Kississippi’s Ebullient, Vulnerable ‘Mood Ring’ Is A Springboard From Basement Emo To Arena Pop

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There’s a special feeling you get when you see an artist perform and you know, deep down in your gut, that they’ll never play a venue this small ever again. It’s a tangible representation of the ephemeral, like catching a glimpse of a shooting star, or being able to take full advantage of MoviePass.

Mood Ring, the sophomore album from Kississippi first came across my desk (note: not a desk, but a folding table with a fake plastic plant that I set up as a desk during the height of the pandemic lockdown) as an untitled rough mix, edits bounced in the midst of production. Even in their incomplete stage, I was floored with the scope of the songwriting — after years grinding and growing in the DIY basement punk scene, Zoe Reynolds had pivoted to arena-sized pop songs. And she wasn’t turning back.

“I think this is exactly what my vision was, but I didn’t know that I was capable of doing it yet,” Reynolds recently told me over Zoom. “Having the right resources and stuff like that, it makes such a difference. I mean, as much as it was my vision, I was like, “Oh, I’m trying to make a big-scale pop record. I don’t know if I’m actually able to do that.'”

Across its ten tracks, Mood Ring boasts some of the most exciting and emotionally vulnerable songwriting to come out of the emo world in recent memory, proving once and for all that it is possible to widen your scope up the steps and out of the basement, and aim it towards arenas. Tracks like “Twin Flame” feel reminiscent of emo torchbearers (specifically, see Jimmy Eat World’s “Hear You Me” for a familiar chord progression), while the absolutely massive “Around Your Room” and “We’re So In Tune” could be played on pop radio alongside Lorde and Taylor Swift. But underneath the pop flashes and technicolor visuals are lyrics that are raw and direct, unafraid to dig into the difficult situations and pull out a serene wisdom.

“I really just want this to be a record that people can cry and dance to,” she says. “When I wrote it, I really wanted to write this super happy pop record, but I have depression and anxiety. So those songs are going to come forward that way. I just really want it to be a cathartic record for people, something that people can see as a conversation with a friend. I want people to be able to dance out their feelings with it, because that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.”

Reynolds first realized the songs she was writing were becoming an album during the winter of 2019 and spent the better part of two years perfecting the craft of her songwriting and working toward capturing on tape the sounds in her head. One pivotal force in this endeavor was producer Andy Park, whose past credits include work with Noah Gunderson, Death Cab for Cutie, Princess Nokia, Now, Now, and more, who helped to push the songs to whole new levels with overdubs, vocal harmonies, and alternate arrangements. “I was really, really lucky to come across Andy, who was willing to do so much to make this happen for me as a small artist,” she says. Another driving force for the evolution of Mood Ring was a bevy of external collaborators that helped to push Reynolds into new directions.

“With my previous records, I really would go isolation mode when I was writing,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone to see into it, straight up. But my songs are emotionally vulnerable, so I feel like, [with] this record, being able to collaborate with people kind of made it feel more like a conversation with a friend than like a journal entry. It was a really important thing for me to do. I think I will always want to do those kinds of co-writing sessions and collaborations in the future.”

While Mood Ring takes Kississippi into uncharted territory for a band born and raised in the DIY punk/emo scene, the final version of the record still stays true to Reynolds’ scene roots, featuring contributions from a wide array of sonically diverse artists within the genre, including Sarah Tudzin (Illuminati Hotties), Bartees Strange, Al Menne (Great Grandpa), Conor Murphy (Foxing), Phoebe Bridgers’ frequent sideman Marshall Vore, and many more. “As much as I really wanted to kind of break out with this new record, I know that at heart, my music is emo music and that it will still connect with some of the people that it connected with before,” Reynolds explains.

The strength of songs is there, and with a little luck, Mood Ring can follow a trajectory similar to Taylor Swift’s Red or 1989, both of which remain revered by the musical purist DIY-heads, despite the artist’s massive stature. “I love my emo community, but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little growth,” Reynolds says with a laugh.

Mood Ring is out now via Triple Crown Records. Listen here and catch Kississippi on tour this summer.

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