"All who played on the album: Me and me alone," Elisa Flynn says about her latest album The World Has Ever Been on Fire. "All are real instruments except for the drums, which are programmed loops." Her dark indie pop is music made by a strong woman, with plenty to say, and a dazzling array of ways to express her vision. In the mode of idiosyncratic self-made music-perfectionists like John Vanderslice, Aimee Mann, and Lisa Germano, her voice and sounds are made for fanatic underground music lovers.
The World Has Ever Been on Fire was produced collaboratively with Arts and Rules."He took the tracks and worked on mixing them without me, then presented them to me as a series of ideas,"Flynn explains. "He was most interested in adding more intense dynamics than my recordings have had in the past. He comes out of the electronic music world, and so his approach was completely different than mine. Once he had a basic set of mixes and proposals about how he thought things should sound, we went back and forth and debated everything, then finalized them. He's itching to do a crazy dance remix of some of the songs in future. I'd love to do that."
Raised playing piano in Yonkers, NY, her life was changed by the visceral pop thrills of The Clash. She started getting her music out as a fated punk rock guitarist and noise-maven in experimental bands in NYC and Connecticut. The World Has Ever Been on Fire shows her applying those dynamic avant energies throughout its ten rock, dance, and folk songs that can't be tagged by a single genre.
It's this singular vision of apocalypse pop, played like a specter of the future through a mix of melodies and instrumentation from many different eras, that helps make it so intimately, strangely seductive. These are new murder ballads and love songs that sound both bracing and ancient, contemporary and urgent.
The album title The World Has Ever Been on Fire came from a chapter in Henry Miller's 'Stand Still Like the Hummingbird.' "The phrase 'the world has ever been on fire' stuck with me, and in my mind, it related to the song content," Flynn says. I often base songs or parts of songs on snippets or quotes in books."
The rocking and bass-looping opening track and first single is "Before He Went Down": "This is based loosely on a true story of someone I know whose partner had a psychotic break and thought he was Jesus. This is not unique! It's a break that many have had, and it fascinates me." It feels like a desperate confession of losing control on the knife edge of time.
Flynn had been processing her own broken relationship as she was creating the ten tracks for The World Has Ever Been on Fire. This study of relational damage and a loss of faith in both the personal and the spiritual is what Flynn has been obsessed with for some time. "Many of my songs, in general, skirt around and incorporate religious themes. I was raised Catholic, and even though I'm an atheist, I still use the imagery in my music and art."
Another key track the drum-driven album closer "Sugar" is an older song that she wrote about her first divorce. "It's about cutting and running, fear, negotiation, 'how can I change and get away' kind of thing," Flynn says. The imagery is starkly cinematic: "I cut my hair to undo you/to make you lose your grip on the ends of me. With the final strike of my knife you fall back/grasping at straws that fly away from me." The title and coda comes from a bastardized Shakespeare quote - "we sugar o'er the devil himself" - from Hamlet. The sound of the song evokes the best of femme noir post-punk, artists like Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Danielle Dax.
The quick, crisp, evocative minimalist guitar of "Syd" is ostensibly an ode to Syd Barrett, one of Flynn's freak heroes, "but it's 90% about me. It's another song about breaking up and rebuilding. That's what most of The World Has Ever Been on Fire is about. Burning it all down, setting my world on fire, cleansing, rebuilding."
As meticulously crafted as the album is with Arts and Rules, Flynn still prefers playing music live, "as that experience is the end-all. I love that live music is like live theater," she says. "Depending on the way you feel on a particular night, the audience, the weather, the drinks — every show is a different experience. It's both thrilling and occasionally a little scary, but I really thrive on it."
Flynn has played out live with well known artists like Damon & Naomi, Dean Wareham, Eileen Jewell, Lydia Loveless, and Melissa Ferrick. Beginning in 2012, she began producing quarterly events at the Way Station in Brooklyn, under the banner of Tripeg Lobo Presents. Each show is based on a theme, and a loyal cast of local musicians interpret each one by playing one cover song and writing one original. The World Has Ever Been on Fire should afford her many more opportunities to play out for larger artists, with its expansive palette of sound and drama she has worked so hard to create.