The Multi-talented Musician You Must Know: Princess Nostalgia / by Alex Young

Princess Nostalgia and her artwork of Princess Nostalgia (piece far left) | photo by Alex Young

Princess Nostalgia and her artwork of Princess Nostalgia (piece far left) | photo by Alex Young

“I’ll tell you this: when I first started getting involved in the music scene, I was more naive. There’re so many men who just don’t take you seriously and are condescending. I try to keep a balance of being open and not assuming the worst, but also… fuck that. I’ve had a lot of guys ask me to sing on their beats. I’m not just a singer.”

“Everything in the mix I’ve written and played myself.” | photo by Alex Young

“Everything in the mix I’ve written and played myself.” | photo by Alex Young

Princess Nostalgia is protective of her work. “It’s like having a baby.”

Particularly, the multi-talented artist’s music excels. Dancing to it isn’t hard because Princess Nostalgia’s “arrangements” are funky. Watch her music videos. Her charisma dominates scenes as she makes weird movements that she calls dancing. “I don’t want to take myself too seriously,” Nostalgia said.

“Everything in the mix I’ve written and played myself.” She also gave herself credit for her own graphic design work. “I’m proud of all my album art,” Princess Nostalgia declared. “There’s so much of your character in how you produce stuff,” she finished.

The stage name Princess Nostalgia comes from 20-year-old Lili Traviato feeling nostalgic about her childhood amongst the ancient ruins of Rome. “Every time I go back, I’ve changed, but the [eternal city] stays the way it’s been for even thousands of years.” Her dad lives there, who also had his time as a musician in the ‘80s. Some of Princess Nostalgia’s songs, like “Robert Says” from her self-titled 2017 mixtape sample music or lyrics from her father. His writing is very “sappy” for love songs she mentioned. “Mine tends to be a bit more pretentious and philosophical,” Nostalgia said as she often challenges patriarchal society.

A man who knows to push his pride aside, no illusion of his man-made rights, lives his life without spite.
— Princess Nostalgia in 'Master SpaceTime'

On record, Lili called funk her biggest musical influence. Princess Nostalgia’s bass lines spin a groovy tinge into her songs. Hear her strings training. She started playing double bass in fourth grade. She played for 10 years. Pleasant guitar strokes. Although, there’s a clear hip-hop influence too Nostalgia acknowledged. “Master SpaceTime” has bloops, synths and a hard kick. Listeners could imagine British grime star Skepta on “Willem Bounce.” Dr. Dre’s “2001” instrumental album is among the top plays on Lili’s Spotify account.

Now spending most of her time at university in Burlington, Vt., Princess Nostalgia navigates music scene there dominated by jam bands and hip-hop heads. They “all just want me to be a singer,” she said. Despite the overwhelming dominance of men in the music industry, she has the support of some great artists from the area, and she has a valuable opportunity to get comfortable on stage in front of intimate crowds in Burlington.

Luckily to her hometown’s credit, collaboration has been more natural for Princess Nostalgia in Pittsburgh’s music ecosystem. “I haven’t worked with anyone from Vermont just Pittsburgh,” she said. Local guitarist Joe Leytrick has added to Princess Nostalgia’s work. “We have to understand each other and know we’re interested in the same thing,” she said. While she’s able to connect to the scene in The ‘Burgh, with others like producer Buscrates, she doesn’t consider herself part of it unless through the Internet. “I know who all the people are in Pittsburgh who are artists and trying to make something happen,” she said about the scene.

Taking time to develop herself as a brand, Lili has invested into Princess Nostalgia as a business. At a Starbucks, she sat at the computer figuring out how to copyright Princess Nostalgia’s songs. She’s reading two books: “Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business” and “How to Monetize Your Music Career.” Ideally, she will pursue music full-time after graduation. “I don’t want to be financially dependent on anyone or any men,” she said.

Next Princess Nostalgia looks forward to releasing a longer album featuring some of the singles she’s already dropped. Eyeing strategy, a cinematic music video will help promote her new album. She also plans to re-release some of her old songs to make everything sound “polished.” Being critical, she thinks some of her tracks sound like demos. “I take pride in my arrangements,” she said.

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Read the transcript of the Princess Nostalgia Interview below.

Princess Nostalgia: I take pride in my arrangements. Everything in the mix I’ve written and played myself. My visual art, I’m proud of all my album art. I’ve been doing graphic design on the side and selling prints on Facebook marketplace. It works.

I’ll tell you this: when I first started getting involved in the music scene, I was more naive. There’s so many men who just don’t take you seriously and are condescending. I try to keep a balance of being open and not assuming the worst, but also… fuck that. I’ve had a lot of guys ask me to sing on their beats. I’m not just a singer. That’s the role that’s expected of women, especially in the hip-hop scene. I’m definitely influenced by hip-hop because I perform in Burlington, Vt. Either the two scenes there are middle-aged white dudes doing hip-hop or middle-aged white dudes in jam bands. College students too. So, I always get put in the hip-hop scene, which I definitely prefer to do the jam bands. In that environment, they’re all male dominated and they all just want me to be a singer. So, that’s why I’m so headstrong about wanting to have full control over every step of the process.

InTheRough: You do have to have a certain amount of control of your image. Once you let other people come in, like a producer or something, he kind of takes away from your sound a bit.

P.N.: That’s the thing there’s so much of your character in how you produce stuff. For me the most fun part is not having to answer to someone. For me, sharing that process would be compromising. I’m definitely open to collaborating. I’m working with this guy Joe. He plays guitar on my stuff. That’s a beautiful collaboration. We both make each other’s stuff better. We have the same vision. I know that I want to say what I want to say before I say yes to too many collaborations or let too many people put their voice inside.

ITR: Do you find more success collaborating in the Pittsburgh music environment or the Burlington environment?

P.N.: The music scene in Burlington is popping. It’s jam bands. It’s its own thing. Pittsburgh is just relatively much more diverse and interesting. I mean, everyone in Vermont is white. It’s a nice town around a lake and a church street like a downtown area that’s really pretty. There’s stuff going on, but it’s definitely more limiting. I see what’s going on in Pittsburgh over the Internet, but I’m not here most of the time. I feel pretty removed from it [even though she made a connection with locals guitarist Joe Leytrick and producer Buscrates]. I haven’t worked with anyone from Vermont just Pittsburgh. It has to happen in a more natural way. We have to understand each other and know we’re interested in the same thing. I feel like collaborating it’s a relationship you’re entering and it’s intimate. I’m not just going to do it with anyone.

ITR: What’s your end goal for your music?

P.N.: Ideally I want to do this full-time. Right now I’m focusing on learning about the business side of things. I got two books: Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business and How to Monetize Your Music Career. I’m looking out for myself. If I’m going to do this, I have to do it in a sustainable way. I’m also at school doing Philosophy and History. I’m trying to do well at school so I get that degree because I want a backup plan. I don’t want to be financially dependent on anyone or any men.

ITR: When did you feel the need to express yourself in ways that weren’t so linear?

P.N.: I think I’m really lucky. I was always raised to be like you can do whatever you want. What do you want to make? We’ll help you figure out how to do it. My mom started his own business. That’s giving me some savvy about how to approach this. Sometimes I get in really bad moods when I’m on social media trying to promote myself. It just brings out parts of me that I don’t like. I’m trying to compartmentalize it and look at it as a business.

ITR: What about the social media is bringing up something about yourself that you don’t like?

P.N.: It’s like a gateway. Once you go into it with the eye of using it just for music, you keep picking up the app. You keep looking at Facebook. Then there’s the whole numbers game. I’m constantly reminding myself that the numbers don’t matter. They do matter. You have to get there at some point, but what the numbers are now aren’t a reflection of myself. Other people’s success has nothing to do with mine. Social media is not a healthy environment to put your art in. It’s like having a baby and putting it into a void. It’s just depressing sometimes. Slowly and surely I’m getting connected with more people who appreciate what I do and I just try and focus on that part. My dad was a musician. I send him my stuff constantly and he tells me what he thinks. He’s pretty comfortable being critical.

ITR: A lot of artists don’t take criticism well. If somebody criticizes you, they care about your work.

P.N.: Exactly. It actually means they are taking you seriously. They taught me not to be afraid. People are afraid to try or afraid to put something out there. Growing up in this family, I feel like I have nothing to lose. It just feels natural to put my voice out there.

ITR: You mentioned your dad was a musician. I saw you playing with his old DJ drops in a clip you posted on your Instagram story.

P.N.: (laughs) Yeah, that was one of his bands in the ‘80s. He was also in a big band, like he went on tour for two years playing the saxophone.

ITR: Nice. What do you plan to do with that?

P.N.: That was an old song he wants me to re-do. I’ve released a few songs that were his songs that he wrote in college, but with my arrangements. “Robert Says” from the “Princess Nostalgia” mixtape and “Feels Like Home,” which I released over the Summer. It’s funny because he’s very sentimental with his writing. The one I’m working on right now, “Talking Drug,” I wrote the music for it, but he contributed a lot of the lyrics. The only love songs I’ve done have been my dad’s words (laughs), which is really funny because I’m not as comfortable being sappy like that. I think he’s really good at writing sappy things without it being cheesy. Mine tends to be a bit more pretentious and philosophical.

ITR: The first lyrics of yours that impacted me were in your song “Princess Nostalgia.” It affected me a lot around the time of artist Yung Mulatto’s passing. You have a way with words to make a powerful song.

P.N.: Thank you. I appreciate that.

ITR: Talk to me about jam bands.

P.N.: There’s a lot of jam bands in Burlington, but I wouldn’t say they’re an influence for me. I was more talking about jam bands because that’s what’s dominant in Burlington. It’s not my favorite genre. I’d be happy to tell you what my influences are. D’Angelo. He doesn’t compare to anyone else. His harmonies influence me a lot. Electronic. Not like dubstep. Do you know Kraftwerk?

ITR: No.

P.N.: You should look them up. They got Sony to create the first synthesizers for them in the ‘60s. They were way ahead of the game. Even though they are not super well known they are one of the most influential bands in history. I grew up listening to them because my dad listens to them. Pop music. There’s a lot of shitty pop music, especially these days. I do think making a good pop song is difficult and an art form, like something that feels good. Funk music. I can’t believe I didn’t say that first. Funk and R&B. That’s why I love D’Angelo ‘cause D’Angelo is like the perfect meeting ground of funk and R&B. I got to see George Clinton and Funkadelic on Halloween. Hiatus Kaiyote. Hip-hop too.

ITR: I can hear all those influences in your music easily. I’d say hip-hop comes further down the list, but not last.

P.N.: It’s the beats that I use. The drums.

ITR: And when I watch your music videos you have this way of dancing about you like you’re dancing in your room with nobody looking.

Princess Nostalgia photograph by Alex Young

Princess Nostalgia photograph by Alex Young

P.N.: Yeah, I don’t want to take myself too seriously. Then I feel dumb doing that. I try to keep it silly and absurd. I’d feel too corny if I wasn’t dancing like that. Also, that’s how I generally dance.

ITR: Yeah, I can tell you dance oddly funny. That’s you dancing. At the same time, you said your lyrics are cynical or challenging society in a way.

P.N.: That’s how I deal with things that I find are painful and difficult. A lot of my favorite books and films are absurd, but they’re still serious. Most funny things are funny because they’re a coping mechanism for things that are pretty tough or dark. I’m not going to not talk about things that I think are important. It’s how I’m able to stay strong despite them. I feel like making it lighthearted is showing you can’t get me down. I don’t like being too serious in a literal way. That’s corny.

ITR: How does it feel when you see people support your music?

P.N.: I’ve had people who I don’t know be like, “are you Princess Nostalgia,” to my face. It feels dumb. On my logos I have this figure with the blue pubes. That’s Princess Nostalgia. It’s a title for me as an artist on stage. But also, I’m grateful for it. No one is going to take you seriously just because you’re talking yourself up. It’s more meaningful if they come across it and they see what I do. The work will speak for itself.

ITR: Especially with yours. It speaks to quality.

How does it make you feel when you know what people are doing through the Internet, but you don’t know them personally?

P.N.: It’s a weird world that we live in. That’s another thing, everything that I read about succeeding in music is like these days you have to have a personality. You have to have a brand. You have to present a certain side of yourself. I’m happy to play the game. The Internet is so young. We’re using it terribly now, but if we don’t destroy ourselves first, hopefully we’ll find better ways to use it. It’s not like it has to be like this forever. There’s so many beautiful things about technology. I learned everything I know about production from tutorials online.