I’m a bitch, I’m a lover …

I hate holiday parties. Let me explain. I love a party with friends. I love meeting creative people and hearing how they got to where they are now. I thought that entertainment and advertising, industries replete with creative and smart people, would be a place in which I could meet future friends and collaborators. Don’t get me wrong, I have! In the seven years that I have been writing songs for film/TV and in the three I have been producing advertising spots for music houses, I have met so many wonderful people and a few that I even call close friends. 

Time and again though, I attend work parties and other evening events and prepare myself for what’s to come: a hand inappropriately placed on my ass, a “joke” asking if I knew someone because we “fucked,” another joke asking if I flashed my tits to be allowed admission to the event, a comment on my young age followed by “you seem like an old soul, have you ever been with an older man?”, more “accidental” touching of my ass and a kiss on the cheek that’s a little too close and he knows it.

This isn’t a humble brag about my being sexually desirable — look around the room, this is happening to every woman, specifically the younger generation looking to make professional connections. I smile and brush them off, I try my friend Laura’s trick from when she was on a bus in Belize and ask about their children and specifically if they have daughters (and does your daughter know you’re currently breathing down my neck and asking for my zodiac sign because we’re “cosmically aligned”?)

This is more than the music business or advertising being a “boys club.” It’s about power, it’s about certain men believing that women will do anything to get a meeting. It’s about roles, and crosses over to real world examples of a friend being rescinded a job offer because the company tried to go back on their negotiation and she stood her ground and asked for a salary that was still below her value. It’s about the quiet rage of knowing that a dude in your same position with less experience receives a greater salary and benefits.  It’s about another friend’s boss drinking vodka at the end of the day and calling her a pussy for not joining in because she had to work and not be drunk. It’s about being afraid to speak up for fear of being a bitch. It’s about someone else at another party calling a brilliant woman who taught me everything I know about the industry an icy bitch who needs to get fucked.

It’s fucked up. And yes, I will be fair and say that this industry is incestuous and that sometimes people DO want to meet people at after-work events. But my signals are clear, and I presume other women who have received unwanted attention are showing obvious signs of discomfort too. And even if I were single and looking to meet someone, I’m unlikely to respond to you positively if your first comment is making me the butt of a sexual joke (no pun intended). I LOVE A GOOD CRUDE JOKE! I tell them all the time, and at work too with three guys who are some of the kindest and funniest people I know and who I am also fortunate to call friends. But to return to the thought, what bothers me is the dynamic — the idea that I am laughable because I’m a woman, that I’m “asking for it” and should just suck it up and take it (<—yes I realize this is begging for a crude joke.)

But it’s getting harder to pretend I’m cool with all this. And I’m not quite sure what to do. I’m afraid to even write this for fear of its repercussions, that I will be perceived as a ranting, crazy “feminist” (<—which I proudly am, and don’t think it is crazy nor should it be a dirty word.) If you are a woman or simply a dude in solidarity, what do you recommend we do? Is there a way to change the game? Please share your stories with me. I want to hear them. Maybe we should just be bitches?

Abby West Coast Tour

I’m so excited to announce I’ll be headed out to LA in October to play two shows. On October 23rd at 10 pm, I’ll be playing at Room 5 and the following night October 24th at 9:30 I’ll be playing at Genghis Cohen. I would love to see you at one or both shows! Pass the word along to your CA friends and family!

'Talk In Tongues' RELEASE!

I’m so incredibly excited to announce the release of my sophomore album Talk in Tongues on iTunes today! A special thanks to my talented team of producer/co-writers – Justin Goldner, Will Hensley and Adam Stoler—who I am also lucky to call friends. I also could not have done this album without my mixing engineer and friend Chris “C-Section” Camilleri whose ears pick up frequencies I thought only dogs and dolphins could hear. To my amazing drummer Adam Christgau, whistling champion Michael Barimo, cellist Dana Leong, and mastering engineer extraordinaire Mark Santangelo – you made this album rock, and I am forever grateful.

And to all of you – friends, family, fans, pets —for believing in me when I don’t and for reminding me to celebrate even the smallest of successes. I am truly amazed that “Mary’s Son” is already at 300K views, and I can’t thank you enough for spreading the word to your friends about my music and for your excitement when you heard my songs on TV, most recently in HBO’s “Girls.”

Like Lena Dunham and other young women my age, I’m at a place in my life that is uncertain but full of possibility. Talk In Tongues is my attempt to make sense of the nonsense, and to find pleasure in my passion no matter how impossible the dream might seem at times. Though there are a handful of serious, more heartfelt moments on this album, it’s for the most part light and fun – as Cyndi Lauper famously sang, “Girls just wanna have fun!” Though I do hope male listeners laugh at “Mary’s Son” and other songs that don’t take themselves too seriously too.

Again, thank you for your support and encouragement, and feel free to tweet at me @abbybernstein or write on my Facebook Fanpage  wall what you think of the new songs and tell me your favorites too!   

Behind The Music: “Talk In Tongues”

Before beginning this blog post, let it be noted that every time we practice this song in rehearsal my bandmate Adam Stoler talks in the Coffee Talk voice. Silliness aside … or wait, this is exactly the point! This song is intended to be light-hearted and fun. Yes it’s a “love song” but it’s also one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As I mentioned in my post on Diamond Love, this mix of light and serious moments is intended to reflect what happens when we fall in love.

“Talk in Tongues,” both the album and the song title, was inspired by the “secret language” we have with someone close to us. The title calls to mind “glossolalia” or the phenomenon by which religious people believe a higher power is speaking through them. Though the song is in no way religious, I like the idea of words being in some way divinely inspired … perhaps because songwriters often have the feeling that a song is “writing itself” with words and melody flowing on the page at rapid speeds. And in a lot of cases, the ideas we lay out are nonsensical gibber gabber that we have to organize and make coherent for listeners.

On the relationship level, I thought of how we have a certain way of talking to people we love that only the other person understands. It’s more than just filling in the other person’s sentence; it’s a deep understanding and unique way of interacting that evolves over years of knowing someone: “Just like babies learn to talk/Babe you and I got/A secret kind of speech/You touch my lips and mouth the words/It’s not that hard to learn/I just kiss you and repeat.”

Even though there is the occasional innuendo in the song –it wouldn’t be an Abby song without this! –I think this song is the closest I’ve ever come to writing a pure or innocent song. The shout choruses “Ee-ay-oh” hooks are meant to be a play off “Old McDonald” and reinforce this idea of a relationship “growing up” over time.

At the bridge, the phrase “La da la da la da da (Whoah!)” is repeated a bunch of times, and I sing “Oh I’ve come undone for your love.” This was intended to reflect that divine moment of inspiration, and it’s where the music, lyrics, and harmonies all begin to unravel and love takes over.

Thank you again to my co-writer/co-producer Justin Goldner for helping make this song rock, and to my friend Michael Barimo for his wonderful whistling. I hope this song makes you smile and sing along. Talk in Tongues is available TODAY on iTunes so snag a copy here and tell your friends!

Behind The Music: “Risk”

I remember reading a Lady Gaga quote that musicians have to constantly lift themselves up in order to keep pursuing this crazy dream. Sometimes I wake up and feel incredibly proud of the work I’ve done and the small successes I’ve had so far, but other times I feel like I’m still caught between my dream and reality.

It was during one of these down moments, that I started singing a melody with the words “I don’t know just who to believe/And I’ve lied to myself so many times before it seems/Don’t know who I’m supposed to be/What I want to do is far off and I’m caught in-between/The truth, my dreams/The rules, won’t bend for me.” I’m not one to write depressing “woe is me!” songs, because I LOVE doing what I do and truly believe we all have the power to achieve what we want. As the old saying goes, “make your own luck!” But in most cases, pursuing our dreams involves taking some sort of chance or … as the song title and chorus reveal, “risk.”

If the verses are the depressing reality, then the choruses of “Risk” represent chasing after a seemingly impossible dream. I enlisted the help of my co-writer and fellow Thai food aficionado Will Hensley to help inject some happiness into the chorus. Some of my original chords were still giving off a lukewarm feeling, and I wanted the chorus to be overtly positive and anthemic. The lyrics of the chorus “But I’m prepared to walk on hot coals, jump from a mountain, bare my whole soul, do it all again” celebrate “risky” activities but also recognize the possibility of failure (“I might fall down but it’s worth the risk.”) I also repeat “worth the risk” a bunch of times to really drive home the narrator’s conviction that all of this hard work will lead to something, somewhere eventually.

In terms of the music, I wanted “Risk” to sound like Lady Antebellum crossed with Carrie Underwood “country swag.” I convinced Will, who also produced this song, to sing a counter-melody in the chorus so as to achieve that Lady Antebellum vibe … and I hope to get Will to sing on other songs in the future because his voice has this really unique, raw-sounding quality. In terms of singing style, we aimed to make the verses more conversational so as to have a nice contrast with the punchier, more driving energy of the chorus melody.

Although this song was inspired by my experience as a songwriter, the lyrics also apply to risks we take in starting relationships or even switching career paths. There is always going to be some element of uncertainty in life, and this song is about treading into that unknown territory. Speaking of which, this was also Will’s first recording on slide guitar … so this was also a meta-song about Will taking a risk by playing a new instrument!

Behind The Music: “Drifter”

Much like “Tunnel Vision” or “Mary’s Son, “ my song “Drifter” is a story song in which I live vicariously through another person. On one level, the song is a tale of the classic gypsy woman up to no good, but taken another way, it is also about a mentally unstable person suffering from delusions of grandeur.

The initial idea for this song came at a pretty dull moment of riding the beloved NYC subway. A bluesy melody came into my head, and for some reason the words came along with it too: “She’s a drifter floating through the night/Think she needs an alibi/Drifter laying on a bed of lies/She’s a drifter, don’t know what to do/But she knows she’s gotta move/Drifter she will leave you high and dry/So goodbye to good times.” By the time I got off my stop, I had started the chorus of what would soon become “Drifter.”

When I got home, I started to think about the implications of “drifter.” Who is this woman and what is she running from? What did she do and what was her intent? My friend James St. Vincent, who directed the upcoming music video for “Mary’s Son,” once told me a great lesson he learned in acting school that also applies to writing: A character always must have a reason for entering a room. I wanted the verses of “Drifter” to fill in some of the blanks but also leave some vague space open for mystery. We know she gets into trouble often, that she stabbed a man and went to jail, that she has suffers from delusions (“just like bats in an attic, head’s fulla batshit crazy dreams”), and that she wants to escape the country (“wants a house in Costa Rica, she can live just like a tica chica”) … presumably to run away from the craziness she caused for herself here. Ultimately though, the chorus is an omen for her inevitable destruction—both to others and to herself (“say goodbye, to good times.”) I guess you could say she’s also somewhat of a sociopath since she has no connections with people, other than to the ones she causes pain (“nobody there knows her name, I bet she likes it that way.”)

Although most would think of this woman as a tragic character, she’s so crazy that she believes her own fantasies. The music therefore is intended to reflect her delusional mind rather than the sadness of her life. When I brought this song to my co-writer Adam Stoler, he helped iron out some harmonies in the verse and inject some sass into the tune. The ballsy electric guitar solo, bluesy licks, and dynamic shifts are also intended to reflect her rise and descent into madness. Listening back on the song now, I think this woman could also be a good match for the violent crazy guy in Sublime’s “Santeria”: “Tell Sanchito that if he knows what is good for him he best go run and hide/Daddy’s got a new 45/And I won’t think twice to stick that barrel straight down Sancho’s throat/Believe me when I say that I got somethin’ for his punk ass.” What do you think

Behind The Music: “Diamond Love”

I remember reading a Kurt Cobain quote that “it seems like there are only two options for songwriters: either they’re sad, tragic visionaries or they’re the goofy, nutty white boy ‘hey hey let’s party’ … I like to be passionate and sincere, but I also like to have fun and act like a dork.” Like most other humans, songwriters are full of contradictions so I’ve always loved music that plays off conflicting emotions.

Lyrically speaking, my song “Diamond Love” was the most fun to write on this album because it is playful and silly at the same time that it is sincere and heartfelt. This mix of light and serious moments is intended to reflect what happens when we fall in love. My initial idea for this song came when my friend was talking about her ex-boyfriend and said something about how he was so much a part of her that she could sense his presence in a crowd without even having to seeing him. In “Diamond Love,” I wanted to reflect on how love makes two lives become so intertwined that one person becomes an extension of the other, like a phantom limb that makes us feel a wholeness we have never known or needed before. Cue Jerry MacGuire “You complete me!”

The first verse lyrics “I taste so much better with your tongue/Cause of you I know what it means to love/Kiss my back, tickle my toes, say the words that never grow old” establish the silly tone but also convey the vulnerability and intimacy of this connection. The chorus/hook extends this idea while playing off the juxtaposition between reality and fantasy: “You are my new reality/And everything before was just a fantasy/Princes lost their charm/Now I found my diamond heart.” A diamond here isn’t just about “real love” or authenticity but also hints again at this idea of love as augmenting your sense of self … there is also a third meaning in “diamond” that will be VERY easy for friends to figure out.

In terms of the actual music, “Diamond Love” is intended to be like a slowed down Katy Perry song, meaning very hooky and sing-able … and actually you’ll hear a lot of group vocals in the pre-chorus and chorus. The harmonies might seem simple on the surface, but there are actually some complicated chords that help to elevate the seriousness of the concept. I hope you have a fun time listening and singing along to this song!

Behind The Music: “You’re Gonna Hurt”

As a former English major and forever book nerd, I sometimes get song ideas from what I’m reading. I never liked poetry in college, but when I graduated I went into this six-month phase of only reading poems … a frenzy which was likely due to my newly shortened attention span and a bad breakup. And indeed on my first album, a Yeats’ poem inspired the song “Even Lovers Drown” about a mermaid drowning her own lover, which in a nutshell is about the death of my former relationship.

A little over two years ago, my mom gave me an anthology of early 19th century “love poems,” which was kind of a misnomer because even the happiest poems often had violent imagery as a way of showing the vulnerability of relationships. One poem was by Lord Byron and it contained a very disturbing verse in which the narrator’s heart is cut into pieces and a picture of his lover rests inside. Shortly after reading these lines, I found myself in a cab with my current boyfriend driving past my ex’s old apartment. I hope this doesn’t sound like “Sex and the City,” but I couldn’t help thinking of New York as a concrete graveyard in which each block a relationship had once lived and died. I was happier with my boyfriend than I had ever been with anyone else (Ed note: still am!) but I couldn’t help thinking how he could potentially become one of these tombstones.

My neuroses inspired the idea for “You’re Gonna Hurt” which starts out with the narrator seeing the city as a cemetery: “I walk this street and hold my breath/This cold concrete is where the dead are put to rest/He grabs my face gives me a kiss/This city grave we’re laying in is hard to dismiss.” The pre-chorus and chorus continues this idea of her new lover’s looming “ghost” status, and the narrator’s fear that confessing her love will lead to his death … or her own. There’s a purposeful ambiguity to the hook “you’re gonna hurt” because I wanted to show that when a relationship ends, both sides potentially suffer.

By the bridge, the protagonist shakes her fear and decides that confessing love is worth the risk of “death” or the loss of love. It’s here also that I reference the Byron line, only when her body is being probed, she feels proud for having loved rather than violated or broken: “When I die/And the doctors know not why/And my curious friends cry/They’ll probe each part/And cut up my heart/And find a picture of you inside.” Adam Stoler, who co-produced and co-wrote the music with me, had the idea to use Baroque counterpoint and voice leading in the harmony and background vocals. This technique brings the song back to Byron’s time and has this really punchy, haunting quality. My drummer Adam Christgau and cellist Dana Leong also play more militaristically here to drive home the glory of her “death” in love.

Although “You’re Gonna Hurt” is inspired by a poem, at its core the song is about the vulnerability we feel at the start of a new relationship. I hope you relate to the story in the lyrics, and that you also shake your fear of getting hurt.  

Behind The Music: “Tunnel Vision”

Someone said in an interview this week that the songs on my new album fall into three general categories: humor, love, and dream. “Tunnel Vision” is an example of the latter, but it’s also more about the space between dream and reality or the struggles we face in trying to pursue our passions. Initially, I wrote this song about trying to make it in the music industry and wanting to be acknowledged by jaded executives who often overlook indie acts in favor of YouTube or reality TV stars. As I started digging deeper into the writing process, however, I realized the idea of “tunnel vision” could have much broader implications of feeling ignored in other relationships.

One of my character flaws is that I care way too much about what others think of me and will relentlessly try to impress or help negative people. One of the reasons I love songwriting is that I can take on another persona or attitude that I don’t have in real life. In “Tunnel Vision,” I carry myself in this sassy, over-confident way and have this “I don’t give a f&*!” attitude. That said, the song is intended to be inspirational, not mean-spirited, with the choruses becoming an anthem for self-reliance. “Tunnel Vision/Blind ambition/You don’t see that I could be/A bridge for you/You burn, you lose/I know I’m no celebrity/Ooo but I got shades over my eyes/I got tunnel vision sight.” Rather than feeling disempowered, the character realizes that she has the strength to succeed within herself.

One of my favorite Spanish verbs is “sobrevivir” which literally translates to “survival” but has a deeper meaning of rising above. I hope when you listen you don’t just think of that one person you want to recognize you, but about how little that person matters in the scheme of things. You are stronger than you know, and I hope this song helps you tap into that power.  

Behind The Music: “High Tide”

About two years ago when we had been dating a few months, my boyfriend and I took a trip to Costa Rica and tried surfing for the first time. Our “instructor” Lolo was this crazy French ex-pat who had just recovered from a kiteboard blade cutting six inches deep into his lower back, and who kept referring to our feet as “fingers” … which, as you can imagine, made understanding his instructions difficult. After a grueling ninety-minute lesson with Lolo, we decided to ditch our boards and swim since that would be “easier.” However, about five minutes later we found ourselves caught in an undertow during high tide on one of Costa Rica’s rockiest beaches.

What I remember most about that moment was not a feeling of fear over the waves rising higher – though sure, we were a little afraid –but mostly a feeling of excitement as we devised a plan to get back to shore. There was something oddly romantic about being caught in a wave that could kill us, and when we did make it back to shore safely, I couldn’t stop thinking about the parallels between undertows and relationships.

I had heard other songs about “undertow” which took on the negative meaning of drowning in someone’s love or getting hurt in a relationship. In “High Tide,” I wanted to reflect on the positive connotation of feeling caught in love. “Love, hits me like a wave, trapped under your gaze it’s hard to speak or breathe or move.”

You might notice that every verse starts out with one word “Love,” “Help,” “Wait,” “Stay” held out long in an almost fearful tone, and then is followed by a longer phrase with a melodic contour that moves up and down like a wave. My intention in writing the melody this way was both to convey the ocean metaphor, and also to have the second line be this calm, warm presence that washes over the fear and vulnerability we feel falling in love.

I had a lot of fun writing this bridge because this is a point in which that fear and need for an answer comes back in: “Tell me now, if you wanna leave, part your seas and let me go/Tell me now if this is gonna be, stay right here make me your own /Tell me now, let me know ….” My amazing drummer, Adam Christgau, plays more bombastically here which is a nice contrast to the lighter, shimmery feel in the rest of the song. In this moment, the wave is rising and the protagonist needs to know if she should give in to love.

For those of you who are neurotic when it comes to love, or for those of you who just really like ocean waves, this song is for you!