PREMIERE: TROI IRONS NEW ‘LOST ANGELS’ LP IS HER “POST-COMING OF AGE RECORD”
By Nathan Leigh
October 24, 2019
Troi Irons is an artist who finds her strength in the extremes. Running the gamut from thrashing alt-rock anthems to captivating emotional ballads, her latest record Lost Angels is what she calls a “post-coming of age album.” Newly liberated from the major label system, we spoke with Troi about her new album, moving forward from the past and finding the love in yourself.
From the first few singles, it seems like there’s a story behind this record. It seems like you’re dealing a lot with your relationship with the music industry, going from being signed to a large label to being free.
I kind of think of the entire album as a post-coming of age album, ‘cause it’s not like a first love type album. It’s the aftermath of all the coming of age decisions that you make. I came of age in the industry and on labels and having publishing deals and all that stuff. There are a couple songs like Lost Angels, which kind of documents my early experiences on labels. But the most recent experience—the one with Def Jam, which was my second deal—I deal with on a song called “Damaged,” which is like the midway point through the album.
I was in this abusive, toxic business relationship with my management and we were at a heads. Like I could either have left or, I could sign with him ‘cause he was about to do the deal with Def Jam. And everyone in the industry was like, “Oh, this is going to be this huge distribution deal.” Everyone kind of thought that I was being difficult and like this little girl, so I wrote “Damaged.” I was checking in with myself. Like, where am I in life and what am I feeling right now? But it’s a larger project [that deals with more] than just industry stuff though, just because I wrote it while I was going through life.
It does seem like, especially from the videos you’ve released so far, that there’s like a narrative though.
Yeah. There’s definitely a narrative. So it starts out with Andrew Carter’s version of the Magnificat, which is based on the chapter in Luke where the Virgin Mary sings a song of praise to God for blessing her even though she was undeserving. And she kinda was like, “Oh, thanks for blessing, the humble and hungry and scattering the proud and sending the rich away empty-handed.” And I thought that was a great opening for the record because I’ve been both of those places. So it was kind of a prologue to the story. And it’s like a journey from being post industry brat to going absolutely rock bottom. And then just humbling out and finding new beginnings.
The record starts out aggressive which is kind of a metaphor for where I was. ‘Cause like, I had a six-digit net worth before I could legally drive. I had this massive ego and was kind of an aggressive person—not mean—but I just didn’t trust anyone but myself. It was like my way or the highway. So the record goes down this aggressive path and then halfway through the record, is “Damaged” that’s kind of the sobering up moment where I stopped drinking my own bullshit and I tender up and let go of the bravado. And then it goes through my exploration of vulnerability and the truth behind the way I feel. And why I do things. And the second to last song, which is out already, is “Hold On to Your Heart.” That’s kind of like the curtain close of the record, if you will. That song is really about me finding the love for myself. And then the very last song’s almost like an encore. I find the love inside myself and then I went home and made up with my parents. So that song—the last song—is called “Home.”
Speaking of home, talk to me about your musical upbringing. It seems like there’s this straight line between some of the badass women in rock from the ‘90s to what you’re doing now.
I grew up in the 2000s, so I was into like Green Day and System of a Down. Honestly, I listened to mostly men. I’ve been with thinking about that lately. Like how that kind of shaped the way that I saw it cause I didn’t really hear any female narratives until much, much later in life. It’s funny. I have two polar opposite moods for music. I listen to things that are aggressive and grandiose, like you can punch people or conquer villages. Or really, really sad, beautiful things like Sufjan Stevens or Phoebe Bridgers; that that type of thing.
I definitely hear that in your music. It’s always very “take on the world” or “sit and be introspective.” Why do you think that is? What draws you to those two extremes?
When I was a kid, it was just about dreaming and creating my own world ‘cause I was homeschooled, which is very fucking boring and very lonely. So when I would decide what to listen to, I didn’t want to listen to anything that was in between and “normal,” cause you can’t dream to that.
You were homeschooled?
I was homeschooled until I was 13 and that’s actually the reason we moved to California; cause I was done with high school and we had to find a college that would let me go full time. Most of the colleges are like, “no, it’s a liability.” I mean they all do it now. Now it’s kind of a normal thing, to go to college early. Back then it was a no-go.
So was that where you learned to play all these instruments and produce your own stuff?
Both of my parents are musicians. My dad was in this band in the ‘70s called Brick, and my mom was a pop artist and that’s how they met. When I was younger, they had gotten out of the front line of the industry and they would lead at churches and shit like that. They would wake us up with songs and, we were always around music. I didn’t really get a formal music education just cause I thought that would be kind of a waste of money because my parents were both musicians. You pick it up, like you pick up French if your parents speak French, right?
How did working in those extremes impact you in the industry? Did you get pushed in one direction or another? What kind of box did they think you belonged in?
Well, first I had to get out of the R&B box, because a lot of people don’t realize how segregated the industry is. It’s very, very archaic. And I had no idea when I was younger cause I was protected from all that stuff. But when I was older and on my own in my publishing deal and that deal with Def jam, it was like if you’re Black, everyone assumes that you’re an R&B writer.
Like I would be in writing sessions with these pop writers. We were going to do something for Christina Aguilera, and that’s like super out of my wheelhouse. And one of the guys — a white guy — he had done a bunch of stuff for like Fifth Harmony and Nick Jonas, which to me that’s like R&B/pop. So I’m like trying to imitate and get on their level cause I’m like, “OK, this is not stuff that I listen to but you guys are like great at R&B.” I’d try and imitate and write some rhythmic stuff. And at the end of the session, the guy goes, “you know, I’ve never worked with an R & B writer before, but this has been a really interesting experience.” And I was like “What do you mean you’ve never worked with an R&B writer? You are an R & B writer!”
I did a writing camp for Rihanna and a writing camp for Madonna and in the Rihanna writing camp, there was no food, everyone was two hours late, and there were eight writers in a room. And [in] the Madonna camp, it was just me and one producer, everyone was on time, and there was a $200 food per diem. So the two worlds are very, very separate and I had to kind of create my own world to avoid being in one or the other.
So it involved a lot of stepping back. They were like, “Oh, she’s going to be the next Ester Dean.” I think she’s super rad, but I’m just the next Troi.
Are there any songs on the new record that you had been tinkering with before? Were there ever points where you were like “I’ve got this really bomb song and I know that producer’s going to ruin it, so I’m just going to save it for the future?”
It’s actually funny that you say that. I started doing that towards the end. There are a couple songs on the project that I either reproduced and cut the original producers out of, or sent them a courtesy email saying “Hey, I kept your piano and the vocals, but I took everything else off, but I’ll still give you credit and put your name on it.” Just cause after doing that on a few songs, I was like, “man, I wonder if I’m just being a huge dick.” I started to get imposter syndrome. Like, “Oh, they’re gonna think ‘who the fuck does this girl think she is? Like having wasted my day and like taking me off the song.’” So there are people listed on the song who have nothing on the song. (laughs)
I think in the future, and the sessions that I’m doing now for my next project, I set it out in the beginning. “Hey guys, I like you as a musician and I like what you can do on the piano. Or I like what you can do on the drums. So this is a writing session and I’m going to produce the entire thing.” But when I was younger and everyone was calling me difficult, I didn’t necessarily have the balls to say that. So yeah, I only started saving songs towards the end. I wish I had done more of that in the beginning.
You keep talking about people calling you “difficult,” but it really just sounds like you were trying to have a say in your own career and your artistic output. How much did hearing that affect the way you saw yourself?
I actually, at first I was like, “no, I’m not difficult.” Everyone is just dumb. And then midway through, especially when I was dealing with that manager, I started to buy into it. I think that’s one of the reasons I wrote “Damaged,” ‘cause I was thinking like “all my experiences have damaged me and that’s why I’m this fucked up person that nobody wants to deal with.” Like I was in my car and I had to do all this shit and had been taken advantage of in multiple senses of the word. So that’s contributed to this difficult personality that I have. And that was kind of the thesis of that song in the middle of the record. I kind of started to internalize it.
What did it take for you to like get out of that mindset?
It was my birthday and I called the abusive manager guy and I just fired him over the phone. And then the next day I went to the Vince Staples release party, ‘cause we were on the same label at the time, and everyone at the label was just like, “Whoa, what do we do with this girl? She has no manager and he’s the guy that brought the deal.” And so they all kind of made me feel really weird about it. But I don’t know, I just think I made that split-second decision like, “you know what? I’m not happy.” And I’ve done that a few times in my life. I just decided I’m not happy and I’m going to change everything right now. Once I make the decision, it’s much easier to go forward.
Something just hit me I guess. And I came to my senses and I changed everyone around me. I’m in a much, much better place now. It’s not based around “success” and I’m not stressed anymore. I don’t worry about performing or achieving or making people happy. I just have a really great team around me and they’re like, “Hey, how are you today as a person and how can we grow together and can we meditate together? Let’s do a picnic.” It’s just great. It’s just a different environment that I’m in now.
One of the things I really dig about your music is that even though you’re talking about these very unique personal experiences, you frame things in this larger collective experience. Is that a choice or just how it comes out?
I feel like anything that is deeply true is true because it’s the human experience and we all kind of go through the same journey even though the details are different. And for me, when I was growing up, there was this line on Tyler, The Creator’s “Radicals” where he’s like, “they want you to go through this bullshit and go to the fucking schools and, and not be happy. And at the end of the day, who’s there? You. So fuck everyone else.” That’s not verbatim. I don’t remember the exact lyric, but it got me through my third year of college. And I was like, OK, if I can help other people go through their stuff, my details may be different, the furniture may be different but the floor plan is still the same, and then we can all get through this together.
What’s the takeaway that you hope people get from the new record?
The takeaway is that everything is meaningless without love. I feel like with coming of age records, you find what you love and go into that and just dream. But Lost Angels is like a post coming of age record cause it’s what happens. It’s how people get through the aftermath. You make these decisions and you decide where you’re going to go to college, and you decide what job you’re going to take, and you break up with the first person that you had a relationship with, and it’s you with your emotions. So there’s a lot of stuff you have to dig through. This is kind of a dig record that I hope people can grow with, and go through themselves so we can get to the bottom of everything. And the bottom line is just that love is the most important thing, and nothing else matters without that.