CHAOS CHAOS

Photo by Tanner Abel Article: Caroline D’Arcy Gorman Interview: Caroline D’Arcy Gorman & Madeleine Johnsson Style: Michael Phillips & Nicholas James Needham

Photo by Tanner Abel

Article: Caroline D’Arcy Gorman

Interview: Caroline D’Arcy Gorman & Madeleine Johnsson

Style: Michael Phillips & Nicholas James Needham

 
 

Originally from Seattle, the sister duo formed the band Smoosh in 2000, performing on Jimmy Kimmel when they were just 12 and 14. Now in their early twenties, Asy and Chloe Saavedra are full time students at Bard College in upstate New York, frequenting the city on the weekends to play shows, attend parties, and return home to Brooklyn. Since Smoosh days, they have transitioned into politically minded and engaged young adults. While the maturation process has been natural for Chloe and Asy, growing up in the public eye can be challenging. Since they were young, says Chloe, “we would, to some extent, censor things because of what people would think about us. If we would ever swear or do anything like that, people would say, ‘Oh my God, Smoosh! They’re not ‘goodie good’ sisters anymore!’”

But the project is centered around the concept of change. Growing up, the sisters sat through many a scientific lecture given by their father, a neurobiologist turned teacher. An ever-changing amoeba called a ‘chaos chaos’ was the topic of one of the lectures, and it stuck. True to the genesis of the name, the band is always adapting and being refined. With the new material - the sisters insist on referring to it as ‘the material’ as opposed to ‘the record’ because they don’t know exactly what shape it will take yet – Chaos Chaos is turning over a new leaf. Asy and Chloe made a pact to do everything on their own and returned back to their roots for the newest project. 

They recorded, of all places, in their grandmother’s cottage in Sweden. “It’s in the middle of nowhere”, says Chloe – “You can go to a barn anywhere, I don’t know why we go [there]”. But for now, Sweden is established as their home base for creation, providing an escape from the chaos of New York. We spoke with the two individually, sitting down on a nondescript grey stoop on the Lower East Side. Asy is preparing for a show that evening with her drone choir at Le Poisson Rouge, but is easygoing about taking a break to chat. Her collaboration with the drone choir is indicative of the multifaceted nature of her talents; songwriting and performing with big and small names alike, Asy’s only concern is the quality of the work. At Bard, she studies a range of subjects from sociology to literature, majoring in music to ensure she’ll have the time to write an album while at school. She is, admittedly, the quieter and more introspective of the two, and as the eldest of four sisters, Asy possesses a bit of a "motherly instinct". Between balancing the demanding workload at Bard College, band responsibilities and family time, Asy and Chloe seem to spend the majority of their days together. Although they have been working with one another for over a decade, the sisters have gotten their space apart; Asy spent a year in Berlin, studying philosophy at the Bard College program. She left her instruments behind, eager to traverse new territory and delve into other forms of expression.

DRØME: Tell us about your time in Berlin!

Asy: When I went to Berlin I purposefully didn’t bring any musical instruments and decided to immerse myself in different things. I had just written an EP so I didn’t need to write at that time and felt like I had to try to grow as a person without music. I suddenly didn’t have this crutch and it forced me to focus all my energy and attention on other things - it ended up inspiring me so much. When you travel somewhere and know it’s temporary, you are a different person when you’re in that place. You’re suspended in a way - you learn and grow but then eventually go back home and take what you learned and use it. I realized that most of what inspires me musically is actually not music at all; it’s other ideas about people, the world and academia. Berlin was really cool because it allowed me to take time to actually think about ideas without immediately making them into a song.

D: Did you try to get into music at all in Berlin? What was that like?

A: It was definitely a tough time. Here [in New York], I have friends who already know me so it’s easy to collaborate. In Berlin, I experienced what it was like for a woman trying to get into music. People often thought I had other motives when I just wanted to jam with them. It takes a lot for people to take you seriously and view you as a musician, not a sex symbol. People wouldn’t really give me a chance. I usually try not to let that stop me, but I don’t think I was ever able to do that in Berlin because I wasn’t there long enough - it was hard to leave knowing that.

D: And now, you have a song called, “I Wanna Go Back to Berlin.”

A: Ha! I do want to go back! The city is still a mystery to me. There’s so much that I want to explore. Chloe and I need to get involved in the music scene in Berlin. It would totally be a challenge - I still don’t know how it works - but we are both excited about going back!

D: So you’re at Bard College right now, which is a very creative community, and you’re studying a variety of material. Do you find that your academia influences your music in tangible ways?

A: Something about being in class always makes me really inspired and initiates my writing process. In school, I'm developing my own way of thinking by reading books by these really abstract, out there thinkers, and learning how they think of the world. I recently went through my school notebooks, took out all the music notes, and compiled them into my music notebook. There’s so much in there... how did I not fail my classes?! (Laughs)

 

D: You’ve been doing music professionally for a long time. Have you noticed shifts over the years with inspiration or your process?

A: When I was really young, I would write and play piano and have no idea why I was doing it; I just loved playing and telling stories. I was way more comfortable when I was twelve playing shows than when I was seventeen and realized I was viewed as a woman. The male gaze is so dominant in the music business, and you don’t notice that when you’re a kid as much. There's way more I have to fight against now, but I’ve dealt with it long enough to not be quite as affected by it. I just try to do my own thing and not what the male gaze wants to see. There are so many people listening to music, it shouldn’t be dominated by masculinity. Once I started thinking of that more, I started going back to how I viewed music as a kid. I do music because it’s fun! I try not to overthink things because of insecurities. I’ve always been attracted to contrasts of sounds and ideas and disrupting the natural sense of order.

D: Is your fascination with disrupting natural order the genesis of “Chaos Chaos”?

A: (Laughs) It’s actually this weird nerdy band name that came from our dad being a scientist. He used to give us these lectures in science and he lectured us on this giant amoeba which is called a “chaos chaos”. It’s an amoeba that is always growing and changing. And that idea is basically what we want our music brand to be; it’s always one consolidated thing but also moving and changing and growing.

D: I have seen some videos of you play and you use your body in really interesting ways. What is your relationship to your body through the lens of music?

A: That’s a really interesting question, I’ve never been asked that before. I guess I didn’t use my body that much until recently. Chloe and I have always been stuck behind our instruments, and there's no room to use our bodies because we’re playing so much. We always laugh when we see videos of ourselves because we look really ridiculous! One day I decided that I needed to try playing without the instrument barrier, so I made the “Berlin” song all on Ableton. I just decided to take the mic and go to the front of the stage. It was scary at first, but I felt like I had to for some reason, and then it felt strangely natural to perform in that way. It makes it an immersive experience: instead of just playing to the audience, you’re playing with them. That was so cool. I am a terrible dancer, and I don’t have the best relationship with my body in terms of movement… I’ve always been super inflexible and felt self-conscience about dancing, but whatever I do in that song feels natural. I’m expressing myself in a way that’s not just trying to be sexy or beautiful - it’s just an impulsive expression of energy.

D: How do you get beyond that initial fear that you mentioned of dropping your instrument and going into the audience?

A: During the song, I had no choice because it was set up on Ableton, so everything is played through [that software]. The part always comes too soon, because sometimes the audience is just standing there cross-armed, then I’m always like, “fuck it – I’m going for it!” (Laughs) A lot of times, everyone’s like, “what is she doing?” It’s funny, and I also kind of like making it an awkward experience for some people... It’s fun.

D: Because you're doing the unexpected.

A: Yeah! Once you realize that you are doing something unexpected then it makes it easier to do it cause you realize, “I’ve decided that I’m going to this, so I’m not going to fit into what I should fit into right now.” And once you do that, everything’s easier. It helps if you just go all out, you know? Just go for it. Don’t do it halfway!

D: And how does the performance change over time?

A: Every show is really different for that song; it totally depends on what happens with the audience. One time we played this really awkward show where everyone was sitting down. There was this really old guy sitting down in the front, falling asleep - he did not want to be there. I felt bad for him, but then for some reason I had this impulse during the show to go right up to him. So I screamed the song in his face! I have no idea why I did that but it felt right at the time. I apologized to that guy after.

D: Maybe he was your biggest fan and that was his dream come true!

A: I think he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there by some weird coincidence. (Laughs)

D: You’ve been working with Chloe basically ever since you started playing music. How have you balanced your relationship as sisters, your working relationship and creative relationship? I imagine those are the big three...

A: It’s a lot. It’s definitely not been seamless. First of all, we totally have this sister connection that makes everything cling together really easily. We really understand each other musically and as people. But we become too comfortable and lose respect for the other. When we’re touring and it’s just us in a car for eight hours, it’s really hard to be our best selves. We have so many sister issues that have gotten out of hand and have totally disrupted the music. I wouldn’t say we’ve got it figured out now, but we know that we obviously love each other as sisters and don’t want to ruin that relationship. And, we also love playing music together, so don’t want to ruin that. So we try to make it work. Sometimes we’ll plan a sister hang out day where we’ll get Froyo or something, or we’ll both do business emails and talk. You have to create boundaries and breaks, otherwise it makes it hard for both of us. We both have to do that.

D: And you have three sisters.

A: Yeah, three younger sisters!

D: Do you feel like a role model as the oldest sibling in your family?

A: I don’t really think of it as being like that. I obviously feel like I’m the oldest and I used to always feel pressure to be motherly towards my younger siblings. Now that three of us are older, I don’t feel that quite as much. We’ve always been really close and I can’t really imagine it any other way; I’ll always be the oldest sibling. Whatever responsibility I feel like I have, I’m never going to be able to forget about. We totally are a part of each other’s lives and support each other.

D: You and Chloe obviously have a lot of shared experiences, but seem like very different people. What do you think some of the biggest differences are between you two?

A: We have really different personalities. I’m much more of a reserved, quiet person in general and she’s way more outgoing. Sometimes, when we’re together, those get more intensified - that’s how dynamics work. If we were here talking together, I would probably be more reserved and she’d be louder because that’s just how it happens. Our lives have always paralleled each other, so we have almost developed to be different; that’s really influenced our music. She’s more rational and I’ll get lost in things. I’m super emotional - I’ll make a song as an expression, or through trying to make a feeling, experience, or story tangible. Chloe is passionate but has really good producer insight. She can see what a song is trying to go for, like “no, this song needs to be ten times faster and way louder.” I can’t think about that. For me, it’s all about the personal and it’s hard to get that distance. She has that distance so it’s awesome.

Chloe meets us on her way back from the studio, before Asy's show. She has a shock of cropped black hair to juxtapose with her sister’s platinum blonde. She is loquacious, with a sharp sense of humor and fun. A junior at Bard College, Chloe studies photography. She has been featured in Tom Tom Magazine, both conducting and receiving interviews, and recently appeared in a commercial for the US Open, drumming to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. Her strength and appearance as a drummer are nothing short of badass.

DRØME: So tell us about your new material.

Chloe: We’re really excited about the new material but especially because we’re like, “fuck it we’re just doing it all on our own!” For so long we were trying to find a home for the material and a place to really make it come to life and nothing was really fitting. We felt like we were having to prove something to the person we were working with, and we kept thinking we needed a producer to help us finish it - maybe subconsciously we thought we needed a man. So now we made a pact to do everything on our own and we’re trying all this really weird stuff. Some of the recordings we’re using are not the best, cleanest sounds we can get in a studio space, but we’re into that vibe. Usually our demos are super wild with lots of weird experimental vocals. Doing it on our own feels right but it’s also kind of scary because now people are going to hear all that weird stuff.

D: How has your relationship with yourself changed over the past bunch of years in the context of being a musician?

C: Asy and I have been releasing music since I was nine, so it’s always been a part of me, and feels like a natural development. I never really think about it as my career with a set of goals, but more that I’m just doing what I wanna do with my life and trying new things. I never feel like there’s an end point for that. A huge part of doing music right now is being aware that everything you’re doing is so wrapped up in what's going on around you - technology changes so much about what it means to be an artist, so I’m always having to respond to that. Chaos Chaos is our first project as adults, technically. People obviously are still shocked by normal things, but now we’re trying to make sure that we go all out - trying not to hold back with our sexuality and not care so much about what people are going to think.

D: Do you have examples?

C: Asy and I have always felt that our femininity is something that we wear rather than our default way of being. We’ve always been tomboys and sometimes I feel like a clown by being feminine. I’m trying to understand how I can want to play that part. Does that diminish something about my personality or strength? Asy and I are both pretty fluid – I don’t totally put labels on myself. When you make a song, if you say "she" in a lyric, people think so much more about that than even you would. Obviously we both have sex lives, but when we sing harmonizing together people project this weird sister fantasy onto us. So, yeah. (Laughs) Not giving a fuck about that and being able to be really sexual without fear.

D: I love the fact that you have this "fuck it" mentality – but does it ever become really challenging? As in, you want to write something and be completely honest but the world that we live in is not always accepting of that. How do you push through and really do it?

C: I don’t think we’ve released material that really pushes that yet, but hopefully this new material will. Sometimes my “fuck it” attitude will go too far and I’ll find that I’m not even being myself. It is difficult to find a place to be sexual and want to appeal to certain people and find a place to reside within all that. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a feminist if you’re doing things for men but you can’t pretend you’re living in this weird bubble. Then we’re just screwing ourselves over, because then we’re pretending we’re doing something for ourselves and then not.

D: What’s your relationship with social media?

C: Sometimes I feel like I’m a weird old dad on Instagram, trying to fit in with the kids. Now I’m just really trying to be myself. It all sounds so simple and cliché, but it’s weird how you feel so evaluated by just being yourself. So I’m just gonna try to be myself more and just like not give a fuck if people don’t respond to that.

D: Would you talk a little bit about your sexuality and your experience with it?

C: It’s such a reverse experience for me, being a female drummer. Everyone feels pressure to be heteronormative, but I’ve always felt that it would be easier for me to be gay, because all my friends are gay and my whole sphere of female drummers - they’re all very gay. Not even bisexual or fluid, they’re very gay. And I love that, and I’ve been with people who are like that, but that’s not totally me. I’m a tomboy but I definitely feel more straight than I am gay. I feel like I shouldn’t be saying this in an interview but whatever I don’t really care (Laughs). Going back to the "fuck it" mentality - the last woman I had a relationship with knew that she was more gay than I was, just because I told her on the spectrum I’m probably 70% straight. We ended up breaking up and she was making it all about “you’re just not gay enough for me” as if somehow in relationships being 70% straight also applies… I just felt that was so oversimplifying of me and an excuse for why we didn’t work out. It is kind of weird to tell people I generally feel more straight because then a lot of women are turned off to me. And it’s not about [the percentage], it’s always just about the individual and having different experiences, but I definitely do feel very different dynamics when I’m with women as opposed to men but that's just the world we live in.

D: What are the different dynamics?

C: God there’s so much that plays into it – so much of it is about expectations for gender roles. I can’t tell how much of what I desire in a relationship and in the bedroom is based off of what I’ve been conditioned to think or is actually how I would normally feel. Because I’m tall and I guess I seem kind of butch-y sometimes – with women – they’ll be submissive to me and I really hate that! I don’t ever want that in a relationship where the other person just responds. I’ve realized that everybody wants to be a little spoon (laughs). Just because I’m tall doesn’t mean I have to be the big spoon. With men I find that I sometimes default to responding to them or wanting to be viewed in a certain way. And for women it’s either completely mutual – no one has a more dominant role – or, they’ll expect me to be [dominant]. I’ve been talking about this so much - I just started taking a Contact Improv class and it’s the most amazing thing to do.

D: What’s Contact Improv?

C: It’s like Improv dancing but you always have to be touching someone else and responding. It sounds super new age-y and cheesy but it’s actually fucking brilliant.

D: Would you use that in your performances?

C: I really want to. Asy and I are thinking about having a lot more performative things happening rather than just band playing. In [Contact Improv] there are no gender roles – sometimes there will be a dominant or submissive role but never based on gender. And it’s really interesting to see how it’s so hard not to think about gender and who you’re interacting with. I learned something about myself – for some reason I’m always the person who’s controlling of the movement. And I’m trying to let go of that a little bit more. I would recommend it for everybody. It’s such a therapeutic thing and you can totally get to know somebody through their body and way of moving and intuition before knowing them personally. People have really been surprising me – people who I thought I would never vibe with I’m totally meshing with through Contact Improv. And also I can’t help but think... we’d be good in bed together?! (Laughs)

D: I could go on forever but I’m pretty sure it’s past 8:00 (we are headed to Asy’s show at Le Poisson Rouge). Do you have anything final to add?

C: Sure, I guess I’ll say one more thing. Our generation and the time we’re in right now should be the time of undoing. If you’re not actively trying to undo certain things about yourself then that’s sad, because you’re going to die having lived the life that was expected of your archetype.

And ‘undoing’ they have done - seeking to not only push, but to destroy and redefine boundaries that have been set in place. True to its origins, Chaos Chaos is not merely a name, but a state of being. The band serves as a platform through which these artists have explored and expressed what it means to be amorphous, constantly seeking new footing. We need more young artists like Asy and Chloe Saavedra - artists who are bravely and unabashedly themselves, who don’t just roll with the punches, but who aren’t afraid to punch back.