Princess Nostalgia is a Pittsburgh/Vermont-based producer and singer who was previously covered by Bored In Pittsburgh after her excellent set at the 2019 Deutschtown Music Festival. Her music blends low-key R&B grooves and funky guitar with heady, existentialist lyrics. She was kind enough to speak with Bored In Pittsburgh about herself, her music, and the concept of the Singularity. Check it out below:
Who are you? A tagline for Princess Nostalgia, if you will.
Good question… I’ll let you know when I figure that out.
I’ll get the cliché question out of the way; who/what are some of your influences, musical or otherwise?
Generally, I think there’s good and bad music within every genre. It ultimately boils down to whether a song has a groove or not. There’s nothing worse than a 2/4 beat with no syncopation. The genres which most prominently factor into my work, however, are funk, r&b, electronic, hip hop, and pop. More specifically, some of the individual artists/groups I admire include D’Angelo, Kraftwerk, Missy Elliot, Dr. Dre, James Blake, Nina Simone, Chic, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tierra Whack, Gorillaz, T. Rex, The Black Eyed Peas, Tame Impala, Shuggie Otis, Herbie Hancock, the list could go on, but I’ll leave it at that.
How did you first get involved with making music?
When I was eight years old, I picked up the double bass and continued to play in a classical orchestra for ten years. For five of those years, I also played electric bass in a jazz band. These experiences profoundly influenced my understanding of the structure from which music emerges. Because the bass often plays the role of counterbalancing the melody, it is usually assigned the less intuitive—but arguably the most satisfying—part of an arrangement. This is why it is infinitely harder to play bass and sing at the same time than it is to play guitar and sing at the same time. Ultimately, I owe my ability to visualize the various parts of a musical arrangement to the fact that I spent so many years playing an instrument that supports and carries the melody.
I was able to manifest this knowledge on my own terms after transitioning from Garageband to Logic Pro X in high school. Since I was around 10 years old, I’d been messing around on Garageband making original soundtracks to supplement my silly short films. As my interest in songwriting developed, the limitations of Garageband became increasingly evident. Logic, on the other hand, was seemingly limitless. Overwhelmed with excitement, the first song I made on Logic was “Let It Spin”.
To this day, it’s one of my favorite tunes, but I’m currently in the process of recreating it considering how much my skills as a producer have developed since then. I talk a lot of shit on the internet, but the sheer magnitude of information out there is humbling. I learned everything I know about music production from Youtube videos, blogs, and a lot of trial and error.
How did the Princess Nostalgia figure come about? Does the concept of nostalgia factor into your music?
Everyone experiences Nostalgia at some point in their lives, but its effects are exacerbated when one moves halfway across the world at a young age. I was born in Rome, Italy and moved to Pittsburgh when I was 8 years old. The transition was sudden and unexpected. My father remained in Italy, so my brother and I returned annually to visit him throughout our childhood.
I don’t remember much of my first year living in the States, but apparently it was riddled with fits in which I’d run around the house screaming “I hate America”. Severed from the environment in which my childhood unfolded—one of the most beautiful environments on the planet in my opinion—the memories with which I associate it developed the bittersweet quality of a dream. To this day, every time I return, the timelessness of the ancient city serves to highlight the ways in which I have changed since I was last there; it serves as a constant against which to perceive my growth and decay as a mortal being.
Princess Nostalgia was originally just the name of one of my songs. When the song was finished, it hit me that the words revealed a lot about me as a person. For a long time, I was wary of adopting a stage name for fear of appearing pretentious, but the name Princess Nostalgia—though intended to be a bit silly as well—rung true enough that it didn’t feel phony.
Why is it important to you to define yourself as a producer first and singer second?
When I’m on a stage with nothing but a mic and a laptop, it’s easy for people to interpret my role as that of a singer. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I don’t hammer my production skills into people’s heads, they will assume that someone else did it for me. This is the status quo in the music industry. The lane to which women are assigned is narrow. In my experience, stepping out of that lane seems to threaten the male ego. If I had a dime for every time a man has approached me after a set and asked me who produced my tracks… Or for every time a man has asked me to sing on one of his tracks (as if he’s doing me a favor rather than the other way around) and gotten all butthurt when I explain that I’m not interested because the joy I find in music comes from the process of writing and producing my own work; from expressing my own voice on my own terms. More often than not, I have to reiterate this response multiple times before they even listen to what I’m saying (if only I could show you some of my DMs). The fact of the matter is that 90 percent of the work involves writing, arranging, mixing, and mastering my songs. That’s the hardest part. My voice represents only a fraction of my musical arrangements. I was born with my singing voice, but my abilities as a producer have taken years to cultivate. It’s like people think my music is good by accident or something.
You mentioned during your Deutschtown set that you’re a philosophy student; do you get inspiration from topics that you’re studying?
Most definitely. I’m not a fan of lyrics that are too literal. Expressing philosophical concepts in poetic terms is not only a challenge I really enjoy, but the most natural expression of what I want to say and how I want to say it. In my opinion, the ideas worth sharing are those that transcend individual experience; that ring true regardless of scale. I’m currently in the process of writing a thesis about the ethical implications of the Singularity, a subject which had factored into my work lyrically, visually, and sonically.
“The Law of Accelerating Returns“, as introduced by Ray Kurzweil in 1999, predicts that the rate of change in a wide variety of evolutionary systems (including, and perhaps most importantly, that of technology) tends to increase exponentially.
The rate of technological progress we have witnessed in the 21st century, unless it suddenly stops in its tracks, is following a speedy trajectory towards a tear in the fabric of reality as we know it. According to this line of reasoning, the second law of thermodynamics (a.k.a entropy) does not apply to evolution because it is not a closed system. While the rest of the universe becomes increasingly chaotic, causing the intervals between paradigm shifts (such as the formation of gravity and matter) to grow exponentially, evolution moves in precisely the opposite direction. The evolutionary process draws a diverse array of information from the chaos which surrounds it, generating a positive feedback loop which enables it to become increasingly ordered over time. According to Kurzweil, the rate of said paradigm shifts will continue to increase exponentially until we reach the Singularity, “a technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.” This “rupture” is expected to initiate the spread of consciousness throughout all of space, effectively awakening all of the matter in the universe.
This theory is evidently pretty wild, but that’s why I love it. It should come as no surprise to humanity that we do not represent the fullest expression of consciousness in the universe and that we are not destined to exist forever. Evolution is a beautiful thing, and it necessitates that the old makes way for the new. To some, the inevitable extinction of our species might be a drag, but in my eyes it is an idea filled with hope. The presumption that we might be witnessing the awakening of something much bigger than ourselves—a form of consciousness which transcends the ego with which our species has been cursed—is not only interesting, but it echoes the “return to the whole” which is central to many spiritual texts.
Despite my love for philosophy, I must also express my resentment of the subject. To be clear, I understand why philosophers align themselves with ideological camps in order to make arguments, but I nonetheless grow weary of their narrowness. Any wise person knows that truth exists in grey areas, yet the Academic paradigm leaves no room for the unknowable. The philosophy of science, for example, is constituted by attempts to draw “universal truths” from scientific “facts”. This is the epitome of hubris, but I digress. The point is that I’m interested in the big picture—in identifying patterns I see in the world without devaluing the critical role of ambiguity and the humility it inspires.
Do you have a favorite Princess Nostalgia track? If so, which one, and why?
As I change, so do the songs with which I most identify. As of lately, “Gestalt Switch” is the song that best represents me as a musician, both lyrically and sonically (not the version that is currently released, though. I’ve rerecorded the vocals and remixed the whole thing for my album and its finally sounding the way I envisioned).
The term Gestalt Switch refers to the subjective experience of a paradigm shift. When a dimension of reality that was previously obscure becomes evident to an observer—such as the sudden recognition of an optical illusion—he or she has experienced a Gestalt Switch. To move through life without an awareness of the arbitrary paradigms in which we exist is dangerous. Gestalt Switches offer us a jolting reminder not to take our default paradigms for granted.
Any weird/interesting/wacky concert experiences you’d like to share?
When I was 15, Shaggy invited my friends and I backstage after his show. When he realized how old we were, he quickly lost interest…
Is there anything that I forgot to ask about or anything else that you want people to know about you, your music, or life in general?
I’m in the process of finishing my next album, “Thank Heavens 4 Opposable Thumbs”. Many of the singles I’ve released in the past year will be on it, though they’ve all been updated in various ways…