Fresh off this recent Dani Kiyoko chat, we're back with another artist interview from Mars/Maria Kate! Thank you for this convo with the underground legend Wells!
Back in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced young people to be online and indoors even more than they already were, and one result was new music genres popped off from artists' bedrooms. Most notable was the fusion of hyperpop and SoundCloud rap, which transformed what had been swirling as “the scene” or “the underground” into a genre some call digicore and others hesitate to put a name on. 25-year-old blackwinterwells quickly dominated that space with her icy verses and crystalized production.
Two years later, she’s creating new soundscapes with each release and breaking out of the underground (and her bedroom). She’s got an upcoming US tour with fishnarc and 8485. She’s also releasing Crystal Shards, her newest project. We spoke over the phone about her artistic journey, upcoming tour, RuneScape, TikTok, and the drain flu. We got pretty off topic towards the end, but here’s that conversation transcribed below.
What makes your new album different than what you were making previously?
To me, this album kind of feels like a mission statement regarding all of my previous music. I kind of have plans for what I’m going to do next. This is capping off the era of wavy, glassy, autotune stuff. It’s like, that was the blackwinterwells sound. This is the big thesis statement on that. Everything after that is going to be fucked up and weird. I needed to put out a big cohesive project of the sparkly shit before I move on from it. This is the blackwinterwells album and the next album will be some weird and fucked up shit, and I don’t know if people are going to like it.
What do you mean weird and fucked up?
That one is like, kind of emo, kind of melancholy, shiny, that sort of vibe. The next album, I want to be really dark, nasty, angry and violent. Like this is the high point. And it’s going to dive bomb into something dismal after that.
You really have that pinpointed down.
I kind of look at music like visual art. Like, the art I find just as important as the music. Not more important, because if it was more important I'd be a painter! I’m trying to paint a picture with the music. All of the other things I want to do are pictures I haven’t painted yet. This one is like this weird, sci-fi object coming from space. It's cosmic and out there. What I want to do next is digging down, like we’re going to hell. Going to different places and feelings is interesting. I see it in my head when I listen to it!
Do you make the cover art?
Once in a blue moon. For a single sometimes, but an album I would never. I need someone who knows how to use their hands. Eighty did the cover for Stone Ocean, and a ton of my other art. I really like the watercolor vibe. Paint is a cool medium for me, it’s very impressionistic rather than illustration which is more concrete. I like things that are mushy and imprecise but point to a feeling. I’d like to get people who are good at painting to do my art. John Stobie at Eyeball Records did the art, its painting-esque. The Sulfur cover had some photography elements in it as well. For this whole Crystal Shards arc, he’s doing most of the sci-fi visualization. It’s like, Arrival vibes. Like the big giant oval that ascends from space and everyone’s like “what the fuck is that!”
How has everything changed since Stone Ocean?
I feel like Stone Ocean is a pretty blue album. Crystal Shards is a blue album, but blue in different ways. Crystal Shards is very hard and rocky. I mean Stone Ocean has rocks too, but it’s very flowy and watery sounding like you’re sinking. Crystal Shards is like, I’m being stabbed in the face with glass! Ouch! I actually have the Stone Ocean painting in my room right now. It’s framed! I’m looking directly at it. Eighty is just so good at all the visual stuff! She can paint, she can draw. She has a very good eye for it. I can give her a song and be like! Here. Make art for this. It’s perfect every time!
You've got a tour coming up don't you?
That’s true! A US tour. Unfortunately, no Canada stops. Maybe some will be added. I’m going to go to some places I’ve never been, and some I’ve been to already!
How did that all come together?
Me and fishnarc are pretty good buds. He was just tapping in the scene and hitting up people to make some music. He was like, I want to make a song with quinn, I want to make a song with kuru, I want to make a song with eighty. He and I work really well together, and he and eighty work well together. We click on a creative level. The songs that we made happened so naturally and we get along very well. He was just like; I’m putting together a tour. Do you guys want to come with me? And I was like fuck yeah! It’s also a dream come true, because I started writing lyrics when Peep died.
fishnarc is interesting because he kind of transcended the 2016 SoundCloud era into today’s sound.
In the wave of this whole, heaven forbid I say the word. In the advent of this higher energy more electronic version of singing songwriting music, everyone and their dog is trying to hop on it. Anyone who can look at what’s going on and take inspiration to do something interesting and original, that’s dope! All of my friends are pulling from different places. When music is interesting to me, it’s doing something new. It’s not this pop funny snare drum bullshit that everyone’s doing. I am tired of that sound. Like, I’m dedicating my whole life to ripping off “Money Machine.” Like go for a walk, look at a tree! I have a lot of friends who came from the EDM sphere and now are doing cool shit. I have a friend who went to college and did jazz and was in a rock band, and now he’s doing autotune shit and it sounds crazy good. It sounds like nothing else and that’s what I appreciate. That’s a pretty long-winded way of saying I like Wicca Phase and fishnarc’s music.
One of my favorite features from you is “garbage” with Paprika. What’s your favorite feature you’ve ever done?
That’s one of those funny underwater beats. I love that one. Usually, my favorites are the newest ones I’ve done. Like, I did this one with kennedyxoxo where I’m just like doing a pop punk sad thing and that was fun. A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing lately where I’m just saying a whole bunch of things and rapping are fun. I did this one verse on a kuru song where I’m just rapping fast as hell and the bars are wacky! There’s this bit in the middle where I’m just like “I feel like crazy frog” and it’s just like my favorite song I’ve ever worked on. I keep harassing him to release it.
Shit, I’ll start harassing him to release it too!
I keep calling it “crazy frog”. I don’t think he wants to drop a song called “crazy frog” but no one else can come up with a name for it. I think it’s super emotional to make a song called crazy frog. There’s also a lot of features I’ve done on songs that aren’t that popular that I just went crazy on. Like chance by idiot. There’s this one bit I did after beating this giant dragon in RuneScape called Galvek. Like, fuck that dragon! My flow on it is so good. I said “I’ll kill you like I killed Galvek. and it only took two minutes!” Also, sorry for coughing. I got the drain flu.
I’ve been calling it the drain flu. Bladee went on tour and now everyone has it. I left and I’ve been sick ever since! I kind of didn’t have fun though. I really don’t like his fanbase. There’s a lot of mean girls! I was at the front of the barricade and this girl kept pushing me. When I tried to get my spot back, she was like “you can’t do that”! I was like, what do you mean! Any time I’m at a show and it’s a bunch of chubby dudes in all black, I know I’m safe. Like I’m not dying in that mosh pit. If there’s a bunch of people in rainbow clothing, I know I’m dying in that pit. People who listen to screamo are way nicer, I guess it’s because it’s a smaller community.
There’s been a lot of conflict in the community about representation. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I mean it’s no surprise that labels like to sign straight people. They are more likely to pay attention to you. In most industries, if you’re transgender it’s hard to get anywhere. I’m not going around kicking rocks or anything, but I understand why people feel like the narrative has been pulled in a weird direction because of it. The face of the movement is significantly less female when like, there is a lot of that! I don’t really think it's right to blame artists, it’s not really anyone’s fault. People need money to survive, and if you are a musician, I’m not going to tell anyone they’re a piece of shit for paying their parents’ mortgage. In a perfect world, labels would be different than they are. There are so many things about the way that money shapes art in its own direction. If every artist had a billion dollars to do whatever they want, art would be better! I personally just feel grateful to be in the situation I’m in having sacrificed zero artistic integrity. I’m not having to rip anyone off or make Yeat type beats. I can just sit on my computer and make a weird ass thing that no one has ever made and people like it. I personally don’t feel slighted by the industry. Regardless of all the horrible things happening in the world, I try to be a positive influence to the people around me.
My grandma always used to say “we can’t control what happens, only how we react to it.”
I try to be grandma-esque. Gotta get the potassium! You don’t even need to be eating fruit! Bananas are good but you can get Potassium from other places. I have such strong food opinions.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food is probably Ramen. I had this crazy ramen after playing two shows for anamanaguchi. It was two am and I kind of fucked up. There were six pork slices. I was eating it at 2 am, but no regrets because it was delicious. I woke up and went to church with my friend Peter the next day. It was a good weekend because I witnessed some Catholic stuff I had never witnessed. I’m just sitting there and they are waving incense and chanting and I’m just like, this is awesome! Respect for ritual.
You tweeted “What’s your favorite song on the EP? Mine is cyanide." Why?
I’m just a sucker for songs with no drums. Like “Falling Up” barely has any drums, “Take Loop” doesn’t have any drums. I think the reason I like “Cyanide” the most is because it sounds like this other EP I’m planning. I want it to sound like you’re standing on a cliff and the wind is whipping on your face. “Cyanide” sounds like that. “Sulfur” is sort of a descent. It starts at this fluffy note and the songs slow down and the end is in this pit of melancholy. The other EP is kind of the opposite. It starts at an airy part, and then the oxygen is thin. I guess I’m making altitude music lately.
You could make some insane music videos.
If I had the budget, I’d be making some crazy films. I like concepts, I like ideas. I like funny art. I’m expecting some amazing art for the "crazy frog" song. I’m sure it’s just going to be a picture of Kuru looking away from the camera in a $900 jacket. It’s going to be awesome.
Are you in college?
I dropped out of high school!
Wait, how old are you?
I’m 25. I’m a late bloomer for real. I was making total garbage when I was 16. That shit was ass.
You have to make the shit music to get to the good stuff.
You would think! But then Glaive made music for like two days and became Glaive, so.
Some people are just built different.
I’m being harsh! I put out a pretty good EP when I was 17. Anthony Fantano tweeted out a link. He probably deleted it though. I can’t find the tweet! He definitely deleted hella tweets. I don’t feel too bad about it though, there’s evidence. There are still people replying to it. Do you like anime?
I used to watch it a ton. Do you like it?
I’m rewatching Kill La Kill today. It’s about this girl who’s trying to figure out who murdered her dad. All the clothes give them superpowers and she’s trying to get to the top. I also finished Cowboy Bepop for the first time. It’s #1. It became my favorite pretty quickly, it’s very emotional!
Is that the one that everyone on twitter uses as their profile picture?
Yeah. He’s constantly smoking in that show. There’s a lot of moments of him looking cool smoking a cigarette. I’m like wow! He’s just like me. Except I don’t smoke anymore because I got covid. I’m testing negative now but I tested positive on April Fools! I’ve been coughing since then, but I still managed to play two shows. It hasn’t impacted my ability to sing! I just feel like shit.
(This is where things went off the rails and we started singing TikTok sounds)
TikTok dude! My TikTok is all cooking videos. It’s fire. I’ve been singing the same song for like ten years. There are no vocals. I just sing some xylophone parts.
Make it into something!
I should sample it. There’s this other ambient song I wanted to sample too. I can’t remember it though. Wait, your accent sounds like Funeral’s accent. I wonder if he’s from North Carolina! I had a friend who was on my record label that I started when I was sixteen who was from there. I don’t know if I ever heard him talk, though.
A record label?
It wasn’t shit. We weren’t doing anything. We had a nice catalog but that was about it. It was just a little Bandcamp label. Nothing serious. (singing TikTok songs) sorry I do that a lot. I just sing random songs.
That’s what I do but with your song “Algae” 24/7.
Did you like dolly’s verse on the new album? I love having dolly on track one of the albums. I’ve done it twice now, so it’s like a thing. I think the evil album is just going to be me though. I’m going to scream on it, and get Johnnascus and 8485 to scream on it. But I’m going to write all their parts and do a Kanye thing. He put out like six good albums, he could retire now and be done. I’m going to be in the old folks’ home with a little eight track and a Stratocaster making all the old people angry, like making up all the words and freestyling.
Is it weird being boxed into a certain label?
I just think it’s silly! They don’t have ears. Like if they listen to “Omen” and they’re like this is a pop song. I’m like, what the fuck is wrong with you. I guess Nine Inch Nails are hyperpop too then. It’s just like pitched up vocals, pop, and catchy. That doesn’t apply to me. I’m making experimental sing-songs. I think the word is dying, I think we’re moving on. Hyperpop Daily is crazy though. It’s funny because their name is Hyperpop Daily but they only talk about Kankan and Summrs.
They make me laugh sometimes though. Is there anything else you want to talk about?
I don’t know! Everyone buy my CD! Vinyl’s soon.
That’s so exciting!