When Alyse Vellturo was trying to come up with a name for her new musical project, she thought she hit upon the perfect moniker: Monachopsis. It’s defined as “the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place,” a sensation the 31-year-old Vellturo had experienced for years as a recording engineer and music business manager who lacked the confidence to make her own music, in spite of graduating from the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Unfortunately for Vellturo, Monachopsis was totally unsuitable as a signifier for the music that she makes, which is hooky and glistening alt-rock that recalls the uplifting radio anthems of her youth, made by bands such as Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World. Tunes that are all shiny, ascending guitar lines and sinewy synths that cradle emotional vocals conveying some great revelation about a recent romantic heartbreak. “Monachopsis” doesn’t communicate that kind of cathartic, insinuating sound at all. What it evokes instead is “Tool cover band.”
A friend swiftly suggested that she go in a different direction.
“I told her she had 30 minutes to call me back with a better name,” Vellturo says. “She eventually called me back and said what about Pronoun? I typed it out in all lowercase and it just felt right.”
Released in May, Pronoun’s full-length debut I’ll Show You Stronger has been one of 2019’s great indie sleeper records. Aside from a lukewarm Pitchfork review, the album hasn’t generated much in the way of mainstream music coverage. (For what it’s worth, Uproxx has been hip to Pronoun from the beginning.) But on punk and emo blogs, Vellturo has been rightly celebrated as a burgeoning tunesmith with a real knack for creating rock songs that hit with the ease and gooey pleasure of great pop music.
As a singer, Vellturo’s husky voice and eccentric phrasing recalls Kate Bush, if the art-rock icon had been influenced by Bleed American. Tracks like “Run” and “Stay” build from conversational verses that touch on an ill-fated romantic relationship that is happily in Vellturo’s rearview, to huge choruses that blossom with the help of some truly gorgeous guitar tones. It is simply one of the most compulsively listenable records of the year,
Vellturo recently spoke about the making of the album, and how she found the confidence to make one of 2019’s best “indie emo bedroom rock that nobody asked for” albums.
It took you three years to make this record. Why so long? Are you a perfectionist?
I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist. More so I just was like, I can make this better. I know I can make this better. I was also doubting myself because I didn’t start making music until four years ago. So it was still kind of shocking to me that I was working on an album.
You worked as an engineer and other parts of the music business for years before starting Pronoun. What kept you from getting started before that?
I did not think I was very good. When I got to Berkelee, I was like, “Yay, I’m gonna go be a rock star.” Then you start realizing, “Oh my God, I was the music kid at my high school and now I go to school with a bunch of the other music kids.” And you put it into perspective like, “Oh, I am really not great at guitar. I can’t really sing. Look at this other person.”
I started Berkelee when I was a little older, which I think was very lucky because instead of being like, “I’m stuck,” and getting down on my myself, I was just like, “OK, where can you fit? You’re here now. You got in. So, what do you want to do?” I had no experience in production or engineering or anything like that, but I did find it interesting. And I thought it was a challenging major to get into. So I was like, this is appealing for multiple reasons. And I ended up just going from there.
You first started writing songs as a teenager in the early ’00s. And I feel like that comes across in a way on this album, which has a very lush and vibrant alt-rock sound that I associate with music from that period. What are some of the reference points for you sonically from that time?
Third Eye Blind. Like, old Third Eye Blind. And I love Jimmy Eat World. I was about to put out “Run” and I’m like, what do I could compare this to? And someone said Third Eye Blind and I was like, that’s it. It kind of fits in that realm. But it’s newer. It sounds newer than [Third Eye Blind’s] self-titled. That was such a big record for me and remains a big record for me. And Jimmy Eats World’s Futures and Clarity.
I’ve seen you describe your music as “indie emo bedroom rock that nobody asked for.”
We started touring with like a lot of emo and like pop-punk bands. It translated over so well and I started to be like, wait, am I emo? Because I hadn’t really considered that. But then I looked back to the old records that I grew up on. There are just so many things that pull from that that I didn’t really realize. I didn’t even know what this was until after I made it, I guess.
Your first EP was much more scaled-down, in a bedroom pop kind of way. What inspired you initially?
Julien Baker had just come out and I was like, this is super cool. If this 19-year-old girl can be that honest and that open, and stand on the stage in front of 500 people and talk about how she’s a drug addict and recovering and how she believes in God, anyone can do anything. It was super inspiring.
I started making music more in that realm, and then that genre got kind of big, the whole bedroom pop thing. It turned into something way different after the fact. I just did a 180. If bedroom pop is big, I’m going to make bedroom rock that nobody asked for, and it kind of evolved from there.
You mentioned how you classified yourself as emo after the fact, based partly on how others perceived your music. Do you ever think about how these sorts of classifications affect how artists are covered by the music press? Because I consider your album to be kind of a sleeper this year. I’m surprised that it hasn’t gotten more attention, because it’s such an engaging listen. But it can be harder for acts who slot as emo or punk to get mainstream attention.
I used to think about it so, so much, especially in the beginning. There’s so much music coming out. There’s so many people hiring publicists. It’s just so oversaturated. I’m impressed that anyone even opens their email. I kind of gave up, after the first EP. When I stopped caring is when I felt like people started actually writing about it.
I’ll Show You Stronger is out now via Rhyme & Reason Records. Get it here.