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‘Duality Of My Brain’ Guides Asheville's Indigo De Souza To Coat Downbeat Lyrics With Upbeat Music

Charlie Boss

Indigo De Souza could be a spokeswoman for the DIY ethos. Of the more than dozen tattoos along her legs, arms and hands, several came from her own hand. 


“I stick and poke a lot of them, just with a needle and ink. I did this one, this one and this one,” she said, pointing around her legs. “Like this one is a drawing I did when I was little. And this is an image of the church, this church.” 


This church-turned-residence, in Madison County, is where De Souza has lived since January. Friends come over to chill in the wide-open former worship hall downstairs. Crammed into a small, quiet space upstairs, there are guitars, keyboards and a couple of weather-beaten drums. This is where De Souza’s DIY musical expressions begin taking shape.


“If I have an idea, it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get that idea out, I just need to figure it out,” she said. “Like even the chords on keyboard, I’m not classically trained, but I can just hear the notes and follow my intuition.” 


At 24 years old, De Souza has already earned a fanbase internationally for her signature collision of upbeat music and downbeat lyrics. Her second full-length album is titled “Any Shape You Take.” Her album-release shows are Aug. 26-27 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville.  


“When I was younger, I was writing things I thought other people would like to hear, because that’s what I thought songs were, something you write so people feel entertained,” she said. “And then I switched over to realizing that if I were just to be 100 percent honest about what I’m feeling when I write songs, that would allow other people to find space to connect to each other and to me and give them space to process their emotions, if I were to be honest about mine.” 


De Souza grew up sharing a house with her mother, mostly in Spruce Pine. She recalls her mom driving a truck with Barbie dolls and action figures glued around the body, flames along one side and depictions of bombings along the other. 


“Even just that, her picking me up from school in the truck, is enough to set me apart from everybody else,” she said. “On top of that, my skin was different from other people’s skin. I was always wearing wacky clothes. My mom wouldn’t buy me the lunchables that everyone else had. I was eating hummus and carrots. I was just kinda destined for Asheville, in a way, and it just took me a while to get here.” 


De Souza was 16 when her mom moved them both to Asheville and, the following year, fell in love and moved in with a man in his 20s. Through him, she met older, more experienced musicians. Some became early collaborators. But as bandmates came and went, De Souza leaned into playing all the instruments herself to lay the foundations of her songs and take the path of a solo artist. 


“I have always been such a heavy songwriter, and so I think I knew I would always want to be in control of the songs we were playing,” she said. “I also now realize bandmates are always going to shift and people will not always be able to be on the journey with me, so I have to hold my own as the main character.” 


While De Souza was content to simply write and record her music, she credits her mother for pushing past her reluctance to perform. Fittingly, she titled her 2018 debut album “I Love My Mom.” Her mother painted the cover artwork for that album and the new one. 


De Souza said a series of existential crises during her late teens inspired the songs on her first record. She recalls one such crisis after noticing the bones moving beneath her mother’s skin, spurring a psychological dive into mortality.  


“These moments that were very palpable, which felt like my brain was disassembling and resetting,” she said, describing her crises. “I was a young teenager and just coming into my body and into myself. I just saw words in a different way after that and realized I could just communicate things in a very simple way.” 


De Souza said songs on the new album, such as “Real Pain” and “Darker Than Death,” stem from that same period of writing. Still, she said, the record also holds newer tunes with lyrics as upbeat as the music. 


Even for the song “Kill Me,” De Souza enlisted her friends to conceive and star in an uplifting video concept. 


“I asked for them to come up with something messy, that was dark but also funny that celebrated bodies in some way. I wanted it to kinda be an explosion of color and mess and bodies,” she said of the video. “The duality of my brain in general is I’m a very depressed and super anxious person, but I also have so much joy in my body and really default to joy, in a way, to cope with those things.” 

Matt Peiken was BPR’s first full-time arts journalist.
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