Writer Michael Elias talks to Floodwater Angel’s Dillon LaFollette about opening up about anxiety and self-isolation in “Asparagus,” and how the song’s meaning has changed in quarantine.
Back in August, when Dillon LaFollette of Floodwater Angel wrote a song about self-isolation, spending all your time online, and never ever going out ever again, they did not have COVID-19 on their mind. The world had yet to turn upside down, gatherings and live shows were happening all over the globe, and Dillon simply wanted to communicate an experience which many people who are dealing with anxiety and depression are familiar with: locking yourself up in your home, rejecting human connections and shying away from the world.
“Asparagus”, released in December 2019 and available on the band’s Bandcamp, YouTube channel, and various streaming services, is a 5-minute sardonic description of cutting off the world. Quite successfully, Floodwater Angel manage to communicate the dangers of the phenomenon while shedding a light on it through smartly crafted lyrics (“I don’t need to go outside/ this echo chamber is all mine” is a personal favorite of mine), and a Libertines-esque musical backdrop that creates an aura of ironic indifference around vocalist Madeline Knorr’s distant voice. Now, though, one might find that singing “I don’t think about leavin’ / no, I don’t think about leavin’ / cause I’m not even sure I could” along to the song is an exercise in abreaction rather than a self-reflective moment of self-destructive behaviors.
Through a Skype call, Dillon and I set down to talk to about “Asparagus” in light of the global forced quarantine, what their perspective on its new-found relevance is, what were the original intentions behind it, and how is Floodwater Angel doing under COVID-19. Dillon is not doing too bad themselves, and their advice might come helpful to some: stay off social media, stay off the internet as much as possible, create.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Michael Elias: So, what have you been doing these days?
Dillon LaFollette: I’ve been working from home. I listen to records, produce, make music and stuff. I’m actually not doing too bad, I’m enjoying myself.
ME: Let’s talk a bit about the song and how it came to be. Why write about self-isolation and anxiety?
DL: So, the song I wrote in August has been taken a couple of different ways. I wrote a song about how self-isolation and, like, cutting yourself off from everything outside of your house is really terrible for your mental health, and staying inside all day and being on Twitter and playing video games is actually really bad for you. I didn’t really intend for it to mean something other than that. And obviously, a lot of people have their different interpretations of it, and now we’re in this kind of thing (quarantine). But the song was originally written as a sarcastic warning to isolating yourself from people and human connection, and just relying on the internet for human connection. A bunch of people have gotten different takes out of it, which is pretty cool.
ME: That’s quite interesting to me. The vibe I got was really like, ironic sort of detachment and that self-criticism about staying inside and the mental effects of cutting yourself off from everybody, so it’s interesting to me that different people got different takes out of it. I would like to hear a little bit about that.
DL: Yeah, so when we perform it live, people take it as kinda like this weird confirmation bias or this personal anthem where they’re like “Yeah! I don’t need to go outside either!” and I’m like, no that’s not the point of the song [laughs]. But some people really really dig it and it’s like their personal anthem that way, which is cool and all, but I wrote it as being sarcastic and ironic, and not a lot of people got that out of it.
ME: You know, when songs are performed live, they always get a different vibe than when they are performed in the studio, and specifically Floodwater Angel, your shows are full of glitter and like this really “out there” performance. Do you think that people getting this kind of anthemic vibe from the song has to do with the kind of show you put on?
DL: That’s a good question, honestly. It definitely leads to a lot of square dancing in shows. We have people mosh to that song, but square dancing has been a fun thing that a lot of people do. I suppose that when you’re performing live it gives the show a different perspective when there’s a smoke machine going on, and everybody in the band tries to smile really big… so yeah, definitely, that’s a really good question. Thank you.
ME: Okay, so, we’ve talked a little bit about Asparagus in its original form, and now it came to be this kind of a prophetic song for our situation. Do you feel like it got a new meaning for you, or has it stayed the same?
DL: It’s funny that you keep using the word prophetic, because we talked about it for like, a couple of days after all these stuff started happening, and everybody was like “Wow you’ve really predicted this!” and I was like, I didn’t, I swear to god, I didn’t even try! I didn’t predict anything, I’m not a prophet, nothing like that. When you go back over it now, when you’re stuck inside and you can’t go out, and everything that you have ever liked is now canceled forever… it’s kind of pretty awful in that sense. Cause now it seems like we’re making fun of it or we’re just writing a song about it. It’s gonna be really interesting to see any new fans that are turned down to our music after quarantine listen to this song. Because people who have heard it before are gonna be like “Oh, that’s just Asparagus, isn’t it funny that this happened?” But now people are gonna see it and be like, “Oh, it’s a song about quarantine!” It’s definitely not a song about quarantine.
ME: As a person who used to self-isolate and has experienced a lot of the things you talk about in the song and is now regretting doing that to themselves, it’s a kind of catharsis to sing it in my current situation when I can’t leave the house. So, it’s interesting to see the two meanings of the song that exist within it, and now I can experience them both from two completely different perspectives. Do you feel like it’s upsetting that one of them might overshadow the other? Or is it just life?
DL: I would say that honestly, it’s very good that you got that out of it because this is a song that was written from a time that I was self-isolating a lot earlier like in this decade, and [I wanted] to go back and write like a critical song on my behavior, which is what this song is about. I suppose it’s not really a downside that people get something else out of it. I think it makes me feel better knowing that there are people that listen to this song and understand that it’s about that critical self-analysis rather than just about celebrating that you don’t like going outside. Cause there are some people that like to celebrate that they don’t go outside but they do, and there are some people that are stuck in that big circle of depression, and that’s who the song is for. Looking at it now, with this whole quarantine thing on, you are right it is more fun to listen to. Now that we’re all stuck in quarantine I feel like I’m doing a lot better than most people because I experienced this on my own, and then I wrote this song out of that place because I had basically left that terrible period of my life and was in a much better place, and I could actually write a piece about it [without] glorifying or idolizing what it’s supposed to be.
ME: We’ve talked about your live shows a bit. How is COVID-19 affecting Floodwater Angel, a band that is so focused on performing live?
DL: We are currently spread out across two states, and that makes it impossible to practice, so we haven’t practiced in quite a while. We’re definitely still writing music individually, though. We have an album that we are slowly adding to on Bandcamp, and the album is called Spy Covers & Oddities and Oddyseys. Right now we are up to 13 tracks, we have seven more tracks that we’re still working on putting out. We’re trying to get to twenty. We definitely never recorded music beforehand because we were so focused on performing live, and getting better at performing live and doing more live stuff, so to have like a government-mandated break from live shows…it is kinda nice, because it means that we get to take our foot off the gas pedal and actually work on writing and producing music. We were always writing music when we were performing live shows, but we were never finishing the music or getting it to a point where we felt comfortable. So, a lot of the songs on [this album] are songs that were on the back burner that we didn’t actually finish, and then I get to put a lot of cool ambient stuff in this album too that links all the tracks stuff together. It sucks that we’re not able to actually meet up and play music together, but all at the same time we haven’t stopped, we’re still writing music individually.
(Spy Covers & Oddities and Oddyseys can be purchased for $1 on Bandcamp, and you get access to more songs as they are uploaded. The band has also recently released a music video for “The Nonstudent Left” off it.)
ME: You’re not going to let this crisis stop you from being Floodwater Angel.
DL: Exactly. We’re just in a different mode now, because we were in a live balls-to-the-walls crazy attack mode beforehand, and now we’re in a really laidback cool song-writing mode.
ME: I’m excited to see what comes out of it. Hopefully, you’ll get to perform live at some point again.
DL: Hopefully sometime soon. We were gonna play at Minneapolis Pride and that got canceled like a week ago, and that was the final nail in the coffin for all of our shows.
ME: Back to Asparagus. You’ve talked in this song about anxiety and shying away from people and not wanting to take part in the physical world around you. How does that correlate with being in a band and putting on a live show, and has that been helpful in dealing with the anxiety and the need to shy away from people?
DL: It definitely has, and Asparagus helps with that of course. It was a period of three or four years of my life where I was just doing terribly and nothing I did meant anything. Putting on a live show and getting to put anything I want into it is so freeing for me, so I want people to be aware of the pitfalls of being stuck with that ball and chain, cause it’s just a cycle that you get yourself in, and even your brain is put into a cycle where you are used to not receiving those hormones and those chemicals that it will teach itself to not seek out happiness. So, the live show being as big as it is is just like a big cannon being shot off multiple times trying to get that anxiety to stay away. The song itself is about the pitfalls, but the live show is about getting out there and actually doing something. Obviously, you don’t have to be this big, loud, aggressively colorful band in order to do something like that, but just using the live show to get out of that place was so good for me and I wanted to share it with as many people as I could.
ME: Just to finish off on a nice note, what have you been listening to lately?
DL: So I said earlier I have my record player set up next to my work desk, and I’m running it through this nice sound system that I got basically for free on Craigslist like two years ago. I got this dope Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Cheap Thrills, and anybody who’s listened to me before, I’ve listened to Cheap Thrills every day for the past two and half years so that’s nothing new. I’ve got a cool album from Castle Face called Mr. Elevator’s Goodbye Blue Sky, and it’s kind of like a vaporwave album but it’s got more like psych-rock influences and a bunch of beach boys influences on it too, so that’s been pretty cool. I picked up Weird Exists from Castle Face. Basically, I’m not spending any money right now because all of my bills are suspended and I’m not paying for gas, so I just have all of these records that I’m buying from the labels [to support them]. A friend of mine named Teddy is in a cool Minneapolis band called Baumgardner, and he told me to listen to Velvet Underground for the first time.
ME: For the first time?
DL: I’m a huge Lou Reed fan but I never got into Velvet Underground, so I got the banana record.
ME: Classic. Well, thank you so much for the interview and the insights.
DL: Sweet, yeah.
Michael Elias is a writer of prose, poetry, plays, and anything in between. They are currently studying comparative literature, arts, and history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Their writing has so far appeared or is upcoming in Gold Flake Paint, Homologylit, and Jewish News Detroit. They’d love to talk about queer readings and marxism with you. Find them on Twitter @itwastrash