You know that feeling when you hear an artist and can instantly tell that the world is going to fall in love with them? That’s how we felt upon hearing Kristen Merritt for the first time! Kristen Merritt has got this voice that you’d recognize anywhere, and you can tell she has something she wants to say with her music.
Kristen Merritt is an NYC-based artist who hails originally from Detroit and whose music is described as ‘neo-soul.’ Earlier this summer Kristen shared her track ‘I Don’t Think About You’ which we covered right here on The Honey POP! The track sucked us into this musical world Kristen Merritt has created! It seemed that was the perfect time to jump on board being fans, because now we’re getting her debut album, JOI, on September 14th!
We were lucky enough to get to chat with Kristen Merritt about everything from JOI to her newest track ‘Breathe,’ and even about Korean Barbeque!
Stream ‘Breathe’ here!
JOI is your debut album which is beyond exciting! Choosing a title for your debut album is huge, how did you come up with it?
I have had plenty of trouble coming up with names in the past (band names, pet names, titles for papers, a name for my mellow yellow Les Paul guitar, etc.), but after I was done selecting the songs for this album, Joi as a name just hit me like a freight train (and I love trains, so I was all for it). My brain literally just screamed “JOI,” and I was like, “yep, I hear you – that’s the one.” I think the title came so easily in this case because the songs really made me feel immense joy in a way I had not yet felt before. I felt myself in every single one of these songs on a level that just radiated pure passion and excitement. And as a side note/fun fact, it’s spelled with an “i” instead of a “y” as a slight nod to the French “joie.” Like Franglish, but Krislish in this case!
When planning out the album tracklist, what was the process of picking the eight tracks that ended up on the record? How many songs were written that didn’t cut?
It was quite an adventure to select these eight songs! Initially, I was planning on releasing an EP in mid-2020 called Three Very Different Songs that had ‘Last Week,’ ‘Lost in Time,’ and ‘Take Me’ on it, but while they lived up to the EP title, they just didn’t feel quite right to release at the time. There were two or three other songs as well that I began working on around the same time, thinking maybe I could expand the EP and they could round out the sound in addition to the three listed, but I just felt like I was mashing songs together. Then ‘Breathe’ was created, and I knew from that moment the EP really wanted to be an album, and the central theme would be growth and self-discovery. I’ve been on a wild and wonderful journey over the past two years of finding my strength, honing my sound, and releasing my purest joy to the world. This album is the tangible aural embodiment of that release!
‘I’m Done’ is the first single from the upcoming album. What was it about the song that made you want that to be the first look into the sound of the record?
While ‘I’m Done’ isn’t lyrically emblematic of the whole album, it feels really good to vibe with. The groove is so wonderful, and I wanted people to hear that groove and go, “oh wow, if this is where we are starting, this deep in the pocket, then there is much to be excited about!”
When you look back to your debut project, Spectrum, what do you see as the biggest artistic difference when put up against your upcoming record, Joi?
While I am so proud of Spectrum, that first step in putting myself out there as an artist, Joi really sounds like me; it feels like a true expression of me. This album is where I really discovered my sound. I remember piecing together the files for one of the songs, ‘Breathe,’ and breaking down in tears as I was listening to it over my speaker system. This was the first time that I had made music I myself wanted to dance to, to sing along with at high volume, full intensity. That was a big deal for me because although I love all of the music I create and the wonderful musicians, I get to work with on them, previous songs just never quite hit me (while listening) with that undeniable feeling of hearing my truest self in them (but truly all the songs I create are my bebes and I love them all – it’s just different with these tunes on Joi). These songs, all of them, lyrically feel so representative of the journey of growth I’m on, and melodically just make me so hype.
What overall message are you hoping fans take away from this upcoming body of work?
I hope that my peeps take away the feeling of being seen through the storytelling. I want people to really listen to the music and vibe with it, and have moments of like, “oh woah, this literally feels like it narrates the situationship I just entered, left, am going through right now.” And that situationship could be with another person or yourself! I also want people to feel empowered by the messages in the songs, hearing themselves in and relating to the struggle, but also feeling empowered in the moments of growth, healing, and release. I want people to dance, cry, sing along, and share with me how/if the songs really made them feel something powerful.
In ‘I Don’t Think About You,’ you say, “I tried to assign a feeling that I can’t keep track of anymore,” and that has become our favorite lyric of yours. What would you say is your favorite line from a song of yours?
Oh, this is a great question. I love this! There are many to choose from (not to toot my own horn but BEEP BEEP). I think though my favorite is from ‘I’m Done:’
“I might fall into a loneliness where gravity bounds nothing miss me/
With that sad and tired, “oh I can change/
If I leave now I’ll find sanctuary in myself and actually move me forward/
In a real kind of way”
Last week it was legit another line – one from my upcoming third single, ‘Breathe,’ with the line being the open lyric “I’m sorry to be honest, but I’m so tired of the way I make myself feel,” but in revisiting the lyrics, I’m really digging this one. I love playing with metaphors that are both physical and emotional, and this one really scratches that itch. I imagine myself sinking deeply into my feelings, consuming me to a point where I don’t feel like I can sink any deeper. But even at the greatest depth of this emotional chasm, there is still a choice. A choice to want better and more for me, a choice that is firm and necessary, and difficult but will benefit me in the long run. I choose myself. I choose myself and begin to start the process of healing. One that, on some level, required me to sink a bit deeper than I might’ve wanted to.
NYC is a city where millions of people flock in pursuit of big dreams, being an artist based in the area, do you draw any inspiration from the energy the city exudes?
So in a true extroverted-introvert fashion, I have settled in a fairly residential/quieter part of the city, but I think in a weird way it gives me just the sort of energy I need to create! I have found lyrical/storytelling inspiration in waking up in my apartment and noticing the early morning sounds, the way the city moves when most of its residents are still asleep. And in this calm (punctuated ever so often by the much-loved block party that gets me up and dancing in my room) there is a unique blend of stillness and a hum of Brooklyn soul that motivates me to create.
Spotify put you on their “Fresh Finds” playlist. Who are some of your “Fresh Finds” that you think people should be listening to?
First one, easy peasy pick – Hope Tala (her song ‘All My Girls like to Fight’ does something to my soul!) I’ve also been bumping Magic City Hippies (‘Modern Animal’ is a bop) and Latrell James (literally any of his songs, they are *chefs kiss* exactly what you need to add to a playlist where you intend to dance until you are a human sweat stain – in the best way).
With the pandemic slowing down and life getting back to a sense of normal, what are you most looking forward to about getting back on stage?
I’m looking forward to finally coming into myself and my expression of joy through music! I have always been quite self-conscious when it comes to performing, but all this time away from live, in-person performances has given me time to get out of my head, release the fear of not performing like I think I “should,” and really just step into the enjoyment of the performance. I am ready to just have so much fun with my performances and chat it up during/after sets with everyone who wants to chat it up with me! The reason I create music is to connect deeply with others, and I feel much more capable of doing that now that I have shed some of my preconceived notions about how my performances “should” feel/read to an audience. Y’all are just gonna get a lot of my true authentic self – fast-talking, niche, quippy humor with some good funky tunes blended in!
In your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as a Korean BBQ enthusiast, so we have to ask, where is the best Korean BBQ place you’ve found?
Hands down the best K-BBQ I’ve had thus far (I am really trying to live a life where when asked this question in the future, I am choosing from dozens of amazing options) is Samwon Garden in Koreatown, NYC!
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Featured Image Source: Afnan Acharki for The Honey POP!