touchstone was Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Keyboard Fantasies, released in 1986. “It is very nature-meets-early electronic music. It had this total rejuvenation during the pandemic.”
Segarra also drew inspiration from reading the poetry of Joy Harjo, the United States Poet Laureate (the first Native American to hold that honor) and Ocean Vuong, the award-winning Vietnamese American poet and author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Vuong’s voice in on the album’s “nightqueen,” in an excerpt from an interview he did with On Being’s Krista Tippett. Another source that sparked Segarra was adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy. “It’s like a toolkit or a map for activists and people in organizing movements of how to learn from nature, how we can flock together, how we can learn to be adaptive and resist and grow and thrive, and trust each other,” they explain.
Segarra’s work with Freedom for Immigrants also impacted their writing. “I felt like the world was going to shit and I needed to be useful. Then I found Freedom for Immigrants, an organization that creates little contingency groups across the country of people who volunteer to visit people in detention who need help from the outside.
This also changed the music they wanted to make. “It was time to get a little bit messier and scare myself,” Segarra says. After speaking to several producers who were wonderful but did not feel like the right fit, Segarra decided to call Brad Cook, because she had fallen in love with his work on Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud, Kevin Morby’s Sundowner, and Hand Habit’s Placeholder.
“When I talked to Brad on the phone, I instantly felt, ‘I don’t have to be afraid around him.’” In the middle of the worst of the pandemic, she decided to drive from New Orleans to Cook’s studio in Durham, North Carolina, to see if her instincts about working with him were right. “When I met him I was just like, ‘This is my brother. This is who can help me.’ He opened a door to his studio and was like, ‘Go crazy. Play around with my toys.’ So that was really one of the biggest changes in my sound.
“I don’t want to say all that stuff made me change my sound,” assures Segarra. “I already wanted to. So much of my twenties was spent being very nostalgic and feeling I was born in the wrong time. I didn’t want to do that anymore, because finally there’s resistance happening, a young-people movement wanting to change the world. Popular music has also been opened up more toward women and people of color, queer people. I was more excited about being in the present moment, and I wanted to use the tools of now.
Segarra also pushed themselves further than they ever had before. “There was a moment during a demo of ‘Pointed at the Sun’ that was just me and guitar. At the end [of the song] I started crying during the ‘crucify myself’ part. I’ve never fucking cried during a recording! I’m always way more in charge! Things are not in charge of me!” says Segarra, still a little incredulous. “When I was done and I apologized to Brad, I saw he had tears in his eyes too.”
On her most emotionally intense album yet, Segarra constructs an alternative reality—or, in their words after their recent temporary escape from New Orleans because of Hurricane Ida, “a soundtrack to evacuation.” It kicks off with the insistent call to action of “Wolves,” which recalls their teenage odyssey from New York, a song about disaster, survival, and running for your life. “Pierced Arrows” is a claustrophobic tunnel vision of heartbreak that they attempt to outrun. “You can’t outrun it. The past is always right there,” they say.
“Pointed at the Sun” is autobiographical and fiery, a high-soaring declaration song in which life force is activated, decisions are made, and autonomy is reclaimed. “Rhododendron” is about being faced with your own toxic behaviors and patterns and actively choosing a new path. “Jupiter’s Dance” was inspired by the documentary Segarra watched about musician Jupiter Bokondji, but it is also a prayer for the children in ICE facilities, trying to make their way to safety.
“Life on Earth,” written before the pandemic, is as much a hopeful plea as a funeral lament: Sad and fatalistic with its prescient lyrics about a man in a mask, it is like a hushed continuation of “Pa’lante,” the beautiful, elegiac piano ballad from The Navigator. “nightqueen” is dark, personal, and thrilling, like a cold finger traced along your spine, even more so when a wobbly tenor sax floats in from some disembodied underworld.