Q&A: Amy Bezunartea On Becoming A New Villain + “New Villain” (Stereogum Premiere)
It’s understandable if you’re not familiar with Amy Bezunartea just yet — her debut album came out five years ago and flew largely under the radar, a collection of songs titled Restaurants & Bars that took her experiences in the service industry and extrapolated them into deeper territory. Her new album takes an even wider scope, turning its lens on society and how we carry ourselves within it. It’s called New Villain, and that idea permeates throughout the record, acting as both a resolve and a defense.
Bezunartea makes skeleton songs — the sharpest weapons she has are her voice and her guitar, the rest are just accoutrements. And while the songs may be sparse, they are unforgiving. The title track is a mission statement, a towering imposition that begins with Bezunartea’s lovely voice over a quivering guitar and proceeds to march forth to the front of the battle line. It’s powerful, steely, and threatening: “What will I do with all this time?” she muses, and you can almost picture the dark smile that spreads across her face. “I’ll make my own world with your weakness in mind. What will I do with all this air? I don’t know, but you should be scared.” It’s an empowerment anthem, one about fighting back against society and establishing yourself as a force to be reckoned with. It feels mythic in proportion, as if these four minutes could single-handedly dismantle centuries of oppression. “An old wrong is being righted/ I’m beside myself, I’m so delighted.” Listen below, and read an interview with Bezunartea.
STEREOGUM: What have you been doing in the five years since your debut album came out?
AMY BEZUNARTEA: That’s a loaded, heavy question. The years flew by, I guess… But pretty much working, you know. Getting by.
STEREOGUM: Where were you working?
BEZUNARTEA: I worked in restaurants for many years, and that’s kind of what I was doing while I was writing this last record. I moved to Nyack from Brooklyn, and then really in the last two years I’ve been trying to finish the record. It’s been a slow process, for sure, but that’s kind of just how it had to be.
STEREOGUM: What happened in the last few years that made you go, OK, let me finally start getting this done?
BEZUNARTEA: I think I just felt the pressure… like the heat was on. I realized suddenly that it had been so long. And sometimes I feel like I just gotta decide to give myself a deadline and make myself do it. There was a lot of forcing myself to do this in this record. A kind of forced discipline.
STEREOGUM: How did the recording process for this go?
BEZUNARTEA: I recorded in Hoboken at this place called The Nuthouse with producer Tom Beaujour. We took it really slow and we took a long time, which was a response to my last record, which I did in like four days. For that, there wasn’t a lot of time to make decisions or think about things. This time around, we decided to take it really slow. Tom was really wonderful, kind of the perfect person to work with. I think he got where I was going with everything, so we just took it easy. We tried lots of weird stuff, took it one song at a time and worked on a lot of stuff in the studio. It was great.
STEREOGUM: Did you play most of the instruments on the record?
BEZUNARTEA: Yeah, pretty much everything. There’s some that this guy Tim Foljahn, who is on the same label I’m on, came in and did. He’s a really amazing guitar player — he does some of the weirder, spookier stuff on the record. But mostly it was just Tom and I.
STEREOGUM: I feel like, for the most part, this is a very minimalist record. Was that a conscious decision, to keep it like that instead of going bigger?
BEZUNARTEA: Tom says that almost half the record didn’t make it on the record. There was so much omitting. Certain songs we added a lot of things to, but others felt like someone rejecting an organ. Certain songs we were just hacking away at because it wasn’t fitting the mood. So it ended up being much more sparse than we had originally anticipated.
STEREOGUM: Part of the process! Let’s move along a little bit to talk about thematics. Do you think there’s a through-line with this record that you really wanted to get across?
BEZUNARTEA: I think there’s a lot of anger in it, for sure, and frustration, obviously. I think maybe a lot of it has to do with fighting back a little bit — fighting for your own little life in your own day-to-day. To be an individual and think for yourself, and do what you think is right in this weird time where we’re constantly barraged with information and opinions.
STEREOGUM: There’s one line on the record where you say, “Born into a world designed to make you pay…” How do you assert yourself and come up with some kind of a sense of individuality in a society that doesn’t necessarily encourage that?
BEZUNARTEA: I think it’s tricky because there’s this battle to figure out what you’re responsible for and what has been put on you. I think they are both valid in some way but there’s a point where you just have to push back. I think that’s another part of the record, as well — what’s mine and what’s theirs, and what the hell am I supposed to do with all of this?
STEREOGUM: Does that tie into your idea of the “new villain?” That you can say whatever you want?
BEZUNARTEA: Yeah, I think it’s figuring out how to be yourself and be a part of society in a world that may not necessarily have any interest at all in that. Or have an interest in you being drunk and depressed and down and out, as opposed to being awake and aware of what’s happening. It’s about being awake, being conscious, and refusing to just be complacent and allow so many things to just happen to you.
STEREOGUM: So in terms of the song “New Villain” specifically, do you remember what you were going through when you wrote that?
BEZUNARTEA: I just think a lot of frustration. Running into my own walls and running into barriers and being really frustrated with the sense of denial that we are supposed to just sit around and deal with. I was tired of myself and tired of the situations I was finding myself in.
STEREOGUM: Was it a natural decision to have this serve as the title track for the new record?
BEZUNARTEA: I think so. I mean, we threw a lot of different things around, but I just felt like that was the most fitting. We’re in such a time of redefining so many things, and so many people are so mad about it. We have all these people up in arms because things don’t look the way they used to look. And I think that’s also what New Villain is about — you’re not looking at me as your enemy, but I am. You might not be afraid of all the regular people out there who are exhausted and working themselves to death, but watch out because if everyone wakes up one day and is too tired to deal, then society will change. And that’s kind of what is happening right now — we are redefining everything. It’s a new day, which is a good thing in my book.
01 “Call On Me”
02 “Oh The Things A Girl Must Do”
03 “Nothing Goes Away”
04 “New Villain”
05 “Wild Thing”
06 “It’s Disgusting”
07 “Something To Show You”
08 “Those People”
09 “Friends Again”
New Villain is out 9/25 via Kiam Records.