Every day, I’m filled with the overwhelming sensation that we’re living in a dumpster fire based on the sequence of current events so Meredith Johnston’s bio instantly struck a chord with “sludge pop trash princess making four to the floor addict music.” In all this darkness, that statement alone gave me a tiny glimmer of hope. The Chicago-based artist goes by Warm Human and makes emotionally charged “sludge pop” music that sticks with you like a cold sweat creeping up in the middle of the night. Today, we’re premiering the accompanying visual for her new single “Y U” off her debut album, Ghastly, and the message could not be clearer: “Why you always lookin’ at your phone instead of me?”
Crowned with a cherry red cowboy hat, Johnston evokes a heavy dose of yee-haw energy as she playfully roams from her bubble bath to various spots around Chicago like Schoop’s Hamburgers with an iPhone practically attached to her hand. The song came out of an actual interaction between Johnston and a friend, but it accurately depicts the woes of dating in the digital age where people seem more devoted to their devices than each other IRL.
“The premise for ‘Y U’ really came about when I was hanging out with my buddy D.Light,” Johnston explained in an email. “We were jamming in Oakland and I was singing something and he wasn’t paying attention. So I joke-sang the chorus of ‘Y U,’ and we both looked at each other like ‘Yup.’ The rest was inspired by how annoying it is to be a millennial in the dating world. Phones, social media, ghosting. The worst.”
Ghastly is slated to drop on March 8 and is available for pre-order. After you watch the video, scroll down for our exclusive Q&A with Warm Human.
First of all, why do you describe yourself as a “sludge pop trash princess”? How did you come up with that?! (I literally refer to the current state of the world as living in a dumpster fire so this immediately grabbed my attention haha.)
Oh I use garbage way too much in casual conversation, too. I came up with the term in a fever dream back when I was working my copywriting job. I was staring at my Bandcamp bio and it was the first thing that came to mind. I think of the music I make is pop, but since the themes are darker and the sounds are murkier the term sludge pop just seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I also personally resonate with the Pokémon Grimer a lot, I think that definitely had something to do with it. Trash princess really is about the way my ego flexes between feeling like I am a literal goddess and then the immediate reeling sensation that I am made of pure garbage.
Why did you pick the name Warm Human? What does that mean to you?
A lot of my ideas that stick come to me right when I’m about to fall asleep. It’s a really cool thing because it feels like it’s coming from my subconscious, but it also wakes me up because I have to get up and write something down. Warm Human was one of those late at night ideas, and to me it’s the simplest way of saying that I am alive. Not yet cold, haha. It’s very emo.
How did you initially get involved with music? Tell me about your whole journey as a producer, composer, singer and songwriter.
Well I’ve been singing, whether people wanted to hear it or not, my whole life. I wrote my first song when I was like four, it was all about Halloween candy. In college I was in a comedy ukulele folk band. It was 2010, it made sense at the time. I started producing about two years ago. I was living alone, going through a rough time and having trouble sleeping. So I got Ableton and would play until like four in the morning. It wasn’t the most healthy start to it, but I’m thankful for all that time because it helped me get to know the program well pretty fast.
Do you remember the first time that a song really resonated with you?
Oh wow too many. I mean, the first song I would play religiously on the piano was “Love Ridden” by Fiona Apple from When The Pawn… Her storytelling and emotional resonance on that song blew my mind right open when I heard it. She really tears into base human emotions with such simplicity. Another one was “I Come Home” by Catherine Feeny. I used to fall asleep to that song in high school. It’s funny, both of these songs are heavy as hell and about women experiencing solitude and loneliness, which thematically is a lot of what I write about.
Can you elaborate on the story behind your debut album, Ghastly? I read that it’s about the experience of overcoming the ghosts that haunt you after a relationship ends…
Well, Ghastly came about after I got out of a really toxic relationship. I think after any damaging relationship like that the other person’s voice stays in your head, which can be really destructive. And at that point it’s not really the other person anymore, it’s a shadow of them left in your mind that lingers. So Ghastly was written while I was trying to get back to myself, after feeling like I had lost myself for so long.
Going off of that, do you believe in ghosts?
I definitely believe in ghosts. Or at least energy transference.
Do you have a post-breakup process? How do you typically recover?
Every break up has been pretty different for me. Usually I end up making a piece of art about it. I’ve been told I hold my cards pretty close to me, that’s probably a trauma response or whatever. But, I’ve never been good at talking about my feelings, I’ve always been better at expressing them through art. Therapy helps too. And taking thirst traps.
What is one of the most valuable things that you learned about yourself from your last heartbreak?
That I can survive much more than I thought I could.
What was your concept for the “Y U?” video?
I think I accidentally had Photo Booth open on my computer while I was taking selfies on my phone because I’m obsessed with myself, and I saw myself in the computer and the idea for the video came. My co-director, Chuck Norment, and I really wanted me on my phone in as many ridiculous locations as possible. We shot it over a month, I kept the costume in my car so whenever we hung out and we would shoot something.
What type of impact do you want to make as an artist? What do you want listeners to take away from your music?
I think the best thing I can hope for is for someone to hear one of my songs and feel a little less alone.
Random fun bonus questions! Do you believe in astrology? What’s your sign?
I’m a Leo sun, Libra moon, Scorpio rising. So I’m a dark feely fireball.
What emoji best represents you as a person?
I famously don’t understand how to use emojis in text conversation, but I am a huge fan of the wilting rose. So poetic. Very Beauty and the Beast.
Do you have any goals for 2019? Or is there anything that you’re trying to manifest?
Music wise I think I’d love to start working with a label. Eek! That feels weird to say but it’s good to put it in the universe. Personally, I am actively trying to learn how to wake up and not immediately look at my phone.