One of the topics Alyse Vellturo, who makes music under the name pronoun, mentions most during our interview is how she’s not that great at playing instruments.
“Whenever people are like, ‘Don’t put yourself down,’ I’m like, ‘I am not putting myself down.’ I think it is very impressive that I made an album and did not know how to play these instruments,” she says. “I think that is inspirational.”
Of course, listening to pronoun’s debut album i’ll show you stronger, you’d never start wondering about any lack of instrumental skill. The epic layered vocal harmonies, synth grooves, and catchy guitar riffs recall both indie rock and pop-punk sounds of past years and something more contemporary; it’s all so enjoyable, it’s hard to think about much else. Pronoun’s sunny-yet-intense music would feel at home on a long car ride, at the beach, or during the pivotal scene of a movie.
The word “pronoun” and all the complexities attached to it has been more visible in the cultural sphere than ever, but Vellturo’s project isn’t necessarily engaged with much gender discourse. Pronoun wasn’t her first choice; she initially wanted to name her project “monachopsis,” which means “the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.” After calling a friend (who later ended up running Rhyme and Reason, the label pronoun is on) and informing them of this choice, she was told the word was too obscure and hard to spell. The friend offered up another suggestion, and pronoun was born.
“In researching more about what pronoun means, they can stand alone, which stuck out to me. I make all the music by myself, so I relate it back to that. But it was just a funny random circumstance,” she says.
And yes, she does perform and produce all her music. Part of this comes from being “stubborn,” part from considering writing a deeply personal thing. “It’s me understanding myself. I feel like I’m pretty bad at sharing my emotions and understanding my emotions outside of [music],” she notes. “Sometimes I’ll be writing something and wake up the next day and listen to it and be like, oh, that’s what you’re upset about.”
The music Vellturo makes as pronoun utilizes her own personal skills (or alleged lack thereof), accomplishing a varied and band-like sound through more creative means than just recruiting multiple people to play alongside you.
“How it all comes together is I’m sitting there either being patient with myself or making mistakes all the time, and stuff coming out of that,” Vellturo explains. “A lot of it is oh, I played this really easy guitar lick right once, I’m gonna loop it. I wanna sound like a vocoder—I don’t have one and I don’t know how to use it, so I’m gonna sing every chord’s note live. I don’t think that would have happened if I was working with other people.”
She does play with other musicians at her live shows, which she describes as “way louder” and “a lot more rock” than her recorded material. But don’t think this means the multitasking artist is giving herself less work to do; for her upcoming shows she’s taking on lead guitar.
That’s certainly a lot to focus on, but it’s not actually all Vellturo does. She also runs her own record label, Sleep Well Records, and works a day job in music distribution. Essentially, she’s entrenched in the music industry from every angle, waking up early when touring to catch up on emails from her 9-5, waxing poetic about streaming services and playlist culture during down time, and of course, finding time to make music herself.
“I get asked, ‘When are you gonna leave the day job; do you want to be touring in five years?” she says. “I don’t know; I didn’t know I’d be doing any of this five years ago. I can’t tell where I’ll be five years later.”
Part of this full plate stems from what she did before pursuing music professionally. After attending the Berklee College of Music, which she calls “a cesspool of musically talented people,” she was reluctant to commit to writing and performing, so she got into production and engineering, and then music business.
“A year into working as an artist manager, I started feeling sad, and I didn’t know why. I thought, What if I brought my guitar up and my speakers up that are in storage at my parent’s? And I started making again, and that helped. I wasn’t planning on releasing anything. There’s a lot of starts and stops.”
Pronoun’s album “i’ll show you stronger” comes out May 24, and she plays Brooklyn Bazaar May 31 at 6:30 pm.