Author: Jason Lee
This article starts with an observation. Then goes off on a tangent. Then circles back and connects the tangent to the observation (possibly, optimistically) but either way ends strong with an EXTENSIVE, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with our featured artist, hi im home, a name written sans caps and sans apostrophe fyi (hopefully italics are ok!) like how it’d be written if it were being typed out hastily in an AIM chat room circa 2001 or stylized for a MySpace screen name circa 2007…
…so anyway much is revealed in the interview re: the genesis and development of the hi im home project, the existence of secret dial-a-song phone lines, the legacy of Jacques Lecoq’s poetic approach to movement, and other subjects besides not least of which being the release of hi im home’s most recent single on Cal Fish’s call waitn label and its corresponding music video, and oh by the way, hi im home is CURRENTLY TOURING EUROPE having officially kicked things off last night at London’s The Windmill Brixton.
AN OBSERVATION: The aforementioned single, hi im home’s second, is called stars in2 ur <3 (“stars into your heart”), a song title that would be a shoe-in for the “Best Use of A Prince-Style Stylized Title in an Original Song” award if such an award existed, but bigger-picture-wise a title that embodies the kawaii-style cute factor of hi im home’s plushie-based musical and visual aesthetics, to wit, plushie stuffed animals are cuddly and wholesome, but they’re often suffused with a sense of loss and longing too—especially among adults, especially when it comes to longing for the comforts of home however defined—kinda like hi im home’s music itself…
…which come to think of it one could easily liken Prince’s spelling/grammatical quirks to a certain “plushie aesthetic” as exemplified in the scribblings one would expect to find written in phat Rainbow marker inside a plushie-loving fifth grade girl’s Trapper Keeper—with all manner of kid-favored slang, pictographs, and deliberate, stylized misspellings of words algonside an abiding dedication to lower-case lettering and of course i’s dotted with hearts besides—which seeing as Prince had three half-sisters one of them could’ve easily served as inspiration…
…but either way the salient point being that there’s a well-defined aesthetic at work in hi im home’s musical universe or so we firmly believe—especially in light of what hi im home reveals in the interview below—and maybe the beginnings of a larger musical/cultural movement too when you consider NYC’s current pop renaissance and how many current artists seem to share plushie or plushie-adjacent tendencies to one extent or another.
A DIGRESSION: If you were to ask the average human on the street how they’d describe EDM (or electronic music more generally) in physically tactile terms you’d probably receive a bunch of blank stares in return, but if you then asked them what kind of materials world tend to look coolest and most appropriate for the decor of an EDM club you’d probably get responses like glass or steel, plastic or neon, with billows of industrial steam pumped out by a fog machine for sure…
…in other words we’re talkin’ an ambiance not unlike an industrial factory floor in a cavernous warehouse space except full of piston-driven gyrating bodies instead of assembly-line car parts or fast fashion apparel or whatever the factory happens to produce, and when it comes to the surfaces themselves one may reasonably expect them to be as rigid and unyielding, severe and sleekly alluring as the music itself at an EDM-oriented nightclub, whether trance or techno or house or drum & bass, music which after all is produced on devices themselves made from plastic and metal and coldly calculating circuitry…
…meaning that what you definitely don’t expect to see or feel at your local discotheque are more organic and soothing textures like for instance soft downy fur, hand-sewn quilts, chiffon or fleece and of course cuddly stuffed animals, but these are exactly the types of feels you *will* be party to at one of hi im home’s Plushie Parties™, parties that are more homey (appropriately) and domestic than industrial…
…parties featuring a cavalcade of plushy dolls, toys, and figurines of every size, shape, and species, passive witnesses to the festivities until one of them gets picked up and hugged or enthusiastically danced with, with the first edition of Plushie Party being held at a cramped yet convivial lower Manhattan pizza parlor with performers serving up music from behind the counter, dodging the lone pizzeria employee as he pulls steaming pies from the oven and pours glasses of wine for patrons…
…with the music ranging from DJs/producers pumping out hyper-caffeinated, chiptune-reminiscent accelerated grooves and tunes, to MCs spitting tongue-twisting, head-nodding rhymes over dank, sticky beats, to straight up electro-pop and hyperpop artists bringing the bops, all of whom despite the stylistic diversity get enveloped into the children’s birthday party atmospherics of the setting as in “let’s get the gang together and throw a party down at the local pizza parlor”…
…and dare we suggest there’s a nascent genre, or something like it, taking shape at these parties that incorporates elements of EDM, hip hop, and hyperpop into an overarching Plushie Pop mindset—warm and immersive in musical terms but equally restless and hyperactive at the same time, like a kid jacked up on Jolt Cola and Pixy Stix, alternating cooing blandishments with vocal-fried lyrical patter set against productions ranging from bright, sanguine tones and soft, shimmering arpeggiations to the harsh, endorphin-activating bleeps and bloops of vintage home video game systems.
BRINGING IT FULL CiRCLE: Which in effect brings us back “home” to the themes of childhood innocence and longing/nostalgia for home (*ahem*) and even if electronic, digitally-produced, oft-avant Plushie Pop may seem like a strange bedfellow for the organic/nostalgic aesthetics at play, the oldsters among us have gotta remember that “technology” is more than unfeeling machines and cold, calculating circuitry, when just as often it serves as something more akin to a warm blanket, an electronic womb you can crawl into and find refuge in whenever life seems a bit much…
..and what’s more, there’s plenty of nostalgia out there that’s directly rooted in technology, which must be pretty equally true for anyone who grew up in an industrialized society during the 20th or 21st century—whether the fetishistic object of desire is black and white TV sets that Boomers grew up with, or Gen X-era Atari gaming systems, or millennial’s memories of late night AIM chat sessions—a defense mechanism for assuaging the anxiety and/or alienation brought about by the new technologies that will one day be looked upon nostalgically that is until the robot army takes over…
…and so with no further ado it’s time for the good stuff, the “good stuff” in question being the interview we conducted with hi Im home in the warm, enveloping confines of Wonderville’s backyard space on a pleasant midsummer’s night in July…
SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM A CONVERSATION WITH HI IM HOME, LIGHTLY EDITED AND CONDENSED, WITH THE INTERVIEWER’S INTERJECTIONS ALMOST ENTIRELY REMOVED, FOR YR READING EASE AND PLEASURE:
hih: The single is coming out on Cal’s label, call waitn, which I’m really happy about.
Editor’s note: Cal Fish’s label, call waitn, self-describes as “a new Brooklyn based DIT (do it together) multi media label and phone line [where] every new single released by one of our enrapturing wizard artists is simply a phone call away.” For the kiddos “call waiting” is what people once called the new telephonic technology that allowed you to put a caller on hold and switch between two different phone calls.
Cal: Yeah, it’s a phone line. We’ve released tapes and CDs. It started two years ago. Basically, you call our number and get a phone menu with different options to listen to our newest releases over the phone.
Editor’s note: We gave it a try. A stentorian yet highly perky ‘50s robo-secretary type voice picks up and says something along the lines of “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Thanks for calling call waitn. Summer of love. Summer of patience. Summer of dreams. Summer of slowness. Let yourself linger and care a while….Hooray for sound you love when you call us!” followed by a series of 1-900 style menu offerings but without any $5/minute surcharge to hear stars in2 ur <3 and other label acts with names like Leather Projections Window World which sounds like it should actually be the name of a ’90s style 1-900 line.
hih: I’ve finally started sharing shit just recently. It’s been about six months since I started with hi im home. It’s been interesting how it progressed. Yeah, pretty crazy. I love radio, and I got an opportunity to have a show on Moonglow Radio which is an online DIY radio station. [RIP oonglow Radio]
And Cal was the first person I ever had on that show. I knew I wanted to interview people on the show because I just love appreciating people and what they do.
Editor’s note: At this point our reporter clumsily knocks over a nearly full glass of beer onto the table where we’re sitting, then excuses himself to go get a rag from the bar to clean up the mess. After this has transpired the interview continues…
hih: hi im home started as an Instagram page in 2020 when everyone was spending a lot of time at home. I decided to take pictures of what was in my house, so I started the account for taking pictures of my surroundings, documenting what’s in my room and in my house.
Basically, it was a Finsta. I don’t know if people make Finstas anymore. [The Deli looks slightly puzzled] The definition of Finsta, it’s a social media persona, an alias. A deep, secret part of yourself that’s too personal to share with the algorithm and with the public.
Editor’s note: According to Merriam-Webster, “Finsta is short for Finstagram, or ‘fake Instagram,’ referring to an account made so that a user can post images and interact with other accounts in a more private manner, usually reserving the account’s followers to close friends..” We appreciate the juxtaposition here, where finstas are both “fake” (you’re hiding your real identity) but intimate and highly personal, i.e., keeping it real, at the same time.]
hih: So that’s how hi im home started. Then it started to evolve. People would say, Oh, that would be a great name for something like this or that. And I thought, that’s great. Something can start off just being silly. But then it becomes real.
For so many artists–and I feel silly referencing this but I do love Charli XCX, and Charli XCX, the name came from her Myspace page. That’s what happened with hi im home too. It started with me posting a photo of a unicorn stuffed animal, all very nostalgic, and now it’s my music project.
Most of what I photographed for the Finsta account now takes up part of my parents’ garage in upstate New York. I’m from Rockland County—about an hour and 15 minutes from where we are right now. My mom is from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She works in financial services. And my dad is from Long Island. He’s a musician and composer who plays jazz and rock guitar.
So I hit up Cal in January. Now it’s July and I’m releasing my second single as hi im home on call waitn. It’s transformed into this new thing, but kept the core of what is was before too. Ever since the finsta, there’s been a very tangible element to hi im home. It’s about world building, whether it’s world building through photography, or music, or live performance.
Also, there’s this thing called “wholesomecore” which I feel a little silly about as well, but it’s been a source of inspiration too that’s consistent with the theme of hi im home.
Editor’s note: As defined by singer-songwriter/radio host/journalist Lizzerd Kween, wholesomecore is all about “being outwardly proud and open about being a kind person to yourself and others…being a nice person to others, caring about mental health, and honestly enjoying the cute, simple things in life, [which] is a part of being ‘punk’ because we live in a society that’s constantly trying to get you to compete with others, focus on your independence, and ‘grow up’.
hih: I’ve spent years supporting other artists—going out of my way to see shows, whether it’s a late night or I’m going out alone. It’s like the “they don’t know” meme, just being there, but not sharing myself yet. Everyone has their own journey of building up confidence, sharing yourself, breaking rules that got projected into your head from wherever, how you were raised or based on self esteem.
The Deli: How did you create the new song?
hih: In 2020 and ’21, I started using a DAW called Soundtrap. Soundtrap is crazy. It’s like Google Docs for music. And I’m not ashamed to talk about this because the most important experience I have for what I”m doing with hi im home is going to acting school.
I’m a recovering theater kid. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University with movement being a big part of my studies there, movement and space, where I was strongly influenced by the ideas of [French stage actor and acting movement coach] Jacques Lecoq where your body is the instrument, playing your body basically like you would a musical instrument.
“Through teaching, I have discovered that the body knows things about which the mind is ignorant.”
The most exciting performer is one who can engage their imagination fully while having a rigorously trained physical instrument through which these impulses can be dynamically expressed. The actor must have maximum control of their body in movement. Every gesture of the actor must have meaning and take on a heightened quality that is more real than real. Even when the actor’s hidden behind a mask, like in Noh and other traditional theater practices, they should be able to express the character they’re play just as vividly and powerfully, without relying on facial expressions or vocal expression. — Movement Theater Studio, NYC
hih: That’s what so much of theater is, performance, in the sense of relating and interacting with your surroundings. Performance is always embodied. Bodily presence within a space, how you inhabit and move through that space. That’s what you’re taught. That’s what you practice. And there’s so much world building that stems from it.
Space is a major aspect of things for me, like with building sets. That’s a big part of my day job. Over time I evolved into doing production design for film. This is another big part of what’s behind the creating of tangible worlds with hi im home. Whereas being a “pop star” is more like a fleeting, intangible thing.
Editor’s note: At a recent live performance at avant-pop & indie sleaze HQ Home Sweet Home, hi im home totally ran with the convergence of domesticity in their overlapping names, setting up a miniature model car and an abstracted neon PVC-like doll house assembled (and promptly destroyed) in the middle of the performance space (see the video that comes after the phrase “robot army” above).
hih: I like to create a tangible experience for the audience by drawing on space, objects, stories. So one ting I’ve been doing is throwing these Plushie Parties. I just held the second one at Home Sweet Home, and spent a long time on making the flyer.
Editor’s note: The image on the flyer have such a highly tactile quality, what with all the seams and surfaces exposed and vividly rendered, it makes you wanna reach out and try and touch the surfaces. Plus with all the sewing imagery it couldn’t be a more perfect fit for a space called Home Sweet Home.
hih: I bring objects into a space and play with them, drawing on whatever happens in the moment. I work well under pressure, throwing things together and seeing what happens. If you bring these objects that you already have a relationship with into a space with other people, you can tell a story with props and movement and make the space your own.
The first time I played a show and somebody handed me $35, I got so emotional. It’s funny because Cal has been doing music and the DIY thing for so long. But I’ve just been in the audience, supporting people, for so long. I’ve tried to collaborate with people through the years and it never worked out. Not until lately, anyway. During Covid, I decided, you know what? I’m just going to do this all by myself. And that’s when I created a lot of the songs I’m still working on and performing now.
The plan if for all my new singles to have their own websites. The website for stars in2 ur <3 has mood board visuals with the number for the phone line. We’re all used to streaming music off our phones, but this is literally listening to a song on your phone, over a phone line. Or you can go to the secret website.
Editor’s note: The website cited above uncannily captures the gloriously garish aesthetics of a GeoCities-era website back when it was believed you could never have enough animated gifs and spinning blocky graphics to fill a single page and I for one would like to return to this era at least when it comes to the Web 1.0 cuz it was all about world-building times ten with GeoCities (SIMS ftw) intent on preserving the “space” in “cyberspace”…
…with pages that were like digital version of old hyper-vivid hallucinatory 3D blacklight posters, made to be hung on the wall under a blacklight and starred at for hours when you were really, really high, crammed full of highly-tactile imagery, heavenly Boschian hellscapes, webpages (some still lurking silently on the Interwebs…) that truly felt like futuristic virtual environments and is it any wonder the GeoCities was organized around virtual “neighborhoods” like WestHollywood, WallStreet, and the Colosseum [end editor’s note].
hih: Even though the the song is available on streaming, if you want to interact with it through the website or the phone line you’ve got those options too. It could also end up being available on these cards I just ordered, Hallmark-style greeting cards that play the melody to the song when they’re opened.
For me, growing up and having my bedroom full of all of my albums and physical things, that made it feel like home. Now, people don’t have as many options for physical media. You can always get a vinyl of The Strokes or some other famous record, but there’s not nearly as much of that available now. If someone can pick up and hold something, even something like a greeting card and get a little bit of sound for a few seconds, having that direct tactile and sound experience it’s a power-up on a level that’s pretty doable to produce.
I started thinking about music in more tactile terms when I going to school in Syracuse. I lived in the attic of a DIY house with some friends. The person who ran it is now plays drums for Frost Children and music was always tangibly present in the house, with people and bands playing there all the time like Radio Hospital and a bunch of others. I wasn’t sharing my music yet, but being in the setting, with music as a physical presence, was a big influence.
It’s this same spirit that makes the stars in2 ur <3 video really special and personal to me. It started when a friend of mine, who goes by GBMystical, randomly messaged me and was like, hey, when’s the next time you’re coming to Philly? I want to make a music video! And we just did it. It’s my first music video ever. It’s crazy to have a vision in your head and then have it be real, for your music to be made into a tangible thing in that way. I cried the first time I watched it.
The dress I wear in the video is something my friend Eliyana Beitler sewed for me about three years ago, made from yards and yards of pink taffeta. I used to have really long hair, but once I got it cut it short I started dyeing and bleaching it (f*ck it!) and now my hair is deep pink-hued in parts. So it matched the dress perfectly. I had this vision for a long time of me wandering through the woods, in a dress with a bow and arrow. I’d had this image in my head for years. It all came together perfectly.
I was able to draw on my art department, production design, experience for the making of the video, and the skills I gained from doing that for years. And I hit up a friend I’d made recently who does sculptures, and he had some objects to contribute to the shoot, like the ceramic head character. The video is kind of like a living mood board.
Artist’s statement from Pennsylvania-based ceramicist Luke Desmone taken from an art gallery’s website: “I project ideas of characters, rooted in our practical and historical constraints that are meant to be abstracted, and in their vagueness relate to our individual feelings, processes, and existence. Using communication through ceramics, I try to recreate the humor and pathos that closely relate to my experience and general confusion about life and the individual. The honest forms I seek are guarded or informed through decorative glaze, much like we as people stand behind our personas, carefully calculating how we present ourselves to one another.”
hih: With my day job I’m used to contributing visually to a film’s narrative, that’s the job, where there’s a specific narrative and a script. But with a music video, all you really need is to have an idea, then take it from there and perform within the space of that idea. I made a little call sheet and Cal helped me with organizing, getting some chill people to hang out in a park they already liked to be in and chill. That’s the concept. Having a wholesome, nice time together in Clark Park.
Editor’s note: Filmed in West Philly’s Clark Park, the park is described on its official website as a locale that “always seems to play host to something intriguing, confusing, engrossing or all three” and boy they called that one right (!) cuz the vibe of the stars in2 ur <3 music video is at once warm and cozy enough that you wanna crawl inside of it but it’s also a bit alien too so you may decide to hold back for a second, like you’re witnessing some sort of strange adult playtime session held by a gaggle of aliens-pretending-to-be-humans still getting used to their bodies and thus loving all things soft and cuddy and ultra-wholesomecore to the core…
…while purely in terms of the visuals the viewer is treated to a wild mashup of nature worship, warm ’n’ cozy bric-a-brac (e.g., cashmere blankets, hand-sewn quilts, Lincoln Logs, Precious Moments figurines, books by Jan Brett and Dr. Seuss and of course plushies) and at least one modern-day technological device, namely the Blipblox After Dark, a standalone audio synthesis unit marketed as a children’s toy but praised by adults as a powerful production tool, and there’s one quick, fleeting image in the video with hi im home holding the Blixbox that I swear it must’ve been modeled on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus…
…and not to get too grandiose about it but maybe this juxtaposition is the perfect analogy for the hidden subtext of the video—and maybe the “Plushie Pop” mindset more generally—to wit, a new techno-humanistic ideal, fully engaged with our technologically-driven world but taking these technologies and turning them on their head, weaving computer circuitry into warm fibers of organic matter and emotional generosity like a quilt painstakingly sewn by hand by your grandmother or something. [end editor’s note]
hih: Every object in the video is something I’ve had through the years, or a meaningful object brought by someone in the video, sentimental objects that have a story. To me that’s inherently interesting, people’s personal relationship with objects in their life. Some people are really good at getting rid of things and being very minimal. Sometimes I’m, like, Am I a freakin hoarder? Because I just love things. Whether it’s kitschy stuff or more meaningful, like the bookcase I grew up that lives in my mom’s office now.
My mom is always trying to get me to go home, and stay home, upstate and sometimes when I visit I’ll go down these shame spirals, thinking, What’s happened? How am I 25 now? How did that happen? I’ll get a little upset too if my mom says something like, your cousin wants your American Girl dolls. I feel like I’m in the last-minute chaos computer.
I recently had a submerged memory come back of being in the basement of my mom’s house, where I’d chill all the time. And there’s this blue plastic chair, that was probably this tall [indicates height]. I can still picture it. It had a sticker on it, probably the label of the manufacturer. But then I came home one day and the sticker was gone. I was beside myself, freaking out about the sticker. My mom sad, Well, I just threw it out. I didn’t know you liked the sticker. And then I remember realizing the chair was next, that it would be thrown out when I grew up taller.
It’s not so different with music. Just think about all the records that still aren’t on Spotify, not online at all. To discover this music you’d have to go through endless bins just to find the one record that has the one song you’re looking for, or to stumble on a great new find. There’s so much music in the world that gets erased, essentially. So maybe it’s best to treat music as ephemeral, because all of it will be eventually, and stay grounded in the current moment.
That’s another thing I appreciate about Cal is how he’ll be, like, Hey, I did this thing. I need somebody to sing on this track, or when other musicians say, Let’s do something together, anyone who’s open to working on something in an open-ended way.
It happened the way I’m describing it, just recently, when an artist who goes by Cleo Walks Through Glass messaged me, Hey, I need someone to scream on this song, this beat I made. All they had to do was just bug me for a little bit, and I said, I’ll do it! I’ll do it! and we finished the track in one afternoon. It ended up being my first single, ur ugly.
And here I’d be sitting on stars in2 ur <3 for something like two years, deciding whether or not to share it, and then going through the process of mixing and mastering, maybe because I didn’t quite trust myself yet. I was still learning to trust my own production skills. But now I know I want to produce my own stuff.
But I also like working on collaborations with the right people. Like with Cleo Walks Through Glass, the way it just happened out of the blue, and now we’re so excited to make all these beats together and record together. We have 6 or 7 songs already, which is going to be its own thing.
The way I wrote that lyric was from wishing I could talk to somebody that I was really trying to communicate something important to at the time. It was during Covid and I was staying at my house upstate, staying up all night a lot of the time, working on music while my parents were asleep, so I could have actual alone time since I mostly didn’t during the day.
So my sleep schedule was weird, going to bed at 7 or 8 AM, and I had this one moment where I stepped outside and the sky was clear. And I felt like I was looking at them. The person I was thinking about. And I thought, Yeah, I can see you through the stars, into your heart, if you know what I’m saying. I could talk with them this way, even if we never spoke in persona again.
In this way it’s kind of, oddly, about grieving. But it’s also about arriving at a state of peace, and finding beauty in the moment: I am sending this message to you through the stars, into your heart. I love you regardless of all this shit. [the end]
Author’s note: I’d like to dedicate this piece to my mother, Wilma, who felt very present during its writing. She loved collecting Precious Moments figurines. May she rest in peace. (Jason Lee)