On her full-length debut Discussions With Myself, Soren Bryce builds a world all her own—a sprawling dreamscape set to lushly detailed alt-pop, constructed with a newfound sense of self-possession. With her ethereal yet commanding vocals, the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist sings of paper dolls and plane crashes with equal intensity, infusing the album with moments of bruising honesty and fragile wisdom.
The follow-up to her 2015 self-titled debut EP, Discussions With Myself marks a major milestone for Bryce: her first experience in immersing herself in the intricacies of sound design. “I used to make music in a way that was more folk-influenced, where I’d sit in my bedroom and play guitar and write like I was writing in my diary,” says Bryce, who’s originally from Amarillo, Texas. “But for this record I got so much more into production, and started approaching the songs by thinking about things like rhythm and composition first, and then creating from there.”
Working with producer Justyn Pilbrow (Halsey, The Knocks, The Neighbourhood), Bryce ended up sculpting a sonic universe that’s moody yet luminous, delicate yet volatile. While she notes that Pilbrow took on a mentor-like role in honing her production skills, the 20-year-old artist mostly handled the album’s pre-production on her own. “The EP was out, I’d started touring and decided not to go to college, so I had a lot of free time to mess around and get better-versed in production and synthesizers and gear,” says Bryce. “It was just fun to experiment, and to realize that music is so moldable—with synths especially, you can come up with a sound that you’d never be able to find again.”
With that experimentation yielding nearly 50 songs, Bryce pared Discussions With Myself down to 11 tracks centering on a theme of self-exploration. “The song ‘Discussions With Myself’ was written early in the process, so I grasped onto this idea of reflection and looking inward,” she says. “During the time that I was writing, I was alone so much—I’d just gotten out of a long-term relationship, most of my friends were away at college—and so many of the songs came from that feeling of isolation.”
Despite the sometimes-heavy subject matter of Discussions With Myself, Bryce’s melodic grace and sonic ingenuity instill the album with an intoxicating energy. On opening track “Houses With Ugly Wallpaper,” she begins by setting her romantic anguish to a steadily pulsing beat, then delivers a piano-driven bridge spiked with fantastically scathing lyrics (“If you wanted something fancy/Find your own damn centerpiece”). Another look into a troubled relationship, “Cellophane” draws parallels between love and addiction, with Bryce’s chilling synth lines and ominous vocal presence heightening the tension at the heart of the song.
The centerpiece to Discussions With Myself, “Aisle Seat on a Rough Flight” embodies the album’s introspective sensibilities. With its hazy beats and stark guitar tones, the slow-building epic gracefully captures a sense of emotional desolation. “In the past I’ve struggled with something called derealization, which is where you sometimes feel like you’re outside your body and you’re unable to connect with anyone,” says Bryce. “I wrote that song on a flight to Nashville, and it mostly came from a place of feeling like I’m watching my life go by and not even experiencing it.”
Later, on the title track, Discussions With Myself builds a brilliant contrast by merging darkly charged lyrics about self-loathing and mental unraveling with shimmering effects and bright piano riffs. And on the album-closing “Stomach,” Bryce finds unlikely power in self-doubt, with her fractured guitar lines, frantic tempos, and feverish vocal delivery conjuring up a glorious chaos.
Throughout Discussions With Myself, Bryce shows a nuanced lyricism that reveals the literary origins of her songwriting. “When I was kid I was always into short stories and narratives, and one day someone told me I should try writing a song,” she recalls. “And then once I started writing, I never really stopped.” She soon began writing a song almost every day, tapping into the musical knowledge she’d gained from taking up violin at the age of 10. Later adding guitar and keyboards to her repertoire, she relocated to Los Angeles in her early teens, teamed up with David Kahne (an esteemed producer known for his work with artists like Paul McCartney and Stevie Nicks), and put out the Soren Bryce EP in August 2015.
Since the EP’s release, Bryce has emerged as an in-demand featured artist, with collaborations including Black Coast’s “Sleep Alone” (a 2016 single that’s now amassed over a million streams on Spotify). Earlier this year, she also appeared on “Nobody Knows” by mansionz (a collaborative project from Blackbear and Mike Posner), which Baeble Music recently highlighted on its “Best Collaborations of 2017 (So Far)” list.
Though her artistry has sharply evolved over the years, a certain guiding philosophy has sustained in Bryce’s songwriting. “One thing that’s never changed for me is using music as an outlet to reflect back on what I’m going through—almost as if the songs are a way to document my life,” she says. Still, one of the greatest triumphs in creating Discussions With Myself lies in her newly discovered self-reliance as a sonic architect. “What I learned in the studio helped me to grow so much as a musician, and it’s going to benefit me for the rest of my life,” Bryce says. “It gave me a whole new confidence in my ideas and my creative spirit. That’s probably the most valuable thing I took from making this album—just having the realization of ‘Oh, you can do this.’”