Betty Moon is a Canadian rock songwriter who first debuted in 1991. Signed to A&M Records, she had a brief stint in the spotlight in the wake of her first album, Betty Moon. She toured North America, received radio airplay and even opened for Pink Floyd. Just a year later, however, Moon lost her contract when PolyGram bought A&M. Nevertheless, Moon was ambitious, determined and too inspired to quit, so she started her own record label and continued releasing music, eventually building a cult following. Now, on July 31, Moon is releasing a new album, Little Miss Hollywood, via her label Evolver Music.
Weathered by the ups and downs of her career, Moon has come into a place where she finally has the strength, experience and freedom necessary to perfectly execute her artistic visions. A callback to the full-blooded rock sound of her early releases, Little Miss Hollywood is a record that emits attitude and power. Last week, American Songwriter caught up with Moon to discuss the new record, what it’s like to be a label owner and her approach to writing songs that are authentic and genuine.
Tell our readers about this EP — when did you start working on it? What inspired it?
I started working on it several years ago. Even after the release, it kept morphing and ‘evolving’ and is now a full-length album called Little Miss Hollywood. It’s a collection of songs that are inspired by a variety of situations, people and places around Los Angeles with a specific attitude and trajectory that I found to be interesting and amusing enough to write about. Essentially, they are stories about life in Hollywood told through my eyes and with a bit of fantasy… especially since people outside of California are so enamored with the culture and have mixed ideas of what it’s really like to be here. At one point I considered myself ‘Little Miss Hollywood,’ and partied like it was February 2020. The private parties that would go on for days, the venues and other events that went into some wild crazy experiences are all things I can reference and continue to reflect on. Because of our current climate and state of affairs, I’m not sure history could ever repeat what went down in the 90s. And not that you’d want to really.
What can you tell us about the instrumentation and arrangement of this EP? Why did you choose to go in more of a rock direction?
Rock is really engraved in my heart and soul. It is the music that propelled me into being expressive and unhinged, yet be somewhat cohesive with my lyrics. I explored pop music as much as I did because it was challenging and interesting to try and work within certain ‘pop’ parameters. At the time, I had A&R people influencing my direction, but I became more independent as I journeyed out on my own. This new album is clearly music that has no rules, outside influence or boundaries and that’s when I am at my best and being true to myself, and most importantly proud of the music I’m putting out.
Tell us about your approach to songwriting — where do songs start for you? How do you approach arranging them?
I tend to keep things simple when ideating songs. I could be outside on my acoustic or indoors on the piano. You can’t force inspiration, so I try not to pressure myself and just have fun messing around with ideas. When something feels like it could stick, I head to my home studio and lay down quick ideas to make sure I don’t forget. At certain points, I bring in members of my band and studio team to help with drums, guitar, bass and mixing from time to time. I handle all the production and bring in the outside help to really bring things together with fresh ears. The process is almost always organic but as it moves along it can become laborious, as creatives second guess themselves and make revisions, sometimes removing flaws that give it personality, etc. I am always about keeping it real and confident.
At what point in the process do you begin recording ideas?
I recorded ideas from start to finish during the process, even if it’s recorded via voice memo on my phone while stopped at a stoplight, or at home on my acoustic guitar or on the piano. I try to take all the ideas and start laying them down ‘professionally’ in ProTools and do my best to finish the song quickly. Losing momentum is a musician’s worst enemy right? My approach has always been to find a chorus that I find somewhat interesting and hooky. Once I find the chorus, it’s just a matter of unraveling the story via the verses and making them lead up to that chorus in an interesting way.
I use a method of ‘tracking and stacking’ — especially with the vocals — so that during the mix you can start your process of elimination. It’s better to get any and all ideas on paper first lyrically and have more verses written than required, then you can work backward or even add more layers at the end if needed. I always regret those moments when I am like ‘what was that cool lead I thought of last week?’ I do my best to get everything tracked so that moment in time isn’t lost.
Tell us about what it’s been like to own and operate a label for as long as you have — what freedoms does that give you? Does it have its downsides?
Operating a label generally keeps my approach to music fresh and somewhat current. I meet a lot of artists and appreciate every artist’s contribution and various approaches to songwriting. I want to continue to grow and learn and the only way to do that is to keep an open mind and an open heart. I love hearing other perspectives and find it interesting to continue to write and record relevant music ideas, via collaborations with various other songwriters and musicians.
Having a label is a double-edged sword. In one way, it’s been liberating because I never have to conform to what someone else wants me to sound like. Not being at the mercy of an A&R or a controlling producer is liberating, because I’m the boss and I’ve developed my own sense of what I like to hear in an arrangement or mix. I think it’s also a little alienating though because people find you to be intangible and unapproachable which is really not the case. It’s been an observation by myself and my colleagues to notice how these record execs like younger, naïve individuals who will do what they’re told, sign, work, tour, not realizing that they have to be audioslaves and pay a high price for their fifteen minutes of fame. The business of music can sometimes create an unwelcome wedge in the situation which is unfortunate. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed running my label, working harmoniously with numerous other writers and musicians alike. I’ve always tried my best to be fair and giving especially when I see how hard people work to achieve certain goals.
You’ve been releasing music and evolving as an artist since the early 1990s — how does writing/performing music today feel different or the same as back then? Both on a technical/logistical level (i.e. how you record, how you release records) and on an emotional level (does it give you the same thrill?)
To start out, I think that I am much more comfortable, confident, competent and seasoned than I was in the early 90s. Back then if you were a female doing alternative rock you were carrying a fridge up a mountain. The refrigerator seems to have gotten much lighter, yes. I also don’t compete with anyone anymore other than myself. The trajectory I have focused on is simple: get better and better at writing concise ideas that flow well and have impact.
Songwriting is always challenging for so many reasons. For one, you don’t want to keep repeating yourself. Two, while you may want your songs to resonate with people, you also want to find creative ways to express your ideas lyrically that are not trite and are really thought-provoking and entertaining. Therefore, it can be challenging even at the best of times. The equipment you work with are just tools to help get you the results you are looking for.
Listen to “Little Miss Hollywood” by Betty Moon below: