it’s overwhelming is absolutely a privilege. But I think that across the board, people in music are feeling burnt out. And it’s interesting to see, more than ever, people canceling shows for mental health. This did not happen two years ago.
Miya: And people are doing it all the time and being really honest about it. I’m not sure if you saw — I bet you did — but did you see that Arlo Parks?
A.O.: Yeah, that’s the first person I thought of when you said that.
Miya: I think what was interesting and I really resonated with about was the part about, “I know I’m so lucky, and because I’m so lucky, I felt it an obligation to take advantage of all of these blessings that I’ve been given. But because of that, I am absolutely burnt out and I cannot do this.” It was so comforting for me to read that, because I think that’s how I feel. I think my career is not where I’d like it to be — in the grand scheme of things, I would like my career to grow. But it’s interesting that I’d love for my career to grow, but at the same time it’s already overwhelming where it is currently. I think that the main issue here, at least that I experience in my life, is that we haven’t yet figured out how to make music sustainable financially so that you are able as an artist to just take on a normal amount of work and support yourself. I think that right now, it’s kind of a requirement that you just say yes to everything. And it’s those little things that I’ve said yes to, to make a little extra money, that have sent me over the edge. [Laughs.] But at the end of the day, I do feel grateful I have a home. I love my job. I’m just tired.
A.O.: Yeah. It’s a self-fulfilling kind of like feedback loop — we romanticize these creative professions and create this scarcity mentality around them. So then you feel, and are, so privileged to be able to have those gifts of them. But then, because we’ve so romanticized them, you don’t feel safe to be honest about the realities of them, and then create this loop in which you can’t really free yourself. It’s like, Well, I’m so lucky, so I have to keep going, but it’s actually really hard, but I can’t talk about how hard it is.
I feel like a big thing about moving to LA is you meet people at all different stages of their careers — like just starting and really wanting to get somewhere, to overnight successes. And I feel like across the board, every single person that I know in any kind of personal way, on any level of that spectrum, has some level of something feeling off or not right. I think it’s been, in a way, very healing for me, because it’s helped me kind of work through the ways in which I have romanticized certain parts of it. And then at the same time, it’s also speaks so deeply to something much larger that’s wrong beyond the industry, and so tied up in why we can’t pause as people.
Miya: I don’t think this is a conversation about the music industry, just a conversation about industries in general. It’s a job. You have to work. I think what I’m experiencing now is that, for a long time, I could be pretty brutal about that with myself and also with other people. When I’d hear people complaining about certain parts of being a musician, like having to post on TikTok or whatever, I would just think, Well, no job is perfect. Part of it is work. And I think that I also was reflecting that on myself. For myself, when I don’t feel like I’m performing in all aspects of the job, I feel like I am letting myself and my team down. But there’s just so many different things that you have to do, right?
A.O.: What it is for me is very much rooted — actually, it’s nothing to do with music. It’s about what we place our value in, or what we think makes us worthwhile or valuable. I definitely was raised in a way to believe that my ability to produce and achieve is my worth. So that makes it challenging.
I met another artist who’s a playwright, and she talked about this concept that she uses for herself of, Oh, well. She had to learn over time not only to say, “Oh, well,” when things go poorly or are hard or she didn’t perform the way she thought, but also when things are going well. Because only when you can release this obsession with certain kinds of validation can you allow yourself to say, “Oh, well,” when you don’t get that. So when write the play that everyone loves and all the reviews are so good, if you can go like, “Oh, well! They’re not talking about me, they’re talking about this thing I did” — that’s not a reflection on my value as a human, it’s just this thing that I did. I’m so not there, but I really aspire to be.
Miya: I think those kinds of things, you can fake it ‘til you make it. You can kind of pretend you’re there, and then eventually, you’ll be there.
A.O.: I’m trying to pretend. I’m trying very hard to pretend. It’s working bit by bit. I feel better with this record than I did with the last one, for sure. There’s way less pressure on it being anything other than what it is like. I’m proud of the record, and so I feel a lot more freedom and liberation from needing anything from it, other than just the fact that it exists.
(Photo Credit: left, Seannie Bryan)