Allyson Camitta and Ezra Tenenbaum are Shallowhalo. Their debut record, No Fun, is out now.
Sophie Thatcher is an actress and artist who currently stars as teenage Natalie on the Showtime series Yellowjackets; Allyson Camitta is a New York-based artist who fronts the pop band Shallowhalo. Shallowhalo’s debut record, No Fun, was just released last week, so to celebrate, the two friends hopped on a Zoom call to catch up about it.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Sophie Thatcher: I’ve been going to your shows since, like, forever. I’ve been there from the beginning, seeing it all. But what was the inspiration for this new record?
Allyson Camitta: Yeah, it’s so funny, you were at the first show I ever played live. That was when I was playing synth in Turtlenecked — I was so nervous.
Sophie: I remember! Not that you were nervous, but… Where was that at?
Allyson: That was Purgatory, in Bushwick.
Sophie: OK. Oh, my god, I was like, “This dude sounds like Franz Ferdinand” — I kept saying it. [Laughs.] But better, obviously. I don’t know if Harrison [Smith] wants to hear that.
Allyson: Oh, no, no. I’m sure he would love that.
It’s funny, because Purgatory was also the first show that I played Shallowhalo at.
Sophie: Really? Yeah, that’s sick. Did you play with the boyfriend, Ezra [Tenenbaum]?
Allyson: Yeah, it was the both of us. We’re a duo, and we’ve been playing as a duo from the beginning. I guess I should answer your question though.
Sophie: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Allyson: The inspiration for the album — I first started playing music basically joining Turtlenecked and,we were playing a couple shows until the pandemic happened. I was having so much fun, and to just have that taken away so abruptly was so sad.
Sophie: How did that start? With just you playing — would you fuck around with your synths, or with Ableton or whatever program you use? How did that connection start?
Allyson: So, I met Harrison at a party, and that was right around the time where I wanted to start playing music. I just never really had close musician friends to kind of guide me, so when I met Harrison we realized we followed each other on Instagram and he was a musician, and I was like, “Oh, we should jam sometime, even though I’ve never jammed with someone in my life.”
Sophie: I love that. As long as you feel comfortable with the person, it’s nice to be able to not feel judged and like you can try out anything.
Allyson: Yeah, exactly. Except that first time we hung out to jam, I wanted to just melt into the into my chair, because I was so nervous.
Sophie: You’re like, “I don’t know what to do!”
Allyson: I had no idea. I was like, Oh, my gosh, he’s been doing this for a long time…
Sophie: I don’t know, as a female musician hitting up other male musicians, sometimes it feels… I feel like I want to take my own ground. But I think being a musician — not that I know too much about it, but it’s so important to be collaborative. And as a female musician, people like to be like, “Oh, well, this person produced it for her, she didn’t actually do this, blah, blah, blah.” And there’s that stigma hanging around. So even when I go, “Oh, wanna collab?” I always have that stigma over my head where I’m like, Oh, I’m not doing enough. Which is kind of out of the blue to bring up, but it’s always on my mind.
Allyson: Yeah, and the thing that people don’t realize is that the best ideas come from collaborating with other people.
Sophie: No, I know, and I’m just realizing that now. I know that since you first started off, you’ve been collaborating with people — it’s just so important to see other people’s perspectives. But tell me more about the start of the new stuff.
Allyson: So I got really into — have you heard of The Artist’s Way?
Sophie: No, I haven’t. What’s that?
Allyson: It’s kind of this self-help book for artists, to unblock your creativity. It gives you exercises every week to do it.
Sophie: What kind of exercises?
Allyson: One of the main things is called morning pages, where you wake up and the first thing you do is just you free write into a notebook. Like no judgment at all, whatever’s the first thing that comes into your mind.
Sophie: That’s what my therapist told me to do! I don’t know if it’s specifically from this book, but I was doing that for a bit. It’s hard to have the motivation to that every day, though. [Laughs.]
Allyson: Yeah, definitely.
Sophie: But it helps.
Allyson: Yeah, oh, my gosh. Just the concept of waking up, stress is forming at the top of your mind and just releasing that onto pages the first thing in the morning, and you’re freed from that for the rest of your day.
Sophie: It’s like starting the day off, honest. And most of the time, that’s not the case, when you just go to work or something. It just starts the day off no filter, no nothing. It’s just hard to get that motivation.
Allyson: Yeah. Just doing anything in a routine these days has been so difficult.
Sophie: Oh, yeah. How did that help your music?
Allyson: I had so many different things to write about. And also sometimes, when I’m going through things, it’s hard to pinpoint a feeling to them. But writing it down, you can read it later and then process that emotion and put that feeling into a song.
Sophie: Did you use some of the stuff you’ve written as lyrics? Or is it just like heightened versions, or just completely different?
Allyson: It depends on each song. Some songs on the album are kind of like letters to my younger self, or just processing things that happened.
Sophie: I love that. That makes me emotional, that’s so nice.
Allyson: Yeah, I think I sent you “Showbiz Baby,” which was in reference to my time working in film. There was a line that’s very, if you’re a film head, you would know what this is — “Last looks and calling a martini.”
Sophie: Just specific references that bring you right into that headspace. It’s through film that we met, and then from there on, it was just music and mutual friends, and both being artists.
Allyson: That’s what also drew me to you, because you just had really cool style and really great music taste. You were just in a music video with Alex Ross Perry [for Pavement’s “Harness Your Hopes”] — how was that?
Sophie: Well, the music video itself was very kind of in your face, silly, but that fully follows with what Pavement’s done in the past. I remember looking at the synopsis for the music video and I was like, This could be absurd or this could be really bad. And Alex said the same thing. It was a very bold concept. And I had the big Pavement posters — I think I had a Slanted and Enchanted poster in my bedroom growing up.
Sophie: So it’s just been this weird thing where things in my life have been coming full circle. And that was just one part of it with Alex. It’s interesting because with that song, it struck really big on the TikTok algorithm, which is also a weird thing to think about. Pavement is so far removed from TikTok, but I think him bringing me in was bringing in the younger generation. And I don’t use TikTok — I’m very anti-TikTok. I don’t want to hate or anything, but I think it’s a really scary app. But that was like his way of involving a new fresh perspective. It was sick, though. It was just really goofy. And I had a couple ego deaths doing the Santa Claus outfit and dancing around alone. It’s like Stephen Malkmus and everybody had each other, and it was totally just me running around in a Santa Claus outfit, just, like, being a gremlin. [Laughs.]
Allyson: Yeah, I know. That video is so fun.
Sophie: Totally. It was fun to do. It was one day, which was absurd, and also incredibly ambitious.
Allyson: We just filmed the music video for one of the songs last week, for “Falling Stars.” We kind of had some film references for that too.
Sophie: Like what?
Allyson: That David Lynch movie, the later one with all of the spooky kind of strobe lighting — Inland Empire. There were just all of these spooky, unsettling references. And I feel like that’s kind of a world that I’m trying to channel — something beautiful, but a little unsettling.
Sophie: That’s what I was trying to say with your music, but you put it more articulately. It has a pop sensibility, obviously, but there’s something underlyingly unsettling or just off about it. And I think that’s so intriguing, and that’s the kind of pop music that I want to listen to. I mean, I wouldn’t even put it as pop. But the fact that you’re trying to replicate this in your visuals too — I think you are such a visual artist, because you come from fashion, and this is a heightened version of yourself. I was also curious about that — I didn’t know if it felt like kind of a character you were putting on, because I could also understand that, too.
Allyson: Yeah, it kind of is a character. I have to get into character before I perform.
Sophie: That’s crazy! How do you do that?
Allyson: I’m a naturally shy person, so going from never playing in a band to playing synth in a band, to being the lead vocalist—
Sophie: Yeah, that’s a big one. [Laughs.]
Allyson: Actually, a couple of years ago I took an acting class for social anxiety, and I feel like it really helped. So to perform now, I would kind of go into character, but the character is myself. Or this amalgamation of all of these strong, confident female musicians, like Kate Bush or Karen O, or Blondie. And I just channel their energy and go on stage. I feel like I have to rely on that less and less after each show I play. So I’m hoping that those will just connect.
Sophie: That’s interesting. Do you think the shows have helped build confidence for you?
Allyson: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Sophie: Honestly, same with my work.
Allyson: How is it for you? Is it easier to get into a role now, or are there less nerves involved?
Sophie: It really depends on the character and how close the character is to me. I’ve noticed that when the character does feel kind of close to me, it feels scarier because I feel like I’m baring more of my soul or my personality. And if people don’t like whatever I put out, then it’s like an extension of myself people don’t [like]. It’s also just internal bullshit that I’m going to have to work over. With Yellowjackets, I would say to my friends, “Oh, it feels like a heightened version of myself, and that’s why it was so scary.” It was incredibly vulnerable.
But I just did the Stephen King movie, and that felt very much not like me, and there was something very safe and warm and welcoming within that. Because my entire life has just been putting on characters and that’s where I feel more comfortable all the time. It’s just like, some people are born to put on a character and entertain. With the last movie, it felt very natural. And it actually really helped, because it was a hard movie. It was really dark because it’s Stephen King. And to originate Stephen King movie is very daunting. But the character was so far from me that it was nice. I find it really nice when it’s so far from me and I don’t let it bleed too much into my own personality.
Allyson: Yeah, I was going to ask, how is that like?
Sophie: Well, you can’t take the character home. I don’t know what it’s like with you after a show, if you feel that wave of confidence kind of linger on throughout the night, or if it just kind of subsides and stops after the performance.
Allyson: It lingers on. I feel energized after performing.
Sophie: Right? I always do. It’s hard to turn it off. That’s interesting how that works. Because I mean, you’re going into a character to some extent, even if you say it’s a heightened version of you. That’s what I say about all my characters: It’s always a heightened version of myself.
Allyson: Definitely. And I’ve been styling myself for my shows — I just wear my own clothes. I know some people have brought up the clothes as being part of the performance, but those are all just my clothes.
Sophie: I mean, you just have good taste!
Allyson: I mean, those are clothes that I never wear in day-to-day life, especially recently. I feel like I’ve just been accumulating and hoarding all of these clothes for this moment.
Sophie: Everything has been waiting for this moment! It’s so fucking exciting. You have so much coming out. How do you feel?
Allyson: I’m really excited. We’ve been practicing a lot and playing a lot of shows. And I’ve been experimenting with different props — like one of the songs, “Yesterday’s Toys,” is about a haunted porcelain doll, and I’ve been bringing her to shows and dancing around with her on stage.
Sophie: I can’t wait to be back in New York to see that. So is this like a fantasy, or is there a specific story within the doll? Do explain.
Allyson: I’ve been trying to write songs in different ways, so this one I came up with a story and a world that I could visualize. This was a story about my old porcelain doll that I became separated with somehow, and I came across her at a Goodwill. She’s a little haunted, but she means well, and it was just really nice seeing her and being reunited. And it was my promise to her that I would never leave her again.
Sophie: I love that so much. Is it nice having props? Is that like a nice distraction on stage? Because I’ve noticed as an actor, having props can be really nice to focus on something else and take away from yourself, so you can put your energy into that rather than being so self-absorbed or self-critical.
Allyson: Yeah, definitely. I feel like props and just creating different activities you can do on stage—
Sophie: Activities! That’s a part of the Meisner [technique] — you start with props and distracting yourself and taking yourself out of being so in your head. Not enough musicians do that. It’s also not necessary for a lot of musicians. But you’re taking this to another extent where it’s almost like it’s performance art. I mean, you have done every kind of art form, so it’s like you’re just expanding it on stage, which is super cool.
Allyson: Yeah. I feel like a lot of musicians are scared to use props because they think it would make them less of a musician.
Sophie: Less of a musician, more of a performer.
Allyson: Yeah, exactly. And, I want people to come and watch a performance.
Sophie: Yeah, that is totally my mindset too. Not everybody feels that way, and that’s OK. But I fucking love that. I’ve been thinking, and my ties to every art form that I have is just that I want to tell a story. Maybe you feel that way, but within me making music, me making art, me making anything, I want to tell a story. I feel like I’m a storyteller and I want to share it. And within each performance, you have these props that can help enhance the story to some extent, or make it more visceral or make it evoke some kind of reaction.
Allyson: Yeah. Do you have any plans to make music again?
Sophie: I’ve been working on songs. It’s weird because now with Yellowjackets out, I feel like I can’t so slyly put out music and be like, “Oh, just listen to it all my Bandcamp.” There’s a little bit more pressure now, I feel like.
Allyson: Oh, yeah.
Sophie: But I have some songs I’m working on. They’re all over the place. For me, Grouper was always the biggest influence, but I think I’m kind of stepping out of my ambient phase and I’m trying to add a little beat to it.
Allyson: Ooh! [Laughs.] I love that.
Sophie: But we’ll see. It’s very strange as an actor to put out music when you have a following from people that have seen you on a show. It’s just a very weird crossover. And I know at the end of the day it doesn’t fucking matter at all, but there’s been a little bit more pressure with that, knowing that all these people are viewing me in a certain way. But that’s also just me being petty.
Allyson: That’s so true, though, because you have people who know of your, and you’re introducing this new thing and not everyone might like it.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s like when I post my art or anything — it’s so vulnerable posting. But that’s a whole other conversation. [Laughs.]
Allyson: [Laughs.] Yeah, time’s up. Zoom’s kicking us out!
(Photo Credit: right, Brittany Orlando [styled by Anja McLain])