@ is the folk-pop project of guitarist Victoria Rose and Baltimore multi-instrumentalist Stone Filipczak, who started exchanging musical ideas over iMessage in the spring of 2020. Despite being 100 miles away from each other and operating in different musical spheres – Filipczak had a background in the noise rock and experimental scene, while Rose gravitated toward hushed, confessional songwriting – the pair continued their entirely remote collaboration, leading to their debut album, Mind Palace Music, which was originally released in 2021 and recently reissued by Carpark. So much of @’s music hinges on a delicate balance: it can be playful bordering on goofy yet strikingly earnest, personal yet flirting with fantasy, emanating an off-kilter, homespun charm but made with careful attention to craft. As they nudge each other out of their comfort zone, Rose and Filipczak’s voices and songwriting instincts counteract each other in ways that are warm, inventive, and often unpredictable. As much as you can feel the influence of cult singer-songwriters like Vashti Bunyan or the lo-fi ethos of the Elephant 6 collective, Mind Palace Music feels like an outpouring of inspiration channeling a dazzling little universe all its own.
We caught up with @ for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about their origin story, their collaborative process, hyperfolk, and more.
Do you mind sharing how the two of you first met and what your first impressions of each other were?
Victoria Rose: We met in Boston years ago in our early twenties. We were just hanging out, we weren’t making music together at that time. We were just in the same circle, in the same music scene, and got along. But I would say my first impression was – I don’t know, at the time, I was a little bit intimidated, because he was very friendly, very nice, and also a little bit opinionated. Also intimidated, I think, musically, because the world that I was operating in felt a little bit different. It was very much more song-oriented, a little bit softer, and I was experiencing him working within more of the noise scene and being in noise rock bands or full-on experimental projects that I found interesting but didn’t know how to access.
Stone Filipczak: I thought she was super smart. We could talk about a lot of different things, and I think that eventually translated into being able to collaborate on music pretty well.
Victoria, I read that your first reaction to hearing Stone’s contribution to ‘Star Game’, the first track you collaborated on, was that it was too arranged. What made you warm up to the song, and how did the collaboration flourish into a full-length project?
SF: Well, we revisited that moment and we remembered exactly how it went, and it was because I called it a drug song, right? I called it a stoner jam or something, because I thought that was hilarious.
VR: Usually when I have a song that I recorded, there’s something very personal about it to me. And then I sent it to Stone, and he responds with like, “I turned into a stoner jam.” I hated that. [laughs]
SF: The stuff that I added on ‘Star Game’ is literally like, bongos, shaker, and a ridiculous-sounding high background vocal, and it all literally sounded like hippies chanting in a drum circle or something. But I think that’s what makes it really cool, to me at least.
VR: It’s wonderful. What it took for me to like it – if I’m honest, I was squatting at my friend’s house and I was upstairs, I listened to it through my phone and I didn’t really like it. And I brought it down and shared it with a bunch of people downstairs in the kitchen, and they’re all like, “This is really good.” It took somebody else telling me it was good to sit down and accept it. And then the next thing we worked on was a song of yours.
SF: And I think after we had done one of your songs and one of my songs, and both of them worked as collaborations, it was like, “We can just keep making songs.”
VR: Yeah, it was first going to be some kind of split, then it was going to be an EP, and then it just turned into a full album. I mean, there really wasn’t a lot to do at the time. It was early 2020, and there was a lot of time to talk and record and just get immersed in a project. I was working on a farm during the day, and then working on music or talking about music anytime I wasn’t doing that, pretty much.
Did the two of you talk a lot about music around that time?
VR: Yeah, we hadn’t really spoken or spent much time with each other since Stone moved out of Boston at the end of 2017. We ended up reconnecting mostly through text message for a long time, just talking to each other a lot about music. And obviously other things, but I feel like that was the focal point.
SF: We both had a lot of free time, and we had the ability and the gear to work on recordings from our houses. The gear was literally just we each had laptops and like one microphone. There was no substantial studio gear being used. But we had that, and we knew how to make recordings, so when we had this opportunity to collaborate long distance, it just all came together in a way that became very productive very quickly. And that became exciting because it’s very exciting to be working on a project that has momentum. It gives you a reason to get up the morning. There was other stuff going on that wasn’t @, but @ became eventually the main thing that we were both focused on as far as getting it done and making it good.
The name @, I initially related it to what you’re talking about in terms of texting and email being your main form of communication at the time, but some of both your songs also address the mediation of technology in relationships. Maybe I’m reading too much into it?
SF: I don’t think it was really that deep, honestly. I decided that it would be cool to call the band at, because then you could use that sign as a symbol. That was maybe three or four months before me and Victoria had our project going and needed a name, and we were talking about what to call it and I mentioned a couple of ideas, and Victoria ended up liking @ the best.
VR:It took some convincing, but I liked that idea the most. It was succinct, and it was so ridiculous, especially for the kind of music we’re making. Maybe @ would be fitting for some heavy electronic project. I wanted to see what would happen if we made it a symbol. It’s so short, it’s the shortest band name in my mind.
SF: I like how it lends itself to iconography very easily. The album cover is basically an @ sign, but stylized.
You’ve also used the term “hyperfolk” to describe your music in press materials, which I haven’t seen a lot of bands embrace.
SF: Yeah, our homie West Kaplan, when the album first came out and it was just a Bandcamp release, he wrote a review of it for the Boston Hassle, and he called it “boomer-pilled hyperfolk.” It was meant to be kind of silly, but I think Carpark ended up liking it and using it in the press material. That’s why now people think we call ourselves hyperfolk, but really we never did – it was a term that somebody else used about us.
VR: I do like it. I like the “boomer-pilled” part.
SF: Yeah, because it is boomer-pilled. More than anything, it’s influenced by ‘60s folk rock.
Can you talk about your favorite songs that the other person wrote for the record?
VR: If I had to choose, I really like ‘Major Blue Empty’. The structure of it and the actual chords, the bones of it, are pretty simple, but he throws in these subtly eerie-sounding flutes, and then a ridiculous guitar solo. I love anything that’s just a little bit over the top and comical in terms of music, but still extremely earnest. It’s over this very spooky, almost somber-sounding song, but I love the contrast between the instrumental and the actual tone of the song.
SF: Once we started getting into the swing of actually working on tracks together, every time she would send me something I’d be really excited to work on it, because they were all so different, and they’re all incredible for different reasons. I think probably ‘Letters’ was my favorite one to do the arrangement for, just because Victoria’s melody – mostly it’s the melody on that song, but also the rhythm, is crazy. It’s so different from what most singer-songwriters are singing in terms of their melodies. It was really exciting to me being like, I can get really far out on the arrangement for this, and it won’t sound stupid or goofy. It’s going to sound good because the songwriting itself is so twisted and so all over the place.
Is there a song that you feel was the most collaborative in terms of how it came together?
SF: Definitely ‘Boxwood Lane’. That’s the one that wasn’t clearly written by either one of us, but it was a true collaboration in the sense that I wrote the chords and the flute backing, and then Victoria wrote the top line and the lyrics.
Your voices blend beautifully together on many of the songs. How did you feel when you first heard your voices layered alongside each other?
VR: That’s part of what was exciting about working together – I think it might have been ‘Camera Phone’ where we realized that. That was the second song we worked on, and it’s heavy on harmony. How did we feel? I think just excited, knowing that our voices blended so well together.
SF: ‘Camera Phone’, I remember we had worked on it, and I had the track on my phone and I showed it to my grandma, who’s a singer and big into music. She just heard it coming out of my phone, and she goes, “Oh, that’s so nice! Those harmonies are great, the voices are blending really well together.” I just felt like that was pretty special, because I had never ever done anything like that. All the music I had made before was just way so far outside of any type of grandma-friendly comfort zone, you know. It was exciting, not just being able to make music that could connect with much older people in that way, but also to be able to make it remotely with Victoria.
From what I understand, a lot of the songs were written or recorded in a short amount of time, but ‘My Garden’ was an exception to that. How did it come together?
VR: I was writing that song a while before we started working together. I just came across two chords that felt really good, like, “Oh, this sounds like the kind of chord Nick Drake would play.” I had that sort of middle part, where I’m singing, “Why do you seesaw? Why don’t you stay?” I was going on that back and forth with the chords, and I had to come up with some sort of song structure. But the structure was so strange I was intimidated to record it, so I had it written for a while without having it formally recorded. I think that was the last song that I wrote and recorded for @. That one was tricky. I remember that was one of the ones that came the least easy in terms of adding arrangement. I think there was a moment where you almost weren’t sure you were going to be able to do anything for that song.
SF: Yeah, it just was hard to get something sounding good. I feel like when I do arrangements on your songs, I try a bunch of stuff until something sounds cool, and it creates an avenue to keep going. Sometimes that happens really quickly and other times it takes a while – that probably took like a week or something.
VR: That’s probably one of my favorite songs on the whole record.
SF: It ended up having a lot of MIDI orchestral elements, like timpani and weird little percussion stuff like that.
It’s an interesting closer as well, because I feel like it encapsulates a lot of what the record is about – this push-and-pull between confusion and intimacy when it comes to human connection. When you’re writing about that subject, do you tend to lean more on one side over the other?
VR: They’re kind of hand-in-hand. I don’t know if I lean on one or the other too often. If I’m writing about connection, a lot of the time it’s in this aspirational way, or maybe I’m writing about an ideal version of the way I’d like to feel about something. It’s difficult to write about the pain and that confusion it causes without allowing myself to write about an out for that, too.
Stone, ‘Friendship Is Frequency’ seems like an aspirational song in that sense too.
SF: For sure, yeah. That’s coming from a very abstract place where it’s not about any particular friendship, it’s about friendship as a concept, and how maybe it could be. What I’m saying in the verses, I don’t usually act that way all the time. If a friend of mine were upset, I could be vibrating in some type of frequency where I could lift them up, but it wasn’t about a particular actual historical time when that happened.
VR: I feel the same. It feels like I write about something inspired, maybe, by historical events, but I broaden it. It’s never quite about that; I make up ideas around it that I have nothing to do with an actual person.
SF: I always feel like songs are inspired by real life and the emotions are based off of things that happen in real life, but the songwriting process, you sort of mould that into something that is going to sound good when you sing it and resonate with other people.
‘Boxwood Lane’ is mostly autobiographical, I assume.
SF: [laughs] ‘Boxwood Lane’ is awesome. It’s honestly some of my favorite lyrics on the album. That song just shows how good of a lyrics writer Victoria is, because she took this concept about hobbits and elves and turned it into a beautiful, incredible little jaunt through the imagination.
Did you ever have conversations about songwriting or the differences in your approach while making Mind Palance Music?
SF: The way that Mind Palace Music went, we didn’t really talk too much about songcraft. It was more like, someone would write an entire song with the whole structure and all the lyrics, and then the other person would collab on that and add stuff to make it into a completed thing that felt like it represented both of us. But I think more recently, since the album has been released and we’ve gotten to actually interact as a band and play show and think about how we’re gonna make the music for our next album, I think now we probably are starting to get a little bit more aware of our differences and respective strengths when it comes to crafting songs. But it wasn’t something we talked about a lot during the making of Mind Palace Music.
VR: That was just feeling a lot of things out.
What are some things you’re thinking about in terms of the future of the project?
SF: We’re just trying to figure out what the next phase is going to be like. If we’re going to continue with an all-remote approach like Mind Palace Music, or if we’ll try to incorporate more of our live band into the recording and songwriting process. There’s a lot of options for how we could approach it. We’re both always just building up a back catalogue of songs that may or may not turn into @ songs, depending on if they resonate with the other person or not.
VR: I think one thing is that we were not living anywhere near each other to practically meet up and work on music in person as frequently. But when I moved down to Philly, I ended up only being just about two hours away from Baltimore, so we’re now able to drive down to Baltimore, drive up to Philly, to song write together and practice in person – just collaborate face-to-face in a way that is different. We’re talking about recording some stuff in person together. I think it will end up being maybe a combination of those.
Can you share one thing that inspires you about the other person?
VR: Stone is just singularly obsessed with making music, and that is really inspiring, to see how much work and thought is put into his practice.
SF: I’m afraid to pick this one thing. Something that inspires me about Victoria is that she’s very adventurous and self-possessed. For example, this past week we were supposed to play a show in New York, but I got sick. And not only did she go by herself and play it alone, totally confidently, but then she also last second added another show in Boston and went and played that, too, and did like a little mini tour through the northeast, spur of the moment and basically alone. I find that pretty inspiring because I am not that way. I find myself much more of a homebody and much more stressed out by stuff like that, and I really admire the adventurousness that that betrays. And I think you hear it in the music. We just kind of went out on all limb on a lot of these tracks, and we were able to go to some pretty far-out places. I see parallels to that in the way that Victoria lives her life.
VR: I see parallels in the way you make the music and the way that you live your life, too. Very thoughtful.
SF: Do the same thing every day. [laughs]
VR: I think that’s what works really well. You’re methodical, you’re very skilled, you do have a regimen. And I’m… [laughs] really loose.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.