Best Ex - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mariel of Best Ex. We discussed the writing and recording process for upcoming album ‘With a Smile’, exploring thoughts and feelings about the pandemic, a favorite lyrical moment from the album, releasing vinyl with Iodine Recordings, and more. Check it out below. 

First, thanks for the interview.

Thank you!! 

You recently announced your new album With a Smile. Can you tell me about writing and recording the album?

Yes! I'm so excited for the album. I first started writing intentionally for the album about two years ago. Before that, I was just sort of sitting inside in the pandemic, in isolation, figuring out what to do next. I wrote loads of songs, most of which will never see the light of day. My last EP, Good at Feeling Bad, came out in a tough place. It was the midst of lockdowns and Black Lives Matter protests, and we were all glued to the news. I just couldn't bring myself to say, like, "Hey listen to my silly little love songs while people are dying." It felt so unimportant. It was so unimportant comparatively, so I just quietly put it out there. I think a lot of people didn't realize I was still making music because they missed it, and I kept a couple of those unreleased songs in my archives I wanted to put out there. 

One day over the summer of 2021, my friend Gary from Sound Acres Studio asked if I wanted to come and record something. I hopped in my car and drove down to south Jersey to record a song I wrote in like December 2019 (you know what happened right after that). I didn't know what I'd use the track for, but not long after, Iodine Records reached out to me and asked if I wanted to make my first Best Ex full length. When I don't know what to do, I can always count on the Universe to guide me. From there, it was game on.

I had the chance to listen to the album. I really like how you have some songs that are very bright and upbeat and at the same time deal with heavier lyrical themes. Can you tell us about your headspace while writing these songs?

I think that through so much of the writing process, I — along with the world — was desperately trying to heal from our collective trauma. Like in the midst of writing what would become the album, I found myself falling in love. I'd go on these bike rides with my partner, and we'd ride past the temporary morgues in Central Park. It felt so weird. Like were we just supposed to move on? People are dead in front of us, they haven't even buried the bodies, and I'm here dating? And people are just going to work? Sitting outside laughing at cafes? I always knew, but I never really felt, the way the world just moves on no matter what happens. I think these feelings really shaped the way the album sounds and the lyrical themes.

What do you think the overarching theme or themes are for the album? 

This album is largely about the pressures society puts on women to smile through pain, injustice, love, loss, and uncertainty. There's this double standard where women are expected to always be pleasant and grateful, lest they come off like too much of a nag, too controlling, too emotional. The patriarchy tells us that a good woman is a woman who quietly carries the consequence of the actions of the men around her. Of course, there are other themes that are more universal—like feeling scared with the state of the world, falling in love, or dealing with mental health issues. I think this is an album anyone can relate to because, at the end of the day, it's about being human.

One of my favorite songs is “The End." Can you tell me about writing that song? At what point in the writing process did you write it?

I can't exactly remember the point, but it was somewhere in the middle. The pandemic was still reaching new heights, even though we had discovered a vaccine. People packed out crowded restaurants in Manhattan, pretending like nothing was happening. Meanwhile, politicians on Twitter were spending their time lying for sport and emboldening the worst thoughts from the most cowardly, bigoted people in our society. The day I went into the studio, there was another school shooting. It was around the time Roe v. Wade was overturned. I decided to add church bells at the end, there. I think that's what the end will sound like. The people in charge will say they're praying for you, but they won't lift a finger to actually help. 

Do you have a favorite lyrical or musical moment from the album? Why? 

It's really hard to choose, but I think my favorite line may be in "Stay With Me." The line goes, "I sit and watch your tea as it brews, growing bitter as time persists, the awful trap we fall into, but I'd be lost without your sweetness." I think it's hard to look at a world with so much bad in it and not let it change you for the worse, but it's important to remind yourself that good still exists and the world can be beautiful.

You’re releasing the album on Iodine Recordings which is a new label for you. What made you decide to sign with them?

Despite the fact that I never played hardcore music, I've always been really connected to the DIY hardcore scene, particularly the one on the east coast. It always felt like a home to me because we share the same ethos—which is why I loved working with Bridge 9. Those are just my people. Iodine was the same. We felt cut from the same cloth, and I like how they curate their label not by the way a band sounds, but the values a band shares. 

They’re releasing a vinyl pressing for the album. The variant looks like it’s going to go really nicely with the artwork. Why did you choose that photo for the artwork and how much input did you have on the vinyl variant?

The artwork is actually entirely self-portraits. I thought it was important to capture myself in a raw way, and I don't even think I combed my hair in the cover shot. I literally just woke up with the right light, and ran to my tripod before the sun moved. I wanted it to reflect the few moments a woman would have alone, where they're free from the mask they put on for the world. That's why one side is set at nighttime (when the world is fast asleep) in dress clothes and makeup, presumably after going out to an event or something, and early morning (right before the world wakes up and starts asking things of us) with messy hair and an ill-fitting tank top. 

The vinyl matches both sides—with half orange (daytime) and half blue (nighttime). I know Iodine would happily give me creative control, but the variant was 100% their idea, and I think it matched the artwork really well, so it was a unanimous yes.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

I'd love for people to presave or preorder the album. Just give it a chance! Oh, and follow me on Instagram to stay in touch. I'm working on planning some live shows, and I'd love it if everyone who wanted to come could make it!

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