Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT, the only email newsletter about music that is also sometimes a podcast. Today, it’s a podcast. Listen to past episodes on Spotify or Apple. This post is a sappy one. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
Many years ago, when I was entering the thoroughly unprofitable world of writing about rock bands for a living, I was largely figuring it out as I went along. I didn’t know where I was headed with it or where it would lead me. Hell, I still don’t know. I only knew to follow one guiding principle: Write about bands I like. That’s it. As far as career moves go, that may have singlehandedly assured that I stay destitute forever, but it also led me to some special people who, in one way or another, ended up changing my life. That’s how I met today’s guest, Anika Pyle.
When I first met Anika, she was fronting the band Chumped. I’d watch them play at little rooms around Brooklyn once or twice a week and they always had a small clique of supportive friends who reliably showed up to drink heavily and yell their lyrics back at them. It was just a party. Every time. I don’t know any other way to explain it.
I started writing about Chumped wherever I could, partly because I believed in them and partly because no one else would write about them. Eventually, other people caught on to how good they were and the band started gaining a little buzz. Chumped took opening slots on bigger tours, got covered on the cool websites, and played some music festivals here and there. Basically all of the things an indie band hopes to cross off their checklist these days. But as they gained speed, the wheels started to wobble. The band lasted just a few short years before calling it a day. As brief as Chumped’s tenure was, though, meeting them really helped map out my life, as strange as it may seem. I’m not sure I realized that at the time, but now, six years from the end of the band, I can appreciate those years a lot more for how special and free they were.
Anyway, in case it is not glaringly obvious, reflecting on that little pop punk band really hits me right in the feels. Although I’m sad those days are in the past, it’s also been very exciting to watch the path Anika has taken as an artist since then. Following the demise of Chumped, she started another project, Katie Ellen, and released an album in 2017. She also has a new record out this month under her own name called Wild River. The album sees her processing the recent passing of her father and is a staggeringly beautiful meditation on grief that weaves together delicate musical arrangements with long spoken word sections. Poetry, songs, and eulogies blend together so seamlessly throughout.
I mean this in the most complimentary way possible: I find Wild River to be a very tough listen. I can usually make it as far as “Orange Flowers” before dissolving into a puddle. It’s not something I’d sit and listen to for pleasure, but I do find myself coming back to when I am seeking catharsis.
I had a long, overdue chat with Anika about all of these things and yet I still don’t feel like I even scratched the surface of what I wanted to talk about. Hear the two of us get overly sentimental on today’s episode! (Oh, and if you’re looking for a more coherent, text-based interview with Anika, I’d recommend her very good recent talk with David Anthony. Don’t get too comfortable over there, though. I can’t afford to be losing readers to that guy!)