Built around the songwriting of vocalist, guitarist and pianist Izzy Olive, Chicago’s Half Gringa is less a band and more a vessel for personal introspection. While all adolescents are subject to stories and images about who they should be, impossible simulacra of identities they spend their lives trying to become, some have it more difficult than others. Growing up in small-town Illinois with an immigrant parent, Olive was caught between two such ‘ideals’; the notion of the Midwestern All-American Girl competing with the expectations that come with Latinx heritage. Conforming to one unfeasible persona is damaging enough, but when attempting to balance two, often incompatible affiliations, the fundamentals of identity are thrown into doubt.
With her debut full length Gruñona, Olive unpicks the knots and tangles that have developed through her life, both retracing steps and forging ahead to discover something closer to her authentic self. With Andres Fonseca, Ivan Pyzow, Sam Cantor and Sean Saville joining to form a full band, the record calls into question reductive racial/cultural stereotypes, and thereby challenges what Chimamanda Adichie calls the “danger of the single story.”
Fittingly, such a task requires a multitude of moods and attitudes. ‘The Architect’ is self-critical to the point of anger, a scathing attack not so much on herself but rather the flat narratives she allowed herself subscription, thus doubling up as a plea for freedom. “My fear hooked my arm,” Olive sings, “stole me from where I come / left me for dead, oh, please / I just get up and leave.” However, with such reflection comes the space for healing, the closing refrain of “I mistook my loneliness for bravery” sounding like an admission with cathartic power, and other tracks follow this more generous attitude.
This is best highlighted on opener ‘Marte’, a brooding track that hides a deep seam of forgiveness. “You suffer like it’s nothing,” sings Olive, “And I suffer like it’s nothing / And I take it on the chin / I take it on the chin / every time.” This is not some triumphant epiphany where a hard, true sense of identity is formed, but to concede that one’s self requires generosity as well as criticism feels like a healthy realisation, and one more robust and long-lasting than any bright white revelation. We, as people, cannot be reduced to single features or ideas, and self-interrogation allows not only an appreciation of one’s own nuance, but also a greater empathy and understanding when considering that of others.
Gruñona is a journey without a clear destination, a question without an answer. An attempt to map identity not to achieve some clear-cut conclusion but rather in the hope of better understanding how history and culture and personal beliefs shape the people we are and were, the people we will be.
We’re delighted to share the record in it’s entirety ahead of its release on the 18th August, so click below and dive in.
Gruñona is out on the 18th August and you can get it now via the Half Gringa Bandcamp page. The band are heading out on tour with fellow VSF-favs Minor Moon, starting with a release show at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Find the rest of the dates below.
Album artwork by Izzy Olive, photograph on player by Maren Celest