Creative Space is a series dedicated to exploring the relationships between physical and temporal space and how those relate to an artist’s creative process.
We recently got the chance to chat to Abby Hwong, who you might know as NoSo. NoSo has recently released new music via Partisan records, which lyrically grapple with shaped identities and repressed memories of growing up in suburbia. As an artist shaped by the environments they take in, we sat down with NoSo to chat about the creative spaces that have impacted their songwriting, past and present, and how those spaces may have shaped who they are as an artist today. Read on for our conversation, accompanied by photographs by Bella Porter, which Abby contextualizes below:
I was subleasing my friend Mallory’s apartment for the month of October and it was a very meditative experience. It was my first time ever living alone, and I was surrounded by gear (an original fender rhodes, wurly, a felt piano, drum set, space echo, etc.). I wrote songs I would’ve never made otherwise had I not stayed in that space. Being alone sitting with my thoughts all day and confronting them brought up a lot of childhood memories and issues I’ve been fighting to keep boxed up, and the new instruments to play with inspired me to bring it all to fruition.
Slumber: One of your singles from your new release is titled “Suburbia”. How would you describe your relationship to the suburbia that you sing about?
Abby Hwong: My relationship with the suburb I grew up in is bittersweet. I romanticized it for a long time, but when I last visited 7 years ago, it didn’t feel like home anymore. It was homogenous, predominately white, heteronormative, and I never felt entirely welcome. I had a very nice group of friends who kept me sane, but there were certainly a lot of traumatic social experiences in that town (being bullied for my ethnicity and budding sexuality) I repressed until very recently.
Slumber: Is suburbia a specific physical place to you? Or a specific time? Or mindset? Or a combination?
Abby: I think it’s a combination. Any time I feel like I’m diluting parts of my identity in order to conform to a robotic environment/situation.
Slumber: Can you describe some of the places you wrote or recorded the tracks for the upcoming release?
Abby: I largely wrote and recorded it in my bedroom at a condo where I lived with my parents during the height of the COVID quarantine regulations. Everyone was working from home, I’d record vocals when they went to the grocery store (or even if they were in the next room over and I’d request silence from them for 20 minutes lol). Now typing this out I realize how truly insane that process was. I think I can write/record anywhere after that.
Slumber: In general, do you write in the same place or room or does the location vary?
Abby: New locations inspire me greatly – even if I just move to a different part of an apartment/house. I like to write songs in the bathroom for acoustics and I’m trying to feel more comfortable writing outside.
Slumber: How have your previous creative spaces differed from your current one?
Abby: I’ve been subleasing different places and that’s helped me get out of songwriting ruts too. I lived alone for the first time and those songs were darker and more mature than anything I’d written before because I was ruminating with my thoughts all day. I’m currently living in a house with four other lovely people where we have roundtable discussions about our lives and it’s been a very cathartic experience too. I usually shame myself in my songs – but lately I’m being much more kind and understanding to myself in them.
Slumber: Is your current creative space dedicated to your practice? Or is it an area you use for other things as well?
Abby: I like to keep several different hobbies and parts of my life in my creative space – any time I feel like something is all-encompassing, I get overwhelmed. I’ve been learning Korean on my own for the past few years so I have a bucket of flashcards in one corner, my sketchbooks and collection of pens, a folder from a songwriting program I did at age 16, a card my grandma painted for me, and a full bleed, enormous film photo of my dad I did for a college course on my desk. It’s like they’re reminders of who I am so I don’t lose track of myself while writing.
“I usually shame myself in my songs – but lately I’m being much more kind and understanding to myself in them.”
Slumber: Are there any objects that you need present in a creative space in order to work?
Abby: At minimum, a guitar and a reverb pedal. I have way too many guitars and gear, sometimes I get hindered by the infinite possibilities. It’s fun to turn knobs and tweak but when I strip it to the bare minimum, I usually get my stronger songs out of it.
Slumber: What is more conducive to creative writing for you, a small intimate space or a larger space with more room to move and work with?
Abby: SMALL INTIMATE SPACE!!!!! I find huge professional studios to be a little sterile and uninspiring. Down the line, I dream of renting a house in a different country and writing/recording all over the space, but for now I’m very much content being in a single room with some gear.
Slumber: Do you prefer your creative spaces to be clean and orderly or more wild and messy?
Abby: A healthy mix of both – definitely no laundry or mess on the ground but a spotless desk makes me feel weird too. There needs to be some personality.
“Down the line, I dream of renting a house in a different country and writing/recording all over the space, but for now I’m very much content being in a single room with some gear.”
Slumber: Would you describe your writing process as precise and methodical or organic and free flowing?
Abby: I think songwriting/producing is stream of consciousness and free-flowing, but when I listen back with fresh ears it’s much more methodical so I can remove the really raw parts that weren’t tight enough.
Slumber: Is there a time of day that you prefer for writing?
Abby: NIGHT TIME!!!! My songs during the day are more beachy and summery, also just high-energy because I’m caffeinated. Moody songs at night.
Slumber: If this album was a time of day, what time of day would it be?
Abby: The first half is golden hour, the second half is like a 2:02 am fever dream where you’re in REM and sweaty.
Slumber: What is your favorite object in your current creative space?
Abby: Honestly, my tiny stuffed animals. I have an eeyore my sibling gave me for Christmas years ago that sits on one of my monitors, and a stuffed animal tangerine with a smiley face that sits on my stack of Benson amps.
Slumber: Do you set your space up in any particular way before sitting down to write or record?
Abby: Nope. I set and forget.
Slumber: Do you have any rituals before creating?
Abby: I need to eat a good meal before or I’ll be too crabby, and I need to chug water the entire time.
Slumber: What does your creative space smell like?
Abby: Probably not great to be perfectly honest. I should invest in some candles.
Have a listen to NoSo’s latest single “Honey Understand” below, via Partisan Records: