The importance of the album has diminished in a music industry landscape ruled by standalone, chart-topping singles. Lost in the shuffle of the waning dominance of full-length albums is the concept album, a medium that used to be a massive, career-altering undertaking for many bands.
For many classic albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Rush’s 2112, weaving a story through interconnected songs was often the hallmark of an artist's magnum opus. Green Day picked up the mantle decades later with American Idiot, but the torch they were bearing effectively went out with the gradual decline in popularity of rock music and full-length albums.
Musical storytelling is not a lost art, though. Neither is the cultural impact of a full-length album. Taylor Swift brought both back into relevance with her album Folklore, which garnered critical acclaim for its top-to-bottom strength and told a story from several points of view across a handful of songs.
Even so, a select few singles from Folklore ruled the charts and social media discussion, and the fictional love triangle she sang about in some songs was absent for most of the album. Using music and albums to string along a novel-like story is largely the art of a bygone era.
Revenge Wife: Elizabeth Nistico Goes Solo
Enter Revenge Wife. The new solo project of Elizabeth Nistico, former singer for indie pop duo HOLYCHILD, is a multimedia whirlwind of storytelling through music, video, film, and fashion. Nistico’s forthcoming debut EP as Revenge Wife, Background Songs for Your Boring Life, Part 1, is an ambitious four-song project that seeks to revive not just the storytelling muscle of concept albums, but also the pop culture relevance of music videos and their aesthetics as equally important parts of the creative equation.
With the first two singles, “Earthquake” and “Manifest,” and their respective music videos making waves and the third installment, "Home," recently released, Background Songs looks to pull people in and deliver big time with a movie-like payoff.
Like an episodic television show, Nistico’s EP is being released song by song with accompanying music videos meant to culminate into a short film. Shot by Nistico herself, the music videos resemble old-school horror movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, reflecting her fascination with all things scary.
Nistico is no stranger to creating head-turning media, having done so frequently with HOLYCHILD, whose discography includes the surprising pro-sex anthem “Bathroom Bitch” and the Passion Pit-esque “Happy With Me.” As Revenge Wife, Nistico puts a personal spin on the gets-better-with-each-listen ear candy sound of her former work by taking the creative reins with both hands and exploring pain and growth in her songwriting.
An Interview with Revenge Wife
Amid the buildup to her exciting solo debut, Nistico met with me over video chat for an interview that uncovers the inspiration for her dark and personal lyricism, her anxieties about being a solo artist for the first time, why Covid hasn’t been all that bad for her and more.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: This whole EP is a very ambitious undertaking – it's music, it’s videos, it’s films, it’s fashion. What inspired you to take on such an all-encompassing project?
ELIZABETH NISTICO: It is an ambitious project! I have a full album ready, and Background Songs for Your Boring Life is the first part of it, the next EP will be the second and completed part of it. All the music videos are sequential, and that’s something I'm committing to forever. So by the time I’m on album two or three, the music videos will forever be going together.
I know that it’s crazy, and there’s a ton of different aspects because I'm so thoughtful about the clothes and this and this and this, so I feel like if one person understood all of it, I would be like “Damn, I’m impressed!” It seems like so much to ask of somebody, but it’s there for people. All the videos will be a story.
It’s a crazy thing that I’m sure at some point will pose challenges, but I think it’ll be awesome. I’m a director, I’m a songwriter, I’m a storyteller, and I just love being able to express myself through these mediums. I think that everybody does stuff like this whether they realize [it] or not. Every choice that you make is a step towards discovering yourself.
I can’t think of any other artist who makes every music video they ever release one connected story.
I’ve also never heard of another artist making all of their music videos sequential. I’m coming from HOLYCHILD, and I made a lot of music videos then and have a lot of experience in that world, so this is something I’m able to do from the beginning now. Had my first music video as Revenge Wife been my first music video ever, I don’t know if I'd be able to do this. I also know that I can and will be directing everything, so I can make that commitment because I know I can deliver on it.
I think it’s just the experience I have, especially in terms of directing and making all my music videos sequential forever. I’m honestly just figuring out the fourth video now. The next one is going to come out in a month, and that one is done, so now I’m going to shoot the next one and it’s getting crazy! The story is getting crazy, at the end it turns into this whole other thing, and it’s kind of inspired by The OA. Have you ever seen that show?
I don’t think so, I’ll have to check it out. Does OA stand for something?
It stands for Original Angel. It’s a really cool show about science fiction, spirituality, and parallel dimensions. I love the horror thing, I love horror films so much, and I’m always trying to be scared.
Speaking of that, I noticed that the sound of Revenge Wife is unique, upbeat pop music. But everything else – the lyricism and aesthetics of it all - doesn’t match. Were you trying to go for that juxtaposition of sound and imagery?
I think that’s how it always comes out for me. It was like that for HOLYCHILD too. I like to have a good time but I’m also perpetually depressed! (laughs) It’s this thing that’s always there, and another thing that always comes out that I don’t even try for is this dark comedy aspect. I feel like things get so funny and so absurd, and I don’t even try for it.
I’m just like “Oh my God, that was hilarious,” and I love it, but I didn’t intend for it to be funny. And I do love those artists who have that juxtaposition between happy, sad, or whatever it is, I just love cool juxtapositions like that. I think St. Vincent is an amazing artist like that; she’s darker but it’s such a cool thing!
I think that visually, I just go there too. If I’m coming up with a music video concept I’ll think “Okay, this is the obvious thing that, with this song, this music video would be.” And then I try to not do that, because I think going away from that makes for a really interesting pairing.
Revenge Wife is your first solo project; what has it been like as a solo musician coming from a band?
I started writing music in HOLYCHILD... I started writing on my own a lot in 2017, and that was when I decided that I was going to eventually want to release that music.
So much is different now, and it’s hard for me to not have expectations of the past in all regards. First of all, the music industry is constantly changing. Especially now with Covid, but [also] how often are people...saying that, and it’s true! From 2012 to 2016, that was a major shift. 2016 to 2020, major shift. It evolves a lot.
With all my experiences, I just can’t have expectations. I can’t apply the past to what is happening [now], and that’s a challenge. It is hard doing it on my own right now, because I don’t have somebody in it with me to be like “Oh my God, this is crazy!” I have great managers, but it’s different when you have a bandmate, and I don’t have a bandmate right now.
I feel like I'm kind of winging it, besides the creative stuff... I do think with HOLYCHILD that things happened so fast too, so a lot of the stuff I’m dealing with now I never even dealt with then. Everything is new, and you can’t have expectations. It’s like if you were to start school somewhere and then start again somewhere else.
Are you still glad to be embarking on a solo project even with the struggles it entails?
Yeah, I am, it feels really empowering! Another thing with the music industry is that there are so many people who are like “You need me, you can’t do it on your own, you got here because of me.” And now I don’t have any of those people around me and I can just do it on my own, and it’s amazing! I feel like the music is good, and I really like it. I think this is how I’ll be doing it for now, focusing on Revenge Wife and the releases and probably touring a ton this time next year.
Before I do anything, I always have the thought of “How the fuck are you going to pull this off?” This music video I have in my head right now that I'm going to shoot, I’m like, “If I can pull this off, it’ll be crazy,” and I have that thought about so many things. And then you just do it and it’s like “Okay, I guess I just did that!”
How has Covid been impacting your career as a musician?
The most obvious thing is that shows aren’t happening, and that’s really new, so if shows were happening I would probably be doing a bunch right now. That’s kind of crazy, but I think it’s another one of those things where I’m trying to go into it without expectations.
Covid was actually an okay time for me, I kind of went away and decided “I have these songs I’ve recorded, I’m going to get a mixer, we’re going to mix them, I’m going to finish this, and I’m going to figure out my album.” I started doing music videos on my iPhone, and I was able to just retreat and do my thing.
I think that’s something that should stay as time goes on, the ability to just go away and do what you need to work on. I hope people keep doing that, I think I’m going to keep doing it. I don’t know, I just feel like everything is going to be okay.
Concerts are definitely one of the biggest losses from the pandemic. Do you see yourself making live shows a big part of the Revenge Wife equation when it’s safe to do so?
Definitely! I’m so excited for the live experience. I want dancers, I’m figuring out right now how I can do it. I’m so excited for that aspect to come back, I love shows.
You’ve also been holding live screenings of your music videos as they’ve come out. Is that because it’s the closest you can get to live shows right now?
Yeah, exactly! It’s fun to do those, I’m going to do that for every video until it gets too big and I can’t do it anymore. Right now, when a video comes out, I’ll do a midnight screening on Twitch and celebrate. It’s been really fun, and I feel like it puts the music videos on full display.
I’m trying to make it like a movie thing, like a midnight movie release. And when concerts come back, I’m going to do a screening of the videos all together. I think the live shows will be a very cool and different experience, I want it to feel like being in my bedroom on stage.
Sometimes somebody will release a music video and I won’t watch it and I’ll be like, “Why didn’t I watch that? I know they put in a lot of time.” So then I go and watch it, and I think it’s great to put the videos on display like that. Visuals are so cool, and films are so cool. I’m working on and directing some films right now too, and it’s such a different side of things when it’s not just a music video. It’s been really fun, I love the visual side of Revenge Wife.
That’s exactly what stood out to me about this project; it seems as much about visuals as it is about music or anything else.
I really think the number one thing is the lyrics. I want everything I do to be the best that it can be, but lyrics are number one, those have to be incredible. Everything else kind of stems from that. The lyrics come pretty easy to me, but I'm also constantly in practice. I’m constantly writing in my journal, and you’re a writer, you understand, when you’re writing like that a lot comes out.
I write poems and stories a lot too, and the other side of lyrics is the concept side. If I'm writing a song, I really like to think “What’s the concept of this? How is everything being made clear?” I’ll spend a few hours or even days thinking about this thing, and when I go to write that’s what I write about.
The way I write music, once I get chords going, I just try to listen to them and think “What do I want to hear right now? I want to hear a melody that’s like da-nana-nanana-nana-dundun-nanana!” And then I’ll be like “Okay, yeah! That’s the melody I want to hear with these chords!” That’s all I do, and I usually keep it as that first melody, that first thing I wanted to hear. But that’s really all I’m trying to do with Revenge Wife, just be true to myself. I think that’s the main thing I want people to take away from Revenge Wife, just how genuine and personal it is.
That process has worked really well, because I’ve never heard music quite like yours. Do you have any major influences, or have you been forging your own path?
Kind of both! I listen to so much music, so I have many influences. I’ve been doing these podcast releases before every song... where I show the music that inspired the songs. I love music from the 70s, I really love Japanese disco. ABBA is another big inspiration, and I would say my top inspirations are Fiona Apple, Billy Joel, TV on the Radio, Radiohead, so many more. I just love listening to music. It’s hard not to get inspired by everything.
For this project, I was going into it wanting it to be like early-Eminem-meets-ABBA. Those minimal tracks that sound really clean and clear, but also with this disco ABBA aspect to it. I wanted bass, drums, voice, and that’s it. Things have gotten pretty fleshed out since then, but that’s mostly where I was at, those minimal 90s songs.
Have you ever heard of the band Everything Everything? They’re pretty big in England! I remember I found them on a flight to London. I always listen to the airplane radio, I have all my life and I feel like it’s kind of a weird thing to do, but I found this album by Everything Everything and I was on the plane thinking “This is fucking sick!” It was so fun to listen to because I could hear all of their influences in every little bit of music, it was so much fun to listen to.
Where does the heavy focus on horror within the project come in?
I think it’s kind of interesting how the concepts in the lyrics and what I'm talking about tie in with the concepts of horror. I think that right now, humans are in the middle of a spiritual revolution. All of us are trying to turn inward and be better people and look at ourselves in new ways and be happier.
This is happening with all of my friends, and with me, and it’s what I’m talking about in my lyrics; this idea of self-exploration and trying to get to a place where I feel really happy. It’s been really interesting to play with horror in this way, because I think fear is such an important component of self-help.
Dealing with fear, knowing what fear is, knowing how it manifests in your life and how it prevents you from having what you want and doing what you want. These concepts have been really interesting to me with Revenge Wife. Fear is everywhere, so I’ve been trying to understand it and not shy away from it.