ABOVE: NEDELLE TORRISI, AKA PARADISE.
Nedelle Torrisi is that girl you don’t know you already know. The beguiling female vocalist woven through Blood Orange’s Coastal Grooves, a member of Sufjan Stevens’ musical entourage, the frontwoman to gone (but not forgotten) Asthmatic Kitty fractured-pop act Cryptacize—Torrisi has worn a lot of hats. But they’ve always come with a series of commas in the credit listings.
Until now. Free of ampersands, collaborators, and compromises, Paradise (Torrisi’s solo project) is the work of a woman in love with pop and jazz in equal parts, and finally free to follow her twisted musical inclinations wherever they might lead. While the unsigned artist has recorded a debut full-length, for the time being that remains unheard. Instead, fans have been left to snack on the swoony ode to hot times in the city, “I Love Thousands Every Summer.”
Interview joined up with Torrisi and producer Kenny Gilmore (who also performs as part of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) for a conversation about the album’s trip around the world, communal living, and Christmas carols aplenty. We’re also pleased to premiere the floaty black-and-white video for Paradise b-side, “Psychic Returns.”
KENNY GILMORE: What are you rehearsing for in New York?
NEDELLE TORRISI: I’m rehearsing with Sufjan Stevens. We’re going on a Christmas tour. We’re practicing Christmas songs eight hours a day.
LAURA STUDARUS: How did you first discover each other’s music?
TORRISI: My old band Cryptacize went on tour with Haunted Graffiti back in 2008. A long time ago. Shortly there after, Kenny and I lived in the same house for a long time.
GILMORE: They moved to LA and they invited me to live in their house.
TORRISI: So then we were roommates. We shared a wall. I would hear him practicing all the time and playing music. He’s also a recording engineer. So when it came time to make a record, it was a natural jump to knock on his door and be like, “Produce my record, please!”
GILMORE: How much is nostalgia a part of your sound?
TORRISI: It’s hard to say that intentionally you’re dealing with nostalgia. That word or concept.
GILMORE: You have a lot of references.
TORRISI: Yeah, but there’s a lot of references in all music. So in a sense, my music isn’t more nostalgic than other music.
GILMORE: So it’s not intentionally like that.
TORRISI: We’re all just a sum of what we’ve heard our whole lives and what we like musically. In that sense, I’d say yeah, there’s references to lots of music. I like the sentiment and the feeling of show tunes and musical theater. I think it’s largely based on that overly melodic, overwrought sentiment in music. So I try to get a little of that in there. Sade, and the classic songbook of Carole King.
GILMORE: We referenced a lot of Prince when we were recording.
TORRISI: Oh yeah, we did listen to a lot of Prince.
GILMORE: We used a lot of the LinnDrum that Prince used. Which is cool. My housemates had one.
TORRISI: And we programmed the drums ourselves. Do they still have that drum machine?
GILMORE: No. They sold it. [laughs] We were the last ones to use it.
TORRISI: Oh my goodness! Now I’ve got a question for you. How is tour going with Ariel Pink? You’re playing drums now?
GILMORE: It’s intense. Last night was rough. There were a lot of sound problems. People were rude. Like, saying, “That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” Telling us that afterwards!
TORRISI: How easy is it to let go of that kind of thing?
GILMORE: We’ve had so many issues. You just get used to it. But it does affect you a little bit.
TORRISI: I know, it’s hard. I’ve always had a really tenuous relationship with playing shows, because I don’t think it’s my forte. I always have serious, post-show shame. If it’s warranted or not, I don’t know. Every show I’m like, “That might be my last show.” I really just like writing songs and I like recording. But I’m not a showman. When I think I have a bad show, it destroys me for a while. Yeah, if you’re on tour, what are you going to do? You have to keep going. Every night!
GILMORE: How are rehearsals going?
TORRISI: It’s funny. You’re playing drums, and I’m suddenly a keyboardist! But I’m terrible. I have to practice three times more than everyone else. I’ll be like, “We wish you Merry Christmas!” and then I’m lost!
GILMORE: You’re playing that song?
TORRISI: Half the set is Sufjan original Christmas songs, and then half the set is just normal ones that everyone knows. Those are going to be sing-alongs with the audience. It’s pretty embarrassing when you can’t get through “Jingle Bells” on keyboard. That’s my challenge, is learning how to become a piano player.
STUDARUS: You have a blog called “Advice From Paradise.” What kind would you give each other?
TORRISI: Kenny and I are really close friends. We probably give each other advice daily. So there’s nothing standing out. Like “I’ve always wanted to tell you that you should do this to better your life.” So, practice your paradiddles so that you’re really good at drumming.
GILMORE: That’s something that I do need to do.
TORRISI: See, there you go! What about me, Kenny? What should I practice to become a good keyboardist?
GILMORE: Try playing with your eyes closed so you don’t get in the habit of looking down. The doctor gave me that advice a few weeks ago after I had carpel tunnel.
TORRISI: That’s the best advice ever!
GILMORE: It was from that show we played a few weeks ago where I played the whole show looking down.
TORRISI: I caused your carpel tunnel?
GILMORE: Well, yeah. Indirectly.
TORRISI: I’m so sorry!
GILMORE: Gotta avoid getting tense.
TORRISI: I don’t know if I can be any less stressed about learning 44 songs in two weeks. But I’ll try. It’s really fun, but look down all the time. Or at the lyrics. So many freaking lyrics! Good advice, Kenny.
GILMORE: I feel like we’re all better people now.
TORRISI: Or at least better musicians.
GILMORE: Working with you was a great opportunity for me, because I’ve always been recording on my own. It was kind of doing that, but on someone else’s song. Because I basically did everything: recorded, played all the instruments. It was really intense. But it was fun.
TORRISI: We didn’t really anticipate how much work it would be. Especially how much work it would be for you.
GILMORE: It was like 12, 14-hour days. We were sleeping at the studio. We’d wake up, go straight to the board, and start working again. [laughs]
TORRISI: Well, what are we going to do? [laughs] We couldn’t break to have any fun because we weren’t even in our town. We were in Sacramento; we were totally out of our element. There was nothing around. It was winter.
GILMORE: It was cold.
TORRISI: It was spring, but it was cold. Wintery.
GILMORE: But the place was cool be cause it had lots of good equipment. And lots of instruments that we could use.
TORRISI: It was like a candy shop. Especially with synthesizers and guitars. We had a string quartet come in at one point. And a harpist. It was 14 days. Which isn’t that long. It was all I could afford.
GILMORE: I think we thought we were going to get a lot more done in those two weeks than we did. It was good to also come back to LA and work on it in a different environment. There’s different phases.
TORRISI: Also, taking breaks from it when you were on tour and stuff. It’s good to have space and distance from the project that you’re working on. Or else you get too neurotic about it. At least I do.
GILMORE: I think we’re both pretty obsessive.
TORRISI: To a bad extent at times. We’re like brother and sister. We fight, and we cry. We haven’t taken to blows. Yet. Maybe some day. I feel like Kenny is my musical soul mate. I’m super lucky that he worked with me. We still play shows sometimes with just him on piano and me singing. But I guess it gives him carpel tunnel syndrome!
GILMORE: Remember the crazy time with the computer? My laptop got left in Moscow.
TORRISI: Oh, that story!
GILMORE: I had the whole album on the laptop, and I was too dumb to back it up before I left. I left it a taxi cab. I realized after the cab left that I left my computer in there. I was freaking out. Somehow, I called the hotel that had ordered the cab, and they managed to get the laptop. It was sitting in the cab company’s office for two months. Then my friend picked it up. We had started working on the album again in this other studio in LA. My friend was kind enough to send us the files over the Internet. From Moscow. My computer arrived right as we started working and the right moment.
TORRISI: It was so crazy!
GILMORE: It was too expensive and too dodgy to ship it from Moscow. So the friend knows someone who goes to the states a lot. So she gave it to her friend. He flew to Virginia and sent it from Virginia. So it passed through five different people’s hands.
TORRISI: Isn’t that an inspiring story, that the world can still be trusted and relied on? The whole process was two months or more. This whole record had been an exercise in patience. It took us forever to make it, and then the Russia debacle, and then we still don’t have a label. So maybe it will never come out. But at least we made it, and we had fun. We really like it.