Feature: Indie Pop Duo Personal Trainer Shine on Cinematic, Evocative, & Cathartic ‘Reflex’ EP

Personal Trainer © 2022
Personal Trainer © 2022
Nashville duo Personal Trainer shine on their seductive sophomore EP ‘Reflex,’ a radiant indie pop immersion glowing with bold sounds, buoyant grooves, and achingly intimate lyrics.
for fans of Tennis, CHVRCHES, BROODS
Stream: “Main Character” – Personal Trainer

Personal Trainer’s second EP opens in a moment of lush, hushed, intimacy.

Cola on my nightstand, I hate added sugar, but I kinda crave it when I feel a bit under the weather,” Kayla Mickelsen sings, her voice a haunting beacon of energy and emotion atop a low rumble of subdued synths. Slowly and steadily, the scene expands and the sounds open up; layers of vocal harmonies coalesce as lightly effected guitars glisten and glow. The scene is still undeniably intimate, but there’s a whole new world of sonic wonder in our ears. A radiant indie pop immersion, Personal Trainer’s Reflex shines with buoyant grooves, bold sounds, and expressive lyrics. It’s an undeniable step forward in the band’s artistry, and an exceptionally hypnotic, intoxicating collection of songs on the musical border between bedroom and alternative pop.

Reflex - Personal Trainer
Reflex – Personal Trainer
I was stuck saying sorry cause you hate my past
But 2 drinks in you suggest we move to Japan
Thought we were moving too fast
Nothing but time on our hands
You said I could get any job I want there
As long as I had you that I shouldn’t care
About leaving my friends
Or tying up loose ends
Emotional supporting role
All the time really took its toll
So you can call me selfish, or whatever
Watch you on a screen
While I’m my main character
– “Main Character,” Personal Trainer

Released April 27, 2022 via Acrophase Records, Reflex is an enthralling, immersive, and enchanting best-foot-forward from Nashville, Tenessee’s Personal Trainer. The indie duo of singer and songwriter Kayla Mickelsen and producer George Seay, Personal Trainer debuted in late 2019 with the song “Obsessed” (which has since garnered over 1 million Spotify streams) and released their debut EP Tape 1.1 in October of 2020. Arriving a year and a half later, Reflex sees the pair consciously elevating and evolving their artistry to be more refined and finessed than their initial offerings, which had a simpler and less produced bedroom pop aesthetic. “Personal Trainer have been unafraid of experimentation and nonconformity,” Atwood Magazine wrote in a late 2021 review. “Their music certainly falls somewhere in the pop spectrum, but every track seems to take on its own colors and shapes – a quality which makes their music exciting, engaging, and interesting.”

Reflex‘s five songs still harken back to the imagery of an artist building their songs from the ground-up at home, but the build here is that much more extensive; the guitars feel cleaner, the vocals rich and clear. Even the synths seem to have a heartier punch!

Personal Trainer © 2022
Personal Trainer © 2022

“The whole EP was written over the span of a couple months in 2021,” Kayla Mickelsen tells Atwood Magazine. “Writing has always been my way of processing things – at least when I’m writing for my music. The time leading up to the writing of this record would have been exactly a year after the pandemic officially hit and we were all locked down. Like most people, those first couple months were packed with a series of emotions and changes: Some good, some not so good. This EP is a processing of heartbreak, contempt, anxiety, and depression experienced during the start of 2020.”

“We wanted to progress in our sound and work on more intentional songwriting,” she adds. “We wanted to evolve what the band sounds like, while staying true to the roots of our first project. It feels like the vision did change throughout the making of this record, as we didn’t have any parameters on the project as a whole. We worked on each song individually, and didn’t try to shape it into something to fit within the ‘box’ of what this EP would be. I think that’s apparent in the EP, as we feel each song could be its own single.”

I feel like this compilation of songs is a fun way to introduce us to someone who hasn’t heard us before. The EP is extremely approachable; there are 5 songs that display varying energies and sonic elements. We hope listeners will gravitate towards different favorite songs.

Personal Trainer © 2022
Personal Trainer © 2022

Not only is Reflex and incredibly personal record for Mickelsen, but it also showcases the depths she reaches as a songwriter and storyteller.

“I can only write songs personal to myself after a situation has happened,” she says. “All these songs were written in response to feelings or situations already experienced, and the EP is a reaction to those events and emotions. The definition of Reflex is an unconscious response to stimuli –– and these songs share that stream-of-consciousness like quality. Not to mention, reflex is sometimes associated with a muscular reaction, and we are Personal Trainer, after all.”

She further describes the EP itself as cinematic, evocative, and cathartic – three words that can easily be applied to each of these five songs. Opener “Added Sugar,” mentioned at the top of this article, feels like a moment of transition as Personal Trainer shed the past in favor of a richer, brighter present – contrasted, of course, through lyrics dwelling in the visceral, heavy depths of depression:

She says we all need a vice
Not always, but just sometimes
Some incentive, but I’m a bit obsessive
Just need some sleep
But I just started season three
l live vicariously through tv teens
Staring at a screen, my soul is craving dreams
But until then I’ll drink Cola in the covers the covers…
I can do whatever, I could stay inside forever
Time is shadows on my wall, sunlight and sensory withdrawals
Middle of the summer
I should call my younger brother between sips of added sugar
Drinking cola in the covers

In fact, two of Mickelsen’s favorite lyrics come from this song: “Just need some sleep, but I just started season 3, I live vicariously through TV teens” and “I can do whatever, I could stay inside forever, time is shadows on my wall, sunlight and sensory withdrawals.” “I think we all binge-watched TV at the beginning of the pandemic in our bedrooms, escaping the reality that didn’t seem real at the time,” she reflects. “As it went on, I think a lot of people had anxiety over youth and time being lost during lockdown.”

The scene is set for a litany of intimate and vulnerable moments channeled through a gorgeously immersive soundtrack. Lead single “Cowboy Boots” is an instant and obvious standout, highlighting Mickelsen’s stunningly expressive vocals and her equally moving lyrics – all showcased atop a breathtaking array of riffing guitars and seductive rhythms. “POPSTARB!TCH” is an anthemic, in-your-face, and tongue-in-cheek take on the music industry today, complete with smoldering funk grooves and attitude for days. “It turned out to be a diss track about myself, unassumingly,” Mickelsen laughs. “This song is perfect for anyone who experiences imposter syndrome in the modern world.”

Reaching for my phone,
don’t know if I should spend a night alone

I roll the dice I haven’t lost my appetite for ya
I’m acting silly driving all across the city
Windows down another cigarette
One hit and then I regret
Sending that text, I swore I’d quit
You’re just my ex, you’re just my ex
Know what comes next
I swore I’d quit, how’d I forget
Cowboy boots don’t look cute
When you’re playing guitar
Acting like you’re a star
Country tunes don’t sound true
when they’re coming from you

Arriving at the record’s tail end, the bold, confident, and assertive “Main Character” is another exhilarating rush, dipping its toes into the alternative and rock spheres with cool conviction as Personal Trainer reflect on self-worth. Glowing with glistening vocals and charged overdriven guitars, it’s an intimate emotional upheaval; an overhaul of pent-up feeling; the spark that ignites a new chapter in someone’s life.

“The cathartic experience of writing, recording, and shooting ‘Main Character’ was one of the most beautiful and releasing experiences for me,” Mickelson says on the subject of her own personal favorites. “However, ‘Added Sugar’ has become my recent favorite. George’s guitar solo in the musically and lyrically intense outro is such a cool moment on the record.”

Meanwhile, George Seay highlights the EP’s penultimate track – an ethereal song that builds from softer verses, into a turbulent yet subdued sonic and emotive outpouring. “The chorus of ‘Hungover’ feels so triumphant,” he adds. “The mix of the chorus melody floating over deep 808s and expansive guitars and synths epitomizes what I want listeners to experience when they hear Personal Trainer.”

Played the part that you cast for me
Changed things, made me the girl of your dreams
We’re just not the same
Maybe that’s okay
Felt like I was making myself smaller
That’s not love, it just makes the leaving harder
Don’t like leaving doors shut
But glad I trusted my gut
Emotional supporting role
All the time really took its toll
So you can call me selfish, or whatever
Watch you on a screen
While I’m my main character
Never got stage fright till I met you
Didn’t give me much, but you gave me stomach issues
And I never got stage fright until I met you
– “Main Character,” Personal Trainer
Personal Trainer © 2022
Personal Trainer © 2022

Truly, each of Reflex‘s songs is an exceptional display of a fast-rising duo’s alluring and multi-faceted talents.

Personal Trainer can work out our ears all day long.

“The first songs, emotionally, have us in a very different place from where we end,” Mickelson shares. “You begin with self-doubt, and end with confidence and self-awareness. We hope this EP helps listeners in their own unique journey to find happiness and a sense-of-self. Creating this record helped me do just that, and has made me reflect on the event these songs were inspired by.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Personal Trainer’s Reflex with Atwood Magazine as the duo goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their latest EP!

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:: stream/purchase Personal Trainer here ::
Stream: ‘Reflex’ – Personal Trainer

:: Inside Reflex ::

Reflex - Personal Trainer

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Added Sugar

Kayla: This song feels like it’s a good transition from the lo-fi, bedroom pop sound our first EP displayed, but progresses towards a more expansive soundscape towards the end of the track. “Added Sugar’ stands for any sort of vice someone has, whether that being nicotine, binge-watching, over-consumption, or the continued pursuit of unhealthy love. I wrote this song to detail the depression I experienced at the height of the pandemic. I started to smoke a cigarette every once in a while after dinner and felt a lot of guilt around it: a friend of mine said “everyone needs a vice, sometimes.” That line is explored in the lyrics.

Cowboy Boots

George: I started this song as Kayla was heading over for a writing session; she’s usually about 15-20 minutes late, which gives me just enough time to frame out a basic track. It was really just the initial beat and bass line when Kayla walked in and we wrote the lyrics and different sections all in about an hour and half. The idea was to make an upbeat diss track after we got certain lines that were eerily reminiscent of a past interest of Kayla’s. Once we had the line about Cowboy Boots we decided to go in a disco-country direction, hence the whip sounds, slide guitar, and rattlesnake samples.


Kayla: George and I wrote this song together after being inspired by current pop music’s funk bass lines, memorable melodies, and sarcastic lyrics. We started with the bass line and wrote the chorus first. It turned out to be a diss track about myself, unassumingly. The chorus re-amped synths, co-producer Jason Bennett added, creates a futuristic element and really just makes you want to dance. This song is perfect for anyone who experiences imposter syndrome in the modern world.


George: Oftentimes our writing starts with a song that Kayla brings with chords, lyrics, and melody. This song was a demo Kayla wrote herself and I really liked the metaphor she wrote in the first verse about the relationship woes wracking up like a bar tab; shot after shot. We played off of that idea and built up the production to match this soon to explode relational conflict that just overflows and spills out in the chorus. Being hungover is comparable to the let down you feel when a relationship shows its true colors and isn’t what you hoped it would be.

Main Character

Kayla: The whole ‘Main Character Walk’ trend on TikTok was happening and I often look for buzz words in day-to-day life to get ideas for songs. I took my own take on being the main character, and had just gotten out of a very one-sided and emotionally exhausting relationship. This song encapsulates the series of events that took place over the year-long relationship and resulted in the revelation that my life is my own and I should be the main character of it. Jason Bennett co-produced it with us and helped us capture the momentum of the song’s journey through live drums, George’s driving guitar parts, and the scream of self-realization at the end of the song.

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:: stream/purchase Personal Trainer here ::

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Reflex - Personal Trainer

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