Analogue Music | Simone Istwa

Simone Istwa

By Matt Conner

Simone Istwa has never been this exposed before.

On their upcoming Heartweb EP (June 4), Istwa says this batch of personal expressions documenting romantic love and loss is a very intimate turn for an artist used to performance art or other expressions in which the heart isn't so obviously laid bare. One listen to these songs, however, shows the risk was worth it, with some tracks as vulnerable gifts for the listener.

With a new EP on the way, we sat down with Istwa to hear why they were nauseous about putting it out, the importance of connection, and why they're always onto the next project.

Analogue: The songs on the new EP are all very personal, and it made me curious about your own comfort level with this approach. Is this normal for you to put yourself out there or is that what this particular project required from you?

Simone: Well, I’ve never done it before, actually. I’ve never put out a project this intimate and honest, or at least this unveiled and raw. So it feels honestly a little sickening. On the release date, I felt extremely nauseous all day. I’m not going to lie: I’m much more comfortable on the theater end of things where you’re puppeting other characters who can speak for you. It’s not necessarily you but just different parts of yourself. So it’s tricky. It’s hard and it hurts.

Analogue: Were there inclinations to be this vulnerable before and you chose not to be?

Simone: Hmm, I don’t think I knew how to be. I think I knew in other music that I admired that it was present. I’m someone who, in my personal life, can be vulnerable with ones I care about, and I think I’d written songs like that. But I never thought they were good enough. I thought they would be boring to people, and I didn’t have the confidence to put them out in the world.

So the stuff that I chose to share was usually what I thought was funny. I value humor in music a lot, and while this music is a little more humorless and a little more sad than the stuff I’m used to putting out. I just didn’t want anyone to think I took myself too seriously, but sometimes you have to believe in your own reality and take yourself seriously enough to invest in your own life, y’know? But yeah, I like the prankster/jokester part of myself, but it’s also nice to be honest.


Analogue: Does that make this project something you could have only released at this point?

Simone: I think so. I think at this age, too. Finally really into my twenties, at 23, is a year where you settle and you have a little introspection. You’re able to mourn the teenage years and the very first steps in my twenties. I’d skated onto a pleateau when the pandemic hit and was really able to go deep into my past.

Even some of the songs are kind of collages of songs I wrote in high school that I just wanted to finish. I just wanted to hammer in that final nail in the coffin and say ‘that’s that’ for the past. It’s a grieving process.

Analogue: Does that mean that what’s important for you to showcase as an artist has changed or does it just mean that you’ve had enough time to show off further facets?

Simone: I think it’s always changing and I think it’s changing quite often. It’s tricky to finish a project before it changes again. It’s like I’m always chasing the dragon here with the muse, y’know, where I keep trying to challenge myself more with the subject matter of my work. I try to push myself so it feels dangerous. I don’t want to make something that doesn’t feel a little bit frightening to make.

Analogue: Do you still feel that you’re on that protectionist side of some songs? Or does this EP push you over that edge?

Simone: Well, the writing process is so different for every piece you’re approaching, so when I’m approaching a vulnerable song for a Western tradition song, like these songs, there’s a question of “how honest are you?” When you’re not using a lot of words, when it’s a three-minute song, every word has value.

I’m actually moving on to larger, more orchestral pieces, so my focus is completely shifted to sonic textures. All I’ve been thinking about recently is association and texture and writing for different instruments I’ve never written for. The lyrics have become more rhythmic tools or devices, so I’m just in a completely different headspace.

But yeah, I think I’ve unlocked that ability to share more things with the world. Although that will probably rely heavily on its reception, right? [Laughs] If I put it out in the world and there’s a resounding “boo!”… wait, maybe that would actually make me want to do it more. I don’t know. [Laughs] I do like the boos. I like being told my music is bad, so I don’t know. But yeah it will probably depend on the reception if I circle back again.

Analogue: You mentioned already moving on to these orchestral pieces. Is that vital to be able to move around?

Simone: Yes. Yes. I remember being a kid and my family, they’re musicians, so I would be on tours with them. I won’t name names, but when I would watch other people play songs that they wrote 30 years ago—not my parents but other people’s tours—I would think that would be the worst thing in the world. I always thought it was so corny.

It was part of my resistance to even want to be a musician, because even if you do something right, then you’re cursed. That’s all they want you to do over and over again and nothing would make me more uncomfortable than being told what to do like that. So it’s also part of the reason I dropped out of high school, too. I’m not good with orders. I like doing things at my own pace, and I like switching things up a lot.

Analogue: Interesting. Let me push back just a minute. I talk to so many artists whose intent is connection and what you’re describing could be termed as connection, their ability to write a song that reaches across and matters to others. Is connection not what you want as well? Or what is important?

Simone: Yeah, I love live performance and I always think about generosity, how much you can give. I think that’s a connection. But maybe the traditional connection to music isn’t something I experienced exactly. I felt extremely connected to artists like [Edgar] Varèse, who is a cool example. I felt a cool connection to Veress or different composers where that’s not the format.

Wait, Zappa is a good example. Zappa’s music isn’t always so sincere, but what’s beautiful about it is its challenging. It’s like a person. When you meet someone who maybe isn’t completely forthcoming or a little challenging, you wanna follow them through the party to see what they’ll be doing for the next hour. That’s something where it’s more like a drive, a curiosity to crack something open and decode it.

That was the special experience to me with music. There was a holy tradition of getting home from school, opening up Discogs, opening up Soulseek, looking for recommended records for me, and finding something that was barely available. Maybe there were 500 cassettes in existence. Then I’d find it on Soulseek and scour the internet for everything about every one of those members. The obscurity of that process I’d also like to make in music.

I think I’m more about giving people experiences than making them feel like they’re shaking my hand. I don’t think I’m that interesting. What’s more interesting is throwing someone into a space in their own imagination that’s incredibly vast and giving them the reins to have their own experience. It’s not our connection, but it’s about them and their associations in the recesses of their mind and memory, if that’s possible. I know that’s a lofty ambition, but that’s what I would hope that the music does, if there has to be a function. I would like it to be more medicinal than cerebral.

Analogue: So how does that come into play on the Heartweb EP?

Simone: I think it’s the textures and the melodies and the way that there are subtle time signature changes—all those things are invitations to let the mind let go and the lyrics then serve as the poetry. That’s what shoegaze is to me. It’s ambient music with a little more wholesome, hokey, human elements. Even the word “heartweb” makes me tear up even though I don’t know why. It’s delicate and lovely and maybe at times, it’s porcelain decorations you find at the Goodwill. I wanted it to feel sentimental and experiential in that way. What’s more universal than romantic love and loss?

VISIT: Simone Istwa