Chloe Hotline is moving at a million miles an hour. The Cincinnati vocalist-producer had a fantastic year musically in 2021, dropping a generous crop of catchy and thoughtful singles, EPs, and a whole album, “+NSTYNCT”. Her music sounds equal parts cinema and everyday grit, imbued with essential ideas of growth and gratitude and the burning hunger of an artist thinking and operating well above her status. Everything she does just sounds extensively and uncompromisingly real; as we talk she garnishes every other sentence with “honestly”. Chloe Hotline’s voice is one of the most malleable, direct, and authentic in the underground space today – the synth storm of recent single “Covergurl” feels just as natural as the midwestern slide of “Dearborn”. It’s no surprise she topped our artist of the year list in December.
In 2022 there’s been no signs of slowdown – Chloe looks to be continuing a prolific release schedule on her own accounts and that of her brand, Drench Media (seems like we’ll soon be adding “label manager” to her title soon). Her new album, simply titled “Kinnfolk”, is expected on Friday – it’s a perfect time to reflect on her recent creative journey.
Last June, I spoke to Chloe about the present and future. Hearing her talk about design, music, and her strong ambitions for art and life created an atmosphere of confidence and strength. It’s a great introduction to who Chloe Hotline is, how her creativity manifests, and where she might go next. We get deep into her production process and the unique way identity and inspiration cross over in her work. It’s clear in every word she says that nothing is out of reach.
So, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Chloe Hotline, I’m a singer, songwriter and a producer, [and] an overall creative, but those are the things that most people know me for.
Where does Chloe Hotline come from? How did you start doing what you do?
I’ve been making music since 2009, but I didn’t really decide to take it seriously until years and years later. I was a little kid when I started making music. I was six when I started making music, and I was nine when I started making beats, so as a kid of course you’re not gonna be fully locked in, engaged all the time – because [of] school, and things you’re doing in your life.
Yeah, it took a long time to get to this point. Chloe Hotline came from wanting to set myself apart in a way, cos I grew up just rapping for the most part. It got to a point where I was in middle school and I was like “ah, my singing voice is decent, maybe I should do this”, and that’s how we got to the point we’re at today.
Are you happy with the point you’re at today, or are there new directions you want to be taking it in?
I mean, I’m happy right now but there’s always room for elevation, there’s always room to improve. And I know the improvement is gonna come… I know I’m improving and I know I’m gonna turn into something far beyond what I could imagine musically.
Do you try and push that elevation in every piece of music you do, or are there times where you’re more just experimenting?
I always try to make everything me. I try to make everything a hundred percent me. I experiment with sounds a lot but that never comes out until I found my pocket with that sound.
I’m always pushing for elevation, unless I’m part of someone else’s project. When I produce for other people I feel like I’m adding the backdrop to the art, that’s not really my whole piece. I feel like when I produce for other people I’m just doing what they wanna do. In my solo music, I always wanna raise the bar and raise expectations.
Do you feel like there’s a lot of expectation around you in general?
Quite honestly? No, because… I don’t think people expect anything from me. Like there’s people that like my music but I don’t know if there’s people who are like stan status, like “oh my god, I can’t wait to see what you do next!”. I got messages like that before, but I’m really not sure…
I just follow what I wanna do with my art, honestly. I try not to think about the opinions of the people who are receiving my art, and just do it for me. Then when I’m done with it, and I’m comfortable with it I can share it with the world, and whatever happens happens. That’s been my whole thing with music.
Does that carry over to your album? Do you just let go of it after it’s done?
I mean there’s always gonna be that attachment of damn, I made this album, like I’m always gonna love my projects, but I feel like once it’s out it’s for the world it’s not for me anymore. It’s for the world, and that’s perfectly fine. I love that people could listen to my music and share it and it’s everywhere, that’s the goal with making music besides making myself happy. I love music. Just making other people feel comfortable with themselves or giving them someone to relate to – especially with this record.
“+NSTYNCT” was pure emotions. Everything was off the dome. I barely wrote at all, I think I actually sat down and wrote like one or two songs for this project, but a lot of it was just me going into the booth and figuring it out, just having the beat playing and figuring it out. That’s kind of like my writing style, figuring it out while the mic is there.
Writing is always good, in general, but just to have both skills, to come off the top of the dome and just go and to write, it’s really great, it’s good.
It’s an impressive record! I’d like to talk about it more in a minute, but just take it back a bit – what would you say inspires you?
My favourite artists and my friends definitely inspire me. I’ve been a huge Kanye fan since birth, probably. He inspires me a lot, definitely. Same with Tyler, I’ve been a huge Tyler fan since I was like in fourth grade. All the music I listen to, all the media I consume, honestly. I love cartoons, I love, love, love, love, love animation. Just everything, but on a musical level, Tyler, Kanye, Esthero…
I’m trying to think of who else I was listening to while I was making “+NSTYNCT”… Jenny Hval, her music is really dark and atmospheric and beautiful. Ethel Cain? You know, just a lot, just a mixed bag. My music is all of that processed through my brain and interpreted my way.
A lot of the artists you mention have very big identities or very big approaches to identity. Tyler is always coming up with characters, Kanye is always going through these phases – would you say it’s the same for you?
Yeah I think so – I look at right now compared to my last project and not only have I grown as a person, I’ve grown as an artist too. My identity as an artist has grown also, there’s things people actually associate with Chloe Hotline. Rather [than] it being “oh, this person makes cool music”, it’s actually phrases and lines and people tweeting my lyrics.
I think it kind of helps the lore of Chloe Hotline grow even more and makes it into a character. I’m 100% me most of the time, and eras and the identities kinda come from people who are receiving the music. People are definitely gonna be like “Oh, I remember when you made ‘+NSTYNCT‘ and that’ll be like a moment in time compared to the next project. The people who listen to the music will remember that strong connection.
And do you think specifically for “+NSTYNCT” there’s a focus on identity as well?
There’s definitely a focus on identity, and just going through shit, being a young adult and figuring things out. I’m still fairly young too. “+NYSTYNCT” is kinda like getting the past out of the way and starting your life. That’s what [it] signified to me… really starting adult life, you know? At the end of an era almost, but the future is bright. The future is very hopeful.
I think the project is also relatable because I feel like every young person goes through the situations I’m talking about, at least knows of someone who’s been in these situations. It makes the project kind of universal.
Do you try to make your music highly relatable, or do you just find that it comes naturally?
Honestly, I think it just comes naturally. Like I said, most of this album was not written down at all, that’s why the lyrics aren’t formatted on genius or anything. I’m being lazy with that, I need to get on that! I think it’s all just very, very natural.
Do you see yourself as a musician first or more of a multi-artist?
I see myself as a musician first, and I [also] see myself as a multi-disciplinary artist. Because music is always going to be my foundation, it’s where I started, and music has led to me getting into other things – like writing movies! I’m getting into writing my first script right now, or fashion, I have my brand Counerfit Industries, and I’m constantly working on that when I’m not working on music. Music has always been the base and it’s opened up different lanes to everything.
Can you talk more about that brand, Counerfit?
Ever since I was twelve I always had this idea for this brand. I grew up always inspired by Tyler, inspired by Kanye, inspired by Pharrell; ever since I found out about those things I wanted my own version of that. We went through several different names. Towards the end of 2019 is when the Counerfit name started to get solidified. My partner in it, the co-owner Malik, I was telling him about it and he was like yeah, that’s it. We’ve been on a cool run ever since, our first drop was in 2020 of April, which was kind of bad timing cos of the pandemic. Then we did a merch collab with an artist, and that kinda boosted us up also. Now it’s just back to designing things and putting them on garments.
The end goal for me, honestly, is to have my own shoe, but that is like – hell, that is so much that goes into it, I’m not ready for it. But I do have my design, I’ll just wait later in life to do it. I’m still young as hell, so I have time to do all these things.
How is your relationship with self-expression?
I think when I was younger it was a little bit harder, people asking you “what’s going on, what is this?”. Now that I’m grown, I’m just me. I express myself, I never change who I am, unless it’s for a project or unless I’m acting for something.
All my music, I’m usually talking about myself or situations I’ve been in. It’s not really like explaining someone else’s story, it’s me, and when it comes to expressing myself in whatever way I need to, I get it done. If I need to scream on a track to release some tension I’ll do it, if I get emotional while recording a song and cry, that stays in the take! There’s songs on “+NSTYNCT” where during the recording session I was on the verge of tears. It stayed in the session, it kept going. The song “Avoid” from the album… I definitely had a good cry between takes!
I used to have a hard time expressing myself but the older I got… the more confident I got with my beliefs, and within my talent that just bled into everything else. That just made me feel okay.
Do you think any type of self-expression can be entirely good or entirely bad?
I feel like it’s all about execution of self-expression. It might be good for you, but if you’re saying something out of pocket that might not be good for everybody. You can’t attribute everything to self-expression, cos if you’re saying something crazy or mean, going at somebody, saying their name… That’s kind of like woah you gotta chill, you gotta figure out a different way to do things, and I’ve definitely been through that before. There’s songs where I’ve said people’s names and I go back to it the next morning and I’m like “okay, I was tripping, let’s figure out how to rework this”!
Going back to a more musical side, on your album what inspired the production choices? Did you produce it all yourself?
I produce all of my music 100% unless it’s noted that I didn’t. I produced everything, I mixed the whole project too, I produced, arranged, wrote, mixed, everything. I did the art for the project also. The cover art is a self portrait that I did in Photoshop, everything is me.
On the musical side, yeah it was just me apart from track seven, the guitar solo – I think it was track seven – well somewhere, the guitar solo, that’s Lynden Rook, really talented.
What influenced the sound of it? Well, I never like weak drums. I love having hard-ass banging drums. That’s why some people would consider this project rap, the drum patterns, but that’s just something that’s instilled within me, I need to have banging ass cool tight sounding drums, heavily quantized, real, cool, great sounds. It’s definitely certain songs I can lead back to, for example, “Potent” is definitely me trying to make an elegant plugg beat. The drums hit how they do, then the samples and instruments laid over everything, and “Potent” is actually my favourite song that I ever made! That’s one of them ones for me.
Other tracks like “Tallulah” – definitely me trying to emulate my favourites, that’s all I’ll say for that one. “NOVA” and the second half of “NOVA”, “SP2” – I thought of that when I was 13, on an old mixtape, completely different song, but I brought the idea back because I knew I could make this stronger, and I knew this was a perfect way to close out the album. That’s one of my favourite ones also. I’m not gonna say the sample but I just love jazz, especially late 60s early 70s stuff, it gets more psychedelic. That was just one where I was like “I need to make this my own”.
The second half of “NOVA”, “Secret Part 2”, was not gonna be on the album originally, but I was going back while I was finishing it like “I could definitely use this”, and that’s like a quintessential Chloe Hotline type-beat. It has everything that I do in it at a high level.
“Lost in the Sun” was definitely me trying to make some N.E.R.D type of hybrid type thing. That’s definitely inspired by Tyler and N.E.R.D. “Avoid” is a crazy one – I recorded in on Christmas Eve in my closet kind of just on a whim. That’s why my voice in that song sounds kind of bad, kind of crackly or whatever – that’s one of the ones that was in the demo stages for a long time but then I was like “I can use this as an interlude”.
What drives the way that you use your voice? It is unique in the stuff that I’ve heard.
All five of my siblings were really great singers and were in choir and things like that, I was in choir for one year. I didn’t really fuck with it, and I just decided to be a rapper after that. Years later, comes back where I’m kinda like singing a little bit – like I’d always have moments over the years where I sing like “oh yeah, I sound pretty decent!”, but this one, this time…
I don’t know. I never really thought I could sing for real until I’d go back, listen to certain things from the 90s and the 80s, and even now, and be like “well they’re not that great at singing, but they’re still doing it!”. I kinda just started with that idea and ran with it, and over the years I have gotten better. My next project people are gonna be like “what the fuck? How you got this good at singing already, like what the hell?”
I think it just came with me growing up and gaining confidence as a person. Cos back then, when I wouldn’t sing, I was just more to myself and kinda like, you know, just like a – not like a hermit necessarily but I was off to myself more and I didn’t really take any risks with my music.
What are your goals with music right now? What do you wanna do?
Right now I do want to grow more as an artist. Grow more as a musician overall and I’d like to perform more a lot! I really wanna go on tour really really bad, I know things are starting to open back up and all that. I performed once, I performed last weekend – but I just want to perform – I feel like the stage is where I belong, the stage is home for me. Not only am I an artist, but I’m a performance artist also, I know how to put on a good show. That’s what I really wanna do for the people.
Grow as an artist, tour, definitely this year [or] early next year, just connect with people. People know that I went through the same shit, you’re gonna be okay, just chill out.
Collaborate with more people! Definitely collaborate with artists that I look up to. I’ve been collaborating with Malik, who I mentioned earlier. He’s on “Izudown”, first track of the album. Titmouse, she’s amazing, she’s on “Tallulah” which is the second track. My brother – my actual brother – is on “Madden 08”. Keyshawn is on “Madden ‘08”. Great rapper. Lynden Rook is on “Sum1”. These are all people I looked up to at some point, whether it be musically or daily-life wise.
Anything else you wanted to mention or shoutout or bring up?
Kinda just wanna give shoutouts. I wanna give shoutouts to the people I’ve been working with and the people I’ve been just making music with. I wanna give a shoutout to Malik, because without him this record isn’t possible. He’s helped me out in my life in so many ways that I’ll never forget. Titmouse once again. She’s the coolest. I gotta think, cos somebody’s gonna be mad if I don’t say their name!
I wanna give a shoutout to Keyshawn who was also on the album, he’s fire. I wanna give a shoutout to, once again, Lynden, who was also on the record. I wanna give a shoutout to everybody who bought the record, or who bought the physicals or the merch, who enjoyed it, put it on their year-end lists, I love you, thank you, they’re doing God’s work! Yeah, that’s about it.
Listen to “+NSTYNCT” here.
– Jamie (Managing Editor @108MICS)
Some quotes have been shortened for brevity and clarity. Alterations to quotes are presented in square brackets.