This is the sound of lexicons expanding and veils being lifted. The one-woman-band that is bittymacbeth just levelled up. Two years since her debut album Beauty For Ashes, the 24-year-old Berklee College of Music undergraduate is pushing further ashore from her expansive, horn-led, live-looping mores and embracing – and reconfiguring – the velvety, pullulating world of contemporary R&B.
Her new guise manifests palpably in her recent single, 'Trace (Comfortable Sympathy)', which also features the handiwork of Korean producer DAMYE. And because there is such proof in the pudding, her next phase is a cause for celebration.
Ahead of the single’s launch party on 8 August, Bandwagon speaks to bittymacbeth about the next iteration of her vision.
Has Berklee shattered any myths about making music for you?
I’ve been there for one-and-a-half years already and I have about halfway more to go. I’m studying contemporary writing, production and arrangement and I must say that it’s been a great experience. As a 24-year-old, I have the benefit of being a mature student going there. So, it’s not like I had a lot of growing up to do or real-world stuff to be wowed by. It was more that I was shocked by how there were people there who were passionate about music but don't know exactly what they wanted to do or what their strengths and weaknesses are. A lot of students also don’t have a plan for the future. They think Berklee is the plan.
Has your time there thus far changed anything about your own approach to music?
Yes. A few things, actually. I spoke to Charlie Lim in 2016 about going to Berklee and he told me to go there with my eyes open and be ready to be challenged. Being there has affected me in abstract ways as well. Seeing people express strong views about issues like capital punishment got to me on a philosophical level. Stuff like that just broadens your perspective.
On the musical side of things, I’m allowing myself to evolve organically. I’m also not going to limit myself to just working alone anymore. The music industry is adopting this system that is premised on output being released consistently and rapidly and that requires you to work together a lot. Everything is more collaborative now. Being at Berklee made me more aware of these things.
It’s me staying relevant but it’s going to be my approach to those sounds. Following a formula is definitely not what this will be about. I’m still saying things I want to say in my own voice but in a way that will be accessible. And at the end of the day, art is meant to be appreciated and shared by whoever it reaches.
I’ve studied how music is moving and I’ve realised that people like the sound of drum machines and synths. There’s a warmth and texture that’s everywhere in music now. How I’m chiming in on this phenomenon is by balancing being an artist with being an entrepreneur.
It’s been two years since Beauty For Ashes released. How would you say that album has aged?
When I look back at that album, I see where I was coming from and where I needed to go. I was trying to show people what I could do with a cappella and big horn arrangements alike. It was definitely more a reflection of my artistic side rather than my entrepreneurial one. Some of the songs were esoteric but the thing about music is that there’s a song for every season in your life and those on that album were just that for me.
And for this new iteration of your sound, you worked with DAMYE. What was it like letting someone else in?
To be honest, it was a little nerve-wracking at first. First of all, I want any collaborator to like what I’m doing. I approached him to work on my new stuff and he liked 'Trace'. He steered the direction for the beats and replaced a few of the samples. It was a mutual exchange of ideas and I’d say that it was very much fruitful for both of us.
One of the most compelling aspects of the song is that it’s a real-time tableau of you coming to terms with the tragic knowledge of someone else’s pain.
Thank you. I just want to be real, you know? It’s easy to get songs on the radio about makeups and breakups but I’m not the kind of songwriter who’s satisfied with just that. This song came about after a conversation I had with a friend. We were becoming close and she opened up about some difficulties she was going through with her family and how it was affecting her studies. It was a truth bomb and for the rest of the day, I was very burdened by that information. I felt like I had to help her but I didn’t know how. Knowing what I did wasn’t helping me or them. I want to be able to live in denial – but I just can’t.
But I know that no matter what, ignorance is not something we should embrace. Awareness about people and situations is so important. And it’s only by acting on that awareness that we can effect change. The duality of good and evil only exists because each is defined, even in a general sense. That’s also a big part of what the song is about.