Keeley Bumford knows what it’s like to gather your courage and face fear head-on. Her EP Terror Nights / Terror Days describes the very anxieties that have made her falter in years past, yet the release has a triumphant end. The Los Angeles musician and producer also known as Dresage begins the release with “Who I Am,” where she asks nuanced rhetorical questions, and ends it with a declaration of freedom and a deep sigh of relief on “Wild Sea.” Everything in between is bold and empowering; altogether, Terror Nights / Terror Days froths like the Pacific.
I had a chance to catch up with Bumford and chat about the new EP and the music video for “Wild Sea,” premiering today on Grimy Goods. Read our edited conversation below, where she talks about writing in Cambria, the sea as a powerful influence, and also about her endeavour to empower women to pursue careers in music production and engineering.
Listen to Terror Nights / Terror Days EP wherever you stream music. Stay tuned for live show announcements. In the meantime, show your support by following Dresage on Instagram and Twitter or by joining her Patreon.
Words: Zoë Elaine
Grimy Goods: You used the phrase “melodic journaling” in a press release about the EP. I was curious if you had any anecdotes or wanted to share more about the songwriting process as it relates to your mental health.
Dresage: This EP was sort of me working my shit out. The only co-write is the song with Misty [Boyce, “Shame”]—everything else I did myself. It’s scary to be a solo artist. You have to be your own champion. All the songs on the EP are meditations on that theme. Most were written on a trip I took to the central coast of California. I was gifted time at this house on the water in Cambria for a writing retreat and I was feeling very unworthy, plagued with storms of anxiety and depression. The main songs I focused on there were “The Tiger,” which was me losing my shit on the first day, having a total breakdown; “Wedding Day,” when I got into the hypnotic view of the waves; and on the last day, the song that comes to mind most about melodic journaling, was “Wild Sea.” That track was the culmination of me getting on the other side of [those anxious feelings]. But it wasn’t just that one trip I’d gotten on the other side of—the whole process of writing this by myself and examining my own mental health again, and then coming to a place of relief like the [EP’s] final lyrics: “I got a feeling I was finally free.” Free from yourself and free from all these constructs, these little mind jails that you’ve built.
That leads me to a lyric that I’m stuck on from “Who I Am”: “How much longer til I know who I am?” That you made it a question about time really fascinated me since I found the EP to be about finding one’s strength, not bound to a timeline.
“Who I Am” wades through the layers of things I had told myself about myself. I think [that lyric] is about how much longer till I start believing the potential. It’s the transition between potential and actualization. For anybody who’s curious about their own existence and the world, I think we all go through this over and over again throughout our lives. I had a breakthrough while making this when I realized I can do this. I can be a solo artist, I can produce all my own stuff. I can use that terror that I felt and move through it and show other women who want to step into this themselves.
Is that part of the terror suggested in the title? As in, you get through the terror of the night in order to get through the terror of the day?
I think so. The title comes from a lyric in “Wedding Day,” which goes “terror nights and terror days, I’m just terrified of change.” Part of it was the rhyme that was going in that direction, but part of it was also that I do feel that it’s not the start of the days that are scary. It’s the nights, when all you have are your thoughts and you’re ruminating on all these things. Terrified of all these things that you aren’t, things that you are, things that you don’t even know what the fuck.
Oh yeah, speaking of, it’s so fun to listen to “Wedding Day” and shout, ‘that’s the title!’ in the middle of it.
[laughs] I have a Discord community and when I released “Wedding Day” I dropped little hints about the EP like ‘the title is in verse two~’ and when anybody would guess “terror nights and terror days” I’d be like, “yes! It’s working!”
I noticed that (and maybe the videos informed my thoughts on this) there’s a lot of imagery of the sea and water. Was that related to your time on the coast?
Cambria is very special to me. It’s this magical blend of the Pacific Northwest where I’m from and southern California, so you get these like really moody, violent waves and none of that sparkling, bright SoCal vibe. The house is literally on the water. It’s so loud, the waves are deafening. Writing there absolutely informed those themes. I was also able to go back to that location to film the “Who I Am” and “Wild Sea” videos. And basically all the art except “Shame” was created up in Cambria too.
This EP is a very meaningful capsule to me of returning to the scene where I went through this breakdown and came out the other side. It draws on the idea of the location-based record-making, like when Feist recorded Metals at Big Sur. Which by the way is a dream, because your only purpose is to create in that place and then you leave with everything you made there. I love my studio, I try to keep it as creatively inspiring as I can, but it’s my office. It’s not where I’m expressing my darkest psyche and thoughts on the world.
[laughs] I get that. Before we move on, I wanted to talk about the “Wild Sea” video, which I noticed was filmed so the light slowly got lower and lower. Such a cinematic touch.
The “Wild Sea” video follows a narrative of finding yourself in the craziness of an ocean, with these violent waves that are dark and hypnotic, and coming out the other side. We built this world with a crew of incredible people; it was directed by Kailee Mcgee and the DP was Michael Lincoln, who is amazing. We were filming all day and our whole plan was to capture the final shot of light leaving the horizon in the water. Michael was literally in the water with me with this expensive camera on this body attachment thing which made him look like a wild SCUBA dude. [laughs] As I was stepping out into the ocean, he was following me and everyone was holding their breath like please don’t drop it in the waves! It was so cool but it was really an intense moment cuz we only had this one day—everyone was leaving the next morning. It was all timed for that final shot. So for me performing that, it was like, oh, no pressure. [laughs] It was magic.
You mentioned earlier about your Discord community—tell me more.
Last April, I was on an episode of Andrew Huang’s 4 Producers 1 Sample. When that came out, it introduced me to the online producer community who are just fabulous people who really rallied behind me but also we rally around each other. My Discord isn’t just musicians but there are definitely a lot of self-producing musicians who are just amazing people of all ages, all backgrounds, from everywhere around the world. It’s so cool.
Yeah I remember when the 4 Producers 1 Sample video came out—“HOLY” is so freakin’ good—and since then, you’ve been making more how-to-centric content about production. What do you love about sharing knowledge with people and how does that differ from when you’re making music as self-expression?
I think it’s a balance. When I do too much of the instructional stuff, I get very drained. I know myself enough that I need to perform and have real exchanges with audiences and feel that I am an artist first. And even when I’m producing too much, I go crazy too because really my source is singing and lyrics. If I’m not doing that one thing enough, I really start to feel disconnected. That said, I have had great opportunities to do Master Classes and livestreams and panels advocating for more femme-indentifying people to be in these spaces that are so male dominated. So that feels meaningful to me for sure.
I noticed that a lot of the tracks that have been released have remixes available, and I was curious if those came through personal connections.
Yeah, so in the last like two years of my life, the clarity of becoming an advocate for women in these spaces has become really important to me. It feels like a parallel road to my artistic path. So as I thought about how I could push these songs further than the studio versions, I decided to put together an all-female producer remix package. I reached out to people I know, and to people I didn’t know but respect, to get a wide variety of remixes. Nothing is blowing up necessarily, but for me it’s an important statement and a way for me to grow and continue bolstering my community. Women are 2% of producers across popular music and it needs to change…and we are changing it.
I wish I could say it’s changing at a higher level. But I know it’s not.
It’s not, but the thing that is changing is that there’s way more femme-driven audio intiatives which is really amazing. I work really closely with She Knows Tech and She Is Music and Femme House and there’s so many organizations who are putting together educational content for younger girls to understand that they have every right to be there and also that not knowing things is ok. So I think the difference is that at high levels, the opportunities are still going to the same dudes and they’re still being decided by the same people in executive positions, but now there’s this groundswell of women who are coming for it. We’re like, this revolution is gonna happen eventually so you can either join us now or we’re gonna kick you out, sorry.