As the year winds down to a close, we’re sure you’re inundated by the regular events of Listmas where every music publication under the sun tells you what they think is the best art of the year. That’s definitely important, and ours is coming soon — but we also wanted to check in with artists we love that have had big years to get their take on the strange year of 2021.
Indigo De Souza’s music hits you like a tidal wave of emotion. Her sophomore album Any Shape You Take, released in August of 2021 on Saddle Creek, was a critically-beloved collection of music that elevated her stardom beyond the cult favoritism that she created with her debut LP I Love My Mom. With a powerhouse voice that can harness any emotion, De Souza is a musical shapeshifter. Any Shape You Take’s tracks stretch the gamut from the bubblegum pop of “17” to the high-definition grunge of “Die/Cry”, and it’s a blast to listen to as she shares an honesty in her songwriting that’s both jarring and instantly relatable. If you haven’t heard her yet, you’re missing out on one of the brightest new voices of indie rock, and the world is taking notice as she’s lined up supporting dates with Lucy Dacus and Sylvan Esso alongside a headlining run of her own at the top of the year. We chatted with Indigo about her big year and the compassion that she hopes to see in the music industry going forward —
I love your album a lot. I feel like it contains this sort of radically honest songwriting that we don’t hear in music very often. What empowers you to write with no holds barred?
You know, it’s just always felt very natural and normal for me to write that way. I think that the kind of household I grew up in; my mother has always been a very free spirit and I’ve always been encouraged to speak my mind and be honest in expression. I think because of that, that’s how I started songwriting as a young kid, and I just came to really love the way that it felt to play those songs for people in cafes, or on the street, or wherever I was, because they were received so well if I came from a place of real honesty. I think I noticed at a young age that it’s an incredible way to interact with people — if you’ll be really honest with them, then they’ll feel comfortable enough to explore their emotions with you in the moment when they’re listening to you. The idea of writing songs about things that aren’t real or are less honest, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Your voice is one of the most recognizable things in indie rock — I love the way that you balance yourself in your music, almost as if you’re using your voice as an instrument. Do you have any philosophy as you’re writing these songs as to how you’re going to sing them?
(laughs) I think it sort of happens like the first answer I gave! I tend to follow the emotional landscape of the songs as I’m figuring out my place in them. Growing up, I always thought dynamics were a really fun part of the songwriting process — it’s a good way to play with emotion while you’re recording. And my voice is the instrument I’m the most comfortable with, you know? I really don’t practice guitar that much, ever, unless I’m writing something. I’m usually more focused on vocals and words, so I think that’s the strongest instrument that I play with.
I discovered you from a Pitchfork Rising piece that you did before Any Shape You Take was released, and one of the things you said there that really stuck out to me was how you wished that “the music industry could become more human.” Now that we’re at the end of the year — your record came out to great acclaim, you had a pretty sizable headlining run — how do you feel about the music industry’s humanity? Is it more honest than you expected in that interview?
I think in my own orbit, I’ve seen an incredible amount of compassion and humanity. I think I’ve been extremely lucky with the people I’ve worked with — you know, Saddle Creek, my label and my tourmates — but I have seen people close to me not have such a good time in the music industry in a number of different avenues. I think it’s easy to get exhausted so quickly; performing is a wildly exhausting thing, and it can sometimes feel like you’re getting shot through this vortex of motion from city to city while you’re trying to stay on top of your emotions and health. I think that there are a lot of really good people working to make the music industry a better place, and I think there are a lot of people just in it for money, and it’s obvious to see the difference.
In what ways do you practice self-care on the road? I always love hearing the variety of answers from artists.
For me, I want to make sure that the people I tour with are absolute sweethearts. We love each other so much, and there’s just open communication and support from everyone in my orbit. This year, we’ve all been able to stick up for ourselves and our needs, and I think that’s one of the most important things that can happen when you’re on the road. Good and healthy relationships with people who are touring with me turn it into a family in an environment where it can be strange and lonely sometimes. Being able to speak up for my own needs, drinking a lot of tea, and taking naps — that’s my key to success. It’s wild, though, because it’s really difficult to do all of those things. I’m thinking it could get easier the more people we bring into the touring party, but I don’t know.
It’s always interesting talking to artists with a ton of folks in their touring party versus a slimmer operation — with more people it might be more difficult to manage, but there’s also that self-peace in knowing that everything isn’t resting on your shoulders.
Yeah, totally. I’ve been having a lot of conversations about our touring party because we’ll be adding more people soon, and it’s just so important to me for everyone to feel like they’re a part of a big family. No matter how big it gets, I want everyone to feel really connected and seen.
Is there a specific memory of tour that sticks out to you as we round out the year?
I don’t know — there are so many different memories. Probably the Los Angeles show, at the Regent Theatre. It was just wild for that many people to show up to a place where I’d never headlined before. That was fun to be on that journey with the people in my band; they’re all new band members, so it just felt really special to share that with them because it felt like a serious milestone for us.
What albums have caught your ear this year?
Do they have to be albums that came out this year?
Not necessarily! 2021 is cool, but I really want to hear what you loved in general.
Okay! Well, I’ve loved Tirzah’s Devotion more than anything. I’m not, like, an avid consumer of new music because I think I’ve been very focused on making my own. But I’m obsessed with that album — I’m also obsessed with my friend Friendship’s album Dreamin’ from 2019. I also can never stop listening to Arthur Russell; I’m always listening to his stuff. Do you know NAO?
YES, I love her.
She’s one of my favorites — she put out an album this year that I love, but I’m obsessed with the production on her whole discography. My other all-time favorite album is Weird Little Birthday by this UK band Happyness that’s been in my rotation all year.
Are there any other forms of media that have caught your attention?
You know, there used to be a time when I stayed home more and was a lot more mentally ill that I was a nonstop movie-watcher, but I’m better now (laughs). I used to be a big podcast person too, but at this point, I’m just really busy to the point where I can’t take in as much as I’d like to.
What’s 2022 looking like for you? I know there’s the run with Lucy Dacus coming up — what excites you about the upcoming year?
Hopefully a trip overseas — I’m holding my breath right now hoping that nothing absolutely insane happens (laughs). There’s a lot of big stuff next year; I feel like we’re really kicking it up a notch, and I’m so excited to experience that with my band. We’ve been working our whole lives to do this as a job, and it’s so thrilling to be able to help support my really talented friends and team with my music. I still haven’t begun to wrap my brain around it; I’m just really excited to play music with people that I love.