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 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.
In July 1982, the pioneering dream pop outfit Cocteau Twins released “Shallow Then Halo,” a nerve-raising paean about a wise woman harnessing the five elements of the earth to create new life. This course of action also applies to the New York City dance duo, Shallowhalo, who took their name from the aforementioned song. The world of Shallowhalo combines a multitude of mediums that stimulate the senses — striking visuals, otherworldly soundscapes, and an urge to connect, breathing a new life of substance and vitality into dance music.
Creating a universe that blends her love of fine art and fashion with dreamy, kinetic synthpop, Shallowhalo frontwoman Allyson Camitta found herself looking to innovative artists like Karen O and Cosey Fanni Tutti, who mastered the art of straddling sonic and visual mediums. Camitta was eventually recruited to play synths in Turtlenecked, a band fronted by New York musician, DJ, and nightlife connoisseur Harrison Smith (aka The Dare). Through playing live gigs and networking in her broadened music circles, Camitta was subsequently introduced to her current Shallowhalo bandmate Ezra Tenenbaum. After a series of 2020 jam sessions in the pits of quarantine, the duo eventually ended up with enough material to bring their 2022 debut LP, No Fun, to fruition.
The band’s newest single “Crystal Ball,” is an intoxicating dancefloor fever dream that fuses the transgressive pop of Chris and Cosey with the cold vintage Europop soundscapes of Kraftwerk, creating a tension-fueled, unsettling yet beautiful hallucinogenic sequence in the form of breathy vocals, rippling synths, and relentlessly catchy 808 kicks.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Shallowhalo’s Allyson Camitta to discuss her new material, throwing a Victorian fantasy rave, the indie sleaze revival, and more.
I understand that you started making music when you bought a korg mini synthesizer. What drew you to the synth in particular and what compelled you to take it home?
I bought that synth around five years ago when I first moved to New York and studied. I’ve always been a big music fan who would go to shows every night of the week. I always wanted to make music, but I didn’t know where to start. I grew up taking piano and violin lessons, and I learned how to read music, but never learned how to write it. So it just seemed like the next logical progression to start making my own music. And since I knew how to play piano already, the synth seemed like it would translate well.
You were recruited by Harrison Smith to play synth in his band Turtlenecked a while back. What did being a part of that specific group/process teach you?
Joining Turtlenecked definitely helped me build up my confidence. I’d never played in a band before, and I didn’t know many people in bands, which made it much harder [to break into that scene]. So when I met Harrison and he asked me to join Turtlenecked, I was really nervous because of my lack of experience. The way he pitched it was nice though, because he didn’t put any pressure on me. He just had a real hunger to create and was excited to put together a project, without mounting any high expectations onto it. But because it was someone else’s band, I still felt a lot of pressure to do a good job. The nice thing about Turtlenecked was that everybody was so easygoing, and that made it really fun to be a part of it. That taught me a lot [about navigating live spaces] and once I learned the songs it was [super easy to go with the flow]. So playing those first few shows really helped me get over that initial [apprehension].
When you and Ezra started working together, when did you both realize you had something special?
Ezra and I started making music together during the lockdown in Spring 2020. We were both getting heavily into analog synths at the time. He built up a synth collection and I bought a DX7, which is a more 80s-sounding keyboard. We just started jamming together and messing around with all these different synths, and at the time we weren’t thinking “Okay, we’re going to start a project.” It was a very natural progression that lead to a couple of songs that felt like they belonged together. So we eventually decided to expand on that, and started thinking in terms of creating an album or an EP. Then we wrote a bunch more songs, some that got scrapped, and a few others that made it onto the first album, No Fun.
Photo by Kaden Vannorsdel
Of all the songs you’ve released, which one has been the most challenging to write, and why?
There’s one song called “Kinetic Energy” that I wrote with a friend. Since it wasn’t initially meant to be a Shallowhalo song, I guess what made that song more challenging was figuring out how to make it fit into Shallowhalo world, since it didn’t sound as much like other songs that Ezra was more directly involved in.
When was the first time you saw another woman doing the type of stuff that you’re doing, and how did it affect you?
That person for me was Karen O. She’s like my holy grail and the sole reason why I got into music and fashion at such a young age. The whole world that she created was something that I wanted to be a part of so badly. I thought it was so cool that she worked with a personal designer, Christian Joy, who made all these [elaborate] costumes for her. Discovering Christian Joy inspired me to make clothes that were heavily inspired by her aesthetic. Seeing Karen O, such a powerful and confident presence on stage, was incredibly inspiring, and that definitely had an impact on how I pair music with fashion and the visual world in my own work.
How would you describe the world of Shallowhalo?
The world of Shallowhalo sucks you in, haunts you, hypnotizes you, and it’s built around community and inclusion. I want to bring all of these amazing people that I’ve met throughout my life together and curate one big dinner party. I also think about that when I collaborate with people too — filmmakers, photographers, dancers — combining all of these mediums together and creating something beautiful.
I said in an interview a few months ago that our vibe is basically a rave at a haunted Victorian mansion, and we recently turned that into a reality. Ezra and I rented an Airbnb upstate with a few artist friends of ours — Frost Children, May Rio, Big Dumb Baby, etc. — and we DJ-ed and had a little forest rave, which was cool.
Photo by Kelli McGuire
What have been some of the most interesting musical discoveries you’ve made recently?
Oh wow, there are so many. I’d say a big one is Gina X. She has this really strong and direct way of delivering her lyrics and is also in that world of club-inspired dance music. Alice Cohen is another great one. We released our latest single, “Crystal Ball” on Dinosaur City records, and that was how I found out about Alice Cohen, and I’ve had their recent album Moonrising on repeat ever since. Desire and Glass Candy are also great.
I also understand that you’re a really big fan of the mid-2000s indie sleaze culture. What is it about this particular resurgence that appeals to so many people, particularly now?
I think it has to do with people being cooped up at home for so long. A big part of that moment was going out, partying, getting sweaty, and this need for connection after a major American recession, which is happening again. Coming out of pandemic restrictions, people want to go into full-on party mode. So seeing people like Cobrasnake at parties where my friends are DJ-ing is awesome and surreal. I’m 100% behind this indie sleaze revival because I’m really inspired by a lot of the music that came out during that time. I actually just found my old iPod. And looking through that iPod library, I was really impressed with how fantastic my taste was back then. I was also on a lot of online forums too, always wanting to discover something new, and that hasn’t changed.
Who are some of your favorite artists in the city that more people should know about?
GRBGE_GRL, May Rio, Frost Children, The Dare, Test Subjects, Liam Benzvi, Slic, sadie. I could go on and on. There are so many awesome musicians in the local scene making incredible, [boundary-breaking] stuff.
Anything else to announce or plug?
We just put out our single “Crystal Ball,” and we have another single coming out in a few weeks. We’re planning a tour at the end of March with May Rio. We also have a ton of new music that’ll trickle out over the next year or so. Thank you for having me!
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