Story / Molly Hudelson
Photos / Mallory Turner
From the moment she picks up the phone, I can hear the smile in Aimee deBeer’s voice. We spoke on a Wednesday, two days before the release of her debut EP Who Will Save The Universe?, and she was glad to have gotten a proper night’s sleep the night before. deBeer reveals that she’s “been feeling anxious about this whole release”, although she clarifies that her anxiety isn’t so much about what people will think of it as the logistics and “just releasing something you’ve carried inside of you for a long time is a big thing, and giving birth to that.” Finally letting it out is a release, a feeling of relief.
Fans first got a taste of the EP with the single “Billboards” back in May. deBeer wrote “Billboards” while living in New York and “feeling overwhelmed by society.” Constant messaging from the world around her lead to “feeling alien and feeling out of touch,” making it hard to contend with all the superficiality in the world. For the “Billboards” video, deBeer partnered up with her friend and director Nev Todorovic. They took to the desert to film; the result is a clip that feels like it’s set on another planet, while also being deeply rooted in the earth around her.
deBeer grew up in South Africa, and also lived in England, and then Texas, before moving to New York after college “for the hell of it, to explore life more, and to be able to understand what I was.” In Texas, she was “the weirdo”: while most people around her were very conservative, her parents were “much more open”; not having as much money as the people around her in the upper-middle-class neighborhood she lived in “made me feel alien, in a way, and made me really cling to music.” Her dad bought her CDs ranging from Queen to opera, and told her, “Aimee, music is how you’ll fit in with people.” From there, she came to appreciate being on the outside, because it allowed her to dive into other worlds through music, where “I didn’t need to worry about whether people thought my accent was funny or wondered whether I lived in a hut.”
Our conversation turns back to “Billboards,” and I observe that the song’s concept seems quite reminiscent of Los Angeles’ stereotypes of noise, fakeness, and information overload. “That was also my impression of Los Angeles before I came to LA,” deBeer admits, “but I think as a very introverted person, LA is actually wonderful.” She lives in a walkable neighborhood with “way more space” than she had in New York, and when she’s home, she’s not “bombarded by people.” “Billboards” came to her in the middle of winter, when she was feeling down and had been scrolling through Instagram seeing “kind of these dopey people in LA, living this very LA stereotype.”
The EP’s title, Who Will Save The Universe?, is a reference to a tagline from the 1968 science-fiction film Barbarella, “Who can save the universe?”; deBeer asked herself, “Well, who will?”. “It’s kind of a strange place to live, in this universe,” she reflects, “and I really liked the mystery of it and… enjoying that strangeness and being okay with that strangeness.” Perhaps there’s some psychedelic influence, too (“maybe mushrooms, will save the universe, I don’t know”), but it’s ultimately an open-ended question, and the lack of an answer is what deBeer likes.
Before now, deBeer had written everything on her own. “In New York, I was completely in a bubble,” she reminisces; but in LA, she’s since teamed up with other people for some of her songwriting. Two of the tracks on the EP, “We Can Keep the Tires Spinning” and “The Takeover”, were written with other people. To get the EP to its finished spot, she worked with producer Sean Cook. deBeer says Cook is “wonderful and very intuitive,” and that he gets “me and my inclinations,” as the two explore and create new sounds together.
deBeer studied classical music most of her life and got her degree in vocal performance. Having such a strong background in opera means that she knows all the “rules” in music – but she’s quick to point out that “I don’t care about them… I enjoy fucking with the system and like – I’m just trying to find those feelings.” Knowing what tools are available to her means she never has to feel stunted by a lack of knowledge; keeping the tools at arms-length lets her dive into her true creativity and artistry.
Training in music since she was young, deBeer began writing her own music as a teenager when she had feelings she wanted to express. “I was doing music, and that was very important to me, but the idea of singing other people’s music for the rest of my life didn’t feel that gratifying. I wanted to create music,” she explains. After a long period of inhaling, releasing her debut EP is a big exhale. Who Will Save The Universe? is deBeer showing her feelings to the world and offering the listener to join her.
As for the future? deBeer is talking to a director right now about more videos, though nothing is set in stone. She’s content to keep creating and exploring the world around her. “This life, I think, is an interesting experiment,” she observes, “so I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
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