By Nicholas Jason Lopez
It started innocently enough with an acoustic cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Summertime” at the eighth grade talent show and has now led to what can be proudly proclaimed as Abby Huston’s “AH HA” moment.
The namesake of their sophomore LP is out now via Egghunt Records and falls somewhere between alt-indie/folk and easy listening, as the non-binary Richmond, Va.-based songwriter can easily be compared to artists like Raveena, Men I Trust and Kate Bollinger, yet with a different twist, through introverted singles like “Apartment,” “Higher,” “Promise,” “Flowerland” and “Unrequited.”
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Huston about ‘AH-HA’ and more.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your new album?
Abby Huston – I’ve really spent a lot of time in music so far trying to be comfortable. From the start, I’ve played to grow a comfortability beyond myself, so I’ve played a lot of shows where I didn’t accept myself and I still feel that way sometimes. To talk to people who have shown up to be there for me through music over time keeps me going. I love participating in the community of people here trying to heal with music. Lately, it’s been necessary to recognize the ways I am being supported and to give that reverence. When I made these songs, I was spending time with more songwriters than I ever had before, so I was crying happy tears regularly. I could say names of people locally I idolized, but I might embarrass the ones I would name. My goal was to continue participating in an area that inspires me. The title ‘AH HA’ refers to reflections I have about my understanding of myself, thinking back to feelings I’ve held since I was a kid. “A” and “H” were written on each drum stick of mine from when I was in band in middle school. I was emotionally untalented for fear of being untalented in band and choir. Emotionally, it still can be difficult to record, so feeling like I was receiving support from of a small group of songwriters is why these songs came to be an album.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Abby Huston – I’m most excited to be vulnerable with myself when I’m writing a song. That’s why I joke that it’s contemporary emo, but that’s also because I hate genres, so I hope to take on only a joke one. It’s taken me a while to feel that I can play guitar and I still don’t totally understand music, so I try to make it work in the nicest way I can find to play it and I love that feeling. I’ve been learning faster than I ever have the past couple years and it’s been largely in self-talk and good company. The style of music it was produced in I can’t call mine. It’s very much a Cameron Smith production with feature musicians. He’s produced for a handful of my favorite local artists and basically has been my manager since I started, guiding me through the world of music as he knew it. Through him studying music at VCU is how I met Nathanael Clark and through him, the Gary twins. Cam and Nate both studied saxophone and I love how both of their styles stamp and sticker the album. I’ve been a fan of Ryan and Alec on bass and drums together through every band they’ve had in Richmond, so it’s been an honor to have them and Nate on the album. The three of them grew up together in Woodbridge. I got to play some guitar and omnichord on this album, which meant a lot to contribute my abilities as an instrumentalist for the first time. In production was summoning a combination of softness and brashness. Alec and Ryan brought grounded and EMF protected vibes, Nate embodied the fruit of his labor in a voice and Cam held down pop town.
Music Bugle – What was the moment that made you want to become a musician?
Abby Huston – I can’t say a moment. I’ve had a building desperation to be a musician my whole life. It really built from trying to hold myself back from it, getting psyched out until moments that felt were my chance to be heard. I’ve always sung when I’m alone. I love singers. Guitar is my body and my voice is my heart, but I’m working towards switching those for the practice. My dad played guitar and when I was really little, I wanted to be just like him in a lot of ways. He’s also a huge local music fan, so I can’t remember a time alive when he wasn’t telling me details about about some musician he thinks is cool. He’s always made it very clear he thinks making music is really cool and that it’s a possible path for all types of personalities. He’s one of first people to tell me not to believe people who say I need to be loud to have presence and it really has helped me stay true to myself. Oddly, as I’ve been getting more and more into my local people, he’s gotten really into Neil Young and Tom Scharpling podcasts, but it may be because his local underground couldn’t stay underground. He introduced me to Snail Mail at a DC house show when she was only a high schooler with a Bandcamp EP. He’s not connected. Like, we couldn’t talk to Lindsay Jordan now – I’ve tried, in 2017, I think I was weird – but he keeps up with local people and has wanted to inspire me through them. I imagine the DC scene is as supportive as Richmond’s in that way. My mom, as always, let me know when she wants to hear me when I have reacted in embarrassment to being heard. I still don’t play in front of them unless they come out to a show, but I don’t know if there’s a number of times I can play before it stops feeling like revealing my private space and as much as I have love for them, I’m not, like, sharing these feelings directly to family often. I hope they read this.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Richmond, Virginia to someone who has never been there before?
Abby Huston – Richmond is a place I’m still learning, so I don’t know that I’d feel complete to talk about it, but I have a deep love having been rooted here. I continuously have a new understanding of myself and have met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known in Richmond just in the past six years. The creative community alone blows my mind.
Music Bugle – What’s something that you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
Abby Huston – I’d really like to see more women and non-binary people producing. The statistic for the gender ratio is ridiculous and in my experience, telling of the understanding they have of themselves in the world. Self-deprecation runs in my family. It’s difficult for me, but I feel most true to myself when I can accept myself enough to just make something. No beating myself down saying, “I’m not good enough, I never will be,” prolonging. I still haven’t stuck to anything I’ve recorded by myself, but I feel it building to be my next desperation. I feel like I can lose a part of myself. It’s what the song “Higher” is about for me.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Abby Huston – I’ve always wanted to be able to write like Nai Palm, so I’m well alive for the Hiatus Kaiyote album that came out this summer. 10k.Zuri has also been on repeat. She’s incredibly talented and I especially admire that in the way she has the talent of someone much older. A young royal on the rise in Richmond. So many people I love put out EPs this year too – Benet, Jason Jamal, Catie Lausten and singles from E. 33rd and Adi GuerrerX. Billy Capricorn always gets me with the ‘Out Of Love’ volumes, Yajirobe dropped two mixtapes this year, the Ty Sorrel and Tron Javolta collab was educational and now, N.A.S.A. Jacket has me very curious what else Tribe.95 has planned. McKinley Dixon made an album that was as powerful and rich as ever. I was blown away by what I’ve seen from iami collective this year too, together and individually.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Abby Huston – My friend Cree comes to mind right away, because they’re consistently overflowing with wisdoms. “It doesn’t have to be like that” hit me in a way that really carries with me, so it’s quoted in “Higher.” Ryan told me he thinks my discomforts are because I’m fairly new to living and that before, this we were all stars. Once, someone told me that I embody the color yellow.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for by the end of 2021?
Abby Huston – I really hope people buy the album! I’ve never sold a psychical thing I’ve made, so I’m really excited the record exists. Also, I’m struggling to detach from imagining the people who buy it all will be people who are very sweet to me and have love for me. I’m excited to be reminded of who is there on the back end of the orders, but I am hearing my social media addiction in the way I want to see exactly who is supporting me. I also have misplaced my record player in a breakup, so I truly understand not having one. I will be illegally burning two CDs for my grandparents, but with this release, there are people aside from me, mostly Cameron and people at the label, watching the numbers, listening, so thats a little intimidating. I just hope to find that my shoes are the right size on me. I’m trying to be candid, but I am hearing myself and hearing how self-love is truly a practice I am working out. I hope to be more grounded in love as the year finishes. It can be so difficult getting out of practice, but I see that everything follows.
Music Bugle – What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Abby Huston – Mustard lover.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Abby Huston – I like to sit in the sun. I don’t identify as a outdoorsy person, but direct sunlight has always felt like God. When I learned about Egyptian Gods as a kid, I started worshiping the sun, but the wind has taken my attention more for a while now.
*Photo Credit – Ryan Gary*