Electropop duo ASTR will never sound the same, you just don’t know it yet.
Following their departure from 300 Entertainment and Los Angeles, the duo — composed of vocalist and songwriter Zoe Silverman and producer Adam Pallin — reconvened in the mythic Woodstock, New York, in order to get “unwired so that there was no programming,” Silverman tells Billboard. While pushing themselves into new sonic territories that reflect their reinvigorated defiant spirit, the need to address the group dynamic itself became increasingly apparent.
Now based in New York City, Silverman continues on as a solo artist through ASTR, but not before going one last round with Pallin handling production. Though we will need to be patient before hearing ASTR’s next phase with Silverman at the reins, the foundation of the group has already shifted from the promising young pop duo primed for mainstream airwaves with charming Drake covers to a commanding, singular voice that wields artistry like a crucial responsibility.
In the wake of such a seismic change comes the stark visuals of the “In Your Eyes” video, directed by Silverman’s creative collaborator, Andre Bato, and available exclusively on Billboard below. The video leaves no question as to the where the new direction of ASTR is heading with striking solo imagery and thematic nods that Silverman teases will comprise their as-of-yet unannounced upcoming album.
Billboard caught up with Silverman to discuss the duo’s new dynamics, the visuals concepts behind “In Your Eyes” that tie into the larger work, and Silverman’s vision for ASTR moving forward as a solo female artist in the high-stakes and often dubious industry.
There’s been some big changes in the group, so in your own words, can you elaborate on how the dynamic between you and Adam has shifted?
Adam is producing this next project so he’s still involved in a production way, but as far as the visual and live front, he won’t be in it. It just felt like a natural thing to do after five years of doing everything together. It kind of felt rigid and it felt like we both needed to grow independently. So he’s producing other things and we’ve taken this space and it’s been good for us to find our own inspirations.
So that’s the first thing you’ll see in the video is just me, but the sound is also more grunge now. With the tempo, I felt like everything was really sexy R&B. For a while Adam and I were in L.A. and we never really locked into the right team, so it was just a lot of trial and error and it became very tiring. So we were like, “Okay we need to just re-approach music and look at it differently, individually.” So now that it’s all coming together, it’s pretty cool.
Has this affected your collaborative process at all and how you work in the studio?
You know, it kind of flipped it upside-down a bit but it’s good because I’ve started learning production. I’m learning piano and I’ve stripped everything down now to a place where I feel like a baby and it’s fresh. I feel like it’s everyone’s story as an artist that after a certain amount of years getting tossed around not really having a team, it can be a bit maddening and then everything starts to sound the same and you can lose your identity. Music should be something you love doing, it should be passionate, it should be inspiring, it shouldn’t be like, “Oh this is my job, it’s stressful and I’m doing this because I have a deadline.” That sucks. So I completely threw that out.
I actually started teaching yoga again because I wanted to feel good and I wanted to make music from that place. Learning production and exploring genre is a way for me to look at music with a new lens so that it’s not jaded in the way that it’s become for everyone. I’m trying to make this into a passion project again so I’m really experimenting now, but this whole project was still produced by Adam at this point.
So on this new set of songs did you also contribute production?
No, no, no, that’s what I’m working on now for the next stage. For this production, it was like after Adam and I had been through the gamut, we were getting off of 300 and we didn’t tell 300 what we were doing and kind of stopped talking to everyone. We then swung from manager to manager and publicist to publicist; it really was all over the place. I had a stress disorder, I was vomiting literally every day, and we didn’t have proper anything so it was really just trying to keep up with it. So we went to Woodstock and did this project and it was like us channeling all of our darkness and suffering into a project. It’s kind of therapeutic for me to listen to it; the project is actually going to go from dark to light and that is the place that I’m in now.
Being in Woodstock for us was symbolizing anti-Hollywood. I chopped my hair off, I prepped the color, I cut my nails off. I was in sweatpants for like six months literally sitting in the dirt trying to feel myself and be authentic and unwired so that there was no programming. That’s where this project came from, with me and Adam being like ‘Fuck no are we going to the same pop shit that everyone is telling us to do that we don’t want to do. We want to do something that’s going to break new ground, something that hasn’t been done, something that’s innovative. Or it’s like what’s the point? Why are we making music? I want this to be something that’s radical and can uplift people and expand people’s minds, not just the same thing.
Would you say that that whole situation was partly responsible for you finding the power to be a solo artist?
Yeah, I’m sure Adam was somewhat of a crutch, like I relied on him heavily, and I needed that. But I needed to break free of that. I thought “Oh, this can’t be taken away from me no matter what. I don’t have to rely on a producer, I don’t have to rely on a thing.” It definitely gave me the power to really know who I am; I’m unapologetic, I’m unwavering, I’m not going to be sexualized, I’m not going to be told what to do. I’m going to follow my truth because I took the pressure off of it. Even if no one likes this project, I do not give a f–k. I’m doing it because it’s in my heart. It’s not about the clout anymore and I needed to take that pressure off. It can’t just be a job, a stress, something you’re doing to make money. It has to be like this is feeding me. It’s therapeutic. I think I can uplift people. But if you can’t do that, it can be maddening. You just feel like you’re writing for you and you’re in your own head. That’s why I started teaching yoga because I wanted a community. I wanted to see that I could affect people in the time in between albums coming out.
But Woodstock is where I gave up all this fake Hollywood shit. I stopped going to parties, I stopped drinking, not for a serious reason but just for the reason of wanting to be home, I want to be studying, I want to feel brand new again. How can I switch my lens and do this differently, because the circumstances aren’t changing. It’s myself that needs to change so I can get joy from something that used to bring me so much.
So now completely untethered from any preconceptions or anybody else’s ideas, what direction are you hoping to take ASTR?
Well, with this project, we were listening to some grunge and industrial shit when we were in Woodstock and that kind of rebellious spirit is the tone of the project. I think that it mixes in some Kanye, Francis and the Lights bits that I’m super into. The tone comes from my personal state of feeling like “Wow, the world is shit right now.” The industry is so fucking hard and no one supports you, girls are terrible to each other. Guys, it’s like you’re brothers, you get put on their tour. Girls, it’s completely different and you get really overwhelmed Even with your friends who are musicians, there is this thread of competitiveness. I could go off on that…
My personal struggle was mirroring a universal struggle where I think everyone was very disheartened at the injustice they’re seeing in the world, like all this shit like a fucking cartoon. Like, “how is this reality?” So that whole mirroring became the spirit of the music. It’s rebelling against [shit] we’re seeing. It was personal because of the struggle but then it became universal with everything that we’re dealing with and we kind of turned that into this project.
I think before I was way more complacent in the state of things in who I was; I wasn’t as radical; now I want to ask questions, I want to get to the root of why things are the way they are. I want to explore, I want other people to start asking questions. I think the whole spirit of it is inquisitive, and just to start a cultural conversation. I want to make people uncomfortable because we can’t just stay here and be complacent with gender roles. Everything that’s going on, we need to look at it and flip the script, and that comes from everyone talking about what their values are.
So going through this struggle, lyrically how do you find the words and melodies to put big broad concepts into actual songs?
You know what’s crazy? Right now, in my studious vibe that I’m in, I’m really getting into literature and I’ve literally looked over syllabuses of how they teach English to students…I’m going really heady with the language. But at this point I didn’t really care about language, I care about vibrations. And to me, that’s still the most important thing. Like fuck what the words say, I want you to feel this. What’s important is that you’re inside something that’s happening and something’s changing. So to me, it was less about the words and more about the overall tone.
This is like a mood project. If you feel a mood, then the world is a full encompass of it and it comes together a lot through the visualizations paired with the music, and that really expands into a complex world.
So what would you describe is the overall mood of the project?
Finding light through darkness. It’s going into your darkest place and finding wisdom and seeing the big picture. Some of it you’ll feel suffering, some of it you’ll feel lightness. That’s really how I’m looking at it is from a vibrational scale — and I know most writers don’t approach music that way.
Touching on the “In Your Eyes” video, it’s very clear that you’re stepping out on your own. Can you walk me through the concept and development of the video?
It’s definitely set up at the beginning about isolation and being alone, and there’s some fear with being able to own being yourself. In a way, I didn’t want to come out alone at the beginning because I did have that fear and I wasn’t comfortable with myself I wasn’t like, “Oh my opinions are valid.” There are so many opinions in the world, why mine? I do have that self-deprecative spirit that I have to consistently work with to feel that value. I think shedding that skin of Adam was hard but that isolation and reflective “who am I?” is the situation that was stirring the pot in Woodstock and that’s where that fully started.
As you expand and you see there is this theme of nature versus machine that is really all over my project and I think that is a universal thing because I’ve been seeing that a lot. The contrast of light and dark, duality, right and wrong, where is the middle ground? We see that in culture, everything is pulled to polarity. So, there’s sterile lighting then the plants: industrial versus nature. Then you zoom out and you see that it’s a part of this surrealism dream, which I have a feeling like the world is [Laughs]. And the character, she’s wearing a mask — to me, she is the illusion of reality. Everything cool, everything being sold to you that we all buy into, that’s hype. That in my head, is like what it symbolizes, but really it’s a surrealism dream and it’s for whoever to interpret how they feel.
Can you break down the concepts from your live show and tease what we can expect?
I am super stoked for the live show. I feel like being solo, I am able to do what I always wanted to do. I’m really interested in making it more of an art performance, adding a bit acting, and now I have a creative partner in Andre Bato, he’s fucking fantastic. He’s amazing. He’s done all the photos with me, he’s really doing all of the visuals. That’s one of the collaborations that I’m super stoked about. This Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve but through the feminist lens is a story that we’re starting to tell and bring to life and that also goes into the nature versus machine theme. So it’s like a little bit goth, a little bit renaissance.
I heard something about organic botany?
Yeah, that’s the nature aspect of it. It’s like, a lot of world stuff, like I can’t tell you the album title but that ties into it. I think you can learn from external nature about your internal nature so I really incorporated that in. I love all the nuances and the tiny little threads of what things mean so there are going to be a lot of hints and shadows throughout the project… I’m kinda geeked about that stuff.
You’ve laid out the pitfalls for pop singers or those that come from a pop background. So what are the challenges you see and how do you plan to approach them as a solo artist trying to break out from that label?
Well, I’m not in L.A. [Laughs] I’m in New York and I’m really by myself in New York. There’s not a massive writing community here. It’s pretty seedy which I fuck with. In L.A., it’s like everyone’s in a room and they all start writing the same way because that just makes sense. It’s a hub.
It’s so easy to sell out and I’ve been doing this for so long that I’m not going to do it now, but you know how it goes, “Oh, you get a phone call, you get a this, you get a that,” but you need to keep going back to your integrity and the reason why you’re doing this. I feel like I’m going to have way more control this time, and I’m really building the team from the bottom-up and I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m not going to tell you when the album’s going to come out because I don’t know, I just want to feel it. I’m trying to trust my feelings now more than ever as a compass as far as where to go. In the past, I didn’t listen; when things didn’t feel good, I listened to people more senior than me in the industry and that’s great, you can do that, but your intuition is strong and you should follow it because it’s really your project anyway.
I’m pretty cerebral and I’ve thought about what I think the purpose of the artist is and it’s to move culture forward and direct the path by being a trailblazer, and if I’m not doing that then I don’t feel like I’m doing my job. I think we have enough robots on stage, so it’s time for everyone to get radical.