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Chelsea Cutler on “Weaving Joy” Into Her Sophomore Album When I Close My Eyes

The singer-songwriter on her writing process and finding inspiration

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Chelsea Cutler Interview
Photo by Lauren Tepfer, Illustration by Steven Fiche

    “I’m the kind of person that’s always acted on emotion more than rationality,” Chelsea Cutler, wrapped in a cozy gray hoodie, is telling Consequence by Zoom.

    She’s in a hotel room after a long day of travel, the latest of many in her string of shows with Quinn XCII, and is in the midst of endorsing Taylor Jenkins Reid’s buzzy novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

    “I think as you start growing up, you realize acting on emotion isn’t always the best thing. Then I read this book and was like, never mind — emotions are great.”

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    Cutler is 24 years old, and her career thus far is proof of the idea that emotions are great — they’ve certainly been instrumental to the process of creating the songs that have drawn in so many listeners. Her debut album, How to Be Human, was released in early 2020. Her sophomore record, When I Close My Eyes, has now arrived — and if there was any pressure around releasing her follow-up, she’s not feeling it.

    “There were no expectations for a release date, so we just made music that we liked,” she explains. “At the end of eighteen months of quarantining, there was an album.”

    Cutler is part of an unofficial cohort of sorts of bedroom-pop peers: her frequent collaborators include Jeremy Zucker (who she partnered with for two EPs), recent tourmate Quinn XCII, emotional balladeer Alexander23, and producer and DJ Ayokay.

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    “It’s all been really organic, which is nice,” she says of this group of rising stars. “It all originates from us hitting each other because we’re each other’s fans, and we get along, and we want to make music together. It’s not any different from making a friend, really.”

    Cutler is holding her own in a space often dominated by male peers, and doing so in more ways than one. She produces a large amount of her own music in addition to writing, performing, and playing instruments. When it comes to women at the board, numbers are dismal — a 2020 study from the University of Southern California reported that just 2% of the people working in music production were women. “I didn’t know anyone who could produce for me, and I wanted to make music,” Cutler says.

    To that end, Cutler doesn’t seem naive about this reality, but she doesn’t seem discouraged, either. When considering what she might want to say to other young women looking to break into the industry, she pauses thoughtfully: “There’s going to be a lot of scenarios when you’re the youngest in the room. There’s going to be a lot of scenarios where you’re the only girl in the conversation.”

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    She explains that over the past few years, people have tried to silo her — trying to pin her as just a writer, hesitant to see her as a comprehensive artist and producer with a multifaceted skill set. “I’m so glad I didn’t listen,” she says with a smile.

    This industrious, I’ll-just-do-it-myself attitude has absolutely contributed to her ascent, yet she’s also maintained an ease about her. In conversation, she might as well be catching up with a friend over FaceTime, breaking down her experience with writer’s block (“It means I don’t have to work that day!”) and unlikely sources of inspiration (Tumblr and Pinterest).

    When I Close My Eyes covers a broad spectrum of topics, tapping into the experience of getting older, the trickiness and joy of interpersonal relationships, the power of gratitude, and a general perspective on life. Culter shares that this record uses real instruments on almost every track, rather than synthetic sounds. Her discography so far, despite its tendency to skew towards lyrical sadness, also has a hopeful undercurrent to it — and she insists that this is even more palpable in this next collection.

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    “There’s so much joy woven into it,” she says. Cutler seems to know that so much of the power in her music comes from being honest — both with herself and with her listeners. “I want people to feel a lot of things when they’re listening to this album.”

    After all, as she confirmed, emotions are great.

    When I Close My Eyes Artwork:

    When I Close My Eyes Artwork

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