Upcoming singer-songwriter NÆ has caught the attention of listeners across the globe with her vibrantly charismatic multi-genre musical style & passion-filled vocals
Now, this artist is looking to make waves with the brand new album ‘Push Button Future’ & has kindly taken the time to speak with Fierce & Fabulous Revolution about her release, along with discovering more from the artist behind the music.
Hey NÆ, thank you so much for this interview. Can you start by telling the readers a little bit about yourself?
NÆ: Hi Jess! Thank you so much for interviewing me – it is wonderful to share more about my music with you and the Fierce Fabulous Revolution readers!
I live in Chicago, with my creative partner, Ryan Black. We live in a 100 year-old yellow brick farmhouse we’ve renovated into a liveable space – there used to be raccoons and a beehive inside! We’ve transformed the house into a recording / live-stream studio over the past three years. He and I both have a desire to live creative lives, and we’ve worked together to build the infrastructure that can both support our passions as artists and bring together a creative community.
My background is actually in Visual Art. I studied Art and Political Science as an undergraduate student at Trinity University, and pursued my Master’s of Fine Arts in Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. I have focused my art practice over the last eight years on the American cultural landscape, contemporary aspirational lifestyles, and the idiosyncrasies of consumer culture. Many of my visual artworks are performance art pieces in strange, yet familiar spaces. I’ve spent many years documenting the inside of declining indoor shopping malls in middle America. My art as NÆ carries these interests forward by infusing them into a highly performative pop music context – which is thrilling for me!
When I’m not NÆ, my name is JaNae Contag. I work as a commercial photographer and teach at The Art School at DePaul University. I also play synthesizers in the indie-electronic band, Black’s Backbone and I play organ/keys in the theatrical art rock band, Theft to the Gallows. Our bands are not only music groups, but also are our artist collective. I am grateful to have the support of a thriving artistic community here in Chicago.
When did you first discover your passion for music?
NÆ: Jess, I’m glad you’ve used the word passion for music. There are two parts to this for me.
First, I’ve been lucky to be around music my whole life – my mother and both of my grandmothers are excellent musicians. When I was growing up in Kansas City, my parents had me start piano lessons when I was about six years old. Chris Vitt, my piano teacher, is wonderful because she encouraged me to perform an original blues song I wrote about my new puppy for one recital – it wasn’t the most technical, but it was so exciting to play! My parents recognized that I enjoyed music and art so much that they let me drop out of ice skating lessons, ballet, swimming, and never made me play sports (I am so grateful!) – in order to pursue my studies in piano, flute, and art.
Second, when I was 11 it was about to be the turn of the millennium – Y2K! All of these new shiny pop albums started coming out. The first time I heard the song “Larger Than Life” on from the album Millenium by The Backstreet Boys I was riding in the backseat of my friend’s sister’s car, it felt like the world stopped. This was the best song I had ever heard. That Christmas, I asked my parents for CDs by Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Britney Spears, and B*Witched… and I received them. My music listening journey began and my CD collection expanded rapidly from there.
Passion in music, for me, means the feeling of hearing or writing a new song that just makes you feel tingly all over; it is addictive. It makes you want to play that song on repeat a million times over until you’re ready to continue discovering and writing new music. These experiences certainly contributed to that!
How would you describe your musical style to someone unfamiliar with your music?
NÆ: I describe my musical style as “inquisitive electronic dance pop”. My album encompasses contemporary dance pop, with some R&B, mo-town, 80’s synthpop, and EDM subgenres. I both sing and deliver my lyrics in a “spoken word” style. I align my musical style with artists YACHT, Kesha, St. Vincent, Little Boots and a touch of Basement Jaxx.
There is a good dose of humor in my style as well. Wait for it, and you’ll know what I mean. 😉
You are about to release the brand new album ‘Push Button Future’. How did the idea to create this album come together?
NÆ: Even though I’ve worked as a visual artist for almost a decade, I did not venture into songwriting until about six years ago. It is only in the last two years have I synthesized my songs into a larger piece of cultural commentary – this album.
I knew I wanted to release a concept-based pop album, and the songs I have been writing over the past few years touch on a lot of similar themes. For example, my song “Get Off On Ur Msgz” is about the strangeness of virtual spaces for relationships and online dating. “Sugar Pumps” is about latent sugar and caffeine addictions. “Runaway Bay/Bae” talks about the dark side of aspirational lifestyle marketing; the ads that are fed to us that can take over our home life.
To define “aspirational lifestyle marketing”: Think about the image of a domestic space with natural light, white walls, and succulents adorning the modern home. Or, the image of a day at a rooftop brunch restaurant where one can sip rosé with well-dressed friends at a table flooded by soft window light. These are the images meant to make us aspire to have, to consume, and to buy. My song “Strip!” is about the ever-present distraction of shopping.
I think the targeting of women, in particular, has created a sort of cyclical issue – we find ourselves lost in the constant scroll of social media, consuming information. Aspirational marketing thrives on our boredom, and our desire to be perceived well. We look, we shop, we buy, we post what we’ve bought, and we start looking again.
The album title, Push Button Future references the “push-button” devices that revolutionized homes in 1950’s America. Vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, and home appliances were popular, accessible, and much-desired. Home technology is central to domestic life – which was considered by our patriarchal society to be the “woman’s domain” in suburban America at this time. It speaks to the evolution of technology, the domestic space, and the foundation for where we find ourselves using technology, today.
Fast forward to the present, and the introduction of American suburbs, technology, and marketing companies have transformed the country in many ways over the last 70 years. One symptom of this transformation, which I address on Push Button Future, is the problem of systemic entitlement. Not only is there broad-reaching racial division that continues to persist (geographically and culturally), but a troubling lack of self-awareness on the part of those who are in a place of privilege. My lyrics touch on the latter problem.
I think we are getting better in some ways – BLM has inspired so many to join the cause of pursuing an equitable world, and to educate ourselves on racism and our own place of privilege. At the same time, I think we are still so much entrenched in a world where a lot of people don’t care, or have joined the cause of new, revivified fascisms. It is scary.
I hope Push Button Future not only inspires people to dance and sing along, but also consider the overarching concepts and ideas presented in my lyrics.
What are some of the main influences behind the songs included on this album?
NÆ: My influences come in the form of experiences, observation, and personal dilemmas. That said, many of my songs are satirical allegories featuring my performance as exaggerated caricatures of different people. These caricatures reflect and augment some aspect of ourselves as consumers.
I’ve actually named each of the women who I perform as, and written out their backstory. This helps enrich the performance style and the songwriting. Ironically, I’ve written their stories in the style of an “ideal client” profile from a marketing perspective. This way, I can talk about their wants, wishes, and desires as much as their back stories.
What are some of your favourite songs to feature on the album?
NÆ: “Sugar Pumps” is a fun, runway-style dance track. I wrote the lyrics from the perspective of a woman who is a Zumba dance instructor, but cancels out her workout calories burned by ordering over-the-top custom coffee drinks with a lot of “sugar pumps”. It is absurd, humorous, and catchy! I had the pleasure of recording the track with Producers Justin James and Ryan Black. The song features a barista rap that I wrote, which is performed so well by Blizzle (Ryan Black).
“Mannequin Man” is about a woman who has a dream about having an affair with a department store mannequin who comes to life at night. Just like her home life is crumbling, his dear home – the indoor mall – is about to be demolished. They fall in love in the dream space as a way to escape real life. The song has a pop R&B feel and ends in an epic trumpet solo performed by Blizzle – who also sings as the mannequin.
How did your family & friends react to your upcoming release?
NÆ: My family and friends are beyond supportive. Not only did my parents mention the album release on their Christmas cards, but have attended each of my virtual Saturnae concerts leading up to the album release. My whole extended family has a family call on Zoom every Sunday, and have mentioned Ryan and my creative projects each time. Every time Ryan and I call our folks, they ask about the album, the next show, and have such wonderful ideas for us!
My friends are excited too! I’ve had incredible in-depth conversations and studio visits in recent months to talk about the album (Jordan, Sully, Maya, Nathan!). And, some of my friends have been co-collaborators on the production of artwork, merch, and videos we’ll be releasing soon (Kris, Kyle, Oda!). My friends have been regularly showing up to our Saturnae concerts as well and have been a big part of the improv songwriting we do when we perform live.
What does the album personally mean to you?
NÆ: The album is a huge step in my music and art journey. It represents a culmination of work I’ve been making over the last several years, as well as a pathway to what’s next! I think it solidifies a framework for my art moving forward and expands so many possibilities to who NÆ is and her modus operandi.
Push Button Future has also been my closest collaboration with Ryan, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as partners and as creatives in so many wonderful, positive ways. He is a composer, musician, producer, mixing/recording engineer, and visual artist (he spray-painted the most incredible mural for our live-streaming backdrop!) He also plays trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone, bass, drums, keys, guitar; he sings, raps, beat-boxes… and does almost everything in between. I’ve learned an incredible amount from him in the last year about live performance and music composition, and I am excited to continue creating together.
If listeners could take anything away from this album, what would you like it to be?
NÆ: I hope that there are as many conversations as dance parties spurred on by Push Button Future. If listeners can enjoy the music as much as they are inspired by its message, that would make me so happy.
Are there any songs that did not make the album tracklist that we could see released at a later date?
NÆ: Jess, it is funny you should ask! There is a list of over 40 songs I’ve written… and new ideas that have sprung from this album! In short, yes. We are planning to release several singles and another album this year, if time allows! As you know, there are so many hours of work required to launch any new song or album, so I am trying to give myself some grace as well.
You can hear several of my unreleased songs ( like “Trattoria Euphoria”, “Flood My Body”, “Glamping Things”) performed live on the NÆ YouTube channel from our Saturnae live-streaming concerts!
What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
NÆ: I love learning new recipes and ingredients for cooking (Ryan and I have been into making Korean cuisine lately!) Ryan and I have also been learning how to grow our own food with a salsa garden we built outside our home/studio. I also take Bollywood dance classes and love to get my cardio on through dancing and long runs outside.
If you could perform a duet with anyone in the world, who would you choose & why?
NÆ: I would love to perform a duet with Kesha – hands down. I love that she embraces people and ideas that break with the “norm”, and she has experimented so much with her own style in the past few years. She is accepting, hilarious, and I think we could hang out in the green room and talk about wizards and unicorns as though we did it every day. 🙂
Of course, Kesha and I have some similarities in vocal styles as well – she has been a massive inspiration to me in my vocal delivery. I admire that she is such a powerhouse when it comes to anthem songs, and yet can just break down to compelling spoken word in her songs. “Woman” by Kesha is up there as one of my favorite songs of all time.
What was the last TV series you binge-watched & did you enjoy it?
NÆ: I don’t typically binge watch TV, but the show I watched most quickly (and recently) is “Magic for Humans” on Netflix – both seasons. The host and creator, Justin Willman, is such a thoughtful, creative human being and I had never seen a magic show that so intimately responded to societal norms and culture. It was compelling to me, and particularly so because I was going through a rough illness at the time. Watching the series helped calm my anxieties and inspired me to present my own music in new ways.
If you could possess one superpower, what would you choose & why?
NÆ: I would love to have the ability to transform myself into various animals at will. As a self-proclaimed and long-time sci-fi nerd, I was a big fan of the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate as a tween/teen. Wouldn’t it be exhilarating to transform into a golden retriever and run around chasing squirrels and being carefree all day? Or a hawk that could soar above everything and get a glorious aerial view? I feel like it would be mind-blowing to be able to observe our world from the perspectives of different animals.
Finally, is there a message you would like to share with the readers of Fierce & Fabulous Revolution?
NÆ: Thank you, again, Jess for this interview opportunity – fantastic questions!
Fierce & Fabulous Revolution readers, check out my album, Push Button Future on all streaming platforms, and connect with me on IG @naesynthpop. I would love to know which song on the album speaks to you!
I’m also launching an EPISODIC, virtual live-stream performance series: Saturnae: Orbital Ice Cream! Blizz and NÆ are headed to space in our music-powered spaceship to exchange earthly knowledge in exchange for intergalactic ice cream recipes. It should be a blast. Episode 1 is launching in March, and you can subscribe to me on YouTube to watch the Orbital Ice Cream Trailer and follow my intergalactic journey!
For more information on what’s next, pop over to my website, www.naemusic.com.
Fierce & Fabulous Revolution readers, I hope you’re ready for this glitter-infused dance pop road trip!
You can check out the full album on Spotify below or view on other platforms here.