Meet Kississippi: The emo-pop singer opening for Dashboard Confessional

Ilana Kaplan
Credit: Megan Thompson: Credit: Megan Thompson

The words “Sunset Blush” bring to mind a few things at first: a cotton-candy California sunset, a possible shade of an OPI nail polish or a nice wood lacquer. But, alas, it refers to Franzia boxed wine. As Kississippi’s Zoe Reynolds was about to leave for tour in October 2016, she picked up a box of wine that would become instrumental in her new record, taking its name. “We were just joking about record title names, and we were like 'Sunset Blush'?” she quipped. “And we were like, 'wait a second...I drink that stuff all the time. It’s honest.'”

While the record name might be on the lighter side, Sunset Blush is a deeply personal album for the 23-year-old musician. She grew up going to local emo shows in Philadelphia, eventually being influenced by artists like Hop Along and Modern Baseball. Reynolds, herself, had been making music solo before 2014 saw the inception of Kississippi as an indie folk duo with Colin James Kupson, with whom she met on Tinder. Together, the duo released a cover of "Ears Ringing, Fingertips Lingering" by I Forgot To Love My Father later that year. By August, they put out an EP titled I Can Feel You In My Hair Still. It wasn’t until a year later that the then-duo would really start getting traction with their sophomore EP We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed. The dreamy, emo-tinged “Greyhound” began circulating the internet, and it was impossible to deny how captivating Kisssissippi’s sound was. But Reynolds and Kupson decided to part ways following their 2015 EP and a little touring. “Colin was heavily involved in writing We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed and doing that, but Sunset Blush is my chance for me to explore who I am as a songwriter without anyone else there,” Reynolds explains.

In the past three years, it may have seemed like Kississippi was silent, but she had been practising her solo act alongside a backing band, touring the US. At the end of 2017, to those who hadn’t been paying attention, she released the emo-tinged power anthem “Cut Yr Teeth.” All of the pieces seem to be falling into place for Reynolds. Finally. Last year, alongside the debut of “Cut Yr Teeth,” Reynolds announced she had signed to SideOneDummy records - a seemingly perfect fit for her singer-songwriter background with an emo-pop ethos. She was even tapped by Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba to open for the band on their national tour: a dream come true for Reynolds. He gave her his best advice: “just moisturise,” she says, laughing.

It seemed like Reynolds was on an upward trajectory. With SideOneDummy, she joined a roster full of bands including PUP, Rozwell Kid, Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock. But like many media organisations have “pivoted” - the label did the same. SideOneDummy had decided to shift their vision, which seems to be a focus on their back catalogues. The result involved a restructuring, which caused Reynolds to make a choice. “To keep it short, we signed with SideOneDummy. with [our publicist] Jamie Coletta and everyone kind of got laid off, [so] we went with them,” explains Reynolds. The singer-songwriter’s decision was to self-release for Sunset Blush and sign with another label for her sophomore record. At that point, she just wanted to get the record out there. But, truthfully, at the same time Reynolds was heartbroken. “I was really excited because I felt like they were our perfect fit,” she explains. “But my first worry was what if I don’t get to do stuff with Jamie anymore? I signed to SideOneDummy for Jamie.” Luckily, she has what she describes as a “solid team.”

Credit: Megan Thompson

That same team helped her finally release Sunset Blush on April 6 - moving past its tumultuous journey out into the world. Sunset Blush was a release for Reynolds in more ways than one. “The record is about overcoming some toxic friendships and relationships, and relearning myself outside of people who have made me feel not like myself,” she explains of the album. Like most of her lyrics, she conceived them while walking around her house. In her head, she’d craft them into lyrics. Putting her emotions out in an album, however, was a different story. “I was a little bit nervous because I went through kind of a rough patch with another person, and I was kind of worried about what his reaction to it would be,” she says. “But we’re not in touch anymore.

At the same time, Sunset Blush gave Reynolds a lot of freedom that she hadn’t felt before. “It was definitely hard to put my feelings out there, but it also gave me more of a voice,” she adds. One of the songs in particular - “Easier To Love” - stands out in this regard. While it was written two years ago, it holds up as a poignant, universally-relatable work that finds her intimately self-examining. Reynolds was struggling with her self-image a lot at when she first wrote it. “I was sexually assaulted when I was 17, and I had a really hard time talking about it,” she says of the track. “It was a couple of months after I publicly outed my abuser, so it was kind of about that. But it’s hard to put into words.” The track is just one of the many moments of introspection on the record. Reynolds doesn’t hold back on self-deprecatory statements like “I could be better, you could be worse” on “Who Said It First?” or her penchant for catastrophising on “Adrift” (“I predicted a terrible end/before obvious glances”), but she boldly breaks herself down and builds herself up again with sharp guitar riffs and explosive synths. Her candour is impressive, there’s no doubt about that.

In promoting her honest debut, she’s already preparing herself for her next jaunt on the road with emo stalwarts Have Mercy. Reynolds hasn’t stopped pinching herself - and she shouldn’t. She's already touring with some of her emo heroes, so her dream tour couldn't be too far off: Dashboard Confessional did handpick her after all. And she of course has one particular act in mind that she wants to share a stage with down the line. “Paramore is definitely the dream,” she says. “I f****** love Hayley Williams. I’ve looked up to her for a really long time - so that would definitely be it for me.”