Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Angelica Allen, aka My Midnight Heart, has a big voice, but for a long time she afraid to use it. “I was living in Boston after dropping out of journalism school, working all of these jobs—in a bar, as a server, at a health insurance company—and I was just messing up!” says Allen, 28, on the phone from her Brooklyn apartment.

She began to find herself, and her voice, after moving to New York and landing gigs as a vocalist with the nu-disco band Escort and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. “Everyone on the TSO tour was so extroverted!” she says. “I’d pull out my guitar and people would walk over and be like, ‘What are you up to?’ So I took out my iPad and started writing songs from a quiet place instead of a noisy, angsty place. Those songs took a different form, and I liked that. I wanted to explore it. It was a side of myself I had been trying to hide, that I was scared about. And that’s how the name My Midnight Heart came to be—it’s the side of your heart you never want people to see.”

We’re so excited to premiere this Doctor Robert remix of her recent single “Chest of Hearts,” a pensive, passionate pop song with shimmery synths and celestial harmonies about breaking free from whatever confines you’re stuck in.

Allen and I talked about making art out of dreams and what we can learn from failure.

ANUPA MISTRY: So you left Boston for New York City and started out by touring with and singing backup for other bands. I think it’s super cool that you had a kind of “realistic” path to get to where you are now.

ANGELICA ALLEN: There are gigs that seem more glamorous than they actually are. I love my job, but it’s a career like any other. You start at a certain place and get lucky here and there, but it’s always kind of up and down. It really took me a while of sucking at everything to get here.

Failure is underrated—it can teach you so much.

It does. There’s something that everyone is good at. For me, that time of trying things was figuring out what that was. It’s learning the difference between this is something I do versus something that I am.

What was the first music you connected with emotionally?

I was living in this apartment with my mom when I was 14. It had wood floors and we hadn’t put anything on the walls yet, so sound would bounce all over the place. My brother was visiting, and he was in the other room listening to “Hidden Place” from Björk’s album Vespertine. I had never heard anything like it before in my entire life. I remember walking into the room like a zombie. I had to know what it was.

I consumed that album over and over, and it changed the way I wrote music. It was the first time I saw production as an art form. I’d always written songs in a very singer-songwriter style, just the piano and me. But Björk’s music was so hearty and meaty—there was so much there I wanted to dissect. I’d always written fairy tales, and now it was like, Wow, I can create this whole world through music.

You do a lot of your own visuals and videos as well as your music—why is it important for you to be DIY?

I don’t really know what other way to do what I’m doing except all by myself. Artists are expected to manage themselves, be their own street team, produce, have a home studio. Unless you have a really big friend circle of people who are talented at everything—or a ton of money—you just have to do it yourself. There’s no other way.

You grew up in a fairly religious home. What role does religion play in your life now?

I’m still thinking and writing about it. My mom tried to raise us with ethics, a set of rules to help us live our lives, but that wasn’t helpful for me. She wouldn’t even let us listen to music; we’d tape songs off the radio and hide CDs. Looking back, it seems absurd to give your kids fewer options. Kids are too smart for that!

I’m not a fan of religion in terms of rules, but I think there’s a reason humans come up with them. That’s what I’m interested in: what connects us all, instead of the things that divide us.

Is that what “Chest of Hearts” is about?

That song is about hypocrisy—not in religion as a whole, but the school I went to and the authority figures in my life. I would experience a double-sidedness every day. And it was just like, “If this is supposed to be such an important thing in my life, why am I rejecting it so strongly?” I didn’t want to offend anyone with that song, so I was esoteric and non-specific, but it was something that was still bothering me.

Do you feel better now?

I do! It’s therapeutic for sure. I wrote about this and now it’s like, “What else can I say?” It’s a chapter that’s closed. ♦

Anupa Mistry lives in Toronto and writes about music, pop culture, and diversity for publications such as SPIN, the Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, and CBC Music.