ANTONYMPH (and the things that made it)
art by @voreburger
It has been one year since I released Antonymph. This song seriously changed my life and, it would seem, the lives of many others. I am grateful for the apparent impact it has had on people and I'm hopeful that the reach of its message will continue to spread.
I wanted to talk about how we got here.
Between the months of November 2020 and July of 2021, I experienced a gauntlet of emotional trauma, hardship, and declining physical & mental health. These things came after being newly out as trans, kicked out of my home by my family, transitioning from being a college student to a totally independent adult within the span of a month or two, moving away from my home of 21 years to somewhere I've never been before, and then trying to balance all this with the onset of COVID around the world. In January of 2021, all of these things adding up and weighing on me led me into this rabbit hole of thoughts about my life in the past, present, and future. Namely, though, I thought about my home in San Francisco, where I was far away now. I thought about the memories and things that made me who I was up until that point, especially the bad stuff. The whole project of CUTIEMARKS was an analysis of my life's mental struggles throughout my childhood and budding adulthood, examined through the characters of MLP:FiM.
And you know, it wasn't all everyone and everything else. Growing up, I had felt inclined to be a lot of negative forces myself. To be honest, I'm not precisely sure where it came from, and though I'm glad I grew from it, I still used to be that way. When considering a lot of the things of my past I encountered two things that would eventually become the hallmark reasons for creating Antonymph:
- I was a dick to people. In so many ways, I was just an asshole for a lot of my life. I still kind of am sometimes, but I think everyone is. I really mean I was a cunt. This overinflated ego, this desire to shut people down for what they liked, this idea that I was always right and I know best about everything. I acted on this a lot and hurt a lot of people, even my closest friends (many of whom are still around me today, and I'm endlessly thankful they stuck with me through my worst).
- I was also made to feel the same way, both directly and indirectly. I talked a lot about how it felt like there was pressure from the people closest to me to only like certain things and other things are not good enough to be enjoyed. This comes especially in the case of music, where it felt like there was a lot of disdain around me for pop and non-traditional music. This extended to all types of media though. I wouldn't have been caught dead being perceived as enjoying something like My Little Pony for a while.
So conceptually speaking, my desire to write something like Antonymph came as a rebellion against these things; against the ways I treated people and the ways I was treated.
At this point of my life, I had also recognized this sort of perpetual depression and negativity that pervaded me at all times. Any type of positive emotion would either be subdued or otherwise disappear within moments. It felt like I couldn't love things and I was always just clenching my shoulders preparing for things to hurt all the time.
So, back to January 2021. Sophie Xeon, a musician who I looked up to and felt comfort in, has just died. Very few celebrity deaths have ever affected me, but this one was very personal and intense. I remember going to bed shaking and feeling sick. It was an uneasiness I'll always be able to picture vividly in my head. In the spirit of her unabashed creativity and love for everything, I started conceptualizing a project that would be as bold as I felt she was.
The first, and only, title for this project was "CUTIEMARKS (and the things that bind us)".
A deep dive into SOPHIE's work and her peers' work led me to examine the inspirations for PC Music. From there I rediscovered my love for the dancepop of the late 2000's and early 2010's. Carly Rae Jepson, Kesha, Katy Perry, etc. Around the time I started really using the internet, I secretly loved this music even though it felt like I was going against everything I was supposed to stand for at the time. I grew up in a cishet, Christian, potentially elitist music space. Things that evoked anything other than that induced guilt to enjoy. But I very, very, secretly, quietly, loved that stuff.
So I decided to make some synth patches that evoked those feelings
That's what led to this:
Once this demo was made, the path became rather clear for what I wanted to do. Around the time of the songs that inspired it, I was getting really into Tumblr and all the glittery, kitschy parts of the internet. I had been talking a lot with @voreburger (Pico) at the time of this and had a feeling he would be super into the idea. It started out as just wanting to have Fluttershy coming out of her shell with the help of internet culture. It was after pitching this idea to Pico that he sent me back a rough draft:
The idea was really coming together it seemed. What really drove it was his use of the Gir hoodie, really solidifying the internet time period(s) we were after. The Nintendo DS, the browser extension toolbars, and all that; he was onto something incredible.
By the second draft, I still only had "Antonymph (demo1)" made on my end. Taking inspiration from the art he was doing, I started writing lyrics and programming some drums:
After I had these additions to ground the idea, I started getting more ideas for the art direction of the song.
By this point I want people to understand how much Pico was instrumental to the conceptualizing and execution of this whole project. We bounced so many ideas off of each other and worked to string everything together. It wasn't a case of me commissioning him for a few things and calling it a day, it really wouldn't exist the way it does without him.
In order to test chroma key stuff, he sent this icon that he made.
It was here that I realized that Antonymph could be something bigger. There was now a few pieces of "Fluttershy in a gir onesie" that could be used for a semi-animated music video. I said to Pico the words "we'll create an entire culture around one song". That was essentially the manifesto, how deep I wanted this whole thing to go.
So I got to work. (This also appears to be the first mention of "Fluttgirshy" in our DM's)
I ran the lyrics by Pico in a group chat and we talked about the lyrical direction of the song. After coming up with some stuff together we ended up with demo3:
Between March, 2021 - May, 2021, I took time off from the Antonymph studio sessions for a few reasons:
- The visual aspect of the project was now in full effect. I was messaging many of my favourite mutual artists and pitching Antonymph to them and explaining what I needed.
- Focusing otherwise on lyrics.
- I was working on the other CUTIEMARKS songs, now that the album was no longer a small EP project (which it was originally intended to be, as it always ends up with my music).
- It was intimidating to work on Antonymph. It was very clear by this point that it was going to be a big project and a big song, likely to be heard by a lot of people. We all expected this from the start, though it ended up being even more than we imagined. Still, knowing this made it harder to work on the song because the pressure was really on.
Now at this point, many other concepts have been injected into the idea of Antonymph too:
- Queerness needed to be a big part of this. Making a song about self acceptance and expression had to entail queerness (like many other aspects of CUTIEMARKS, anyway).
- I wanted to help heal my homesickness a little bit, so the music video would start to include video clips that I took in California (most notably, the intro of the music video shows my BART route from San Francisco to Daly City).
- I wanted my friends to be a part of it in some way. I couldn't include everyone, but I did a lot to make sure that the people I cared most about would be included in this project, knowing it would be seen by lots of people. I wanted to bring them along for this whole thing. Lots of clips in the music video include videos of my friends, and I took lots of suggestions about the song from friends in servers and group chats.
- As a spiritual sequel to "Lesbian Ponies With Weapons", I wanted the song to speak to a lot of the issues our generation is facing around the world especially in the wake of civil rights and economic inequity.
Between May 17, 2021 - May 27, 2021 there were two more Antonymph demos:
After demo4, I asked friends and patreon subscribers if they wanted to be included in the song by way of putting a group of everyone saying "hell yeah" in the second verse. demo5 is where this first is implemented, but all the voices wouldn't be included until the very final version of the song.
Slowly but surely, everything came together. I worked endlessly on coordinating all the art stuff and doing the video editing and graphic design, until eventually:
It was done. February 24, 2021 - May 28, 2021.
I don't usually talk about finances, but I know for certain that the Antonymph project itself had costed well over $1.5k to make. This is disregarding everything else I had invested into the creation of the CUTIEMARKS album entirely, and is limited purely to Antonymph by itself. And as this project has helped to grow myself as a musician, I should be able to make more projects of this scope in the future.
A few days later, I premiered the trailer for it on June 4, 2021:
And then of course, what followed was the music video itself.
And just like that, it felt like I had taken my first breath of fresh air in a long time. I braced for the response to this, and what followed was extraordinary. Across social media, the #antonymph and #fluttgirshy tags were filling with people making fanart of the interpretation of Fluttershy that Pico and I, along with the many other incredible artists, spent many months getting just right. It all went to even inspire the parody project on SiIvaGunner's channel:
Antonymph was born from the ashes of my trauma and memories, and was forged between me and a dedicated team of incredible visionaries to become this thing that a lot of people connect with now. If I was going to put out a project of this scope and reach, I wanted to make sure it was positive and inspiring, and had the potential to live past its release as something that would continue to influence people for the foreseeable future.
So, Antonymph feels like a HUGE explosion of colours and emotions. And that's because it is. Everything had mounted up to that point. Endless amounts of hardship and mistakes, culminating into something that would be unabashedly beautiful.
I am forever grateful.
Thank you so much. + Thank you so much to Pico for making this project one of the best ever.
Oh, and as an extra special thank you, the stems to ANTONYMPH are now freely available to everyone: https://we.tl/t-j7WJ9dQ6tT
art by @astroeden, made specially for the one year anniversary of Antonymph <3