“I’m in love with a ghost of the past,” Alaska Reid sings on ‘Oblivion’, a dreamy, nostalgic highlight from her debut solo project Big Bunny. Centered around the singer-songwriter’s upbringing in Park County, Montana and Los Angeles, the 9-track EP, out this Friday via Terrible Records, is as much about crystallising those memories as it is an attempt to bury the ghosts that haunt them. Though replete with references to River Road and Lonesome Dove and the big pink sky, Reid’s intimate portrait of childhood and coming-of-age is ultimately defined by people – the “teen-ex-lovers” on ‘Oblivion’, those “never getting close to love” on ‘Boys from Town’. On the opening title track, she makes a promise to her sister: “If it hurts Lil, just let me know/ I’ll do anything to help you let things go.” Following 2017’s Crush, released with her former project Alyeska and produced by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr.), Big Bunny trades in more elements of pop and electronic music to accommodate Reid’s evocative songwriting without abandoning those formative alt-rock influences, with help from previous collaborator A. G. Cook as well as producers Rodaidh McDonald and Andrew Sarlo. Loud guitars and anthemic choruses coalesce on the title track; metallic percussion pulses through the soaring ‘Quake’; a gentle piano trickles through the hazy melodies of ‘Warm’. Before you know it, you’re back to a place that feels achingly familiar, even if it’s one you’ve never actually been in.
We caught up with Alaska Reid for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about how she got into music, working with A. G. Cook, her new EP, and more. When we spoke in mid-November, she was in Los Angeles, where she had to stay longer than originally planned due to COVID-19, and would be returning to Montana later that week.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Montana?
It’s funny, ‘cause I moved around a lot when I was younger, but Montana was the first place that was really permanent for me. And I moved around a lot within different houses and in the county that I’m from. But I don’t know, it just feels like home. I feel like everyone hopefully has a place that they just, you know – when they go to it, you just relax a little bit inside, because this is your home. And I love the mountains. I just think of my childhood. It’s a little bit weird now being back there as an adult and living there in a more full-time sense, just because of the circumstances of the world. I didn’t necessarily imagine that at this point in my life. But I really love it – it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
What was it that drew you to LA? I know you moved there at an early age.
I started going back and forth when I was around, I wanna say my early teens. The thing is, my dad started working here – I’m from a really big family. And so, originally, my dad was just commuting between Montana and LA. And it just got too hard – my mom had a set of twins and they were infants and it was just me and her and my other little sisters, alone in the winters in Montana. She was like, “I need to be with your dad.” So that’s why we started going back and forth like that to LA.
When I first came here, it was a big culture shock. If anyone’s been to Montana and they’ve been to LA – you know, the strip malls and the palm trees and even the humidity that you breathe in the air is so different. When I moved to LA I was still doing school in Montana, but then I eventually transitioned mid-teens to a bigger school and it was just so weird. ‘Cause when I was in Montana I went to a schoolhouse that was originally a one-room schoolhouse and they had put on two extra rooms, but it was like, kindergarten through eighth grade. And there were 32 kids max when I was there.
Was that when you took your first music lessons? What are your memories of that time?
In terms of music, I was taking music when I started in Montana. I can’t really remember how I got into it, but I always loved to sing and so when I was maybe six years old or something, I started going to this one vocal coach in the town that I grew up in. And she taught me almost I think the foundation of everything in terms of my voice, and she had a really funny house. She passed away a couple of years ago. But I went to her from when I was six until I was, I wanna say 20. And she taught me how to sing classical music, so I originally thought I wanted to be an opera singer. I even remember – I made my mom drive me two hours away to to go to some sort of community opera production in Montana that was in a place that was farther. So I think she inspired me a lot in terms of voice.
And then guitar was a kind of complicated web of things, ’cause I was kind of resistant to it. And then my dad was like, “Look, all you do is listen to guitar in songs.” ‘Cause I loved Dinosaur Jr. And he said, “I’m gonna get you a guitar, but you have to practice everyday.” And so I just did it and I fell in love with it. And then my uncle plays guitar and he taught me; he would come over to our house and leave guitars in these weird tunings, like Hillbilly tunings. I just didn’t think that you had to stick to the standard tuning of guitar, so I just sort of started making up all my own tunings.
I know you’ve been working on Big Bunny for quite some time. Could you talk about the timeline of making the project?
Yeah, so some of the songs that are on the EP predate my solo project. I mean, it’s sort of always been a solo project in my head; I had people who played with me and I marketed it as a band before I formally went as Alaska Reid, ‘cause I just felt like I wouldn’t have leverage unless I had guys behind me – it was, like, a silly thing. But in terms of me thinking of the EP as a cohesive body of work and picking out the songs, it was like two years ago. I had just stopped doing the band and I was feeling kind of tired and not really enthusiastic about music. I’d released an album that I was really proud of with my former band but I didn’t feel like anything was progressing, and the most important thing to me is my singing and my lyrics and I just felt like the way I was playing before, that stuff wasn’t getting heard. So I was in a really weird crossroads because I didn’t really know how to combine all these things that Ioved and not get drowned out by them. Like, I love loud guitars, I love all of that, and I love also the intimacy of singer-songwriter stuff. But I was imposing rules upon myself or like, picking up on stuff culturally that felt – you know what I’m saying? – I was in a kind of punk scene in LA.
So when it came to this project, it was like, I know I wanna just do something the way I wanna do it. And I met my manager and he started introducing me to people. And parallel to that, I met A.G. Cook. And A. G. really taught me so much, ’cause he has no rules. And he doesn’t care and he’s so open to everything and he’s interested in every different kind of music. He’s interested in everything. And I think it was the most mind-blowing thing to me; it just made me a more open person. And so that was sort of the genesis of this project – getting out of my head, getting out of these structures that I thought existed and really digging into my lyrics and my songwriting and having these people around me that supported that being in the forefront.
Was working with A. G. Cook part of what inspired that shift in sound?
Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of complicated, ’cause I do believe I had the ingredients for part of the sound. And I’ve always had them and I’ve always wanted it, I just didn’t know how to achieve it. But he really taught me not to discriminate against sounds that aren’t organic. ‘Cause before, I was such a purist – I was like, I need real drums, I need this thing, and I need everything to be live in the studio.
I mean, it’s interesting, as a little side thing, technically everything you could think of is organic because it’s made up of – even from us, we’re organic beings. I read something and I’m probably paraphrasing it in a shit way, but I think when it comes to thinking about sounds that are made on a computer, I was so closed off to them before. I was so closed off to pop music. And then I met Alex and I realized, like, it’s what you want it to be, pop music.
Part of the EP also revolves around your relationship with your sister, Lillya. How was it shooting the video for ‘Oblivion’ with her and what was her response to the EP as a whole?
Shooting the video with her was great. I mean, we’re really close. The guy who edited the video was joking ’cause I think when he was severing the audio from the actual footage, he was saying that we were fighting and being like, “Fuck you! Listen to me!” So that was nice, that there’s no sort of – we didn’t have to be nice to each other. We can just like tell each other exactly what we wanted.
My sister’s really supportive of everything. That’s what we try and do – I have a lot of sisters in this family – so we just try and be supportive of each other. I think she’s really into it. I’m so grateful for her for helping me with stuff.
To change the subject a little bit, there’s this part on ‘Warm’ that’s about not being good at being young, which I thought was interesting, because a lot of art about growing up focuses on struggling to act like an adult. And then on ‘Lilacs’, from your previous album, there’s the line, “being young is flirting with death.” I was wondering what the connection between these songs is and what they mean to you now.
That’s a really beautiful question. You know, I’m just so tired of myself. [laughs] I feel like I always tell myself I need to just sort of lighten up, I need to relax, I’m really tense. And I think that’s a theme in my life. I had fun when I was a teenager, but I didn’t party like other friends I knew because I was just – I don’t wanna say I’m uptight, I’m not uptight, but I’m just like – I don’t know. I think it’s me constantly dealing with being like, Come on, Alaska, you need to just breathe a little.
I’ve also been thinking about this line from ‘Pilot’: “being ruthless makes for a lonely year.” I don’t know if maybe it’s just ’cause this has been an especially lonely year, but I was wondering if that line has taken on a new resonance for you since you wrote it.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I feel like it’s pretty much the same – no, I don’t know. I really flip between a lot of things with this, ‘cause I feel like I’m really harsh sometimes, and then that is sort of alienating. But I also love people – this is gonna sound so asshole-y, but I have too high standards for myself and other people sometimes. So I think that’s where that line comes from.
When I wrote that, I was sort of ending my band, it was like the end of a relationship. And you know when you haven’t really ended it but it’s inevitable and you know it’s there.
Do you feel like you’ve created something new since then?
Oh yeah, I feel great. I’m so happy. I was like, Why didn’t I do it sooner? I’m really grateful for everything that was in the band before, but I’m very happy now. I feel like I’m getting to say what I wanna say.
I only have one last question: What does home mean to you?
I think home means being with family, in whatever kind of definition of family anyone has. It’s a weird world and right now it’s changing so rapidly, so I think sometimes, even though location is so important to me in my writing, I think I actually find the most solace being around people that I love.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Alaska Reid’s Big Bunny EP is out Friday, December 11 via Terrible Records.