Posts by Lydia

Straight Talk Sunday: Where I Am

When people in my life these days who didn’t know me during Sunset’s peak years find out that I have a blog, they often seem surprised. “Do you still write for it?” “How do you have the time?” I get these questions frequently, and for a long time now I’ve had to answer with an ashamed “no,” quick to follow up with praise for the amazing team of writers I have who do just about every bit of work for the site today. As I venture back into writing, I wanted to share some thoughts on where I’ve been since the days when I posted on here every day.

I’m a little scared to say this, but to be totally honest, for the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about shutting the whole operation down. I’ve written many a pros/cons list about it, but I’ve never been able to get the pros to outweigh the cons. Sure, it stresses me out when the site goes down and I haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back up. The cost of maintaining the site isn’t insignificant. And I haven’t been able to make time to write as I’ve been working really hard to build my career. But staring back at me from atop the list of cons is something that’s hard to put into words, let alone a bullet point: this site is a big piece of who I am, and frankly it’s a big piece of what got to me where I am.

So where am I?

Well, I don’t really want to bore you with a long, drawn-out story…yet. So here are a few bullet points about where I am, physically and mentally. Because if you’ve been a reader of this site, you know I’m not one to hide my feelings.

  • I’m 30, living in San Francisco
  • I’ve built a good career since moving out here. I’ve worked at a startup, at Google, at an ad tech company, and now at Pinterest, where I lead a team of 10 salespeople
  • I’m a very proud aunt of 5 (soon to be 6!) little kiddos
  • Nearly 8 years after losing my dad, I still struggle most days with the sadness that comes with losing a parent
  • To cope with that, I’m investing a lot of time in myself. What does that mean? I spend the majority of my time outside of work running (just ran my first marathon this year!), reading, learning about a bunch of things that interest me (more to come in future posts), meditating, taking time to be grateful for a lot of things in my life, listening to music that I love – new and old, cheering on my sports teams and exploring places around the world
  • And I’m feeling pretty ready to get back into writing

So maybe you haven’t been a reader of Sunset in the past. In that case, you may be surprised to see me talk about my real emotions. Yeah, it’s been 8 years and I’m still sad. No hiding that shit. But honestly, I wasn’t always that willing to openly talk about my feelings on here. I used to simply use this platform to write about music and what I heard. I didn’t include anything about what those songs made me feel or why. Until one day I’ll never forget.

I was having a conversation with my boss at my very first job out of college. He asked me about Sunset and my vision for it. After hearing my ambitions, he told me quite simply that he didn’t think I was going to be able to achieve them. Umm…what? My heart sank. Truthfully, I was offended. I was putting so much time and effort into this website and, just like that, he had the right to tell me it wasn’t going to work?

But I let him keep talking. He said that without injecting my own personality or emotions into the site, there was nothing to separate my blog from every other music blog on the Internet. I shared with him my fear of exposure, particularly as a female writer. He wasn’t entirely insensitive to that, as he understood that at the time it was a bit scary to put a picture of your face on the open web (I’m aging myself a bit here), but was able to convince me of the benefit of making your true self visible to the people you’re writing for.

Truthfully, it was a major turning point in my life. He was right. As soon as I put my personality into my writing, it began a conversation. I became connected to other writers, to readers, and perhaps most importantly to myself. Eventually, Sunset became about a lot more to me than just finding new music and writing about it. It became an outlet for me to share my feelings, which ranged from excitement to extreme sadness when returning to writing after my dad passed away in 2010. But the more I put out there, the more I heard back from people who were reading. People understood me, and on many occasions were able to sympathize and/or empathize with me, which got me through a lot of hard times. They celebrated with me when an artist I had been writing about began to “go viral.” They encouraged me to keep going, keep writing, and keep investing in the site.

When I interviewed for my first role at Pinterest, I remember being asked what I’m most proud of in my life. I loved that question, and it was an easy one for me to answer. Sunset. It’s something that I worked really hard to build. Among many other things, it taught me the importance of never giving up, of teaching myself new skills when I’ve felt challenged, and of investing time in myself and my own dreams, because even if they’re not what pays my bills, sometimes they’re everything I need outside of what pays the bills.

So as I’m sitting here in my apartment on a Sunday evening, reflecting on my weekend, my life, and where I am today, I realize that I owe it to myself to keep investing in this website and, in return, in myself. Because I’m pretty damn grateful for this website and all of the opportunities it has given me. It’s a part of me. And I hope it’s a small part of you. Or at the very least, that it’s been able to give you the smallest bit of joy, because at the end of the day, that’s what this thing is all about.

More to come from me later, but for now, will leave you with a short playlist of some of my favorite songs I’ve collected and written about over the past 9 years of writing for Sunset.

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Introducing: Zomba Prison Project

Hello, strangers! It has been a minute since I last posted, but in celebration of Sunset coming back from being down for a few weeks and [gasp!] finally being mobile friendly (I beg you, disregard the fact that I work in digital media and have had a non-mobile friendly website for the past 9 years), I am back! I am committing to writing a longer piece soon about where I’ve been, what I’ve gotten into, my thoughts on life, all that. But for now, I wanted to get back to my roots of introducing you to some music that’s moving me at the moment.

While I was out on a run this morning listening to a 60 Minutes Podcast (yes, I am old, and yes, I admit to listening to podcasts rather than music as I run now; again, more on that later when I share some thoughts on life), I was introduced to the Zomba Prison Project. Before continuing to read this, I recommend pressing play on the Spotify player below to get a taste of what this group sounds like. I was immediately captivated by the familiarity of the instrumentals and — despite my inability to understand one word — the soft nature of the vocals. Sure, the song titles of some tracks are a bit jarring, but without knowing anything more than what the music sounds like, I’d have had no idea what I was about to find out: this entire album is written and performed by a prisoners at a maximum security prison in Malawi.

The album was recorded and produced by Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and his wife, who set out to travel the world in pursuit of talented artists. If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on the fact that they were pleasantly surprised when they stumbled across the talent they found at Zomba Prison. Built in the 19th century and designed to hold 340 people, the prison is home to over two thousand Malawian prisoners, most of whom have been given life sentences.

When invited to create music, one woman volunteered and sang a song that displayed vulnerability and sadness of her situation. Following her lead, the floodgates opened, and many other prisoners volunteered to tell their stories via song. What resulted is a collection of stories I cannot translate, but that one can hear the beauty and a mix of sadness and hope in. As mentioned in 60 Minutes, these prisoners turn to music to find an escape, but as soon as the music stops, a harsh reality sets in.

In 2016, this album was nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album. While it didn’t win, the inmates at the Zomba Prison were given a cause for celebration. And if you allow yourself to let go of preconceived notions and recognize music for what it is — a universal language of unity — that’s a pretty beautiful thing.

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[Live Review] Jessie Reyez: A young artist achieving her dreams

A lot of people who read Sunset have asked me where I’ve been; it’s been a long time since I’ve published an article. To start, I’ve been working at my day job. I’m not sure if people know that Sunset was never my full-time job. Earlier in my career, I just used to have more time to spend on it. For years, I would go to work, go home, and sit down to work on Sunset for several hours. Every day. Weekends were mostly full of listening and writing.

But after moving to San Francisco from North Carolina, this evening time started slipping away from me. The culture out here in San Francisco is very different. Work hours are longer, social calendars are more demanding, and weekends spent inside typing away on a computer are much more guilt inducing. There were a few years when I really resented that fact about my life in San Francisco. But I’ve grown into it. Two years ago, I found a job that I really care about (if you care to know, I work on the media partnerships team at Pinterest…a fancy way of saying I sell ads. And yes, somehow I care about that…), and I am devoted to advancing my career.

So what brings me back today, over two years later? Well, to begin with, I’ve still been here behind the scenes. I still contribute to the monthly playlists that Jordan puts together, help find new writers for the site, and, well, I still pay the bills. Yes, I do see the tweets and Facebook message from folks asking if I still accept submissions. I apologize for not responding to all of them; it’s just a shortage of time. But I still choose my own path of music discovery (often through my writers’ picks, honestly) and I often happen across a gem. I’ll almost always post them here. That happened for me recently, and that’s why I’m back here writing today.

I first heard of Jessie Reyez a few months ago as I was watching Pigeons & Planes coverage from SXSW. I’m pretty sure I was watching their Instagram story; funny to think that’s one of my ways of discovering music today. When I started this thing, I was using MySpace to discover most of the artists I wrote about. That’s a great reminder of how long this site has been around for (almost a decade!).

As I was watching the footage of Jessie for the first time, I saw this uniquely beautiful young artist with a stunning voice, a natural gentle strum of her guitar, and beneath those things, a distinct sense of anger, authenticity and emotion in her delivery that I couldn’t forget. I was hooked almost immediately.

I got the opportunity to see Jessie live in San Francisco this past Thursday night at Rickshaw Stop. For context, Rickshaw Stop is one of the smaller venues in San Francisco, but it packed a pretty good punch on Thursday night for the sold out show. First, let me just say that I was again reminded of my age when I saw the crowd lined up at the door. This happens at most concerts I go to, but as I stood there in the line to get into the venue in my work clothes with my laptop and all, I felt myself longing for my younger days when I could devote more of my time to my passion for music. This feeling crept into my thoughts again as I realized it was after 10pm and still no sign of Jessie. When is a girl to sleep?? Alas, I digress.

When she did come out on stage, I saw just what I hoped to see. A young artist with a hell of a lot of swagger who truly seemed excited to be up on that stage. She started the show with a hat covering most of her face while she sang “Fuck It,” and as the show went on, we saw a few different variations of her look. Hat went away, hair went up, hair came back down, sweatshirt came off – all matched the mood of the music. But through it all, we heard and saw Jessie telling her story of where she came from. She brought the attitude — and then some — that hooked me that day I stumbled across her as I was perusing Instagram. The common “fucks” she throws into her lyrics were delivered like a threat; Jessie was here to tell her story with a vengeance.

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Nic Hanson – Rain

I came across this feel-good track the other day by Nic Hanson called “Rain.” It’s got elements of Mayer Hawthorne, Robin Thicke, and Raphael Saadiq with a pop-infused soul vibe.

When I asked Nic Hanson what he had to say about the track, he touched on the track’s inspiration and the benefits of being a creative, independent artist:

“Rain” is like the stuff that plays in my head all the time. I love that vibe and grooviness that came with 90’s R&B but I like the heaviness of today’s music. I like to leave a raw sound – a kind of imperfection – on my songs. I feel that people like me have a tendency to wait too long, THINKING about the right time to do something, wanting everything to line up perfectly. I’m tired of waiting and thinking about creating my art. I just want to create more. I just wanna DO it. That to me is one of the beauties of being an independent artist, having the ability to move at any pace you want.

There’s a huge amount of demand for this type of drive and vibe today, so Nic Hanson may have a bright future ahead of him. He’s worth putting on your radar.

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Rebecca Peters – Run

One of the things I find hardest about music blogging is finding a song that at first makes me think “oh shit, this is beautiful,” but then the vocals enter and the song is ruined. It happens far more often than I’m comfortable with, but I will say that it’s overshadowed by the amazing feeling that comes when you hear another song with a beautiful intro that’s accompanied by vocals that give you chills.

Luckily I stumbled across the latter yesterday when I heard this song “Run” by Rebecca Peters. She reminds me quite a bit of Florence + the Machine with her powerful vocals, emotional lyrics and rich instrumentals. If there’s any artist a new indie singer-songwriter wants to be compared to on the market, Florence might be the one; that’s a powerful endorsement that I wouldn’t throw around lightly.

As someone who has loved music and writing since she was a little girl, Rebecca Peters worked up the courage to quit her full-time job in advertising to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter based in Sacramento. She’s won a bunch of small-town awards in Northern California, but she’ll soon be moving to Los Angeles to try to take her career as a musician to the next level. “Run” is her first official single, and if it’s a sign of what’s to come, she’s got a bright future ahead of her.

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Gnash – Wake Up (ft. Chelsea Cutler and Goody Grace) [with Lyrics]

Gnash continues to prove to me why he’s one of my favorite artists of 2016 with his latest track “Wake Up,” featuring Chelsea Cutler and Goody Grace. What stands out to me the most is the versatility of his sounds and yet consistency of his message. His lyrics are ones that anybody who has ever gone through love and heartbreak can relate to, but his sonic compositions have ranged from electronic, quasi-hip hop, and a pure indie songwriter sound with his recognizably smooth voice, as heard in today’s release. Fact is, no matter the approach, the outcome is always beautiful, which is why I’m incredibly bullish on Gnash.

Hit the jump for the lyrics.

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Listen to new songs by rapper Sol called 100 Songs and Happiness

New Sol!

I love the looks I get when people first find out how much I love hip hop. What I love even more than that is convincing hip hop haters that they can like the genre too. One of the artists I’m quick to introduce them to is Seattle rapper Sol. He tends to create very melodic hip-hop music that borders pop music. He just put out two new tracks called “100 Songs” and “Happiness” that I’m sure just about any can get behind. Check for yourself, and listen closely to the lyrics on “Happiness.” So good.


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Stream Cruel Youth single Mr. Watson [with Lyrics]

I love it when I hear a song and immediately know that I’ve found something special. Something cool, different.

I’m onto something tonight upon learning of Teddy Sinclair, whose name you may not be familiar with just yet, but whose work you just might be. She co-wrote “Kiss It Better” on Rihanna’s latest album Anti and “Holy Water” on Madonna’s album Rebel Heart. She has recently formed a band with her husband, Willy Moon, called Cruel Youth. In her own words, “Cruel Youth is an intravenous hit of our love and everything I find beautiful.”

Mr. Watson is their debut song together. It’s artful, it’s soulful, it’s mysterious, and for that it’s earning itself multiple plays this Friday evening.

Hit the jump for lyrics to Mr. Watson.

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Illenium – With You (ft. Quinn XCII)

As I’m gearing up to watch The Grammy’s, I figured I’d share a song I’m liking by artists who aren’t Grammy nominees yet, but could someday be. Today’s award goes to Illenium, a Denver-based producer who’s turning heads in the electronic music scene.

He just released his debut album called Ashes, which features a bunch of other talented artists, including one of my own favorites Quinn XCII. Listen to their song “With You” and if you’re a fan, listen to the full album on Spotify or SoundCloud.

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Lonely Child – A Beautiful Exit (Miguel Cover)

If you’ve ever lost somebody, you may be familiar with the connection you feel to a song when it seems to resemble that person you lost. It can happen with love and breakups, and it can happen with the death of a loved one. You start to hear a song in a different way and suddenly the lyrics mean so much more to you.

I’ve always found this to be a really powerful experience in music. I find myself listening to the lyrics much more intently when I’m at my highest or my lowest, searching for similarities and connections to my own life and emotions.

A similar experience happened to Lonely Child, who recorded this cover of Miguel’s song “A Beautiful Exit” after losing a very close friend of his. He was in the midst of a crazy time of his life; he was working too much, building his studio, and was constantly feeling exhausted. He told me the following:

When my friend died, it obviously took a lasting toll. Whenever I was driving, though, this Miguel record would play. It was the first in my iPod’s rotation, so it would come on every time I turned on my car. And it started to reveal itself as being about my friend. It was so weird, but this song became part of my day to day life, every time I’d drive my car. And I realized I wanted to record it as a tribute to my friend. It so perfectly describes him, encapsulates how I feel about him, and was just such a cathartic experience to record. It’s the first thing I recorded entirely in my new studio as well. It’s just a very important, personal recording to me.

Things like that are a big part of why I love music so much. We can find peace in our deepest hours through songs and stories. It hurts like hell to lose somebody, but being able to cling on to a special feeling like this and, for Lonely Child, forever remembering that his first song in his new studio was written in memory of his friend, makes it seem like everything just might be okay.

Hit the jump to listen to the Miguel original and read the lyrics.


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Ricky Smith – Yesterdays

Ricky Smith just recently crossed my radar as he was featured on the song “Make You Feel” off Hoodie Allen‘s new album Happy Camper that was released today. And I was put onto him by a friend who also introduced me to Son Little. Nothing like trustworthy word of mouth advertising. So I listened to Ricky’s single “Yesterdays” and realized this is an artist to get familiar with. He’s joining this growing genre of pop-infused R&B that I can’t seem to get enough of. Loving his vibe.

Tonight we’re finally free from our yesterdays, tonight tomorrow’s dreams will take us far away 

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Gnash – Closure (ft. Skizzy Mars) [with lyrics]

I have a strong feeling 2016 is going to be a huge year for both Skizzy Mars and Gnash. They’re going on tour together in the first quarter of the year – that’s definitely a show to catch. They released a song together a couple days ago called “Closure” and while it’s short, it embodies the spirit of the two artists perfectly. Skizzy perfects his harmonic verses and Gnash smoothly covers the hook and a verse of his own in his signature clear and relatable style.

Can’t tell you how big I am on both of these guys – they’re on the brink of something really big, and they’re both great characters, which makes it all even more exciting to watch. Hit the jump for the lyrics.

Listen to more from Skizzy Mars // Listen to more from Gnash

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