Welcome to Friend Report.
Friend Report is a newsletter by me (Lena Singer) about the projects, work, and lives of people I know and love IRL. This is the first edition. New editions will come out on Thursdays. Twice a month. I think.
I can guess that a reaction to this project might be, “Why would an adult spend her free time in 2017 being all, ‘Hey, guuuys! Here are my friends!’ when democracy and so many communities are under attack?” That would be fair. The work there has to be done first. At the same time, I haven’t found a better way to feel that maybe we’re not hopelessly fucked than asking myself, “Who is here to love?” and seeing people like the ones you’ll read about in this newsletter turn to face me. Friend Report is my fanzine/celebrity rag/love letter about, for, and to them.
In this edition: Demian Kogan (an organizer), Ogechi Anyanwu (a designer), Ally Burque (a therapist), and Anonymous CEO (an anonymous CEO) tell us what they’ve been getting into so far this June. Then songwriter, book lover, and karaoke slayer Maura M. Lynch talks about her music project, Blush. Read on, friend.
“So...what are you into these days?”
“The weed strain Super Lemon Haze, which is a sativa strain. It’s really amazing for focusing and for getting tedious things done, but in such a joyous, delightful way. I use it when I need to do something that I would rather poke my eyes out with forks than do—like taxes, or cleaning out my sock drawer. I find that it takes about 30 percent longer to do said task with the strain in my system, but I have such an amazing time. The last time I was sorting receipts, I started really looking at the paper quality, and the dot patterns, and which ones said ‘thank you’ and how they were laid out. I really appreciated receipt design after that.” —Anonymous CEO, a source who may blaze but whom I will never burn.
“I just started a garden. My parents always had a garden growing up but it’s not something I felt confident in. It’s a new thing for me. It gets me up early in the morning. I’ll get some sun tea and go and water the plants and just look at them and see them growing. I’ve got kale. I’ve got tomatoes. I’ve got arugula, peppers, petunias, begonias, succulents, watermelon, some muskmelon, and sunflowers. It’s so crazy the way plants are all so different, and the way they react to the time of day you water them. The garden is this living, breathing thing I’m really excited about. It’s turned into a project that’s really inspiring.” —Ogechi Anyanwu, who makes gorgeous leather goods under the name Eye of the Sun. She has a new collection coming soon that I cannot wait to see/buy/use every day.
Bonus! Here’s Ogechi’s recipe for sun tea: Grab a giant Ball jar and add two bags of Rooibos Honeybush and one bag of jasmine green tea, for a little caffeine. Fill with water, then cover the jar with a paper towel and secure that with a rubber band. Set it outside in the sun. At noon or one-ish, it’s ready to go.
“Bunny Michael is a young person with an Instagram account that has this really deep way of exploring how to get in touch with your higher self. They very quickly, very succinctly, very concisely, and very spiritually get into how to turn everyday problems into lessons on growing more deeply, on a personal level. They take it seriously, but not too seriously. I love that they are so young and so wise.” —Ally Burque is a therapist, community builder, and vision boarder who helps her friends find their higher selves.
“[My son] Oggie has been watching this really cool British cartoon called Sarah & Duck. The animation is very beautifully drawn. And the type of humor—like, Oggie likes it as a three-year-old. But there are very subtle things that are sort of Wes Anderson-y that are also really funny. Overall it’s just a very good experience. The other funny thing is how Oggie has acquired kind of a British accent because of it. Every once in a while he’ll be like, ‘Shall we go outside?’ So that's cute.” [Editor's note: It’s really cute, and you can listen for yourself here.] —Demian Kogan, friend since U. of Illinois ’00 freshman orientation and Director of Organizing for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). Speaking of, a message from ICIRR...
Illinois residents: Can you take 30 seconds to call Governor Rauner and ask him to sign the TRUST Act? ICIRR is trying to drive 2,000 calls into the governor’s office and could use your help. If the bill passes, Illinois will have the strongest protections in the country against Donald Trump’s deportation agenda. Right now the odds are 50/50 that he won’t veto the bill, and these calls could tip the scales.
It is super simple. Here’s what you do:
1. Call Governor Rauner’s office at 312-814-2121.
2. Say something like, “Hello, my name is ____. I am an Illinois resident, and I am calling to ask that Governor Rauner sign the Illinois TRUST Act, SB-31. Will you pass this message along to the Governor?”
3. Report your call here. This part is key so ICIRR knows how many calls are being made. Thank you!
Maura Lynch is the boss of Blush.
Maura M. Lynch is a musician, photo-taker, writer, and editor. She and Jinnie Lee run a blog about books called STET and write a monthly books column for W. Whatever she sings at karaoke becomes my new favorite songs, which might explain why I’ve been listening to so much Oasis and Sheryl Crow. (Not that I’m mad.)
Since 2009, she’s been writing and recording songs as Blush, and some time soon, hopefully this year, she’s releasing an album. This Friday, June 16, Maura—with Andy Chugg, Jon Campolo, and Nick Campolo—will play as Blush at Brooklyn Bazaar. I wish I could be there. Instead I called her up last Sunday to talk. Mostly about Blush, but a little about Millennial Pink too.
LENA: So today I set up a Twitter for Friend Report and it doesn’t have anything in it. I assumed no one would see it until I did something to it. I’m not even following anyone. And within an hour, Jinnie followed me. I was like, “How did you find it?!”
MAURA: Yeah, how did she find it?
I don’t know! Then I was like, “Oh shit, I should have thought about all of this before”—had images ready to go in case someone followed. I never in a million years thought that would happen.
I did the same thing with my Facebook page for Blush. I was like, “Oh, I guess I should do this.” And I didn’t send it to anyone. But somehow someone found it and liked it, and if one person does then other people will [see it]. I mean—it doesn’t really matter. It’s friends. But I was like, “Ughhh, all this quote-unquote branding you have to do.”
Well, the video [for your June shows] looks great on Instagram. I tried to repost it and then couldn’t figure out how.
[Laughs] I can send it to you, too, if you want.
I mean, my 10 followers—I’ll tell them to go see your show.
[Laughs] “Go check her out!”
Yeah! So, want to talk about Blush?
Uh-huh. Let’s do it.
What is Blush?
Blush is the name for songs that I write.
So you think of it more as a project and not yourself?
Yeah. It probably came about when I was making music at home by myself and then exporting the songs from GarageBand to iTunes and being like, “Well, I don’t want it to be called ‘Maura Lynch’s Songs.’” So I came up with the name Blush for any song I wrote. Now I just call it “the project.” It’s this place where I’m free to make whatever I want.
When did you start recording those songs?
Probably—oh man. A long time ago. In, like, 2009 or something.
You predicted Millennial Pink, I think.
Ha! Oh yeah. I don’t think I predicted it. You know—and this is going to sound really dorky—it’s the color of The Royal Tenenbaums poster...
...and I think that’s what started Millennial Pink.
Is that why you chose Blush?
I just liked the color. The name Blush—I don’t remember where it came from. But I’ve used that color whenever I’ve needed a website or a Tumblr, or whatever.
So you were in another band at the time…
And what was it called?
It was called Darlings. Darlings started my senior year of college because my boyfriend at the time was making music with Matt [Solomon] and Peter [Rynsky]. I had made some recordings on my computer, not even called Blush or anything. I guess I told them about [the songs], and they were like, “Well, we’re making a band, and you should be in it.” And I was really freaked out and didn’t want to. Then I finally I did. We played our first show, I think the month we graduated college? I didn’t start writing the Blush songs until I’d been in that band for about two years.
At the time, how was a Blush song different from a Darlings song?
Darlings songs were mainly written by Peter, the singer. It was our project together, but in a lot of ways it was Peter’s project. But I was never really saying, “Hey, I wrote a song! Let’s all learn it and play it.” Darlings was kind of like, more a dude band in a way. A lot of my songs felt more feminine, and I wanted to sing them. There was that separation. And I was probably too nervous to say, “Hey, this song is good enough for us to learn and play.” It was a little bit different sound. I did share them with them from time to time, and they were always super encouraging. They weren’t like, “Ugh, this sucks!”
It’s funny you say that because the sound is similar, in a way. It’s really poppy and pretty. Though I don’t know that I would have ever defined Darlings as “a dude band” from the outside.
But I am glad that Blush became its own thing.
I felt nice to have something that was just mine to work on. I liked having my own thing.
You started recording the songs in 2016. What made you decide to record?
As I was writing them, I was recording them on my computer as demos. There were always little recordings swimming around. But the decision to record them for real—I don’t know. Darlings ending [in 2015] and also taking a little time to be in Beverly, another band, and seeing what it was like to get out of my comfort zone of Darlings, I felt ready. I missed playing music, and I liked the idea. Maybe I had enough confidence to be like, OK, I’m going to give this a try. And I had the support of friends who were excited to collaborate, too. That helped. Honestly, I don’t even remember how I told [anyone] about Blush. I had a Bandcamp and put everything on there. I remember one day—actually Greg Hermann G-chatted me and said, “I have this new favorite band,” and I was like, “Really? Who are they?” and he started typing the lyrics to a Blush song.
And I was like, “You’re such a creep! How did you find that?” [Laughs] But having the support of friends who said, “You should do this”—I needed to hear that. Then on my birthday, not this year, but last year, I told Andy [who’s an audio director and producer], “I want to record the Blush stuff, and I want to do it with you.”
Now that you have a collection of songs that are ready for an album, do you hear any themes?
Yeah. They’re really sad, I think. [Laughs] I am a much happier person now, and a much older person than I was when I wrote those songs. Especially the oldest ones. They’re the most romantically confused.
What’s an example?
Uh, this song called “Just Kidding.” I don’t know. It feels so dorky to talk about what a song means, but that song was about giving someone another chance who didn’t really deserve it. The songs that were written later on feel a little truer to me now [...] but I have to be honest, I don’t really think about the lyrics that much.
When you write?
Yeah. I am a lyrics person when I’m listening to music, but before anything I care about the vibe. When I’m listening to a song, the mood is what I’ll remember more than lyrics.
What do you like about writing by yourself?
I really like the freedom of no right or wrong answer. I like that it’s a very intuitive, gut thing. There’s no one telling me that my ideas are wrong except for me. And so it’s very freeing. It’s a situation I can step into where I am very confident in my taste.
What do you like about collaborating?
I get a lot of energy from collaborating, for sure. With the right people, it’s a really beautiful, safe place to have fun and build off ideas. Especially with the boys in Blush. They’re all such good musicians, and so they bring a lot of good ideas.
Does it feel like you’re the boss?
Yeah, kinda. [Laughs] I’ve never felt that way before. And I actually don’t really feel that way anywhere in my life. It’s nice. Like, in a low-key way.
What’s it like being the boss of Blush?
The Blush-boss? It’s really good. I have very respectful collaborators. The only thing that is tough, for me, is that I don’t have the drive to make a band my life, you know? Quit my job and pursue a music career. And that can make being the boss kinda hard because when it comes to bigger decisions, like what are we going to do with the record, I don’t have as much drive to—maybe drive’s not the word, but I like the process part better. So being the boss means that I get to say, “Yes, we’ll keep that part,” or, “Let’s do it another way,” and my opinion is heard, which is nice. But I’d like to think that everybody’s opinion is heard in Blush.
You’re not interested in getting famous?
I don’t know, what is being a famous musician these days—
—if you’re not Katy Perry. And it doesn’t seem very fun to be Katy Perry. Maybe like 10 years ago, or eight years ago—yes. It would have been my dream to quit my office job and go on tour and have being a musician be my life. But now I thrive off of having multiple things going on, and having music be this special place where I can just have fun.
Yeah, that’s something I admire about you, which is that you do so much. You’re really prolific.
I honestly feel really lazy.
I don’t know how!
’Cause I, you know, like to stay home and watch TV a lot.
I think that’s success. If you can have a full-time job…
...have a music project, run a site about books, do a monthly column for W, and still have time to consider yourself lazy? That’s the life.
Thanks, Lena. That puts some things into perspective.
[Laughs] I need all these weird balances. I noticed that when I wasn’t playing music at all, and was just going to work every day, I was grumpier. When I had something to look forward to after work, I mean—work is the thing I think about the most, and my role at work, and who I am at work, what it means in my life. A lot of times at work, I don’t have ton of confidence, or feel sure that I’m doing the right thing. I don’t really feel like a boss, you know? So it’s nice to have something where it’s like, “Ahhhh, exhale. This is just fun.”
And it’s all yours.
Yeah! It’s miiiine!
I don’t think I have any other questions, unless you want to talk about anything else?
Hmmm. I don’t think so. This was fun!
This is what I would do to people all the time, if they let me.
Oh my god! You should.
But I think it makes people really uncomfortable, to interview them.
Doing it over the phone is easier. I bet if we were in person, I’d be a lot more nervous.
Yeah, I’d be like, “Tell me everything about what I want to know!”
It does almost require a little loosening up.
It’s like going on a date with your friend. ☮
This interview was edited for length and clarity, and so that no one knows how often Maura and I say “like” and “yeah.”
This edition’s FRIEND illustration is by Andrew Mosiman, singer and guitarist for The Hecks. They’re playing at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on July 21. Just FYI.
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