Photo by Cassidy Grae
On her new album–Ms. Liza’s Psychic Hotline–experimental electronic artist Jarik Hieronymous gets metaphysical, with one disclaimer. “I feel the need to say that I do not believe I’m psychic,” she said in an email conversation with The All Scene Eye. “But I do believe that sometimes people unconsciously tap into things that defy explanation.”
The new project and accompanying visual album are just one example of that spontaneous, inexplicable phenomenon. Like Identity Art, her debut full-length record under the name Evvy Shark, Ms. Liza’s Psychic Hotline is an exercise in creating without overthinking, like automatic writing with synthesizers. It started after her move to Frederick, Maryland with a challenge from her friend and collaborator Bluffs.
“They had the idea that we would send each other song titles and try to write a song based on only the title the other had given. I had just moved to a new city, so I was feeling fresh and new and super motivated to create as much as possible.”
From a text message with the song title “Squeezed Like Grape,” she wrote the project’s lead single, turning her gut reaction to the text–”I don’t mind if you don’t mind”–into an opening line, letting the vibe of the moment do the rest of the work in crafting a mystic techno-pop banger.
“Between the title and the opening line, I felt a brief glimmer of ‘’’sexiness,’’’ which then took over the writing part. I can’t really say how the rest of the song formed because it all happened so quickly, except I still had all my music stuff set up in a cramped corner of my living room, and I was messing around with building sounds on my little ol’ Alesis, then sampling those sounds on my phone.”
A few more prompts from Bluffs generated the six tracks that appear on the album, plus 11 or so others–some alternate versions of the six finalists and some songs that didn’t make the cut. Compared to Identity Art, the finished pieces are shorter–”Squeezed Like Grape” clocks in at 1:37, and the whole record is over in under ten minutes. Hieronymous says that was part of the challenge, but also the fun.
“One of the stipulations that Steve set was that the songs be as short as possible. At first I thought it was kind of funny. I sometimes worry that I’m unable to make songs longer than a couple minutes (I know this to be a silly and ungrounded fear), so it was exciting to lean into that fear and exploit it in a way.
“The challenge came from then seeing a concept in my head and trying to condense the feeling in a way where it could still come across without having to sacrifice the potency. Sometimes it was seamless, but for some songs I kept rewriting until it worked, and even then sometimes it didn’t.”
She says the form of the album clicked when she wrote the title track, “Ms. Liza.” As she explained in an interview with SLUG Magazine, the tongue-in-cheek love song came from a poem she wrote some time ago, when she used to pass a psychic advisor walking to and from work. The mystique became an anchor for the rest of the record’s atmosphere, though it’s nothing so plain or concrete as your average concept record (the thread that joins one track to the next is something of an unexplainable phenomenon in itself).
“The atmosphere feels cohesive to me because of the way each song contrasts against the last,” says Hieronymous. “For example, the way ‘Jumbo Shrimp’ sounds like a circus, or sounds like a person smiling really hard because they believed it when someone said that if they made a face long enough, their face would just stay like that. That too-happy person going from a too-happy place into, ahem, ‘the tangled vineyard of an intimate question’ is kind of jarring. The smile is a smile, but there is a lot of effort to keep up the appearance of being a smile.
“Maybe a better way to put it is that the songs in my mind have the quality of the uncanny valley if it were sound.”
That atmosphere comes into focus, clear as a crystal ball, on the visual album, out now on YouTube and as a limited edition VHS tape–alongside the more traditional vinyl and cassette offerings from Grimalkin Records. It offers a third-eye-opening look into Hieronymous’ surreal artistic imagination and sense of humor as it lovingly parodies the magnetic tape era of home video.
Which brings us back to the disclaimer. Hieronymous tells me she never called a psychic hotline during their TV advertising heyday (“I wouldn’t have had the money for it, and my parents would have been pissed”) but she has had her own encounters with ESP. One time, it was a passing visual of a tarot card just before she pulled it from the deck, but it’s also happened on the interpersonal level.
“One of my oldest friends whose name is Dan, we spent a lot of time together. We were very close. There was a period where I believe we developed a telepathic connection,” she says. “It wasn’t finishing sentences, but loud understanding in silence. There were moments when I had thoughts I didn’t speak, but Knew he had Heard, and moments where I Swear I picked up a thought of his in my wandering mind; it was a feeling lmao.”
Ms. Liza’s Psychic Hotline is available to stream and download now, so you too can hear Jarik Hieronymous’ thoughts spoken, strummed, and synthesized–whether you have the gift or not.