koleżanka and Lamont Brown (RNIE) Are Trying to Move Forward

The friends and collaborators on writing through trauma, finding inspiration in Pokémon, and more.

Kristina Moore is the lead singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer of the Brooklyn-via-Phoenix band koleżanka; Lamont Brown is the Philly-based artist who performs as RNIE. To celebrate the recent releases of RNIE’s PONCHO and koleżanka’s Place Is — out today via Bar/None Records — the friends and collaborators hopped on a Zoom call to catch up.

— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Kristina Moore: So, regarding PONCHO: I told you when I first heard it, it was super cinematic and felt almost like scoring or something. Were there any visual sources that informed the writing, instrumentally and lyrically? Beyond film or art, even like a place that you would go that was visually stimulating that helped you write it?

Lamont Brown: There wasn’t anywhere I would go, because all the songs were more or less written in New York in just small patches. So when I started bringing them together, it was around the same time that I moved to Philly. It’s weird to say, but when this was happening was when the DLCs for Pokémon were rolling out. And so the first DLC was a beach — it was like a big island. And that’s around the same time I started “Terrier,” so all those little clicks and clacks in the sound kind of reminded me of beach sounds like. Like the sound of sand washing up, or seashells hitting each other. And then when I started finishing it, that’s when the second DLC came out, and that was this mountainesque scene. And that reminded me of the way “777” sounds. So I was watching a lot of, like, walking-around-Japan-in-the-snow videos for that. It definitely spanned time — so I guess just things that you see in the seasons.

Kristina: You know I recently just started playing Pokémon Go, and you were like my guru — you should be hired as a consultant for Pokémon Go, honestly. But what is a DLC? I don’t know what that is.

Lamont: It’s just like downloadable content. The game comes out, but then they want to add extra stuff, so instead of going to buy a completely new game, they just have an expansion pack that you can download and just continue on.

Kristina: OK, because you’ve gotten so far in the game, you need to go elsewhere. [Laughs.] I love that. It’s so fun to think about things that stimulated us during that time, because we literally were just sitting inside. Like I have such a distinct memory of looking out my window at this tree and watching it bloom, because spring was happening in the early pandemic. Just things that you had to do to take yourself elsewhere… I remember you sent me that video, too, of the the dude driving on highways in the United States.

Lamont: Oh, yeah, Freeway Jim. [Laughs.] Freeway Jim is sick. I was thinking about him the other day — just that whole process of watching the scenery that you would see when you’re in your tour vehicle, but wanting to write but you can’t in the van. So being able to see those things while you’re in a space that you can write is really nice.

Kristina: Yeah, it was a very fascinating stimuli for me. I never thought I would enjoy so much just watching a dude freakin’ drive on a highway. [Laughs.] But then I was like, Wow, I really miss this a lot. This is really nice.

Lamont: Yeah, it’s really sick. And you can type in anywhere. Some of the places you kind of recognize — you’re like, Yeah, we definitely drove on this road.

Kristina: Yeah I think you sent me some Southwest one, and I was like, Oh, my god, I’ve driven this for the past, like, decade going on tour when I was a little baby.

Lamont: That’s awesome. So talking about your new LP — it’s coming out soon. How does that feel?

Kristina: So good. I want to out of my brain so bad. [Laughs.]

Lamont: I heard it at the beginning of quarantine, like I heard the first mixes and everything, and it’s a fantastic record. I’m excited for people to hear it. And my question for you is, what was the first song written for the record? Do you remember?

Kristina: Yeah, the first song written for the record is the weirdest song on the record, because it was the first song. It was right after we got off tour with the Marías and we were playing in Triathalon. I got back to Phoenix for Christmas, and I was staying at my creative partner, Arkie [Calkins]’s house — they weren’t home, they were in Florida or something, I was watching their cat. And I wrote this song called “$40” in a span of, like, two hours. I was just very hot playing keys, coming out of the Triathalon stuff. I think “Courtside” had just come out and that was a really complicated song to play. So I was feeling very confident on keys or whatever, and wrote this really poppy synth song — that I feel like, now listening to the record, stands out so much and is so weird.But that song’s old. That song must have been from the winter of 2018. 

Lamont: Oh, wow. 

Kristina: Yeah. I almost scrapped it, but then Arkie was like, “Fuck it, just put everything on there. Who cares if the record is weird for one song, it’s going to be fine.” 

Lamont: Are there any other songs on the record that when you wrote it, you more or less trashed it and were like, No one’s ever going to hear this, but then you thought about it and were just like, Oh, shit, this is the bop?

Kristina: Yes! [Laughs.] Well, it’s funny because I was going to scrap that one, and then when I started showing the record to friends, everyone was like, “Oh, my god, ‘$40’ is my favorite song.” And I’m like, “I fucking hate that song, dude, don’t say that.”

But there’s a song called “The Mountain” at the very end of the record that I wrote before the pandemic — I was going this studio that you could rent out in Williamsburg, and I wrote that on guitar, and it was just this bare bones, weird guitar song. I sent it to Arkie and they just transformed it, but I was like, I can’t freakin’ write to the song, it’s like so weird. And it ended up being maybe the most emotionally invested song I have on there, because I feel like a lot of the record’s pretty joyous, or just not like my previous shit that was really sad. But definitely “The Mountain” I was going to scrap.

And then I think “Back To Your Place” — which on the record is called “B2YP” — is a rerelease of a previous recording of the song. We weren’t going to do that at first too, but when I was in the studio recording it with Lucas [Carpenter], the dude who recorded my half of the record and then mixed it — I was super impressed, he had [Loren Humphrey] come in and just do this little key part, and I was like, Wow, this song rules again, I like this. So then that made it too. 

Did you ever have that when you were making the EP, where you were like, “I’m not using this song.”

Lamont: Yeah, like literally every song. [Laughs.] Because I didn’t know I was writing for something — I was just writing on days off in just, like, little pockets of music. A lot of those songs are just the kind of process where you force yourself to write something, no matter how simplistic it is, just to put something out. So when I went back and listened to them, that’s when they more or less started taking shape. I feel like part of the process is putting them in an order, and then based off of where they are on the record and what’s coming up before and after, that’s when the songs start to figure out what they need individually to make the other ones stand out. So I feel like if there were other batches of songs, they would have sounded differently even if they started the same, if that makes sense. Like if I pulled other songs out of the trash.

Kristina: For sure. Is that your writing process? Because I feel like I have, like, 30 sketches right now for this next record, but I have, like, 10 songs that I feel like are going to be ready to go when we record. Do you just get home and sketch stuff unabashedly and just see what lands?

Lamont: Yeah. I feel like if I ever sit down and try to write a song, like if I try to describe a song to myself and then tell myself I’m going to write that, it doesn’t work out because I’m realizing the song I’m more or less describing is probably a song that already exists. So I’m trying to, I guess, force myself to make something, being like, OK, well, if you’re going to write in this genre of music, the drumbeat needs to be like this. The process is so weird. I come up with these little ideas, and then they get scrapped. And then because, let’s say they were written in January and I come back and revisit in August, by the time August has rolled around I’ve done so many different things — just in life in general outside of music, and I’ve been listening to so many different types of music, that I hear the song differently. So it allows me to come back and be like, Well, I didn’t think about this before, but like this is this kind of song. So it helps

Kristina: I love that too. That’s why I like to record something and then come back to it two months later — like I know that it’s there, so I can always come back to it with a fresh outlook. Because sometimes you can write something in a day and you’re like, Oh, shit, that’s done, so sick. But then like other times, I’ll come back six months later and be like, Whoa, I don’t remember making this, this is really cool. And then transform it.

Lamont: Yeah. Sometimes I freak myself out when it’s time to like start working on the final product, because after a certain point I’ve listened to the demos so many times that I’m just like, This is what people think the song should sound like. And like, they’re never going to hear this! 

Another thing that tripped me up, specifically on “Penny” — I listened to “Penny” so many times just with the instrumentals, because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted the lyrics to be — I just knew what the flow was — that by the time it was time to actually record the vocals, I had no idea how to approach them, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was hearing in my head.

Kristina: I get that. How did you choose singles? I feel like the whole EP is so fluid, it must be hard to try to decide what song is going to be representative.

Lamont: I only did “Wash.” I thought that was the most different from what the first LP — that was the most growth as far as just experimentation, and a different sonic experience. But, yeah, I just wanted to do one. I thought that was the most appropriate one, because I felt like the other ones would be nice little treats to find. Like I felt like “Penny” would technically have been the strongest single, but I think it was better that people just found it by listening to the record.

Kristina: Totally. 

Lamont: So you and I have shared a lot of the same experiences over the course of being in Triathalon and being in New York — we did a lot of the same things throughout touring, and went to a lot of the same places. Did you find that your tour experiences helped shape the record? Because I was very curious about names like Place Is and “In A Meeting.”

Kristina: Yeah, dude, “In A Meeting” was named because I wrote it right after we had a meeting with Rob and the financial dudes. We were sitting at that conference table and I was like, What the fuck am I doing here? [Laughs.] It felt so weird. It just kind of drew from that anxiety, almost like imposter syndrome or something.

But yeah, l feel like we’ve both been doing DIY stuff for what feels like the better half of our lives at this point. It was really crazy to go from being in proximity to things that were really familiar — like even when I was touring with this Phoenix band Roar, or touring with myself and all of the five thousand projects that I made for myself, those things felt like something that I had control over. It was things that I knew, people that I knew.

And then touring with Triathalon felt like you had to just obliterate control. You were in venues with, like, 5,000 people sometimes, and everything that you knew about the world that you were in was gone and transformed into this grand big thing where you’re meeting all these people and you’re going to all these places that you’ve gone to before, but in a totally different capacity. It definitely informed a lot of what the record was about, because it felt like, for the first time, I really was on a journey of trying to define what a place is. What my place is, where home lies when you’re swept up and moved to New York and you’re from fucking Phoenix, Arizona. [Laughs.] It felt very surreal. So definitely I think it was transformative in writing that record, more so than any other touring experiences I’d had previously.

Lamont: Yeah, that makes sense. “7th st/7th ave” — the music video for that, there are shots where you can see the parallels of the cactus skylines to Manhattan skylines. So I felt a sense of you drawing from, like you’re saying, your traveling experiences in comparison to where you are now. It’s like your two homes. I thought that was really nice.

Kristina: Yeah, for sure. I’m glad you saw that. I went back to Phoenix to shoot this some live video material stuff, back when we were first getting vaccinated and things were just starting to feel a little bit more safe — my parents were vaxxed, so I was going to go see my family for the first time in over a year. It was really profound to take footage at that time, because it was the first time that I was able to really go back to my other home. I remember being in Tucson hiking with my friend Janna and just looking at the saguaros and being reminded, Oh, this is like the Phoenix skyline, like these these cacti on this mountain. Versus like, I’m looking out my window here and it’s just building, building, building, building, building

I have to, I think for my own sanity, try to draw the parallels. And it was nice to feature all the people that I love here, feature my friends in Phoenix. Sometimes it’s kind of crazy. I do feel very split, and I don’t really know what place I’m supposed to be in, I guess. Not to get too sad about it. [Laughs.] 

Lamont: Do you still feel in the same mindset, that you would like to keep exploring these emotions in upcoming songs as well?

Kristina: That’s a good question. A lot of the material that I’ve been writing lately is more is focused more on where I’m at introspectively, especially because so much of the experience that I’m drawing from is a year-and-a-half of being very much in New York. I think that the only things that I had to anchor me were nostalgia and memories. I’ve been writing a lot about, like, being five or being 16, or whatever, and having songs that are whole narratives about a moment in time when I was younger. I guess that’s kind of what Place Is was, but now I’m drawing from revisiting old times in my life because we’ve just been kind of in the same place. I think it’s a different approach for sure, but kind of similar. 

Do you feel like you like still you’re coming off of PONCHO? Like, what does it feel like to write again? Especially because, I feel like there’s like something weirdly informative, maybe personally, about the potential of playing live shows. What’s that been like for you?

Lamont: I feel like the songs that I’ve been writing are getting more out of drilling myself for just stupid, mundane things I’m worried about, or just thinking about the past, and they’re going more towards becoming the person that you see in your head, I guess. Just being like, Well, I’m not that person yet, but what’s stopping me? Because the things that I feel like we want in life are generally something that you see someone else doing, or someone else having. There’s just the mindset of being like, Well, if they can have it, I can have it. So it’s just pushing towards this well-rounded person. 

I think that’s what I’m writing about recently, instead of thinking about the past. But I’m glad that I got to put those ideas [about the past] into play. The whole idea behind [PONCHO] was, I was thinking about my dad a lot. [On tour,] we’d be in some hotel or something, [and I’d] go in the bathroom, look in the mirror and be like, Do I look like him? I don’t remember what he looks like — he was very abusive and kind of like the worst person in my life. And it was just days of waking up and being like, Am I acting like him? Am I getting mad about stupid things? So moving forward, the songs are more about just being a better person, and being who I want to be and not being so stressed about the past.

But yeah, PONCHO’s definitely about the past. It was just about being in New York, and New York bringing out the worst in me — me being always pissed off and annoyed, and feeling like the smallest things would push me towards being more like him. So it was just ideas like that, that I’m glad I got to get out. But yeah, moving forward, I want to write more about becoming the person in my head.

Kristina: Thank you for sharing. I didn’t even know that about PONCHO, I’m glad to know. Sometimes you need a fucking break from the mental gymnastics of writing things that are so deeply personal, and having to explore those feelings. Personally, I feel like doing this record and not having it be about something that is very intense was very relieving, because it’s healthy, I think, sometimes to write through feelings like that, but also it feels obliterating. Because then you perform them, or it’s constantly there. Do you feel like that? Is it difficult to immortalize those feelings, or does it feel more cathartic?

Lamont: I think I have a problem sometimes when I’m playing these songs, where I can remember myself as I was writing it, like almost too specifically. I find myself almost getting overly emotional, which I find kind of embarrassing. I don’t know, it might just be being a Pisces. [Laughs.] Sometimes I’ll listen to a song or play a song and I feel like it was written three days ago, because I remember that version of myself. 

Kristina: I have a really hard time with stuff like that. I feel the same way where if I listen back to a song that regards a certain thing, I feel like I’m there again. The last koleżanka tour I was on, we were playing material from this first EP that I wrote that was very heavily about trauma and sexual assault and stuff like that. Just every night playing that over and over again, I just wanted to disappear. It was so emotionally heavy to revisit stuff like that. I don’t know if, like you talking about what PONCHO‘s about, it’s weird or if it feels good sometimes to get those things out on paper and release them. I feel both but… 

Lamont: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s definitely good to get it on paper, but yeah, sometimes it feels good because you might be in the mindset that day that you do feel like a better person than you were yesterday. And when you think back on that song, you kind of get this feeling of like, No, I’m better now, I made it. But then some days, you might sing a song and you’re like, Dude, I didn’t have to deal with that. It sucks — like this song wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have to deal with this awful, traumatic thing in some way, shape or form. So I guess it is bittersweet, but it’s always nice to be able to get it out in some way.

Kristina: Speaking on PONCHO, and maybe getting out of the heavy realm, you have these very specific, kind of melodic and rhythmic choices that you use in your tone work. I’m super inspired by it with your guitar playing, and I feel like it’s a contributing factor to a sonic stamp of like, “This is an RNIE song.” Do you feel like there’s a moment in time where you felt like, Oh, shit, this is how I want my guitar to sound?

Lamont: I think it’s still coming along. Even now, I just want to improve my guitar playing. I know there are moments specifically where I remember being like, OK, this is the guitar tone. Like, I remember finding the guitar tone that was more or less going to be the overall sound for Citrus [RNIE’s 2018 album]. It was the first time figuring out how to start dialing in my own tones, and I think that’s one thing that I started to realize that I really enjoy doing. Because sometimes it’s harder to write songs if the guitar tone’s super dry for me, because I don’t feel inspired. I feel like I’m just playing a guitar. So I think it always comes from the tone, and then the tone dictates the part. My guitar parts are always weird — I describe them as “neener-peeners,” like nothing’s really happening, but it’s still filling up the space where it needs to. But like on its own, it’s just like, “What are you playing?”

Kristina: [Laughs.] That’s my favorite part, though! I feel like everything is in its own place. You are really good with taking up an entire space in a song with, frankly, minimal things. It’s not like there’s anything grandiose happening instrumentally, but it’s that everything comes together as a choir and works together. It’s like, there’s a voice here in the guitar, and then the bass is a voice and the percussion’s voice and then your own voice, and it all fits like this puzzle piece to make this perfect square. And I love that. I feel like I like to approach guitar that way, too. So it’s like, I listen to your stuff all the time and think, Damn, that’s that’s a ripper

A “neener-peener,” you said? 

Lamont: It’s like, it’s supposed to be a riff, but it’s just, like, four notes. That’s a “neener-peener.” 

Kristina: [Laughs.] I’m gonna use that.

Lamont: Do you remember the first song that you knew was written for koleżanka? That you were just like, This is it, this is how I’m starting this band.

Kristina: Yeah, actually. I had been kind of in and out writing. I’d just started playing guitar — I fucking sucked at it. I had no idea what I was doing, which is honestly really beautiful looking back on it. But I traveled Europe for a month by myself. It was like my dream trip, I went back to Poland. Then I came home and was living in this huge house alone because the people that I was living with were on tour. And I started writing the song “Bury Me,” but I got really, really stoned — which I did not ever do before writing — because I was smoking a lot of weed in Paris. I started writing on bass, which I also had never played before, and I wrote the bassline first over a drum machine part, and then I wrote the guitar part. I did it all in a day, and I was like, Damn, this is different. This is not the kind of stuff that I was playing before I left

Lamont: I really like that song. 

Kristina: That was definitely the first one that felt like it. 

Lamont: Do you have a, what I like to call a creative restart process? Is there something that you feel like you do that helps you get back to your mindset? 

Kristina: Yeah. A lot of the stuff that I’m writing recently is about my mental health. I’ve been pretty manic lately, which is a new thing that I’m dealing with, without having any resources to deal with it. So I have to slow down because I’ll move too fast in my brain. I’ll definitely either sit in the shower and just, like, sit there for as long as I possibly can. Sometimes it’s nice to sit in the shower and just go over a melody over and over again while you’re trying to write lyrics, and then just sing it in the shower and you’re not moving around, you’re not doing anything else. You’re just sitting in there. 

Also, I love walking. Recently my cat ate my headphones, so I don’t have them anymore, but before that, I would love to just download a song that I was working on, or even just go for a walk and listen to the city and maybe walk into a place I haven’t walked before, or just walk as long as I possibly can. And that’s definitely a restart. I feel like walking is very meditative. 

Lamont: Yeah, the shower is nice. I think water calms me. Even walking — Philly has a lot of waterfronts, so I’ll just walk down the Delaware River, like near Penn’s Landing or up near the art museum and things like that. Sometimes listening to the song while you’re away from the computer helps write the song, because you can’t touch it. You can just keep writing it in your head. And when you get home, you hope you’re not too tired to record it.

Kristina: For real. 

Lamont: I have one final question for you. [When you write music,] do you ever think back to your younger self and you’re like, I wish my younger self could hear this. I feel like they would enjoy it? Is there anyone that you felt that you may be writing to, or is there anyone that you would like to take something from the record?

Kristina: Yeah, totally. I feel like I’m constantly writing to my younger self. And one of the most important things, I think, that I experienced touring is when you’re approached by young kids who are femme, women, enbys — anyone who feels underrepresented — and they start talking about like, “So what exactly are you playing?” I remember like getting cornered on Triathalon tours by a kid, and them having these very whispered questions about like, “So what exactly did you do when you played this part?” And I’m like, “Dude, I’ll tell you everything I know.”

I think who want to be writing to is me in seventh grade, getting kicked out of a punk band because I was a girl. Which is so stupid now. [Laughs.] But I was trying so hard to find a way to feel confident as a musician — not as a fucking singer, which is so common, [but as] the kid who wanted to actually play guitar. I always felt like I was in a such a bros club. And then seeing bands like Deep Sea Diver — when I saw Jessica Dobson playing guitar for the first time in 2009, I was like, What in the actual fuck? Like, you can play like this? I didn’t know I could do stuff like that. So I want to be that guy to whoever those kids are, who need to see someone doing it all and feeling like they can.

Kristina Moore writes songs about the anti-place, a state of being understood by truckers, deckhands, flight attendants, and touring musicians. An in-between existence where home becomes blurry, and improvised routines provide temporary comfort. That liminal experience was only exasperated when Moore relocated to New York and then immediately hit the road, spending every weeknight in a different club around the country, her bags still unpacked and her world in stasis.

koleżanka‘s debut album, Place Is, distills the experiences of a lifetime into sound. These songs could easily soundtrack a late night drive through the Phoenix desert, cacti and the pupils of wildlife illuminated under the yellow glow of headlights