Frederick, Maryland artist Jarik Hieronymus makes music under a number of project names–including with indie rock/folk punk band Analog Watts–but November 2019 marked a new milestone with the release of Identity Art, her debut full-length album as Evvy Shark.
Composed and recorded in her room with an iPhone and a PA mixer, it’s an artistic statement that far outreaches its humble means, spanning lo-fi bedroom pop, vaporwave, and 90s techno as it details her experience coming to terms with herself as a transgender woman.
Like so much great bedroom pop, Identity Art lives at the intersection of purpose and spontaneity. It draws on moving, personal lyricism in inspired and unrepeatable moments of recording magic. From “Chill Murray,” a riff on the premise of Groundhog Day, to “Watch That Girl / Washed Up Girl,” where Hieronymus raps over a super-slow Abba sample, it tackles issues of bodily autonomy and spiritual growth with humor and emotional depth.
She goes plenty of deep, dark places, but though this is a solo project, Hieronymus rarely goes alone. Along with the acoustic guitars, bouncy synth lines, and drum machines crushed to their limits, she brings with her a supporting cast of vocalists and co-writers. Remote contributions by Sammy Heck, Artifact Youth, and Bluffs imbue Identity Art with a keen sense of artistic community.
Following the release of the album, Hieronymus spoke to The All Scene Eye on the period of personal development it represents and on sourcing its delightfully strange samples.
You’ve done a very limited cassette of Identity Art that features the album on one side and a custom mixtape on the other. Can you tell me about making that physical product?
It starts from a place of, I don’t have enough money to print actual tapes, so I started thinking I should probably make some. I’ve never really made actual products on a big scale, like ordering tapes or getting CDs printed in a quality way. I picked up a six-pack of tapes from Goodwill for, like, $1.99, and I was like, “they’re 90 minutes, but I don’t have 90 minutes of music,” so I just recorded playlist kind of tapes, and then some of them, I was like, “I don’t feel like listening to a playlist,” so I put movie sound on there.
You say on your Bandcamp that it represents “a spiritual experience carefully crafted over the course of a lifetime.” Where does that come from, for you?
Oh, well, just existing. I feel like every person’s experience is, in a way, mystical, you know? This album is very personal to me in that way. It was like crafting through a time where I was trying to get better and grow, so it was like, up until that point was the lifetime, and it has been the lifetime since that point, I guess. [laughs]
You’ve released other music before. How did you know it was time to make your debut full-length [as Evvy Shark]?
I feel like I start a lot of projects, and they just exist as a point in time, so I feel like I’ve had many debuts, but I also think that it was kind of a throwaway thing for a while. I put up demos in, I don’t know, 2016, but I then thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll do something with this, like, this year,” and that didn’t happen. The EP Sun Dogs: Parhellish was originally going to be Parhellish by Sun Dogs, but that also was a time that I was working through some shit–but that was the harder part. I uploaded that as Evvy Shark because I felt it needed to get out there, but somehow different than Sun Dogs, so then I was like, “Maybe I should take this batch of songs I’ve been cooking up and make them.”
When did you start working on this batch of songs?
It’s like a piece of sourdough bread, in that “Good to Just Grow,” I’m certain I recorded when I was working on Sun Dogs: Parhellish–before I decided to put it under Evvy Shark. So it was 2017 when the first thought came through, but it probably wasn’t until late 2018 that I was starting. It would have been, like, November 2018, because I started getting really into techno, like Aqua, and Robin S.’ masterpiece “Show Me Love.” That’s a great song. I also saw the movie Hackers, and that jump-started the direction in late 2018. It was finished by May, but–you know, people sit on their stuff for whatever. I had to sit on it for a while.
You reference the techno influence, and the place that really comes through the strongest is “YR B0DY IS A MATR1X.” Walk me through how that came together.
That song is so goofy and straightforward, but–I don’t know, I can’t really remember. I was thinking I should sample some kind of monologue because originally, the first track, which is on the download of it from Bandcamp, was a different track with this long monologue about space, so I was looking for a similar monologue to sample and put in over this techno beat. I found this really eerie YouTube channel that has, like, 250 videos. None of them have over 2,000 views, and most of them have 130 or something, and they’re all the same. It sounds like AI-written stuff. It felt like a weird corner, you know what I mean? So I was like, “Oh, this’ll be cool,” and ran it through my setup that I was using, sliced out that little bit and looped it, and it made me laugh. I was like, “whoa, this is getting weirder.” But at the same time, it’s not weird at all. It’s that basic techno, like–[imitating beat] ticka-da-ticka-da, you know? [laughs]
Going back to the whole spirituality thing, a lot of the way I write songs and record them is momentary, and that expresses itself because I was recording the whole thing on an iPhone 5s that had a really cracked screen, and shortly after it was done and sent out, the phone finally cracked. I couldn’t get to the original stems because they were all on that phone and not backed up. I wanted to do that song for a live show, and I went back through YouTube, and it took me, like, two months to find the video because I didn’t know what it was called. All I knew was “matrix.” I tried to cut it up and do the loop, but something I did the first time in that moment changed it in such a way that I couldn’t get it to sound like the original at all. It was strange.
Tell me more about your setup. How did you make some of the other synth sounds we hear on this album?
I have a Crate PA mixer that I picked up from a, like, antique store. It’s not super old, but it’s got your basic four quarter-inch inputs and nothing else, so I was running a lot through that. I have an Alesis Micron that has a lot of really interesting parameters–I mean, it’s kind of a pain. It’s like, one line, menu-based, to change the stuff, so I was using that, trying to work the PA mixer almost as a synth itself, drawing out certain parts of the synth sounds and trying to get them to distort.
I used GarageBand to record it, but I had one of those–and I still have it. [laughs] One of those iRig things that plug into the phone and have one quarter-inch input. I was messing around with using the Auto-Tune feature, but as a phaser because if you put it against a track, it’s like the Auto-Tune messes up the phase and makes some cool sounds. I really like feedback as something to explore, and I like the fact that it doesn’t sound super professionally recorded.
The first track with lyrics, “Dream State Capital,” is so thematically dense. You’re exploring this intersection between identity and consumerism, bodily autonomy–how did those themes come together for you?
Well, I’ve written about similar themes before of, you know, how much it sucks to be a number, essentially. I feel like it was a great way to express a lot of frustration between living as modestly as possible, but succumbing to your own vices. It was perfect for those frustrations.
Tell me about the collaborations on this album. That track specifically featured Sammy Heck. How did that come about, and what was it like working together?
Well, first off, let me say: Sammy Heck is totally badass. Same with Artifact Youth. Drew is super badass, and Bluffs on the last track–Bluffs is amazing. Totally. I don’t know if you listen to them at all, but if not, you should check them out because they’re all really cool. Like, incredibly so. It was kind of strange to work on, as in being like, “Hey, do you want to feature?” It was satellite, you know, but it was astounding, the excitement of receiving back their contributions. It was awesome.
How did those artistic relationships develop?
l met them all separately through friends of friends, initially. I had played a show or definitely seen a show first with Bluffs, and same with Artifact Youth. Both of them were local to my area and also to my bubble of music scenery, and then Sammy I had seen on an Instagram story. She was playing a show way back, and then I met her through, again, a friend. I had gone to Philly to visit someone, and she was there, and I guess they were–“They were roommates.”
We became friends, and I got to play bass in a couple shows with her, which was really cool. I don’t see Steve, Sammy, or Drew very often, so it was cool to collaborate, even at a distance, with these people who I love and respect as people and as musicians. I felt closer to them in an artistic way.
You recorded the album in York, Pennsylvania at Daddy Daycare. Tell me about that space, and how that shaped what you were doing.
It was a friend’s house–I was living there. Some really old, good friends. It was right on the city limits in York, and I had the nice window, three panes, a lot of sunlight. The place itself had been named Daddy Daycare by the people who had lived there before me, but they had always had shows, back in–I want to say 2015. We were keeping the tradition alive, so it always had a creative air to it. There was a lot of good art on the walls and a lot of books to leaf through.
The room itself was interesting. My friend Tom, who had lived in the room before me, he’s an artist–he makes sculpture and does really beautiful paintings. He’s got a very, you know, solid something that he’s pushing out through his art, but anyway, he had a lot of weird busts hanging out around the room and some of the art that he had collected on the walls. I kind of built myself around those things.
It was a good room. It got very cold in the winter. I bought a kitchen table set and I had stuffed that in there because we didn’t have space to put it anywhere else, so it was like there was a whole kitchen table in my room, but that served as a desk and as a shelf. [laughs] I started collecting VHS equipment and tapes while living there, which is how I first found Hackers, so there were tapes everywhere and leftover keyboards that had been in the house. There was a lot of leftover influence from past people.
While there were house shows and things going on, did you perform any of these songs for people before the album was done?
I’m trying to think–I’ve played “Chill Murray,” one of the only ones I could do with just a guitar. That’s what I usually do for music, if that makes sense; I’m in another band, Analog Watts, and I play guitar in that. My old job in York, it was a pizza shop with Italian and Mexican food, but the owner would have open mics and jam circles, so occasionally if I worked an open mic and I felt like doing it, I would. I played some open mics with it, but that was the only live exposure.
There’s one track on this album that didn’t make it to the Spotify release–“Watch That Girl / Washed Up Girl.” What drew you to that sample [from “Dancing Queen” by ABBA]?
Again, it was one of those moments where I was messing around, not really going for anything, when it kind of just happened. I was like, “Oh, see what it’s like to loop that part.” I was drawn to the sample itself because I felt as though it would be a good continuation of the theme of the last song on Sun Dogs: Par Hellish, which is about dancing, so I was like, “You know, that would be an interesting thing to explore.”
It’s called “Watch That Girl / Washed Up Girl,” and I heard “washed up girl” before I recognized the “watch that girl,” if that makes sense, so in a way, that too was a continuation of the theme. Also, that line, “I was fading, now my pants are sweaty” is something my friend said to me in the garage at Daddy Daycare. I don’t remember the scene much, but I remember him saying that to me.
That’s a track where you kind of rap the lyrics. Was that something you had done before?
Yes, I have a very silly relationship to rapping–like, myself rapping, you know what I mean? I absolutely love rap. It’s amazing. I’ve tried several times to make mixtapes relying mostly on samples and whatnot, so it’s something that I’ve been experimenting with for a long time. I felt that was a piece of me I could have a little silliness with, but also twist it so that, to me, it doesn’t feel as silly as I feel while rapping.
I feel like this is going to sound weird, but I think the rapping is a weird–what’s the word I’m looking for? Feeling, convergence, I don’t know. Identity Art, for me, was about coming to terms with myself as a woman–as a trans woman. I’ve identified as nonbinary for years, and while I was attempting to make a silly mixtape two years ago or more, I was coming into the realization that I was transgender. It has that self-reflection and stuff, but while making this absolutely goofy mixtape, so the rapping in “Watch That Girl / Washed Up Girl” is kind of a nod to myself. It’s a very strange feeling.
Was that humor a way of getting into something deeper while still being able to manage it?
You could say that for sure. It was like cracking a joke when you’re feeling like crying instead.
You alluded to that coming to terms with yourself, and I’m curious to know more about the role this project played in that.
It served as–almost a moving picture. Certain themes in “Dream State Capital,” “Terra-Cotta,” and “Lilly Boy” served as a way of saying, “You are growing, you’re moving, and it’s fine to be feeling low when–” I don’t know, when I don’t feel myself growing. “But there it is, to know that you are. You know in yourself now that things are changing and getting better and more difficult.”
Has your relationship to these songs changed as you’ve had some distance from them?
I wouldn’t say so. It’s like my love of Hackers. I can always come back to it, and I have. Coming back and still loving it is a good thing, I think, but also, right up until the point where my phone broke and there was literally nothing I could do to change anything, I never hated working on it, and I’ve worked on songs where it’s been a gruesomely retching mess–like, you don’t know if it’s going to make the cut or come out in a coherent way. I never didn’t love it, but I certainly was like, “I am now ready to let it rest. I can come back to it and see if it holds up in my heart.”
I’m glad to have distance from it; I feel like I can work on new things. I’ll mess around with different projects, with writing songs or doing other stuff–once it was done done and I couldn’t fiddle around with mixing it anymore, I was like, “Alright, I can breathe,” but in a good way.
What’s next for you now that this album is finished?
I played a couple shows, and they went really well, so I’d like to play more. I’m hopefully going to work on a tour because that’s something I’ve never done–taken a project on tour. I’m working on an album with Analog Watts, and I’m still tossing around ideas just to create, but right now I’m just making without any goalposts. I’m excited about it.