Tishmal interview on Soft Sound Press

Interview: Tishmal manifests alt-pop optimism on “Bed of Roses”

In the past handful of years, alt pop has gone towards creating… almost its own cinematic universe. A collection of songs that sound like pop in the midst of the apocalypse, with unsettling synths and lyrics that hint at something darker just below the surface. Tishmal gives us the flip-side of the coin with her latest single, “Bed of Roses“. Carrying the same core elements but from a more optimistic perspective, like she’s trying to convince Halsey to leave the Badlands with her, or helping Twenty One Pilots escape DEMA. It carries the energy of a hero’s journey, with the echoes of alt pop that came before.

I had the absolute JOY of chatting with Tishmal (real name Rachel Brockbank) last month about her music, the changes she’s made over the last year, her goals and manifestations… and in a move I’ve been wanting to make on SSP for a while, we dove right into our birth charts. You can learn more about her — and some life-changing methods for improving your creative flow — below!

Hi Tishmal!! “Bed of Roses” is such a beautiful song. Listening to music right now can be tough because it makes me miss hearing it live, but this song’s been one I can just go into my head and enjoy. How has the release been from your perspective?

It’s been really good. I miss playing it live too, that would be amazing, but I got to do a session with ALLSAINTS and we recorded essentially what you would hear live at a show. That was kind of a fun way to feel as though I got to perform and tour again for just one song. It’s definitely one of my all time favourite songs I’ve shared so far.

Actually, I had the ALLSAINTS collab written down, I think that’s so cool. Seeing how they’ve been on your vision board for years, it’s even cooler that it actually happened. Do you have anything else on your vision board that you’re trying to manifest right now?

Yeah! I’ve always wanted one of my songs to be in a movie trailer. That’s a dream and that’s something that I have on my vision board, in addition to playing more festivals in the short term just because I miss it so much. But yeah, I’ve been a long time fan of ALLSAINTS and it’s fun to see those… I don’t know, the things you put on your vision board or write in your journal come true. That was definitely one of them.

That’s gotta be fun, especially right now. I feel like this year has been full of extreme highs and extreme lows. It’s great to have those good moments to hold on to.

Definitely, this year has taught me to do just that.

And the light at the end of the tunnel is there. I think I saw you performed somewhere recently, unless that was recorded earlier?

Yeah, it was one of the… on the brink of experimenting and hoping that everyone can follow the rules and everything can be really safe, I got to play a show in an arena. They only filled it to 10% capacity, so it was very spaced out. It was kind of strange being on stage and having everyone so far away from me, but I was glad people could say safe. They enforced masks the whole time and all of these COVID precautions, and it was cool. I don’t know how often those will happen because it costs so much to put on a show like that, especially for the headliner. But if people are into it and the vaccine is happening, and if we can all follow the rules and take care of each other, then maybe we can get back to live music.

Fingers crossed. You and your husband made the move from New York to LA during all of this, right? I feel like that helps because there’s so many more outdoor opportunities for things. The city’s not so compact, and the weather is beautiful. How has it been making such a big shift in the middle of a larger global shift?

Huge shift! It was crazy! We had all of our stuff in a pod pretty much the whole of last year. I went out to Utah to work and to do some writing at a writer’s camp, and my husband came with me because he was already kind of working from home. Right when that happened was right when COVID got really bad. We couldn’t go back to New York, and a month turned into another month, which turned into another month. I work a day job as a model in New York, and that was all really shut down. We were already kind of re-evaluating our life in New York, and the music scene is really small out there. It was hard for me to do gigs. I would lug my gear through the subways or get an Uber, which are so expensive in the city.

It was a lot and we’d always planned on coming out to Southern California. I grew up in San Diego, and grew up coming to LA a lot. My mom grew up here. We both felt like it was the right time and everything kind of fell into place. Our whole life did a 180 and now we’re here, and it’s been so good. I lived away from my home state for the last eight or so years. I’d forgotten how many things here ground me and help me feel connected to myself and my upbringing. It’s been a really good move overall, and the music scene is so fun — even though things are still closed. Everyone I’ve met here is just so kind.

Especially being in your home state and returning to something that’s more of a familiar comfort, has that changed your creativity or the way that you’ve been creating? Or what you’ve been creating?

You know, it’s funny that you asked this because I’ve been thinking about this so much lately. I feel like when I lived in Utah and in New York, I think I was kind of depressed. I already have anxiety, I know that about myself, and I still do. But I think it was starting to move into depression. A lot of my songs that I wrote at the time were darker and heavier. I like the mystery of darker things, but I’ve found that “Bed of Roses” and these other songs that aren’t released yet are more… I don’t know. Positive, softer, mystical, a little bit less dark overall, which is interesting. I think it could also be a little bit of just… COVID. Nobody wants to feel sad. Life is already heavy and music can be that escape, but who knows? I don’t know why these are all the thoughts in my mind lately. So that’s a good question.

Well, I mean, there’s so many variables at this point, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s cool that you’re able to separate those two categories of music and see stages in your life in songs. You can watch your life progression.

Yeah, definitely. I think art always reflects life and life reflects art. There’s that give and take relationship between the two that makes creating so fun.

I think it also shows the authenticity that you put into your music. If you can see how you’re feeling so clearly through it, then obviously you’re being honest in how you’re choosing to create. It’s really easy to try and write a song that shows specifically how you want to be perceived.

That’s actually a really good point. I love that, thank you.

I know just from reading past interviews, you used to write on your own when you were younger and now you’ve been writing with a team more, plus different songwriters and writing camps. Do you have a preference between writing solo or with a group? Are there pros and cons to both?

I think there are definitely pros and cons to both. That’s a great question. I really love writing alone, but there’s something about the accountability of having somebody there. I’m a lot nicer to myself, if that makes sense. When I’m alone, I’ll spend an hour on a verse getting picky with it. It’s been really refreshing having another person who you respect, who’s also a creator, to be like, “no, you’re in your head too much, that’s a great line.” That’s honestly one of my favourite parts about it. I love people and I love energy, and writing with another person pushes you in that way.

I do like writing alone though, going into a session with a verse and a chorus essentially done or kind of rough. It helps me really get vulnerable before getting into the session. You just never know what the energy is going to be like with another person, and you try your best to really lean into it and be honest. But it helps if I go in like, “all right, this is what this song feels like.” There’s pros and cons to both.

Since shifting your energy into something lighter and more positive, has that affected how you write with others or how they… how they mesh, maybe?

I think the meshing of it all is always kind of the same. You’re just trying to express what you think the song should be or what you can feel the song wants to be. If it’s a dark song or if it’s a lighter song, that need to be communicative is always there. I’ve only ever written with cool people. Like if it’s a dark song, they’re like, “yeah, let’s dig into it.” And if it’s a lighter one, it’s cool too.

That’s wonderful. Have you ever written for other artists or do you just write for yourself?

I’ve done some writing for other artists, I’ve done a lot of top lines too for DJs. Now that I’m in LA again with things opening up, a goal of mine is to write more with other people. I think it’s super cool. I feel like in sessions, you have the artist and then you have the co-writers who are extracting the concept, the raw and the real, out of the artist. I feel like I’m good at seeing people and understanding their energy and what they’re trying to say. It would be fun to be on the other side. I’ve done it before and I want to do it more. I love that.

Do you have favourite topics that you like to go back to when you’re trying to get creative and write down a bunch of ideas?

I always keep a little note in my phone called “poetry and lyrics” with the year. If I’m in a session or if I go to sit down and write alone, I always end up sifting through it. I like to keep the two things separate with songwriting. This note’s a place where I gather, so you have your gathering and then you have your creative work, and you can’t do your creative work if you haven’t gathered up your resources. Gathering can be anything from just sitting and thinking, or life experience, or watching a movie that inspired you, or going to Pinterest and finding art. Anything that inspires you, you gather it. I like to write it down in this “poetry and lyrics” thing. It can be lyrics or a concept that doesn’t have to make sense yet. It doesn’t have to fully rhyme yet. It’s just a time to say, “oh, that could be a nice ingredient.” And then later on in the creative work, when you’re sitting down at the piano or the guitar, that’s when you’re figuring out how it all works together. I think if you keep them separate, I’ve found… that’s good songwriting. It’s easy to flow that way.

I really like that method because you don’t hold yourself off from documenting ideas because they’re not fleshed out yet, or because they don’t make sense yet. I think that’s a smart way of doing things, I never even thought of that.

I can’t take credit for that idea. I heard it on a podcast with BJ Novak from The Office. I love the concept and I’ve just ran with it. It’s really helpful for any creative work.

I hope people listen to this and go, “oh my god, she’s right.”

I teach songwriting lessons, so that’s something I’m always telling my students. Keep your gathering and your creative work separate. And when they get stuck, it’s usually when they’re trying to do both at the same time.

Also teaching songwriting, that’s cool too! It sounds like you do so many things, but they’re all really creative. It sounds very fulfilling. How do you find a balance between work life balance when it’s like… work-work-work life balance?

You know, that’s a good question. I feel like lately I haven’t been doing a good job with it. Last week I definitely had a cold — wasn’t COVID, tested negative. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s a hard balance. It’s just fun all the time. Thankfully, I have a really great manager and a husband that help me keep everything in order.

And I guess if you’re enjoying everything you do, then you don’t really need to find a balance away from it. As long as you’re not feeling overwhelmed by it and you’re enjoying what you do.

Meditation and positive affirmations… positive thinking is something I’ve really leaned into this year. That’s been really helpful, taking those moments of gratitude and deep breaths. Those little breaks are helpful.

I totally got into that more this year too, just having daily affirmations in the morning and attracting the right energy to me. It’s so helpful.

It really is. Have you read any of Esther and Jerry Hicks? They’re really cool. They’re definitely more of the woowoo category, but I’m into them and I think they’re amazing. The Law of Attraction… they have all kinds of books. You should get into it and read it. It’s cool.

It’s just nice to have something that it feels like you can control in these times. Just getting more control over my own mind is cool, and being able to control how I feel more.

Totally. No, that’s exactly like… we are the designers of our lives and it starts with your brain. It’s funny, there’s this quote — I can’t remember who said it — if you think you’re so smart, why haven’t you figured out how to be happy yet? I feel called out, but it’s so true. We can figure out how to get people to the moon, but can we figure out how to be happy? I mean, I’m not figuring out how to get people to the moon, but you know what I’m saying.

I’ll let them do that. My work-life balance does not include that.

Thank goodness.

Being on TikTok even, and specifically witchtok, has been very eye-opening. Learning about different people’s practices and how they do it all is very cool.

I’ve never heard of that. I barely got into TikTok. I’m trying to get better with making videos and thinking in video. I haven’t seen that side of TikTok yet.

It gets easier. I don’t know how the app knows me so well, it knows things I’ve never said out loud or around my phone and it just… after a few days of using it, it figured out my whole birth chart to the point where everyone I see has my same sun moon AND rising.

HEY, what is your sun moon rising??

Aries sun, Cancer rising, Capricorn moon!

Oh, that’s a great combo.

What’s yours?

I’m a Scorpio sun, Aries rising and a Libra moon.

Ooh, that’s a cool combo. I get along really well with Scorpios, I don’t see why people are so hard on y’all.

I love Scorpio energy. I love Aries energy to take over the world. I also love Capricorn energy because they know how to get you there. Capricorns have to know the steps. I’m always blown away, ’cause my brain doesn’t do that.

I always love talking to people who are Capricorn sun because I feel like they’re more organized with their ability to plan and make things happen.

Back to your question with things being darker and then shifting lighter, I really feel like when I was living in New York, I was definitely in the Scorpio and a little bit of the Aries energy. But now that I’m home and I’m grounded in California again, it’s more even across everything. Everything feels really balanced, like the Libra, the Scorpio and, the Aries. Maybe it’s because of Aries season, I’m feeling so like, “yeah, you’re gonna take over the world, we can control our minds!”

I feel like through learning more about my chart and how the different parts interact and what they effect, I’m able to lean into my strengths instead of trying to fight against my blocks.

Yes, totally. I think it’s so important. It’s such a good way to reflect inward on your personality, on your energy, the way you do things. You can get a lot more done that way because you know your strengths and then with your weaknesses, you can lean on other people for that.

You know where to outsource and find help because you can predict ahead of time what parts are going to get you stuck.

Definitely yes. 100%. Yep.

I love talking about astrology with other people.

Come to LA, everyone talks about it here to a fault.

That’s too funny. Before we end, you have new music on the way. I don’t know how soon, but I’m assuming… an EP?

Ooohhh, I don’t want to assume either. I don’t know if it’ll be an EP or a bunch of singles or an album. We will see how it all happens, but the songs are written and being produced and I’m so excited. I just feel like stepping into who you are — I think that happens throughout our lives — but I’ve definitely felt that shift and I’m excited to share it.

Do you have a favourite track so far? One that you’re extra excited to share?

Yes I do. I don’t know how much I should share about it, but it just has a really fun chorus that you want to dance to. I feel like I was able to summarize all the shifts I’ve had in my mind and put them into a song.

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Paige Williams

Paige is a writer & creative multi-hyphenate living in Hamilton, Canada. Every band she loves breaks up eventually, but she can't find the witch who cursed her to this life. You can find more of her work on Billboard, Consequence of Sound, A.Side, and Paige Backstage.

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