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Army Of One

Army Of One

These five female solo artists quickly on the rise are proving—in the world of music at least—that sometimes less really is more.

Part tattooed tomboy, part pre-Raphaelite post-punk maiden, Katy Goodman—the auburn-haired beauty behind the luscious, jagged dream pop of La Sera—greets me in a gorgeous hidden cabin up in the hills of Los Angeles’ historic Angelino Heights neighbourhood. The location—the backyard of the photographer shooting her for Aritzia—is suitably picturesque for the nymph-like beauty, who also plays in Brooklyn band Vivian Girls.

As a makeup artist applies Goodman’s false eyelashes, the gregarious musician explains that, performing as La Sera, she has just come off a three-week-long U.S. tour with folk-rock shaman and fellow Los Angeles transplant Father John Misty. The pair first met at show put on by mutual friend Har Mar Superstar at an East Hollywood strip club. “All the good stories are not family friendly,” says Goodman when asked to spill some tour gossip.

Goodman, who’s originally from New Jersey but is now based in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighbourhood, started writing La Sera material back in 2010, naming her solo project after a fruity cocktail that she enjoyed during a Vivian Girls trip to Milan. Though her initial La Sera songs were about her love of dogs, the first track to define the La Sera sound and ethos was “Never Come Around,” a musical hate letter to a guy who wronged her. “I was so mad that I was like, ‘I guess I’m gonna have to express myself in music!’” she recalls. “It was the first time I’ve ever felt like that. Usually I just angry text.”

The 28-year-old is currently writing her third La Sera album, with plans to go into the studio in February and release the disc in October. She says that the follow-up to 2012’s Sees the Light will be a bit weird. “Half of the songs that I’m writing are about a fictional group of children who are fighting their oppressors,” she says, by way of explanation.

When not expressing herself through song, Goodman adds to the brilliantly off-kilter selection of tattoos that cover her arms. Her ink includes a milkshake, a fork, and the Minor Threat sheep band symbol. “When I was 17, I made a list of all the tattoos I would want,” she explains. “I listed 20 tattoos, and I got them all.” She’s also covered in impromptu friendship tattoos, like her Vivian Girls tour tattoo. It’s a cactus with the letters CDA written next to it. Grinning, she explains: “It stands for Cool Dude Attitude.” LEONIE COOPER

PHOTOGRAPHED BY LAUREN WARD
Stylist: PHOENIX MELLOW
Hair and makeup: DANIELE PIERSON

“I love you like I love crack,” SZA (pronounced “sizza”—yes, it’s a Wu-Tang reference) sings on her debut EP See.SZA.Run. “I love you like I like to get high.” The 23-year-old’s music is pretty addictive unto itself. SZA’s sensual, dreamy voice wafts over lazy beats, creating a sound that’s somehow both organic and urban. It makes sense that the New Jersey-via-St. Louis singer is influenced by Ella Fitzgerald and Björk in equal measure.

SZA is all contradictions in person, too: the small-town girl who carries a set of custom-made gold grillz in her purse; the animal loving marine-biology major with an extensive collection of furs; the camera-shy girl who aspires to win a Grammy; the Cornell grad who claims to have a “dangerously low I.Q.”

When I meet her in a café in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one Friday night, she shows up fresh-faced and unassuming in a striped men’s shirt open over a camo tank top, but her signature hairstyle—an explosion of curls—hints at a wilder story. The line about crack comes from a song called “Crack Dreams,” and I ask if she thought it might end up being controversial. “No,” she says. “I don’t think crack is that controversial. If you walk a block from here, I guarantee you’ll see a crackhead.” She claims that it’s not even about the drug per se. It’s about the dangerous pleasure of a vice that you can’t let go of. “I felt things that I assumed were probably the peak of my existence, they just felt so amazing: loving my boyfriend, or the way I feel when I’m out in the street, wearing no pants and a fur coat,” she explains. “But I guess it’s just about that feeling, like, you know these things are bad for you.”

SZA says she hates New York, the city she now calls home. In Maplewood, New Jersey, where she grew up, “Everybody knows your first and last name.” (Ironically, she asks that Aritzia not print either of hers.) She recently tweeted, “I used to confuse and scare my parents….” What does that mean, exactly? “I was raised orthodox Muslim for the majority of my childhood,” she replies. “I didn’t watch MTV, I didn’t listen to the radio. Then I got my first tattoo at 13. It’s a tramp stamp. And it’s not even because I was like, I want a sexy tattoo! It’s because I was like, I want to hide something from my parents, and that’s the only place where they won’t find it. The first tattoo my mother ever found was a butterfly on my arm. I didn’t care. I have a very high threshold for nonsense.” Is she still a rebel? She laughs. “I try to lie to myself and pretend that I’m growing up, and I’ll be on time, and all my clothes will match, and my socks will be clean, but I’ll never be that person,” she says, smiling. “So when I try to get a regular office job, it’ll go awry. But I’m a singer now, so I guess that’s that.” LIS FERTIG

PHOTOGRAPHED BY MAX HEILD

“I’m done with musicians!” proclaims Eddi Front, pounding her fists on the table at a Brooklyn bistro. The singer-songwriter (real name: Ivana Carrescia) mined a messy romantic relationship for her self-titled debut EP—a moody, melancholic affair that puts her breathy, sexy voice front and centre. “It’s easier for me to write when I’m depressed,” Front admits, taking a sip of red wine. But, she adds, she would “never voluntarily” place herself in the path of heartbreak simply to write a song.

It might seem hasty for a new artist to swear off anything—even dating other musicians, as it were—so early in her career, but it turns out Front isn’t as new as some might think. She actually began performing a few years ago under the name Ivana XL—“That was a mistake, actually,” she says of the unfortunate moniker—and she had some success gigging around New York, even playing shows alongside artists like Sharon Van Etten and Olaf Arnalds. But this past May she reinvented herself as Eddi Front and everything seemed to click. “I knew I wanted a boy’s name,” she says, brushing aside her jet black bangs, “and that name sounds strong.” It definitely got the attention of tastemaking sites like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan, which posted her single “Gigantic”—a languid piano-led ballad that practically drips with sorrow—to much fanfare.

Music has always been a big part of Front’s life. Her orchestra conductor father turned her onto the violin when she was a kid, and at 15 she picked up the guitar and started writing songs, inspired by everyone from Mary J. Blige and Billie Holiday to Bill Callahan and Kurt Vile. But Front never sang for anyone until she ventured out into the world of open-mic nights while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. She dropped out after a year and eventually relocated to New York to seriously pursue music.

Now Front is preparing to head out on her first-ever tour in January. Playing with a band is new to her: “Before it was just me and my guitar,” she says. “I just did my first show with a pianist and a noise box. It’s weird to be standing there, just me without my guitar. It feels like I’m totally naked.” ARACELI CRUZ

PHOTOGRAPHED BY BEN RAYNER
Stylist: ANNA MARIA
Hair: ASHLEY GROBEMEIER
Makeup: ERIN GREEN

“I have no idea what’s happening, but I love this.” That’s just one of the many comments on YouTube in response to a video titled “8,” which is just a solid block of colour—an Astroturf green—backed by a sweet, dreamlike song featuring tambourine, cooing vocals, and a distorted, retro-futuristic synth ripple.

Last month, 23-year-old Los Angeles native and Brooklyn resident Lorely Rodriguez gradually uploaded 15 of these aural Jolly Ranchers under the cryptic alias Empress Of. Each is a minute-long slice of a song-in-progress paired with a colour that captures its mood—from buttery off-white to rich raspberry to gemlike aquamarine. The project, which she calls Colorminutes, speaks to Rodriguez’s savvy way of using the Internet to connect her music with an audience while creating a playful air of mystery.

When we meet up for coffee in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Rodriguez is hard to miss, with her shock of orange curls crowning a black-dominated ensemble. This is a great city, Rodriguez says, to get a little adventurous. “When I’m walking down the street in L.A., people think I look weird,” she says. “You can wear whatever you want in New York.” It’s also an ideal place for a budding musician, which is why she moved here in 2011: “I didn’t get any work done in L.A. because everyone’s so laid back. It’s so spread out. Everyone’s living in their car. I like really condensed cities, where I can just bump into someone on the street and they end up being a producer, or I meet someone who I’m going to write a song with, or take some photos with, or talk about nothing for an hour with in a café.“

2013 will prove to be a big year for Rodriguez. She’s releasing a cassette tape of the Colorminutes project through Japanese label Big Love early next year. (The B-Side will be the same as the A-Side, but is recorded backwards.) And in March, she’ll put out a four-song vinyl EP, the B-Side of which she sings in Spanish, her first language. (“Both of my parents are from Honduras, which is very important to me.”) When asked where Rodriguez’s royal moniker comes from, she explains that it stems from her fascination with the empress tarot card. She wanted to incorporate the idea into her stage name, but didn’t want it to carry too much baggage: “I wanted to detach the self from the word empress.” So what exactly is she the empress of? “I don’t know,” she admits. “It’s confusing…I like confusing things.“ LIS FERTIG

PHOTOGRAPHED BY JIMMY FONTAINE

“Since I was absolutely tiny, I was that kid at Christmas dinner jumping on the table to sing Céline Dion and the Spice Girls,” says Louisa Rose Allen, a.k.a. Foxes. The London-based pop chanteuse isn’t all that far past childhood now (she’s 22), but her career is already hurtling forward with a force that feels like destiny—and fortunately her music is far better than the tunes she subjected her family to over figgy pudding. Last January she signed to tastemaking label Neon Gold, “Home,” the B-side of her debut scored a climactic final scene of Gossip Girl, she landed a plum guest spot on the title track of super-producer Zedd’s LP Clarity, and she even performed alongside Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber at the annual Jingle Ball in L.A. Talk about a good year.

Allen grew up in the university town of Southampton, England, and her childhood was set to a soundtrack of Kate Bush and Björk, thanks to her mother and older sister. Were it not for their encouragement and good taste, she says, “I’d be doing a beauty course in Southampton or something.” Instead, she hightailed it to London on her 18th birthday and enrolled in music school (she then quickly dropped out), and began writing song after song after song. Rather than go by her given name—which she thought was too similar to singers Lily Allen and Lucy Rose—she toyed with Foxes after writing a track called “Like Foxes Do”; fate was sealed when her mom recounted a dream in which hundreds of foxes were making beautiful sounds that reminded her of her daughter’s music. The fierce female musical heroes of Allen’s childhood, along with movie soundtracks—“I used to listen to Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption over and over”—are obvious touchstones for Foxes’ emotive yet atmospheric electro-pop, which manages to straddle the line between mainstream and indie. “I’m really inspired by artists who bring you into their own little world,” Allen says.

As Foxes, Allen certainly does just that. With the doe-eyed, lush-lipped looks of a young Cat Power (albeit with a much more lavish mane) and a way of piling on chunky jewelry and vintage clothes just so, she suits her stage name perfectly. But it’s her bombastic, elastic croon–sounding something like a cross between Jessie J and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek—that seems to promise impending megafame. Allen has just put the finishing touches on her debut full-length, due out in the spring, which she says is “a very personal record” with “a lot of organic sounds as well as some electronic moments. Sonically, it’s a good mix of feelings.” The British press are already comparing her to big-voiced compatriots like Adele and Florence Welch, but Allen isn’t letting herself fall victim to the hype. “I felt no sort of pressure,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I still feel very much in the beginning of my career.” EVIANA HARTMAN

PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHRISTINA SMITH
Stylist: JEANIE ANNAN-LEWIN
Hair: KAZUHIRO NAKA
Makeup: BEA SWEET