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VMP Rising: All Things Blue

On January 7, 2021

Titling songs is not an exact science. Some artists go for rambling and poetic (think Sufjan Stevens), while others go for droll absurdism (i.e. JPEGMAFIA, Sidney Gish, Fall Out Boy). Experimental figures like Arca often opt for curt, one word titles that belie the complexity that lies within. For All Things Blue, the indie project led by India Coombs, the titles on their new record Get Bit underscore their music’s charming idiosyncrasies and good-natured accessibility.

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“For all of these songs, they’re named prior to any lyrics being written. It’s just whatever we’re talking about right then,” says Coombs. “‘Fuqqing IPAs’ is just the fact that the person [my producer] had in the studio the day before brought over IPAs. We don’t really love IPAs, and we were like, ‘All we have to drink is fucking IPAs.’”

There’s a nonchalance to the music that Coombs and her main collaborator — producer and instrumentalist Jon Joseph — make together. The pair met at age 18 through Coombs’ ex-manager shortly after she moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania, and have been working together for years now. Songs like “Get Off My J-Bone” and “Chad” reflect their easy chemistry — the latter was even recorded while Coombs held Joseph’s three-day-old newborn baby in the vocal booth. (He slept through the whole thing.)

“We take the music seriously, but I don’t think we take ourselves very seriously,” Coombs says.

Today, the ranks of psychedelia-adjacent artists who could headline Spotify’s “Dream pop” and “Indie Rock Road Trip” playlists is more crowded than ever. But what sets All Things Blue apart is their sonic experimentation — the synth and guitar textures, as well as Coombs’ vocal delivery are constantly changing — and, moreover, her grounded approach to lyrical subject matter. Where so many artists offer their listeners an empty diet of generic good vibes, All Things Blue’s music is actually about something.

“White Lady Dogs” deals with gentrification in the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where Coombs has lived for seven years, using the image of a “snooty” neighbor to explore urban displacement. The title track is a look at the effect of the 1 percent on the economy at large, and was inspired by a former boss Coombs worked for in the cannabis industry.

The most affecting song on Get Bit is “Buddha & Penelope,” in which Coombs sings pensively over bleach-dyed guitar chords and spacey cymbals. “How long ago were you someone’s baby? / Your belly full, wrapped in warmth and safety?” she wonders about Buddha — an unhoused man, accompanied by his trusty pitbull Penelope, whom she sees regularly in her part of the city.

“They’re in Los Angeles, I’ve known them since I moved here,” says Coombs. “The lyric is pretty much the thought that he's been houseless for so long. Everybody knows him. I was looking at him, I was talking to him, and I was thinking about him as a small child with his mom. Somebody rocked him to sleep and gave him his bottle. You’ve got to look at it like that.”

Coombs talks candidly about the financial realities of being an independent musician. With COVID-19 robbing artists of touring revenue, physical record and merch sales are more crucial than ever. Despite her success, she’s had to work non-music jobs consistently since moving to L.A.

In general, there’s a throughline of demystification to Coombs’ work, as well as her easygoing, affable demeanor on the phone. It comes through in All Things Blue’s straightforward process for naming tracks, as well as her own commitment to making them about something tangible. To counterbalance the vocals, the instrumentals she and Joseph write have a surrealist bent, thanks to their stretched out, acid jazz-indebted chords and chunky percussion. The band’s videos are homespun and trippy, too, particularly the technicolor “Lully” and the claymation clip for “Buddha & Penelope.”

As a total package, Get Bit is like a great allegorical novel, transporting you somewhere distant and captivating, while still being conceptually nourishing and connected to our shared reality.

Coombs is candid about her own emotions and mental health in her music, especially on songs like “Dicking Around,” There, she sings, “Feelings I can’t explain / Tendencies to tantalize my own brain / I can fight the impulse cause I know it’s wrong / But I can’t stop the impulse from coming on,” describing the cognitive push-pull common to people who deal with depression, anxiety, or addiction issues. She explains that the confessional nature of songwriting was something she has always accepted as necessary, something she’s grown to appreciate more as her audience has grown.

“I feel like in songwriting, you kind of have to,” she says. “You’re literally saying how you feel through a song and other people are singing along to it. You have to be OK with it. I don’t personally have a problem with it, I kind of love it.”

Consistent with their approachable, utilitarian brand of indie rock, Coombs isn’t stressed about All Things Blue’s music being interpreted exactly as she intended. She’s actually quite happy if your read on a song is entirely left field, and would be happy to hear about it.

“I love when people get totally different things and are like, ‘This is what it means to me,’” she says. “I’m like, ‘That’s fucking great. It’s not what I meant at all, but I love it.’”

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Grant Rindner

Grant Rindner is a freelance music and culture journalist in New York. He has written for Dazed, Rolling Stone and COMPLEX.

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