As she steps onto the stage, a hush falls over the crowd. Not many solo performers have this effect on a room filled to capacity. This is Abi Reimold at Boot & Saddle, the R5 Productions venue in South Philly. She’s opening for Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker, also playing solo. This is Julien’s first time playing in Philadelphia, and although a great amount of promotion went into this show, most of the audience seemed to be there for Abi (at least where I was standing). She had returned just days previously from a tour that took her down to Florida and back, and it was as though she had undergone a transformation. DIY tour can change people – you bare your soul to friendly strangers, traveling possibly thousands of miles in the process and relying on your planning, instincts and the people you’re with. Abi’s instincts are of a rare breed – the same instincts that led her to the stage at Boot & Saddle. She was clearly well-prepared for this experience.
After the show, Abi told me that she felt overwhelmed. Later on, she admitted that, naturally, she felt a tremendous amount of pressure. “No matter how good you are,” she said, “if you play solo, someone is going to think you’re boring.” Unlikely, considering the crowd at Boot & Saddle was eager to hear her idiosyncratic mix of experimental songwriting and jazz-tinged crooning. It was an artful performance, incorporating a loop pedal to layer her voice in harmony. Memorably, her rendition of the track “Morning” was totally different from the loud build of the version on her Forget EP; she instead used the loop pedal to generate an otherworldly tension, which would be left unresolved going into the final songs of the set.
I started seeing Abi perform about five years ago at the storied Maggot House, off Temple’s campus. It was clear that the way she played and, even then, how she could hold a room in silence and awe, was very special. She has been consistently active since then, playing in Philadelphia houses and clubs. In the last year she formed a band with some other talented musician friends, filling out her sound and becoming something wholly more than a singer-songwriter. “Abi Reimold,” as a full-band act, creates an incredibly dramatic and dynamic space, noisy yet accessible, hinting at a much more impressive musical background and knowledge than your average alt-rock band.
Abi’s style hasn’t changed so much since the Maggot House days, by my observation and by her own feelings, but it has matured. Wriggling, her debut full-length solo record, is a sonic manifestation of the all-too-familiar crushing hopelessness felt by the recent post-grad, looking and even praying for a direction. Most of these songs were written, she says, in 2014 during a melancholic haze. Her lyrics reflect keen observations about this type of mental state – the song “Dust” is made entirely of the morbid lines “I will learn what dust tastes like/I am not immune.” They’re not all bleak, however; the final verse of the following track, the otherwise dark song called “Clouded,” sings like a mantra of personal empowerment rejecting those who hold you back.
Production on Wriggling began a year ago, at Stolen Studios in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Scott Stitzer, of the band Mumblr, and Nick Barnes, a Drexel grad, helmed the project. The drums were expertly provided by Kevin Paschall, who plays in a number of local groups, most notably Dead and Roof Doctor. Ian Amidon and Nick Morrison, also members of Mumblr, filled out a dynamic rhythm section on guitar and bass respectively.
Most of the record was finished during a live tracking session one long January night in 2015. However, soon afterward, Abi found herself dissatisfied with the tone of the guitars and ended up re-recording them. This decision that paid off grandly. The tones on this record are as astounding as they are varied, pure ear candy. Abi notes the wisdom of working “within your resources” – her intent with this album was to give listeners a record worthy of their time. The sound is something like “mid-fi,” retaining a lo-fi mood but produced using equipment and techniques common to higher-budget studio albums. The result: a well-produced and utterly delightful record capable of standing up to repeated plays.
In addition to being a masterful musician, Abi is a gifted photographer (her funding for this album in part through wedding photography gigs). She took the album’s cover photograph herself, as seen in this short documentary premiered by WXPN in their week of featured articles on Wriggling. If art is meant to cause a reaction, the album’s cover in and of itself is truly a great work – a literal can of worms that has drawn out something visceral in listeners. Abi has received compliments on its artfulness, yes, but she has also had to deal with those who say that the photo disturbs them, including one particular “angry message.” The photo is actually of a collection of worms that a friend of hers uses for composting – a process to turn organic waste into useful dirt. These are “useful worms.” This cover works on many levels, not least of which being a metaphor for the process by which a songwriter turns their negative experiences and perceptions into beautiful music.
Abi Reimold, then, is following her instincts into a visionary 2016, this time with the ear of more than just her friends. Covered by Stereogum, The Fader and at length by WXPN, she has already made a huge hit with the meticulously devised and artistically inspired Wriggling. Soon, Abi will be hitting the road again to support the album, touring through Massachusetts and New Jersey February 16th-20th, with more plans to tour (and record a follow-up!) later this year. Check out her video for the song “Vessel,” and listen to Wriggling in the Bandcamp link at the top of the page!
UNLOCKED: A conversation with Abi Reimold about creativity, context, and ambition – John Vettese, The Key
DIY studios a vital part of Philly’s underground music scene – Brion Shreffler, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Written by Luke Shefski