Mikey Erg and Anika Pyle made a pact last year. They were both struggling to commit to regular songwriting, stuck in their own heads, and feeling the weight of self-doubt. Pyle had recently brought her shortlived but beloved band Chumped to an emotional end, and Erg (a.k.a. Mike Yannich), despite being a staple in the punk scene as a multi-instrumentalist for hire, still hadn’t released his own full-length material since the end of The Ergs! in 2008. So they made a deal with each other, a buddy system of sorts. Each week, they would owe each other a song. It didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t have to even sound good, but every Wednesday, there had to be a song waiting.
For 20 weeks, the two sent tunes back and forth over their phones. They were self-recorded and scrappy but they led to bigger things. Erg finally had enough material in his arsenal to record a solo record, something he’d been failing to accomplish for years, Tentative Decisions, a thoroughly ambitious and textured release that dropped this June. And Pyle was able to move on artistically and write songs independent of her pop punk frontwoman persona in Chumped for a new project called Katie Ellen, with which she plans on releasing an album this fall.
Sitting on a stockpile of rough voice memo songs, Erg and Pyle decided to give them a permanent home in the form of a seven-inch. There was no remastering, no proper recording; they went straight from iPhone to vinyl. The record is not so much a finished product as it is a peek into the the pair’s creative process.
“I am proud of these songs,” Pyle says, noting how liberating it was to make music free of people’s expectations. “I don’t need to embellish them in any way to feel proud of them. I played them on a shitty guitar, I recorded them on a phone, and I’m the most proud of it that I could be. I don’t need to make a shrine to it to share it. Hopefully it speaks to you. If it doesn’t, I don’t fucking care. I didn’t do it for you.”
We talked to Pyle about the record. You can listen to two songs below and order a copy from Anchorless Records right here. Erg and Pyle are playing a release show for the EP. Katie Ellen is on tour with Jeff Rosenstock soon.
Noisey: Chumped caught on pretty quickly and that was your first real musical project. What did that do to your mentality as a songwriter?
Anika Pyle: It definitely forced me to consider my identity as a person. So much of my personal identity was tied to being in Chumped. The experience of being in a band like Chumped is very rare, and I understand that, and have a lot of respect and gratitude for that. I feel really happy about it, and I’ve made peace with it, but it also terrifies me. You create these expectations in your mind where you say, “Ok, I’m gonna do this other thing because I have to, because what I really want to do is create, and I want to be more intentional and thoughtful with my songwriting.” And then having a lot of fear about the fact that it’s different and even people that I love might listen to it and be like, “This is not my thing.”
Do you ever feel grateful in a way that Chumped ended before you were even more embedded with it?
Yeah, I mean, everyone in Chumped has been very emotional about ending the project because it totally changed our lives. But I feel that process opened up possibilities for me. For me, it’s understanding that starting a new project doesn’t make me obligated to that project. If it feels right, I’ll continue to do it. I think Chumped did exactly what it needed to do. We always made a joke that we quit while we were ahead—never had to write a sophomore slump record, never had to experience the expectations of that.
How are you and Mikey similar?
I think we’re both very anxious people. And we probably relate on a struggle to achieve some sort of self-confidence. It’s this compulsive worrying. “I can’t ever finish anything. What if I’m not actually a good songwriter? What if everybody hates it?” Just being plagued by what people think. But the point is to just keep going and decide where you want your focus to be, and I think it takes some time to figure it out.
I’ve spent a lot of time—a lot of time—trying to figure out whether I wanted to be in a band, call it something else, make music under my own name, make a solo record. I obsessed over whether it sounds different. Does it sound like Chumped? Did I grow up? Did I differentiate? Is it better? Is it the same? Do I feel good about it? But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to keep going. It doesn’t matter if publications like it, it doesn’t matter if people listen to it, what matters is that you have to keep creating or you die.
So why did you decide to release it as a seven-inch?
I think part of it was the impetus to release music. We sent voice memos straight to vinyl. We didn’t cut anything. There’s the sound of tapping of your password to end a voicemail. When you’re in a band, and when you’re a songwriter, you get so caught up in whether or not it fits, and whether or not you’ve gotten better.
When people hear this record, will it inform how they hear Mikey’s LP and whatever Katie Ellen puts out in the future? Is this the companion piece to your respective records?
I think the two songs Mikey submitted are on his record, so it will be an interesting listening experience for people who have heard them in their full form. I think it’s exciting for people to hear them in their first form. Like, this is the process. I’m super interested in the idea of process, and a lot of people don’t like to let people in on their process until the finished project because there’s a lot of shit involved. But I think it’s really special to hear someone’s song and how they wrote it in their bedroom.