Deli Magazine


Interview with Photocomfort

- by Lilly Milman, photo by Andrew Janjigian


How did you decide on the name Photocomfort for your solo project?

I've always been obsessed with vocab  just choosing really intricate words. And I think that the joy of poetry, and therefore also songwriting, is creating entirely new expressions from words that have always been there. I made a bunch of fake compound words, back when I was working on this a lot. I tried them out with my friends, and tried to get them to catch on and none of them did. But that's basically what this was.


At the time, I was thinking about 'photocomfort' as that place that you retreat to within yourself, hopefully that everyone can have or access, that is filled with positive or nostalgic imagery.


If I understand correctly, Photocomfort used to be a three-piece band. 

It's gone through lots and lots of iterations. Maybe not lots and lots. It's gone through a number of iterations. So, it's always been my project. I did co-write and have a writing partner, Gabe Goodman, for a while. He has since gone onto other projects and remains my best friend in the whole world.


Can you walk me through all of the lineup changes that the project has gone through, and how it returned to being a solo project.


It was my project and I've always worked in close collaboration with other people previously. So, the first collaborator I had was an old friend who had a studio in my hometown. He introduced me to the art and the joy of recording, and then I took that and ran with it. Then I went on tour, and I met Gabe and it was a really good fit. But he was ready to move to a different city and pursue a new thing, and so I said, "Fly, you sweet child." At this point, I would say it's still my own project, but I play with a full band. I just wanted to be clear about that. The show is still band-driven, even though it's my project.


You’ve also been a member of a few other projects – can you talk about making the decision to focus on your solo work?


I love to work with people whose vision I feel has a lot of promise and they just need a hand articulating it, or need a second set of eyes or ears  usually on production work, but lots of times it'll come down to songwriting and arranging. I have started to work pretty closely with a couple good friends. Sam Moss is one of them, he's a musician here in Boston. He's an amazing folk songwriter and a beautiful guitar player, so I did a lot of work on his record. I play in his band. Then there is my dear friend Anjimile, whom I sing and play with a bunch.


It's just an amazingly different exercise for me because when it's my own project, I am all caught up in the details. Sometimes it feels hard to fly above it and be like, "Well, maybe we can try something different. Maybe we can try this." That's always a challenge when it's your own project, but it's a lovely thing to work with someone who's open and looking for direction. That's something I've been focusing on a lot.


Can you speak about making the decision to release such a vulnerable set of songs?


I would actually say that it's almost easier to write songs from the moment of struggle as opposed to when you've come out the other side. Coming out the other side doesn't always result in music. But I think for a lot of people  and I know that I'm not alone in this — writing songs is therapy. For me, certainly recording songs is therapy and producing them is therapy. I mean, that's how I worked through those moments.


No, I'm not afraid to be vulnerable. Writing songs is inherently vulnerable. What I really wanted to get at with this record is that there is still a lot of beauty and humor in being vulnerable, and in having no idea what the fuck you're doing, and in feeling alienated. It's a pretty comical endeavor to try to be a normal human in a world and get out of your head. I try to make jokes about it and basically put them to music, while also being sincere.


Can you talk about how you made the stylistic decisions regarding the production of the EP? Did you have a general idea of how you wanted it to sound, or was it a lot of reworking and playing around with the songs?


This was the first EP  or rather, really my first release  where I felt like the process resulted in the thing that I was hoping for. I think that that happens to a lot of young artists, is that they can't articulate the thing they want. Can't articulate it, hate the thing, make it, release it, and then never want to listen to it again. This is the opposite of that and I'm still so proud of it. I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that I had a relatively clear vision and relatively hard-and-fast demos, but then I brought in some close friends whose process I was familiar with. Those are my buddies in the band Caroll, Brian and Max.


It would just be like they weren't gonna force anything. If I did a vocal take and the first vocal take was good, they'd be like "Oh, great. We're done recording vocals." Whereas every other experience that I would have in the studio would be like, "Okay, let's do 20 more takes." I didn't comp the vocals, which is something that usually happens. I didn't comp them too much, which means I'm not selecting one phrase from one take and then one word from another take. It's mostly full passes at verses, which is I think a little bit unusual but it was just true to the moment. That's what came out at that time, in that place. And they were like "Great. Let's roll with it." I think that they're also really good at creating sounds that other people wouldn't make. They taught me a lot. For instance, when you hear a certain instrument in these songs, I think it's hard to tell what that instrument is. I think that's cool. Is it a guitar? Is it a synth? What is happening? And I think that that is fun. 


I also want to talk about you and Gillian Jacobs. What was it like discovering your twin?


I had seen Community, which was before Love, and her character isn't anything like me. Then I saw her in Love and we, in a lot of ways, seemed really similar. We talk the same, we make the same jokes, we wear the same clothes. She dyed her hair a little darker. Then it was me. I can't stress this enough. My mom went to see that Mike Birbiglia movie that she was in [Don't Think Twice.] She knew it was an indie movie, and she was like, "Wow, Justine didn't tell me that she was doing acting again." She didn't realize that it was a big movie and she  my mother  thought it was me. I can't remember, but I hope there were no sex scenes in that movie. Anyway, it was super surreal. I just wasn't doing great and yet there I am watching myself on TV also making bad decisions. I don't know if it gave me perspective or totally messed me up, to be honest with you. I think life is better when I'm not watching her.


Do you think that living in New England influences your music – whether it be lyrically, sonically, performance-wise?


All the time. I am pretty married to New England, pretty married to Boston. I think there are a lot of challenges around being here and around making music and around getting people to hear it. It's a complex picture and I don't really know why that is. Maybe a lot of that has to do with our proximity to New York and there being a serious drain on people. I have always wanted to stay and stick it out, and do what I can to make it better here, do what I can to lift up artists who are here. And also try to reach people from where I stand. In a lot of ways, Boston feels like kind of an underdog city with regards to the music scene, isn't really a platform for national acts. It's an underdog record, so I think those things go hand in hand.


What has been your most memorable experience performing in Boston, good or bad?


I remember my very first show as Photocomfort here in Boston was back when I was playing as a three-piece with Gabe and our friend Will. We were at our rehearsal space in Providence just tinkering on stuff. My manager called and she was like, "Hey, there's an opening slot available for you at The Sinclair. I know you've never played a show, but I think you should just go try it." And we were like, "Fuck. Okay." We got a set together, which is insane. We just did it in a couple hours. Then came up to The Sinclair and played the support spot for this band called Zella Day.


We played the set, and I had already quit Magic Man. It wasn't like I was having my doubts, but validation was absent really on the project that I had embarked on. People actually already knew who I was, which was weird. In between songs, I was saying, "Hey guys, this is so amazing, this is our first show," whatever, whatever, and people would be like, "Justine, yay, you're doing it!" And I was like, "You didn't forget me when I quit this fancy band that had all the opportunities?" So, I would say that was a turning point. I became a lot less anxious about so much stuff after realizing that my life wasn't tied to this touring band that was run by other people, and primarily benefitting those other people. Not that I feel they were inequitable, just wasn't my thing.


Here at The Deli, we love to talk about gear — we even have a blog dedicated exclusively to pedals! What gear, if any, can you not perform without? 


My Teenage Engineering OP-1.


Last, but not least, what is your favorite thing to order at your local deli? 


If I'm getting a sub sandwich, it would be chicken parm.











Understudy EP