Original at Atwood Magazine here. Archived below.
Paul Hammer and Lauren Zettler of Savoir Adore discuss new album ‘Full Bloom’, growth, the pros & cons of streaming, and a great metaphor about drag shows.
Savoir Adore’s newest album, Full Bloom, is two parts savvy pop rock, one part melancholy. The newly minted creative duo behind Full Bloom, Lauren Zettler and Paul Hammer, work together in beautiful harmony, and their partnership flourishes on Full Bloom after having worked together on Savoir Adore’s previous album, The Love That Remains. The two sublimely showcase their partnership on the album’s opener, “The Hum,” where they harmonize with stripped away instrumentation and a resonant free-time exposition.
Hammer and Zettler met at shows around Brooklyn, and had a mutual respect before they ever began working together. Zettler had seen Savoir Adore, while Hammer had seen some of Zettler’s projects, and both operated in similar spheres of the Brooklyn scene. When they finally resolved to work together, it came together with remarkable fluidity.
Full Bloom tackles the competing energies of change and stagnation, ultimately blending them into a connected whole, neither of which would be complete without the other. Like the natural chemistry of Hammer and Zettler’s creative partnership, each has elements of the other and requires its counterpart to push forward and bloom.
Savoir Adore talked to Atwood about Full Bloom, growth, how streaming is scary and liberating at the same time, and a great metaphor about drag shows.
A CONVERSATION WITH SAVOIR ADORE
Atwood Magazine: Your new album Full Bloom just came out recently. I got a chance to listen to it and it’s a blast with some melancholia sprinkled throughout. We’ll get to those themes later, but for now tell me about how the response has been so far, how does it feel to have the album finished?
Paul Hammer: It feels good. It feels really good. We had been working on it for a long time, but we actually finished this record quicker than the last one. We were releasing the songs a little bit slower, so it was even more gratifying to get the full album out because everyone had already heard some of the songs live, some of the songs from earlier releases. So to finally have the full idea, the full concept out now is – it’s awesome.
Lauren Zettler: So this is the first record that I was involved in the whole thing, contributing 50% with Paul as a team. Because I was involved from day one and deciding how we were gonna release it and coming up with the concept we were gonna create, etc, the response felt super gratifying and exciting. Everything was so positive.
But yeah, Full Bloom is an awfully apt album to release at the beginning of April, not just because of the literal spring blooms, but because there’s this deep circadian sense that spring is a time for growth and change. A lot of the lyrics in Full Bloom reflect that, so do you maybe want to talk about where this focus on growth came from?
Hammer: There’s always this combination of throwing ourselves into this organic process of like, just let’s music and see what happens, but I think when we finished the song “Bloom” we felt, “this is a really strong and important idea to us.” The idea of transformation, the idea of growth and change and self-worth reflects very much where we are in our lives. We’ve been musicians now in so many different bands, our lives are changing constantly and we’re growing.
So when we finished “Bloom” we realized that this was a connective idea we could grow from, and it really connected already to a lot of the other songs we had started already. “When The Summer Ends” is a love song, but it’s also very much about how you gain, you lose, you change, and your memory is linked to all that too.
It’s kind of the fun part of creating an album – you can start honing in and creating an idea for a lot of the larger concepts.
Zettler: I tend to write very personally, and growth and change and these themes about just being the best kind of human I can be is something I’m really interested in, and it just kind of naturally seeps into what we write.
There’s the sense that it was very personal, but you threaded the needle to make it universally applicable really well.
The album doesn’t view growth as a one way process though - a favorite line is the sublimely devastating “Will you still love me when the summer ends?” Again, it can be literal, but carries the metaphor of, you know, “will you love me when things get tough?” How did you approach the mirror of this theme of growth, of, actually, the inevitable periods of decline or stagnation?
Zettler: That’s something that we all experience on a day to day basis. Especially being in the music industry – or, being a musician attempting to be in the music industry – you face things that feel like stagnation often. But I feel like that’s just a reflection of impatience, really wanting something to be different than the way that it is, and part of enjoying life and or part of the human experience is just allowing things to be as they are.
I know that sounds very trite, but I think that that’s kind of where the melancholy aspects come in as far as the music. Even though we’re trying to focus on growth and so on, the aspects that are hard also find their way into life and what we’re writing. I think they’re reflected as the melancholy aspect of our music, but it’s really a coexistence.
Hammer: It’s also connected to the idea of that moments of stagnation can also be moments of reflection. I try to remind myself, not just in writing music but also in life, that even when things don’t feel like they’re changing, you are changing. You’re reflecting, you’re growing as a person, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
It feels bittersweet and melancholy because you’re diving into the idea of memories and reflecting on life.
Okay, on a more grounded note, were there any specific inspirations for Full Bloom? Obviously musical influences rock, but I'm more interested in life experiences, relationships, anything you can point to and say, this is the cloth that made Full Bloom.
Hammer: A lot, you know. I didn’t even realize how much our lives had changed in the last three or four years, because we’re constantly in the process, growing, and you don’t even realize, you’re like, “oh where is this coming from?” I got married three years ago – Lauren you got married around the same time right?
Hammer: And also it’s a reflection of Lauren and I becoming much closer friends that we approached the record this way. I also moved out of the city, and I think all of those things put me in this mindset of reflection and analysis. All of this stuff is changing, and I’m okay about it, but also there’s ups and downs, you know?
For me I know that the big life changes don’t always actively but definitely passively inspire you to be more emotional and reflective with your creative process.
Zettler: I think too, not to get too political –
Oh no, feel free.
Zettler: Just becoming much more aware of what’s important and the things you feel like you need to protect and fight for. I got married to my wife a couple years ago, and with the political changes, being gay has been something super highlighted for me. When we were writing “Bloom,” Paul and I were really inspired by the non-binary and trans friends that we had.
Full Bloom in this time was inspired by how important it is to really feel like we’re allowed to be who we are. The overt fear and hatred and negativity, I feel, comes from people who are afraid of being who they are. I wish I could say this more eloquently, but Full Bloom was inspired by how important it now feels to be proud of and accepting of who you are.
Absolutely. It’s great you brought that up because it dovetails so well with something we’ll talk about in a minute. But before we get into that, I want to ask a musical question. What was the weirdest or most extreme musical decision on the album for you?
Hammer: I wouldn’t call it an inside joke but there are occasional moments – and I don’t know why it happens with Lauren, I think everyone thinks about music and approaches music differently – and there was this one measure with an added drumbeat in one of the songs that didn’t make any sense to me. And it’s basically half a bar of drumbeat, and in the moment I was like “Well oh-kay Lauren, let’s give it a try.” Now we play it live and I’m just, “that’s so cool.”
So I don’t know if it’s the craziest thing, but it’s funny because you don’t even realize it till you’re in the process that just – everyone listens to music so differently that something that makes sense for me can be so crazy for someone else. It just takes time to get used to, you know?
We also have a key change in “Bloom” which, we’ve never had a very drastic key change in a song. Especially on a song that’s a pretty dense, intense song, we wanted this bridge to stand out even more, so we did this modulation up a half step with a change of chords. And it stands out in a song that’s otherwise pretty pop-form.
And what song is that half-measure of drum weirdness in?
Hammer: The closer, “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” just before the guitar solo.
Zettler: It’s funny, because I don’t hear it. To me, it makes perfect sense.
Hammer: When we were recording, Lauren basically just sang it back to me and I was like “that’s crazy,” [laughter] and then it totally made sense once it was done.
Zettler: It’s not weird or extreme, but “The Hum” was really a song that we wrote without trying to give it a form. It was much more freeform, and that’s something that some people really like, and some people can’t wrap their heads around because it’s not your typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus. So to me that was really fun and rewarding, and it’s one of my favorite moments on the record.
Hammer: We got a little feedback from that song. We have a small team of people who we still share songs with and we sometimes develop them and edit them and stuff, but it was funny when we sent that song around. People said, “maybe you can repeat the chorus” and Lauren and I felt, eh “nah.” It really is just a two minute and thirty second song that doesn’t repeat itself once.
It’s fun though, it’s really fun as an intro to the record because it pulls you in and leaves you.
It was a lovely way to start the album. It felt like it was in free time, floating out there, and in a literary sense, it felt like a narrator bringing you in, and then the songs and the core of the album were more from the perspective of the speakers.
Hammer: That’s how we approached it.
This is a good point of transition because it comes right after “The Hum” so: The music video for “Bloom” is rad. Patty Bouree and the other actors are real life drag queens right?
Zettler: They are!
Right. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to lead you so I’ll just ask: why a drag show?
Zettler: We always envisioned that kind of person as the representation of “Bloom” as we were writing it, even. I think we both envisioned someone who was becoming themselves, fully accepting themselves. That was an inspiration as we were writing. Basically we reached out to people and asked for treatments, and I don’t think we led people in a certain way.
And then we got these these treatments from Ben [Phillippo] and, Paul you can continue from there,
Hammer: I think what really stood out was that Ben’s treatment not only connected to this idea of drag queens but it was also connected to this idea of making the video more documentary style. We’d read his treatments and we were like, “this is perfect.” We basically talked to Ben on the phone for half an hour and after that we thought it was a brilliant idea and just let him follow it.
It was really his vision and we touched base a couple times. He ended up doing two or three edits on it, and it was kinda perfect! For the most part the process was beautiful because we found someone with a strong idea that just fit perfectly and we just let him do his thing.
It doesn’t always happen like that, but we were really fortunate.
How about thematically? How does that video fit with the themes of the album?
Zettler: It’s pretty literal. Pattey Bouree is a new drag queen. It was very much a documented thing of just showing that transition. The one thing that was interesting was the director had envisioned a drag show being a thing that was hugely attended, very celebratory.
When he was doing research he went to a drag show and saw that there was no one in the audience. It’s even a more creative thing: you have to perform in front of no one and do your thing. It changed the original direction and he incorporated that. That was definitely thematically related to Full Bloom because it was showing a person that was following exactly what they wanted to be doing and even though it was scary, and even though it wasn’t what someone might label as a success – it’s about the process more than the end goal.
The fact that she’s a drag queen and seeing the literal physical transformation was really an awesome visual metaphor.
Zettler: And it was so cool too. I’d been to so many drag shows – I know drag queens. But I’d never watched anyone go from zero to 100 as far as getting dressed and the transformation, and the clothes they have to put on, the makeup they apply. It’s so much of an artform. It was really cool that we got to showcase that in the video.
There was a lot of compassion there. Even at the end when Patty walks out and there’s just one old man in the audience, it’s this moment of compassion and kindness. On that idea of kindness, “It’s Gonna Be Alright” is the closer. Pessimism seems to garner accolades but actually seems to be a very easy creative choice, so that resonated with Full Bloom as a whole. How did you come about the choice to make “It’s Gonna Be Alright” the album’s closer?
Hammer: It was the last song we finished. I think it’s almost one of those things where – I’m always amazed at this because I can’t be aware of the big picture until it’s unfolding and happening. But with “It’s Gonna Be Alright” we had the whole thing written, except for the chorus, for two years. The whole album was done, basically, and we just had this one last song that felt so good.
Lauren and I got together one afternoon and decided to write the chorus and it just suddenly clicked. It was like, “you know, what is sort of the ultimate message?” And “It’s Gonna Be Alright” is such a simple thing that’s so important to remember and I think people forget it sometimes. They do all this change, transformation, everything…it’s gonna be alright.
It was pretty much a no brainer as to where it would be. It’s also musically self-fulfilling. If this album was a move this song would be the credits. It all just came together in a really nice way. I’m glad that we ended up writing it last because that’s almost how the message ended up being what it is.
Zettler: It’s positive, but it’s also realistic.The fact that the phrase right before it is “Nothing’s quite what we had in mind,” but “c’mon It’s Gonna Be Alright” is recognizing that sometimes things don’t go the way you think they’re going to, but they’re still gonna be alright. So I think that it was a really nice balance, because it wasn’t even so in your face.
It’s recognizing that sometimes things really suck! But you just have to keep looking forward, and it’s gonna be alright.
Anything incredible that you’re listening to right now that you just have to share? Our readers love music reccs, even more so from the artists themselves.
Zettler: I feel a little late to the game but I just started listening to the Billie Eilish record, and I know that’s a record that the world is listening to right now. I think it’s so good. It’s not a unique answer, but I will hop on forward and say that it’s amazing.
Hammer: It’s always funny because after you finish a record, you’re like – now I can listen to new music without being overwhelmed because our album is out. Some of the new Vampire Weekend stuff that’s coming out has been really beautiful.
Zettler: Has King Princess released a full record? Everything is so focused on singles now so.
Hammer: It’s true, I don’t even realize when some songs come out because it’s such a single driven industry now. King Princess, yes they have singles out and they’ve all become pretty big. I haven’t listened to the full Billie Eilish record yet but everything I’ve heard is that it’s incredible.
Zettler: It’s so good. I can’t get over how young she is, how much of a vision. She just has this vision and it’s 100% authentically her which is amazing. It’s got to affect the way I hear the record but it doesn’t matter, it’s still really, really good.
Wow, she was born in 2001. Incredible. She’s almost Lorde-esque. Lorde was this explosive wunderkind figure when she appeared on the scene too.
Hammer: Wasn’t “Royals” out when she was 16?
Zettler: She was 17, yeah.
I want to dive into something you said offhand before. Streaming affects the way we listen to music, and seems to drive a lot more attention to singles. Being artists yourselves, what do you think about this focus on singles from that side of the industry?
Hammer: I think I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it at times, but it’s one of those technological developments in the music industry that has a scary element and a liberating element. It allows you to make really strong bold statements with one song without having to necessarily worry about the big picture and a 10 song concept all the time.
It’s liberating in that you can be more creative in how you release music in general.
Zettler: The other side of that is this terrifying idea of how disposable releases are. You’re competing in this vast ocean of people who are all releasing singles. It’s all just very fast, so it highlights impermanence and how quickly things change. It gets us back to what Paul says – it’s terrifying and freeing at the same time.
You can release a song and no one’s gonna care in six months, so you can just release another song and continue to create, which is good, but it’s very different.
Hammer: In order to really reach people and grow a project, there’s almost gotta be a different focus now, which is continuously building the story of the artist instead of just building a song. So that affects everyone in the music industry from the artist themselves to their publicists to – everyone.
You put out a song and it gets put on a playlist so you can have millions of streams but no one is connecting the song to the artist. Then all of a sudden, that song gets taken off a few playlists and doesn’t get streamed anymore. You have to keep focusing on building meaning. Billie is probably the best example: she’s released a lot of music, and it’s about her more than any one song.
It’s the same as Maggie Rogers-
Zettler: Yeah, it’s all about Maggie.
Hammer: It’s all about Maggie. And it’s obviously through the music, but it’s also through releasing song after song after song and performing and connecting to fans on multiple levels.
But I mean yeah, overall it’s liberating because it gives you more control of what you create. You do exactly what you want and create your story, but it’s also overwhelming because you can release a song that you really, really believe in, but then it can be disposed of, like Lauren said, pretty quickly.
We’re already thinking like – what’s next.
The pace of things can be really breathtaking sometimes. So, this album had quite a different creative process than any before it, mostly because you, Lauren, joined the band as a permanent fixture. How do you two work together - in terms of chemistry as well as literal creative workflow - and how has that affected your sound in your minds?
Zettler: It’s something that we’ve developed over time but we still approach differently all the time. The reason why we work so well together, why we’ve found this rhythm, is mainly due to spending so much time together and being really good friends. We’re able to have a shorthand language of understanding what the other person is thinking.
It’s something that happened really naturally. I started working with Paul on the last record [ed: Lauren was a featured vocalist on The Love That Remains] but I wasn’t around for the whole thing. We moved very easily into Full Bloom as a full on partnership. We’re really lucky in that we bring out the better things in each other, which allows us to create this really nice feeling record.
Hammer: That’s spot on. We have an honest relationship, which connects us to the creative flow of things. If one of us is not feeling something musically or lyrically, we’re not afraid to just talk about it. Passive aggression in creative relationships just doesn’t work, and that’s part of why I love working with Lauren so much. If there’s something that’s not working, we figure it out.
Writing a record that’s much more honest in general, it was fitting that that’s how our relationship is too. A lot of the creative process was experimentation, because this was the first time we were writing every song together. Some songs Lauren sent me the whole thing, then we worked on the production together.
Then there were other songs like “When The Summer Ends” that were really like – we’re sitting at a piano and we just did it. “The Hum” was written over three or four different sessions of piecing together different sounds and ideas. It was pretty varied, and that’s part of why it’s so fun.
There’s no full answer. The process also changed a lot over the years.
Well, last thing. Plugs! Give me them. Where can we see you, listen to you, and most importantly pay you, and what can we expect in the near future?
Hammer: We’re planning shows now for later in the year, so nothing’s announced yet. But we’re working on a bunch of cool collaborations with other artists, some remixes…
Anything you’re allowed to tell us?
Hammer: Not yet.
Zettler: Yeah, lots of moving parts. But yeah, the record is out, the vinyl is available for ordering.
Hammer: That’s important. We have vinyl bundles and we did a lot of extra stuff for this record. We printed a whole Zine with all these photos and stories from the making: there’s a bunch of handwritten lyrics, negatives of photos. The bundles will be up for the rest of the month basically.
Zettler: Yeah, there’s 35mm film and the actual photocopy of the lyrics sheet from when we were writing. We also put a cute thing on the back – each song is a description of what you could pair it with, three words that describe it. We just had a lot of fun with something we could get really creative with. It was related to the album, but there was no pressure, it was just very freeing.
Hammer: Hopefully we’ll be playing lots of shows, too!
Photography © Shervin Lainez