Pouty is the moniker of Rachel Gagliardi, who was one-half of the brat-punk outfit Slutever when she started the project, initially as a song-a-day exercise with Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. As Slutever became less active, Gagliardi honed her songwriting skills over a couple of Pouty EPs, 2016’s Take Me to Honey Island and 2017’s Saint Mary of the Moods, and joined Upset, the California band that featured Hole’s Patty Schemel and Vivian Girls’ Ali Koehler. Over the course of 2022, she wrote and recorded her debut album, Forgot About Me – out tomorrow – in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, working with the Superweaks’ Evan Bernard and Chris Baglivo. It’s a riveting LP that capitalizes on Gagliardi’s knack for massive hooks while also allowing her to lean into the more intimate side of her songwriting. Some of the songs are about dreaming of escape and a life of fame – a little bit tongue-in-cheek, mostly earnest, and importantly, energized enough to feel like nothing’s beyond reach; in channeling her desires and anxieties, she sounds right where she wants to be. “It makes me feel old in a good way,” Gagliardi sings on ‘Kill a Feeling’, an otherwise nervy, distorted song. “Like I’m suddenly legitimate/ I’ve reached the very heart of it/ And I know how it feels.”
We caught up with Pouty’s Rachel Gagliardi for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about her musical journey, chasing the dream, aging, and more.
I know that Pouty dates back to 2013, when you were doing the song-a-day project with Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. How do you look back on that time, and what do you think has made you stick with Pouty over the years?
I think the main thing with Pouty, and also probably for Michelle with Japanese Breakfast, is when you start in bands as opposed to doing more of a solo singer-songwriter thing, it’s less about you and more about the collective. For Pouty, for me, it’s always been about empowering myself. Michelle had a project called Little Big League, so we were both playing in those bands, but I think we both hit a point with them where we wanted something different. We were like, “We wanna do something just for us. Let’s just do something silly, like a song a day.” Looking back now, I think that was really me trying to empower myself, not just as a songwriter, but just as a creative person, to realize I do have the skills of songwriting. I think when you’re playing in a punk band, it’s not about the craftsmanship as much as it is about the feeling and the performing and interacting with other people. For Pouty, it’s more therapeutic and more introspective. And I think why I haven’t given up on it is I’ve found a lot of my identity and a little bit of my self-worth with music, because I’ve been doing it forever. I studied music at college, I have always wanted to do this, but I do struggle with self-confidence and imposter syndrome. Looking back at Slutever, a lot of it I’m like, “Oh, people just liked us because we were young and silly and provocative.” But now I think that I can start respecting myself more as a musician and as a songwriter, and I found that with Pouty.
I know a lot of songwriters tried writing a song a day during the pandemic. Is that work ethic or approach something that aligns with your creative impulses at all?
Not at all [laughs]. I look back and I’m in awe of the discipline that that took, but also, this is the difference between me and Michelle; I think I only did like half of the month, and she did every song. She’s always been above and beyond, overachiever, the best in the scene. For me, I live in California, all of my bandmates live in Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, three thousand miles away, so we don’t get to do weekly or even monthly band practice. We don’t get to have that discipline and that routine, and a lot of the time I thought that meant I can’t do music anymore. Honestly, the pandemic helped me realize it can look however it wants to. Most people aren’t doing huge tours, things have scaled back, there’s more freedom and flexibility, and that helps me with the imposter syndrome. I feel like a little bit of like a fraud – I’m not in the scene, I don’t play shows all the time, I don’t get to practice – but that’s only one path. I would like to get back to a little bit more of a discipline of a weekly practice, but I’m always writing, I’m always journaling and writing lyrics. It’s definitely not what it used to be for me, to be playing shows constantly and be with other musicians constantly. I definitely do feel a little bit out of place in my life as a new mom, and it can feel far away from a creative practice. But I think that’s relatable, not everyone gets to just do it that one way. I’m really proud of how this went, and I try to just let this pace organically unfold.
You took on a more experimental approach with Saint Mary of the Moods, which was released as a visual EP. What did you take away from that process?
It was more of experimental for sure, and I think that it was me trying to work with different genres and different sounds post-Slutever – I mean, there was a little overlap. Realizing I love pop music and singing, so I feel like I tried to go a little bit more polished in some areas. But then ‘Who Will Open the Door for Me’, that is a weird track. That’s the only EP I did with a different drummer, Ricardo [Lagomasino], who is more of a jazzy and technical drummer, so that helped me slow it down in some places. ‘The Pink Moment’, that song I wrote about Ojai, and all these years later I happened to move to Ojai. And one of the songs is about having a daughter, and now I have a daughter. Some of these lyrics from the album I wrote literally 10 years ago, and they’re at this point now making sense to me, or really striking a note right now. That EP does have some mystical energy to it. Also, it was the first time I had incorporated a ton of visuals. I did a video for the whole thing, and it helped me with creative direction and styling. That was when I was getting really into vintage, so we filmed a lot of it with vintage clothing in the desert. It was me finding more of a California aesthetic, too; the first thing, Take Me to Honey Island, I was mostly in Philly for that.
With Forgot About Me, did you back and forth about whether you wanted it to revolve around a character in a similar way, or whether it would be based on your personality the way it ended up being?
That’s very intuitive of you to pick up on. I think it was more of an alter ego at the beginning of the project, where it was like, this is a new thing, a new character, a new mood. With Forgot About Me, I feel like it is a lot more of an internal expression of who I really am and less about hiding behind the veils and the costumes and the distortion. It’s way more high-quality production. I feel like I used to be so into lo-fi production, and this album’s more “Let’s get these songs in the radio” energy, super clean and fully realized. I feel like that does come with time and confidence, and also with my collaborators, my producers Evan [Bernard] and his best friend Chris [Baglivo]. Evan has been there since day one day for Pouty, he played drums on the first EP and recorded all the vocals and really helps me with my guitar tones. He’s one of Greg Mendez’s best friends, I think he did the drums on [Mendez’s 2023 self-titled album]. Evan and I went to college together in the same music industry program, we were DJs at the radio station together, so to see the progress that he’s made, that I’ve made, that we’ve made together – that has a lot to do with it. I could never have made this album sound how it sounds without Evan and Chris. Jared, the drummer, has been one of my best friends and went to school for music industry too with me.
I feel like it’s so many factors and moving parts of why it sounds so fully realized, but it’s our journeys of us all getting more in tune with what we’re really good at. Evan has always been good at tones and sounds and amps and guitars, and I’ve behind the scenes been doing a lot of work with writing my lyrics, the messages I’m trying to convey, trying to hit more universal themes. In the beginning, it was more like, “I’m just doing these songs for me.” Same with Slutever, we didn’t think anyone would ever hear anything, we recorded in our bathroom. Now that people are maybe paying attention more, now that I want this to be more of my career and I have a daughter to provide, it starts becoming a little bit more like, “Let’s take this a little more seriously. What could we do?” I think that does come through with a more cohesive and evolved sound.
I feel like this relates to ‘The Big Stage’, which starts with this dream of playing to a big crowd, until you’re struck by the realization: “It’s Always Been Me/ A portal to the fantasy/ Road trip through my memory/ It no longer cripples me.” It’s like flipping a switch in the song, but I wonder if that was something that in reality took time to settle in.
I feel like it’s like me trying to be more honest with myself and less flowy in the words, more direct: this is what I really want, this is what I really mean. I feel like with music, it’s, like, phony and ego-driven and fame – there’s this whole world of it, and it’s almost shameful to admit that you want to participate in it. But you’re trying so hard and spending all this money and recording, it’s like, why wouldn’t I want to admit that I want to go for it? Why am I embarrassed to say what I really want? And what’s the worst thing that can happen in saying it? Maybe it can actually even happen. It’s a very hopeful track. For so long, I was so harsh on myself, and I’m very self-critical. It’s maybe the Virgo, very striving for perfection. I feel like it’s hard to admit what I really want, which is – yeah, I mean, I want to play Coachella, Primavera, I want to be on the big stages.
It’s a super serious message if I think about it, and it’s taken me so long to admit it out loud and to not compare myself to – I mean, some of my best friends are huge, popular musicians. One of my really close friends is Marissa from Mannequin Pussy, and watching Michelle’s career – I don’t wanna compare myself to my friends, and my journey is different from my friends’ journeys, but it is hard to see others have success and realize, I didn’t even allow myself to say I wanted that. And once you say it out loud, there’s so much levity. You’re like, “Okay, I’ll put out an album, see what happens.” It’s a little bit of giving myself direction, like, “If I want all these things, step one is: record the song.” That one’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but admitting out loud that I’m in awe of my friends’ careers and I want that too – it’s envy in a good way. You can now see it’s even possible, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Actually, I should just scream it – that’s one I feel like I could really go for on stage.
Does being in these social circles offer almost a gateway to what it’s really like to live that dream, what it can look like, as opposed to how you might have fantasized about it?
I think at some point in time, I pivoted from where I was, where I thought it had to be this one way. I thought it was too late, you have to do it in your twenties or you only get one shot, and seeing all my friends’ individual trajectories does start really affirming that it can look a lot of different ways. I mean, Greg Mendez, I’ve been obsessed with him since 2008. The way things work these days, the internet is such a different platform than what it used to be for bands. It’s actually endless possibilities. These days you can just have one song on TikTok and people are like, “You’re my favorite artist.” I can even just put out a record and not tour on it, maybe I’ll just be more more of a studio musician because of where I live. It helps me realize it’s not a linear journey, and my friends have all been working their asses off for year, so any success that they see, behind the scenes they’ve been hustling. So all I can keep doing is hustle, and if it happens, it happens. But if it doesn’t, you start realizing it doesn’t matter as much as long as you’re having fun doing it. I made my dream come true, now I have that vinyl. I have that vinyl forever now. Who cares if I’m active or not? Who cares if I can get a big show or not? At this point, it makes me just happy I did that. But hopefully I’ll tour [laughs].
Also, I’m realizing it’s about timing. When I look at a lot of my friends, a lot of them aren’t married and don’t have kids, and they haven’t moved. I’ve moved across the country multiple times, gotten married, have a baby. I put energy towards that; that was a choice. So I have to remind myself, just because it’s a high priority for me doesn’t mean I have to stress about it all day, every day. I’m building myself a beautiful life, and it just took me a different path than I thought it would. I thought for sure I’d have a record out by now, I thought for sure I’d be a little further. But it’s just a nonlinear, winding road.
There’s that lyric on ‘The Big Stage’ about standing in your own way, which is something you’ve already admitted on the opening track, ‘Salty’. That song, and the line “I bet you almost forgot about me,” is a pretty like defiant way to open the record, but you’re also questioning who that version of you really is.
I feel like a lot of it is like working out what my identity: what I want it to be, what it used to be, what it could be. And it’s funny you said “version of you,” I was doing a podcast called Many Versions of You, because I feel like after I had the baby – she’s three now, so she’s a toddler – I had a lot of identity crises, like: Who am I? What am I doing? We live in this small town here, I live far from my friends, I’m not playing shows, who even am I? I feel like the songwriting and the journaling, all of that has really been me trying to figure it out, and to prove to myself there are these many versions, and that doesn’t invalidate them. There’s a mom version of me, there’s a musician, there’s a wife, there’s a friend. I think it took me a really long time and I’m still struggling through it, but to realize, That’s okay. A lot of the worries that I have, I did try to channel that into music, because it feels so good to listen back to it and be like, “This was silly to worry about.”
I’m curious if that mindset also to led to you exploring different sounds on songs like ‘Bridge Burner’ and ‘Underwear’, or if it’s more a case of just allowing these influences to exist in the space of a record.
I think it is a little bit more of allowing it to be as it was, instead of being like, “Let’s make this a little more grunge.” ‘Bridge Burner’, I wrote that in the pandemic, that’s one of the newer songs I wrote from scratch, because some of the other ones are more compilations or an old demo. “Tears in Santa Barbara,” that whole line – I had my baby in Santa Barbara, and it’s a really personal song about giving birth and motherhood and feeling like if I don’t have my shit together, how am I supposed to care for someone else? I think that works super clean, intimate, hushed vocals. It’s something I was interested in delivering, something really quiet, almost calming – these are things my music’s never been, so it feels good to channel.
Can you talk about feeling “old in a good way,” the line from ‘Kill a Feeling’, in relation to that theme of aging?
When I look back, especially what I was saying about the collaborators, it’s so cool to see that none of us gave up, and in fact, we all stayed with it. And you can tell – if you listen to my music from 10 years ago versus now, there is an evolution, undeniably. Media tends to glorify young people so you can really get down on yourself, but on the flip side, it’s like, no, I have lived all these experiences, and I have a lot more to say now than I did 10 years ago. And also, “feeling old in a good way,” I love having a daughter, and I love being able to be at this stage and not have so much – I mean, I have a lot of self-doubt, but day to day, I’m able to take her to school, make her lunch, read with her, contribute and feel like I’m doing something really important. It feels good to be at that place when I had so many struggles of severe depression, severe anxiety, never knew if I would get married, never knew if I’d have a baby, never knowing what things were going to look, having a nontraditional path, pursuing music. There were a lot of times where things could have gotten darker, and they didn’t, and there’s a lot of things that could have stopped me, but they didn’t. It’s that legitimacy – it makes me feel legitimate.
I think when you’re in your twenties you’re like, “I only want to be in my twenties, being 30 is old.” And now I’m in my thirties, and I feel way more confident than I used to. It’s just trying to turn it on its head. Same with ‘The Big Stage’, instead of being embarrassed that I’m not further along, admit it out loud. Instead of being embarrassed I’m not 25, admit it out loud. I’m closer to 35. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? People are going to relate to it. Because aging is a gift, and getting old is not only inevitable, but like, that’s the goal. It’s funny that we’re all trying to outrun that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.