Tyler Borchardt

Kississippi's Mood Ring Merges Kitsch And Tragedy

How Philadelphia artist Zoe Reynolds created an overt pop album inspired by 'Hey Arnold!,' Chvrches, and Bruce Springsteen

By Grant Sharples

The image on Kississippi’s new album cover is striking: a chewed-up piece of pink bubblegum in an engagement-ring box. It’s the epitome of songwriter Zoe Renyolds’s music, which brims with neon overtones and dismal subtexts, and the bubblegum is a visual representation of the overt pop direction she took with this record. The Philadelphia-based artist says the artwork for Mood Ring, out today (August 6), merges kitsch and dark themes as the music itself speaks to the push and pull of relationships and love at large.

“It reminded me of Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold!,” Reynolds tells MTV News of the symbolic cover. “It just gave me this crushy vibe of swapping gum with your crush or something like that. I just thought it was really cute for those reasons, but it also has a dark element to it at the same time because it is in a nice ring box. It also touches on breakups.”

Reynolds describes each of Mood Ring’s 10 tracks as a love song. Though the subject is always at risk of becoming monolithic, Kississippi’s music shows that love is multifaceted. There is grief, guilt, depression, anxiety, and isolation, and Reynolds says she “can write a love song about any of those things.” For instance, there’s the euphoric, ‘80s-tinged opening track, “We’re So in Tune,” and the emo-pop despondency of “Play Til You Win.”

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be about a person,” she explains. “It can just be about a moment. I would say all of the songs on the record are love songs but in their own way. Everyone feels it, and everyone can connect with that.” Reynolds spoke to MTV News about capturing Mood Ring, working with Illuminati Hotties’s Sarah Tudzin, the state of live music, and more.

MTV News: What were some of the inspiration points behind this album?

Zoe Reynolds: I was listening to a lot of Lorde, Chvrches, Liz Phair has always been a big inspiration for me, Michelle Branch, Kacey Musgraves, and a lot of Bruce Springsteen. There’s actually a couple Bruce Springsteen references on the record. In “We’re So in Tune,” there is a line that’s from “I’m on Fire” (“I’ve got a bad desire”). For “We’re So in Tune,” I was inspired by Bruce Springsteen because I had passed by this mechanic shop, and it had a sign outside that said “get in tune.” I just was like, I want to write a song about this, and my brain went to that video for “I’m on Fire” where he’s in the mechanic shop. I wanted to dig into that vibe with that opener track.

MTV News: You worked with Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties, who also produced the latest Pom Pom Squad album, on “Around Your Room” and “We’re So in Tune.” What was that like?

Reynolds: It was so nice working together. We come from a very similar music community and part of the DIY scene. My manager at the time became friends with her managers, and they were talking about Sarah starting to get in the studio and write songs with people more often. I was like, I would love to write with her! That sounds so fun! She really brought out two of my favorite songs on the record. She’s amazing. She definitely is a wizard of some sort. Working on those songs was awesome. I was kind of struggling with the record at the beginning, and once I got in the studio with Sarah, it made me understand what direction I was going in. She had a big impact on it, and she’s been doing a lot of great stuff, so I’m very proud of her.

MTV News: For this record, you signed with Triple Crown, a prominent, heavily emo label. Do you incorporate emo touchstones into your music, as well?

Reynolds: Absolutely. I still call myself an emo band sometimes. I know it doesn’t sound like emo music, but something I’ve been on a kick with is: Emo is really whatever you want it to be. All music can be emo music in its own way. I definitely grew up in the emo scene, and that’s part of my introduction to DIY and my introduction to playing music. We’ve toured with a lot of emo bands, so we’ve definitely gotten ourselves in this sort of little niche emo corner. It definitely makes sense to do it with Triple Crown. Fred [Feldman], who runs Triple Crown, helped me release my last record, Sunset Blush. I was supposed to put it out on another label, and a bunch of stuff fell through, and he came through and helped me release that record. There are a lot of friends on Triple Crown as well. I’m definitely a little bit of a funny fit for them, but it also makes a lot of sense.

I was like, I’m gonna write this record, so I’m not writing an emo record. I wanna write a pop record, and I wanna make it a happy record. But then I wrote it, and I started showing it to people, and they were like, “You said this was happy. This is heartbreaking.” I mean, if you don’t listen to the lyrics, then you wouldn’t know!

MTV News: How do you feel about going on tour and the state of live music right now? Are you nervous? Are you cautiously optimistic?

Reynolds: I think I’m a good combination of both. I am just so excited to play these songs and share them with people and see our fans. I feel like there is a little bit of anxiety there, but it’s more overtaken by the excitement of being able to do it. I think the anxiety is less about performing these songs and more about coming out of the pandemic and being around a lot of people and also wanting to be sure that people are safe at the shows. I went to a show last night just to test the waters for myself, and I had a lot of fun, but I was definitely very nervous just pulling up to it. Like, “There’s people in line for this?” It ended up being a very good night.

MTV News: How do you think your new music will translate to a live setting?

Reynolds: I’m still finding out, and I’m a little nervous about it. Our sound is so much different now that I just don’t even know what to expect from how people in the audience will react to it. I think that people are going to have a lot more fun. I wrote this record because I know that I write very sad songs, and I would look out in the crowd and see people hugging each other and crying. I was like, no! This is not the emotion that I’m trying to make people feel when they go to a show.  I wanna write songs that are gonna make people who like to cry also want to dance. I’m hoping that goes over how I’m planning. I’m hoping people will be able to get in their feelings and also dance them out and have fun. I think that’s what everyone needs after this terrible year.