At this point, the breakup album has been bent into countless shapes. So rather than try to re-shape it, on their debut album My Gold Mask’s Gretta Rochelle and Jack Armondo simply amplified its effects. They didn’t skimp on dramatics, with Rochelle’s pleading vocals, Armondo’s spiraling guitar riffs and lyrics that grapple with psychosis and reference Gothic literature and Italo horror flicks. The result achieves a spellbinding emotional intensity that’s easy to inhabit.
Marissa G. Muller chatted with the duo about their Jane Eyre-meets-surf-rock aesthetic, dealing with panic attacks through song, and maintaining a sense of humor throughout their theatrics.
On being influenced by Chicago:
Gretta Rochelle: We do a lot of our writing during the winter. It gets really frigid here, which lends a hand to our writing. We bury down in our studio, which is this warehouse that doesn’t have heat.
Jack Armondo: Chicago influences our music environmentally, but not as much musically. Stylistically, there are a lot of great Chicago bands, but there aren’t a lot that we fit in with.
On the origins of My Gold Mask’s aesthetic:
Armondo: I was always in more hard rock and pop-punk bands, which is very different from what we do now.
Rochelle: I had played in high school riot grrrl bands — I love me some Bikini Kill — and a rock-pop band before this. When we first started, we experimented with different sounds and tones and vocal approaches.
Armondo: We’ve said from the beginning that there aren’t any rules for what My Gold Mask can be. Our first nine songs were really different. There are clues in all the early EPs that have kind of led to our heavy vibe now. The album is a natural extension. We wanted to hone in more on specific feelings: lost love, longing and conflict of emotion — wanting something even if it’s not good for you and pursuing it anyway.
On taking inspiration from Italo horror films:
Armondo: When we were writing Leave Me Midnight, we were on this Giallo kick — old Italian murder-mystery, horror films from the ’70s. There’s usually a lot of psychosis involved, visceral moments. It can be kind of hokey, but that mood, tension and dramatic feel is something that we try to do with our music. We try to create tension and a cinematic [feel].
Rochelle: Suspiria is one of the most gorgeously-shot horror films from that time and has so much beauty and darkness. It inspired me to play around with layering vocals and try to capture that same dark beauty.
Armondo: The album art was our tribute to [Suspiria director] Dario Argento, but we didn’t want it to look exactly like it was lifted from the movie. We wanted it to look like something from the past that could also be from the future. We wanted something that was pretty, but also foreboding and a little mysterious.
Rochelle: The album deals with duality, which we tried to capture in the artwork and the title: Leave Me Midnight, can be either inviting [midnight] or warding it off.
On writing about panic attacks first-hand:
Rochelle: A lot of times, I write from personal experience. I feel like I have to have experienced something to be able to convey it accurately. I suffer from panic attacks, and “Lost In My Head” is very true to that. It’s a very personal song to me.
Armondo: That song was something Gretta really wanted to talk about. Because she deals with panic attacks, the way she talks about it in the song is very accurate to the way it feels.
Rochelle: People are always talking about stress or anxiety, but when you live with panic attacks, that feeling that lasts about 20 seconds feels like death for an entire day. So I thought it was important to flush that out for myself.
On the album’s Gothic moments:
Armondo: “Wound,” to me, sounds like someone that’s trapped in this big old Victorian house in this relationship with someone who is completely neglectful. This person is left alone in the house and is sort of numb to the whole situation. A lot of the album has to do with relationships that didn’t turn out the way you imagined when you started. Love and loss and conflict of emotion – wanting something even if it’s not good for you and pursuing it anyway — are all themes on the album.
Rochelle: It’s a lot about the bittersweet moments that may not be so healthy for us, but we crave those things regardless.
On Gretta’s zig-zagging vocals:
Rochelle: My vocals emulate a drugged-out state on “In Our Babylon.” It’s one of those party songs about a party you shouldn’t have gone to.
Armondo: It’s about the downside of partying like staying too long and thinking, “Oh God, I should go home, but I can’t.”
Rochelle: I want the listener to get dropped into the song and kind of swim around with us. I think after a couple listens the lyrics will pop out.
Armondo: We like having a little bit of murkiness in our lyrics. When I listen to music where you can’t hear the lyrics too well, I almost listen closer, because I’m trying to hear and understand. That can draw you into songs, and that’s why things aren’t ultra-clear. I think our songs grow with a few listens. That can be a dangerous game in today’s world, when people can listen things only once and move on, but we still like music that reveals more the more you listen.
On balancing the darkness with a sense of humor:
Armondo: We’re lighthearted people — we’re not sitting in a cave wearing monk outfits. We take our art seriously, but we think it’s important to have a sense of humor in our personal lives. We weren’t trying to be campy on the album, but at the same time there is almost a melodrama to it, and we’re aware of that. Like, “Burn Like the Sun” has a lot of post-apocalyptic imagery — “letting it all burn like the sun” and the idea of watching things melt. It sounds like a natural disaster, but that’s because some relationships are like natural disasters!