Listening to Wallice’s melodically-rich indie pop - a burgeoning collection of tracks collated as debut EP ‘Off The Rails’ - you likely wouldn’t guess the places that have proved integral for the 23-year-old. Full of yearning, soaring highs and easy, breezy charm, the likes of debut ‘Punching Bag’ and the EP’s recently-released title track come on like ‘00s faves Smith Westerns given a modern bedroom pop update. Perhaps they speak to summers spent frollicking in the sun and surf? Or days of listlessly staring out of car windows on the road to who-knows-where?
“My grandparents have this house in Utah that they don’t really live in and half the EP was created there,” Wallice begins. “My mum and all my aunts and uncles grew up Mormon, and my grandma and grandpa are the only ones that still are so they have this huge Mormon house. I never grew up like that, but my mum would tell me stories of her childhood which was… weird. This house has more pictures of Jesus and their Mormon founders than our entire family, and our family’s huge. You go to the local Walmart and there’s the polygamist Mormons in their vans with their multiple wives…”
Perhaps not the natural birthplace for a set of tracks that acutely document the coming-of-age process in all its soul-searching confusion, but Wallice’s own upbringing couldn’t be further from those rigid traditions. Growing up in Los Angeles, she sings the praises of her creative mother (“I grew up with her having a kiln in my garage, doing pottery and painting huge canvases, so she was always very supportive of whatever I wanted to do, kind of a hippy mentality…”) and enthusiastically recalls going to childhood commercial auditions and attending a specialist performing arts school. As in, like Fame?
“Honestly it was kind of like that!” she giggles. “There’s the art kids with the tiny bangs before it was cool and tattoos at 16, and the dancers in leotards, and the music kids were either really popular or really quiet if they were the violin or tuba players. When I was growing up there was a show called Victorious [about a teen who attends Hollywood Arts High School] and it really was kind of like that.”
“Something nice from the songs I’ve put out has been getting DMs on Instagram saying that people had never heard a song that feels exactly how they’re feeling.”
So far, so LA then. But while the city’s sun-soaked climate bleeds through into the wide-eyed haze of Wallice’s music, there’s a far more knowing, self-deprecating touch at play than you might expect from her stage school tales. Take recent single ‘Hey Michael’, for example - a track riddled with deadpan observations to its core (sample lyric: “You talk for so long about Mad Men, I’ve never seen that show / You don’t gotta say you love Pulp Fiction, I already know”). “My mum dated two different Michaels and the second one had a tattoo based on Mad Men and they’re not together anymore so… it tells you that much,” she says with a cheeky glint.
Citing the lyrics of fellow LA-er Phoebe Bridgers and early ‘90s Weezer as the sort of “self aware, funny” tone she’s aiming for, Wallice’s first moves play the clever trick of making the specific feel universal. Everyone, as she rightly notes, knows a Michael. ‘Off The Rails’ as a whole, meanwhile, she cites as being “very coming of age for my specific age range - it’s a very specific time where if you’re there, you have those feelings”. “Usually the shows on TV are about teenagers being played by 28-year-olds, or about 30-year-olds. So something nice from the songs I’ve put out has been getting DMs on Instagram saying that people had never heard a song that feels exactly how they’re feeling and they’re also my exact age. They can relate to it,” she continues.
There’s an intensity and truth of feeling to Wallice’s music, however, that will feel relatable whether you’re still in your teens or if 23 feels like a tiny dot stretching back on the horizon, and it’s an integral quality that she’s keen to keep pursuing. On last year’s ‘23’ she mythologised the transformative powers of ticking over to the next year (“I just can’t wait to be all grown up and 23…”); now she’s there, there’s nowhere to go but forward. “On this EP I sing about still living at home and feeling like a kid, and I applied for an apartment yesterday so that’s a new chapter!” she smiles. “These tracks were all written from last August to January in a very specific time and during quarantine, but I like how short a time it was written in because it feels like a [distinct period] of my life and then the next EP will have a different outlook and feeling.”
And if that period of in between-ness, of not quite going ‘Off The Rails’ but perhaps wondering what the future will bring, has any grand umbrella outlook, what would it be? She ponders. “With this next video for ‘Off The Rails’, the theme is that life is a simulation and I think maybe the whole EP sits under that theme of being a different character from one day to the next. Life is a simulation - that’s the world [it lives in],” she decides.
As we said: Wallice may be an LA kid at heart, but she’s far from predictable.
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