Ciemme builds community + uses a cat toy as a jingle bell
I talked with the Minneapolis singer-songwriter about...a lot o' stuff
Did you think it was so over? Far from it. It appears we are so back.
New on The Molly Zone, an interview with Minneapolis singer-songwriter Charlotte Mulvey, who records sensitive and witty acoustic guitar-driven tunes as Ciemme, and more experimental music as Effervess!
I first met Charlotte on Twitter, which, even as it melts into an increasingly depressing and malfunctioning morass, remains a great place to sometimes meet great people. Charlotte is very funny, which you will see shortly after following her on le social media, and she also has an artistic conviction that really inspires me. When I spoke to her, I had a lot on my mind about stuff like AI, TikTok, and oh my god is there anything REAL about the internet anymore and her thoughts on creativity, community and intention were reassuring and constructive.
There are big things for Ciemme in the works so I would advise you to stay tuned for those — but also, enjoy the interview, which will be just underneath this “subscribe” button and line break…and then keep reading for some links to my burgeoning music blog, I Enjoy Music…
You've come back from touring, right?
Yes. I got back a couple of weeks ago. It was my first time on tour. I got to go out to a few different cities and hang out with some friends, play some shows, and it was a really great time. Except for the end.
So we hit a deer in Pennsylvania.
My car was totaled, but no one was hurt, so that's the important thing.
That's so jarring. I'm from Vermont, and my parents send me videos of deer in their yard. And I'm like, where do they live? What are they doing?
I have no idea. Obviously, we built roads in the places where they used to live. But you’d think at a certain point they’d get better at not getting hit by cars.
You would think. Well, I'm glad everyone's okay. What cities were you in on tour?
I wasn't able to play all the cities I had hoped to. It was my first tour, I was booking it all by myself. I played in Akron and Chicago and D.C. and Brooklyn, and then in between hung out in Pittsburgh and Boston and Philly.
So I was listening to your tunes online. Let's take it back — I'd love to hear first about how you got into music to begin with.
I guess I have this creative brain where if I like something, I want to do it myself. And that is most manifest in music. In middle school and high school, I started writing songs. They weren't good for a while, it took a lot of a lot of working on that and honing my craft to start writing songs that I would be proud of. Eventually I started playing guitar and other instruments to supplement the songwriting. I went ahead and tried to record some stuff back in 2019. It was not a good idea. I shouldn't have done it.
They weren't ready. I think those songs needed a bit more time in the oven to mature. But I had a few of them that were good enough and I did want people to hear them, so I put those out as sort of an EP. And then beyond that, I've just been fascinated with making sounds in various forms and formats, and so I did get into a more experimental project that is also up on my same Bandcamp page, called Effervess: a blend of field recordings and ambient and industrial things, which has been my focus the last year or two since I moved back to Minnesota from Tennessee. But this year I've been trying to focus on my main songwriting project, which is Ciemme.
I was listening to the Effervess stuff — what kind of places were you recording in?
The first Effervess album I made called Blackbirds, I was living in my mom's house for a summer, and there's a trail behind the house called the Douglas Trail. And I would go for walks on that and record whatever I ended up hearing, whether it was people on the golf course right next to it, or cars going by. So there's a very incidental factor there that I found really interesting.
Cool! I mean, I'm sure now with AI, maybe people can fake a field recording, but field recordings always seem to me like one of the most ‘authentic’ ways to record sound.
I feel like when you really get into it, you can't quite fake spontaneity. I don't know, I'm not going to get on a whole soapbox about A.I….
You can if you want to! The floor is open. There's no limit on the on the word count of the newsletter!
Perfect. All right, let me just pull up my think piece…there are some interesting implementations of AI in music, but it's good for doing things that humans can't. If you're using it for something that a person could do, I think you're losing out on the vision of someone that actually seeks to create art.
That makes sense. It's funny, someone on Twitter sent me, like, AI SpongeBob covers of real songs…
Oh, I've seen those. I’m in a Discord group and people keep sharing those. And it's like, is this what we’re into?
It's kind of lowest-common-denominator internet content, if that makes sense. I don't know if there's someone out there who's like, damn, I've been recording Plankton-style covers of songs, and now this computer is taking it away from me…I think you're right, and that human expression is always going to be more interesting at the end of the day than anything that a computer can come up with.
Yeah. And honestly, I would much rather see a person doing a real good Squidward impression singing My Chemical Romance.
Yeah! Effort and talent is better than something spat out by an algorithm. Anyway, I can’t believe we’re doing your interview and I’m talking about SpongeBob covers.
And I'm here for it.
Okay, so you said you're writing new music right now.
Yes. I had been in kind of a limbo of songwriting for a while where I didn't really write much new stuff. But I think I've hit a new point of being able to write, and I'm feeling excited about that. Granted, I've got a whole, like, Prince vault of songs that have not been recorded yet. I know it'll be years before people hear a lot of these, but I definitely want to get them made and get ‘em out there.
So, okay, let me ask this, because I know you said before that you recorded some songs in 2019 and maybe you weren't ready for them to come out into the world yet. In your practice, would you say songs take a long time to come to maturity?
Yeah, I think that I can be very impulsive when it comes to creating things. And that was definitely the case with this stuff I made in 2019 where I should have made it more of a robust composition, and really gotten every every bit of it mapped out before I ever set foot in that studio. I'm not classically trained in any instrument. With that in mind, I feel like I need to do the homework, more than just let it come out naturally.
When you play shows live, are you in a band format? Solo guitar?
The shows I've played so far have been solo, with me on guitar. I'm getting my band ready. Hopefully in the fall we will be able to do some full band shows. I have one that I'm in the process of booking. It's going to be a big, special, sort of birthday party. I am the type of person who throws her own birthday party.
Oh, I love that. Me too. Wait, when's your birthday?
[entering astrology demon mode] Does that scoot you into Scorpio territory?
I think Scorpios like to plan our own birthdays, maybe because we're a little bit control freaky and we don't trust anyone else to do a good job.
Yes. Exactly. So yes, we're in discussions with a venue. We've got a stacked bill of some great local bands that are good friends of mine, and it's going to be fun.
That's so fun. Are you in Minneapolis proper?
Yeah, I am. Downtown Minneapolis.
Sweet. What's the local scene like these days?
The local scene is great. As far as I can tell, nothing like it anywhere else. There is a great scene of especially queer music, queer rock and pop and punk music. Obviously, you know, there was a really tragic event with a queer punk show here in Minneapolis. But this community is really strong. It's full of really wonderful people that just want to make their art and spread joy with each other. My heart feels very full to be a part of this community and to have these people as my peers and my friends.
That's amazing. Do you have a favorite venue or venues to see shows?
So there's a really great spot — a DIY-like collective that runs a nonprofit venue called the Treasury that I just learned, unfortunately, is going to be closing down. But there have been a lot of really great shows there. There’s a venue that I was just at the other night called the Underground Music Cafe. There’s the world-famous First Avenue and its adjoining 7th St Entry, and then a lot of really great house venues like Cemetery Ridge, House of Payne…
I feel like Minneapolis is a perpetually underrated music city. Are you from there originally?
Yeah, I grew up about an hour south of Minneapolis in Rochester, Minnesota, which [is where the] Mayo Clinic [is]. And yeah, I've been living up here for a little over a year now, which, I wanted to live here basically my entire adult life. But it took a while for me to actually break in.
I have to ask, because I saw one of the songs on your Bandcamp was a Christmas song and I feel like that is extremely cool to have made. What is the backstory there?
So that traces its origins to a Facebook group I'm in. I was in this Facebook group for fans of someone, who are also musicians that could share their music. And someone had the idea of making a Christmas compilation album. It sold on Bandcamp, proceeds went to charity. I just saw it and was like, yeah, I could write a Christmas song. I sat down in my bed and played guitar and wrote it. I wasn’t able to track down any actual jingle bells. I used a cat toy for a little jingle bell.
I was wondering what that was! I feel like the song nailed my favorite genre of indie Christmas song, which is, like, being sad on Christmas.
Oh yeah. That's the meaning of Christmas, a sad person playing guitar.
Also does Christmas hit different when you live in fuckin’ Minnesota, with the winters?
Well, growing up here, winter is winter. It's long. It's long. But when I made that song, that was during the time when I actually lived in Nashville, so it was kind of weird for me to go through the Christmas season when it was 30 or 40 degrees every day and not really snowy. And also, you know, this was 2020, so I didn't go home for Christmas and I was in my little hole. That was me simulating a connection that I feel like everyone needs at all times, but winter 2020 especially.
I loved it. Hey, you know, Christmas is coming around the bend.
Stores are putting up Christmas stuff earlier and earlier, gimme a break!
So last question. I feel like we're both on Twitter a bunch, and I want to know, I guess, how you feel about social media in general as it relates to music. It's just something I'm thinking about more and more because I feel like there have never been more platforms to potentially reach people with music. And yet it seems so incredibly difficult to break through.
I've been on Twitter for a very long time — have completely ruined my brain there. But at the same time, I've been able to build something of an audience, and most importantly, make a lot of connections with a lot of really great people who are great artists or community organizers or just really good friends. And that's been very important. I don't think I'd be able to do what I do without a lot of these people I've met on Twitter.
As for other social media, you’ve got to play the numbers really, and it’s hard. A lot of time, it feels like the world's dumbest lottery. Specifically when it comes to TikTok, I don't use TikTok kind of on principle. I am inherently distrustful of any music that gets popular around TikTok. When a song from eight years ago suddenly becomes the most popular song in America because of TikTok, it reminds me of a three year old who you get all these movies and TV shows for and he still just wants to watch Cars 2 every day.
It’s this weird combination of an almost randomly generated sort of thing, with a myopic point of view. I feel like the grumpiest old person when I whine about this. But at the same time it feels like if that's the game, I don't really feel like playing.
Yeah, I mean, it's funny. The difference to me between Twitter and TikTok is that Twitter does encourage conversation between real people. Apparently also some bots. But you can find real people and talk to them. You've done it, I've done it. TikTok, the entire platform seems designed to keep floating by, and it doesn't create meaningful relationships. And therefore if you're a musician and you're trying to find people who want to buy your records and see you on tour — if the effort goes in and nothing comes back out, it's like, why would you do it?
Yeah — I’ve got to get all the relevant information into this thing, and I've got to make it engaging, and I've got to make it shareable. We've created an entire industry now about who can make the best commercial.
Again, I feel like such a fucking old fogy, but that's not what music is about. That doesn't build community and that doesn't nurture creativity. It is just consumption.
What’s Up On I Enjoy Music
In addition to this now somewhat mysteriously-scheduled newsletter, I have a music blog called I Enjoy Music where I blog about music I enjoy. I am very excited about it! I suggest you bookmark it! I recently sent my first ‘best-of digest’ email to people who subscribed (for free) to it — so if you visit the site and smash the subscribe button, you’ll get a very intermittent email about what the blog has entailed lately. But also here are some links. The photos are hyperlinked so if you click or tap, you’ll go STRAIGHT to the blog.