"You might as well live in the real world," Alyssa Gengos repeats like a mantra on "In the Real World," a dreamy, glimmering acceptance anthem built around a line from a Dorothy Parker poem. "Don’t you think it’s alright in the real world?" At times, it almost sounds like she's pitching the endeavor to herself.
"The general meaning of the song is kinda like the phrase 'that's life,'" the LA-based singer and producer explains. "It’s a reminder to myself and anyone who listens that life is life; you can’t control the way things happen or the way people react to your actions. You can only control yourself and your own actions. It’s an almost-cheesy motivational message, but that’s the point," she adds. "It’s fun for me to slip into cliches once in a while."
"In the Real World" builds toward a blissed-out bridge containing this instantly iconic address: "And to my old lover / Don’t miss who you are / Just want your guitar." But this isn't really a grudge song—it's an I'm-going-keep-living-my-life song. The music video plays into that carefree vibe, showing Gengos and friends eating and drinking and dancing their way through Copenhagen.
Gengos considers this the "poppiest" song on her forthcoming record Mechanical Sweetness, which makes sense given its prominent synths and gliding melodies. But her vocals—cool, distant, knowing—carry the song, just as her vocals carry previous singles. Check out "In the Real World" and read a Q&A with Gengos below.
Mechanical Sweetness is out February 25 via Egghunt Records—you can pre-order it here.
When and where did you write the songs on Mechanical Sweetness?
Most of the songs were written in my apartment in LA, but a few date back to my time living in New York. I suppose they were all written between 2019 and 2020. I write best when I’m alone in my bedroom. Solitude is very important for me in the recording process, too. I recorded everything (except for the drums) by myself in my living room.
How did "In the Real World" come together?
I had recently gotten a Juno-106 synthesizer, and wanted to lean into the ’80s sounds. I was listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren at the time, and was trying to write a classic pop song in that ’70s style. I wrote most (if not all) of the instrumental before the melody or lyrics, which is rare for me—usually I write them simultaneously, or write the melody and lyrics first. I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom just ad-libbing to the instrumental while it played off my laptop speakers. I had pulled some books off my shelf for inspiration: one was about ’80s fashion fabric, and the other was a Dorothy Parker biography I found on the stoop of a brownstone in New York, titled You Might as Well Live after a line in one of her poems. That became the chorus.
What was the vision for the music video?
I tried to capture the feeling of stepping out during the middle of a party or house show at the end of “In the Real World,” which kickstarted the brainstorming for this video. Right around the time I planned to shoot it, I booked a last-minute trip to Copenhagen, where I lived in 2019. I hadn’t been back since then, and I thought that the trip would be the perfect opportunity to capture a diary-like record of whatever I got up to with my friends in the city. It’s sort of a parody of a tour diary. My friend Philip Hededam helped me direct and shoot the video, and he was on the exact same page as me in terms of what I wanted it to look like.
What are some recent musical influences?
While writing the songs, my heavy rotation consisted of The Mamas and the Papas, Melody’s Echo Chamber, The Supremes, Weyes Blood, Lana Del Rey, and The 5th Dimension. I definitely took influence from all of them. I wanted to focus more on my voice than I ever have before, so I learned a lot from those artists. I also had the ever-present influence of The Beatles and The Beach Boys in terms of melody and instrumentation. I don’t know how much these influences came through to the outside listener, but they’re there for me.
How does your 2019 album Cut Through compare to Mechanical Sweetness?
Cut Through was sorta like a hairball I had to cough up—I’m really proud of those songs, but they all came out pretty quickly and I didn’t overthink them at all. Overthinking is what gets me to realize my best ideas, even if it drives me insane. I spent a lot more time writing the songs on Mechanical Sweetness, and let them unfold naturally throughout a long period of time. I also experimented with a lot more synth sounds on Mechanical Sweetness, and taught myself more about drums. Even though a lot of drums on the album were recorded live, I wrote all the parts digitally.
Cut Through was much more of a “relationship album” than Mechanical Sweetness. Most of the songs were about the relationship I was in at the time, and how it took a toll on me. Mechanical Sweetness is a self-reflective, solitary journey. It was greatly inspired by my return to my hometown of LA. I think I’m a lot more mature and confident now—wiser, even—and that comes through in the lyrics. I also wanted to be more playful and explorative with these lyrics, dipping into the imaginary and the surreal.