Elizabeth Nistico is skilled at making pop music with an honest and melancholic underbelly despite the neon-lit compositions she sings to—such was the case as being part of the duo HOLYCHILD. Now, under the moniker Revenge Wife, Nistico still makes effervescent synth-pop with newfound vulnerability. Her first single “Earthquake” captures how personal relationships that collapse can feel just as disastrous as real tectonic shifts, all while making heartbreak seem as light as cotton candy.
Over a blithe collection of ’80s synths, Nistico crafts a perfect beat for an aerobics class as she sings about unreciprocated love. “If you felt an earthquake / Would you think about me? / Wonder if my world is shaking / Are you sorry?” she sings on the chorus. The disconnect between the melody’s buoyancy, Nistico’s near-monotone delivery, and the fraught lyrics leave an eerie aftertaste, possibly, because Revenge Wife is painstakingly aware that this intense emotion won’t be returned. Nistico reveals that it’s a “really honest break up song. I was just hoping for a catastrophe (aforementioned earthquake, car crash) so I could contact my ex, but…I wrote this song instead.” She also revealed on Instagram last week that this song “feels like so many parts of my past coming in to meet who I am now.”
Revenge Wife is a liberating chapter for Nistico; it’s an outlet for her to reconcile unresolved trauma, which includes the misogyny and abuse of the music industry. In a letter to her past self, which she generously shares with us, Nistico details both familial and career obstacles she’s overcome.
“Earthquake” is one of four tracks from the forthcoming Background Songs for Your Boring Life, Part I EP. Listen and read the letter below.
It’s me, at 1:18 pm on February 10, in the cabin on the island in Maine. It’s sunny out but that’s deceptive, I know it’s 20 degrees or maybe less. John says I always exaggerate about the temperature—hyperbolize. So what if I do!
I always think of writing a song about my whole life. Like, “born in the same hospital as my mom and grandma, first generation American girl! Dad beat mom then he moved to Saudi Arabia woo-oo-oo.” Right about here is when I think it won’t fit in three minutes. Then maybe I’ll turn it into an album. What is a song anyway? They’re all just fragments of who I am, what I’m dealing with in a certain moment.
And now.. I’m on the precipice of change. I must be. Because my song Earthquake is almost out and that means I’m one step closer to embarking on my life as REVENGE WIFE! Did you ever think you’d be here?
It feels like this moment, right now, is something I’ve dreamed of for the past few years. Feeling free, without a label, making music that can be all mine. Not that it’s not a collaboration still (especially on Earthquake, Ceci and Ryder were so instrumental), but I was making the choices. In the past, at a certain point, the people around me made me feel like my choices were too emotional or too spiritual and not based in “market research” (kill me). I can’t believe I am about to start releasing the Revenge Wife music into the world because I didn’t feel capable of this.
I thought maybe I was destined to repeat my family’s trauma. Maybe abuse was so normal and that’s what I deserved. When I broke up with ____ and my dad was driving on the highway and he asked why, I was so forceful when I answered “Because he hit me. He fractured my hand.” I wanted my dad to know what it feels like to see a daughter abused. I don’t know what the impact was.
We’re at the place in our culture where “woke bros” run rampant. These are guys that seem nice, but perpetuate the oppression of women. I had these guys around me so much I can’t even believe I escaped. It was the ex-boyfriend so jealous I wasn’t allowed to talk to waiters. It was the old white business executive who didn’t want HOLYCHILD to release Bathroom Bitch (a sex anthem), or worse Carmelo (about me being sexually assaulted) because, and I quote, “the ‘me too’ movement is only happening in the film industry.” It’s the way a man in his 50s, trying to sign HOLYCHILD years ago, got me alone to ask me how I feel “when people look at me.” It’s the way I barely see female producers (shout out to badass woman Ceci G, co-producer of Earthquake). It’s the way I was told I was so incapable without the men around me and then exploited. My voice, my body.. but mostly my messages were exploited.
I’m surprised I’m here today, releasing a song because I wanted to give up.
I had an A&R who told my bandmate he looked at my vagina (up my skirt). After we told the label, I kid you not, this fucking guy looked at me during the most uncomfortable lunch and told me “you could have gotten me fired.” I seriously think he was expecting me to apologize to him.
I had a music executive tell me constantly about how I should or should not portray my body. One time, he was talking about a female artist I should be more like, I remember him saying, “Now she’s sexy. Sexier than you.” I was so confused sitting in his office and.. I was 25 then. What did he want from me? He used to tell me if I didn’t write better songs I would be a YouTuber. “Did I want that?” I don’t know why he hated Youtubers so much.
Earthquake isn’t about any of this. It’s just pure expression, but on the eve of its release, I’m still in disbelief. I want to remind myself I’m worth it! I got here!!
So, Liz, I’m writing this to remind you of the past 8 years and to show you how special it is that we’re here, and free, and I’m doing this my way. With my team and by my decisions.
Love love love,