JBL Emerging Interview: YOUR ANGEL on A Star In The Headlights

In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, L.A-based singer, songwriter and producer YOUR ANGEL delves into the meaning behind her new album, A Star in the Headlights, and reveals how her music reflects the beauty and horror of trying to make it in L.A.

YOUR ANGEL always knew she wanted to sing. “I was known in Santa Fe (because it’s a small town) as ‘Maddy, the girl who's gonna go try and be a famous musician,’” says the singer-songwriter from L.A, which she now calls home after moving there aged 18 to pursue her longtime ambition.

“I was ready to get the heck out of Santa Fe!” laughs Maddy Boyd, the real name behind her YOUR ANGEL persona. “I have known that I was going to pursue music as a career since I was like a little kid. I was constantly begging my parents to let me audition for Camp Rock. Thank God they didn't! 

"I was constantly trying to get out of Santa Fe to do music because there really was no music scene there. The extent of my performance experience in Santa Fe was busking on the sidewalk outside of Starbucks and doing open mics.”

I've felt profoundly unseen my entire life and misunderstood.

Boyd wasted no time when she reached L.A, diving headfirst into touring with indie rock bands like Current Joys and Surf Curse – at once an exciting and dark time for the young singer-songwriter. In 2019 she left those bands to pursue her ethereal pop persona, YOUR ANGEL.

“I knew I wanted to use the word angel because when I think about putting music out, I'm always specifically thinking about teenagers for some reason, because teens love what they love so much,” Boyd explains on her artist name. “Those teens are always going to be your most loyal followers. There's just something about teenagers and music – specifically from small towns – where there’s not a lot going on, but those teens have music. I think it’s extremely powerful and beautiful. 

"I know when I was that age, music felt like it was watching over me; I always turned to music when I wasn't doing well, or when I was bored, or really in any context. I think a lot of kids in small towns feel that way, so I knew I wanted to use the word angel to show I was watching over people, like being people's personal guardian angel. I’m someone they can turn to and feel seen by. Really, the reason I always wanted to pursue music as a career path is because I've felt profoundly unseen my entire life, and misunderstood.”

A Star in the Headlights is Boyd’s second album, following on from her debut, Pipe Dream. Her second effort sees YOUR ANGEL fearlessly coming into her own as an artist. The 11-track LP is the product of years of experimentation and introspection, both in her work and in her personal life. Over cinematic indie-pop soundscapes, she delivers razor-sharp lyricism with dreamy nostalgia that captures her journey of self-discovery. For Boyd, it’s all about being authentic about the ups and downs of life:

“I can be somewhat stoic,” she says, elaborating that she’s an Aquarius. “I can be a little cut off, emotionally. I'm very logical, very sensitive and outwardly can be somewhat in survival mode. Music is the only place where I can properly be honest about how I'm feeling about things. 

"Everybody has ugly thoughts and intrusive thoughts, and that is a way to make people feel seen and watch over people: by being vulnerable. People can understand that they're not unique in these feelings and that they don't have to be ashamed.”

I was known in Santa Fe as Maddy, the girl who's gonna go try and be a famous musician.

A Star In The Headlights sees Boyd longing for something more and the journey to find that something. The album explores the feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, jealousy and weakness that Boyd felt while on her own transformative path. For inspiration, she drew from her childhood favourites Britney Spears, Dido, Portishead and Timbaland, inviting the listener to sink into that feeling of nostalgia while she reflects on a tumultuous time in her own life.

“When you’re in your early 20s, a lot happens in two years,” she says on the reason she sat on the finished album for a few years before releasing it. “So for two years to go by and still be sitting in these old feelings, I felt like I couldn't release it from my body yet. When you let go of a project, you also release your emotions that go with it. In those two years, I got sober and I did a lot of work on myself. I'm a very different person than I was when I was making those songs.”

A Star In The Headlights sees Boyd take a long hard look at her younger self and the decisions she made when she first moved to L.A. With some space between the way she was living then and the more grounded person she is today, she can reflect with more clarity on her experiences and the way she processes emotions now.

“This album sounds like a breakup album or an album about a relationship, and in some ways, it kind of is,” she considers. “Relationships become a mirror in a lot of ways and I think that's what I was going through with this record, just being faced with some of my own BS. 

"My childhood was not easy and I had a lot of trauma leaving New Mexico; it's very rare that people get out of my small town and if you do, it's kind of a big deal. Everyone calls it the land of entrapment because no one ever really gets out. When I got to L.A I was still hearing about friends passing away and bad shit happening back home, and I was like, ‘Just because I live in a different place doesn't mean all of these things don't affect me.’”

I wanted to use the word angel to show I was watching over people, like being people's personal guardian angel.

In order to cope and separate herself from her hometown, Boyd started to think of her New Mexico self as a different person from her L.A persona.

“I essentially cut myself off from New Mexico and started talking about myself in New Mexico like it was a different person,” she nods. “In my head I'd contextualised it as a different human being. I thought talking about bad things that had happened to me was the same thing as processing it, and it's absolutely not. I was disconnected from myself. 

"When I was writing this album it was before I was really ready to face the music; this album was it all coming to the surface. I was touring loads, making a lot of money and partying really hard. I was in the thick of it. From the outside, I was living the dream. But I was so young and had so much underneath the surface that I was letting build up and it just all came to a head with this record.”

The album’s main single, STAR tells a story about the beauty and horror of trying to make it in L.A, complimented by a cinematic music video that leans into the best and the worst of the city’s tropes, while acknowledging the bravery and cruelty of Boyd’s pursuit to make it. To find the right balance of “gorgeous and grotesque” and to explore the beauty and heartbreak in a pursuit of something bigger, Boyd looked at films like Showgirls, Paris, Texas and Casino.

“The song is about a girl fighting really hard to make it, and it's not happening. It’s about how soul crushing it can be,” she explains. “It's not for the faint hearted – pursuing music. It's really fucking hard. You have to be okay with working really hard for a really long time and seeing nothing in return. 

"And the truth of it is, there are a lot of talented people in the world – it doesn't mean you're gonna make it,” she shrugs. “You have to be able to outwork everybody around you and be a good person that people want to work with – and also get lucky.”

Boyd is an independent artist, and carries the weight of all that comes with that in order to accomplish her goal. She’s refreshing honest about the highs and lows:

“There's a lot of factors besides just making good music that come into play,” she says. “I cry every night just because I am fighting so hard, and so are so many other people. When it's music, it’s your darkest feelings that you're shoving into the world and it's very personal. It's an intense experience, so we tried to show that in the STAR music video, that it’s like getting beat down over and over and getting back up while asking ‘Why isn't this happening for me?’”

It’s not all doom and gloom though – Boyd acknowledges that it’s also an exciting time to be an independent artist, despite the fact there are so many singer-songwriters trying to break through the noise:

“I feel like the power is somewhat back in the artist's hands because of the internet, but because of that, it's extremely oversaturated,” she notes. “There's a lot of music out there. I think what sets me apart is the visual world of my music. I write and produce it alone and then take it to other people to do extra stuff. But truly making music by myself with no filter allows me to explore things and be honest in a way that I don't think you could with someone else in the room. I think that adds a layer of uniqueness. 

"But also the visual world that YOUR ANGEL lives in is very important to me. I put a lot of effort into building the visual world that this music lives in and what makes this project special is that it is a world that you step into. It's not just me putting music out. It's its own little universe that I'm trying to create.”

it's very rare that people get out of my small town and if you do, it's kind of a big deal.

When YOUR ANGEL takes to the stage these days, she’s using a JBL EON ONE Compact portable PA with a professional-grade mixer, which she relies on for gigging.

“Touring is really amazing. I truly love it,” she smiles. “This is the first PA I've started using and it's honestly been so amazing because my band plays with in-ear monitors, so essentially we can practise wherever there's a drum kit. It's really hard to fully practise when you can't feel the full sound in the room. It has four inputs and because we play to track, we can feel the vibration of it and practice in the context of actually playing live. It's been a really sick thing to bring around to places and not having to pay for a rehearsal place.

“Especially for independent artists who are on a budget, this really opens doors because renting out practice spaces can break the bank a little bit, especially if you're hiring a new band and they need to learn a lot of songs,” she elaborates.

“That takes hours, and that's a lot of money to spend at a practice space. Being able to essentially have your own practice space at your house is huge. That's a really big deal, especially for people who are starting out. You can really bring it anywhere – it's compact and kind of a no brainer!”

Being an independent artist, YOUR ANGEL doesn’t tour or gig with a big team, so an easy set up and intuitive functionality is crucial for a seamless set:

“It was so easy! You literally just plug it into the wall. It's so simple and it's such a fun thing to be able to throw house shows or practise it anywhere. It would be really great for playing acoustic sets too,” she notes. “I've always wanted my own PA system and to have a portable one is so cool.

“Also it sounds so good,” she enthuses. “And it can get loud – it fills the room! Being able to practise with it makes me feel more comfortable getting on stage too because we can find our mixes before we go to soundcheck. Especially if you’re an opening act, your sound checks usually get cut short so you have to be able to act on your feet and you need to come as prepared as you possibly can. This has helped us be able to do that.”

my jbl PA makes me more comfortable on stage because we can find our mixes before we soundcheck.

With A Star in the Headlights reflecting on a younger version of herself, Boyd reveals she is already working on her next album, giving an insight into the next iteration of YOUR ANGEL.

“There will be new music this summer; I’m always putting stuff out there very consistently,” she shares. “You can definitely expect more visuals and more music from me, and hopefully a tour. I’m manifesting,” she grins. “I’m hoping that somebody will take me on tour with them.

“I'm already eight songs into another album, working on music that is way sicker than A Star in the Headlights, and I think that's how it always should be. You should always be on to the next and feeling like what you're doing now is cooler than what you've done before.”