Smile Politely

A sophistication that belies their youth: An interview with Neptune’s Core

Four individuals stand against a brick wall with a barred window and green foliage around them. From left to right: the first person wears a dark sweater; the second, with long red hair, wears a blue shirt; the third has a multicolored sweater; and the fourth wears a dark top with a white collar and trim.
Sloane Johnson

When I called up Neptune’s Core for a chat, they’d just finished their first of eight shows at SXSW the previous day. I was surprised that they had so many shows in such a short period of time, but the band members — sisters Sofie and Hannah Richter, and sisters Jackie and Kaitlin Cywinski — seemed to have energy to spare. It would be easy for me to call it youthful energy since the band members are all under 20. However, there was a genuine passion and drive in the way they spoke about their music, the evolution of their craft, and the respect they have for their influences.

Their new single, “Box/Anyway,” was just released earlier this month, along with an EP, Called Upon, back in August. I asked them how these two recordings differed from their previous recordings. With their previous recordings, the band had gone into the studio with their songs completely written, but with the EP, their songs “were only 70% written,” and they allowed themselves to experiment and stretch their boundaries. “We allowed ourselves to let loose and take some risks,” they said, playing around with the equipment in the studio. They were also intent on adding a layer of artistry to their recording process, differentiating their studio tracks from live performances. Indeed, this evolution is immediately noticeable in both Called Upon and the new single, where there’s an undercurrent of different instrumentation and an unplaceable aura to the songs.

While listening to their recordings, I was already left with a good impression, an understanding that these were musicians who cared about making the best music they could. As they spoke about their recording process, that impression was further cemented. I was curious, though, about their lyrics, most of which capture emotional subtleties not often found in pop/rock lyrics. Jackie and Sofie discussed their writing process, noting that the lyrics were usually the last piece of the puzzle and that putting their lyrics to paper implied a deeper commitment — an indication that the long writing process was reaching its end. Sofie mentioned that previous recordings were more metaphorical, but that nowadays, she just “waits for the lyrics to find me.” She singled out the song “Inside” as especially important to her, noting that “those lyrics gave my life more meaning.”

Four individuals are posed in a line leaning on a stairway railing. Starting from the left, the first person is wearing a light blue button-up shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The second individual has on a white shirt with thin black stripes, a choker-style necklace, and a forearm tattoo. The third person dons a brown striped shirt and multiple bracelets on their wrist, while the last individual on the right is in a patterned dark purple blouse with puffy sleeves. They all have curly hair, varying in shades from blonde to auburn, and are adorned with hair accessories such as clips and scrunchies. The staircase behind them has dark blue walls, and the railing is a dark wood tone with ornate metal balusters.
John Kosiewicz

The band members met in middle school and instantly clicked, sharing a love for music. They started playing open mic nights all over Chicago right away, but it wasn’t until they opened for Dehd at The Empty Bottle on New Year’s Eve 2022 that they really started to take themselves seriously as a band. They rented out a practice space for a week before the show and really drilled in their songs. It was a turning point for Neptune’s Core and gave the band a renewed focus. They were also quick to point out that they have “a really good sense of communication between the four of us,” because of their friendship and sisterhood.

Bands like the aforementioned Dehd and other Chicago alternative mainstays like Wilco and Friko are some of the band’s main influences. Indeed, according to Neptune’s Core, Chicago has “an extremely vibrant music scene” with a lot of small venues interested in supporting growth. “Being able to find genuine and down-to-earth mentors is pretty rare,” they said, “but in Chicago, we’re able to find a lot of people like that.” They describe a music community where people aren’t in competition with each other, allowing newer and younger musicians like them to thrive. They have “that Midwest love, but in a big, creative, diverse city.” As for their other influences, they spoke at length about the experimental music duo Finom, another Chicago-based band, and the women at the forefront of this project. Kaitlin cited her training in jazz and Latin music as an influence in her drum playing, where drums aren’t just part of the rhythm of the music, but also a part of the melody. Meanwhile, Hannah cited the bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, most well-known for playing alongside David Bowie, as a big influence on her own playing, because “she didn’t take bullshit from anyone.”

As the band said, “we’ve been listening to everything since we were born,” and they cited other musicians like Fiona Apple, Sinead O’Connor, and Nina Simone. As we discussed their favorite venues to play in and the best shows they’ve played, Hannah mentioned that it was especially meaningful when they played in Schuba’s since that’s where her and Jackie’s parents met many years ago. It’s clear that both sets of sisters have grown up surrounded by music of all kinds, making their sound a true melting pot of music.

The more we spoke, the clearer it became to me that the members of Neptune’s Core were very much aware of their own positionality — as musicians, of course, but also as women, and as Chicagoans. While music is the universal language, they imbue their songs with pieces of their layered identities to create something that’s both unique and familiar. As they venture out of the Midwest for their first tour, they’ll be taking a bit of that Midwest love with them. But they’re also excited to spread the love here in Urbana, where they’ve played before. “We love Urbana,” they said. “The house show scene there — we played a house show there, and it was seriously one of the best shows ever.” According to them, the scene in Urbana doesn’t seem that different from Chicago. It’s a place where musicians support each other, and community bonds are strong.

As we wrapped up our conversation, I was struck by how self-aware and driven the members of Neptune’s Core were. Their recordings already display a distinct sophistication that bands usually develop much later in their careers. And yet, they’re only getting started. There’s a sense of maturity and wisdom in their approach to music-making that belies their youth. They speak about their craft with distinct fluency, pointing towards the evolution of their sound, the experimentation in the studio, and even the joy of playing live. I’m excited to see how they continue to grow in the years to come, especially at this important junction in the band’s career.

Neptune’s Core with Fiona Kimble and Venus Overdrive
Gallery Art Bar
119 W Main St
Sa Mar 23rd, 8 p.m.

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