Find Your Own Fantasy in RLYBLONDE’s Debut EP
By Justice Petersen
After years of creating magic and fueling artistic visions behind the scenes, Brooklyn-based indie artist RLYBLONDE has released their debut EP “Fantasy”. A project several years in the making, “Fantasy” is an alternative and cheeky debut that inspires listeners to learn from their teenage angst, feminine rage, and inevitable heartbreaks.
Beautifully adorned in vintage dresses, full glam makeup, and (soon) bedazzled cowboy hats, RLYBLONDE (aka Carina) embodies a modern-day Courtney Love meets Taylor Momsen. An iconic blonde and an even more iconic multidisciplinary visionary, RLYBLONDE has released “Fantasy”, an album full of whimsical feminine energy, tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, and hope for those who may feel stuck where they are.
For the poetic souls who dare to feel, RLYBLONDE’s “Fantasy” EP is the spark that you may need to fuel your desire to rewrite your life and create a fantasy of your own.
Justice: Before doing music you also worked as a creative director and a photographer for other artists. What made you decide to finally pursue music yourself?
Carina: Yeah, it’s been crazy. I’ve been working in Brooklyn for the past five years as a photographer and working over the years doing lots of different things. But my focus really has become working with musicians and working with this really amazing Brooklyn community of artists. I’ve always really loved it and I’ve loved contributing to someone’s world-building vision. Music is such a special thing and to be able to craft that with someone so that everyone else can experience their music in full, it’s such a beautiful process to me.
But I’ve always been a performer. I was a huge theater kid. I think it just lives in my bones. And I think that that part of me was just very stifled for a long time. I always loved music. I always loved singing. I’m always on set singing along to my playlists and whatnot. I think I realized that I was jealous of everyone.
I just was sitting on set in my grubby T-shirt and looking at my friends getting their glam done and being like, ‘damn I kind of want to do that.’ I think I just felt stuck for a while because I didn’t play guitar, and I didn’t have a songwriting method. During the pandemic I finally was just like, ‘I’m so bored. I need something to do,’ so I picked up my old guitar from high school again and tried to reteach myself, and literally taught myself guitar over the past two years.
Now I finally have a way to make the music itself and express myself. I know it’s not the usual way that people end up here, and every day I’m kind of finding my footing of how I’m presenting myself on social media and how to maintain a job and all these things. I feel that I’m sort of carving out my space in the world and my space in New York more and more as I present myself more authentically, and I feel like whatever the fallout from that will pay off for me in my happiness in the long run.
Justice: It’s interesting that for so long you were behind the camera before deciding you wanted to be in front of it for a change.
Carina: Right. Well, in college I was modeling. And then when I came to the city originally, I thought I was going to be more in the fashion industry. The designers that I know are so amazing and there are so many cool people doing amazing shit in New York. But, frankly, the fashion industry and the vibe of the scene just was not my speed. And I could go on a tangent for like five years about the modeling industry.
I knew that I liked being on camera. I don’t have a problem with it. I like dressing up, I like doing the whole thing, but I started to have this weird almost dissociative thing when I would do a shoot where the creative direction was so far from anything I would ever pick for myself, and I would just look at the photos and be like ‘who is that?’ I’ve done a lot of shoots that I love the styling and whatever, but I kind of just hit a point where I was like ‘I can’t engage with this anymore’ and had to pull back.
I’ve been doing my own self-portrait photography for years and so I sort of just leaned on that. I’d rather photograph myself and have total creative control so that I can express myself in a way that feels like me, or this sort of glamorized version of me. I’ve done all these photo projects over the years and the one that I think of a lot in regards to this EP project is this gallery show I did in 2019.
I did three different series of self-portraits that were inspired by different relationships I’ve been in, different heartbreaks, what I learned from them, and all the classic female tropes that I felt I had embodied or that someone had projected onto me through all these different relationship dynamics I’ve been in. All of it was very over-the-top glam, kind of femme, storybook vibes.
When I finally was trying to figure out my voice as a musician, I was sort of floundering for a little bit. “Fantasy” was the first song that I wrote where I realized my material is this sarcastic, hopeless romantic confusion. I haven’t done a self-portrait project in a while, and people ask me where my next self-portrait project is, but I’m working on music. That’s where I’m at right now.
Justice: Is it hard to balance multiple things at once? Or is music the one thing you want to focus on now?
Carina: Yeah, the EP came out and I feel like I’ve been living in a weird daze for the past week if not months. It’s been a lot of prepping for this to come out and it is a huge balancing act of all the things in my life. Because much like everyone else in New York, I have to work and maintain the career that I already have. And then this switch from being a service person, and offering a service, to being the product.
It’s a huge shift so I’m trying to get used to it. Then I am working on this production company I have started up with a couple of friends to sort of continue the work that I’ve been doing with other artists in a bigger capacity. And then separately, my day job now for the next three to four months is being a wedding photographer so that’s what I’m doing every weekend.
I’ll be shooting an engagement session with my clients, and they’ll say, ‘So you have an EP coming out?’ It’s this weird thing where I have many hats to wear and I have to figure out what hat I’m wearing. Sometimes it crosses over and it’s like my identity is dissolving.
I don’t think there’s a perfect way to do it. I think I’m gonna have to trial and error a lot of this stuff. I also hate that social media plays such a big part of it and that I have to think so hard about how I’m presenting it all so that I still seem like a nicely tied-up package as an artist. It’s a challenge, but I think this first year of all of this is probably going to be the hardest one of teaching me what is working for me and what’s not. I’m kind of just along for the ride, but it’s a unique experience.
Justice: You mentioned your production company, Hot Creative. Tell me a little bit about that.
Carina: I have a couple of friends I work with that are also in the music industry around here that, we’ve all got our day job that we’re working or other things that we’re doing, but we all love this community that’s around here and we all already have this working relationship together. So we finally were like, let’s take the next step and give it a title and put a name on it so we can show that we offer these services.
It was good timing because I’m sort of hitting this point where my work is forking off into all these different pathways. For me right now, it’s a way for me to keep my creative work going and keep my business going while also being able to exist as a weird artist entity as well. It’s a newer adventure and I’m excited to get it up and running. But frankly, for me, I have been so strongly independent for so long.
It took me a long time to be at a place of admitting I need help. But I think the vision sort of surpasses my own capabilities as one person. I feel grateful to have more of a team behind me now and I’m hoping that that team can only grow bigger. I’m learning when it’s time to assign a role to someone else and ask for the proper support that I need. It’s another challenge, but I’m excited about it. I think we’re gonna have a lot of cool stuff come out of that.
Justice: That’s awesome! I love that you’re so positive too. I also wanted to talk about your image, I love it so much. It’s very Y2K, very Courtney Love. Who or what inspires you when it comes to aesthetics and treatments?
Carina: Courtney Love is a huge one. And I don’t want to seem like a poser or like I’m the biggest Courtney Love fan ever, but there are these artists through the culture that have just had such iconic looks and they’re so embedded in the zeitgeist. Kind of like the Taylor Momsen look, that 90s/early 2000s rock girl look. I think a lot of it for me has just been sort of aspirational. A lot of it is for the aesthetic. It’s a little silly, but I’m not mad about it.
Back when I was modeling, I wanted people to know when they came to me for a shoot, whether I was the model, photographer, or creative director, that they’re gonna be getting a certain vibe, a certain aesthetic, a certain style. I feel like it’s just evolved into this vision that I have for my own artist self and persona. So yeah, it’s a little grungy, it’s a little 80’s campy.
I love to play with makeup. I thankfully have so many amazing makeup artist friends that now I can hire to do my looks and stuff. But for years, anytime I have the opportunity to dress up or do a shoot for whatever reason I’m going for the drag look. Like it’s full clown makeup.
I just think that’s so fun. And maybe it’s a tangent, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this, especially after playing a few shows now. I see all these other amazing queer artists creating this space for their fans to be in the audience. Particularly queer women and younger folks, and they’re coming out and they’re being able to dress up in the audience. That’s really what I would like to cultivate.
To me, it is play. It’s performance, it’s fun. It’s like an elevated version of myself. The music is elevated versions of my feelings. That’s what’s so cool about music you get to make everything ten times what it is just for the sake of it. It’s super cathartic in that way. I think it all ties in together.
I already have my mood boards pulled for everything for the next chapter. I always get ahead of myself, but I look back. I really love certain photographers. Nadia Lee Cohen is one of my favorite artists who does this over-the-top glamorized style making fun of Americana/Hollywood culture. I love the big makeup. I think that if you’re going to buy into celebrity culture in any way or the idea that you could be the one to make it big, I almost feel like you have to be self-aware enough to know that it’s all a bit.
I feel like that’s where people get lost in the sauce, when they’re taking it a little too seriously. I felt strongly throughout my whole artistic career that it just can’t be that serious. You have to be able to come home to yourself at the end of the day and not be losing your mind 100%. I think a lot of my aesthetic and having it all be so over the top for me is kind of like me winking at everyone else. It’s like a joke. We’re just having fun here.
Justice: I love that you say you want to be able to provide this safe space for fans. One of my favorite things about music is it’s such a safe space for people. Even with going to concerts, you can work your 9 to 5, but then you can go see your favorite artist and you can go all out and get dressed up. It’s just a cool thing that is so unique to the music itself.
Carina: I feel like I’ve been to so many shows over the past few years because once the pandemic kind of let up a bit I started shooting concerts and that was kind of a way for me to see a bunch of different artists that I like, meet people, and just have experiences. I feel lucky that my skill set has allowed me to explore all these different facets of the music world.
I’ve had a lot of fun shooting concerts and there’s been a few artists or a few different shows where girls have come up to me in the audience and been like, ‘Is this you?’ and they show me my Instagram and I’m like, ‘Oh my God yeah, that is me!’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, I saw you shooting at the last show here and I saw the artist post your pictures later and then I followed you.’ It’s just so charming to me because they’re young. These are babies, and they’re out here kissing their friends and doing drag makeup and having this beautiful space to be in.
A lot of the EP for me is about coming out as queer late later in life. Someone made fun of me recently, because I said that later in life, but I’m 27. I don’t know. It feels different. I don’t know if I had had that as a younger person, if it would have clicked for me. I think I’m very much on my own journey and I think everyone has that, but it’s just so beautiful to me that all these young folks have this fun space to be in and make memories with their friends and feel accepted and feel seen.
And it’s not like I think that I have crazy fans. In fact, I feel I have, like, no fans because no one knows who I am. So it’s not like I’m gonna be this leader in this space but a girl can dream. To me, it comes from a very pure place of wanting people to feel accepted. That’s kind of what this project is about for me. Learning who I am, accepting myself, and realizing I can live a life where I choose who’s in my circle and I get to be myself. I get to be in the places I want to be with the people I want to be with and that’s a choice that I have.
Justice: I love that so much. Going off that too, the EP did come out very recently. How has the reception been so far?
Carina: I mean, it’s just weird. I feel like any release is just strange. It’s like, you work so hard and then you put it out, and then you wake up the next day exactly the same as you were before. I don’t even wanna make it seem like it’s so amazing and my life is changed. Like, no. I had a fun show with all my friends and my family was there and I met some new people and we had a cake.
That’s what this has been about for me. And I hope that the music finds the right people and that as we play shows over the summer the right people that resonate with it will be like, ‘This is for me’. And the people who don’t, don’t need to. It’s very bittersweet. It’s about two years in the making. And now here I am and it’s a week later and I am still the same girl.
It’s weird, but I’m very proud to have it out and I also feel just the very classic thing of any musician that finally puts a project out of feeling so done. With this music, I’m done with it. I love it, you know, but working on new stuff, I feel like I can finally close the box a little bit and then I can free up some mental space for writing new stuff and also just living my life and experiencing things so that I can write the next chapter.
I have to sit back and pat myself on the back, because the next day I’ll wake up and have a whole spiral about the whole thing, and then I have to tell myself it’s fine. Like, look how hard you worked, you know? It’s just all the motions of being an artist.
Justice: I like that you call it a chapter. And I was going to ask you earlier too. With your aesthetics, do you plan for any future stuff? Will a completely new look come with a completely new chapter?
Carina: I mean, I decide on a concept and then maybe I will change my mind later. I’m not so tied to anything. But before I even did this first project, I knew that first I’m gonna have my pop-punk era. And then next I’m going to go more indie-rock, kind of a little grungier vibes. And then finally I say that I’m gonna come back to bluegrass because my family is really big on bluegrass music.
It’s kind of full circle. But I always say that I’m gonna have a country era. To me, a lot of popular country is just pop music, so it’ll be my singer-songwriter, country, pop kind of moment. But of course, I already have the Pinterest board of the bedazzled cowboy hats.
The album, it is so much about the aesthetic. So again, it’s hard to even plan one more project in advance because everything takes so long with making music. But that’s always been my sort of plan is pop-punk, indie-rock, and then country, which is kind of silly. I’m already working on the next project and I do think of it as chapters. I think because I’m coming to music in sort of an unorthodox way that my brain has had a little bit more freedom to decide what I want to do and how I want to do this.
I’ve always felt that. I wish artists felt they had more freedom to explore new genres or different sounds or different looks. Because I feel like it gets so redundant, doing the same thing over and over again. Are you the same person wanting to make the same music you did two years ago? I can’t imagine that anyone feels that way.
I feel like because I have other things going on in my life and I’m not relying on music to be my career, I have a bit more freedom to do it as an expression of myself and do whatever I want to. Of course, I started with this as a hobby, and now it’s like, I need a record deal, you know? I just don’t know how to do anything in a chill way.
But I do like to think I have enough of a head on my shoulders that I don’t wanna jump into any sort of opportunity that’s going to limit my ability as an artist to do what I want. Every artist is just wanting to find ways to sustain themselves.
I do very much think about it as chapters. I feel like “Fantasy” was this chapter of my life from 2021 into 2022, maybe even before that, and now I’m sort of living the next chapter already. It’s cool because I feel like with music you get to relive this whole chapter of your life by the time the music is actually out. It’s weird because I feel more like the next girl right now. But then when I go out and I get to play the “Fantasy” show, it’s like I get to be that girl again. I’m excited to get to the point where I’ll already be in the next era.
But then I get to relive the moment I’m having now. I’ve never in my life committed to a project over such a long period of time. And that has been a huge block for me and a really big personal accomplishment to just stick to something. I’m a Sagittarius, and one day I love it and the next day I’m like, ‘fuck this.’ So, to be standing by a project two years later, it was a really big deal for me. I like to think that now I can move forward and be more intentional and really take my time with stuff and be confident in the work even years later.
Justice: I love that you don’t want to stick to just one thing. I’m already living for the bedazzled cowboy hats.
Carina: I know!
Justice: I wanted to ask about the songs on “Fantasy” as well. I think my favorite is “Alone”. It’s very alternative, very raw. What was the story and inspiration behind that song?
Carina: I wrote that song, and I also wrote the song “Fantasy”, back in 2021. I took a songwriting class through this organization called School Song because I knew I wanted to write. I just felt blocked. I was finally getting the hang of guitar and I thought maybe I could use some structure, like some prompts or something.
We had all these different homework prompts, so we would have to write these songs and bring them back to the class. We would all listen to each other’s songs and when I wrote “Alone”, people were saying, ‘Oh my God, this needs to be live, I need the full version.’ The delusion in me was telling me someday I’m gonna play this live with a full band. And I just did. It’s crazy, you know?
It’s just very cliche. I went through a breakup, then there was the period of time after the breakup, and then coming out of COVID. My career had been shot for years, I had just lost half my social circle. I felt like shit. Just the whole gamut. So I was like, fuck it. I was very much in this, rebellious, bratty, teen moment where I was like, fuck everyone. I’m gonna do what I want.
I was just going to shows all the time, doing shit alone, going out, bringing a camera and just deciding to shoot a concert. Just being in spaces by myself. I had also just recently moved into an apartment myself. Just living alone and realizing I had the freedom to make New York my playground and do whatever I want here. Do whatever the city has to offer me and that no one could tell me what I couldn’t do or explore. Even when people try to.
I just was having this internal thing of viewing the city in a new way and just balls to the wall deciding I’m gonna rewrite my entire life right now. So that was kind of my expression of that, but then also this sarcasm or this self-awareness of realizing, ‘Okay maybe I am feeling a way, but I’m not gonna let you know that.’
There are these hints of a breakup or feeling emotional about something. And there is this idea of coming home at the end of the night and saying to yourself, ‘Well, that was a really fun distraction – now I’m home again!’ It’s this dichotomy of ‘I’m having the time of my life’ and then coming back home alone and then having that on repeat until you figure it out. But yeah, I love that song. It’s one of my favorites.
Justice: I love that. I was going to ask too, what made you decide to name the EP after the track “Fantasy”?
Carina: That was the star of this project. And then when I wrote “My Way”, as I was putting it together, that one sort of felt like a little finale piece. I don’t think I knew that exactly when I was writing it all. This was so long ago. But that song to me gives a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, a little hope for the future, a little bit of a happier feel than the rest of the music.
It sort of flowed naturally in the bridge, the lyrics “wherever I’ll be the grass is always green, living in my own fantasy”. And it was like that thing in movies when the characters say the title of the movie.
I was having this moment with myself where I was like ‘That’s it.’ That sort of put it together for me, where I was like, wow, this whole thing is my fantasy. Putting out music was my dream, that’s the fantasy. The fantasy is this performance where I am putting on this character. I’m the fantasy, but also New York has become this fantasy world for me of opportunity and creating my own. It’s this romanticism and romanticization at once of my life and the character and this blown-out-of-proportion version of everything.
It sounds dramatic, but that is how intensely I’ve felt this whole time. To me, it doesn’t even really feel over the top. This is who I am. But everyone comes home at the end of the day and takes their makeup off and is just a normal person. It is the fantasy, the imagination, the dream, this magical world, and creating a space for yourself. I felt that it encapsulated all of the feelings around like this project.
Justice: I love how honest and relatable your lyrics are. You say you’re often sarcastic and sometimes that’s an armor for you, is it difficult being emotionally vulnerable in your music?
Carina: I think it’s very hard to be vulnerable like this. Every day I’m like ‘Oh my God am I really doing all this?’ It’s intense. It’s very different. It’s very difficult. I think that, like many great art projects, the fuel of a rancid breakup got me going there and saying I don’t care. Because I felt very limited in my emotions or that I was really worried about how someone else would feel about it.
I think for a long time I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by saying what I had to. That was very freeing – just putting it out on the table and not caring anymore. What’s anyone gonna think about it? That helped me get to a place of even doing this in the first place. But yeah, I think there is a bit of sarcasm to the whole project that helped me get there.
But also in the same way, just like when I figured out that that was the tone, it sort of switched for me because I’ve got tons and tons of just depressing ass songs in the vault. But I was like, no one needs to hear this. And so to me, this felt more cathartic or this felt more empowering to sort of be like, listen, maybe I felt a way, but I’m still having a good time. This was the tone for this project, and I think there will be a continuation of that in its many evolved forms.
But I think that I would like to be able to explore more complexity of emotions in stuff moving forward. But I think it also has to reflect where you are in life and the things you’re genuinely going through. And I think that the past couple of years was a very big transition of ‘my life was this, and now I would like it to be this.’
That’s the message. I was unhappy and now I would like to be happy, and maybe I figured out what makes me happy. Then once you get there it’s like, now there’s a lot more nuance to having queer relationships or pursuing the thing I want to pursue. I do see that there will be a lot of material in the future.
Justice: That leads to my next question – you made this album over the past two to three years. Has working on music changed you as a person? Because it does require a lot of self-reflection and processing of emotions.
Carina: I had said in the press release that I feel like I started this project as one person and came out as a new one. I’m sure every musician has their own feelings of how the music affects them and how they emote through that and process through that. But I’ve felt like I have a unique way of coming about it. The music, the message, the emotional aspect, the process of it, and who I am now all feels so intertwined because half of the frustration was that I want to do this, I want to make the music.
I want to be living in my highest artistic truth. So the angst and the urgency of that I feel is sort of reflected in the music. The songs are not like ‘I wanna be a rockstar’, but they sort of have that energy. It’s like this whole meshed-together thing of me having these inklings of wanting more from my life.
Through the process of writing all the music, I finally have popped out at the end of being like ‘Oh wow I did that shit.’ Similarly, when I wrote “Fantasy”, I was still dating only men, and so that was sort of my final straw of being like ‘bro, I cannot do this anymore.’ Like, I’m losing my mind. I feel like “Fantasy” itself in 2021 was sort of this final straw moment of me feeling like I need to reframe everything and I need to rethink my life. Because if this is how I feel, then something is not clicking.
I don’t know if I would have hit the same kind of catharsis moments or moments of process if I hadn’t been so deep in writing music every night in my room. I think I’d found these nuggets of what was emotionally true for me by writing music.
It’s almost like digging around in your own psyche for answers and finally being like, ‘I think I am maybe on to something here’ and then coming full circle at the end of the project with “My Way”, which is very much my little gay song of realizing maybe I could have a different version of what my life looks like. It’s cool to see the way that I’ve been able to process through the music and push me forward into a new chapter of my life.
Justice: I love the overall theme of the EP of encouraging people to pursue the life that they want to have or to become the version of themselves that they want to be. That ties into my last question – what do you hope fans can gain from the EP?
Carina: Yeah, it’s very much that. I feel very much that this was like my second puberty or something. It’s very angsty. I’ve felt permanently 17 years old for the past three years. And, you know, I think a lot of that is reflected in sort of the genre of the music and the attitude. Those are all the choices I made. I’ve always been of the mind that pop music is going to save the teens.
I get very worked up about the importance of music for young people. I can only hope that the right people that resonate with this find it and understand that you can find the spaces you want to be in. You can explore yourself. It’s okay to be dramatic and to have a lot of feelings. It’s okay to go through all of those things to find what resonates with you.
And obviously, that’s different for everybody. It’s not like everyone lives in New York or has those options. But I think that the ability to sit with yourself and also romanticize your life and be in love with your own life even when it’s melodramatic and not perfect or to be able to see your world in a way that is larger than life sort of makes it worth all of the drama.
I think that life would be boring if you didn’t have any heartbreak or didn’t have any emotions. I don’t think I would have learned nearly anything about myself if I hadn’t gone through years and years of shitty relationships or breakups or all of these trials and tribulations. I do think everyone’s on their own journey, but if you can find the humor in it and find the nuggets of magic in it then I think you really can forge through and use all of that to fuel you to find what really does fill up your cup. I hope that’s what people can take.
Justice: I love that. I love the validation and the reassurance from the EP. Did you have any final thoughts or anything else you wanted to add?
Carina: My gosh, no, thank you so much! It was so, so fun talking to you.
Justice: It was honestly so cool talking to you! And congrats on the EP, it’s awesome.
Carina: Thank you so much!