CITYGIRL Band is comprised of THE dynamic duo Marisa Ferdenzi and Allison Jones. Their music is eerily decadent and serves as the soundtrack for any melancholy evening! We interviewed Synth player Allison Jones and singer/music producer Marisa Ferdenzi to learn more about their musical journey and working together in an ever-changing industry.
When did you all first start your music journey?
MF: We both began musical journeys long before the band, but we got together in 2014 when Allison first jumped on as the live synth player for CITYGIRL which was in a synthwave phase. Our collaborative work really became established as the shoegaze, post-punk, pop and new wave hybrid it is now around 2018. We jammed at my studio on Mercer Street in SoHo a lot and really honed our sound there during those formative years.
AJ: Somewhere around 2016/2017 we started jamming quite a bit on a noticeably different musical wave than the previous iteration of CITYGIRL. By 2018 we had a live set together and by late 2019 we were releasing.
How did you meet and form the band?
MF: We were linked through a friend I was working with, who suggested that I play a show with a band Allison was in. As soon as I saw Allison at the venue, I was drawn to her. There was something about her demeanor that immediately made me feel a connection to her, some might describe it as a resting bitch face. The little voice inside said, “I wonder if she’s just as misunderstood as me or maybe she’s actually secretly plotting world domination”. Either way, I was intrigued. At the time I was making all synth-based music. I invited Allison to fill in for a live show I had booked a few months later and things took off from there. We just really vibe. Even though initially we were just playing the synths that had my sounds and she did not yet own any synthesizers, I knew she was different from any other person on keys I had worked with. I soon implored her to learn synthesis to start writing with me and she was really into the idea too. As I suspected, my mind just continued to be blown by not only her dedication and fearless mastery of her instrument, but her endless supply of mind-bending parts.
AJ: I love that Marisa’s response made me blush while ALSO being a lowkey roast of my unapproachable countenance (to know me is to love me!). I was thrilled to be invited to fill in, and a little nervous because this band was next level for me: in-ear monitors, a whole onstage sound rig, a SoHo studio - they were obviously pros. Marisa was a goddess in every way, her voice was a siren song that I am still following, and our mutual masculine energy despite a highly feminine appearance was a clear bonding factor.
My narrative arc is that I gradually took on a more active and influential role in the sound over a protracted period of time: filling in live became regularly playing live; learning previously-written parts became writing the new parts; laying down parts to existing songs became laying down the very foundation of certain songs. The current sound really represents our collective melodic moodiness and love of layered texture. Most everything I tend to play has a melancholic aura, and I think that lent itself well to what Marisa was already interested in doing. All I can say is that it was really organic, and is one of those once-in-a-lifetime connections! I’m a lucky gal.
" I strive to honor a sense of individual freedom in my work. "
Marisa, you are also a great music producer (which adds another layer to the intricacy of the music btw :) what is your favorite part about producing your own music? What tips would you give to others producing their first single?
MF: Producing my own music is a liberating experience. I am open to artist-producer relationships for CITYGIRL, although I often find myself in both roles with CG and other projects. This allows me to indulge my curiosity and bring my unfiltered artistic approach to the material and inhabit the energy and mentality of the artists and musicians I work with in the most comprehensive way. I try to capture explosive moments of inspiration as they occur and facilitate musical interpretations of feelings on the spot in their most raw form and stay true to that throughout the process. I tend to think “how can I most authentically translate where I sense this going, without words? I want to convey this vision energetically above all else, and see what happens.” If the results feel effortless, honest and I lose myself in it, whether I’m alone or with others, then it might be something I chose to explore further. I am interested in not only abstractions of emotion but in how a unique essence is revealed and distilled in the presence of the force of pure creative flow. This impulse to draw out and guide that quality through my perception is something that is a big part of how I interact with sound. I strive to honor a sense of individual freedom in my work. My advice to other producers is to focus on how you feel about it and take good advice from those you trust and revere, while remaining true to your self-expression. Try to decompose and untangle your ego and preconceptions as much as possible and brace yourself for the aftereffect, both internally and externally. Take comfort in the fact that any outcome of that is a good outcome, because the most enduring artistic experiences come from genuineness.
Allison, you are the amazing synth player for CITYGIRL, when and how did that journey start for you?
AJ: Amazing is a word I’ll probably never use to describe my own synth playing because synths are still a huge mystery to me, but thank you :)
I grew up in a musical household in the legendary rock n roll neighborhood of Laurel Canyon, LA, which really set me up pretty well for playing in bands and messing around with music overall. I trained classically on piano from the age of 6, performed competitively as a pre-teen, and studied works from the Impressionist period (Ravel, Debussy, etc.) in high school, also very lightly dabbling in jazz. I played in a band in high school that did a lot of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin covers as well as some prog-lite originals. Then I took 8 years away from music entirely while I studied Dance at SUNY Purchase (where I actually got to deepen my study of classical music by moving my body to it!). By the time I came back to music it was 2013 and I was going through some serious life upheaval, jamming on the pianos in the basement of the Met Opera, where I was employed as a dancer, as my coping mechanism/therapy. I was invited by Alison Clancy, another Met dancer/musician, to join HUFF THIS!, her all-female “dream-thrash” band - sorta a mix of punk and indie. We had a ton of fun! I lugged around a huge Roland JUNO Stage that wasn’t even mine for over a year and had no idea how to make original sounds, just getting back into the groove of things, relieved to find that I still had some chops and that my ear was intact.
It was after joining CITYGIRL and being enthusiastically encouraged by Marisa that I began learning about and owning synths, programming original sounds and writing more in-depth parts, finding a musical home within myself again that also had a whole new angle to it. I was also receiving a certification in sound healing from the NY Open Center’s Sound and Music Institute, so I was learning more about sound overall and what resonates with people on a physical vibrational level, which complemented my other sonic self-study nicely.
"I’ve learned that when you want the same thing you’ll arrive where you need to be even if it’s grueling at times"
If you could time travel to CITYGIRL at the start of their music journey what would you say to them?
MF: If I could go back in time, I’d want to go back to way before the band even, as the kid Marisa and make friends with the kid Allison, that would be awesome.
AJ: I wasn’t around at CG’s provenance, but I’d probably knock on the door and say “hey guys you’re amazing also let me in I have some ideas!!!” I’m loving the idea of meeting as kids. Every time I vibe with someone as an adult and they enter my life in a really meaningful and sustained way, I feel the urge to time travel with them and build more history with them. I was a weird kid, so I’m always curious if my nearest and dearest in adult life would have connected with me then too - I think so!
Your work touches on punk rock, pop rock, and alternative, is there another genre you would be interested in exploring or integrating?
MF: I think it would be fun to make some full on throwback northern soul, the sullen kind, or would be curious about how to integrate that energy into the current sound. I also would like more acoustic classical piano parts to enter the mix. Our current sound is layered textural and immersive, I would love to see what a stripped-down approach could bring about.
AJ: I’m dying to explore drone metal and more doom-y stuff. Not super likely to happen with this project, but if we can sneak some heavy low end and more drone into our new work I will be stoked as hell :) It would also be cool to integrate the use of samples, and lean more into embedding noise tracks & field recordings into our stuff - we began doing that a bit already - just nerd out on texture ad nauseum! I am also kinda obsessed with the stark contrast in our answers here. These days I feel like I’m a sound nerd first and musician second, so I’m basically game for anything that sounds interesting to my picky ears and doesn’t bore me.
What are the lessons you’ve learned working as a band, as a team?
MF: Learned lots of lessons. The biggest one being that it’s not always easy but it’s always worth it. A lot of bands become surrogate dysfunctional families, some more so than others. For the record this is the least dysfunctional band I’ve ever been in. Experiencing others go through the high highs and low lows of the creative process I think really deepens your empathy and teaches you patience, teaches you timing. It’s a beautiful and sometimes scary thing to be a part of, because it doesn't fly without trust. It’s a world that is foreign to most people despite how much music is a part of everyone’s lives. That fact forges an indelible bond between those who join to materialize it. You’re going to have differences, you’re going to challenge each other, you’re going to have to work it out, and usually when there is mutual love and respect at the core, you find a way to do that. Your motivation is to protect the little diamonds you’ve come together to create.
AJ: I’ve learned that when you want the same thing you’ll arrive where you need to be even if it’s grueling at times or there is disagreement. If you’re really about the music, and both want the same quality of sound, how you get there really just comes down to semantics. My favorite track of ours is “Hollow Future” which I originally thought held NO promise in its demo version but Marisa heard its potential and pursued it and was 100% on the money. Trusting her vision wasn’t easy in the beginning because I’m stubborn, but at the end of the day I can take very little credit for the overall vision of this band. She built the whole house, and I’m decorating the interior here and there, maybe adding on if there’s room to. We disagree on little things fairly often, but it’s never in bad faith, always comes from wanting the best possible outcome, and compromise can always be found.
"Perfectionism is a strange elusive plague no artist seems free from. Perfection sounds nice in theory, but it’s actually a symptom of fear. "
Do you ever feel the pressure of perfection in your music and if so, how do you move past it?
MF: Perfectionism is a strange elusive plague no artist seems free from. Perfection sounds nice in theory, but it’s actually a symptom of fear. I’ve only seen it lead to burnout and frustration. What does it even mean anyway? It’s so subjective, you could really eat yourself alive. It’s a limiting god to pray to. Being critical and self-aware are good things to be, and sure sometimes you have to milk that dirty cow of perfectionism dry to attain your truth. What I discovered is truly best is to know when to “kill all your darlings” before they hang you by your loose ends. I can be a notorious self-critic. I’m excellent at demoralizing myself. Some people use substances to cause a shift, it works sometimes, but it’s a slippery slope if you become dependent. I will always want to do the most justice to the piece, I try to remain detail oriented without overanalyzing into oblivion or getting too cerebral. The old adage really holds true, “practice makes perfect”. The more I created at a prolific rate, the more confident I became in letting my instincts take over.
AJ: I’ll find a new thing I need to tweak every 10 minutes that very few would likely ever even notice. I do take pride in my meticulousness with this band because I think it has contributed positively to the sound, and Marisa gets real nitpicky too. But I’m trying to embrace a more wabi-sabi ethos overall these days. I wouldn’t say I’m moving past it yet at all though. Being a neurodivergent Virgo will be the death of me, I’m sure of it.
Who is a must-have on your playlist?
MF: I want to say it depends what mood I'm in, but if I had to pick something that I cherish, it’s Ella Fitzgerald “The Complete Original Song Books”. I love the song “Easy to Love”. I could listen to it 1000 times in a row. I think she has the most gorgeous voice of all, especially in that song. Voice is my favorite instrument and hers I truly idolize. It makes my soul sweat, and brings a tear to the eye. A real true gift. Maybe not the “coolest” song I could choose, but she holds my tender little heart. What proves it is that my therapist in our very first meeting, without even knowing I was an Ella fan asked me to sing “Summertime”, which I thought was an odd request, and a bit psychic. Her version sprung to mind and overwhelmed me. I could barely get through two phrases before I had to be peeled off the floor, literally.
AJ: Depends on the playlist - all of these might be super chaotic together on one playlist but in general I can’t live without Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, Deftones, Hildegard Von Bingen, Sarah Davachi, Wolf Alice, Maurice Ravel and Sharon Van Etten. My desert island picks.