OTNES takes us track-by-track through her intimate, enchanting, and achingly vulnerable debut album ‘SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE!’ – an empowering indie pop record of raw humanity, channeling our deepest grief into bold love and beauty.
Stream: “REDWOOD DUST” – OTNES
“I’m ready… to dive in… to a great… big… pool… of water,” OTNES sings softly, slowly, at the start of her debut album – taking care to articulate and expand every syllable, as if by doing so she can glean extra meaning from her words. In these opening moments, her voice – accompanied by layers of effected vocal harmonies – is already a beacon of intense vulnerability, raw passion, and inner strength. She knows she’s looming on the precipice of something great – something even she herself even may not yet fully comprehend – and with every monumental life change comes an assortment of excitement and exhilaration, fear and terror, tension, uncertainty, and wonderment.
And she’s ready.
Intimate, bold, and beautifully vulnerable, SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is a cathartic and captivating indie pop record of raw humanity. Singer/songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Emily Otnes is exposed like never before as she shines a radiant warm light on her innermost depths, sharing the most authentic version of herself yet in twelve songs that ache for real, deep connection.
The result is one of this year’s most exciting and exhilarating debuts – an endlessly enthralling record that never fails to take our breath away.
I’m ready to dive in
To a great, big pool of water
And I’ll trust gravity
And I’ll trust me
Even when I reach the bottom
Maybe I’ll find you
Maybe I’ll hold you
Maybe I’ll save you both from drowning
Even if I can’t,
At least I have tried
And I will know what’s waiting for me
– “BLU3,” OTNES
Released November 10, 2023 via AntiFragile Music, SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is the long-awaited debut album from Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch (and two-time Editor’s Pick) OTNES. Formerly performing under the name Emily Blue – through which she released two studio albums, including 2022’s acclaimed The Afterlove, and countless singles – Emily Otnes bid farewell to her former musical identity and introduced a new one, under her own last name, in late 2022.
“During COVID I spent so much time with myself and realized that I have changed so significantly as a person since the Emily Blue project was born,” she said of the decision last year. “Not only my gender identity (now going by they/she pronouns), but also my priorities as an artist, the trials and tribulations of going through a pandemic, and really looking inward… I learned so much as Emily Blue and collaborating with my friend Max Perenchio, who’s no longer with us. Part of the decision to part from Emily Blue is that the project just isn’t the same without him. OTNES feels so true to my heart (it’s my real last name) and also more androgynous, so I can truly lean into my fluidity. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me and can’t wait to see where this leads.”
A year and six singles later, OTNES’ first longform project is born. The artist enjoyed creative control over almost all aspects of her debut album, having solely written all of the songs and directed all of her music videos. She co-produced the album together with Joseph Meland, Jody Lee Oliver, Peter Vance, Evan Opitz, and Colin Althaus.
“If a person were to listen to this album, they would know me better than so many people,” she tells Atwood Magazine. “Like this is really ‘get to know me inside-out,’ both the things I care about and my style as a producer. And I have not had that feeling before. So SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is all about exactly what it sounds like, ’cause a lot of my past work was more focused on character-building, and this is very much based on my life and my real experiences.”
“I didn’t necessarily like plan on a concept album or anything like that. I just kind of started churning away at the songs. But I noticed that, as I was writing them, my priority was just to make something extremely true to me, whether it be the lyrics or the subject matter, or the production or the visual. I wanted to really show who I am, so I just kept writing. And then we got signed to AntiFragile and they had a minimum of 11 songs for the record, so we ended up doing 12, which made me happy!”
Oh, I walk the line
I read your mind in vain
Wish I could empty
All these memories from my brain
But I know, I know
there is no other way
To bring you back…
But the you that’s in my mind
He lasts forever
And all of our wasted time
It made me better
And the heaviness of life
Is light as a feather
Stylistically, OTNES’ songs retain much of the lush, cinematic glow of Emily Blue’s music, pulling as much from the ‘70s and ‘80s as from contemporary influences in both the pop and alternative spaces. The artist holds nothing back as she carves out a new niche, dwelling in an uncompromisingly intimate and enchantingly vulnerable space.
“It’s definitely jam packed with a lot of different stylistic choices,” she smiles. “I love ’70s and ’80s music, especially I love Fleetwood Mac and I love all ’80s rock and pop. So some of that bleeds into my production style. On the actual title track, “SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE!”, I was really thinking about how Fleetwood Mac has those three-part harmonies that just kinda pop up. And we were also listening to other bands like Geese – they’re like an OTNES obsession. Me and my live band members listen to them in the tour van all the time. It’s like a big salad of all the things I like. I love Caroline Polachek, The Japanese House, Bon Iver. You can hear so many different types of guitar textures, either from myself or from my friends. And I just wanted to really explore the extent of my own, like what I’ve been influenced by, and churn it out in a way that feels true to me.”
OTNES describes her album as exploratory, nostalgic, and cinematic. The title, she explains, is deliberate and intentional.
“It’s spelled in all caps and with an exclamation point, which I think give it a little bit of a sense of humor also,” she explains. “It also reminds me of like old comic books that my dad would show me when I was growing up that had exclamation points everywhere, like all throughout the pages, in the dialogue, in the titles. And it’s sort of a call to action for others to start to do the same thing and also talking to myself.”
“I feel like a lot of the record is me having conversations with myself, or with the old version of myself, and sort of processing some things that I’ve gone through or the changes that I’ve seen in myself as time’s gone on. So SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is a very aggressive way for me to say like, be vulnerable, live your truth and really explore who you are.”
Highlights abound as OTNES dives in. Album opener “BLU3” is an intimate, achingly cathartic, and emotionally-charged fever dream. OTNES sets the tone with a glistening and ethereal eruption of empowerment, grief, and acceptance. She’s ready to transition out of her former skin and into a new one, transforming a tender and tranquil ballad into a sonically stunning tempest.
“SPIN,” released last year as OTNES’ debut single, offers both a heartfelt tribute to a lost loved one (her friend and musical collaborator, Max Perenchio) and a moving celebration of life, love, and the power of human connection. “LIGHT AS A FEATHER,” her second single, is a vulnerable, heartrending eruption of inner pain halfway between shiver-inducing softness and unrelenting turmoil – one that highlights the range, the care, and the depth of her artistry as she evokes the inevitable strain death has on the living.
Each of these twelve songs is a world of its own, with special standout moments of magic and beauty waiting to be unearthed and embraced.
“I think a song that I could listen to over and over again without getting tired of it would probably be ‘SPIN PT. 2,’” OTNES says. “That’s one of my favorites. And then my favorite music video to make might’ve been ‘REDWOOD DUST’ because it’s my first ever one-take video where there were lighting changes happening in camera and choreo and rear screen projection and there’s projection wrapping on the cube and all of that. We had to spend three hours rehearsing it and setting it up and multiple rehearses the week of. So that was really fun to do. And then I guess my favorite projection would probably be on ‘HIDING NOTHING’ because I like the minimal sort of bare bones meets auto-tuned, glitched-out world in that song.”
“I think I really like the line, ‘All of our wasted time, it made me better’ in ‘LIGHT AS A FEATHER,” she adds. “And I like, ‘You make just enough to take me to the movies. Hey, that sounds groovy’ from ‘REDWOOD DUST,’ because in one of Peter’s songs that he wrote when I first met him, he rhymed the word “movies” and “groovy” also. So we have this kind of like childish rhyme scheme that we are embracing ’cause it feels really innocent and fun. So it’s like a thing that I share with him. And then maybe I like the line, ‘I f*ing love you, sue me.’ It makes me laugh.”
Through this album, OTNES has introduced the world not only to her music, but also to the inner workings of her soul.
From punchy alt-pop to ethereal electronic-laced indie and everything in-between, SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! is a singularly beautiful, breathtaking, and heartrending journey – a no-frills look at life itself, channeling grief into love, warmth, and wonder.
“I feel like it’s really liberated me as a person, and I want to share that with other people,” OTNES smiles. “I really want to encourage others to embrace the things that are unique about them, either if they grew up with something in the house, listening to whatever they grew up with, and it’s rubbed off on them as an adult, just embracing the things that make them have a unique perspective. Because in today’s world, we see so much praise and validation for things that are trending well and numerically impressive. And it’s really easy to think that if I go for the external, then I’ll get validation for who I am. But it kind of works in the opposite way. You really have to lean into what is true about you and it kind of becomes a magnet for others… They wanna know what makes this person who they are. So, that’d be what I hope they take away.”
“I think I’ve taken away that it’s okay to experiment and try things and even do things that don’t resonate with you, if it leads somewhere that feels good. ‘Cause I’ve made a lot of bad music videos in my life, and I’ve made a lot of songs that now I look back and I would never wanna sing them again. But I’m okay with that journey because I feel like that’s always kind of how it’s gonna be when you’re doing this kind of thing.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside OTNES’ SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! with Atwood Magazine as she takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut album!
:: connect with OTNES here ::
‘SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE!’ – OTNES
:: Inside SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE! ::
“BLU3” is felt like track one to the album immediately upon just starting it. I was like, “This is absolutely how I want my record to start,” because it’s just my voice and the first words are “I’m ready”. And so I was just thinking, I’m ready for this huge change from Emily Blue to now, no matter what that means for me. It can be totally scary, but I had to kind of jump in. And it was just sort of like the introductory, “This album will take you on a journey. Hope you’re ready.”
We did that all in one room and the way that we mic’d it or… We had limited mics, so we did what we could in the room, and then we put one mic in the bathroom. So we called it the shower mic, just to get that live band, garage-y energy. Jody Lee, our drummer, we have a couple rotating drummers, but he’s the one that we’ve recorded with and done a lot of the groundwork for this record with. He has a setup that he records from home. So we just experimented with him and found what we think worked. And then everybody… It’s like a really small room. So we’re standing very close to each other doing this loud post rock outro. And honestly, I think I have some videos of it because it was really fun to do it ourselves.
I think that it couldn’t have turned out any better, both the production and the video. And it was sort of my first attempt at creating the OTNES sound. So at the time, I was listening to bands like Tennis. Obviously, there’s still some like ’70s rock, classic vocal styles in there. And then what else? Tops is another kind of influence for that song. And that is all about my relationship with my friend, Max, and how I’m observing now that I’ve also grown in a lot of ways that I wish that he could see and I think that he’d be really proud of. It’s about my journey with sobriety, so not drinking anymore. I think it’s been like a year and a half now. At the time that I wrote that, it was a much newer thing. I remember it being really fresh. So I put it in the song for that reason. Yeah.
LIGHT AS A FEATHER
So “LIGHT AS A FEATHER”, I was listening to a lot of The Japanese House and I loved how in their work, they do a lot of vocal layering that is sort of subtle. So I was going for this almost vocoder main vocal but not quite because almost all of those harmonies I do one by one. With a vocoder, it’s triggered when you’re holding down the MIDI and then it does the chord all at once. But I like to mix it in with a couple of looser, less perfect vocal harmonies, and then formant shift them and stuff like that. And then yeah, I love this song. I think it pinpoints this really unique feeling of like, you’ve lost someone, but because they were in your life, you’re now a better person. You don’t regret any of that time spent, whether it be a relationship or a friend loss or anything like that. I was kind of thinking about all of that growth and multiple people when I was writing that. And then for the video we actually went to Percy Priest Lake in Nashville which is a really widely loved natural area here and we were there at 5:00 in the morning. [laughter] I was really tired and cold. But it was beautiful. The sunrise in the video is exactly how it looked when I was seeing it. It was just so gorgeous.
“REDWOOD DUST” is a love song. My partner, Peter was a woodworker for a lot of the time that I knew him. Now he’s he started his own business, but at the time when we first started dating, he was always in the wood shop or like he’d come home with sawdust all over his clothing and that’s sort of like my unique experience with him and those memories. So one time he was given a lot of redwood, either he sourced it or he was given it from his boss or something, and he had to make this bench for some friends of ours’ wedding present. So it was like a month-long endeavor of him slaving over this bench and me coming in and helping him and he was exhausted from all this work, but he’s learning how to do these skills.
So he’d have a bunch of excess wood after the fact and he made me an anniversary gift out of it. So it’s really special to me. We have a lot of redwood objects around the house. And I wanted the music video to capture this warehouse, woodshop energy, but then turn it into like a theater production, like how it feels to be in love and use the space in really strategic ways. So we did it all in one take. We had like a spotlight and two dancers. And it was really fun. I’ve never done a shoot quite like that in my life.
“SUE ME” is the Bonnie & Clyde love anthem, so… It’s actually very wholesome though. It’s about how you’d kinda do anything for this person, you’d even rob a bank or you’d commit crimes, but really it’s just that feeling of like you’re newly in love and you don’t care if you make it to work. You don’t care if you lose your job. You’d rather just spend time with that person. And for the music video, I was really heavily referencing Bonnie & Clyde the movie with the fashion and the villain outfits. I’m obsessed with all of those aesthetics. So I thought it turned out great.
SHOW THEM WHAT’S INSIDE!
This song actually almost didn’t get finished because I started it, and then I couldn’t get anywhere with it and I was like, “I don’t know if this is gonna make it to the finish line.” But then the band was like, “No, I think you should keep trying,” and then we just sat around in a circle in my house and we’re kind of playing through it. And that end half just happened by us feeling it out and collaborating on it. I love the dual guitar solo. It’s very like spaghetti western of us to throw that in there. It has a lot of drama and it’s like the longest song in the album, so it’s this magnum opus for me of exploring this tenderness and vulnerability and softness, and then maybe some feelings of anger. What it’s about… ‘Cause my roommate was like, “What is this song actually… What are you referencing?” And I’m talking about my childhood memories a lot of the time, like how it felt for me to be a kid or a teenager growing up and the issues that I went through, and now trying to heal those as an adult by reliving them and writing about them.
And my dad actually made me this digitized compilation of all of my childhood videos before I started writing any of these songs. So I was like, wow, that’s who I am. That’s why why I turned out this way because as a kid, I was making up songs at three years old and just on and on and on, just writing songs in the house and seeing the kind of journey that I’ve had as like a young person. I wanted to put all of that angst in this song too.
On tour we opened for our friends, Arts Fishing Club, and we ended up staying at their family’s property in Wisconsin, which was like this big cabin style, like lodge style home right by the lake. And there was… I mean, it got so dark at night, you could see all the stars and there were loons, which, Toph, who is the singer in Arts Fishing Club, he told me that loons like travel in pairs, they find their mate for life, and then they kind of camp out at a lake and that’s their lake. And no other loons can live at the lake. They’ve gotta find another one. [chuckle] So the birds that you hear are from a voice recording that my friend, Evan took, who’s one of our guitar players. And he just thought it sounded really special. He was like, “I think we could make some sort of transition track with this memory that we have as a touring band.” Getting to have that trip was so special. I love the idea that loons are just hopeless romantics that like to hang out at the lake together. And then the rest of the song is either from the OP-1 synth that Evan has, or some synth pads that I put in with some vocal samples of different blips from throughout the album.
I call this one the “anxious attachment anthem” because it’s like the lyric, if I could, I would choose happiness. I swear I would just be totally content if I could. But there are parts of me that come up that have anxiety from past trauma. It’s like when you get into a relationship and you’re like, “Wow, this is going well. That’s almost scary.” [laughter] So it’s about kind of battling your own fears when you have someone that you love. And then the scary feeling of like, if there starts to be a distance that grows, like how that kind of manifests. So for that ending, I wanted to make this really cathartic ’80s driving montage, like the sound of like in an old movie, they’re like escaping together and it’s super intense and there’s all this slow motion stuff happening. Because it just felt like an explosion of emotion, kinda like the hourglass shattering. And to me, the hourglass symbolizes this anxiety of something is about to end, or you’re worried that it might end because you’re thinking, “Oh, seems inevitable.” But I think that there’s just so much to explore in that song.
SPIN PT. 2
“SPIN” AND “SPIN PT. 2” are both in D Major, which a lot of the songs that I write are in D Major because I love the way that that feels for my voice to sing and the timbre of that key. In my head, that key is orange-yellow. That’s the yellow-orange key. And you can kind of see that in some of the videos. So that’s number one connection. Number two is the lyrical tie. I actually at first didn’t intend to make a “SPIN PT. 2.” Watching everything around me spin was just the lyric that I had. But then the more that I wrote it, I realized this is kind of like the moment after you mourn or grieve something where you start to access parts of your inner confidence again and maybe even some anger that you haven’t felt before and you’re like, “Actually, you know what, fuck all these bad things that happen. I am gonna go and grow and graduate from this.”
So this song is way less about Max and more about the version of myself that I used to be when I was like in my early or mid-20s. It’s about being in bad relationships. It’s about a ton of things that I chose to leave behind as OTNES, either in moving to Nashville, leaving an ex, whatever. It was just me processing all of those feelings. So “SPIN” is kind of like the delicate, tender, grieving song, and then “SPIN PT. 2” is like what happens after you’re done grieving, like you have to get that fuel to go do something else.
It’s kind of a chaotic song, if you think about it. It has a bunch of different time signatures and a lot going on and a screaming ending, but I think the flow of it feels very natural. So I always picture myself in a room with the band playing it because we recorded the instruments all live. And just, I can hear my friendship with them in that song and I can hear my chosen family making this dream real with me. So it’s a really special one. The vibes were immaculate that day at the studio.
THUNDER WITH AN ECHO
I can’t remember if I wrote it in the moment of it happening or right after, but my partner and I were having a pretty difficult conversation about negative emotions and how we process those. So this is kind of about two people having that conversation and one person in… It’s like a recreation of my experience. So like one person is saying, “You have so much anger in you,” and the other person is saying like, “This is kind of inherent to me.” And I feel like in society, men are socialized to go to anger first and women or otherwise are not, like they’re kind of discouraged from feeling anger at all. So when you put those two different types of beings together, they’re gonna have a fundamental difference in how they communicate. And in relationships, you have to undo a lot of patriarchal training, so to speak.
So this is what that song’s about. And it’s like with anger, it’s like this looming thing in the background that could be really dangerous. Like how thunder is, like you hear it from a distance and you’re thinking, “That’s a destructive thing I should watch out for that.” And it sounds like a big warning sign. And at the time that we were talking, there was a huge thunderstorm outside and there was a cop car and all the other power was out in the whole neighborhood. So it was pitch black except for the giant blue light from the cop car and I just remember how unique that felt in comparison with what we were talking about.
This might be my favorite one on the record. It’s sort of a meditation to me that feels like the bookend to “BLU3.” So it’s like the first one is, I’m ready to start this really intimidating process of getting to know myself, and then “HIDING NOTHING” is like, I think that I have done it, or at least I’ve opened myself. Because when you hide yourself away from other people and from the world and you present in ways that don’t feel authentic, you’re not really creating a real connection. But when you get rid of all of the fluff and it’s just your authentic true self, then you’re really like able to love other people better. So it’s a song about self-love and feeling like I can rest in that now. Yeah. And it feels like a really calm, peaceful way to wrap up the themes of the album to me.
I kind of feel like some of the album is chronological to when I finished it, so you can follow my actual emotional journey of like, “Okay, that’s done now, the next one.” And then some of it is an arc intended to show how hard it is and how much is involved with self-growth and self-betterment. It’s not easy like from… With “THUNDER WITH AN ECHO”, it can also kind of be about sobriety in the sense that there’s this looming issue that you’re now choosing to walk away from, but you can still kind of hear it in the background. So I really wanted to end it with this sense of peace because I feel like I’m at peace with myself more than I’ve ever been before because I’ve chosen to do this. And I think for that reason, it was all worth it.
TANGERINE, A SONG FOR MAX
Max was a hilarious person with so much psychedelic energy. He could absolutely have started a cult and I would’ve joined that cult when he was alive. And I just thought that he would get a kick out of this song because my roommate, Jenna, who’s a great songwriter… I might have actually sent you her stuff. I will definitely send you more of her stuff. She and I like… She’s my roommate and we have a lot of fun. We make so many crazy ideas up. And somebody said, tangerine is the color of the season, and we thought that was so funny. We’re like, “I’m picturing a 1960s circle where everyone’s holding hands and wearing flower garlands and it’s like a cult initiation.” But then it turned into a song about Max because I visualize him sort of in that place. I visualize him in a world full of color and so much humor and silliness and phased out guitars and like… It’s like a song that I wanted to commemorate, like encapsulate his memory with, if that makes sense.
:: connect with OTNES here ::
— — — —
© courtesy of the artist
:: Stream OTNES ::