First-years return to the roots of bedroom pop

Courtesy of Margot Godinier.

The once-underground genre of bedroom pop genre has recently exploded  in popularity, and some of its biggest stars, such as Clairo and Still Woozy, have entered the mainstream. They’ve moved from playing guitar in their bedrooms to playing sold-out shows across the globe—that is, before the pandemic began. With artists stuck in isolation, the pandemic has sparked a resurgence of the bedroom pop that is, true to its title, produced in the musician’s home. Like the luminaries of the genre, first-years Margot Gordinier and Casey McDonough took on the task of writing and recording EPs in their bedrooms during isolation.

McDonough’s interest in music began in her childhood. “I grew up in a very artistic household, and that kind of sparked me wanting to become a musician,” she said. She began learning about music production in high school, which provided her with the skills to begin recording her own music. McDonough used SoundCloud as a platform to share her early work. With each release, she strived to share her love of music with more and more people.

The production of McDonough’s EP, “ACVM-the EP,” was not her first experience with authentic bedroom pop. She recorded and produced all of her previous singles from her home. When asked how COVID-19 affected the production of the EP, McDonough said, “It felt more enclosed, because I wasn’t able to go out and seek resources.” Her process, however, remained largely unchanged; she recorded, produced and released the EP entirely from her bedroom, using an iPad with GarageBand, an audio interface and her guitar.

Courtesy of Casey McDonough.

Though quarantine had little impact on her production process, the experience influenced the lyricism of the song “fearing the unknown.” Inspired by McDonough’s feelings of claustrophobia as the end of high school approached, she wrote the song about wanting to move on, despite the fear that she would never be able to. For other Vassar first-years, having just experienced a similar uncertainty, this sentiment is particularly moving. 

McDonough’s music is deeply emotional, and she hopes people can relate to the experiences she conveys. Her goal is to make people feel known and to help them through periods of difficulty with her creations.

Much like McDonough, Margot Gordinier’s connection with music began at a young age. Flying through musical theater in kindergarten, piano in second grade and guitar at age 14, she had accumulated impressive melodic awareness and technique by the time she reached middle school. It was around that time, she lightheartedly recalled, that she started writing “angsty poetry” on the Notes app of her old phone. Suddenly, the two art forms merged: “I was like, oh—maybe I can put some tunes to this, so I’ll get a guitar and live out my angsty dreams.” 

It wasn’t until the end of her sophomore year of high school, however, that Gordinier made the leap to recording, prompted by an assignment in her chorus class. That summer, she created her first album entirely on her phone using the website Soundtrap, which Gordinier described as “like GarageBand, but worse.” Both Soundtrap from Spotify and GarageBand from Apple are tech basics for the bedroom pop genre, providing young artists with the necessary software to record, edit and produce their own music all on one device. And as much as Gordinier jokes about the poor sound quality, she agrees Soundrap was the introduction she needed to up her production game for the next project.

Enter Gordinier’s EP, “Maladaptive Daydream,” which was released in April. This time, she stepped up her tech by adding a computer, a microphone and a MIDI, as well as by enlisting other musicians to diversify  sound. “I tried to add more layers and make it more complex so it was a little bit more professional,” she explained. Though most of the recording was done before quarantine, she completed the tail end of production with the program Logic (“GarageBand on steroids!” she exclaimed), which she plans to further explore it in future projects.

Gordinier admitted she hadn’t done much recording during isolation. “I just couldn’t put as much time into music. I wanted to come out of it with an album, but I was just so miserable,” she shared. Her writing, however, soon flourished with the extra time alone. She said her new lyrics and tunes are an honest reflection of both her experiences in quarantine and the universally overwhelming state of the world today.

Gordinier recommended new listeners start with the songs “Daydream in the Fairest Weather” and “Debt.” The first is her most popular, clocking over 1,500 plays on Spotify. Yet, despite having the lowest play time, “Debt” is her personal favorite. “I’m obsessed with the slide guitar, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” she said. 

Gordinier explained  that the title of her EP and the message of her songs are cautionary; she seeks to warn listeners of the dangers of fixation. “It’s definitely a reflection on how I get so obsessed with things that are just trivial, and think about them so much that it’s harmful to me,” she shared. She noted that music has helped her grow out of these harmful behaviors. As she continues to create, Gordinier looks forward to using her songs as a vehicle for even deeper catharsis. 

Despite the ever-present shadow of COVID-19 pandemic, artists like McDonough and Gordinier are still finding successful modes of artistic expression from the comfort of their own homes (or dorms). Musicians from all genres may find themselves taking notes from the innovative, passionate and COVID-safe ethos of bedroom pop.

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