A Conversation With Silverware: No Plans, College Radio, and Independent Music

Conducted by Makenzie Creden

Ainsley Wagoner, known to the music world as Silverware, self-released her debut album No Plans on April 23rd. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Wagoner now resides in San Francisco, where she wrote and recorded the album last year during the pandemic.

Now that No Plans has been out  in the world for a month, we spoke with Wagoner about the new album, what it means to be an independent artist, and her own college radio experiences: 

First of all, congrats on the new album. I really love it! When and how did you get into music? Has this been a lifelong interest for you?

I guess the overall summary is that my parents are both musicians, and they raised me to be in piano lessons, choir, and school ensembles. I did music in church, like various church choirs and singing solos. Then, as I got into highschool, I was just friends with the type of kids that were into indie music and wanted to form bands, so I started playing keys and singing backup in bands. Then, in college, I went to the University of Kentucky and worked at my student-run radio station there.

Oh nice!!

Yeah! So like college radio is really close to my heart, and it was there that I met people who really were like “Okay, you play keys and sing? You should do music with us,” but then also really encouraged me to continue pursuing my solo stuff. It was probably about ten or so years ago when i really started doing Silverware, performing solo, and making recordings

I was looking at your Bandcamp and website, I saw you do design, right?

Yeah! I got my degree in architecture and started working as a visual designer at startups, and then kind of slid over into UX design. I work as a designer at software companies, and then I do various kinds of design on the side.

The music video for “Important,” directed by Wagoner

And your music video with the food, did you direct that?

I did! Yeah!

That’s so cool! Do you find a lot of chances to combine visuals with audio work?

Yeah! As much as I can. Doing things for my own music project is the best excuse for that, I think. I’m a big fan of music videos, y’know, like I was an MTV kid and stuff. I always thought that it was such a cool artform and a way to bring a song to life. I work as a designer and have made a lot of friends who are also visual designers and are talented in photography and art direction, so one of the things I really like to do with my music- I sort of learned this from my radio station friends in Kentucky- but I love to bring together a bunch of people and make a collective project and build a team with a bunch of different skills to make one bigger project together. Yeah, I’m always trying to bring those two worlds together, and the best excuse for that is when I have music to put out.

Yeah, and what you were saying about bringing in people you know to collaborate on a big project- it’s always so special when those people are your friends or people you think highly of. It’s the best feeling.

Totally!

So how has the self-releasing process been going for you? 

It has been…. really interesting. I’m definitely learning so much. I think that with being an independent musician, the model is still you release something on your own, it does well, then you kind of hope that you work with a label, and then they help you with promotion/distribution and all of that. Obviously, that would be really great, but when I was making this album, I knew it was going to be released in the pandemic year. We recorded it basically right before the pandemic and right in the thick of it, like January to May of last year. I know I like to get things out: if I sit on something too long, I won’t like it anymore, and then it will never view the light of day. I was like “this is not a great time to approach labels” and say “Hey! Do you want to take on a new artist?” Like, it just didn’t make sense. Release dates were getting pushed back and labels were, and I’m sure still, really hurting. I was like “Y’know i’ve self released everything else so far…”

There are parts of it that I’d been doing before, which is like booking studio time on your own, finding people to master it, and getting the art together… Putting it out there on the internet is actually pretty easy. There are websites that will help you distribute things to various streaming platforms and Bandcamp. But then I learned a lot about press, PR, how to get the word out and engaging with a distributor.

I used to be a music director at my station, so I knew what that was like on the other side. It’s really helpful as an independent artist to have somebody advocating for you. It’s really hard to cut through the massive amount of CD’s folks are getting. So I set up all my own relationships with distributors and promo people, and figured out all those parts independently. It feels really empowering to be the one who’s in control pushing all that forward.

Yeah! I love that you have that insight into being a music director! That is my world right now. 

It’s really nice that you all are playing it and are into it!

Yeah absolutely! Your voice is beautiful, your lyrics feel very very intimate and… I must ask…. Is No Plans a breakup album? It seems like at some points it is a post-breakup album.

I wouldn’t say it’s a breakup album, but there are a couple of things that are inspired by the end of a relationship for sure. I love a breakup album, but this isn’t really that… It’s like different little snapshots of different moments in the course of relationships, and life. Not all the songs are even about human relationships.

Tiny Telephone, the studio Wagoner recorded No Plans at in San Francisco

For sure. I also really love all the different synth tones you put in there. I know you mentioned you played keys in high school, how did you pick that up and find an interest in synth-pop?

My mom is a really fantastic keyboardist and organist, so she had me in piano lessons from a young age. I found it really fun and fulfilling to master a classical piece, but also figuring out how to play keys outside of that. Playing in a more pop context was a transition I made in college. 

A lot of the synth tones are inspired by the studio where I recorded, here in San Francisco, called Tiny Telephone. Their whole thing is that they’re an analog studio. There’s not many of those left. We did everything onto tape, which lends it a certain sound quality, and they have a lot of really really cool synthesizers. I got to really just take advantage of that: what they had there in the studio.

Synths are like a whole other animal…. Because, y’know, I have most of my experience in playing an instrument where it’s basically one sound. Then learning how to manipulate synths where there’s like an infinite amount of sounds is really cool. 

As far as getting a synth pop sound… I think I just like synth pop from college radio days! There’s nothing like a good synth pop song to kick off your playlist.

I totally agree! Do you have any favorite artists?

I’m obsessed with Mitski. I just can’t get enough of her brilliance as a songwriter. I’m really influenced by Feist and Big Thief. I love this band called Hop Along, and then of course I love Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple. Yeah, off the top of my head those are my favs right now.

I know this is kind of like asking if you have a favorite child, but do any of the songs off No Plans hold a more special place in your heart? Do you have a favorite song?

I think my favorite is “Take Me With You.” It’s really fun to play. I got to play that with my band before the pause on live shows and it’s super fun to play because a lot of my songs are really delicate and precious, and then that one you just get to kind of slam and I love to sing super loud. Then it’s also narratively interesting. That one is really kind of the breakup song where you’re moving through these three very different moods, the understanding of the ending of a relationship, and the beginning of another one… I was also just trying some structural things in that song that I think turned out to be successful. The engineer and producer that I worked with, Omar Akrouche, I feel like we both, when that was coming together, were like “Oh this one is our favorite.”

I love that! And now that live shows are starting to get announced, are you planning on playing any gigs?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean I don’t have anything scheduled, but I’m still in that world and I really want to. I’ll kind of have to reconfigure because some of the folks I played with moved away, but I still live here and venues are opening back up and I think they’re figuring out how to have live music. I do look forward to that when it feels safe and folks are ready.

You can check out Silverware’s debut album No Plans on streaming platforms and Bandcamp now.

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