Musical Escapism with the “Drifting” Christina Nicole 

For some artists, the art of making music takes years to perfect, for others, like New Jersey native Christina Nicole, it comes naturally. As a child growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, Christina was always singing songs around her house, and performing karaoke for school talent shows. Throughout middle school, she participated in choirs and voice lessons and was accepted into a high school entertainment technology program, where she began writing her own music.

Christina Nicole’s songs, inspired by Lorde’s meaningful lyrics and instrumentation, have been compared to the likes of Beach House and Kate Bush. With her evocative melodies and elegant vocals, Christina Nicole makes music like no other, combining her years of classical vocal training with knowledge learned from her time studying Recording Arts & Music Production in Drexel University’s Music Industry Program.

Christina says that her love of music comes from her childhood in New Jersey, spent singing in talent shows and vocal groups. But, it was her time at an entertainment and technology high school where she discovered a love for songwriting and sharing her music with the world. About sharing her music, Christina Nicole says, “The fact that something I love so much and has always been my escape also has the power to be somebody else’s escape at the same time, is so powerful to me. I want to be the conversation over morning coffee. Being able to have that same emotional impact on an audience, but this time with my own words, and my own stories, truly became life-changing.” 

Christina Nicole makes music that has a beautifully haunting quality to it. Her debut single, “At Sea” was released in September 2020 and she is preparing for another recent release, again inspired by the ocean, “Drifting.” 

Outlander: How did you get your start in music? 

Christina Nicole: As a child, I had always loved to sing. I remember being extremely excited for all the elementary and pre-school shows where the class would sing a few songs together. As I grew up, that love of music grew right beside me. There never really was a time where I didn’t have music directly involved in my life. The elementary school concerts turned into high school solo performances, which then led me to start writing my own material. While I was involved with a music program in high school, I realized the amount of passion I had for this field, and how much I could say through songwriting. Songwriting opened up a whole world of creativity that I could manipulate to tell my stories. I continued to let this passion grow with me, and am excited to see what else it evolves into.

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: The first artist I became a real fan of was Lorde. Seeing somebody so young accomplish so much, and make absolutely beautiful music really inspired me to try the same. I instantly became a fan of the vibe of her songs, and how unique it felt. It led me to try experimenting with untraditional moments in my own music. Her lyrics felt genuine and true to herself. I strive to be as genuine as that, and make a unique vibe in my music. Even today, I am still a huge fan of hers and enjoy seeing her genuine vibe persisting. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

C: Thoughtful, experimental, thematic. I try to make my music have a lot of meaning, and be something you really think about to understand what the big picture is saying. This meaning hides inside the lyrics as well as the sounds I choose to use. Which is why I would say it is also a bit experimental. The instrumentals tell the story as much as the lyrics do. I choose synths and sounds that I manipulate to help the listener paint the story in their head. I love writing about a metaphor that turns into a theme. In my song Drifting, this metaphor is sinking into the sea. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

C: For me, my favorite part is recording vocals. As a vocalist, it is super fun to figure out the style vocals that best fit the song. I absolutely love to sing, and singing my own material is super cool. I like to experiment with different registers and tones, and decide what works best. It is the part of the process that I feel I can truly let go and kinda just do my thing and see what works and doesn’t work. Different styles of vocals can really change up the whole vibe of a song.

O: If you had only one sentence to pitch “Drifting,” what would it be? 

C: Drifting tells about a journey, and makes you feel immersed in it. 

O: Tell us about your experience writing and recording “Drifting”! 

C: I wrote the lyrics to this song a long time ago. At first it was a slow piano ballad, in a higher key. I let this sit for a while, and eventually came back to it to add what I have learned about music and songwriting. When I did this, I completely changed the vibe. I lowered the key and added tons of synths and experimental soundscapes. It was super cool to see the song change directions so drastically.

O: Both “Drifting” and your debut song, “At Sea” are about the ocean. What about the sea inspires you?

C: I think the ocean is so fascinating. For me, I use it as a metaphor. The thing is that it looks so stunning from a distance, you just want to jump in. But once you’re in, it is ruthless. It is deep, unpredictable and rough. It quite literally pulls you in. Using this as inspiration for songwriting really opened a lot of doors for creativity to pour in.

O: Since a lot of your musical influence comes from Lorde, we have to ask: What elements of her music do you love and wish to emulate for your own style? And in the same vein, how do you deviate from what she puts out?

C: I absolutely love the vibe of her songs. Something about it feels super unique, and genuine. Her lyrics feel real and true to herself. I definitely strive to have a unique style and raw lyrics. A lot of her music follows the traditional verse-chorus style. I do tend to not follow this pattern in my songs, and just let them flow out the way that feels right. I like not being confined to a pattern I have to follow.

O: You studied in Drexel University’s Music Industry program for a few years. How does your classical vocal training translate into the music you produce today?

C: It is definitely very helpful to know how to manipulate my voice to fit a style and a vibe. Vocals can sometimes be the most important aspect to creating a style. It is cool to be able to experiment with different runs and little things to add in. Knowing how to add harmony has been amazingly helpful when songwriting. Also, vocals are the most enjoyable aspect for me, since it is what I feel I know best.

O: You talk a lot about how escapism is a key point in the music you produce. What do you define escapism as, and how does that translate into your music? 

C: For me, escapism in my music is the ability to get lost and forget everything else for a brief moment while listening to music. I had a high school teacher describe to me how powerful you can be to an audience. He explained that as a musician you have the ability to take away the audience’s stresses and worries while they are listening to your music. All that matters to them at that moment, is the music they are listening to. The music allows them to be completely present inside that moment. I completely understood what he meant. I have been to concerts and during those two hours, nothing else mattered in the world besides that moment, and the beautiful music I was immersed in. Music has been an escape for me while listening and writing. I hope to be able to share that feeling with my listeners when they hear my songs. 

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

C: Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated and stuck in writer’s block. However, I have come to learn that you cannot force art. It won’t be genuine, and it won’t feel right. Writer’s block is terrible, but it always passes. Sometimes even writing down brief ideas and letting them sit for days or weeks is okay. When you come back to those ideas, you’ll have a fresh headspace and bring more ideas- and then leave those ideas to sit. As the ideas build up, an “ah-ha” moment will come along. Definitely write down all of those little ideas though, you never know what will grow into something amazing. 

Another thing I would say is that the most inspiring things in life are sometimes not obvious. I will often see things in public that seem cool to write about. I’ll take out my phone and write a very brief note of it to pull inspiration out of later, for when I am ready to sit down and write. There is always meaning in the mundane. Even if the world around you seems a little gray, something deeper is always hiding beneath that grayness  ready to be written about and shown how beautiful it really is. Or, write about why the world seems a little gray. There is always meaning ready to be uncovered. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for?

C: At the moment I am currently working on some lyrics that definitely have the potential to grow into something super cool. I also have some projects that I plan on working on this year. They need lots of work, but I am excited to see where they go.

Thank you so much to Christina for sitting down and chatting with us about her music, creative processes, and more! Make sure to check her out on Instagram and TikTok.

Tedx Talk(ing) with Sidney Muntean

Sidney Muntean is a senior in the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County High School of the Arts and a 2021 alumna of the Summer Workshop at the Kelly Writers House. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Junebug Journal. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Kay Snow Writing Awards. She has also been published in Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Rising Phoenix Press, Sunspot Lit, and Adonis Designs Press, among others. In her TEDx Talk, Sidney dives into her personal experiences with identity, and why, ultimately, accepting ourselves is enough.  

Outlander: When did you start writing? 

Sidney Muntean: I’ve been writing since I was a wee 1st grader, but I started to formally write in 9th grade when I was accepted to the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

S: I admire the performance poet Phil Kaye. In my freshman year of high school, I immersed myself in the world of poetry and I eventually stumbled upon Kaye’s work. I am inspired by his use of language; he doesn’t always use extravagant vocabulary in his work but allows the complexity of his ideas to do the heavy lifting. I am not impressed by poems that use grandiose diction to make up for the emptiness in their message, so I appreciate how Kaye uses simplicity to evoke profound emotions. As a performer, Kaye stands out to me stylistically; he doesn’t need to raise his voice to command an audience’s attention. He connects with the audience through the authenticity of his expression and gesticulations. I actually had the opportunity to be in a master class with Phil Kaye last spring and got some insightful feedback from him on one of my poems. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

S: Whimsical, headstrong, and interdisciplinary. I chose whimsical because I believe that there’s a bit of magic in everything, and this belief subconsciously finds its way into my writing. I would also identify my work as headstrong because it is unapologetic from the start; it does not pretend to be something it is not and is unafraid to put the reader on edge. Lastly, I consider my recent work to take an interdisciplinary approach. I am interested in exploring the intersections between creativity and logic. I have written chemistry-based creative essays as well as poems entirely in code. I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of the abstract and the physical. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

S: Surprisingly, my favorite part of the creative process is revision. There is something about revising that feels liberating: the idea that you can seamlessly erase entire worlds and rebuild from the ground up is more of a comfort to me than a daunting prospect. I also save all my different draft versions, so none of my words are truly lost forever. 

O: Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

S: Very clearly. When I was in first grade, my teacher asked that we keep a journal. We would have “free write” sessions in class which inspired me to begin writing fantasy. I created a series of stories about a time-traveling, dimension-hopping horse named Spirit. Each story was about Spirit’s exploration of a different world and the friends he made along the way. I continued writing about Spirit into second grade as well. 

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

S: I’ve struggled with making sure my perfectionism doesn’t inhibit my creativity. I used to focus too much on finding the best combination of words or maintaining a high level of vocabulary instead of capturing the emotion I was trying to convey. I’ve had to learn how to remove myself from the writer’s chair and take a seat from the reader’s perspective. First drafts don’t have to be perfect; after all, you can always go back and revise. Now, when I sit down and write, I let all my ideas flow unfiltered. 

O: What is the story behind the founding of The Junebug Journal?

S: It went like this: a group of teenagers huddled in front of a computer and cheered when the “Publish Website” button was pushed. They had spent five months designing concept art, taking themed photos, setting up submission forms, and building an entire website all on their own. The Junebug Journal was launched in December of 2019. I am lucky enough to be in an environment where I can pursue my passions, but I have other friends from other high schools who also have creative interests but are unable to follow them due to a lack of opportunities. Thus, I had the idea of creating The Junebug Journal: a platform for the creative arts community. The Junebug Journal was established to be an outlet to showcase the unusual and overlooked potential of creative pursuits, ranging from writing to culinary arts. I truly am grateful to have the opportunity to bear witness to the self-expression of our contributors. 

O: Do you remember the first time you got published? How did you feel?

S: The first magazine I was published in was The Phoenix. I was a budding writer, merely a freshman in high school, and I was overjoyed. I remember that I was very self-conscious about my writing and never shared it with anyone. When I finally got the print journal in the mail, I felt like my writing was real and had value. That gave me more confidence in my work.

O: Is what you like to write the same as what you like to read?

S: In terms of genre, not always, but in terms of style, yes. I like to read genres of science fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction, but I like to write nonfiction or magical realism. Stylistically, I like the strange and the unique and strive to achieve that in my own work. I like reading works with a spin on stereotypical writing forms, like combining calculus theorems in poetry or creating a computer science test that doubles as an essay. I try to incorporate this into my work by taking an interdisciplinary approach to writing, such as using scientific or mathematical concepts to convey an idea. 

O: What kind of writing moves you?

S: I am moved by works that are the purest form of humanity. I want to read about your tragedies and your losses, but I also want to hear about your triumphs and moments of personal growth. I want to hear about places where you lost yourself and found yourself. I want to read about the lessons you learned: and the ones you didn’t. I am moved by confessions, lamentations, proclamations, and realizations. Everything and anything human. 

O: Do you remember the first submission you received at The Junebug Journal? What was it like?

S: Yes, I remember that our first submission was a photography piece. Since we received that submission at the early stages of The Junebug Journal (even before we had expanded to our wonderful team today), the editors were comprised of my friends and myself. We used that submission as a jumping-off point as to how all the rest of the submissions would be reviewed and many of those elements are still considered today. 

O: What motivated you to center your TedTalk around identity?

S: This topic was something I have personally struggled with throughout the years. I was experiencing a lot of change in my life, and the ways I was reacting to those changes were not up-to-par with how I previously behaved. I started to question who I was and how those changes were affecting me. I initially resisted the change and tried to cling to external impressions of myself. I finally realized that identity is not a stationary state of being; it constantly changes in response to the lessons retained from a person’s individual experience. I found that when I stopped resisting change, I felt more connected with my inner self than ever before. 

O: What is one thing that you want someone to take away from your TedTalk “Journey to the Center: Why Identity is Important”?

S: You are more than you realize. You are more than what other people think of you and more than what you think of yourself. If you look inside of yourself, you’ll find that all your previous and future selves are residing there simultaneously with varying intensities that all chime in; some are louder, some are softer, but all are in harmony. This symphony is specific to you and you only; no one else has the same song, and that is enough. You are enough. 

O: How did you feel after delivering such a powerful message through your TedTalk?

S: I felt grateful for all the support I received and also exhilarated by the idea that my message could reach someone who needs it. I recently had a friend tell me that they were struggling with their identity and that watching my Ted Talk gave them some clarity and reassurance. I wish I had someone to guide me when I was having my own identity crisis, and I’m glad I could be that person to someone else.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

S: I would recommend staying true to your own voice. Every writer has a unique perspective and a talent to convey those ideas using words. However, some budding writers may feel like their talents are diminished in light of rejections from writing competitions and publications. I have heard of some writers who create pieces to perfectly “fit” the expectations of these institutions, even if those pieces are not true to their personal creative voices. You shouldn’t exchange the value of your original thoughts for what you might perceive as writing glory. It’s not worth losing sight of the reason you write. If the only reason you write is to get published or win awards, then maybe writing is not for you. Having a passion should be emotionally fulfilling; your passion should not exclusively be based on external validation. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

S: I have spent most of my life enamored by creative writing and am now in a phase where I can share this love with others who wish to pursue it. While I can’t officially announce many details, I can say that some collaborative and community-based projects are in the works. If you’re interested, stay tuned on my Instagram socials (@sidneymuntean and @thejunebugjournal) to hear more about what’s in store for the future. 

A huge shoutout to Sidney for sitting down to answer our questions! Make sure you stay up to date on her latest adventures by following her on Instagram and Twitter. Check out her website too!

Shattering Monotony with Lena Fine

Lena Fine is an authentic singer and songwriter making indie-folk tracks that invoke a sense of nostalgia for young coming-of-age people. Inspired by Pinegrove’s sound, Soccer Mommy’s relatability, and Joni Mitchell’s storytelling ability, Lena Fine’s relatable lyrics, and dazzling vocals have been compared to that of Lucy Dacus and Julia Jacklin.

Though she grew up in Montclair, NJ, Fine is currently based in Philadelphia, PA, where she attends Drexel University. She started pursuing original music when she was 14 and says “I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember, but I wrote my first song that really stuck with me when I was fourteen. I’ve been singing since I was seven, but finding something that clicked and that people actually wanted to hear made me realize it was pretty much all I wanted to do.” Lena aims to create authentic music for whoever it may resonate with. In high school, Fine worked with producer Jake Weinberg of CRITTER, and has begun working with other producers in Philadelphia.

Having previously released three full-length albums, Lena Fine is currently working on new music with producers Bay Dupuy and Robert Fine, set to release in Summer 2021. She has two upcoming performances, including Drexel Flux’s Lawn Jawn online concert in May 2021.

Outlander: How did you get your start in music?

Lena Fine: I started singing when I was 7 and writing music seriously when I was 14. I had written songs before that but they were all kind of silly; it wasn’t until I was 14 that I wrote a few that I thought could be something real. Since then, I never really stopped and it’s just been a constant. 

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today?

L: Joni Mitchell’s and The Chicks’ storytelling abilities were always very striking to me. Though they’re very different sonically, I remember listening to both when I was little and wanting so badly to be able to do what they could. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why?

L: Poignant, introspective, honest.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

L: Either when I finish writing a song and I just want to play it all the time, or when I’m recording and adding harmonies. There’s something about figuring out harmonies that’s incredibly therapeutic for me.

O: If you only had one sentence to pitch “Dance Partner,” what would it be?

L: It’s a song that makes it okay to romanticize the idea of someone.

O: As you are studying Screenwriting at Drexel University, how has your songwriting been influenced by your screenwriting and vice versa?

L: I think in both screenwriting and songwriting the goal is ultimately the same: make the audience feel something and connect. I think my songwriting is a lot more introspective because it’s all about me and my own feelings, whereas in screenwriting I kind of have more room to figure things out about myself and the world around me through different characters and voices. 

O: Since you wrote “Dance Partner” during a time of suffocating mundanity and desperation, do you want your listeners to find solace through your new single?

L: I hope so! The song can get a bit sad and I don’t want it to be a total downer. I think it will be interesting for the audience to interpret a song that was written during the height of the pandemic as we slowly start to come out of it. Everything’s opening back up and I think it will be interesting to see if those feelings in the song are more universal than just that isolated moment in time.

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

L: Making everything in my head tangible! Especially with recording, it can get really frustrating not knowing how to communicate the way I hear things in my head, and it taking longer than expected to bring all the sounds to fruition. It’s always worth the wait, though!
You mention that you first wrote your first song at 14 which jumpstarted your music career.

O: Can you tell us a little about your first song and how it helped you realize you wanted to keep writing?

L: One of the first songs I wrote that felt like a real track was “Boy in the City.” I think it was really good for me to be 14 and full of angst and kind of only having one place to put it, which was music. I had been singing for a while at that point and it sort of felt like an extension of myself, so writing music felt like the logical place to go. Once I wrote that, and it became a song I actually wanted to listen to, I started to think that maybe there was something worthwhile about it all. 

O: Out of all the songs you have written, which would you say resonates with you the most?

L: Either “Bittersweet” or “Thus Far.” I wrote “Bittersweet” at a time when everything felt like it was ending: my brother was leaving for college and everything felt like it was about to change. A lot of the song is forcing myself to see the good in the endings, but also just being honest about how sad it all is. “Thus Far” was really good for me to write because it forced me to take a step back and think about things differently. I wrote it as I was coming to the end of my senior year in high school and was just in this headspace of running out of time and remembering the things I could have savored more. I think I constantly feel like I’m running out of time, so it’s nice that I made something for myself that reminds me to stop once in a while. 

O: If you could give advice to other aspiring musicians from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

L: Always make sure you’re doing it for yourself! If you’re not in it enough, it’s not worth it and it’s not going to be a true reflection of who you are. 

O: What are you most looking forward to after the release of your new single, “Dance Partner”?

L: Working on and sharing the rest of the album! 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for?

L: I am working on an album that should be out later this year!

Thank you so much to Lena and Dime + Dog Records for sitting down to chat with us! We hope you feel inspired hearing about Lena’s story and creative journey. If you want to keep up with Lena’s latest adventures, make sure to follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok!

The Liberating Power of Words: Ann Lilly Jose

Ann Lilly Jose has been scribbling on pieces of paper since she was a kid and started writing seriously at the age of thirteen. A firm believer of the liberating power of words, she hopes to tell stories that can be the light at the end of somebody’s long, dark tunnel. When not writing, she can be found learning about random things, obsessing over twilights and the moon, and consuming unhealthy amounts of coffee.

Outlander: When did you start writing?

Ann Lilly Jose: I started writing seriously at the age of thirteen and drafted a novella overnight at fourteen, but I’ve only recently discovered my style and niche, so I would like to call myself an amateur.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

A: I’ve always relied on AuthorTube for inspiration. Shaelin Bishop and Rachel Lachmansingh are the ones who have impacted my journey the most. Their tips and personal writing experiences have taught me valuable lessons about the craft and the process, and I still look up to them for inspiration and strength. Their works are some of my all-time favorites, too.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

A: Raw, because I try to portray emotions and settings in their most raw and authentic form instead of glamorizing them. Uncanny, because most of my recent pieces deal with uncomfortable topics and explore strange relationships and settings. Experimentative, because I’ve been trying to experiment with language, form, and style.

O: What is your favorite part of the writing process? 

A: I am a discovery writer, so my favorite part is when it all starts making sense. That moment when the story seems to have purpose and starts flowing freely, when it unfurls and reveals details about the characters and the setting, when the story seems to write itself.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

A: I saw the pandemic as an opportunity to write more, but a writer’s block hit and it’s still hanging over my head. I’ve produced very little in terms of quantity, but it has been a wonderful process. My attempts at writing amidst the pandemic helped me discover my style and experiment with prose.

O: What is the best compliment you’ve received on your writing?

A: A lot of people have told me that my pieces are easy to read through and that they do not feel the need to stop or take breaks. This, for me, is a huge compliment, and probably the biggest I’ve received.

O: Out of all the characters you’ve created, who is your most favorite? Why?

A: So far, it has to be Norah. She’s the protagonist of my short story Twinepathy. It’s mostly because she’s an unhinged narrator. She has freaky dreams, has a complex worldview, and floats on the surface of things, merely existing. Got to love a character like that!

O: Do you ever reread your old works? How do you feel about them?

A: I cringe at the language and style of my old writing, but being in writer’s block, I’m fascinated by my younger self. I used to be able to write thousands of words a day and come up with several story ideas a month, some of which were really good. I even intend on developing a few old ideas into short stories or novellas.

O: How has joining the writing community transformed your writing process?

A: It has been miraculous. Being a non-native English writer, I often do not feel a sense of belonging in my real-life peer groups. But the online writing community always felt like home, particularly Tumblr. I only recently started a Tumblr blog, but it’s changed the way I look at the writing craft and process. I feel like I belong somewhere and that is wonderful.

O: Are there any themes in writing that you would like to explore in the future?

A: I would love to start writing adult literary fiction someday. It sounds like such an intense genre and the possibilities of it are so exciting. I’ll wait patiently for the day I can finally lay my hands on it.

O: Could you share with us a few sentences or a paragraph that you are particularly fond of?

A: Renee and I are in the midst of a  forest,  a  full moon shining translucently through the dark clouds.  My teeth chatter in the cold, breath-catching mist,  turning exhaled air into short-lived frost. We’re roasting marshmallows over a  little fire,  the crackle of twigs burning blended with the music playing from my phone,  her dancing to it,  swaying from side to side. Observing that she’s too close to the fire,  I get up, asking her to move away, but she doesn’t.

She’s dancing to the music as flames turn her into ashes.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

A: One, do what you want to do. Writing is a form of art and it is supposed to be for you before it is for anyone else. Be selfish and write what you want to write. If you want to, write books just for yourself to read. Two, do not let anyone pressure you into publishing. It’s your choice, and not being published doesn’t make you any less of a writer. Three, do not let the number of words you produce be the measure of your worth. Do not prioritize content over your mental health and well-being. Four, be there for other writers. Connect with them, read their work, and support them. Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you need it. Five, be inclusive with your writing. If you do not know about a community, learn. Make sure that you promote equality and justice. Finally, don’t give up. There will be hard days. There will be days when you want to give up on writing, but know that those days come and go. Hang in there a little longer and the wait will be worth it.

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for?

A: I am currently working on a literary fiction novella that deals with themes like childhood, religion, trauma, purity, and sin. The plan is to draft it during Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I’ve also recently launched a literary magazine called Eclipse Zine, so I’ll probably be occupied with that too!

Thank you so much to Ann for sitting down to chat with us about all things writing! If you want to stay updated with Ann’s latest literary adventures, check out her website ( and Instagram (@annlillyjose).

Exploring “What If’s” with Callie Reiff

From musical prodigy to industry trendsetter, 21-year-old Callie Reiff is unlike any other. As an accomplished producer, DJ, and all-around performer, she made history as the youngest DJ to perform at Webster Hall — since then, Callie has opened for world-renowned acts including Ed Sheeran and Skrillex and has performed at festivals like Creamfields, EDC Las Vegas, Tomorrowland, and Ultra. Since debuting in 2015, Callie’s bubbling fearless energy, unrivaled character and infectious musicality have captured the attention of tastemakers like Teen Vogue, The Cut, BBC Radio 1’s Annie Nightingale, Rinse FM’s Marcus Nasty, and Diplo. 

Now, 21-year-old Callie is introducing a new era of her career that sees her aligning herself at the intersection of indie-pop and electronica with a sound she’s coined ‘indie-club.’ So far this year she has released a collaboration with Irish singer-songwriter Lenii titled “The Kids Are All Rebels 2.0” and “Crash Into Me (ft. Madison Daniel), both of which have quickly gained support from Spotify and key outlets like Hollywood Life and Pulse Spikes. 

O: When did you begin producing music? 

Callie Reiff: I first started out DJing and learning to mix vinyl when I was 12. Once I started playing shows – I was around 15 years old – I realized how cool it would be to test out my own original production while I was opening for some epic acts. I started working in Ableton back then but I would say that over the last two years I have really dove into improving my production and making it a priority.

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin creating music or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: I say this all the time but Skrillex, 100%. He is out there still working on music while also keeping an open mind when it comes to collaborating with any sort of artist. It’s a great mindset to have and I am always motivated by him.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

Energetic. Melodic. Feeling.

C: I try to find a balance in my sound with telling the story with the writing, giving each song a certain feeling, and having space for the vocals to take center stage. In the end, my goal is always to have a continued energy throughout the song.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

C: One of my favorite parts is when an idea just starts to come together fast. I love working with different artists and trying out new ideas. I also love when a random sound I try ends up working out to be in the final version. Or I spark a new song idea out of the current song I’m working on.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

C: The pandemic made me focus and put my all into my production skills — I didn’t have any shows to perform or anything else to do! Before the pandemic I would usually start my songs in my room before heading to a studio to listen to them and finish them, but since that wasn’t an option, I made my bedroom into my main workspace. I did a lot of Zoom sessions which ended up being cool because everyone was based in different time zones and it’s possible we would have never worked together otherwise. I made it a goal over this past year to use my music as my way of coping and expanding my ideas.

O: What do you most look forward to in collaborations?

C: There’s sooo much to look forward to with collaborations because you really don’t know what will come out of it each time. I love learning from different artists and I love when we both are able to help elevate a song into something we couldn’t do alone. I also feel like becoming friends with your collaborators and really sharing with them is one of the best parts because it allows the song to be super genuine and real.

O: You’ve coined the term “indie-club.” Could you talk a little bit about where it comes from?

C: I found my ‘indie-club’ sound over the past 2 years. I like to call it ‘indie-club’ because it has that singer-songwriter sound with the vocals, lyrics, and collaborating with different vocalists, but surrounding it is the signature NYC club energy that I grew up around.

O: What does it mean to you to be the youngest DJ to perform at Webster Hall? How old were you then? 

C: I was fifteen. At the time, I didn’t really consider the age thing. I was just determined to play Webster Hall as my first show ever since I’d gone to see Madeon play. I Facebook messaged the Webster Hall promoter and told him I wanted to DJ there. I had to be very careful since I was underage, but once we went B2B and he heard my mixing, he booked me to open for Mija during an Electric Zoo after party. The Webster Hall crew really believed in me from the start and I am forever grateful for that. I was so excited at that first show and I still get super smiley whenever I look back at that time.

O: Could you tell us about your favorite memory from performing at Tomorrowland?

C: Oh wow, Tomorrowland is one of my favorite festivals ever! It is such an experience to just be there and see it all in person — you feel like you are entering a whole new world. My favorite memory of playing Tomorrowland was being able to bring my mom and brother with me. I was pretty young when I played there and opened the stage for the day, but I remember people starting to come over and watch and being so supportive. I hope to play there again and play my new music!

O: What’s the story behind “What Ifs (ft. Louella)”?

C: Isabella [Louella] sent me a vocal idea and I instantly loved it. “What Ifs” is about relationships and the ups and downs that come with each decision we make. I wanted the production to have a certain ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feeling melodic as the lyrics are pretty dark. As I was producing the song, I also realized how it related to the pandemic and how everyone was just surviving on ‘what ifs.’ None of us were really sure how life would pan out. It was crazy to think about but it also motivated me to get the song out there as soon as we could for people to hear.

O: What do you look for in music that you produce? 

C: It depends but in general I look for a solid melody and energy in the drums. I try to switch up the grooves to keep it from being repetitive. I used to add a ton of extra sounds into my production thinking that’s what fills up a song, but really all you need is a few strong sounds and a set arrangement and you are good to go! 

O: Among all the songs you’ve produced, which one remains close to your heart and why?

C: I have another single with Isabella [Louella] coming out and it’s super, super special to me. Out of the songs that I have released, “The Kids Are All Rebels 2.0” that I did with Lenii remains very close to my heart. It was the first release that introduced the new sound that I’ve been working on for the past 2 years. The moment it came out, everything started to feel like it was really happening.

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

C: Comparing yourself to your favorite artists will get you nowhere. Use your favorite artists as motivation and inspiration instead. Always save your ideas, remember longevity comes with time, and never forget that there’s something new to learn. Also, have fun!

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

C: I have a few more singles coming out and then an EP, which I can’t wait for!

Thank you to Callie for sitting down and answering our most pressing questions! We are so excited for everything that she has up her sleeve–and if you are too, make sure to keep up with Callie on her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Her music (including “What If’s”) can be found on Spotify!

On dream jobs and unexpected paths: Chloe Turner

Chloe Turner graduated from Norwich University of the Arts in 2020 with a first-class BA Hons in Graphic Communication. Finalizing her third year of university online due to the global pandemic was a challenge but she is so pleased with her perseverance and hard work.  

In her spare time, Chloe enjoys fine art and spends many weekends creating watercolors of animals in her garden with her two black and tan sausage dogs. Alongside this, she loves to go to craft fairs and sell prints of her work trading under the name @creativechloee.  

In September 2020 Chloe was given the opportunity to work freelance for an online sustainable pharmacy, e-Surgery, on a company re-brand. Chloe was then offered an internship for 6 weeks within the company as a digital marketing junior. Although not the dream job she had in mind, she is so pleased with the opportunity and chose to stay in the position after the internship had finished due to her love of the small company culture and excitement for new opportunities.  

With a continual passion for design and ever-growing technology, Chloe is currently working alongside colleagues at e-Surgery to learn more about UX/UI design and website development. Furthermore, she is in the process of completing her level 6 diploma in digital marketing and healthcare assistant course enabling her to be a trained medicines dispenser in the pharmacy during busy times.  

This career path was not what Chloe had anticipated but she is thoroughly enjoying the constant support she has to learn new skills and put her current ones to practice through leaflet design, social media campaigns, advertisements, and company presentations.  

O: When did you begin creating art? 

Chloe Turner: It’s so cliche to say since I was little but I have always had an interest and passion in art and design. I remember in primary school coloring in a ‘dream job’ profile as an artist, the only one in the class! In terms of making art into a full-time hobby and job, it was when I finished 6th form that I truly started to invest time in creating art for other people, sharing my work, and getting commissions. 

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin drawing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: My family has always been so supportive of my artwork, specifically my Granddad, who although isn’t an artist, creates OO gauge model railway buildings which are so intricate and beautiful. He encouraged me to endeavor in an education related to the arts and I am so glad that he did! For artistic inspiration, I adore Polina Bright, who is an Australian watercolor artist that creates stunning portraits of animals, flowers, and people. She combines vibrant colors with gold leaf to create amazing outcomes that to this day amaze me! (@polina.bright) 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

C: I thought about this question long and hard but I still do not have an answer! I hope that my work speaks for itself and to each person individually in a positive way. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

C: When creating fine art, my favorite part of the creative process is adding the finishing touches with a white Posca pen and biro. I also occasionally enjoy adding in splashes and runs of paint on top of the final piece, it is always fun to make a bit of a mess! For design, the best part of the process is the research and mind-mapping stage where you are really putting your mind to work coming up with concepts and ideas. 

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

C: The pandemic luckily landed me a job at an online pharmacy as a digital content creator after graduation, so I have been super busy! Unfortunately, due to working full time in the week, my painting time has been minimized to weekends and evenings, if I can fit it in around life admin. It makes me sad to say I am not painting as much as I want to lately but once I have found my work-life balance I will definitely be painting more frequently again. My hope is that as the weather is getting better and covid restrictions are lifting,  I can get back to craft fairs and start sharing my work with other people again.  

O: How was it to graduate amidst the pandemic?

C: Graduating during the pandemic was truly not ideal! As a graphic communications student (or any art student) one of the things you look forward to most is your degree show that presents your hard work across your time at university to friends, family, and potential businesses. Without a degree show, I felt really disappointed not being able to share my work with others and also see what everyone else had been up to. Furthermore, I am yet to have a graduation ceremony, which after all, is a big contributor to why you go to university in the first place. Everyone wants that photo of them in cap and gown on the mantelpiece! 

O: Could you tell us about how you prepared the climate change poster that won you a Silver Creative Conscience Award?

C: The climate change poster was a result of the brief ‘turn of phrase’, which asked us to create a response to a common phrase we chose. The phrase I chose was ‘tip of the iceberg’ and my idea for the poster was such a big risk to have taken in my final year at university! Firstly, I didn’t know if it was going to work and secondly the project was eight weeks long, which is a long time to spend on designing a single poster. A Lot of my friends were making animations or fully realized branding concepts from the brief but I had taken a plunge into learning a new skill and hoping it paid off. I spent weeks making sure the typography on the poster was seamless and towards the end of the project I bought the thermochromatic ink that reacts with heat and learned how to screenprint with the help of amazing NUA technicians. The process was very long and stressful, especially when I had to block print the ink across my typography covering it completely. When it was finished and I finally turned my hairdryer on to test the outcome I couldn’t believe I had actually done it! (which is just as well really because I did not have a backup plan). This brief was then submitted into CC awards because it fits really well with the briefs they released and I can’t believe it won Silver. I even was invited to one of their webinars to talk through the project with people who are inspiring change-makers. 

O: What was your experience with working for e-Surgery? What kind of work do you do for them?

C: Working for e-Surgery was a bit of a shock to the system. I had only ever been working on a concept design for branding at university and all of a sudden the pressure of the outcome of my project going live made me a little anxious. Luckily the CEOs of the company are really tech-savvy and helped me create the appropriate formats for each part of the branding to enable success. Moving away from the branding I did for them I was offered a job within the team in digital marketing, which I had zero to no knowledge of at the time! Despite this being a completely new skill I had to learn straight from university it was exciting since the company is a start-up. I really felt I was making a difference. Day-to-day jobs involve marketing tasks such as fixing 404 errors on the site, looking for appropriate backlinks, and formatting blog articles. I also work on social media scheduling and from time to time dispense in the pharmacy as I am undergoing health care assistant training to support them when it is super busy. My most recent project at work is a UX/UI project involving a completely new re-design of the website and new design for a B2B project, it is very hectic but I am enjoying working with other designers and developers worldwide on zoom!   

O: Most of your work is in watercolor. How was it working with animation and kinetic-type art for Fresh Cabs?

C: The ‘Fresh Cabs’ project is the first project I have done that allowed me to combine both design and my artistic flair. I really enjoyed creating watercolor patterns to incorporate into my project and learning new skills of animation was fun too! The Fresh Cabs project is one of my favorites in my portfolio as I feel it represents a lot of my personality and intertwines all of my favorite things, Fresh Prince, watercolor, bold typography, and bright colors. Kinetic-type is something I hope to explore more of in the future as it fascinates me how engaging it can be especially in combination with a voice-over.   

O: What’s the story behind the Fresh Prince Jackets?

C: I love this question! I’m a massive supporter of second-hand shopping and upcycling clothes. I often go to vintage pre-loved kilos and come home with masses of crazy shirts and bizarre jackets. Unfortunately, I’m not that great at sewing but personalizing denim with paint is something I’ve always wanted to try. One of my close friends who studies at Leicester (hi Gracie if you are reading this) came home over the holidays and we decided to take the plunge and give it a go. Obviously, Fresh Prince was my chosen design but me and Grace actually hand-painted a far more intricate design of the ocean on her jacket that turned out super cool. 

O: Among all the pet portraits you’ve ever painted, which one remains close to your heart? Why?

C: I adore painting people’s pets, and when I’m contacted because someone’s pet has passed and they would like a portrait I am touched. Every pet portrait is so important for me to get perfect because I know how special pets are (as an owner of two sausage dogs) and getting that right is essential! With every portrait, I can see my skills improving and that is so exciting to me. I have to say that my favorite so far is a painting I did at Christmas for a family friend of their dog. The dog was not only brown and white, which is very difficult to paint but also curly-haired, so it was a challenge. I was nervous to tackle it but I loved the outcome and so did the client. 

O: What was your experience with fundraising for Banham Zoo with your art?

C: As a watercolor animal artist in the middle of a degree trapped at home, like many people during the pandemic, I felt very helpless seeing lots of local businesses around me struggling to stay afloat. Banham Zoo is the local zoo that I have been going to since I was young and still go to often for inspiration for my paintings. Having them not being supported by the government and hearing about their struggle was heart-breaking, so I wanted to help. I contacted the zoo with my idea of a fundraising competition to win an original painting I created of their beloved tiger Sveta and of course, they were happy for me to do so! To this day I still can’t believe the support my fundraiser competition got, I managed to raise £1,500 for the zoo and a lucky winner was given the painting and free day passes into the zoo alongside an afternoon tea that they kindly added to my prize-giving people more of an incentive to donate and support the cause. 

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

C: Don’t compare yourself to others! It is so important when you are starting out to be inspired by other artists and seek tutorials or guidance but try not to get bogged down by your work quality in comparison to others. Adding pressure to yourself can make it seem pointless to even start a piece of art but practice really does make perfect. As I have already mentioned, with each painting I can see my skills develop but I know I still have lots to learn. It is also worth mentioning that you need to ensure you love making art and don’t just love making money because the hard truth is, it takes a while to get your foot in the door. You may even be investing more money into it than you are getting out of it to start with. It is important to love art and what you are doing for the joy it brings you and anything extra is an added bonus. If I didn’t get the odd commission or go to craft fairs and sell a few prints I would still paint and have a personal collection because art is escapism for me and you can’t put a price on that! 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

C: Unfortunately, I am currently not working on anything super exciting although I am trying to sort my Etsy shop out and give it a bit of a revamp (@creativechloeart). I will also be sorting stock and getting myself to a few craft fairs as previously mentioned, so keep an eye out you might see me, and if you do pop over, say hello!

A huge shoutout to Chloe for sitting down to do this interview with us! It was so fun to hear about her creative journey and how you never know where you’re going to end up. We are so excited to see what other adventures and surprises Chloe has up her sleeve next! Stay up-to-date on all things Chloe by checking out her portfolio ( and Instagram (@creativechloee).

Breaking Boundaries with Alma Grace

Mexican-American artist & activist Alma Grace released her debut EP ‘FRIDA’ on May 5th. The 4-song EP includes Grace’s recent singles, “Girl Fight” and “Aventura,” as well as two brand new tracks, “Relámpago” and “Aztlán.” As the name suggests, the EP pays homage to Frida Kahlo. Grace has always felt drawn to Kahlo and the way in which she redefined beauty standards and broke down the boundaries placed on gender, race, and sexuality. The EP explores the ways in which Kahlo’s legacy has helped shape Grace, a second-generation Mexican immigrant, into the woman and artist she is today. 

Throughout the EP, Grace pays homage to her bicultural upbringing by weaving English and Spanish lyricism with traditional Latin sounds and modern pop melodies. Her narrative-driven lyricism is enchanting; each song delivers dual stories that tie back to both Kahlo and Grace’s lives. “Aventura” is an ode to adventure and affairs, something that Grace has always admired in Kahlo’s rich life. “Girl Fight” is a queer, feminist anthem that was inspired by Grace’s favorite Kahlo story: after her husband, Diego Rivera cheated on her, she had an affair with the same woman. “Aztlan” is about the mythical homeland of the Aztec people and pays homage to both Grace and Kahlo’s ancestors. Lastly, “Relámpago” is all about coping with pain — the physical pain Kahlo suffered due to her near-fatal bus accident and the emotional trauma Grace dealt with after being sexually assaulted.

O: How did you get your start in music? 

Alma Grace: I started off doing musical theater at a very young age after seeing my god sister perform on Broadway. I always knew I wanted to be a performer and at the age of 16, I started writing my own songs. I was actually on the subway when I met Clive Davis professor Nisha Asnani who offered to mentor me. I haven’t stopped writing since then!

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today? 

A: I really look up to Ashe. Her songwriting is so honest and I can only hope that my songs have an ounce of the truth that she brings to the table. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

A: Lyrical, empowering, and personal. I’ve been writing from a very early age and draw a lot of my inspiration from works of poetry and fiction, so my songs are very lyrical and narrative-based. I aim to create songs that have meaning beyond my own life, and that serve to empower others—it’s about making my fans feel seen. I consider myself a songwriter first, and all of my songs come from personal experience—I journal every day and get a lot of inspiration from everyday phrases, events, and observations. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: I love the feeling of being drawn to my piano. Whether it’s because I’ve had a particularly tough day or just an exciting idea, the work I create when I “need” to write is always exciting and meaningful. My favorite part of the process is in that brain dump, that release of writing by myself.

O: Do you remember the first song you wrote? 

A: I actually do! When I was about 7 or 8 years old I really wanted a phone so I wrote in my diary the lyrics to a song called “Where The Heck Is My Phone” — I found the diary years later and I can still remember how the melody went too! 

O: If you only had one sentence to pitch “FRIDA,” what would it be? 

A: The EP pays homage to Frida Kahlo, an artist who shaped my identity, while also telling my own coming of age story as a musician and person.

O: Your work focuses a lot on beauty standards and the boxes of gender, race, and sexuality. Why do you think it’s so important to break from the status quo? 

A: Representation is important and it’s vital to tell stories that don’t just traditionally fit the mainstream pop narrative. I’m telling the story of my own life, and I happen to come from a very mixed, multicultural background. If I can help others feel seen and heard by telling my own story, it will all be worth it. If my music can encourage people through hard times or help them celebrate the accomplishments and love in their lives, that’s all I can ever ask for. 

O: How much has your identity as a second-gen immigrant influenced your work? 

A: I think that my identity as a second-generation immigrant has played a large role in my sound. My whole Mexican-American family is very musically talented — my uncles always played boleros on the guitar at family gatherings and have even written their own traditional canciones. I grew up speaking Spanish and English and my lyrical vernacular is very influenced by that bilingual identity. I love mixing languages in my music. I also include traditional Latin sonic elements in the production of my songs, from the guitars to the trunk-rattling 808s. Since I grew up primarily in the US, I also draw heavily on the indie-pop genre and the American influences I grew up listening to.

O: You constantly immerse your wonderful energy into creating music that helps other people know that they aren’t alone in the challenges they face. Do you have any advice for new artists who are earlier in their creative careers about persevering through hardship? 

A: I’d say my best advice is to lean on the people around you. Even just receiving texts from my best friends’ families who listen to my music has encouraged me and helped me persevere—it takes a village and you shouldn’t have to go through this journey alone.

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

A: Probably balancing school with furthering my music career. I’m currently a student at Yale and it can be hard to manage classes with performances, releases, and being consistent with my songwriting. But, ultimately, I feel as if my academic journey has added so much to my art, and I know that I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without that educational background. 

O: What are you most looking forward to after the release of your debut EP? 

A: I’m looking forward to everyone listening to it! It makes me so happy when people send me messages about how the EP has made them feel and which tracks they enjoy the most. I’m also excited to put out the music videos that I’ll be filming this summer! 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

A: Yes! I have a fun college breakup song that should be coming out in the next few months. It was a collaboration with an incredible producer, Ronnie DiSimone, and I’m so happy with how it’s turned out.

Thank you so much to Alma for sharing her heart with THE LAB! ❤ If you want to keep up on all things Alma, check out her website and social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). You can listen to her tunes on Spotify.

Exploring the Magical Symbolism in Art and Daily Life: Trinity Lester

Trinity Lester is an artist and curator based in Brooklyn, New York who recently graduated with a BA from Columbia University in Art History and Visual Arts. Her practice focuses largely on exploring the magical symbolism that is embedded in every aspect of daily life through colorful interactions of pigments and layered drawing. Each painting and print works to immerse the audience into her visualizations of certain feelings, parts of her personal history, and sensory experiences. Most recently, she has been working through the mediums of watercolor painting, color pencil, and soft sculpture.

O: When did you begin creating art? 

Trinity Lester: A common answer, I’m sure, but I have truly been creating art since before I can remember. I was really into making things as a kid and have always been obsessed with colors. The first real artistic project that I worked on was probably my AP portfolio in high school. 

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin drawing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

T: My first love was art history, so a large part of my practice is inspired by my favorite artists who I have found throughout my time creating. That is to say, the ones who most directly influence my work are probably Hilma af Klint, Agnes Martin, and Louise Bourgeois: the first artists I really committed to thinking about when I wrote my thesis [Navigating the Sublime, the Spiritual, and the Self: A Reconsideration of the Grid through the work of Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Louise Bourgeois]. Beyond them, there are always a collection of artists floating around in the back of my mind and I think my work is usually in conversation with whatever I have seen in person or online recently. 

Outside of art history, however, I think some of my favorite artists (and those who inspired me to start and keep drawing) have been animators. Whenever I am in need of inspiration I go to animation to help me find my way back to world-building. Recently, I have been revisiting Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Nobody creates magic quite like those two studios :-).

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

T: Vibrant, because I try my best to make the colors deep and pure.

Coded, because a lot of secret messages are hidden in the details and only able to be seen in person (song lyrics, astrological placements, journaling, names, etc.).

Whimsical, because I love this word and I have so much fun making art, and I always want my art to feel as fun and emotional as it was to make it.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

T: The part after I’ve decided that I actually don’t hate the work and can’t wait for it to be finished. OR the part where I finally finish and realize how grateful I am to be able to use art as a way to express myself. However, most of the creative process is usually sitting and staring, just waiting for a color or detail to come to me.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

T: The pandemic turned my art practice in a bunch of different directions. I started out as a student and a printmaker primarily, with full access to the print shop. Now, I am in a studio (finally :-)) but primarily working in painting and sculpture. I think out of necessity the pandemic has made me try a little bit of everything and, overall, I am grateful that I’ve always found a way to continue making things.

O: Your work is vibrant, colorful, and bursting with detail. Where does your inspiration come from? 

T: So many places! A lot of the details in my work come from feelings, people, words, shapes and the colors that I associate with them. I always start with a baseline of drawing and then build up the detail from there. I am constantly trying to complicate the space by adding layers and new additions in text or doodles. The deeper that the work gets the more I enjoy it and enjoy looking at it because every detail is personal.

I appreciate when people try to take the time to decode my work, or question why certain things end up the way that they do and I am always so happy to talk about it. There are a large collection of symbols that I have adopted (from astrology, tarot, and my daily life) but there are also many that I have invented from constantly working on the code of my work.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite?

T: My favorite piece of work right now is my fabric dolls that link together to form a mutable spine. I love their organic shape and their soft comforting material. Each pink fabric spine is stuffed with fluff and various herbs that are historically associated with alleviating back pain. The only way to know however is when they hit the light or if you smell them (and they smell really nice <3). Right now, there are 8 hanging in the studio but I have a feeling that there are going to be many more because I love sewing them.

This work goes in tandem with a collection of digital paintings that I have been doing to keep track of my pain levels throughout my scoliosis treatment. I love those because they are a beautiful log of such a fleeting and negative experience. I am also working on some watercolor paintings but I have a love/hate relationship with them.

O: What was the best part about studying at Columbia University?

T: The best parts were the people I met there, working at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, and learning more about the things that I love. I was very lucky to be surrounded by a great group of people that always uplifted me and kept me going and I am grateful for the three and a half in-person years that I got with them.

O: Tell us more about the thesis you wrote for Columbia University.

T: My thesis tied together the artists Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Louise Bourgeois through the use of the grid as an organizational structure in select works of theirs. It was less of a historical connection and more of a conceptual project based on an emotional and spiritual throughline that existed in their creative processes! It is 61 pages long, around ~14,600 words, and by far my favorite thing I have ever written.  

O: What was your experience as a Student Printmaker at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies?

T: I worked at LNCPS near the end of my time at Columbia and my experience there was really what made my time at school so enjoyable. With a great group of artists and printmakers, I worked on professional fine art printing projects and helped to maintain the print shop. I was constantly learning something new and the people I worked with were always giving me a new outlook on what it means to make a print. I loved it!

O: At Project Gallery V, you’ve provided artists from all over the world with a platform to showcase their work. How important is it for you as co-director for this project?

T: Project Gallery V is an extremely important part of my life that I was brought into by my friend and former co-worker Cary Hulbert. After working at LNCPS, she had this idea for an online gallery space and we have taken it to a whole new level. The best part about the project is being able to have a platform that allows artists to gain more exposure easily and at a low-cost to themselves. Additionally, every exhibition that we showcase includes a combination of professionally printed editions alongside emerging artists from all over the world. The fact that it is so uniquely online is what allows us to show these artists together with ease (which brings me a lot of joy). And, I am always happy to support the work of printmakers because I am obsessed with multiples. 

O: Being a curator, you must be coming across many pieces of artwork regularly. Are there some pieces of work that have moved you? If yes, why?

T: Constantly! The work that is most beautiful to me is the kind that moves me to feel. I am always being moved by the work of others and try my best to pour my emotions into my own art. Seeing the world through the eyes of someone else is so often an emotional experience and that is essentially the task that we take up when we attempt to read into art. One of the reasons that I love art so much is because of its capacity to inspire feeling and whenever I am reminded of that it is always a special moment. 

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

T: Simply, do what makes you happy. If you try drawing, and it isn’t fun, it is time for you to start printmaking. If you try painting, and you don’t like it, don’t force it. The best work that you will make is the kind that makes you feel fulfilled. I try my best to remember this advice but it’s not always easy! 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

T: I am curating a show with my co-founder, Cary Hulbert (@cary_hulbert), this coming June on Project Gallery V (@projectgalleryv) and we are always doing new, cool things there! Other than that I am always making new things on @triiinity.lester on Instagram.

So many kudos to Trinity for taking some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to chat with us about her creative process and exciting new projects! Stay up to date on Trinity’s latest artistic endeavors by checking out her aforementioned Instagram or visiting her website (!

On Making Glistening, Multi-layered, and Millennial Music: Anna Shoemaker

Anna Shoemaker is a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who makes glistening, multi-layered, millennial indie-pop tunes. Despite only being a few years into her career, Shoemaker has already been praised extensively by tastemakers like Billboard, Refinery29, and Culture Collide. She’s also opened for Julia Michaels and Bishop Briggs and sold out her own headlining gig at Mercury Lounge just before the pandemic hit. Her debut EP ‘East Side’ was released in 2018 via Steve Madden’s 5Towns Records. In 2020 she released her sophomore project, ‘Everything Is Embarrassing.’

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today? 

Anna: Right now I’m really inspired and look up to one of my best friend’s Andrew Selkōw who performs as Middle Part. Also very inspired by Ethel Cain.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why?

A: Crying in the car (four words!)

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: Writing. It’s like word vomiting but appropriate because it’s a song and not just talking too much in a conversation.

O: Do you have a favorite memory of when you recorded one of your most popular songs, “What Am I Doing To Me?”

A: Yes! I recorded the vocals in Jo Daly (Sad Penny)’s closet.

O: What was it like to work with producer JT Daly on Everything Is Embarrassing

A: It was so nice to be and work in Nashville away from my real life for a little. JT Daly is the best! 

O: How did it feel when your debut EP, East Side, was released?

A: It felt like such a relief to release it but I was also extremely anxious to have it out in the world.

O: What is the story behind the “Dump Them” tees?

A: My friend Sydney and I are obsessed with the Britney Spears “Dump Him” tee-shirt, so we talked to our other friend Noah Neal about creating a spin on that and he created this sick design.

O: Tell us about your experience working with video editors, videographers, and the like for your music videos.

A: For my visuals, I try to work with friends or with people who I want to be my friends. I love keeping a really close team of people to work with so everything feels very comfortable and real. 

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

A: Write what you know and tell your own story. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for?


Thank you so much to Anna for taking the time to answer our questions! Click on Anna’s website ( to learn more about her music and merch. To listen to her music and keep up to date with her upcoming releases, check out her social media (Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube).

A coffee chat with the leaders of the Pegasus Film Festival: Grayson Micaela, Daviah Harrison, CJ Camot, and Lucy Roberts

Now in its sixth year, the Pegasus Film Festival is a part of the newly formed Pegasus Media Project ( by educators and professional filmmakers Niloo Jalilvand and Glenys Quick. The event is open to students (from kindergarten through graduating high school seniors) around the globe and will be held online on Saturday, May 22, at 7 pm. No matter where the students and their family and friends live, they will be able to view their work along with their peers.

An organization run by students, for students, Pegasus Film Festival has also continued its partnership with FilmFreeway, a platform for filmmakers to submit their creations to established and trusted festivals around the world.

Outlander: What inspired you to found the Pegasus Media Project/Pegasus Film Festival? How did it come to be? 

Niloo Jalilvand (founder of PFF): In 2010, I had been an instructor at  Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts, in Dallas, Texas, for roughly 10 years. I was thrilled, as some of my students were advancing to Ivy League schools and majoring in not only science (which I taught, along with math) related fields but also in film and Technology-based arts. As happy as I was, however, I was also a witness to the lack of resources and support that other talented and driven youth, who did not attend booker T., did not seem to have. I remember seeing some of those same rejected students at film competitions where my students were taking away all the awards and it was obvious that those students who did not win those awards had the potential, and with a little guidance and direction they would have easily won as well. So, I began thinking about extending my guidance outside of Booker T., and eventually, the Pegasus Summer Film program started, where students from all over DFW came and made films, along with my own students from Booker T. At the time I was also the director of Flicks by Chicks, Women in Film, a female-fronted film festival, and also served as a board member on several arts organizations, so I reached out to those within the networks and began fundraising and putting together the Pegasus Film Festival to showcase the works that were being created. The goal was to give the first-hand experience to students in order to learn real-life lessons, experience, and create opportunities, and with dedication, it turned into what it is today.

O: What makes Pegasus Film Festival unique from all of the other film festivals? 

Pegasus Team: Pegasus Film Festival is a festival for student filmmakers, by student filmmakers, where the students themselves are the biggest priority. It’s a comfortable, family-style film festival, open internationally, that values the creation and collaboration of filmmaking rather than competition, and is a safe place for people to grow as both students and filmmakers. The commitment to the students above anything else sets Pegasus apart from other festivals. 

O: Are there any filmmakers that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your careers or someone whose work inspires you today? 

PT: As a team, we talk about filmmakers a lot, we even started a new series this year called “Cinematic Conversations” where we talk about important films from a filmmaking perspective, and the conversations run from works that are notable, to works that are important in our society and culture(s), and especially works that are relevant to our festival and the core values that we uphold. But, the films and filmmakers that we always end up coming back to, are the films created by indie and independent filmmakers, who are just like us. There are too many great ones to name, but the filmmakers that started from nothing, who do all aspects of filmmaking, who pour their heart and soul into the project, are the films and filmmakers that inspire all of us to continue doing Pegasus. 

O: In the six years since the Pegasus Film Festival began, you’ve surely seen many films from upcoming creators. Is there one in particular that stands out to you? And if so, why? 

PT: In the six years of the Pegasus Film Festival, we have seen a large number of films come through, from all different categories. Pegasus hosts, and has always hosted, a broad range of categories to be shown every year, which allows for a multitude of films to be shown, and artistry to be recognized. With that large range, there are so many films from so many different artists, that are notable. The ones that consistently get talked about throughout the years though are the meaningful stories that are not expected. Every year, there is always a film or two that stands out in terms of emotional content, with a hidden core message, and a composition style that surprises the audience. Those are the films we always look for and eventually end up conversing about later down the line.

O: What is your favorite part of organizing the film festival? 

PT: Most of the team’s favorite part of the festival is the genuine networking and collaboration that happens with peers who have the same goals. As a team, students learn how to put on a film festival from the ground up, everything is up to the leaders, from ticket prices to the films that are shown–all of it is created and implemented by the team, with adult guidance when needed. There is also always enjoyment in judging all of the films and seeing how creative the filmmakers are. The work that is produced is truly amazing, and being hands-on is just the icing on the cake. 

O: Has this festival always been held online, and if not, has converting the platform to completely virtual posed any challenges for you?

PT: We actually switched to online last year, which was more of a challenge because of how unexpected the change was. It was just another curveball, in the madness that was 2020. This year, however, we were prepared and had time to think of new strategies. Being completely virtual has allowed the team to communicate efficiently and has helped us bond more over time. It also has opened up the opportunity for more filmmakers to find PFF, such as our international friends. Without the virtual aspect, they would not normally be able to attend the screening or invite any of their friends and family, but because it is all online, there’s an increase in accessibility and out-of-the-box ways we can all come together as a community.

O: Could you talk a little bit about your partnership with FilmFreeway? 

PT: Absolutely! FilmFreeway has been a staple in the film festival circuit for years, and we are so lucky to be able to partner with them once again for this year’s festival. FilmFreeway does a huge service to film festivals of all sorts, not just Pegasus, and is widely acclaimed as a staple partner, who encourages festivals to expand beyond their normal means of production, allowing filmmakers to submit their films directly onto their website, where the festival can gather all submitted information, for screenings and press. FilmFreeway works as a sort of front-desk clerk, maintaining all the records and films that are submitted so that show-runners can manage other aspects of the festival, while still maintaining a level of professionalism. 

O: Who else are your partners? 

PT: We are also partnered with Falcon Events, which is the streaming platform that we use and has helped us continue our festival during the pandemic, when we were unsure if it was going to be possible, due to everything changing. We are so thankful to Josh and the Falcon Event team for being a part of the Pegasus family, for allowing us the opportunity to both promote Falcon Events, as well as continue to host Pegasus Film Festival, simultaneously. We also have a partnership with Dallas College, and a few theaters/organizations in the Dallas area (check our website for the full list). 

O: What are you looking forward to as the film festival grows? 

PT: Hands down, watching the next generation of filmmakers step into their artistic power, and continue to tell their stories to the world. That is the entire mission of Pegasus, to inspire the next generation to tell their stories, and to give them a place to do so, so they have the resume credit, and the exposure to go on and continue to tell their important stories to the world. As Pegasus grows, we hope that the love for filmmaking only continues to grow with us and that the filmmakers of the future, look back on their time at Pegasus fondly, and with the knowledge that they can do anything, because we all have a Pegasus within us, if only we spread our wings. 

O: The 2021 festival is coming up on May 22nd. Is there anything we need to know beforehand about the festival? What can we expect? 

Yes, May 22nd at 7 pm CST! Tickets will be on sale after our submissions close May 4th, and can be bought off of our website as soon as they’re live.

As for what to expect: It will be roughly a two-hour event, packed full of endless cinematic entertainment, a Q&A panel for the filmmakers, as well as an awards ceremony. There will be more information released on our social media closer to the day, so keep an eye out and get ready to watch some films! And make sure to give some extra love to Outlander, for the work they’re doing while you’re checking out Pegasus Film Festival!

Thank you so much to Grayson Micaela, Daviah Harrison, CJ Camot, and Lucy Roberts from the Pegasus Film Festival team for sitting down to chat with us in the midst of preparing for the festival!

If you are interested in checking out their past work, purchasing tickets for the May 22nd event, or getting in the loop with all things Pegasus Film Festival, please check out their website ( and their Instagram (