They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. After a tumultuous 2020, we are searching for the light. As we speed headlong in 2021, our prayers have been answered as a statuesque figure has emerged from the mists surrounding her badass DeLorean. Buckle up, baby! Primo The Alien has arrived to rescue us from these dark days with an undeniable dose of retro-pop goodness!
Who is this enigmatic figure? An Austin-based synthpop/retrowave/synthwave artist and producer, Primo is a force to be reckoned with and one of the most inspiring independent artists in the game. She writes and produces each song, with a unique blend of humor and drama that leaves listeners captivated. Her wild tales of epic showdowns, interplanetary tourism, and hyper-sensual scenarios are guaranteed to make you feel like you’re living in 1987 … if 1987 was a dangerously sexy, post-apocalyptic wasteland complete with kick-ass parties, flying motorcycles and lots of glitter. The wings of this retro rainbow Pegasus are Primo’s signature powerhouse vocals. Primo sings with urgency, from the gut, hitting notes so high you’ll wonder if she’s hiding a soprano sax in her throat. With eccentric bravado, compelling intensity, and colossal production style, Primo delivers the punch music fans of all genres have been oh-so-eagerly anticipating.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Primo to discuss the making of her high-anticipated new double EP, “Heart On The Run/Rock Professor.” In the revealing interview, she offers an inside look at her creative process, evolution as an artist and the lessons she learned along the way. Most importantly, she offers insight on what the future holds for her as an artist and premieres her powerful new single, “Bad Things.”
Primo’s scorching new single can be heard below and purchased at this location — https://ffm.to/primobadthings. Be sure to read on for exclusive details on the making of her upcoming double EP!
You dedicated your life to creating amazing music. How did the arts come into your life early on?
My mom thought I sang well as a little kid, so she took me to this voice teacher in our hometown. Her name was Marcy Ragland. She was retired from doing voice lessons and stuff like that but my mom kinda took me there just to see if I was actually good or if it was just her imagination. [laughs] She said, “I want to work with this girl!” That was around the time I was in third grade and I started singing then, along with taking piano lessons. My dad died when I was a kid and that’s when I got my first guitar. We were in this little shop that had odds and ends. There was an acoustic guitar in there that I just kept looking at and my mom bought it for me. I guess that’s the point where my artistry started. I started writing in my late junior high, early high school years. It was very basic stuff, but I thought it was great! [laughs] I went to The Clive Davis School of Recorded Music at NYU, where I studied songwriting and production. It kept evolving from there. I started with the joy that I had as a little kid for singing and that’s what got me here.
Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to pursue your passion for music in a professional sense?
I always wanted to do this, along with being in the CIA. It was that or to be in the NFL. I was going to be an NFL Football player. I’m 5′ 11″ and humongous for a female. When I was little, I was especially big because the boys hadn’t caught up yet. I really thought there was a chance that I could be in the NFL. Those were the days of Deion Sanders. Obviously, those two things didn’t work out, but I always wanted to do this. I don’t think I ever really considered anything seriously. I would always say, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I could go to law school.” With that said, they were never serious ideas. It’s always been something I was going to do, as humiliating or fruitless as it is at times! [laughs] It’s always been the thing where if I had to do anything else, it would be to facilitate this. “What can I do to make enough money so that I can keep doing this?” So, I don’t think there was a specific moment where I made the decision of “OK, I’m going to pursue this … ” Maybe in college? Going to school where I went, my professors were producers. For example, there was Nick Sansano who produced everything for Public Enemy. They were all amazing producers who were doing it for real and telling us, “This is how you do it.” Maybe that is when it became more of a reality in my mind, but I think I’ve always been on the path.
What has been the key to keeping yourself motivated during these strange times?
I think it depends on the type of music you are making and what your focus is but, for me, 2020 didn’t change things too much. In terms of the synth-wave genre, I am kind of on the fringes of synth-wave. That’s where most of my fans are derived from. A lot of synth-wave artists don’t play as much live as I do. I have a live band with drums, bass, and keys and I play guitar. We do play to tracks but there is more of a bandy feel. That was the biggest change for me. Other than that, it’s been mostly the same for me. I record and produce everything in the room where I am sitting right now. Self-producing is kind of isolating in itself regardless of the times you are living through. For me, the things I have tried to stay mentally afloat is to create a schedule for myself throughout the day. It would be very easy for me to wake up and go, “OK, I’m going to play ‘Borderlands’ all day.” I could easily do that! So, it’s been important for me to say to myself, “OK, here it is! You’re gonna have a cup of coffee and then you’re going to sit down and work until 2. Then you’re going to go outside for a walk to breathe in some fresh air.” On and on. I think a lot of artists do this where they are always focusing on the next thing, the next thing and the next thing. I’m totally guilty of that. I mean, I just finished an album and I am already like, “Oh, I’ve got to start the next album!” It’s just never resting. Finding the space and time to rest has been very important to me. If I don’t rest and experience the world a little bit, then I’m not going to have anything to write about. I think creating a schedule and creating time for myself to think, be in nature and become inspired by the times I care about has been so important. I care about a lot of things, man! [laughs]
What went into finding your creative voice?
I think I always had an idea of what I wanted to do and what inspired me. I don’t think it was until starting this project that I realized that vision or sonic landscape that I had in my head. When I went to college, I was so far behind everyone else. I’m from a really small farm town in East Texas. I didn’t know what Pro Tools was and I had never heard of any of those things before. I was starting my college career with these kids who, some of them, had taken courses on this stuff in high school. I was so behind, so I think I got a little lost in the sauce there with what I was going for because I would kinda let other producers steer me in certain directions. They would say, “Oh, you need to do this sort of thing here. This is what you do. You do this.” Then I had written a few songs that I wanted to work on with a friend. Long story short, things didn’t go the way I had expected. Everyone just kept telling me, “This is how you should sound.” People would say, “You need to sound like Pink.” It was stuff I would never really want to sound like. I had produced in college and produced an alternative country EP for myself. I sat down in this room and thought, “Ya know, why don’t I see what happens if I try to make a whole track by myself with the sounds I hear in my head and no one else’s input.” I thought there was no way I would ever release any of that stuff. I thought it would just be an exercise for me to get out some creative energy or something. I have been doing singer/songwriter and rock band things for a long time. It was a whole new thing for me to do everything in a box like that and I did! I thought, “I kinda like this!” I kept pulling at the thread and the next thing you know, Primo The Alien was here! It happened like a lightning bolt! I’m so glad I did that. I was so scared to do it for some reason, but sometimes the things that are scariest are sometimes the best thing for us. I’m so glad I did it!
What lessons did you learn early on that helped guide the trajectory of your career?
Obviously, the most cliche thing is trusting your gut and following your heart. However, every time I’ve known something, and someone has told me to do something that was the opposite of that gut feeling, I’ve always regretted it. Maybe not immediately but I will always end up looking back and thinking, “Oh, I should have done that thing.” Honestly, when you think about it, the odds of actually making it are pretty low, especially now for me. I feel like “You’re out of time!” I think the electronic scene is definitely more forgiving in terms of age than super mainstream pop music is. The odds of making it are so low, so you might as well do it the way you want to do it. Trying to appease people or being a slave to a certain sound, fans, a label or anything else is doing yourself a disservice. The odds of it really paying off are really low, so you might as well just say fuck it and do what you want to do! Then you can feel like you’ve made something you’re proud of and something that is indicative of who you are, what you want to sound like, and you can sleep at night! I don’t look back on anything and think, “Oh, I wish I would’ve kissed that person’s ass more!” The things I do think are, “I wish I would have told them to go fuck themselves!” That’s been the biggest thing for me!
How does Primo The Alien figure into your artistic journey and when does that come into focus?
When I write, I try to put myself in the moment. Sometimes I sing and I actually cry while I’m singing. In a sense, it’s like acting and I really get into character for it. When I was writing a lot of these songs, I was seeing this person. It wasn’t me, it was this other entity and with every song, I was experiencing this person’s journey. As I wrote, the story just evolved. I didn’t just sit down and go, “OK, she’s an intergalactic assassin. She’s going back in time to kill somebody.” It just all happened organically. When I put the song together, I was like, “Oh my god! This is someone’s story. This is Primo.” In essence, the story is that I’m an intergalactic assassin from the future, sent back to 1987 for a hit job but I fall in love with not only the place, time, style, music and the excess but also with the person I am supposed to kill. I have to decide if I’m going to kill him or defy my orders and stay. Spoiler alert — I stayed in the ‘80s and decided to rock! [laughs] There is that assassin side but also the side that said, “Fuck it! I’m now a rock star!” I also think, for me, coming up with this whole persona was a way to distance myself from everything I’ve done before and a way of freeing myself creatively to do whatever I want.
When I started doing this project, I didn’t know what synthwave or retrowave were. I had never heard of these things. I had seen “Drive” and I liked the music from the film, which is something everyone talks about almost to a point where it’s like, “OK, you guys like ‘Drive.’ We get it!” [laughs] So, I had heard things that would be classified as synthwave, but I didn’t know what to call them. I wanted to make ‘80s pop a la Patti LaBelle “New Attitude,” Tina Turner, Prince, Bowie and the super rock opera Meatloaf stuff. So, I wasn’t as electronic based with my goals. I didn’t set out to make synthwave music. I just wanted it to sound like ‘80s pop sounded. I just wanted to make this thing I had in my head and luckily it found a place within the scene.
You’ve been hard at work creating a new double EP. Tell us about what’s coming our way from Primo The Alien.
The first single is “Bad Things,” which will be out on January 15. I’ve been working on this new collection of music for a long time. A good thing and a bad thing is that I don’t try to adhere to any sort of rules when I am making or writing music. I don’t care how it sounds. I want it to sound how it SHOULD sound. I want the production to serve the song. If I write a ballad and it’s a country ballad, I will put out a country ballad. I’m just going to put out what the song needs. So, I had this collection of songs that didn’t make sense together but also made sense in terms of the two sides of what I do: a light and a dark or a pop and a rock. With that said, I decided to create a double EP. Four songs are super pop, and four songs are rock and maybe a touch more ‘80s than the others. There’s definitely an ‘80s thread through all of them.
One side of the EP is called “Heart On The Run.” It’s four fucking solid pop songs! For the pop side, I worked with a producer here in Austin named Taylor J. Webb. I was at a point where I was kinda burnt out. I have released so much music, done collabs and written so many songs. I was really at a point where I produced them out, but I wanted someone else to punch them up, sweeten them up and make them shine in a way I can’t because I’m always gonna want to go back to that more gritty ‘80s kind of thing. I also wanted to start working on crossing over because I want listeners outside of synthwave. I love the synthwave scene and its fans but it’s a small scene. The pop side of this EP is definitely me trying to reach other people with more accessible songs.
The “Rock Professor” side of the EP is a ridiculous four songs! The songs are stupid! [laughs] “Rock Professor” itself is ridiculous. It’s almost embarrassing! [laughs] I am so proud of that song but it’s so cringey at the same time. That’s one thing I love about this project. It’s so funny. It’s comical in nature and I don’t take myself so seriously when making this music. I am serious about the music, but I love to laugh and write things that are silly and super on the nose and ridiculous. On “Rock Professor,” there is another song called “The Top.” It’s a Rocky running up the step’s kind of song! Then there is a really fuckin’ heartbreaking ballad. I think that one is more of the extreme and less accessible Primo.
It’s been a lot of work! I had the four songs on “Rock Professor” already mixed and mastered. Then I did this new pop side. I wanted them mixed so I had them remixed and mastered. It was a long road, as is everything with me. I don’t think I put out anything that is “I wrote it, recorded it and it was only a couple of months.” It always takes so much time because I just want it to be perfect. It’s never perfect but I want it to be as close to what I am hearing in my head as possible.
I do have music videos planned for a lot of the songs. The first music video will be out for “Bad Things” on the release date, January 15. It’s going to be one of those things that will cause a little ripple, a little wave, as I like to do from time to time! [laughs] Actually, that video was so much fun. My sister and I shot it together over Christmas. We shot it and I said, “We’re putting it out. Let’s just do it!” I am doing a really epic video for one of the songs on the pop side that I’m very excited about with full choreography. It’s choreographed by an artist here in Austin called Lady Heartwing. People should check her out and she should have new music out soon! There is a lot I have in the works! I am going to do vinyl, cassettes and CD. I have never had my music on vinyl, so I’m super excited about that. I’m also going to do a scaled back, live acoustic version of the songs that will probably be out in the summer. There is a lot of stuff I’m thinking about!
It’s hard for me to be in the moment, so I am trying to take these songs and put them out in a way that people will be able to hear them. When I put out my first EP, I put them out all at once. I didn’t put out a single. I didn’t get press. I just put the thing on Spotify. This was before anyone knew who I was or even played a show. I just put it out. As I got more popular, more people discovered them, but I didn’t really give those songs their time. I definitely want to give this collection its time for people to find it and discover it. I don’t like to put filler songs on albums. Each song on this double EP is so special and important to me, so I want each song to be heard. I’m going to do my best to make sure that happens!
How has your songwriting process evolved through the years?
With this sort of music, it’s definitely a bit different. Before, it was pretty much guitar-based music where I would just sit down with a guitar and noodle around. So many sad songs I wrote! SO many sad songs and so many angry songs! [laughs] There was never just a fun little bop. It was always either super depressing or so angry. My writing now is just so much different. For example, “To The Max!” from my first EP, I wrote in my head on a long drive in my car. I just kept singing it to myself. I would take out my phone and sing it into my phone. When I finally got to my destination, I immediately went to my computer and got it down as a rough demo. Sometimes, it’s a bass line and I write to that. Other times, more so with this project, I have a song that has been written for a long time before it’s fully written. “Sexual Safari,” that I released during Covid, is the only song that I’ve ever released that I mixed and mastered myself. I had that hook for so long in my head and I just couldn’t make it from the beginning of the verse to the hook. I couldn’t find a way to bridge the gap and get it there somehow. Then I had an epiphany during Covid. It just hit me and the whole song was written on that day! It’s so different every time.
The process also changes when it’s a collab. Some people you work with want to send you a track and just want you to sing over the top of it with no changes or anything. I used to be more amenable to that but I’m not anymore. To anyone who does a collab now, I say, “I will need stems and I will change it.” It will have to be changed because most of the time, many electronic producers might not understand song structure. It’s things like, “We need this long for a verse. This is how long we need for a chorus. The chords have to change.” It’s stuff like that. I’m definitely a lot more straightforward about that now. I think at the end of the day, the common thread for me is that there is a theme and I want everything I write to have meaning. I want to be saying something in every song, even if it’s disguised in the guise of a silly pop song, I want it to be saying something more underneath the surface.
Was there new territory you hoped to explore with this collection of songs? What challenges stand out in your mind when it comes to bringing the EP to life?
For sure! Ya know, the rock side of the EP is what I wrote first. I also had a few other pop songs that I ended up just releasing as singles that would have been a part of this EP. Those were songs like “#1 Alien,” “Only Human” and “Sexual Safari.” The biggest challenge was when I realized that those songs weren’t going to work for what I wanted and realizing that I needed to write four new songs and do it in a quick manner! [laughs] I’ve never ever done that to myself where I’ve said, “You NEED to write songs for this thing.” I have always just written and then put them together later. Some artists go away for awhile and say, “I’m going into the studio to write my album.” I’ve never written my album. I’ve always just written songs, a shit ton of them, and culled them down to what I think works as a solid chunk. For this one, I went, “Oh shit! You’ve gotta write four pop songs now to make sense for what we are doing here.” That was a big challenge for me. I even got to the point where I was going crazy! I had written three of them and there was a fourth one that I needed and knew that was the one that had to bring it all together. I just couldn’t do it and I was so frustrated! I was sitting in here, pacing around and being so dramatic and crying, “Oh, I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” [laughs] Finally, it all came together! That was a big one for me.
I think the biggest thing I did on this album was letting go of control with working with another producer. I am so controlling and it’s so hard for me to let anyone do anything at all. I knew I needed to bring in another producer and I’m so proud of myself for doing that, but it was so hard for me. A lot of it is because as a female producer, I feel like it’s my cross to bear or the hill I want to die on! [laughs] “I’m a female producer and I did this myself! No one fucking helped me, and I don’t need help! I can do it on my own!” It was that kind of thing. So, asking for help and getting help was such a hard thing for me to do. I did want to say, “I DID THIS MYSELF!” Then I was like, “I’ve already done that, and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Why do I feel like I need to prove this to everyone?” Letting go of control was a big moment for me and I’m so glad I did. Taylor knew what I was hearing. He took what I produced and made it sound so pro. On the rock side, “Rock Professor,” I did produce all of those songs myself. I think you can hear it. I think you can hear a little bit of the grit that is in there where, with Taylor, there is a little sparkle on his that maybe mine doesn’t have. At the same time, there is a lot of heart in the songs I did myself. Working with a producer in this way was huge for me. It’s the first time for me doing that. When I do a collab, it’s a bit different because the other person I am collaborating with is usually taking the lead on production more so than me because they usually don’t write the song. We are each doing our own thing. I might add some little synths here or there or whatever. With this one, really producing with someone else and sending ideas back and forth, was awesome!
How did you and producer Taylor J. Webb first cross paths?
One of my best friends in Austin is Dossey. She’s an artist here and she does a lot of work with him. He’s produced a lot of her music and he actually came out to a show I played and then we went out and got coffee. This was all pre-Covid. We got coffee together and we talked about working together. There was a song that we started that I wrote but it wasn’t right for this. A lot of time went by and then during Covid I reached out to him. I said, “Hey man! I’ve got these songs and I need an extra boast. Can you help me?” We really hit it off and he was really easy to work with.
There was a moment when we were at coffee and I kept saying, “Well, I’m not a real producer.” Finally, he was like, “Can I ask you something? Why do you keep saying that? Why are you saying you’re not a real producer?” I didn’t really have an answer for that. He said, “Well, you are. You’re a great producer. You make great music. Stop saying that about yourself.” I was like, “Oh. Damn!” It was one of those moments when you see something in a new light. I think the respect was there and that is something that is so crucial when you are working with someone. It was really great!
It’s cool to see you continue to gain momentum. What is your vision for the future when it comes to this project?
Ya know, this time last year, I had something like 5,000 monthly listeners or something like that. It was really low. Now, I have 30,000 monthly listeners. For me, it’s either zero or 10,000,000. [laughs] I feel like if I don’t have 10 million, I have zero. For me, it comes down to more presence, more fans and new listeners discovering the music. I look to artists like The Midnight, who have found a way to make this sort of music but also break through to a larger audience. I would love to have a career like they have in terms of being able to do it professionally, play great shows and everything like that but even that wouldn’t be enough for me! [laughs] I would always want more. I just know how I am. [laughs] I just hope to keep growing. While I’m not satisfied, I am totally happy and grateful. Even if no one listened, I would still keep doing what I am doing. It’s something I have to do and it’s who I am. I’d like to reach a level where I can tour internationally and have weird, rad merch and do weird things. Maybe I would make a video game or something like that; something really outside the box. I want to create interesting content. The way my brain works is so visual. I imagine my songs so visually so I’d like to get to a point where I could make visual albums to further realize what I see in my head. If I can achieve that, that would be great. I just need a lot of money and a lot of fans, but I guess that’s everyone’s wish! [laughs] Personally, I would just love a publishing deal to write for other artists. I have so many songs that don’t really work for this particular project or other stuff that are just in there gathering dust. That’s another goal of mine. Songwriting is what I love most, so I want to do more of that.
Your creative drive is inspiring. How did that work ethic end up in your DNA?
Unfortunately, and it’s unhealthy, a lot of my motivation comes from wanting to prove something to people. I’m from this really conservative small town where I was the town pariah. I was always fighting with everyone and politically did not agree with anyone there. It was a battle from a young age! I was raised by two Democrat attorneys. My dad was a criminal defense attorney, and my mom was from New Jersey and super liberal. I was very outspoken from a young age. My first sort of thing was my editorial for the Gilmore Junior High paper about prayer in school. That one really didn’t go over well! [laughs] I’ve been doing that for a long time; being up against it, fighting and looking out for the people! [laughs] I think a lot of it comes from that. I think a lot of people are too scared to say what they really think because they don’t want to lose fans or have confrontation with people. That was such a good warm up for what I do now because I don’t fucking care! [laughs] Obviously, people are going to say shit to you that will make you mad and you’ll want to say something back or will want to fight with them about it. However, it doesn’t affect me in a way that makes me question myself or feel bad about myself. If anything, I get angry and want to tell them to go kick rocks! [laughs] What I’m saying is that it doesn’t bruise my ego or hurt me if someone says I’m a talentless hack. That’s one I get a lot — “talentless hack and failed musician.” Those two? I’m like, “Yeah, I know. I am.” [laughs] Wanting to prove people wrong, wanting justice and wanting a platform to say the things I think are so important to me. I think that also drives me. The way I’m saying it sounds gross like, “I want to share the word!” But I do! I want to have the clout to say “No” or “This is wrong” and have people listen and maybe affect someone’s opinion on things.
I care a lot about this stuff. I’m not a weekend warrior. I have been fighting for this stuff for a long time and doing what I can. I’ve seen it so closely and firsthand, being where I’m from, that I’m not naive about it and I really want to spread the word. That’s a big part of that drive. Then there are my emotions, which are a huge driving factor. I get so mad sometimes that if I don’t put it into a song, I’m going to punch a wall! I wrote “My DeLorean” because someone said something that was untrue, a lie. When someone calls me a liar or misrepresents something that happened, it’s just a trigger. I hate using the word trigger but it’s a trigger. I fucking lose it! I was so mad, so I sat down, and that song came out! It’s actually the perfect example of a song that is seemingly a stupid pop song on the surface but means a lot more than that. The lyrics are “Maybe I could change things / Out wandering in the past / Or outrun all my demons / If I get in gear and hit the gas / Or perhaps I’ll spin the wheel / Cut myself a deal / Somewhere between sin and salvation and sin / But for today I’m just going to drive away from all this shit.” Writing that song was such a release for me! I hope that makes sense. I’m not great at making my point just speaking because I have too much to say and it goes so fast in my brain! [laughs] That’s why song is the best outlet for me!
What’s the best way for music fans to support an artist like yourself in this day and age?
Well, they say Spotify is the devil now, I guess. We’re all supposed to hate Spotify. I don’t make money on my music anyway really, so it’s like “Will I get a penny from Spotify? Whatever, I’m getting a penny over here too.” I’m not on that crusade and it matters to listen to me on Spotify. So, I would say listen to me on Spotify. Those are the numbers that people use when they book you for shows or when you are trying to get publishing, labels or management. It’s a big one, along with following all of my social media stuff. That’s so huge. Listen to your artists on Spotify, follow them on social media and interact with them! Give them encouragement because that is such a big part of it. Then buy the music! Buy the music on Bandcamp or my website. I was talking to a friend last night and he said that if he listens to a song more than a couple of times, he buys it. He said, “I’m not test driving it anymore! I know I like it and I want to support this person.” So, buy the fuckin’ music and the merch. Maybe you have to many T-shirts already but buy the fuckin’ T-shirt. Oh, and if I make vinyl, buy the FUCKIN’ vinyl! That’s the scariest one because you don’t want to end up with 300 vinyls just sitting around your house.
Well, having heard this amazing EP already, I don’t think you have anything to worry about there. It’s terrific and I know people will be eager to experience Primo The Alien on vinyl.
Yeah, my mom will buy a couple of copies! [laughs]
You are an inspiration for a lot of people. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
It’s never too late for you to do anything. You aren’t running out of time. DO IT! I think about movies that have been made or products that have been created that have had such a tremendous impact on the world. Think of things like Instagram or Facebook. These are things that someone thought of. Imagine how different a place the world would be if they didn’t get out there and do it. DO IT! It’s never too late. If it’s good, I have to believe in my heart that the cream will rise to the top. I have to believe that if you keep working and don’t give up that one day it will pay off for you in one way or another. Don’t give up, keep at it and keep working. While you’re doing that, remember how lucky you are to be alive because, at the end of the day, you could be the most successful person in the world but without your health, family and friends, all of this means nothing. Remember your priorities along the way.
Thank you so much for your time today, Primo. It’s been amazing to speak with you and to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of this fantastic body of work you are crafting.
Thank you, Jason! This was great. Thank you for talking with me. It was nice meeting you and I hope we do it all again soon!
Primo The Alien’s “Bad Things” is available now consumption at this location — Click Here!