The breast pump was waiting for Meg Remy at her Toronto home when returned from the hospital with twins. A friend had given it to her, even though Remy wasn’t initially sure if she’d use the machine. But with two newborns to feed, she charged it up, flipped the switch — and out came a guttural womp.
“The minute I heard it, I was like, what is this fucking sound?” says Remy, 37, bandleader and creative force behind the always-inventive, always-evolving, always-searching pop outfit U.S. Girls. “I just knew we’re gonna do something with this.”
Remy recorded the pump’s singular pulse and sampled it for “Pump,” the final song on U.S. Girls’ new album, Bless This Mess, out Feb. 24 via 4AD. (Video of this one-of-a-kind session is on Instagram). It was the last song she made for the album, which was otherwise completed during her pregnancy in 2020 and 2021. The song’s verses begin “as a straight-up reportage of my experience in the hospital” after giving birth, as she recounts a conversation with a night nurse; a second-half vamp distills the thoughts that ran through her head as she spent hours hooked to the pump. “Bodies, birth, death, machines,” she repeats, a riddle of human connectivity.
“That would really be my only time alone, pumping milk multiple times a day,” Remy says. “I’d sit and think, ‘What the fuck am I doing right now? Who made this machine? What did we do when we didn’t have these? Why does it seem that we all need machines to teach us how to do something we inherently kind of know how to do?’”
There are many answers to these questions, and like the riddle in “Pump,” there’s arguably more mystery in any “answer” than the question itself. But on Bless This Mess, Remy is less drawn to solutions than epic unknowables and eternal mysteries.
U.S. Girls began as a lo-fi, avant-garde basement project that debuted in 2008 while Remy was living in Philadelphia. In the 15 years since, across widely acclaimed releases like 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited and 2020’s Heavy Light, she’s come to specialize in an arty alchemy of rock, pop, funk, and soul that folds familiar pasts into brilliant futures, with grooves as danceable as the lyrics are lacerating. She is an expert storyteller, a sharp but empathetic observer of modern frailties, and an interrogator of every facet of our present hellscape.
“So Typically Now,” an early taste of Bless This Mess released last summer, is vintage U.S. Girls — a techno-tinged thumper skewering wealthy Brooklynites moving upstate in search of that ever-elusive… something. But Remy doesn’t let herself off the hook, either; who hasn’t forked over chunks of their soul for meager returns? “Gotta sell all my best to buy more, not less,” she sings. “See you someday in heaven.”
“So Typically Now” also epitomizes the funk-forward sound of Bless This Mess, which is far from the stripped-down, “playing-the-U.S.-Girls-blues” guitar album Remy thought she’d make after Heavy Light. Instead, as quarantine set in, Remy found herself drawn to MIDI instruments and their myriad possibilities. (“What the hell were we doing, wasting our time buying old vintage synthesizers that are half-broken,” she quips, “when you can just get the simulation of one?”) Deeply missing the dancefloor, she focused on irrepressible grooves, spinning out everything from surreal AM gold (“RIP Roy G Biv”) to glittering disco delights (“Tux”).
At the same time, Remy kept thinking about James Brown, poring over old performance footage — especially from his Bootsy Collins era — and latching onto the sincerity she saw.
“If I’m watching James Brown, he’s Mr. Entertainment, Mr. Dynamite, but he’s also completely gone. Completely unhinged, doing his thing,” Remy says. “That’s a state I really crave and would like to get to more, even in my daily life. To turn off that inner narrative about myself, and accept life sincerely. I would like to live in a way that’s infectious, the way funk is. That’s the gift of it — it teaches you how to do that… It’s almost like meditation. When something’s sincere, you couldn’t stop it if you wanted to.”
Though she was locked down at home, Remy didn’t make Bless This Mess alone. The album was created piecemeal over email with a variety of collaborators, a process necessitated by the pandemic, but one that was also welcome after recording Heavy Light live in the studio.
“We made it in one week. I did it, and I don’t need to do it again,” Remy says. “I feel that’s common in my life, though: To complete something, and then go to the exact opposite place.”
On Heavy Light, Remy began to excavate her past with new intensity, a process she continued with even greater daring and vulnerability in her 2021 memoir, Begin by Telling. It’s a brief, brilliant, and brutal book, feminist theory and cultural criticism spiraling towards and from the harrowing revelation that her father sexually abused her as a child.
Bless This Mess, Remy says, is a “total reaction” to both of those projects. “They were so raw and out there — no hiding,” she says. “I think I went a little farther than I wanted to with both. I’m continuing to use my life’s experience to narrate music, but I needed it to be a little more veiled. Just for my own comfort. Like, am I really going to tear off another layer of skin so soon, when it’s still healing?”
That’s not to say the album isn’t still visceral, intimate, and revealing. Remy has described her art-making process as an exercise in overcoming fear, and while making Bless This Mess she confronted “a lot of bodily fears” as her own changed drastically. Still, she was determined to finish the album while pregnant. “This will be this very strange artifact of a very specific time,” she remembers thinking. “And I was interested in documenting my voice changing throughout that.”
Singing was a particular challenge. Her diaphragm, the muscle used for breathing, “this passageway I knew very intimately, knew how to use to create sounds, had completely changed,” Remy says. “And my voice changed with it, and my confidence.”
Still, at 34 weeks — “That’s like being 50 weeks pregnant with one baby!” — she was in the studio, tracking vocals for the starry-eyed “St. James Way.”
“I’m in a chair, in the dark, barely able to get [my voice] out of a whisper, which is why it sounds so weird,” she recalls. “It’s very cottony, almost strained. I literally couldn’t breathe down very far, and if you can’t breathe down to gather air, your phrasing is going to come out staccato.”
Amidst these changes, Remy found guidance in ancient myths. “I needed stories that were as grand as what I was experiencing,” she says. “To tell me, yes, you have three hearts in your body, you have three times the blood — this is some epic shit!”
Pointing to Joseph Campbell and Stanley Kelemen’s book Myth & the Body, she notes that myth’s purpose is “to give us stories about having a body,” adding, “What comes from bodies? Everything. We don’t have experience if we don’t have a body.”
But these stories also spoke to other concerns. Album opener “Only Daedalus” was inspired by the imprisoned craftsman of ancient Crete, though not the famous tale about his son Icarus flying too close to the sun. Rather, the song finds Remy grappling with ideas of ego and creation, in the hope that we might be as clever and daring as Daedalus when he wove a string through a shell by tying it to an ant.
“We are all the Daedalus of our lives,” Remy says. “Seeking help can be good — therapy, advice from others. But really, I think that we all know, deep down, the answer to whatever question we’re asking. If we could just think creatively, basically, allow ourselves to be fearless, take risks, tie a string to an ant, see what happens.”
Then there’s the title track, “Bless This Mess,” which nods to the punishment doled out to the Danaïdes for killing their husbands: “It’s your job to carry water/In a broken jar all day,” Remy sings over crystalline electric keys, a perfect encapsulation of quotidian drudgery.
“That’s life,” Remy says. “You go to sleep, you wake up, and you’re like, ‘Fuck. I still got this leaky jar!’”
Bruce Springsteen — long a major U.S. Girls influence — once explained how Woody Guthrie’s songs helped him beyond the anguish of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” by encouraging him to ask, “Why is there a hole in my bucket?” Remy has often used her music to probe that same question. But the best moments on Bless This Mess find her looking at leaky jars, hole-filled buckets, and seeing something more transcendent.
On “Futures Bet,” the album’s superb centerpiece, Remy rides a bright beam of MIDI synths, programmed to sound like arena rock guitars, towards the warm light of accepting and cherishing life’s endless chaos and eternal mystery. But at the same time, a pang of despair lingers in the refrain: “Nothing is wrong, everything is fine, this is just life.”
Hopelessness, Remy acknowledges, is impossible to escape these days: “I’ve never had it where everybody that I know is living in such a precarious way,” she says. “Just monetarily, and also psychologically. It’s unreal.”
Talking about it, openly and often, with any and everyone, is one way she deals with it. “If you allow yourself to feel love and hopelessness at the same time, it reveals the bittersweet nature of life. Duality is a splendid thing. The point is not to get rid of hopelessness, or banish it so you never feel it again. It’s to have another feeling that balances it out.”
The other thing you can do? Bless it.
“Bless this mess” is not a phrase you’d expect to associate with a musician at the art-pop vanguard. It’s for kitschy suburban decor — mass-produced needlepoints, not records on 4AD. Remy latched onto it because “Bless This Mess” began as a song for a movie; it didn’t get used, but the exercise prompted her to find language more broad, universal, and less intimidating than a typical U.S. Girls lyric. Language, as she describes it, that would resonate with her mom.
“I just found it a helpful phrase. It seems totally relevant for now, that acceptance thing. We’re not going to clean this up. Or, you do your best every day to clean it up, and tomorrow’s going to be a mess again. It just is. We can’t fix it. The best we can do is bless it. Honestly accept it. See it, name it, feel it. I think that it could be read as very serious and also as not.”
Remy moves fast. This interview took place last November, well after Remy had finished Bless This Mess, and two months before the album was even announced. Off the bat, she admits, she’s onto the next thing, creative as ever, even with all her parenting duties. “Being with the kids is amazing for stoking my brain in general,” she says. “I always feel like I’m creatively and critically thinking, which only helps with art-making.”
She’s working on more U.S. Girls music, some of which she hopes to release this year. And she’s begun writing a second book, this one a work of fiction about twins. “What twins represent in the world, why the fascination with twins, and reflecting on what they’ve meant throughout time,” she explains. “You know, in medieval times, twins meant that the mother had cheated: ‘Oh, you had sex with two people, so we’re gonna kill you now.’ So bringing those two worlds together, and trying to write from the point-of-view of some unconventional narrators.”
Still, Remy sees a lot of uncertainty ahead, whether it’s the long-term viability of being a professional artist, or the immediate concern of touring behind Bless This Mess. She has just announced a run of eight shows in April with a new five-piece band; but between the dismal financial prospects, the time away from family, and the environmental toll of all that travel, it’s difficult to figure out what’s worthwhile beyond that.
In these moments, Remy tries to return to something simple, something sincere: Music is sacred.
“This isn’t music’s fault,” she reminds herself. “Music is the best part about this. It’s all the stuff surrounding it that’s a distraction, or is sucking the lifeblood from it. I still have a voice, I can sing. That’s not going anywhere.”