THE FUTURE OF Music Interview is a Q&A in which our favorite artists and producers share their vision of what’s next, weighing in on everything from AI to emerging scenes to the artists inspiring them the most.
Meg Remy has been imagining radical new futures in her music for more than a decade, first on noisy, arty releases like 2011’s U.S. GIRLS on KRAAK, and later on subtly subversive pop dreams like 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited and this year’s Bless This Mess. But the artist behind U.S. Girls doesn’t sound totally sold on the future if you ask her directly.
“I’ve looked into it, and the future is a very new concept,” says Remy, 37. “It just hasn’t been around very long. Animals don’t think about the future, as far as we know.” She points to Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s theories about how technology mediates our experience of the world: “The future as a concept almost coincides with the written word. The printing press made the future possible.”
This kind of provocative thinking underlies much of U.S. Girls’ music, lurking just beneath the smoothest of post-disco grooves. Her live shows are similarly full of delightful contradictions, whether she’s performing songs about human connection via hologram or instructing an audience of IRL revelers in Brooklyn on the power of a rent strike (both of which she did this spring). Remy joined RS over Zoom from Toronto, where she lives, to talk about all of it.
First question: Are you a robot? I find you can never be too sure these days.
[Laughs.] I train robots.
Sorry, did you say you train robots?
Well, everything we input into our devices goes to train them. There would be no AI without us. Everything we upload gets gathered up and input into these algorithms and this machine-learning stuff — it’s all us. There’s a lot of fear around AI, and I totally understand that. But if we’re scared of AI, we’re scared of ourselves.
You used AI to create one of the music videos for your new album. Did that give you any sense of the creative potential that these new technologies can have for artists?
Yeah. The creative potential of AI, its ability to instantly create an image based on prompts… When my friend showed me the program that he was going to use and how it worked, and I typed some keywords in and the images came up that it created, it was like my hair was standing on end. I had goosebumps. It was so surreal and so scary, but familiar.
I like how AI isn’t this person being like, “Here’s my art.” I think humans could really stand to get away from that idea of “Here’s my thing.” When we’re making things, we are just plugging into some sort of larger channel. Even if it’s something that’s extremely personal, that comes deeply from your life, it’s still the outcome of some… energy. We don’t know what that is, and we can’t really claim it as our own.
But we do, because we have to monetize things to survive. I think we’re scared that we are born and then we die and that just seems like, “What? How could that be possible? So I’m going to leave my mark and that will help me feel like I’m not dying.” Fame, like stockpiling wealth — it gives someone some sort of feeling that they have control over these uncontrollable things.
You’ve talked about James Brown’s influence on your new album, and wanting to make music that people could dance to. Was that your biggest goal this time?
Just dance, honestly. Sometimes when I talk about dancing, I’m not even necessarily talking about busting a move on the dance floor, I’m talking about an internal dance as well: My heart is racing because a song’s making me feel a certain way emotionally, or it’s taking my breath away, or I’m having to hold back tears. I want to feel things, and I want to create things that make others feel things as well.
“Only Daedalus,” the first song on the album, is about technology in a sense. What made you interested in those ancient myths about invention?
Daedalus is Icarus’ father. He’s the one who made the wings that Icarus flew too close to the sun with. He also invented the Labyrinth. He invented a lot of things that I didn’t know about. Reading about that made me start thinking about being an inventor or a creator and how you’re trapped doing it. You have to be ambitious, and you have to strive, even if it’s just in some sort of race against yourself. You get great meaning from it, and it gives you a purpose, and yet it is also completely meaningless as well.
At the base of it was me trying to make a song about, what is it like to be in a relationship with an inventor? That’s the perspective of the song: You are this person who’s brilliant and you’re able to make all this stuff, and yet you can’t look me in the eye and cry, or you can’t have an orgasm because you’re so tightly wound. You can’t be vulnerable, you can’t be wrong, even though that also is something that’s so important about creation, is failing. That’s a long-winded answer. There’s a lot in the idea of Daedalus… I like to hope that at least 20 people on the planet have googled “Daedalus” after listening to that song.
This album also has some songs like “So Typically Now” and “Screen Face” that feel very rooted in the time when you wrote them — they’re about dating over Zoom or moving out of the city during the pandemic. What do you think those songs will feel like in a few years?
I mean, to me, those songs were quaint when they were being written. A song like “Screen Face” is old now. I feel the same with “So Typically Now” — the concept it’s discussing there is basically private property. That’s very old.
Who’s an artist you expect to have a big impact on the future of music?
The Beatles. Because I think that they’ll just keep finding ways to remarket them to us forever.
Interesting answer. Is there a genre or scene that you find particularly exciting right now, in terms of new music?
Toronto is the easy go-to for me, but it’s a feeder city — not just of Canada, but of the world. The musicianship here and creativity is so massive. There’s constantly stuff coming out of here that I had no idea existed, that blows my mind. And it’s only going to keep growing. The city is just totally booming. I’ll probably be here ‘til I die, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.
There’s so much cross-pollination between scenes, a lot of different people playing on each other’s records and sitting in with each other. I don’t know if you know this group Bernice, they just put out a record called Cruisin’. It’s Thom Gill, who’s an incredible musician, but also a producer, he’s worked with Chaka Khan. Phil Melanson, who’s the drummer, he plays with Martha Wainwright and all kinds of people. But the group is really this woman Robin Dann, and she’s a wild vocalist. Their new album is probably one of the most adventurous things I’ve heard in a while outside of hip-hop. It’s a complex listen. Some of the production, I’m like, “Is this a joke? What is this?”
How do you think music has changed since you began making music, and how has it stayed the same?
I don’t think music itself has changed. There’s maybe more tools, more of this technology that can help you create, but music itself, I’m not sure it can change. It’s an essence, like air, fire, water. So I don’t think music’s changed, but 100 percent, the music industry — all of that stuff, that scaffolding that goes around music — yeah, it’s completely changed.
When I first started making music seriously as an adult, you could call a venue and book a show on the phone. You could book a tour on the phone. You didn’t have to have an album out even, you could just call people and talk to them and get a run going. There were connections between bands and cities, and you could eke out of little bit of a living, if you hustled. It’s narrowed greatly. And I think you can hear that effect in music — it’s why every song on the radio pretty much sounds the same.
Have you heard any new songs on the radio recently that stand out to you?
I love “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus. It sounds like the Gossip to me.
I saw you perform as a hologram at SXSW earlier this year. What was that like for you?
It was fun. For me, I was just in a studio, and then I had a monitor where I could see the crowd in Texas. So the setting wasn’t one where I could get lost in the performance. There was just too much stuff around, lights and cords and people watching, doing technical stuff while I’m playing. But it was fun and it was strange. I’d never done anything like it.
Would you ever consider doing a tour that way?
For sure. It’s similar to creating some sort of site-specific art event. It has parameters, and limitations, and openness as well, that I would love to work with. That box I was performing in, it’s like a 500-pound box that you ship somewhere. I love walking into a space and looking around and saying, “OK, what’s going on with this space? How can I make the performance tonight different than it was last night?” It would be a really interesting thing to try and build a whole show around. But, I mean, I’m not going to do it anytime soon. I don’t think it’ll ever replace just people performing.
At the same time, touring seems like less and less of a sustainable experience for artists and fans these days. Is that a problem that can be fixed?
Not across the whole board, because the forces that control touring, they don’t want to change. So all one can do, if you are a touring artist or a concertgoer, is change yourself and the things you do. For me, that’s meant, because touring is not sustainable where I am at, I’m doing a lot less of it. I’m not going to force this thing that’s not possible.
My response might seem negative, but I think it will better serve artists to think outside of the box and stop going by industry standards — try to come up with things that they actually want to do and try to make them happen. It might mean that you play 10 nights in your own city and that’s your tour. I wish we could think more about what hasn’t been done. What’s a way that we haven’t done touring? Because the ways that we’ve been doing it, it doesn’t work. Economic collapse is probably the only thing that could revamp touring. Live Nation and Ticketmaster go bankrupt, they don’t exist anymore, and we get back to there being local promoters who are people who care.
Do you have any parting thoughts? If someone happens to read this Q&A in 20 or 30 years, what do you want them to know about life in 2023?
Oh, I don’t have anything like that. To the person reading in 2050, I hope it turned out all right.