Tenderpunk Pioneer: illuminati hotties’ Sarah Tudzin on Her Debut Album

Sarah Tudzin, or illuminati hotties, released one of the most tender debut albums of 2018 so far, Kiss Yr Frenemies. The album is track to track, nonstop, contrasting punk riffs and gentle warm vocals.

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Tudzin is an L.A. native, who has been playing music from a young age but this album is very much “a product of the studio,” she says. It was in college that she developed a love for producing in the studio and it was her experimentation in the studio that led to this project.

Although illuminati hotties is now a complete band, the moniker was initially just Tudzin who thought of the name, liked it, and stuck with. The entire project seems to be coincidence upon coincidence, from the creation of the band to the selection of the album artwork. But the success and attention illuminati hotties is garnering is far from it.

illuminati hotties will be on tour through the Fall with Los Campesinos and Diet Cig. Kiss Yr Frenemies is out now via Tiny Engines.

Antonio Villasenor-Baca: How did you come up with the concept for the artwork for Kiss Yr Frenemies

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Kiss Yr Frenemies album artwork.

Sarah Tudzin: Well, the artwork- that’s a picture of my grandmother. And I was at their house one time for a wedding anniversary party, and they had their wedding album out and I was flipping through it and that was the first or second picture and it was totally mysterious, and awesome. It was before I ever had started making this project but I saw it and knew I had to use it for something eventually because it was so magnetic and exciting. Her expression is really cool and I had never seen pictures of her that young before. It kind of felt special. The album name comes from, it’s just funny. It comes from all those “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” and there’s a [Sonic Youth] record called Kill Your Idols. It was just a sort of mash together of all those things. It felt right for the context of a lot of the songs.

AVB: Can you talk about your background in music and how that influenced the making of the album? 

ST: Sure. I was a player for a long time; I started playing piano when I was really young. Then I started playing drums in middle school and that was my main instrument for a while and I went to college ultimately to play drums. While I was there, I fell into the studio life and I was less interested with playing drums in a practice room, for hours and hours every day, and way more excited about being in the studio for hours and hours everyday. All the gear and making sounds and recording friends’ other bands- yeah I sort of learned there. I moved back to L.A. after college and got a gig working at a studio as a runner and I was assisting for a producer for a while and now I’m an engineer for another producer and also produce my friends’ bands and other projects. Mix whatever L.A. artists or not L.A. artists-whoever wants to send me stuff. So the band started as a calling card for that. I’ve always been writing my whole life. I never really thought about doing it as a full-time thing. I sort of just did it because I love to write. I was like, ‘hmm. Maybe I should produce some of these songs and have something to show people.’ And then I started performing it and I caught the performer’s bug, for sure. And I love doing that just as much now.

AVB: Why did you have a rotating lineup for the band? Is that still the case? 

ST: Yeah. Well, making the album, I had a lot of friends help me make it- and a lot of people on it that can play some instruments better than I can. But I did make a lot of it on my own, playing all the instruments myself and sitting in front of the computer and doing the producer-y thing to this album. It wasn’t like I was writing the songs with a band and took them all to the studio to play their parts. The album was very much a creation of the studio and I was always trying to find people to play the music once I started playing it out. Just because of the commitment logistics and all of that- this is not an exciting answer, it was much more fun to have whoever was available and whoever felt like they knew the parts well enough to come play it. Now we’ve created a solid lineup of people who are doing the tour with me. For a while, it was just a lot of people who knew the music and could play it; and that was a lot of for shows.

Now it’s definitely solidified. But I don’t think any of those people [in the band] played in the album at all.

AVB: Oh, wow. 

ST: Yeah. They’re friends who have come to a lot of shows and have been around and were nice enough to become of the more serious lineup as things got busier.

AVB: What does “tender punk” mean? Is that a phrase you coined? 

ST: I think I thought of it. It’s possible that I maybe didn’t realize it- I don’t know. Maybe there’s somebody out there who thought of it first. I was just trying to think of a way to describe the music that was not just indie rock, you know? There is a sort punky, surfiness to it. Then there’s also a sweeter, seriousness to it. It was very sad girl, singer-songewriter-y stuff. I think there’s still some of that, that’s like lingering with this rock stuff so I mashed the words together.

AVB: How did you find the balance between the soft and soothing and the harder punk element? 

ST: I think it was a pretty natural fitting. It’s not very far off from my own personality and my own personal aesthetic in art- is to have a little bit of fun and a little bit of attitude and also maintain honesty and personal earnestness. Maybe that’s just how it’s been channeling.

By Antonio Villasenor-Baca

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