AfterxClass: Sweeten Your Tea

What are your musical backgrounds?  

SA:  Milly and I have been friends since 7th grade and she was the one who encouraged me to play drums after we saw the musical School of Rock. I told her I always loved music and wanted a way to express that interest. Not to mention, the drummer looked so sick! But then in the summer of 2019 I picked up guitar and immediately fell in love. Next year I’ll be studying drums and music production at the Berklee School of Music.

MS:  My musical background is in musical theatre and I started playing ukulele which led to songwriting. 

 

I could tell you had a musical theatre background by the way you enunciate the words in your song.  They are very clear and I think people that don’t have that background blend the pronunciation a little more.  

SA:  The clear broadway tone is very belty and it gives our songs a cool broadway alternative rock vibe. 

 

Does playing drums and guitar give you a different perspective of song structure and how instruments blend together? 

SA:  When I play guitar, I play how a drummer would play it, very percussively.  With my picking hand, I play a lot of muted strums and play rhythm guitar straight on the beat. 

 

So after being friends for a long time what inspired you to write a song together? 

MS:  We were both taking music a lot more seriously.  It was something we always joked about and now that we are in college we decided to do it. I played Spencer 20 songs that I had written and we decided to record “Honey”.

 

Describe your song writing process.

MS:  Most of my songs are written at 3am when I’m about to fall asleep. Usually I’ll play random chord progressions on the ukulele and sing random lines until I find ones that I like. Most of the time, it is about something I’ve been thinking or feeling for a while.  I bring it to Spencer with the base chords and I ask him to make it sound like a real song. 

SA:  She’ll send me ten pages of notes with the lyrics and chords on top. I’ll usually start by  transposing the chords and finding some cool chord voicings. We will then talk about what type of instruments and vibe we want the song to have. Milly has this crazy instrument called a qchord which is a variation of an omnichord that we plan to use in one of our upcoming songs. We bounce ideas off of each other and talk about what energy and tempo we want in the song.  

 

I think starting off on a ukulele is pretty unique, most people start with guitar chords. 

MS:  Chords on a ukulele or very simple and I’m also very short and guitars are huge.

SA:  The chords you get from a ukulele allow you to really explore interesting melodies within relatively simple chord progressions.  I can then take the chord progressions and make them fancier later on. Milly is really good at making catchy melodies.  

 

Yeah the melody and chorus to “Honey” was super catchy.  I also really like the birds in the beginning.  What made you want to put that sound in the song? 

MS:  That was our producer Alice; she is an amazing musician and recording artist.  I came up with this mood board that had images and colors of what emotions I wanted the song to have.  We had this other intro in there before that was almost like a music box, but we wanted something that felt summer-y and natural.

 

The upbeat tempo, happy vibe really carries you into the song and places you into such a fun setting.  Was there a certain story that was behind “Honey”?

MS:  I would say that when I first wrote it I didn’t have a direct inspiration, but when I was thinking about what I wanted the music video to look like I kept coming back to the same imagery. I was a child actor growing up and I was told not to dye my hair and not to dress differently and to act very straight and normal. I was very much not the straight and “normal” girl so it was very hard for me.  I had this turning point and essentially said fuck it - I’m not going to hide that I’m not straight and that I’m alternative.  “Honey” is breaking free of the things that are holding you down and the people that are telling you to act a certain way.    

 

Music is also such a powerful way to express vulnerability and all the facets and complexities within each of us. 

MS:  When you are acting you portray different characters, but I am writing the music myself.  It is a way for me to put my emotions out for everyone to see, showing everyone your diary. 

 

You mentioned mood boards...when you write a song are you already thinking of wardrobe, the music video and album art? 

MS:  I’m also a filmmaker, so imagery is a huge part of my inspiration.  When I am explaining a song to Spencer I’ll paint the scene, “imagine someone sitting in their room with a breeze coming in.”

 

So you work from creating a scene, a setting, a mood, when you paint the broad strokes of the emotionality you want to evoke? 

SA:  She’ll call me and say I need to listen to these three songs and get this kinda vibe.  When we played our first live show, she already knew the order of the songs, the wardrobe and the makeup. 

 

So how did you guess land on AfterxClass as your name? 

MS:  We had like a hundred names and we are both terrible at naming things.   

SA:  We were bouncing names around and asked ourselves, “well, how did we meet?”  Our story is that Milly was sitting down at lunch and I sat down next to her so we thought, what if we made it school-related and we would always hang out after class?

 

That definitely ties in with the personal touch you were talking about before. How will the songwriting process going to change once Spencer goes to Berklee? 

MS:  We are going to send music files to each other and luckily it isn’t too far for him to record stuff. 

SA:  When I go to Berklee I’m going to learn a bunch of stuff I can apply to our new music.  We are planning to release some more singles in the upcoming future. 

MS:  We are planning a bunch of stuff and hopefully an EP soon.   

 

Is learning music theory important for you to better understand the structure of music? 

SA:  I’m just really interested in understanding the rules of music and Milly just plays chords and goes completely with feeling and I make it make sense.  When Milly listens to songs she mainly listens to lyrics and I mainly listen to how it sounds. 

 

I wonder if guitarists listen more closely to guitar lines than other instruments?

SA:  When I was a drummer I only listened to drums.  Now that I also produce, I listen to how it is mixed. 

MS:  He listens to everything except the story of the song which is where I come in.  

 

Did you and Alice work on producing together? 

SA:  Milly comes over and we record at my house.  We arrange the tracks in the order we want and have basic effects. We send it to Alice and tell her the vibe we want to go for. We let her have some creative freedom. We then send it to our friend Josh who is great at mastering. I hope we can get to a point where we can fully produce it on our own, but we are still learning.  

 

You also send Spencer specific songs to listen to for context, who are your influences? 

MS:  A major influence writing-wise is a cartoonist named Rebecca Sugar. She is the reason why I started songwriting. I also love listening to bands like Cavetown and Beach Bunny and a little bit of Mother Mother. 

SA:  My guitar influence is John Mayer and my producing influence is Still Woozy. 

 

What do you think makes someone a better producer? 

SA:  When you are producing, you have to make sure the audio level is leveled out and the frequencies fit with each other. Other things that make someone a better producer is their creativity. For example producers have a decision to make about where they want to sonically place the vocals, right next to your ears or straight down the middle.  

 

Well that relates to the story element.  You can have a sonic story with rises and falls as well as the lyrics.    

SA: Yeah, everything that comes out from us is very meticulously planned.    

MS:  I am very detail oriented and give him like two pages of assignments and talk about the plans of what we should do next.  As a filmmaker I want to put my own songs in my movies in the future.  AfterxClass is a way to have a complete vision.  

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