March 23, 2021
Tune-In Tuesdays #98: Ci Majr on Creating “Guillotine” and “Side Effects”
Pop artist Ci Majr sporting a deep, azure denim top against an electric-blue backgroundSource: Ci Majr
Vibrant, Atlanta-based pop artist Ci Majr has dazzled audiences once again with the release of her latest single, “Guillotine,” an amped-up pop anthem that explores vulnerability, love, and politics — all at once.
Earlier this month, we spoke with Ci Majr to learn more about “Guillotine,” as well as her upcoming debut EP “Side Effects,” which is scheduled for release on April 16, 2021.
Tell us a little about yourself and your music
I started writing music when I was 12. I started playing piano when I was younger — probably around three or four [years-old]. My parents had put me in classical music lessons.
Then I started writing music. Well, I started listening to Alicia Keys, actually. I saw some videos of her and I was like, “Oh! She’s playing and singing at the same time, that’s really cool.” So I began learning some pop songs, all the classic ones that everyone learns. Then, I thought it’d be cool if I could just write my own songs, and I figured I might as well give it a go.
I recently went home and found my journal from when I was around that age, too. It has all my songs in it, and it’s just really cute! But that’s how it all started. Just playin’ piano and writing songs that way.
On that note, what influence has music had on your life and throughout your upbringing? Did music help you get through any particularly tough experiences?
Totally. Whenever I have anything going on in my head or anything emotional, it always tends to be a good outlet for me to write a song about it or write something out about it — maybe even a poem that I’ll go back and write an actual song about.
[Music] is usually how I work things out emotionally in my brain. I feel like I’m not very good at expressing my emotions outside of that, so it’s interesting that I’m pretty good at getting things out musically.
Throughout college, music was always really important to me, too. I studied math, which is completely different. But all of my extracurriculars were related to music; I was in an acapella group, I ran a studio on campus, and I did sound production for theatre shows. So it’s always been intertwined with whatever I’m doing.
It’s interesting that you studied math for your major, especially since music is surprisingly quite mathematical. It must come in handy!
It is, it is. I took an applied math class that was about music. It talked about all the different frequencies and how they’re all related between thirds and fifths. I was like, “Oh, this makes so much sense!”
It’s actually funny you say that, too. The reason my parents put me in classical music piano lessons as a child is they read kids who did that were good at math. And so, it worked out! I ended up studying applied math in college.
How would you say growing up in Chicago influenced your music, lyricism, or you as a person? Tell us a few things that you find personally meaningful about Chicago — or where you currently live in Atlanta.
There are a lot of really talented musicians who come out of Chicago and just out of the midwest in general. There’s this “midwestern pride” of musicians who come out of that space. You’ve got Michael Jackson from Indiana, Prince who’s from Minnesota, then Kanye and Chance the Rapper, who are also from Chicago.
You keep up with that music and those are some of the greats that influenced my parents’ tastes, which therefore influenced mine. I mean, less so Kanye and Chance, they’re more recent, but other midwestern musicians my parents would listen to influenced me.
In Atlanta, I’d say it’s forced me to push myself outside of my comfort zone a little bit. A lot of people here are doing hip-hop and R&B, so I’ve put myself in sessions where that’s kind of the focus. It’s been different, ’cause I feel like pop is my safe space.
I feel like when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, it forces you to get better, so it’s been nice doing that here.
Tell us a little about your latest single, “Guillotine.” What’s the story behind the track?
Music video for “Guillotine” by Ci MajrSource: Ci Majr — Guillotine (Official Video) | Ci Majr
I woke up in the middle of the night and I had the word “guillotine” in my mind. I can’t remember if I had a dream about it or something, but I woke up and I thought, “That’s such a cool concept. I should write something about ‘guillotine.'” Then I just put it in my notes on my phone — as I do with most things.
Later in the week, I came up with some cool chords and I was like, “Alright, this is the one. It’s coming together, I’m going to finish it up and make a nice little demo.”
It was during the time when the political stuff in the U.S. was getting really intense, and I felt there was just a looooot of conversations going around that weren’t really productive. They could’ve been more productive if people just listened to each other a little more or gave each other enough time to understand where they’re coming from.
I mean, it’s all complex and everyone has their own situations, of course. But I started writing about that, then translated it to more of a romantic-type of take. You can still listen to basically the first verse through the first chorus with more of a political or non-romantic/platonic mindset easily. It could be anything. It doesn’t get more romantic until it’s like, “Do you remember our love? But I forgot why we fell.”
Or it could be a metaphorical parallel, like you’re singing about having love for our country and asking, “what’s happened!?”
Exactly! Exactly. It’s obviously up to interpretation, but it still has these political undertones. “Guillotine,” as everyone learns in their history class, is like French Revolution [era] people getting their heads cut off. So I feel like it has this inherently political [theme]. Even one of my friends said that when she saw the title of the song. I love that it has all these different interpretations.
But that’s how the writing went down. Then I sent it to my friend Fez, he’s in the U.K. He went out and made it into this big-pop-production that just sounds so good.
In the press release, you mention that “Guillotine” is “somewhat written to past Ci” and continue to say that you’ve learned relationships are less about being right and more about not being afraid to be vulnerable. Whether it’s in a romantic, social, general, or political context, what advice would you give to readers for improving their communication skills? What has helped you “let your ego go” that might help them?
One big thing is surrounding yourself with people you trust — people you really trust to start opening up to them. I feel that’s been big with the relationship that I’m in. She opened up to me a lot, and that made me want to open up a lot. The trust was there already.
I think another thing — and this is probably the most important — there’s a lot of self-work that goes into that. I feel the reason a lot of us don’t have the confidence to share in that way is probably due to something you went through at a certain point in your life. Not even anything super traumatic, but even if your parents weren’t the most expressive people. Or if you got hurt by a group of friends when you were 12-years-old and that made it difficult for you to trust others afterward.
That’s something I’ve had to do. My partner Anna, she’s great at sharing and being open with people. And I was just like, “NOPE. Not doing it. I’m afraid.” It’s taken some time, and I’m not perfect at it, but this lockdown has given me more time to improve, especially through books.
I read this book called “Presence” by Amy Cuddy, it was fantastic. It talks about how to be more present and in the moment, how to be more in your body, and more confident in the life that you live.
Doing the self-work is very important because there’s usually a reason why you’re having trouble trusting people.
Yes! That’s so true. I started journaling from a really young age, so I’ve always found it really easy to write or draw out my emotions. But when it comes to having those face-to-face conversations sometimes I’m just like, “WHERE IS THE CONNECTION FROM MY EMOTIONS TO MY TONGUE!? I can’t get the words out of my mouth! I need pen and paper!!!”
It’s good to start small with those things, and it definitely helps when you hear other people share their stories. I feel it allows you to realize our experiences are not as individualized as you think they are.
Adding to that, what do you believe is needed to heal our sociopolitical climate to start fostering more compassionate dialogues on a grander scale? In just three words, how as a society — rather than individuals — can we begin to let our bureaucratic egos go?
I think that I’ve realized in all of this is, “there’s a reason.” There is a reason why everyone thinks the way that they do, and once I start to unpack everything like, “Oh! It makes sense why this person might think this way politically. Given that they grew up in that environment, with that socioeconomic status, if I grew up the same way, I’d probably think how they do.”
Depending on what you go through in life, it makes you land in a certain place… I feel like it’s not the greatest answer, but “there’s a reason” forces you to take a second to really understand where people are coming from. It’s so much more complex than the very binary political system that we have going on. There are many reasons why people make the decisions that they do.
That really resonates with me, because I like to believe that everyone is “inherently good.” I know there are exceptions, but I like the idea that deep, deep, deeeep down, somewhere, there is a heart, a person. And if that person has developed rude behavior, it’s due to many different situations in their life. Taking the time to acknowledge that forces you to step outside of yourself and stop internalizing what’s going on in their journey.
Exactly, exactly! That’s their journey. You totally get it.
Switching gears a bit, give us another behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it was like to create “Guillotine.”
It was a lot of video calls. I didn’t do “Guillotine” separately from the other songs, we did the whole EP [“Side Effects”] at once. I sent all five songs off to Fez and we were working through them all.
After I sent Fez the demos, he crunched out all the instrumentals, and there are a bunch of different versions. He’d send me something and I’d be like, “Okay, change this little thing or change that little thing.” We’d have our weekly meetings to catch up. He sent me all of the updated instrumentals once they were in a good place and I had a week to go through and record all the vocals.
That was all done in my apartment — I just have a little home studio setup. Once I sent the vocals over, Fez mixed them in and made a few more updates to make it all fit together. It was really, really smooth. Fez is super easy to work with and I was so excited to have an excuse to work with him.
For any creative that I want to work with, I have another note in my phone where I list people I want to work with for different things; music videos or visuals, production, etc… Fez was on that list, so as soon as I had the songs for the EP he was the first person I was gonna reach out to. It worked out so nicely!
What do you hope listeners take away from “Guillotine” and your upcoming EP, “Side Effects,” as a whole?
From this single, I think the most important thing I want people to take away is it’s okay and honestly quite healthy to cut people off, as needed.
You shouldn’t do that unnecessarily, but there are some people who are just kind of toxic. And just like you were saying, they could be good people deep down, but it’s not your job to fix people and use all of your energy to turn them into the person you want or need them to be.
If you’re willing to do so, props to you. But for the sake of your sanity, if someone’s an adult and you just aren’t matching up, there are so many people in this world. You will find someone who can give you what you need and who needs what you are able to give.
Don’t be afraid to cut people off. It has to happen sometimes. And it doesn’t even have to be the most extreme thing. You don’t need to have a crazy falling out or fight. If we don’t match, like, it is okay. We can just let it go, we can be adults about it and know that it’s fine. We’ll be cordial, but we don’t need to be besties.
What are your overarching goals as a musician? How do you hope to impact the industry through your work?
As a musician, I definitely want my songs to get some traction, of course. But I’d say one of my largest goals is to start writing for other people.
I write a lot of music, but not all of it fits “Ci Majr,” necessarily. I would love to write music for others along with myself. Kind of like how Julia Michaels does and so many other musicians start off in that writing realm.
In terms of impacting the music industry, as a black, queer person in pop music, I just want to make other black, queer people who like pop music or want to make pop music feel more comfortable in that space. In this upbeat pop-sphere, there is diversity, but I personally have never been able to find someone who looks like me and is singing the kind of pop music I make.
As a kid, that was off-putting. And even recently, being in Atlanta, it’s still hard. When I tell people I write music or I make music, they’re like, “Oh do you rap? Do you sing R&B?” And I am like, “No. I love pop music. I am like, such a nerd for pop music, I can not help it.”
What have you learned since starting your journey as a musician?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned, and this is something I’ve learned over the last couple of years, but collaboration is key.
For most people, you will be really good at one or two things musically. You should stick to those one or two things and let others do the rest.
Like, I feel my strong suit is songwriting and my voice is unique. Those are my two stand-out things. I’ll still produce my demos and stuff to get the point across, but I’ve decided I’m always sending out my demos to someone else to produce the full version.
I enjoy production, but not enough to make [my music] sound how other people can make it sound. And I just can not make these big productions that sound radio-perfect-sparkly.
And if you keep focusing on what you’re good at, you can hone in on that craft rather than spreading yourself so thin trying to be everything at once
Totally. It’s just so much easier and the product turns out SO. MUCH. BETTER.
Even for this music video, I hit up my friend Danny — she produces music videos — and it turned out FANTASTIC! There’s absolutely no way I could’ve created anything like that with my brain by myself. I would’ve never thought to do anything like that, I didn’t know what supplies to get, how to tell this story. There are so many layers to it.
When you let other people put their hands into it, it’s definitely scary. That was always my fear, sharing my art with others or letting them be part of it. I was so afraid things would get messed up, and because of the type of person I am, I’d just be like, “It’s fine!” [Laughs] When it’s like, not fine.
It’s been hit or miss. I’ve worked with different types of people and it’s not always exactly what I wanted, but I feel like I’m finding the group of people I really like and I’m going to stick with them.
Going forward, what’s next for you Ci? Is there anything else you can tell us about your upcoming EP just yet or is everything still on the down-low?
There’s gonna be five songs. Of the remaining three, two are going to be more upbeat, and one is more of a ballad.
Oh, I got COVID — a while ago — and I recorded the vocals of the EP while I was recovering. So that’s an interesting fact about it.
“Side Effects” is kind of similar to my song “Summer Drug,” relating love and everything surrounding it to some sort of drug, medication, whatever you want to call it. Just talking about all the stuff that comes with it — the side effects of something you take, the side effects of love.
I’m so excited to share it! I love every one of these songs.
I’m excited to hear the EP, too, but I still can’t believe you recorded everything while recovering from COVID! Did it… hurt? Were you able to breathe okay?
I had to take some breaks. I definitely had to take some breaks in between, and my voice definitely started to get tired at some points, but I made it through. That was wild.
The timing of it was so bad because I had just sent everything off to Fez to produce and then I was like, “Oh my God, I did NOT just get COVID. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
It was a little tough, but it all worked out. It’s a very good 2020 story.