Indigo De Souza: Radical Acceptance, Radical Love

Three albums in and North Carolina’s Indigo De Souza continues to be one of our generation’s most earnest voices. While a lifetime of alienation and turbulent history with relationships can be, for many, a storm that closes off the soul, De Souza’s determination to find the joy in everyone and everything has allowed her to continuously see the heart at the centre of our shared experiences. With her perspectives channelled through a determined disposition and devotion to songcraft, what results is her third LP, All of This Will End; an honest archive of music that speaks directly to the souls of her likeminded audience.  

Raised by an eccentric mother, an artist herself, as one of the few mixed-race kids in her small-town American South adolescence, isolation and dissociation became recurring themes in both life and music. Caught in the middle of wanting to celebrate and embrace one’s own individualities yet being hemmed in by societal expectations and arbitrary norms, De Souza, like many, found herself defined by a constant swinging between self-acceptance and self-doubt. Channelling the painful contradiction into the debut album, I Love My Mom, she found a fitting vessel to carry her candid imperfections to her growing cult following. 

With a sonic palette that flirted with country-tinged alt-indie and confessional grunge, De Souza found a natural home in Saddle Creek, the very same label that first recognised the inquisitive and bold songwriting of Big Thief and Bright Eyes. Bringing out her sophomore record with the prodigious indie label, Any Shape You Take saw De Souza’s self-examinations paired with even greater musical confidence. Equipped with a love that continued to expand, a growing need to question the human experience, and an acceptance of the darkness that often precedes healing, she showed a maturation in progress that still held her central authenticity at its core. 

Bolstered by the breakaway success of her sophomore which found connections with folks across the world despite global lockdowns at the time, De Souza found herself reaching new heights including tours with Mitski and Sylvan Esso, and headlines across Europe. Yet, the impact of lockdowns and the relentless demands of the music industry proved a heavy burden. Focusing more on radical self-acceptance and community rather than allowing the world to define a path and lifestyle, De Souza built a life in North Carolina with like-minded artists and wrote what would become a masterclass in indie-pop songwriting, All of This Will End.

Announced alongside the heartbreaking ballad, ‘Younger & Dumber’, Indigo De Souza’s third album, perhaps her most vital yet, saw her tenderness pushed to its natural conclusions. An acknowledgement of a life lived – warts and all – a true acceptance of one’s own needs, and an unquestioning embrace of grief and loss built up the Asheville-based artist’s latest offering. Rather than fighting loss or fearing pain, as the title acknowledges, De Souza knows everything will pass and all you can do is enjoy the ride. Delving into her self-assured warmth and new album, Indigo expanded upon her process over a short interview.

It feels like just yesterday that Any Shape You Take came out and a lot has happened in such a short time since then. How are you feeling now that your third album is right around the corner?

For me, it feels like its been a lifetime because from the time I write songs, to recording them, to the vinyl being printed, to everyone else knowing that they exist, it’s normally like a two year process. So, for me, I recorded this album a year ago and it’s funny, I’ve written a lot of songs since then but I’m really excited about these songs and touring them live. I really love the way they’ve aged with me in the year that I’ve known them.

Listening to the album, particularly lyrically, this album feels like much more confident and grounded than your previous ones. Can you tell me a bit about the environments and situations you were in while writing this one?

It really is that my life took a turn from, I think me just not trusting myself and feeling like I didn’t always know best, to then finding a place of confidence in my musical and creative choices because my life just got better. I became more stable and I have an incredible community around me. So I think the strength and community gave me the courage to trust myself more in general.

In a lot of your music and in your interviews, you keep coming back to ideas surrounding change. Do you still feel like you’re in the middle of that process of change or is stability and groundedness prevailing more?

Oh, I think I’ll always be growing and changing and that never really stops for anyone. I think being open to it and allowing it to move through in the ways that it does naturally is important. I think songwriting is something that helps me process change. Sometimes I write songs about something that already happened in the past and reflecting on it, rather than something I’m going through right in that moment. It’s harder to see something when it’s happening right in that moment, it’s easier to see when it has already past.

So the songwriting is more a means to process life?

Yeah I think so, and they teach me things over time too. Sometimes when I write something I don’t always know what it means and then later on it starts to take a lot of different form. I don’t think my songwriting feels very linear, the songs are just as evolving as I am.

Was there something in particular you took away from writing the songs on this album compared to the previous two?

When I wrote these songs I was alone most of the time. It was during the pandemic and I was living alone and isolated and I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time. So, I think they came from a place of triumphant overcoming. I could have allowed myself to slip into a really deep depression but instead I chose to rise up and learn how to love myself.

I remember I was exercising a bunch, I was eating really good meals that I was cooking for myself. I was just trying to treat myself with kindness which is something that’s been hard for me my whole life. So yeah, I think these songs came from a moment of strength. They all poured out pretty quickly.

Do you get a similar catharsis from putting songs out into the world as you do writing them?

What’s cool about putting them out into the world is that other people get to make them into their own stories. Writing a song sitting by myself is one thing, because it is just what I wrote it as, it’s my story. But once it’s out in the world it becomes whatever someone wants it to be. It becomes their own projection and that is always really exciting for me. I really, more than anything, love to hear how songs have that affect with people especially when they’ve been listening to them for a long time, things they notice about it or things they’ve learned about it or ways that it has hit them and why…

I feel like it would be cool to interview people who’ve listened to the songs for a really long time.

You mentioned earlier that you’ve found a lot of community. I heard that you moved into an old church with a bunch of other similar artists. How has that been?

Yeah, well actually I only live with one person here and we have two dogs. It was actually still during the pandemic that I started meeting my now community. We came together because I met a few people building an earth house in the woods and I started helping and met people through that, learning more about being in nature than I ever had. That community started to grow more and more and more. It became a sort of oasis in the woods where we would hang out and shut out the rest of the world and play boardgames, and make fires, and dance, and swim. It was like what else are we going to do, the world is crumbling…

So yeah, it kind of became a safe place and now that everything is back and running the way it was – all though not quite – we’re still really close and the community keeps building more and more.

Are you finding the community is bleeding into your creative work and your songwriting?

I think everything that happens in my life impacts my songwriting. I think language is something that seeps in from all around. I’m constantly picking up on words that people are saying all around me and subconsciously absorbing speech patterns and thought patterns from people around me. I think that can become a part of my writing whether I realise it or not.

I think it’s hard to say specifically what inspires that but if anything, the deeper relationship that I have with nature now has inspired a lot of the writing. I don’t think I would have that without this community, or I wouldn’t have found it without this community

Are you still writing songs in the same ways as you used to or are you working more with the people around you?

I’ve never really written a song with someone else, or well the only lyrics I’ve written with someone else was ‘Hometeam’. I wrote that with my friend, we were messing around in her bedroom writing a silly song. Other than that I don’t really collaborate lyrically, but I think the way that my collaborations normally go is someone else’s melodies are informing the lyrics I’m writing or I write a whole song and bring it to them and then we flesh it out into something bigger. That’s mainly what I have experience with but I’m interested in doing more collaborations. I’m hoping to do more of that this year.

Just looking a bit broader at the sound of the album. It feels so much more expansive and wide. Can you tell me a bit about the recording?

I worked with Alex Farrar who worked on Any Shape You Take as well but was more of an engineer on that project. He ended up being the person I clicked with the most when we were working on the album and I felt like he should co-produce the album with me because he’s a total genius. 

So it was cool because this album was both of our first times really trusting ourselves to spearhead something. I produced it myself but he was closely co-producing it with me, and then also my guitarist Dexter Webb, he plays all the wild, crazy guitar stuff on the album, did a lot of production work too and he did the piano and guitar on ‘Younger & Dumber’. He was a big part of everything too. And then Avery Sullivan did all the drums, except for one track that my friend Ryan Oslance did. He did ‘Not My Body’.

But yeah, it was probably the easiest recording work I’ve ever done. I based a lot of songs of demos I had already made, I already had demos for everything and for a bunch of songs we pulled stems from demos I made and put them into the song structure and then enhanced them to sound better. We cleaned them up and then used those original pieces. It all felt very true to me and my original vision and it all happened very quickly – I think all in three weeks.

I remember after you put out your last album, you toured relentlessly and you spoke about how difficult that was. Are you finding this time you’re finding more agency and comfort in putting out an album at this scale?

I do feel more comfortable than I felt last year because the further you get in the process the more choosy you’re able to be about what you do, and I feel more comfortable saying no to things now because I’m not still in the stage where I’m trying to take any opportunities that I can get. Although, there are still somethings I can’t pass up because they’re a good opportunity. But, yeah, in general, I learned a lot last year and one of the things I learned is that I need more time in nature because I was only in cities all the time. We’ve already started working on that, like we went camping one night on our most recent small tour to South By [Southwest].

I’m constantly dialing my business and how it needs to be run in order to give life to all the people on my team and on my crew so everyone feels safe, secured, seen, comfortable, happy and like they’re having fun. All those things are important to me and its important to feel comfortable at a venue and all the people at the venue to feel comfortable with us. It’s been a learning process but I think I’m dialing it in well and I’m getting better and better at taking care of myself. I do think its a brutal job though. A lot because of the travelling and driving on like crazy highways everywhere. It’s a very tiring and lonely job.

So what’s next for you now? Anything that you’re looking forward to musically or in life?

I’m working on buying some land to start a farm and homestead on and to build a house. The land that I’m buying is really private and my dream is to be in a place where I can’t see any houses or cars. I’m also working on some pop music because pop music is one of my favourite genres so I’m working with a producer that I really love who’s an awesome pop collaborator. I don’t really know where that’s going to go but its exciting and fun.

And then I’m ready to record the next album for this project whenever I’m able to financially so I’m excited for that. I’m also excited to make more visual art, like painting and drawing and videos. I love making videos but it’s sad how videos aren’t that big of a deal in the world right now. People don’t really pay attention to them so it’s kind of sad to put a lot of work into them and it doesn’t really go anywhere but I still love doing it.

One last question then to leave on, are there any parting words you want to leave people with?

I would say to everyone, don’t be afraid to be in your truth, to really search for connections with people who accept you for who you are and people who you feel you don’t need to change for, remember how important community is and how important it is to care for yourself and others, and remember how precious and fleeting everything is.

Words: Varun Govil // Photos: Angella Choe (1, 3) and Charlie Boss (2)

‘All of This Will End’ is out now via Saddle Creek Records. You can stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.

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