From Left to right: Bratty, Miya Folick, Jay Som, Pabllo Vittar, Quinn Christopherson
Music is one of the most powerful tools of self-expression. Every artist who shares their music with the world expands the culture, broadens the conversation and invites more people to listen. For Pride 2021, we are having conversations about musical identity, discovery and connection. We spoke with five fearlessly creative artists—Jay Som, Miya Folick, Quinn Christopherson, Bratty and Pabllo Vittar—about their inspirations, gear and how they use music to explore and empower.
What role has music played in your self-discovery?
Pabllo Vittar: Music has been an incredible outlet for me to express my creativity. I love experimenting with sounds of the future alongside regional Brazilian rhythms of my heritage. It was actually the goal of my new record, Batidao Tropical. Music has also helped me carry my message of support and positivity to my community and beyond to new ears. The quickest way to someone’s life, and more importantly, heart, is through a song.
Miya Folick: So much of what I learn in this life of mine starts in music—and then I apply it to my life. I've learned so much about listening, about honesty, and about intimacy, through music. It's allowed me a freedom that I previously didn’t really have in my life—and now that I've discovered it through music, I'm able to find that same sort of freedom in the rest of my life.
Bratty: (translated from Spanish) Thanks to music I can call myself an artist. I believe that has also encouraged me to do things I never thought I was going to do. For instance, getting up on a stage, playing in front a ton of people—and being able to talk and feel interactions with many people at once—that has helped me overcome many fears.
Quinn Christopherson: Music has taught me to let go. Sometimes, I write a song that I don’t know what it means at the time or it means something when I wrote it, and when I go to record it, the meaning changes. Or, what I think the song means can be totally different to someone else and neither of us are wrong. I think that's the best part about songs—they are for who's listening. I write the songs for me, but when I put them out, it's like I'm giving them away for you to take what you want from them. There are no rules, and I think that's special.
Jay Som: Being a musician has allowed me to grow in both my professional and personal life. I'm constantly learning new things about myself—like the sort of people I want to be surrounded by and what makes me tick, and what makes me happy. For myself and most people, music is such a powerful force in so many ways, and to be able to explore that in forms of collaborations brings me closer to feeling like I'm in a universal community.
Tell us the story of when you first made music that you felt like represented your creative voice and vision.
Jay Som: Back when MySpace was still up and running as the number-one social media website I had two music pages up where I uploaded my original tracks. They were honestly so awful, but teaching myself how to record and play music at 12 years old set me up for the rest of my music career. I was constantly listening to music that I downloaded from LimeWire and from the CDs I bought at Barnes & Noble, so when I found out there was a vehicle to express my hormonal emotions I finally felt like I found my passion and my first love.
Bratty: I think it was when I was recording my first EP called Todo Está Cambiando (Everything Is Changing). I recorded that EP in my room, so it was a very organic thing. I was able to start thinking about what sound I wanted to create. I based it a lot on a song by Clario called “Sis” which had a dream-pop sound but with guitars. That was the first song I heard and I said "I want my project to sound like this"—to go a little more into the Californian tinges of guitars with chorus, vocals with reverb. Being able to do it from my room gave me a lot of freedom to be able to express myself. I think that in the creation of that EP I was discovering things to be able to form my own style.
Pabllo Vittar: I have always loved singing as a kid, so I can't remember the earliest moment, but one of my favorites was Rock in Rio in 2017. It was my first big festival. I was playing a non-official stage, but ended up with a gigantic crowd. I always try to make music with a message to inspire people, but usually the only person to be inspired was my mom through the shower door... But at that show, it was the first time I saw a crowd as far as the eye could see, and it made me realize my voice needed to be used for good and change.
Quinn Christopherson: I think the first song that I wrote that I liked was a song for my grandma called “Mary Alee.” It was folky, acoustic, a little bluesy—all things I feel pretty far from now. But it was special to me because it really captured who my grandma was as a person, and sometimes, when I'm writing a song about someone in specific, I try to make it something they would listen to. But the chorus was, “My grandma was a saint. She'd never been a quitter. Never nothing to complain, I'm really gonna miss her.” And it's true—I never heard her complain about anything my entire life. No matter how bad things got, she always had family and food to cook, and someone to share it with, and that was enough.
Miya Folick: I feel like I have these sorts of experiences all the time because my voice keeps changing and my vision keeps changing. It's more of an ebb and flow of feeling—like what I'm making is in line with my vision—and then feeling like it's not, and then trying to figure out why these things are not in alignment and either changing the way I work or changing the vision.
What gear or musical tools really unlocked something creatively for you? Walk us through that process.
Miya Folick: It depends on where I'm at creatively. Right now, I am really into my acoustic guitar, and other times in my life I've been really just focused on Ableton and my computer. Sometimes, I'm more into my electric and playing with pedals. Honestly, when it comes to gear, I tend to be pretty classic and simple. I often feel like all you really need is a little reverb, a little delay. You can be transported into a place where everything sounds great. I'm not the biggest gearhead although gear is very important to me because I couldn’t make music without it—but I tend to like the classics.
Jay Som: One of the most important instruments in my life is the trumpet—I played it for most of my childhood and teen years. Learning the trumpet taught me how to play other instruments, like the guitar, bass and piano, and made me more available to different genres. Having those instrumental tools introduced me to recording, how to multitrack and be a better listener. As the years have passed, I've definitely gotten more gear-heavy and nerdy about audio and guitars, but the sheer amount of things you can learn is never-ending, and I'm always so stoked to learn. My favorite thing right now is recording and mixing other friends' music—I get to be a person that guides someone through their creative process, and I also get to take a backseat and focus on the more technical side of music. It can be challenging because it's also about how you connect and communicate with people, and I get to apply what I learn from every session into my personal life.
Pabllo Vittar: My producer Gorky and I use everything from the most advanced software to the most basic instruments of the past. Combining these two worlds at his studio is what has helped me find my musical sound.
Bratty: When you're your own producer, and when you're starting out, you obviously need tools to help you do just what you want to do. I feel lucky to have lived in this era where we can all make music from home. I think my first obstacle, thinking materially, was the recording interface. You have to invest in those things, and then you have to learn them. Little by little I was learning more, and now I can work with other people. It has helped me to educate myself as a music producer, which was what I really wanted to do from the very beginning—before I became Bratty.
Quinn Christopherson: My favorite piece of gear I have right now is probably my Beyerdynamic headphones. They changed the game for me. Recording and mixing my demos was like a headache with bad headphones. When you think about it, songs are just noise, and when you finally hear all the noise properly, you can carve out space for other noise.
What influences have had a meaningful effect on your art—musical and/or non-musical?
Jay Som: I've been very influenced by all the relationships in my life—familial, intimately or platonically. I am constantly thinking about my loved ones and how I can be a better person for them, but have also found solace in drawing boundaries for myself. That also relates to how I work as a musician. It's very public and can be intimidating because there's a certain amount of vulnerability and earnestness you need to have for people to take you seriously.
Miya Folick: I read a lot. So often, I keep a journal of everything that I read, and when I really like a phrase or a sentence, I write it down so I can remember it—and I rarely ever reference these journals. But there's something about when you like the way a certain string of words makes you feel, the act of writing it down and just kind of committing it to paper in a way. There's something about that act that feels really meaningful to me and is inspiring to me even though I don't necessarily use these journals as any sort of reference. It encourages me to read in a very detailed and thoughtful way and to take things slow rather than rush through them.
Quinn Christopherson: I am big on writing words, lyrics and poetry—so I love storytellers, movies, TV. I loved the movie Coyote Ugly when I was younger, and I just rewatched it a couple months ago. It inspired me to write a song about how big we can feel from doing something so small like silly karaoke in a dive bar. I love chasing feelings like that.
Pabllo Vittar: All the artists I cover on my new album, Batidao Tropical. I grew up with all of these artists, so it is an honor to bring their music to 2021 with a Pabllo Vittar twist!
Bratty: One of my main influences and the reason why I became Bratty is Best Coast—which to this day is one of the bands that has influenced me the most, both musically and personally. I come from a current that is very Californian rock, and since I was 14 I've been listening to that wave of rock, surf, dream-pop—Best Coast, Alvvays, The Aquadolls, those kind of artists. Best Coast is pretty much where Bratty's name comes from—from one of their songs called Bratty B. I feel that I have also been able to form my own style in Spanish, and in Mexico I think I have been able to bring those currents here.
How do you see music as a force for equality?
Quinn Christopherson: Equality can come from lots of places, but for me, music is one way to elevate voices we don't hear enough of. My song "Erase Me" is about my role as a trans person and how society perceives me. But after I shared it with the world, I realized it was much bigger than that. All of a sudden, I was speaking to all kinds of different groups of people that were relating to my story in so many ways that I didn’t imagine. That's why I make music. I do it to connect with humans—and I do that through songs. But seeing everyone else find their strength through different mediums is where the real power is at.
Jay Som: Everyone knows this—but music is a universal language ... and it literally predates language? There's something so special about being in a crowd of people and watching and listening to a group of people play music, and just feeling the energy of the room. Same with listening to your favorite record. It's this unexplainable feeling, like when you get the chills on your arms or when you need to repeat a song 10 times. Music is definitely something that can inspire social change and allows people with unique perspectives to share their stories and background in a way that's digestible and impactful through emotion.
Bratty: Sharing art is to make someone else think that they are not alone in what they are living or what they are going through or what they are thinking. It doesn't really matter what social class you're in, what gender, what sexual orientation. I feel like anyone can relate artistically to anything and, even more when talking about music, I feel like music breaks down a lot of barriers of this kind. We can embrace another person from afar with the music they listen to. At the end of the day, that's what ends up making us the same.
Why is finding—and sharing—your voice important?
Jay Som: I guess one of the biggest milestones in life is finding out who you really are. But I think that should be a never-ending quest. I think it's important to stay grounded but I also think it's important to be open to the natural flow of life. COVID and all the lockdowns last year put me into a lonely spiral, but also placed me firmly in a state of reflection that was necessary to my growth as an adult. This year has allowed me to be more earnest about feelings—to be more truthful to myself and the people around me, to be more grateful for my blessings, and to show humility to strangers and friends and family. It takes a while to truly express yourself, but actively trying to work on yourself and your craft brings you closer to finding your voice.
Pabllo Vittar: In Brazil, the voices of my community have challenges with the current government. So, I always want my music to help encourage anyone to find their voice in the face of challenges.
Bratty: At the beginning I believe I started precisely as a sort of therapy for myself for getting out. With time, I began to realize how important it is that another person can relate to something you are saying. I feel like whatever you have experienced that is bad, you never know how it could help someone else that is going through something similar to overcome it and let them know everything is going to be alright. That’s like the most important thing about being able to share all this.
Miya Folick: I think sometimes there is some sort of pressure to have an answer for questions like this when, in fact, the importance of the question is that it is difficult to answer. If I had a bottled answer for this, then I would have everything figured out, and I don't. So, that's why I keep writing. I keep writing because I have questions. I keep trying to find my voice because I don’t know what it is all the time. And that state of not knowing, that state of uncertainty—that is the essence of being alive, and that's why we keep writing. And that's why we keep making music—because we don't know the answers to questions like this.