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.
As the go-to photographer and creative director for numerous musicians like Pom Pom Squad and Sir Chloe, Carina Allen — the creative force behind New York alternative pop outfit rlyblonde — is no stranger to the ways of the music industry. For someone as immersed in the local scene as herself, picking up the guitar was simply the next logical step.
But the transition wasn’t easy. As is common in the music-fan-to-DIY-musician pipeline, Allen had initially let her apprehensiveness hold her back from pursuing music, convincing herself she’d be more comfortable sticking to the moshpit over the stage, or behind the camera instead of in front of it.
But after moving to New York, attending at least six shows a week, and soaking up a well of inspiration from her creative circle, Allen found herself at a breaking point — both emotionally and creatively — where it no longer served her to put music on the back burner.
Last month, rlyblonde unveiled her debut single “Fantasy.” Paired with a killer Bachelorette-inspired music video where Allen gets so fed up with her prospective suitors that she flees the scene shredding on her crimson red strat in full runaway-bride regalia, “Fantasy” is a raging pop punk evisceration of modern romance and the superficiality of online dating (“Be your fantasy for tonight like you wanted / One in a million, but I could be anyone”).
rlyblonde caught up with A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents to discuss coming into her own in her late twenties, the value of DIY artistic communities in NYC, mental health, and more.
Can you pinpoint a certain time when the music community became a more prominent part of your life?
I’ve been working with musicians locally in NYC for a while now but once the world sort of re-opened after covid and live shows became a thing again, I started to feel this really strong tie to the artist community around me. I was so wildly inspired going out, and seeing live music almost every week, sometimes shooting the show and sometimes just for fun. There was something about being at a concert and having the artist wave to me from the stage that felt really special. I started to get recognized by 18-year-olds that were going to all the same shows as me and that felt really charming!!
In addition to playing music, you are also a seasoned photographer and creative director for numerous musicians. Did that provide a helpful foundation for you when you started making music?
Totally! I don’t think I would have had the courage to make my own music if I hadn’t been pushed and supported by other musicians around me. I kind of felt for a while like, ‘that’s not for me’ but everyone was very encouraging. Also, artistically, I feel like I sort of imagine every project as a fully-fledged piece. Song, music video, album artwork, photos, etc. I was very worried that I was coming to music way too late, but there’s no way I would have been able to approach it in this way, achieving the kinds of visuals I wanted, if I hadn’t already spent years building up both an amazing creative network and my own professional experience as a director, producer, and artist.
What led to the decision to put down the camera for a bit and pick up the guitar?
I think I just got tired of wanting something so badly but not doing anything about it. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I just didn’t have the skills yet to do it, so I re-taught myself how to play guitar again after not touching it for 8 years. I think I also just had a lot of emotions after a pretty rough period of my life that I didn’t have a place for. I wasn’t finding a way to express those feelings with photography, or I didn’t want to. I felt really creatively stifled overall. So, music was a super cathartic thing for me at the time, and it still is today.
You just released your debut single “Fantasy.” Could you tell me a little about the song and how it came about?
“Fantasy” is basically the culmination of years of romantic failures, heartbreak, frustration, boredom, etc., and finally just needing to yell about it a little bit. I just got to a point with dating men where I was like, what am I doing wrong? Like, this is just not working for me. I think I had to reach a breaking point to really stop and reconsider who I was attracted to, why I was limiting myself to men, what my idea of romance was, and why I was settling for a certain type of experience.
I’m very impressed with your seamless blend of melodic pop and gritty alternative instrumental textures on this song. How did this specific sonic direction formulate and gel for you?
Thank you! Honestly, it just was born out of all the music that I love to listen to. I love a lot of pop music; I love a lot of indie rock bands. I’m sort of having this late-in-life, pop-punk phase that sort of makes sense; I’m starting music at 27, I’m coming out as queer at 27. I feel like I’m in this rebellious phase of rejecting everything that everyone (including myself) has known about me for years. I found a lot of freedom in tapping into a sort of fun, in-your-face, gritty sonic world where I can be whoever I want to be.
I know from experience that living in New York as a creative can often be physically and mentally taxing. What makes it all worth it for you?
Honestly the community, the liveliness, the abundance of art and inspiration. I don’t think I’d be able to have the career that I do anywhere else… maybe LA. There’s something amazing about being able to enter the night with zero expectations and just see where life takes you. It’s kind of magical that way. It’s like opportunity is just around every corner if you can find it.
You just had your music video premiere at Heaven Can Wait. How did it feel to get to perform the song on the other side of it being released?
Oh gosh, it was really, really crazy!! I’ve been waiting for this day for almost two years now. I don’t think I’ve even really processed everything that I’m feeling about the release, the performance, etc. I was really nervous, and I still have moments of feeling really self-conscious about the whole thing. But all in all, it was really just a room full of my friends, family, and other amazing artists. Everyone had a good time and that’s really what it was about, just celebrating.
Do you have any specific mentors or friends in the local music scene (or even just favorite local bands) that you would like to highlight or shout out?
So much love to my producer Will (@invisiblewill) at Slide Studios. Also, just so grateful for my clients-turned-friends Jessa (@rufkmjessa), Rocky (@quellerox), and Matty (@iammattymarz), for really supporting and encouraging me through this whole thing. Literally, everyone who was on the crew for the “Fantasy” music video. My friend Bob (@picturemanbob) for setting up the cutest photo booth at the release show for everyone. And I always love a Sir Chloe (@sirchloe) & Moonkissed (@moonkissedmusic) show when they’re playing [here].
Any other exciting prospects you have in the works that you’d like to plug?
Next single & video will be coming soon! It’s called “Spiltmilk” and I wrote it for all the crybabies like me. And hopefully some more live shows are coming soon too…
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