Artist Spotlight: Prewn

    Prewn is the project led by Northampton, Massachusetts artist Izzy Hagerup, who is also a member of Kevin McMahon’s Pelican Movement collective. She’s been working through some of the material that comprises her visceral debut LP, Through the Window, recently released via Exploding in Sound, for the better part of a decade, but the record largely came together during the pandemic with McMahon co-producing at his Marcata Studio. Immersing herself in these solitary sessions not only gave Hagerup the drive to concentrate on writing and recording, but the space to realize the volatile emotions behind the music, which can range from surreal to strikingly specific in its intensity. Her searing voice hangs over and pierces through the heavy ache of these songs like it’s the only thing capable of holding the fragile pieces together, but it also leaps towards transcendence (‘Alive’) and escapes itself by adopting different perspectives (‘But I Want More’). Having expanded Prewn into a four-piece with bassist Mia Huggs, guitarist Calvin Parent, and drummer Karl Helander, Hagerup can only keep finding new ways to bring her ideas to life.

    We caught up with Prewn’s Izzy Hagerup for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about her earliest musical memories, working with Kevin McMahon, writing through different perspectives, and more.

    Do you mind sharing some of your earliest memories of connecting with music?

    I started playing cello when I was in second grade. I played in orchestra until eighth grade, but I never really appreciated it. And then I started playing guitar – I had a guitar in my room for years before I touched it, and it just became like my best friend. When I started high school, I started dating this boyfriend who was really not a good guy, but he was really good at guitar, and I think that really motivated me in a way, like, “I wanna be good, too.” My dad played music growing up, so that was always around my life. Once I started playing guitar, that was just for fun for a long time, but I never, ever would have thought I’d be pursuing music or taking it this seriously at this point in my life. I’m still surprised by that sometimes. It just feels like music is the thing that l’m always going to love and have with me.

    Was there a specific moment when you realized music was something you wanted to really pursue?

    It was really when I went to Kevin McMahon – he has a barn that’s a studio, and during COVID he wasn’t having bands come record, so he let me go for days at a time. With this pressure of wanting to use this time and be gracious of what he’s offering, I was like, “Oh, I can write a song every day, that’s cool.” I had these songs that that years ago I went in the studio and recorded with him. Throughout our relationship of me going to his barn a lot, we just would talk a lot, and he really pushed to help me see that maybe I could take this seriously. In my mind, I knew I wanted to keep writing songs, but I don’t think I understood there’s a world in which I go for this. I think it was when I spent that COVID time going to the barn for a week at a time that just made me realize this is the thing I love the most, and Kevin was helping me believe maybe I could try to do this. I’m like, this is my greatest joy – I mean, it’s torture, too, trying to write songs – but just realizing maybe there’s a world in which it’s not crazy to pursue this, and realizing this is what I want to do over anything. At the end of the day, it’s just the most fulfilling thing.

    In a quote about ‘But I Want More’, which explores your dad’s battle with Parkinson’s disease through his perspective, you talked about what it’s like writing a song with “real feeling,” one that you “really, really mean.” It made me wonder if it’s ever a challenge for you not to lean too much on a more detached headspace when you’re writing.

    I feel like I can be dissociative pretty often, and really getting to my feelings can be pretty tough. The most powerful music, essentially, is feeling, so I’m always trying to write from a place of feeling. But then it’s that constant battle of, well, you can’t try to feel things. There’s a few songs where they have forced me to write a song; the feeling was, I need to let this out. Honestly, the songs that happened to really have that tend to be about my dad. That’s the only thing that really gets me fully there. But a lot of the songs that kind of show up, I’m like, I just want to make music, and then I see what can come out. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m writing about, and I don’t know exactly what I’m feeling. And then after the fact, if I got into the pocket, it shows me what I was feeling. I feel like it can be such a good processing tool for me. Sometimes I catch myself trying too hard, and then you can hear the cerebral attempt, and it’s never, you know… A lot of times I can write from a more dissociated place, but it’s just a different energy. ‘Woman’, for instance, was a song that I wrote when my grandma was passing away, and I was trying to write from like a place of feelings. I’m like, “I should explore the feeling in this.” But I couldn’t attach to the feeling because I was just so detached, so there’s just a different energy from that.

    It’s almost more interesting if you write from a detached headspace and then you realize you’re saying a lot more than you thought you did.

    Yeah. I feel like a lot of songs, that’s not even me talking, that’s a different character, and that can be a really cool tool. A song I wrote recently – I got a tick bite, and I was really scared that I had lyme, and I was like, “What if  write a song about a tick?” And then I ended up writing from the perspective of the tick, and I was like, “This is so weird, what am I doing?” But then after the fact, I was reading the lyrics and thinking about it, and it was actually very reflective of a lot of stuff that I’m going through and things in my life. I’m not consciously writing that, but that’s what’s so cool about art and writing music and just letting yourself step away from it: you’re always gonna be inside of everything you make, and the less you try to, the more you can discover. I get writer’s block all the time, but I always try to remember, you have to go in with curiosity, not criticizing it when it comes out. It’s all really hard, I struggle with it all the time. [laughs] But I think disassociating a little bit and letting yourself be a different character has been a really cool tool to learn more about myself and the world.

    This makes me think your song ‘Perfect World’, except instead of a tick it’s, I don’t know, patriarchy?

    Yeah, sometimes I’m writing from the perspective of – in this it’s like this evil man, and afterwards I’m like, “Oh no, I see myself in this evil thing.” [laughs] I wrote that song on a day when I broke up with my boyfriend at the time, and I also got in a huge stupid fight that I still haven’t talked to this person since then, but they were deep into conspiracy stuff. It was a song where it just came out, and I didn’t even know exactly what I was writing about. I was just feeling angry but also detached, and just finding the irony in like, “They’re the evil one, they’re the evil one.”

    Do you feel like writing from a different perspective on those songs actually helped you connect with yourself in a different way?

    Yeah, writing from the perspective of someone else really lets me explore the topics that those songs are about in a very different way. When I was writing ‘But I Want More’, at first I had it from my perspective, talking about my dad, and it felt like I was talking in a negative way about him or something. When I let myself really speak from his perspective, it let me take away all the judgments and let me be like, “This isn’t about me, I can become someone else.” It takes away all those rigid boundaries of my own self. In a very different way, but with ‘Perfect World’, tapping into this other character opens up this whole different freedom and lets me think about the world in a way that I never would. And then afterwards, I’m like, “Oh, interesting, okay.” Even though a lot of it came from anger and not talking well about myself as that character, but towards the end, I feel like it helped me even find empathy for these evil characters that are just the classic, “Oh, they’re just scared little children on the inside that need love.” It usually helps me find a whole new lesson that the quarters of my own mind will not let me see.

    What’s the story behind album artwork by Gideon Bok?

    Gideon is very close friends with Kevin, I’ve known him since I went on a little tour with Kevin and Pelican Movement. I love that man, I just think the world of him. Gideon painted some stuff for Pile’s latest album [All Fiction]. He also has a barn studio in Maine, and we went up there for like four days. It was really cool to watch his process; he had a bunch of paintings, and he painted me into eight of them. We would just hang out every day, I was just playing music with Kevin or chatting or eating food. He was just hanging out there, I didn’t have to pose or anything. I would just sit there, and he would just paint. I just think his art is so incredible. I’ve never been painted into a painting before, much less by Gideon Bok. Gideon is someone who I just feel like a special connection to, and I feel seen by him. It felt like in this whole circle of what this music is, Gideon was in this peripheral part of this project, so it felt really special to let him create what’s gonna represent this. It’s really an honor to get to work with him.

    Since recording Through the Window, the project has grown into a four-piece, and I read that you plan to release full-band versions of these songs. What excites you about this expansion and the way your songs can evolve?

    We’ve been playing a lot of these songs as a band for years – it’s been a couple different arrangements of people. I just really love and musically trust and respect and I’m honored to be playing music with the people that are in this band at this point. I still have a deep attachment to recording alone and and I’m never going to stop doing that, but I feel like it’s taken a lot of time to step back and trust them to bring what they bring. I’m watching it like, “Oh, this is different, but this is so special in its own way.” We haven’t recorded together yet, but we have a plan to in a month, just a couple of songs to start. For Prewn, I’m just going to have songs that I’ve made on my own that I’m too attached to let go of, and I’m also going to want to have the other version with the band that’s going to be a very different thing. I’m like, “Can I just do both?” [laughs] But everyone in the band is just so talented and really sees the music through in the way that I hope they do, but also with their own perspective. It’s cool to let it come alive in these fresh ways.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Prewn’s Through the Window is out now via Exploding in Sound.

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