Interview: Gothic Tropic, on existential meltdowns, her new EP ‘Tang Brain’ and paying the bills on OnlyFans
Britt Witt on
“Why have freshly squeezed orange juice when you can have orange drink!” Cecilia Della Peruti says, explaining the title of her new EP, “Tang Brain.” It’s a vicious swipe at the music industry, a machine she feels turns the work of creatives into powdered drink.
The singer-songwriter-guitarist and mastermind of the band Gothic Tropic has been in the game for over a decade. Besides releasing an album (2017’s “Fast or Feast”) and an EP, she’s worked as a touring hand for Beck and Charli XCX, among others. And until her latest single “OnlyFans” (released in June), we hadn’t heard from Gothic Tropic since her 2019 single “Drunk on a Rhythm” teased a new full-length. That album? Still on the assembly line.
But in the meantime, the five-song “Tang Brain” is a confrontational, genre-fluid embrace of chaos authored by an artist who has taken to OnlyFans, the subscriber-based content-sharing platform popular in (but not limited to) the porn world, to pay her bills.
The EP touches on subjects such as BDSM, OnlyFans, weed and thriving in solitude. It was made, Della Peruti says, in “a euphoric state of artistic freedom following a slew of slapstick failures administered by a fascist music industry.” She adds, “This EP asserts that genre is dead.”
Featuring the likes of Allie X, Robert DeLong, Toro Y Moi collaborator Brijean and more, “Tang Brain” (via Dome of Doom) is available on streaming services and a 100-unit limited edition cassette run housed in a clear red shell available here.
||| Stream: “Tang Brain”
Della Peruti shares with Buzz Bands LA her thoughts on the music industry, the evolution of Gothic Tropic, her ascension to OnlyFans and, of course, the tangible existential meltdown that is “Tang Brain.”
Buzz Bands LA: How was your pandemic?
Cecilia Della Peruti: I went full Gollum. I’m immune-compromised, so I didn’t see anyone outside my trusted pod. I’m not sure how I talked to strangers before, but there’s certainly a newfound social anxiety. … I went to a party and just had ADD eyes, I couldn’t focus. [The pandemic] illuminated how precious siphoning off our energy is and being more selective of who and what you decide to do. It’s less about ‘Whoa, I’m out of practice’ and more like ‘Whoa, we were pretending a lot, weren’t we?’ I saw “Mortal Kombat” in IMAX 3D and I was having a full sensory attack — I kinda felt like a Luddite emerging into society and seeing a steam train for the first time. Was this the volume that things were at before?
Speaking of, how do you feel about playing shows again?
Cecilia Della Peruti: I am looking forward to going to shows and playing again. I saw Mndsgn at the Lodge Room [in June] and it was amazing. It was the perfect live show to see because they’re a live jazz ensemble vibe. No tracks, nothing packaged. I don’t know if I want to see one of those highly rehearsed, highly to the grid mid-level indie pop sets ever again, because that’s just … I feel like we’re craving real live music. I mean, I was doing it. I was playing to tracks so that I could open up for Robert DeLong, whose set is a full sensory immersive experience. … No one wants to see me tool around for eight-minute solos — just play the hits, whatever gets people dancing and clapping. … I was trying to strategically win people over with technology, but after seeing Mndsgn I was like ‘I miss that, let’s do that.’ I’m going to have to pay a buttload, out-of-pocket as always, for a live band to supplement the sounds that are happening from a computer, but who cares?
I hope there’s a day you’re not paying the band out-of-pocket.
Cecilia Della Peruti: I had a fantasy the other day, a waking fantasy, of whoever my band is unionizing and being like ‘OK, we talked and we decided we want to split everything evenly. Whatever you get paid, even split.’ In my head I was playing through this conversation and I was like, “Really?! You would do that for me?! I don’t think you want that!”
The music industry thinks I deserve nothing and OnlyFans thinks I deserve to pay my rent on time, so those are my people.
I wonder if that’s part of the overall problem. As the musician, there’s a part of you that doesn’t believe you actually deserve anything. Even in your own fantasy, you’re imagining you don’t!
Cecilia Della Peruti: Right! That’s such a knee-jerk reaction. Being passed on conclusively over the past 11 years. I have three records that are done, one of which is “Tang Brain,” which I just did in the last eight months, so it wasn’t even one of the records that was stuck on the assembly line. So you don’t want to pay me? Well, the porn industry will, so happy to start flipping nudes, thanks. OnlyFans is all real, people! The music industry thinks I deserve nothing and OnlyFans thinks I deserve to pay my rent on time, so those are my people. Of course, if I were to make that comparison, it’s highly controversial because of the fact that escorting and sex work is physically dangerous, whereas being poor and wasting away is less dangerous. Just finally starting to feel like if the music industry isn’t interested, that’s fine, I’ll keep putting music out, but I’m paying my bills and it’s not ’cause of y’all! It’s my merit-based win rather than begging for pennies from publishing or sync companies despite being on countless writing teams with huge wins and getting paid a really shitty day rate.
What’s that fantasy music industry? Can it be fixed?
Cecilia Della Peruti: Yeah! Easily. It just involves a very simple restructuring decision. For instance, there’s tons of money in streaming. Or there’s a lot of branding opportunities and marketing partnerships that will pay money to artists. They won’t pay you for your art, but they’ll pay you to tell people your favorite pair of leggings! The streaming thing is probably the worst ethically structured area of the music industry, because they offer artists grand gestures, huge meaningless, strategic, arbitrary repayments … Like, they’ll put your name on a marquee at the Fox Theater and be like, “Congrats to whoever for 100 million streams,” and the artist is like, “Oh my God, thank you,” and they post it and they’re so happy. It’s meaningless. It’s just a very strategic way of keeping your children happy. Especially with the fact that over quarantine, 2020 Wrapped on Spotify, that whole thing relies on the fact that it was the music that “got you through.” It’s abominable because they’re valorizing something that’s impoverishing artists. “They did get me through!” OK, pay them! What the reality is to an alien looking down on earth, looking at the music industry, it could seem like parody or satire. It’s actually funny, it’s insane, it’s a huge glowing Trojan horse.
Which is why you’ve moved on to OnlyFans.
Cecilia Della Peruti: They think we’re dumb enough to be happy about it. “Now go say thank you to the playlist editor.” Thank you so much for feeding into the entire reason that we’re trapped in this meaningless performance of gratitude while we’re literally taking to OnlyFans to not sell all of my guitars. I sold two before I went to OnlyFans, [including] the J Mascis one that’s about to get discontinued. If you do the math, you would need 274,800 Spotify streams per month just to make $300 a week. [OnlyFans] is saving my life after playing Madison Square Garden. Are you kidding?
Are you proud of it?
Cecilia Della Peruti: Yes, I love it! I’ve created so much art out of it. Everything on [“Tang Brain”] is real. OnlyFans, that’s real. It is truly, I don’t give a [expletive] anymore.
This EP feels like I’m in your head. It’s the most honest, unabashedly, shamelessly, proudly you.
Cecilia Della Peruti: Thank you. I don’t resent any rejection because it’s a valid point that maybe “Fast or Feast” (2017) was a performance or whatever it is. Even the record that got signed to Dome Of Doom in addition to the EP, that was before my existential meltdown.
Nothing matters, everything is beautiful, suck my dick.
The pandemic threw us all into some version of that and your EP is like, I can breathe again.
Cecilia Della Peruti: Nothing matters, everything is beautiful, suck my dick.
Would you continue OnlyFans if music was paying?
Cecilia Della Peruti: No. Maybe. I don’t know what happens to artists, I don’t ask my friends how they’re living when they win stuff. I figure when you get a publishing deal and you’re a writer, you get an advance so you don’t have to have a job. If I could pay my rent, I probably wouldn’t use OnlyFans anymore. I do enjoy creating, I’m a natural exhibitionist, so I only do it on my terms and when I feel like doing it. It’s not a begrudging process, but if it was an option to take it off the table and just do it whenever I feel like it instead of relying on it to pay my rent, I’d probably do it more sparingly. I wouldn’t have started doing it if it felt bad. The kink community is way more respectful, everything surrounds consent — communicated consent. Some of the work is stuff that I would let high fashion magazines publish in an editorial. It’s my body, but it’s cool photos that I took with some friends who are actual photographers and very talented. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of. It just would be great to focus my energy just on music or writing or storytelling.
When you’re still striving for ‘please like me,’ you can’t think clearly and you can’t make art clearly.
How would you define the evolution of yourself over the past 11 years?
Cecilia Della Peruti: I went from eager people-pleaser to people telling me “You have a lot of promise, there’s something here,” and then year after year of very tangible passes and rejections with explanations. For example, [the label] Sargent House goes, “The reason I didn’t sign you is because you did it all wrong. You don’t know what you’re doing, you hired Daniel to play with you, he’s so old.” She ripped me a new asshole. Not every rejection is that harsh, some of the other rejections are like, “We really love the music, the whole office is jamming to it.” [Laughs] Some politically correct responses that maintain friendliness and maintain the possibility that if I blow up on TikTok, they can still come back and offer me something. I think the process of being very plainly told that I’m unworthy has freed me of my natural proclivities to be what someone wants me to be to achieve approval and status and station. So, honestly now that I have OnlyFans I’m like, “I don’t need y’all! You’re [expletive] clowns. It’s a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. When you’re still striving for “please like me,” you can’t think clearly and you can’t make art clearly. It took me a long time, it was a slow crescendo to get to this point where that’s no longer plaguing my psyche.
What do you hope people take away from the EP? What do you hope they learn about you, about themselves?
Cecilia Della Peruti: If you’re a musician and you’re genre-fluid like I am … [it’s that] genre doesn’t matter, so if you want to explore that, I would say that’s a good takeaway. Also maybe people would identify with some of the songs and want to smash hegemonic shit with me, especially on “OnlyFans.” That’s like the punk track to me. It’s sort of inconsequential what people think now. I think ironically the EP is like, “Oh, I don’t care!”
Is that going to make it weird when your follow-up full-length comes out and it’s a different you?
Cecilia Della Peruti: It is a different me and it’s probably going to be weird, but it’s a big revenge record. … It was written after my big break-up with [my ex]; we were about to get married. The record itself has an origin story song about me growing up in L.A. and also has a sexual assault song that’s actually a banger … [Laughs] You can’t even tell, it’s shrouded in poetry. It still slaps to me.
Did you collaborate with a lot of friends on it as well or is “Tang Brain” more about fun with friends?
Cecilia Della Peruti: The EP is a lot of fun with friends. Robert DeLong played drums on “OnlyFans” and produced it just by default. I was actually renting a room in his house during quarantine lockdown so we could just write a lot. He’s a powerhouse, so proficient that he didn’t even need to lift a finger. He’s such a genius. He did production on “Made It Bad.” Kinda like a PC pop-crazy song, that one was really fun because I was like we need something kinda weird. So we copied the midi of a milk jug falling. It’s squalor, but make it hot!
I asked my friend Brijean to play congas on “Please Say Yes.” And then Allie X was down to feature on “Give Me The Love,” which is awesome. Her verse is so cool. And then my friend who’s in Mild High Club did some music on “My Friend” during the bridge where it sinks down into [making noises]. It’s sort of like the “Succession” soundtrack, he just added a little sprinkle on the bridge. Everybody was down for the art.
Why did you go with Dome of Doom Records? Were you thinking “I want to put this out with someone and these dudes are honest and cool?”
Cecilia Della Peruti: I’ve been friends with Wylie Cable for over 15 years. I’ve known him for so long, it’s rare that you get to work with a friend. I trust him, I really like his label and I ran into him and I was like, “I’ve got all these records that everyone passed on!” [Laughs.] And he’s like, “I know I wasn’t your first choice, but it’s really great!” At this point, he is my first choice because I have a straight pipeline to whoever I need to talk to. I also haven’t broken yet so getting lost in a major label was not something I wanted to do. He knows who I am so, yeah, go with my friend who wants to help me, of course! You need people who are invested and want to see it pop off.
I have all the bitterness of a GenXer with the energy of a honey badger.
One of the most important lessons is choosing a team that wants to truly work for you, not just cherry-picks you for your TikTok numbers.
Cecilia Della Peruti: I do not use the app. It represents one of the demons of hell that I am battling constantly. I don’t use it, I don’t like it, I don’t understand it. I never will, the end. I know that’s probably what’s holding me back, people go viral for sharing stuff that I can do. It’s ridiculous. What, everyone is a writer, comedian, actor, dancer — everyone is a dancer? OK, cool. I have all the bitterness of a GenXer with the energy of a honey badger. The viral element is really fun, but it’s just not within my scope of reality. I like music. Am I supposed to [throw] bits at you all day for free? I’ve had close friends blow up on TikTok and now they have to post every day. It’s great if it’s paying your bills, that’s a great idea. They’ve taken down a bunch of my videos because it violates their guidelines. One of which was a GIF of Emrata holding her baby in one hand and a plate of spaghetti in her other hand. I put a plate of spaghetti in her free hand that could have been holding her baby’s head up and it got taken down for nudity and sexual solicitation [laughs]. I put a plate of spaghetti in the free hand and now I’m a prostitute! So on that note, here I go selling my ass on OnlyFans.
You better bring in the spaghetti or it’s not real.
Cecilia Della Peruti: Yeah. TikTok is not here for us.
Tell us about the album art.
Cecilia Della Peruti: Michael Delaney is so good. I sent him the show bible for Gothic Tropic, keywords for visuals for “Tang Brain” like “squalor but make it hot,” “blooming failure,” “the music industry hates my streaming numbers.” He recommended his friend Isabelle Adams. Tying in her illustrations, her style of drawing completely nailed the frenetic mental breakdown vibe. I thought that was just so perfect. Michael totally understood my nuance and killed it, so did Izzy.
||| Previously: “OnlyFans,” “Drunk on a Rhythm,” “Your Soul,” live at Chinatown Summer Nights, live at Resident, “Stronger,” “Puppet Master,” Ears Wide Open
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