Since moving to New York, I’ve been introduced to a ton of local artists, both organically and at the hands of friends who’ve already been living here. In this new series of interviews, Grrrls in the Five Boroughs, I sit down with inspiring womxn and queer femme musicians based in New York City to discuss their personal connections to music, their communities, and their favorite local hotspots scattered across their neighborhoods in New York.
Standing in view of the fancy marquee stage lights in the main performance space at Union Pool, I watch in awe as Maggie Denning, frontwoman of the abrasive indie rock outfit Tetchy, dramatically emerges under soft pink, blue, and purple lighting (the bisexual colors). She sways, gyrates, screams, and whispers her painstakingly emotional lyrics, burrowing herself headfirst into the audience and oscillating between the demureness and sexually-forward ferocity of a panther on the prowl, ready to attack. Meanwhile, guitarist Jesse French thrashes about and bassist Kaitlin Pelkey plays it straight, plucking away at her cream-colored fender precision bass as she nods and sways her hips.
While the fluctuation between loud and quiet sonic output is undoubtedly a potent force in Tetchy’s discography, it’s Denning’s devastating lyrics traversing the physiological impact of trauma and her experience as a survivor, that really drive the impact home. “I wish I could do the work for you,” she pines on the song “Emotional Labor,” before twisting the knife as she laments, “but my workload is strangling me.”
I was immediately taken by Denning’s transparent writing from the moment I first heard Tetchy’s 2021 single “Backyard.” I cannot think of another song that so effectively captures the traumatic aftermath of an unbearable loss, while also alluding to the uglier parts of desire that so many young women are drawn to as a way to cope with societal conditioning and the pressure to always remain pure, clean, approachable, and put-together, even in the face of grief and trauma. And it’s this inner turmoil compounded with these conflicted emotions, that makes the collective urge to disappear into the metaphorical “dirt in our backyard” that “looks so cozy,” all the more appealing.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Maggie Denning of Tetchy to discuss the band’s intimate new collection of demos they composed during a weekly songwriting circle, emotional processing, and taking pride in wearing her emotions on her sleeve.
How and when did you start making music and what made you want to continue?
I started writing songs when I was a kid. I used to sing in my backyard and I remember my neighbor coming over one day, and I thought I was about to get in trouble cause I was singing really loudly. And my neighbor walked me up to my front door and when my mom opened the door, she said, “Your kid can really sing!”
That was a real eye-opening moment. Singing has always come naturally to me. When I was in middle school I started writing, but I didn’t realize that music was where I wanted to spend my time and energy until my late teens. I went to school for acting and screenwriting, so I knew that I wanted to do something creative. I ultimately went with music because that was where I found the most freedom, where I could feel like I was creating something from the ground up. I started out playing a lot of solo pop a decade ago, and I played in a few bands as a backup singer, but I was always itching for something more. I wanted to do something heavier— something that really gave life and sound to my big, messy feelings.
Tetchy came to fruition when Jesse and Dylan and our friend Stevie all decided we should give this band thing a shot. I was so honored that these three incredible musicians were down to work with me and transform my songs into what I envisioned them to be. I’m self-taught on guitar and it’s taken me so many years to overcome that impostor syndrome. I’ve only just recently come to a place where I’ve shed those insecurities and allowed myself to take up space with my playing. My way of thinking has also recently done this massive 180– turning away from fear and shame and running towards presence and pleasure. And it’s especially powerful to tap into these new modes of thinking and being when I’m writing and playing on stage.
When you decided to start a project, what was your vision at the time, and how did that lead up to the formation of Tetchy?
My vision for Tetchy has always been to cultivate a liberating, emotional output. It’s also about making something that feels real. I’m a highly emotional person and definitely bring that to just about everything I make. The way I write has always been super personal and intimate. It kind of helps me to release the feeling and then look at it within these head-on, interrogatory contexts of collaborating with my bandmates and then performing & processing with the scene. There’s such liberation in working through anger, working through grief, working through trauma, misogyny, homophobia, and all these different structures that can make you feel so trapped.
My mission has also always been to make it a collaborative project, where we take these bones of songs and then have everyone do what they want & feel with them. We always try to avoid preciousness in the writing process. I had never fronted a band before Tetchy, so I didn’t really know how to talk about drum parts or production ideas or any of that stuff. But over the years I’ve learned the language and gotten better at articulating my own ideas. This is in large part thanks to my incredibly skilled and thoughtful bandmates— especially Jesse French, who is an absolute genius when it comes to communicating about sound. I can’t really say how much I’ve learned from them about writing & recording with feeling, taste, and freedom. Everyone in Tetchy has shaped (and continues to shape) this project into its tender, liberated beautiful mess of a form.
Your band bio says “very very loud and very very quiet.” Where does that juxtaposition stem from?
A lot of my favorite music does that. And that’s also how I see a lot of these big feelings. I view moments of working through grief and trauma as these moments to ride into the eye of the storm, to sit in it, and to allow whatever you’re feeling to guide you into the next moment. In Tetchy, I’m basically working through my emotions on stage, whether they’re bubbling under the surface, visibly imploding, or simmering back down again, and that’s a part of where the “loud and quiet” juxtaposition stems from.
I understand that the next batch of songs you’re releasing will be more intimate demos. Can you tell me a little about these new songs and how they came to be?
This year has been a ridiculously special (and very unique) year for me, creatively— I’ve written over 30 songs. I started a “Song-a-Week” club with a lot of people in the community back in January, and it’s actually still riding on! So that’s where all of these new songs are coming from— weekly peeks into a time of very massive personal change for me. And I feel like these songs have both reflected and also inspired a lot of the internal growth I’m experiencing— there’s been a lot of big work to explore & uplift my sexuality, my gender, and to process what it means to love and listen to myself fully. It’s been really special to have these songs acting as little private diaries in some moments, and then massive catalysts for change and growth in others.
What are the most prescient themes running through this new upcoming EP?
It’s about taking up space. And it’s about the love and the loss that come with that new space. A lot of these songs are about the pain of leaving older versions of yourself behind, and the heartache of saying goodbye to the way things and people and relationships used to be. They’re about those feelings of wishing you could change things, or go back to things, but knowing in a deep and unmovable way that you just can’t. The songs were born from a place of trying to create a bigger, more free version of myself— I wanted to be in my body. I wanted to feel good there. And I wanted to connect and live and exist in a new way that I feel like I’d blocked off for years with internalized sex-shame and this idea of what it meant to be a ~good woman~.. So the upcoming EP is ultimately about the mess you end up making when you let yourself grow larger. The mess and the pain, but also the indescribable freedom to be found on the journey towards loving yourself.
Who are some of your favorite local artists in NYC that you’ve fallen in love with?
Jesse and Dylan’s project, King of Nowhere, is the absolute best. They’re not releasing material / playing out anymore, but their albums will give your life new meaning, I swear. GIFT and Joudy are also really taking me there lately— I have those new releases on repeat. Of course you also can’t go wrong with TVOD, Sharkswimmer, Pons, Stice, and Venus Twins. Venus Twins will rip your little brain to bits… Of course, you also need that good good Dead Tooth for when you’re ridin’ in your truest, most chaotic, ~Post-Punk Boy~ form. Definitely my favorite brand of more masculine rock that I have experienced in a long long while. (Maybe ever??) I also love OK Cowgirl and Debbie Dopamine for that tender, heavy-hitting magic-type songwriting. Helenor, Youbet, Katie Von Schleicher, Stephen Becker, and Market for the emotionally transcendent, pop-y but indescribably intelligent vibes. And finally, I want to give a shoutout to my favorite booking collective in the city, Booked by Grandma, who put on absolutely life-changing shows & events.
What have been your favorite things to listen to as of late?
I really love Magdalena Bay, because I’m such a sucker for some really top-notch, high-quality, sexy pop. I love Chappell Roan, Charli XCX, and I love the new Carly Rae Jepsen album of course. But I’m also getting into some heavier stuff like GEL, Soul Glo, etc. Also love the new Bobby Lees and Thus Love albums.
What’s one song you’ve written that you’re extremely proud of?
“The World” is a really special song, because I wrote it before my dad passed away. He gave me the nicest feedback on the song, and he thought the song could really touch people at different points in their lives. That song will always hold a special place in my heart because of my dad.
What does the new year have in store for Tetchy?
I’m really excited for 2023. We’ve got this very special, more intimate release coming up. And then some other releases & surprises that we’re really excited about as well. Also some bigger shows and touring! So, see you out there. 😈.
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