Pip The Pansy was not always thus. The artist formerly known as Wrenn wasn’t quite ready to slay dragons as a photographer when she graduated from UGA in 2014. At the suggestion of a friend, she began a shift of the artistic gears towards music, crowd-funding her first album and assuming her grandmother’s maiden name as a tribute. Wrenn set out to combine visual aesthetics with pop-driven songs– but another artist laid claim to the sobriquet and launched lawyers and litigation in an attempt to subdue her. It didn’t work, and Pip The Pansy emerged clad in bright petals and armed with electronica.
Athens is a good place to start. You graduated from the University of Georgia and your original aim was to be a photographer. What changed that trajectory?
Man, I graduated and I was applying for a bunch of jobs in photography, and I think it dawned on me that it wasn’t… It just didn’t feel right. I mean, I enjoyed the art of photography so much, but I’m terrible with clients. I hate doing weddings and graduation portraits and this, that, and the other. To climb the rungs of the ladder, you’ve got to make money that way, and that just didn’t sound appealing. And I so enjoy all aspects of art. As a high schooler, I did theater and I did visual arts and chorus and dance, and all that kind of stuff. So I thought, “Well, a musical persona… I can kinda combine all the things that I love into this one project!” And I don’t mind, you know, singing at weddings so much to make money… I just really quickly took kind of this 180 turn from what I studied and threw myself into music after graduating.
Had you had any musical aspirations up to that point?
Not really. I’ve always really enjoyed music and I have a fairly musical family. My sisters played piano and my dad would sing and play guitar, so I think I was always surrounded by it, but it never occurred to me that that would be a career choice or my main passion necessarily. I took flute lessons… I started when I was 10-years-old and played in band for a little bit– and I did things like high school chorus, but I was not seriously pursuing music really. Although it was always there in my life, it just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
What kind of records were you listening to? What was in your head and you were thinking, “Oh man, I can do this!”
I grew up pretty much on The Beatles and Elton John. Anything that my dad loved, that’s what I listened to for the majority of my life until really getting into music. I think that’s when I branched out and started listening to other artists and indie people. But I would say the biggest push came from my good friend Gemille. I had tried writing a song before and he was like, “Oh, you should just really move forward and do that!” So I don’t know that there’s anyone I was consciously listening to and thinking, “Oh, yeah, I could do that.” It was more that I had a good friend that was encouraging me and I sort of jumped in– but was still pretty much like a Beatles fanatic! I wouldn’t compare myself to the Beatles at all, but that’s what I was listening to, I guess!
Music isn’t the easiest industry to jump right into. You adopted what you called a “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. Walk me through that because, in my mind, I’m kind of visualizing you and some cohorts around the table. It’s like, “Okay, look, here’s what we’ve got to do!”
(Laughs) Yeah, it was fake it ‘til you make it! At the time I was dating someone that had some experience in the music industry, so it definitely helped to have some direction of how you might start doing something like that. But yeah, I just raised about five grand on Kickstarter to do an album and that’s what I did first prior to playing shows. And I don’t know how that thing got funded. It really was just like close friends and family that were like, “Okay, sure, if she wants to try it out now, well we’ll give her a chance!” That first album was an important stepping stone into the career, but I’ve since taken it offline and you know, I’m actually quite embarrassed to listen to it now ’cause it’s a little cringe-worthy for me.
I saw that you had done that, and I wanted to ask you specifically about that since you brought it up. Even Chuck Berry must have listened to “Johnny B. Goode” and thought, “Well, I could have done this differently.” What are your plans? Are you going to just let it sit in the vault until…
Yeeeaah… We’ll see. I mostly listen to it and hate it. And I do think actually every artist listens to past stuff, even with art too… With photography, I’ll look at old stuff that I had made and think, “What the freakin’ heck was I thinking?” But the other piece to that, too, is that there was a big name change in my career and a big rebranding. That seemed like a good opportunity to maybe get rid of some of that old stuff so that people were freshly introduced to a new artist in a way. That was part of it as well. And I will very rarely bring out one of those tunes and play at a show. But I don’t know, I haven’t thought too much about whether I will re-record them or bring them back or what. We’ll see. But true fans, they bought the CD so they still have access to it, I guess.
You bring up the rebranding and that was an emotional and tough time for you. You got to learn very, very quickly– being very young in the music business– about some legal aspects that a lot of artists either never get to or don’t get to until much later. This was involved around another artist who also went by the name Wrenn, which you were using at the time?
Yeah, that was… Well, like you said, it was definitely very emotional and stressful and I was still in a phase of discovering who I was as an artist. Discovering “me” as an artist had to be on hold so that I could kind of get through this crazy lawsuit thing. It was a very unfortunate, petty circumstance where I don’t feel like either artist was at a point where that level of legal involvement was necessary. It seemed like it was something that could be talked out or just, you know, a “Let’s see what happens” kind of thing. But unfortunately, we were dealing with people that did not feel that way. When someone sends you certain documents, you have to respond. So it was stressful. But in the end, I think it all ends up being good. You know, I still am in some legal debt…
Because of that?
Oh yeah, for sure. It was a very expensive thing. I mean, it was a year and a half of paying lawyers and we did have to go to litigation and… It’s expensive to sue someone. They sued me, I sued them back and this, that, and the other… It was very involved and very messy– but I’m happy where I’ve landed now. I feel like Pip The Pansy is doing better than Wrenn was doing. It feels more like the musical persona that I want to be anyway. It ended up being a good thing, but the emotional part is that Wrenn is my grandmother’s maiden name– so it means a lot to me and I really liked performing under her name. I’m finding new ways to incorporate that family love in my show without it having to be those five letters, you know? Yeah, it was difficult, but I think I’ve finally just really, this year I feel like I’ve landed back on my feet. And I’m back hustling and grinding to get Pip The Pansy out there.
That was a large shift stylistically going from Wrenn to Pip The Pansy. I believe you once described what you were doing with your original alter ego as retro pop, and now you’re an indie electronica artist. How has that distinction affected the way that you write?
It gives me more freedom. Because like I said, I was doing the “fake it ‘til you make it thing”, which in my mind I was like, “Well, I could be a musician… You have a band?” So I hired a band and it was the classic drum, guitar, bass, and then I would play keys– because that’s kind of what I thought was the thing to do? That made the most sense from what I had seen. It turns out that not having too much musical training, it was actually really hard for me to communicate with other players what I wanted. I could write a song, but I couldn’t tell someone necessarily what chords I was playing. And I couldn’t tell them what style I wanted them to play it in. And I think that made it hard for my players too.
It’s kind of like a guessing game, and it made me feel a good amount of anxiety during rehearsals– and in the studio, I felt pretty anxious. I used to really kind of turn my nose up at electronic music until I discovered this artist, Grimes. She’s very heavily electronic, but it was the first time I had heard electronic music that felt like a complete expression of the artist. It’s all very honest and genuine and it wasn’t just like, “Ah, let’s make some sick beat or whatever…” I mean, in a way she’s doing that, but it’s more of that she is creating what she feels. She’s not trying to make it this trendy thing. That was really appealing to me and I listened to her a bunch and I got hooked up with this producer– his personal project is also very electronic. I sort of dabbled with it and realized that I could be in control of everything. I don’t have to tell my bassist that I need it to sound this way because you could put everything on a keyboard– and I kind of understand how the keyboard works, right? I can be my band in a sense.
How does that translate to you for live performances?
The live performances are very different. I can now travel completely solo if I want to. I have a little drum pad that triggers different samples and I can loop tracks and this, that, and the other… I think also going into electronic music was realizing where my strengths are. And I think one of my biggest strengths as a performer is being the performer or being the frontman– even though my ego wants to be musically impressive for all my friends that are also musicians. I used to think like, “Well, I have to play a real instrument, and it has to all be live because I want people to take me seriously as a musician.” However, for the audiences coming to see me, it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do a flute solo and try to flex some musical prowess there.” Or I can loop drum beats if I really want to, but the best thing I’ve noticed for the audience is when I get the track built and going and then I go out there and be with them. So, yeah, it has been a huge transformation, but it’s also been really great because I’m figuring out what is the thing that I have to offer for people– and then how can I lean into that? And hometown shows, I’ll play with a band because it is fun to have a live drummer. But it’s nice that I can do it by myself now and have a little more freedom in that way.
Of course, you’ve got a visual component that goes with everything you do. You’ve got your music videos; live, you have your stage props, you do photoshoots… You’ve kept the flowers from your Wrenn days, I believe. Do the songs look a certain way? Is there a vision that goes along with the chords?
Man… Not necessarily. I think I am most drawn to melodies and so I still write my songs in a very singer-songwriter kind of way. I’m focused on the melody. It would be coo– I wish that I had synesthesia and there was beautiful colors while I was singing… But I’m not that cool! It is mostly just a melody, but I think once I start adding some of the production on top of it, it’s easier for me to start to have some sort of visual. I would say that the melody comes first and the visuals come second. Unless I’m inspired by something I saw then maybe I would write about the thing I saw– but I don’t know that they’re happening simultaneously for me necessarily.
You’ve mentioned how much effort you’ve been putting into learning the ins and outs of production and recording. Have you done any just straight production work for any other artists– and if you haven’t, is that something that you’re wanting to do?
I have not done something like that for another artist. People ask me to put flute on stuff, so I might do something like that. But no producing. I don’t know if that’s something that I’d be good at for somebody else? I’ve had people ask me to help them with stage design or a photoshoot or something– and it can actually be really challenging because I know what I want. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s easy for me to make things for me because I know exactly what it is that I want. And with other people, I don’t know? It’s harder for me to get in their heads and know what is best for them. Although, I would like to be better at that. I haven’t really tried it too much yet, so we’ll see in the future. But right now I’m pretty focused on working on my own vision.
I think any artist strives to be in a position where they can simply exist to create without any unsolicited distractions.
Where do you feel like you are in that pursuit today?
I do corporate gigs on the side to make money, but those gigs are really flexible. So I actually am in a great place in my life right now to be only focused on Pip The Pansy. You’re always going to have some sort of responsibility or obligation outside your art, whether that’s like a social obligation to your friends and family, or taking care of family things. So I would say that right now in my life, I’m married, so I feel the responsibility to be a good wife– but I don’t have kids and I don’t have a job that keeps me at home or anything. I’m really happy with the amount of freedom I have. Although, there are still things that I need to attend to outside of Pip The Pansy, but I don’t think I’m ever going to have a day that’s 100% only Pip The Pansy anyway. This is a good time right now for creating. I’m really happy.
And you’re married to another musician, right?
I am, yes.
Sam Burchfield. Do you guys collaborate on anything?
Yes! He’s just released a new single called “Blue Ridge June”.That was kind of our first co-write. I really like when we do collaborate. It always ends up being really good– but it is kind of a struggle. I tend to butt heads sometimes! I get really vulnerable and nervous and so it’s hard for us to collaborate. But when we do it is fun. And I always like what we come up with.
You’ve gone through an evolution– well, actually, I guess through a couple of evolutions as an artist! As Pip The Pansy right now, do you see another track down the road where you become something completely different?
Not that I can see. I think I really like Pip The Pansy right now and I think… I mean, artists are constantly changing and maybe I will make things differently, but I think that persona will likely remain. Unless another Pip The Pansy sues me then…
But see, you’ve been to the wars on that! You know how to fight that, should it appear.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, I’ve got my armor.