There’s a stark difference between playing music alone for fun and stepping in front of an audience to bare your soul. For Cyam, that transition began at the end of 2016 when they performed alongside Jelena Gonzalez as part of an early iteration of former local band Egg Princess. Cyam then took on their first solo performance in May 2017.
“I didn’t think I was ready, but then I did it anyway and the rest is history,” they say.
While they’ve tried their hand at guitar and drums, Cyam prefers the potential held within the ukulele and is proud of how their skills have evolved since they first picked one up when they were 12.
“I’ve played music for a long time, but it wasn’t until I played with Jelena that I wanted to actually do it publically,” they say.
Although limiting themselves to the occasional performance once or twice a month, Cyam says they’re constantly playing and writing new songs. Their writing process begins with a poem before they assemble it within chords and strumming patterns.
“When it comes easier it’s more of an emotional release, like I’m crying or something and I write a song to get over it,” they say, “and then sometimes there’s just a song I’m working on that’s like—you know if you’re painting something and you do the painting over a couple of days, you just want it to be perfect. ‘Carly’s Song’ took a really long time and then ‘Until I Knew You’ took five minutes to write.”
Cyam waxes poetic on feeling used and discarded in “Until I Knew You” with lyrics like, “I’m glad I could be here while it was convenient/ and I am so impressed how you can say shit and not mean it.”
They recently decided to record these feelings at the newly established studio in the Museum of Contemporary Art Flagstaff where they also performed during the space’s grand opening party over the summer. Bass lines were contributed by Seth Terrell of Tiny Bird and Proud Mother, and the resulting album, Food Baby, is 10 tracks of reverberating ukulele and poignant thoughts on relationships—the end of them, the beginning of them, familial falling outs, those between best friends and time spent watching the rain fall while waiting for the sun to come out so they can see their little spoon again.
“I feel more professional now that I have officially recorded music,” Cyam says. “People talk about how much work it is and it really is so much work. It was six or seven hours, at least, each day, and I think there was one day we were in there for 10 hours.”
Andrew Groose recorded their album over the course of three days which became an important learning experience for Cyam.
“He was really supportive, and he gave me a lot of advice but not too much,” they say. “It didn’t feel like he was imposing.”
The album acts as a time capsule featuring Cyam’s favorite songs from the past 11 years and includes the first one they ever wrote, “Eli’s Song.” Naming tracks after people is a theme within Food Baby and demonstrates the impact others can have on us even if we ended up being just a paragraph or sentence in the story of their own lives rather than a chapter.
“It’s hard to name things, but it’s easy for songs to be about people,” Cyam says.
They enjoy the dichotomy of the ukulele’s bright sound set against their heavy lyrics, saying it sounds happy all the time despite the subject matter.
“Mom Song” documents the feelings they were left to deal with after their mom left when they were 13: “You made your bed and now you’re laying in it/ I hope you’re feeling comfortable/ I’m never gonna visit.” Paying attention solely to the upbeat major chords, the casual listener would miss out on the gravity of the song and the strength it took to overcome this aspect of their childhood.
It’s not all sad though. The last three songs on Food Baby—“Monsoon,” “Little Spoon” and “Carly’s Song”—seamlessly transition into the next with saccharine rhymes delivered on top of an audible smile and reminiscent of the straightforwardly clever lyrics of Kimya Dawson, an artist Cyam says they draw inspiration from.
Adding to their growth as an artist, Cyam is making merchandise to sell alongside Food Baby through collaborations with other members of the community. For example, MOCAF co-founder Jacques Cauzabon Seronde who designed their T-shirts will help with the screen printing process and Carly Alton worked with Cyam on the album art.
As for their creative plans following Friday’s release show?
“I guess work on a new album for another 11 years,” Cyam says with a laugh. “Just keep writing.”