BY NADIA GERASSIMENKO
Aquamarine Space Unicorns is an awe-inspiring musical experience that sends you on an ethereal and unearthly trip to a galaxy far, far away from this god-forsaken world where mystical unicorns exist and are sometimes creatures that bellow like banshees, other times they soothe you like sirens, but never, ever are they tame in their songs that roar and fight for the oppressed and the marginalized. They graciously invited me to their magical woodland so I could interview them about their upcoming LP She Persisted (The Brink).
When did you found Aquamarine Space Unicorns? How did you come up with such a magical name? How would you describe your style? Who inspires you? What is your mission and motto of being?
Joyanna M: I started Aquamarine Space Unicorns in the latter half of 2014. I got a 'recording studio in a box' as a gift, and I learned how to create electronic music. I was creating about one or two songs every weekend, and by the time the year ended, I had all the songs for the Go Go Go album. I don’t recall precisely how I came up with the name Aquamarine Space Unicorns. I needed a name to publish the name under, and I wanted something unique so that someone could search the name and would not get a lot of different results. The unicorn is something I’ve always identified with, mysterious and wild. The music had a very ethereal sound, so it had to be a space unicorn. And as a painter, color is always very important to me, hence the Aquamarine.
The style that I started with was EDM but with an emphasis on syncopated beats like Dubstep. I had heard a few different producers at the time, but none really stuck out. I was disappointed at how simple some of it was, and wanted to create something more layered and cerebral. Something you could think about as well as dance to. I also wanted to create something with more of a pop sensibility, something that would leave a melody stuck in your head. At the time I was discovering the work that Brian Eno had done with U2 on the albums The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, and how Eno, I feel, had transformed them from just another rock band to a unique and unmistakeable sound. Part of the unique 'Space Unicor'’ sound that I created can be credited with the use of the Omnisphere synthesizer, which is used in a lot of movie soundtracks to create eerie, atmospheric sounds.
In the beginning, my only mission was to take EDM/Dubstep and bump it up a notch in sophistication. What I really wanted to do was use my music as a vehicle for my poetry, but in order to do that, I needed a singer. I could sing, but no amount of autotune could keep me in key. So it wasn’t until Lily Bell started working with me more than a year later that I could use the music to promote social justice.
Lily Bell: Joyanna and I were on-line acquaintances. I was familiar with her poetry and artwork and enjoyed following her. I had recently experienced domestic violence and was having a hard time processing what had happened as well as continual trauma within my family. I posted on Twitter that my New Years resolution was to sing again because I had been forced to give up performing years earlier. Joyanna approached me about creating music together and I immediately agreed. Joyanna created the Winter Rose album as a concept album to address the struggle around surviving violence and the many emotions, from anguish to triumph. I'm proud that the album is a tool out there for others to use as a sort of "music therapy." Music has been such an important part of my healing process and I was excited to have other young girls, mothers, women of all ages and demographics to have this sort of "musical support group." But there are poems as well and I think Winter Rose offers a variety of choices, depending on the listener's mood.
Our style is electronic, pop, but also a bit bluesy, especially with some of our new songs. I've always had a mid-range voice, not a soprano, but not really an alto. I never really fit anyone's style, although I have been compared to Stevie Nicks. I'm still working on finding "my voice," and I think we're getting closer to discovering it with our new LP She Persisted (The Brink).
My motto in life is to appreciate every second with no regrets. Appreciate it and appreciate the people in your life because I know firsthand it can all end in a second. That being said, my mission is to embrace challenges, overcome fears, and explore new adventures. Joyanna is my champion, always encouraging me to do more artistically. Joyanna is the driving force behind ASU.
You consider yourself an anti-band. What does it mean to you in how you approach your music and the way it is distributed to your audience?
JM: For much of the history of modern pop music the standard form has been between 3 and 5 people in a group (men mostly) with guitars and a drum kit. I was becoming frustrated with that sound and its limitations. I did some open mics and small concerts with just me croaking out a tune and accompanying myself on guitar, but I felt like I was being consumed by the 'angry girl with a guitar' cliché. EDM felt liberating from that and felt very focused on composition and letting the electronics do the performance aspect. But taking it live, the producer was supposed to dance around pressing buttons. Additionally, to get the level of complexity that I desired, the only way to do that would be to set up the entire song on the computer and then just push the play button. It seemed very phony to me. So playing live wasn’t an option I considered feasible. By only producing in the studio, I could get the exact sound that I wanted without compromise. Not playing live, however, limits the pathways to success. People expect to be able to see their favorite band playing, and we aren’t able to provide that in a way that seems honest. In addition, Lily and I are very private people and we suffer from anxiety, so performing live doesn’t fit well with who we are as people. I like to think that we make up for not playing live by producing a lot of music for our fans so that it doesn’t get old.
LB: We are an anti-band because we're not interested in stage productions and tour dates. We're a studio band with a message that fits into today's world of modern feminism. Resolving gender issues and women's rights requires attention worldwide. The current administration has made it blatantly obvious that women have been and continue to be abused and subjugated. We're angry and we're here to deliver a message, complete with unicorn screams!
The She Persisted (The Brink) LP expresses our outrage about the patriarchy, violence against women, and today's political climate in general. The current administration has provided plenty of incentive for us to create strong messages of solidarity among minority groups. Our music is a means to amplify our voice so that we can send a message that the socially oppressed have a voice.
I love how eclectic your album Winter Rose is—at times, a lament, other times, a celebration. It is like walking through fire then water, reborn. What can we expect from your new LP She Persisted (The Brink)?
LB: This album is much darker in general, although we did put a cover of Pure Imagination (From Willy Wonka) in the middle to lighten things up. You can expect the amazing electronic vibe in all our songs, but also a bit more blues. At times, the music takes on a "Music Noir" vibe, very different from Winter Rose and Table for Two.
JM: I’m glad you like the diversity of music that we produce, and certainly the new LP will be just as eclectic. The unifying factor in Winter Rose is its theme on domestic violence, particularly how it affected Lily Bell. On She Persisted (The Brink) we are still using Lily’s unique perspective on domestic violence but also broadening out to more general social issues. In our previous LP Naked Truth, we focused a lot on political issues and the descent of American politics. But the descent of American politics really reflects where we are as a society, where white men see their privileges being eroded away and are pushing back. They know that the time when they are in the minority is not that far off, and are afraid that, as a minority, they will be treated just as badly as the current minorities are by them. So we have our central unifying theme and diverse ways of expressing it.
You’re currently running a campaign for She Persisted (The Brink), how can others support you? What do they get in return?
JM: Yes, we have an IndieGogo campaign to help us publish She Persisted (The Brink). We’ve had two other similar campaigns for the Go Go Go LP and Winter Rose, and it’s always to help us defray the cost of publishing. We have the LP almost ready to go and have no financial issues with completing it. So the campaign is more a way to pre-order the music, either as a download card or a CD. But we also have stickers and posters with the album artwork. The album artwork is a part of a multimedia piece that will be in Moonchild Magazine issue two later this month.
LB: We have a variety of perks for contributions from as small as $1 to a MegaPack of $250. But just as important to us is spreading the word about our music. We appreciate people sharing our campaign page and also our various songs. Our fans have always been and will continue to be critical to our success. With their help, we hope to deliver our message through music across the globe.
How do you unwind and get away from the troubles the world? What else do you create and do in your spare time?
LB: The troubles of the world can sometimes escalate the troubles in our own lives. When I'm feeling anxious, I like to unwind by going for a run or doing yoga. I write a lot, draw a lot, and paint a lot. It helps to express my feelings on paper, so I'm constantly creating. And Joyanna has me hooked on World of Warcraft, that's a great way to unwind together!
JM: I’m not sure I ever unwind! If I ever find myself with a spare moment, I have some kind of creative project going on, if not music, then painting or writing. I suppose that all of my creative outlets provide some relief from my troubles, if only to distract me from them. Lily and I do occasionally find time to play video games or watch some TV. But most of our time together is spent making music, painting, or writing. This month, in addition to the multimedia piece we did for Moonchild Magazine, we have a graphic narrative that will be appearing in The Rumpus.
Joyanna M resides in Seattle and creates fiction, poetry, art, and music. Her works have been published in Moonchild Magazine, The Cerurove, Rag Queen Periodical, and Five:2:One. She produces music under the moniker 'Aquamarine Space Unicorns.' You can follow her on Twitter at @joyanna1985, Facebook/Instagram @joyannam1985, and read selected works online at www.joyannam.com.
Lily Bell resides in Seattle and is an artist, poet, and singer/songwriter for Aquamarine Space Unicorns. Her works have been featured in Moonchild Magazine and Rag Queen Periodical. You can follow her on Twitter at @Lily_Bell82, Facebook/Instagram @LilyBell82, her blog at www.muse87.com and view selected artwork at lilybell82.deviantart.com
Nadia Gerassimenko is the managing editor at Luna Luna Magazine by day, and a moonchild and poet by night. Nadia self-published her first poetry collection "Moonchild Dreams" (2015).