Defining the genre of Virginia-based singer OPAL’s tunes can be a difficult task, mainly because she is always experimenting with new tones and sonic layers. The artist aims to carve out a new lane for herself, never mimicking her idols, but rather creating a genre of her own.
Inspired by the MF DOOM hip-hop era of her childhood, OPAL’s tracks absorb listeners in a story as much as watching a cartoon or reading a comic book would. With out-of-this-world poppy hits like “France” and self-described “tough-girl” anthems like “Coco Miyaki,” OPAL creates characters within her songs. The consistent psychedelic infusion of her singles, likely inspired from the songwriter’s time DJing, takes listeners on what feels like a journey through their own minds.
Besides for creating music, the songwriter accompanies her hits with brightly colored, comic book-style, visual art, adding to the multidimensional and all-encompassing experience of OPAL’s artistry. Fans of the multi-talented songwriter often dive into both the visual and sonic layers to understand the art in the specific ways it may apply to them. OPAL seems to have a keen ability for allowing her listeners the freedom of interpretation, guiding her listeners but never pushing them in any one direction.
Now, with extra time in quarantine, OPAL continues to stretch her creativity, as she begins to release artistic rugs, shower curtains, phone and laptop cases, and other essential home decor.
Here at Music Mecca, we got the chance to talk with the young creative about her musical beginnings, artistic processes, favorite comic books and much more.
Can you talk a little bit about how you first started making music?
I’ve been making music for most of my life, to be perfectly honest, but I wasn’t making music publicly until about a few years ago. I was always using my computer to make really interesting songs, but I never anticipated for it to be an actual thing until I started DJing. After I started DJing, I started to integrate some of my own music into the sets and people really enjoyed it. That branched into me having a career as a live performer. But I really never intended to have a career as a musician, it was more of a diary for me, more of a secret hobby. So, it was really cool to see how people reacted to my music during the sets and it just morphed into something bigger.
I know you make visual art in addition to your sonic art. How do you think that your creative processes from your visual art differ from your sonic art? Or are the processes pretty similar?
They’re actually very similar, but different at the same time. They’re both feelings that I have, and based on my mood, I might express myself sonically, or I might express myself visually. It’s all based on the day. I know it might sound a little weird, but if I feel like recording at the time, then I’ll do that. It’s all a form of self-expression for me and I think they really do tie together. Sometimes, for example, with my music, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t accompany it with artwork. I think they go hand-in-hand.
Do you notice similar messages that come across in both platforms?
Yeah, for sure. I think that in a lot of ways people get touched through music because it’s easy- you can listen to it and it’s more of a feeling. But I think that through art- my art is very exact, and there’s a lot of detail in it. So if you really dive into it, you might notice something in the background. It’s very meaningful. Everything I draw has a purpose. And it’s the same with my music. I think that it’s based on your own personal preference. Some people like to look at things, and stare at things, and interpret them. Others like to listen. But the cool thing about music is everyone has a different take on it. No two people are going to interpret a song the same way. So, that’s one thing I really love about music is that it’s really up for interpretation. I try to leave my songs almost vague. I try to make it so people can draw their own conclusions. That’s the beauty of music and art.
You’ve written about being inspired by female-driven, vintage comic books, especially with your visual art. Do you have any favorites, or ones you’d recommend?
There are so many! There’s Crimes by Women. I know it sounds really bad! [Laughs] I have a whole list of them. The Wonder Woman series. For me, it’s fascinating because women have been interpreted differently based on the year. You think about back in the day, after we were able to vote, there were all these different movements and revolutionary moments. In comics, it’s interesting to see because a lot of them feature a lot of misogyny, which I didn’t like. So, I started to discover a lot of female-focused ones. Crimes by Women is a good one. I like crime — not like I’m a criminal or anything! But, like, Law & Order, and things like that, dramas and stuff. There’s a whole section of female-focused vintage comics that just don’t really get any play, which I find interesting. There’s another called Strange Love. It’s a series all about love — there’s clown-love, and all different types of love! It’s all about relationships.
You were born in Chicago, grew up in LA, and are currently based in Norfolk, Virginia. With all of these cities being so different, do you find that the places you’re at tend to influence your music?
Absolutely. I think every place has it’s own vibe. Chicago is very different from LA, very different from Virginia. This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a small town. It’s funny that I’ve been here awhile, and I really like it because it’s cheap to live and you can have a lot of space. A lot of space means that you can really explore your creativity. I wouldn’t be able to have as much space in LA as I could here. I think that being in a small area has made it so, not only can I explore my creativity, but there’s also not as much to do. So, it makes it so you can really focus on the things that you do. I definitely think that my areas have influenced me tremendously. The biggest influence I’ve had has been here, believe it or not. It’s ironic because people always talk about big cities — Chicago, LA, New York — like that’s where you have to be, but I think I’ve benefited more in Virginia than I have in any other place. It’s given me time to breathe, time to understand myself, and time to get better at what I’m doing.
Do you think that this time — during the pandemic — has changed your creative process?
Yes. I started this brand — well, I’d already been doing artwork — but I really decided to go hard on creating and manufacturing merchandise. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. Like most artists, I struggled to really make music at the beginning of this quarantine because there’s so much confusion. I had so much free time all of a sudden. So, it did change my creative process a lot because I started cooking a lot more, and getting really creative with my meals. Then, I started taking my artwork and designing real products that people can have for their house because we’re home all the time! I wanted stuff, I wanted my house to look better! So, I went on this tirade of designing all these products that I could put in my house and it morphed into a totally different idea. So, I definitely think that this time has influenced me tremendously.
Would you say that you have any music idols or inspirations?
I never make music with another person in mind, but I definitely will say that growing up, MF Doom was probably my favorite artist of all time. Which is really funny because he was really theatrical and has a lot of character influences. I’m like, wow, maybe that’s part of what influenced my artwork because he was definitely — and probably still — my favorite artist. Sade is someone that I religiously listen to. I would say a lot of older artists as well. I really like The Gap Band. I really like a lot of those older, Motown artists as well. But I would definitely say that Madlib and MF Doom — that whole era of hip hop — was my favorite era ever. I had notebooks of MF Doom, collections, I would analyze everything he would say. [Laughs] I was really obsessed with him. He never showed his face. It was very mysterious and I really liked the theatrics of all of that. It made it so it was deeper than music. It was more than music, it was like, This person actually has an identity. That was so appealing to me in someone’s artistry.
What would you say are the tones or messages you want to portray with your music?
I think that I want people to come up with their own conclusion. I think that’s really important to me, that people actually come up with a conclusion. I think that in some cases, people will listen to music and it might make you feel good, but then it stops. I want people to actually be thinking. I want it to impact someone, in some way, shape or form. In addition to that, I also want the message to be that you can be yourself. I don’t really follow anybody in particular with anything that I do. And I think that’s important in artistry because the problem I feel like we’re having right now with a lot of artists — whether it’s music, digital, whatever — is that they’re always trying to emulate something that came before. They might find something that’s really popular, take it and try to be just like it so they can gain that popularity. Whereas, I’m not doing that at all. I just want to be myself. So, I want to encourage more people to be themselves because that’s going to be the true beauty of art and creativity as we get older, as we grow into these new times. We want to see people who are genuine. When you’re genuine with whatever you do, that is going to shine through and people are going to appreciate that.
What’s one thing that new listeners should know about you?
They should know that I am a multidimensional artist, and I will always continue to be that. When you listen to my music, I don’t want you to just expect me to only drop music. I want you to anticipate looking into me as a person. One month, I might drop a song. Then I might drop some clothes. Then I might drop some art. Then I might drop some shower curtains. [Laughs] When people listen to my music, I hope that they discover that I am a multidimensional person, and that they’ll dive into that. We can connect in a lot of different ways. We don’t have to connect just sonically, we can also connect visually, and in many different ways.
Do you have any favorite stories from your time performing or creating?
Not really a story, but I think that every song that I’ve ever put out has been some of the quickest songs I ever came up with, which is kind of interesting. That’s something I always notice. Now, I’ll be honest, once I come up with it, there’s a lot that goes in after that. “Hopscotch,” I wrapped that song straight. I was like, Wow, this is really, really easy for me to make, but so impactful. When I’m making art, especially music, I try not to think about it too much because I always notice that the songs where I’m not thinking about it too much are the ones that are always impactful.