I was on Twitter.com recently — if you can believe that — and through replies to a tweet about a fake "utopian scholastic" CD-ROM game, I came across the wonderful single art for the song "Glass Delusion" by Anna Belle. Oooh what is this??? I asked myself, and then I played the song: a dreamy, softly '80s synth pop tune with vulnerable lyrics that reference a "strange, brittle feeling" and the fear of breaking and blowing away.
I'm always fascinated by how people who DIY their music have to dig into aspects of music creation beyond just the composition, and I was bewitched by the retro stylings of "Glass Delusion" and its corresponding art, so I emailed Anna Belle to ask her about how the song came to be, from inspiration to production/recording to the single art and release. She emailed back some incredibly thoughtful answers:
I understand the lyrics of "Glass Delusion" are about a traumatic incident you experienced last year — what was it like for you to express this lyrically?
Almost a year ago now, I was involved in a situation where my life was threatened. Up until that point, my anxiety always "protected" me in a way and helped me avoid danger; basically like playing life on safe mode. Staying in, staying out of the way, not getting involved, avoiding risk — that was me. That incident was the moment the curtains lifted, and I realized my fear wasn't physically keeping me from harm. It had left me unprepared, fragile, vulnerable...I had never felt so on the verge of collapse. I felt it was my responsibility to write about it, but I wanted to express what was going on in my brain in a way that was universal to my previous struggles with anxiety and fear as well. It needed to be therapeutic for me, or it wouldn't be worth reliving those emotions over and over.
In the week following the incident, I tried to keep up my normal activities — teaching voice lessons, running errands, taking walks — but I was engulfed with so much irrational paranoia, I felt like it was seeping out of my skin. Surely people could see how fearful and breakable I was. Every time I went out I thought, "I probably look so pitiful." Does anyone else feel like this? How can they not see right through me? Anxiety is physical for many people like me; it's an extreme awareness of and discomfort in your body. I wrote a few loose lines like "am I just normal to them" and "please don't invite me." I didn't want to do anything or go anywhere because I felt like I would be so exposed and just crumble.
Shortly after, I found a post on the front page of Reddit about the concept of "glass delusion," a 17th-century psychiatric disorder where people feared they were actually made of glass, or had some kind of an irrational fear of vulnerability. Tchaikovsky had it, in fact. I suddenly felt understood at another level, even if it was across time. It was so reminiscent of the lines I had already written that I immediately filled in the rest of the lyrics with everything I wanted to say. "They call it Glass Delusion." A few tears rolled reading it back, so I knew it was ready.
Will you tell me a bit about the process of composing the music and recording the song?
Once the lyrics were done, I wanted to track the music ASAP so I could get the ball rolling. I knew I wanted to release it as a single. I have a bit of a unique way of producing my tunes; I record everything on my keyboard's sequencer first and then export the audio to import into Pro Tools (in other words, I have an extra step in the process that makes me "commit" early to what I compose.) The synth riff was something I had composed on my keytar while I was waiting for one of my voice students. Like most of my songs, I wanted the soundscape to evoke a general nostalgic era, which tends to land around the '80s, complete with a synth, pad, fake bass, fake drums, and very fake guitar (courtesy of my good ol' Roland FA-06). Some people have told me it sounds like The Police. That's fair.
I wanted to go with a girl band sound for the vocals, so I used a vocal doubler and recorded some layers on top of it and soaked it in reverb. For being a song that's inspired by trauma, it somehow felt right to have it upbeat and danceable. Kind of a matter-of-fact attitude with a circular chord progression. The mixing process is always the longest part for me since that's my weakness as a musician, but after a few weeks it ended up sounding pretty close to what I had in my head — like a little band playing in a nice dream — so that was that.
The single art is incredible and of course reminds me of the amazing way computers and the internet were depicted in the 1990s. What inspired you to seek out this type of imagery?
I'm no graphic designer, but I try to have a theme for all my cover art, usually imitating an aesthetic or technology from the past. For my EP, I chose an "80s text adventure" theme (closely related to the title track's lyrics) and made all the visuals in Canva. For Glass Delusion, I thought I would progress through the eras a bit and focus on the '90s. I remember my dad having these Windows manuals and encyclopedia-ish software that had serif fonts and little computer-generated graphics on the covers. The idea of "glass delusion" as a condition originating in the Renaissance period reminded me of historical academia, so in my mind the cover art needed to look scholarly, like an educational CD-ROM.
I didn't use a specific reference; at the time I hadn't heard of "utopian scholastic" (the alleged aesthetic), but I chose a nice font on a blank background and started adding random shapes with color gradients. I asked my portrait photographer Jeni Abercrombie if I could use one of her photos of me for the cover art, so I used the background removal tool and plopped that on the cover too. The barcode is from Canva, too, with the number scribbled out. I put the whole thing through a grainy filter on Snapseed to give it an aged look.
Since visual art isn't my forte (never ask me to draw anything!), making and showing off my own cover art feels amateur at times. I was feeling brave one day and used it in one of my replies on Twitter and it got a surprising number of likes and compliments — like wow! Very few people had mentioned the art to me at all after I released it last year. Regardless, I'm very proud of the Glass Delusion art. It'll be pretty hard to top that, actually.
Now that the song has been out in the world, have your feelings about this traumatic incident changed or evolved? Of course, music never needs to be made expressly for the purpose of processing and moving on from things you experience, but I'd be curious to hear if playing the song and hearing other people's responses to it has affected you at all.
A few weeks ago, I had packed away most of my stuff due to moving out of my apartment but still had my keyboard out on my bed to make tracks if need be. I had been extremely anxious that week; there was my show coming up in addition to the move. The fragile feeling was very much back and it had spooked me. I just felt so bad. Nausea, dizziness, fatigue...you know. While I was recording a commission, I saw the MIDI file for Glass Delusion in my project list and for nostalgia's sake, I opened it up.
When I first wrote the song, I sort of relived the traumatic situation in pieces as I went. When digging up the old instrumental file, it was like a call from my past self that was meant for me to be heard in the future, like an emotional code I had desperately sent. I was so charmed by how primitive everything sounded since it was unmixed with no effects, kind of like looking at your own baby pictures. I could hear the uncertainty and fear through my simple little motifs looping over and over again. The song started to sound really sad and tragic to me. It got to the part where the chorus chords repeat, and I think that silly fake guitar is what did it. I started crying explosively. It felt awful and so good at the same time. (My husband thought I was working so he made a mad dash into the room when he heard me sobbing.) I wanted to grab my June 2022 self and say, "you'll make it, you'll survive everything, you're adorable and have so much creative power and resilience in you. Mwah."
I must ask, with the references to early CD-ROMs, what were your favorite ways to use a computer / the internet when you were growing up, and what are your favorite ways to use them now?
I was a computer kid from the very beginning. There's a home video of me playing a Sesame Street CD-ROM and I was so little, I had to use three fingers to click the mouse. As a toddler, I'm not sure if I knew what the internet was yet — all I cared about were games — and Youtube didn't come around until I was about six. My early childhood was split between home and my grandparents' house since both my parents worked, and my cousin also lived there, so she shared her collection of CD-ROMs with me. Some of my favorites were Barbie Magic Hairstyler, Sonic R, and Putt-Putt. My dad made illegal copies of them so I could play them at home, heh.
Nowadays, I play games that are even older than that, like King's Quest (this is my Thing I Always Bring Up) and I like to sift through the Usenet archives at times. It blows my mind that some people were posting Star Wars hate to an electronic message board in 1986. Otherwise, 90% of my time on the computer is either spent working on music-related things, reading Wikipedia, or taking care of my emails. I mostly reserve social media for my phone. Something something doomscroll something Reddit moment. I really need to get that Macintosh Plus I bought on eBay fixed.