The Spotify playlist. Who’d have known it would become Big Brother of the whole music industry. No one can deny its convenience. It is unmatched in power and speed when it comes to new music promulgation and on top of that, it’s fun. But in the same way the internet has propelled the zeitgeist of idiosyncratic humor to hyper speed through memes, the Spotify playlist is leading to a pandering homogenization in music. Often seen in the same lackadaisical ‘stoner-vibes’ gossamer the blankets almost every ‘Feel Good Indie Mix’, it feels a little like we are pouring primary colors into a big funnel and getting a less vibrant ‘blend of the same’ on the other end. This is why it feels ever more important to note the courage Elana Belle Carroll had in recording her unapologetically frenetic album, ‘You Don’t Have To Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here’.
Released under her moniker, Party Nails, the album was written in real time during a period of heavy touring and partying. After some distance and perspective, a theme presented itself and the album took on its own literal and figurative arc. Starting with the heart-wrenching “Yours To Take”, which some may see as a Red Herring, leading us to believe we ought grab the Kleenex and tub of ice cream for the next great heartbreak collection, it actually serves as the often left out preface to the great party album. A little extra character development that justifies its indulgences. The escapism hits its stride at the single “Take Me Somewhere”, a collaboration with producer Summer Heart, that snarls as much as it simmers. The track paves the way for the pervading pace of the album and also makes something clear… while the tunes may be pop palatable, Party Nails won’t just hide in the shadows and let the song have all the fun.
In “Emerald”, the friction between Carroll and the pulsing track itself erupt. If one had to demonstrate sonically what nuclear fission is, well, fast forward to one minute and thirty seconds in this song and pray you’re not writing about this album in an office because you will be forced to stand up from your desk and dance. And by dance, I do mean violently flail. Whatever. Isolation has its perks. Take advantage.
The rollercoaster carries us through the social traps of trying to fix all the feelings and after a lot of fun, waves its white flag to the unbeatable forces of growing older and inevitably lands us back in the same place we started. Embodied again very sweetly in the hushed love song “Dream Closely”. By the end you feel much like the characters in 90’s rave classic ‘Go’… a tad weary, a touch broken and excited to do it all over again.
For more character development, read the interview below with Party Nails siren, Elana Bell Carroll…
The feel of a lot of these songs, especially “Take Me Somewhere” and “Emerald” are wildly frenetic, calling back late 90’s rave moments. Notable set against the stoner-chill haze that seems to be the speed for every genre nowadays. Where did the courage come from to lean into the intensity of the vibe here?
Thank you. I’m not exactly sure, but I think I’ve always loved a gritty and rambunctious vibe in music, even better if I can dance to it, so I’ve played with that as Party Nails in whatever ways I feel excited about at that moment. I think the courage is more just realizing through practice that I make better work when I get out of my own way and see what comes out of me, lyrically, sonically, tempo-wise, growls, grunts, etc. and then deciding that I’d rather be making the music I’m excited about over trying to sound like whatever is on a Spotify playlist at the moment. Pandering has never brought me anything aside from confusion. I firmly believe that the point of making stuff is to add a valuable perspective to the canon. So I tuned into my frequency, listened, and did my best to articulate.
Are there any particular artists, whether in a musical realm or something different, that made you think, “Fuck it, I want to really go for it.”?
Great question! So many times in so many different ways. Prince. John Waters. Robyn. Although I’m not sure there was ever a “fuck it” moment as much as many, many moments of realizing that there was still so much work ahead of me, even though I was totally spent and felt I’d already given it my best. When you have those moments and then get so fucking low and cry and wonder what the hell you’ve spent your life doing…and then you thank yourself for taking the time to have real feelings, pat your tears dry and then keep going—those are moments of recalibration and recommitment. I never had a life aside from this one of deep obsession with music and expression, so there was nothing really to to let go of. It was just a lot of time spent working hard to be able to step into a more comfortable version of my life, where I could work on music more often than not, and go on tour, and know that the music touched someone in some way. It was grueling, and still can be. But I’m so grateful for it.
Had the pleasure of seeing Donny Benét play bass with Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders a few years ago and loved his energy. Any highlights from your time touring with him?
That sounds amazing! He was doing the tour all by plane, but we (Crane, my drummer, and I) drove him from Dallas to Austin. He was smushed in the backseat of our Nissan Sentra with all of our stuff, and fell asleep while we listened to a very graphic true crime audiobook. I was worried he would have nightmares, or worry about why we were so into such dark stuff! Haha. But he just caught up on sleep. We loved touring with him. We would talk about music, budgeting for tour, staying independent, family, tour routines, and of course politics and healthcare. Crane and I were really sad to say goodbye. What a gentleman.
In the song “Eden”, I believe the lyrics are “I’m the one for me.” Is this song more a proclamation of pride in enjoying life more on your own or was it reactionary? From a feeling that others were letting and/or getting you down?
I did a lot of co-writes when I first moved to LA (in 2015) and “Eden” is a co-write with Mereki Beach, who I met during that time. I think we initially wrote it in 2016 as “My Own Eden”. It’s the only true co-write on the album, so in that way it’s a bit of an outlier. (“Take Me Somewhere” I wrote on a track David Alexander made, but we didn’t properly songwrite together, it was more of a pure blend of his track and my song.) Mereki is all about love (we also wrote “Luxury of Love” from my first album together), and came in to the session riffing on this idea of self-love and making a space for yourself, which I immediately wanted to pusue with her. I think for both Mereki and I the topic was relevant to our personal lives, and we were beginning to see it taking hold in other parts of culture too, and it felt right. I think there’s always a need to take a step back and remember that you can’t let the haters get you down, and that you need to take some time and space for yourself so you can recharge and really show up for your life and the people in it.
You mentioned that this music came from a time when you were partying and drinking a lot and how you came to a point of quitting. Did you find writing an album that simulated the feel of a wild weekend, equipped with excitement, late night meanderings and then brutal comedown moments was a form of exposure therapy or more a way to revisit those times safely?
A lot of this album was written in real time, so it was only after a big bunch of songs were written that I started to see a theme and could begin to name it. Songwriting is always a form of therapy for me. It helps me understand things that have happened, are happening, or could possibly happen.
Was the song “Time to Settle Down” come from your sub-conscious waving the white flag to all the wild living or did it come after as a reflection of a decision already made?
Probably more of a white flag? Once my friends started getting married a few years ago, I think I started a long-winded process of saying goodbye to our adolescence, and welcoming our late twenties and thirties. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to such a fun, chaotic and formative era. What we previously experienced together, we were now doing alone or with our chosen families.
“Yours To Take” is so wonderfully vulnerable feeling and I LOVE how bare the main vocal sounds while the harmonizing vocal feels like a friend offering assistance. It seems like a heart-break song and I took you putting it at the beginning of what feels more like a party album as a representative of what is often the impetus for a wild streak. The brutal break-up… the sadness that follows and of course the social rollercoaster of trying to fix that feeling… inevitably ending back in the same place, embodied in the hushed love song “Dream Closely”. Was there any intention in song order on the album?
I like the way you describe it a lot! Haha. Yes, for sure I thought about the order of the tracks. Yours To Take was written years before Dream Closely, in a literal sense it came first. I tried a lot of different configurations of the tracklisting before landing on this one. This one felt right. It does feel a little bit like the experience of pain moving into escapism moving into wildness moving into intellectualizing moving into breaking down and realizing you might need to reconnect with yourself and the people you love.
How has the forced ‘slowing down’ of quarantine isolation made you feel about these wild times?
I’m really sad that I can’t tour! That’s been really hard to deal with at times. But I have strangely enjoyed the pause this has put on the craziness of modern life. We have a new perspective, in a way. I don’t love being stuck at home, and not having true private time or anywhere I can go for a change of pace, but I’m hanging in there. I’m so grateful to have a strong relationship with my creativity, otherwise this time free of distractions might feel scary. But instead it feels exciting, like I will make all kinds of music.
Has there been one song or album that has gotten you through the ‘stay at home’ mandate of the last couple months? If you were quarantined with that artist, what would ask them?
I listen to Zero Threat to the Rave by Ghorba pretty much every day. It hypes me, relaxes me, and reminds me that there are many facets of an experience, and we can access more than one of them, if we want to. If I were quarantined with Ghorba I would ask her to tell me about how rave music can be invigorating and comforting at the same time, how she knows how far to push the hardness before balancing it with some softness.
CONNECT WITH PARTY NAILS
photos / Kelsea McKulloch
story / Chris Hess