There’s something powerful about uncovering women’s history within books and our own family trees. Knowing that women before us laid the groundwork for us to flourish now is a powerful motivator, especially for folk-pop trio Moonrise Nation. The Illinois-based group, comprised of Emma McCall and sisters Arden and Eva Baldinger, is reclaiming their history on the cover of their latest album Glamour Child. Arden and Eva used their grandmother’s painting as the cover image, and are working to make music more open to the personal stories of women.
Bitch chatted with Emma about Moonrise Nation’s unique sound, women’s history, and the importance of vulnerability.
“Eye to Eye” is such a powerful song. It really stuck to me, especially the lyric “can I miss you yet?” What inspired the song?
When I was writing the song, I was dating someone who happened to live in New York at the time and I lived in Chicago. We hadn’t established where we were in the relationship, but there were these feelings about missing them on this intense level. “Eye to Eye” is saying I’m here, I’m vulnerable, I miss you, and I’m asking permission to have that level of feelings.
That’s a very personal story. How do you decide what to keep for yourself and what to put into your music?
Well, I think that emotional intimacy is very personal, but it’s much more relatable than we think, even if we don’t want to admit it. The stories I’ve encountered all have subjective positions and intricacies, but we all relate to the sentiment. When I’m writing a song, if I feel that [a particular lyric] doesn’t pertain to a universal message, I’ll leave it out. But in the song, each verse is a little picture into a moment or a memory, and opening up about that isn’t bragging about, showing, or depicting my specific experience. It’s about being vulnerable, so the listener feels like we can all go on this journey together. I’m opening up, so you will open up.
I leave out specifics: I don’t put names in my songs. I don’t put addresses or phone numbers. Now, if you wrong me, I might put in your phone number [laughs]. You’ve met me and know I’m writer, so that’s your warning.
You grew up with Arden and Eva, who are sisters. How did you transition from being friends to pursuing music together professionally?
Eva and I went to a big pretty high school outside of Chicago in Oak Park. It was a very artistically driven community. Arden and Eva grew up in a household where they learned classical violin, cello, and piano, and I grew up playing drums. I switched to guitar when I was about 14, and I was looking for people to play with. I’d known they were really good, and me being the Scorpio I am, asked “How can I optimize my friend potential and musical ability at the same time?” I met them and fell in love playing with them.
Then we went to college, and we still made it work. Eva went to Madison, Wisconsin, and I stayed in Chicago at Depaul University. We studied different things, went out and explored our identity as you do in your 20s, and then we’d come back and create [together]. Having a childhood friendship allowed us that space and trust to go out and live our lives knowing we’d come back. It’s effortlessly evolved into this working artistic relationship, which is a blessing because seldom does it work out with artists who grew up together.
How did you collectively decide on the name “Moonrise Nation?”
Like any band, we were like ugh, we have to put a name on it, so we were tossing around different ideas. [Eva and Arden] have a family farm in Galina, Illinois, a [city that’s a] little north and east of Chicago. It’s beautiful, has rolling hills, a ton of grasslands—an artistic haven. We were hanging out there one weekend, and we were thinking about what we wanted to represent as a band. What we knew is that we were young, we were going to change a lot, and we wanted to represent growing up as women. We didn’t want to follow a trend. So much wonderful music—like indie pop or DIY—follows a formula or trend. We wanted to make authentic music that comes from us three coming together to create a project. That’s where “nation” came in. We wanted a word that spans that feeling of collaboration where everyone’s earnestly involved.
“Moonrise” came when we were sitting on their porch in Galina on a beautiful night. We watched the moon rise, and the moon represents femininity and change in a powerful way. We decided we had to include that in the band’s name. That’s how it was born.
One of the things I love about your group is that you pull from family history as you create. Glamour Child’s cover was inspired by art created by Arden and Eva’s grandmother. What prompted you to put her art on the cover?
The best words that would describe us on this project is honest and earnest. We wanted to be forthright and honest [on the album.] Arden and Eva come from a home that’s very art-centered. Their mother’s mother is 80 years old, and she still paints all the time. She’s been painting her whole life, and they have her paintings all around their house. We made the conscious decision to work with a lot of women on this album, and we also wanted to be forward about what inspired us. A friend of ours passed away, and their grandmother inspired us quite a bit. We didn’t just want to put something on the cover that looked cool or reflective of just the project, so it was just right.
The painting is really massive, and hangs in Arden and Eva’s home. It has a very overwhelming presence, and just fit so beautifully on the [cover]. We’re so proud to have it, and it’s so powerful. You can’t ignore those pieces falling into place.
You’ve been recording Glamour Child for three years. Is that right?
We recorded our EP about three years ago, and then we went on a little tour with Una, a wonderful female pop artist from Malaysia. We were in our early 20s, so we went back to school, kept recording, doing demos, and getting into the studio whenever we could. We started recording this album about a year ago.
What has that musical process been like? How has your sound evolved from the EP until now?
When we were younger, we had a really linear sound. Then, we went out and explored different things because what we listen to and the communities we’re in effect what we make quite a bit. So, Arden and Eva went to explore this folky, soulful vibe and I went into Chicago’s DIY queer scene, and experienced this kind of grungier, unpolished vibe. In a lot of ways, you hear that on the album. We have a few songs that are kind of full of dirt and grunge. Working around those changes has been a challenge. We have to work harder on our sound.
As for the two-year break, time and money [were really big factors]. We didn’t have the time and we haven’t had the money to just in jump into another album. It’s not a glamorous excuse, but people should know that producing album after album after album when you’re starting out is just unrealistic. We heard these extreme stories, but we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t live out of our car in our 20s.
How would you then describe your overall sound?
That’s a hard question to answer. I wish the alternative genre didn’t become something with a specific definition because alternative doesn’t really mean alternative. It’s also become its own sound. [Our music is] alternative folk rock with pop sensibility. A lot of our songs use the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge [formula]. We had this moment when making it when we realized we couldn’t define the sound. It’s always difficult to categorize our music because it’s something we associate only with our band.
What comes next for Moonrise Nation?
We just want to play as much as possible. We’re having so much fun touring across America right now, playing city to city, and experiencing different people, venues, and [music] scenes. We hope that people will listen to the music and invite us to play in their towns. We will play anywhere. From there, we’ll reassess and write another album. It’s pretty day-to-day for us. Being in the music industry has taught us to adjust our level of success in a way that we’re just grateful for making money from playing shows. We’re proud to say we can do that. If it goes further than that, we’ll welcome it with open arms. For us, success is playing music and connecting with people face-to-face.