Indie Pop Artist Pronoun Shares Her Summer of Pride Playlist & Talks Inclusion, Self-Acceptance in the Biz: 'It's So Not Black & White To Me'
Pronoun is having a moment. The indie pop artist (née Alyse Vellturo) feted the release of her latest full-length LP i’ll show you stronger last month (via Rhyme & Reason Records), and now she’s spreading her synth-pop gospel on a sweeping North American tour, which ends with a hometown show at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Records next month (July 11). The album explores the theme of recovery, and was written following a break-up with her former girlfriend. “It pretty much saved my life," she explains. "It helped me realize it's ok to be sad, and crazy, and hurt, and vulnerable, but it's just as important to stand up for yourself and know what you deserve, and lastly to move on.”
The triumphant newcomer self-produced the LP in its entirety in her "tiny" Brooklyn apartment, and dubs its genre “indie-emo-bedroom-rock-that-no-one-asked-for.” Despite the self-deprecating dig, the upstart earned praise from one of her heroes — Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba — who called the LP one of “the best new emo” records right now (alongside Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and more) on Twitter. For Vellturo, the co-sign is -- of course -- an added bonus, but more than anything it highlights the importance of perseverance in today's climate. “I hope it can give listeners some relief, and maybe the songs get stuck in their heads.”
The singer-songwriter’s moniker — the all-lowercase “pronoun” — is a nod to the sensitive topic of preferred pronouns for genderqueer and trans-identifying individuals. The apt nom de plume came at the suggestion of her friend Emmy Black (owner of her label Rhyme & Reason Records), following Vellturio's own esoteric suggestion (the name 'monachopsis' - which stands for the “subtle and persistent feeling of out of place”). “I have learned a lot, I will tell you that!” she says. “The questions start coming up more and more. What is a pronoun and what does it mean? I can’t believe people have to fight for what they want to be called, but it’s been super interesting and educational and powerful to watch.”
Pride has always been a source of anxiety for the newcomer, who "doesn’t like crowds” and often gets claustrophobic in such tightly packed environments. In 2017, she recalls accidentally joining NYC’s Union Square Pride parade (with her full band gear) on the way to a show in Jersey City. “I’m on the subway, it was like 90 degrees out, I had my guitar and pedal board and the subway stopped running to the PATH train at 14th Street,” she says. “I was like why isn’t the PATH running?! Oh my god it’s the Pride parade!’” In the "sea of people," she surrendered to the crowd, which gave her a bit of "exposure therapy" to the benefits of the street-filled celebration. “I just opened up my eyes and was like, 'Oh my God this is so fun.' I will always remember that moment."
To toast Billboard’s “Summer of Pride” initiative, pronoun crafted a Pride-themed playlist that includes artists who are “out, inclusive or just identify with anything besides ‘the norm,’” and featuring Tegan & Sara, MUNA and more.
In addition to her music career, the triple threat — who attended Berklee College of Music and grew up in nearby Concord, Mass. — studied management and other sectors of the business early on, which gave her a crash-course in the inner workings of the industry. Vellturo now has the unique vantage point of being an artist and an industry leader at her “day job” at Sony Music's The Orchard, where she has served as manager of client relations since 2016. The exposure has given the indie artist a DIY edge that most don’t have in today's climate. “I can’t tell if it cancels itself out. At some points, I’m like.. this is really great I can analyze my own audience, and figure out what’s working and what’s not, what content people like, what is my brand, blah blah blah, which artists don’t like doing for the most part, because they’re artists,” she says. “I really started overthinking things because I’m so 'in it.' I see artists succeeding -- people are hearing this, the audience is growing -- but then I also see artists with the most amazing music doing the same thing and it just doesn’t work. It’s such an in-between - and I think about it a lot.”
Still trying to figure out how to “walk the line” of separating business from creative concerns, the artist always returns to the therapeutic power of songwriting at its core. “My business does matter but I should be focusing on making something that I'm proud of and hopefully people will join," she adds. "I make music for myself that I like and it makes me feel better when I write it. But you can get completely lost in like… 'oh my new single doesn’t have many streams. What will people think?' It’s not a failure if you put out a song and no one listens to it. You just have to keep persevering and pushing through.” It comes with the territory that Vellturo has witnessed many of her peers' recent breakthroughs, but also many pivots away from the industry. “I’m getting older and I’ve seen some people just be like I can’t do it anymore, I’m not getting a reaction,” she says. “But then I see a lot of other people just keep going, like ‘I can’t not do this.’ Every year the pool gets smaller, even on the business end. If you are expecting to make a livable wage off of music, it’s just not like that. It takes a really long time. I wish I could do something else sometimes, but it’s the only thing that makes me happy.”
Touring is — of course — her main priority in growing her audience and global footprint, but more time on the road can be a challenging thing, especially for female and LGBTQ-identifying artists. "The entire world is built around white cis-men, not just the touring and music industry," she says, admitting that she realized the disparity during her first tour in 2017 after landing a booking agent (APA). She was reminded of the grueling experience of sleeping on "people’s floors” or a “pull out bed in an EcoLodge” when The Recording Academy's outgoing president/CEO Neil Portnow made the proclamation that women needed to "step up" following criticsm of a lack of female nominees at the 2018 Grammy Awards. “I was just like…fuck you. Seriously. You don’t know what it’s like out there," she says of the live sector, which is just “not built" for women in many ways. “At first I was like ‘anyone can sleep on a floor!' but it made me think about how girls and boys are taught different things growing up, like ‘oh you don’t like camping?' or 'you don’t want to sleep on some strangers floor?' That’s not lady like.’”
In her role as a “fighter” for the voiceless in the industry, Vellturio has done a lot of thinking about how to talk about sexuality and gender, especially given her role as an advocate for the community at large. “In the beginning I didn’t really know how to talk about sexuality or gender. It was kind of crippling,” she adds. “Whether you like it or not you’re gay and out and touring and making music and you’re name is pronoun. Girls are coming up to you after your show and saying that you inspire me to get up there, which is so refreshing and I don’t often see that. The more I talk about it, the more I learn about my own opinion on it and how to discuss it with other people.”
Vellturio doesn’t think about sexuality or gender “much at all,” thanks to the progressive enviornment at her employer The Orchard, where “almost all” of her higher ups are women. “I forget how special that is.” In the dating scene, lines are blurring more than ever before, too. “I’ve dated a lot of people who I guess are bi or whatever, or had never dated women before. We’ll break up and she’ll start dating a guy, and people are like ‘oh I guess she wasn’t gay then?’” she says. “I think a lot of people want labels, but it’s really up to the individual to define (or not define) who they are. It’s so not black and white to me at all.”
Next up, pronoun is already eyeing plans for her next record, with over “40 demos” in the works, with the "basic outline" completed. And via her own Brooklyn-based indie label Sleep Well Records, which she founded in 2017, she’s helped fellow local acts such as Charles Fauna and Cape Francis reach larger audiences, with the latter recently performing on Billboard Live! and supporting Cayucas on tour through the summer. “I’m so happy he’s finally touring,” she says. “It’s so hard to get in but once you’re in you can start building the audience, which becomes your home.”