Vanta Black is the debut album from Rare DM, the solo project of Brooklyn singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Erin Hoagg. Following in the shadows of the previously released “Almost a Year” and the more recent single “Caracal,” Vanta Black tackles subjects and moods fit for the titular hue, itself the blackest manmade pigment (currently under exclusive license to artist Anish Kapoor’s studio). Erin’s Billie Holliday-indebted croon lilts with the relaxed calm of someone whose already cried away all the tears they could muster long ago — too exhausted to fret and now comfortable enough in the darkness to blend in with it. She sings tales of relationships damaged by distance and destructive tendencies, somewhat reluctantly relieved by freedom yet ridden with separation anxiety. Her pulsating, twilight-lit productions that accompany recall mid-aughts-to-modern-day takes on goth, post-punk, and new wave. Perhaps in a nod to the still-burgeoning live synth and dance scene in her hometown of Brookyln, Hoagg prefers to play her concert sets fully live, all analog, seamlessly blending Octotrack, Machinedrum, triggers, and synth.
A while back, I was reading about attachment theory; seems to me I have a pattern of dating avoidant partners. Inspiring musically as it may be, it’s really quite inconvenient.
Jade Part 1: Amsterdam
“I don’t think you are the one, or you ever will be” was something my boyfriend said to me before he booked a flight to Amsterdam. That night sucked — I had played a show at some hookah bar in Manhattan, it went OK. Everything seemed normal, and then when we got to my place, he was being weird and evasive. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that to me. We’d been dating for almost a year and that was the first time I saw him cry.
My phone had fallen out of my pocket on the train home, so to make matters worse I couldn’t call any friends. I sat upright while he snoozed, with that highly unfortunate heart-sinking-deep-into-the-pit-of-your-stomach, appetite-dissolving sadness. I was hoping this was something he would change his mind on. I didn’t sleep at all and was communicating with some teenager who found my phone, trying to get him to drop it off at a bodega, feeling like death. My boyfriend went to work and I skipped mine.
I cried all the way to Queens on my bike in the cold that morning. I finally arrived to my lost-iPhone-destination, where a Fresh Pond Road bodega guy handed me my phone. Some stranger put a hand on my shoulder and said it would be OK. Lissy came over later, made me some tea, and tried to make me eat something. She put on Ponyo on her laptop and kept me company while I curled up in fetal position weeping. The next night, my phone lit up with an “I’m sorry” text from him. I guess we were ~still together~, but nothing had changed; I still wasn’t “the one” and he was still going to Amsterdam to see that best friend that I barely knew — they had some “psychic connection,” and he needed to “reconnect with her,” and don’t worry, they “only made out in college once.”
A month or so later, he was quitting his gallery job and using his vacation pay to go on this trip I wasn’t invited on. He flew off to Europe and the first night he was gone, I locked myself out of my apartment. I had to sleep on a friend’s couch. Overseas relationship limbo off to a great start. He said he’d tell me when he landed, and 16 hours later I was livid looking at the time difference in Amsterdam. I hadn’t received a text message, a Facebook message, a call, Skype, FaceTime, an email, and I had another four weeks of this hell. You can see how recently someone has logged onto things like Facebook Messenger, so of course, being the obsessive masochist that I am, I was checking it every 30 minutes (yes, he was active on it and definitely around wifi), and getting more and more angry. I texted him and asked if he’d landed. He said “yes” and sent me a picture of some Amsterdam pigeons, and I wanted to scream.
The following weeks brought a slew of similar disappointments and total lack of communication on his part. The few messages he sent contained all manner of reassuring things like: “Everyone is really pretty here,” and “a lot of people look like you.” He was having the time of his life, and he wanted to move there. He was very busy. Cool, dude!
These sweet nothings continued until he was back in NYC. He came over to my apartment and when he hugged me, he felt alien. He said “I missed you more then I thought I would.” About a week later, I finally worked up the courage to ask him if he had changed his mind about the whole “the one” thing. He said no.
As a now seasoned veteran of separation anxiety, I gathered what self respect I had (to my own surprise) and told him if he still felt that way, I had to go. Clearly I was just going to get hurt sooner or later, and I didn’t want to wait around for it. We talked in my living room, I told him I loved him with my whole heart, and he gave me back my keys. I rode my bike to Williamsburg that day, and fell off my Fuji in front of a moving car on Grand Street while my bike speaker was blasting “Nobody but Me” by The Human Beinz.
Jade Part 2: Jaded
Romantic woes aside, I’ve been called me a “go-getter,” “resilient,” and told I have “gumption.” Thank goodness I am a person who channels sadness into creative endeavors. Sometimes, I even get healthier when I’m depressed. I set a two drink maximum, freshly bleach my eyebrows, do more crunches, apply more face masks, impulse buy nootropics, lick my wounds, and make more art. Following the breakup, I wrote a bunch of songs in a very short time. “Spell Cast,” “Softboy,” “Best,” “Panam,” “Wholeheart,” and “Jade” all made the final album cut. Many of them contain single improvised lyrical takes, but “Jade” is a song I workshopped.
A very good friend was talking about how New Yorkers get particularly jaded in the dating world, perhaps because there are so many options, and people are always looking for the next best thing. I started this track riffing some lyrics with that in mind (because I was defeated and jaded and single now too), so that’s where the name comes from. Armed with my machinedrum and my Juno 60, I made a drumbeat and wrote a bass line I was pretty stoked on. While I wondered if he had cheated on me with one of my aforementioned clones, or with that psychically-connected BFF of his, I sort of fell into this theme of imagining what he was doing without me: dancing with other people, sleeping with other people, whispering in someone’s ear at a noisy bar.
Writing music is cathartic, introspective, helps you to better empathize, and ideally achieve greater truths. Much of “Jade” is my perception of his hesitation with me. I felt like he was having second thoughts about us because my seriousness towards him was scary. Perhaps it made him have to think about the consequences of potentially leading me on, and hurting me later if he didn’t reciprocate my intensity. I’ve been told I “come on too strong” a lot in my life. The lyrics “I thought about you when I brushed the sand out of my ear” was a reference only he would get, though he always said he doesn’t listen to lyrics. The original version of “Jade” sounded completely different, and had one too many conflicting melodies in it, probably due to my internal chaos. (It had this high arpeggiated synth line over the top that was totally out of place, and made it hard to listen to. I took that out of the mix.) I grew so much this year, musically, that I ended up going back and redoing the song’s synths almost entirely. After I stripped it down to the vocals, the main string-sounding bass in the intro, and a few small details, I built up the whole song from scratch again. I did keep a synth sound (that is actually just me picking out what Juno patch I want) in the beginning because I like it as a cue for my live set. “Jade” is one of my favorite songs to perform because I’ve made up some set dance moves to it, and it feels very me. It’s very visual. In the end, it was the last song done on the album, and is one of my proudest compositions on it. It’s dark, dance-y and fun. It’s my version of a happy song. He hates it.