Heading into the final year of high school can be overwhelming. There’s the endless series of questions waiting to be answered; the unpaved road stretching out ahead.
For Lydia Hoglund, the budding 17-year-old songwriter who is getting ready to start her senior year at both Central High School and McNally Smith College of Music, where she is part of a post-secondary program, her journey into the great unknown extends far beyond academia.
Hoglund began taking classes at McNally Smith last year, and already has worked closely with adjunct songwriting professors Brian Laidlaw and Jeremy Messersmith to refine her craft. Her band, Bomba de Luz, has released a debut EP and are about to drop their full length album, What a Heavy Weight, this Sunday at Amsterdam Bar & Hall. And within hours of receiving her first airplay on our very own Local Show, Hoglund was tapped by Stef Alexander, a.k.a. Doomtree heavyweight P.O.S., to collaborate on a new project.
“It was a school night, and I was already on a high because it was our first Current play, and then P.O.S. just tells me to call him, and I was just like, oh my god,” she gushes. “I just didn’t believe it was happening. He was like, ‘I’m going to get straight to the point — I don’t just want to do a song, I want to do a whole project. I’m going to make beats for you, and then you’re going to sing.’ And I was just like, heart attack! It was so insane.” She shakes her head and lets out a giddy laugh.
“I felt, literally, like I was Justin Bieber and he was Usher.”
A singer whose ethereal, elastic voice carries traces of emotive songsmiths like Jeff Buckley and Sharon Van Etten, Hoglund’s abilities belie her young years. In Bomba de Luz, especially, Hoglund’s band has learned to complement and never overpower her, and their recordings expose the listener to the raw power of her voice. It’s easy to hear why a progressive artist like Alexander would be curious about her potential, and even easier to understand why he was shocked to learn that she was still in high school.
“I thought that it just sounded super, super soulful and massive,” Alexander says of her voice. “I typically don’t even like working with that kind of singer, but it really stuck out to me.” Over the past few months the pair have begun sending ideas back and forth for a project that Alexander calls “future music with crazy layers and insane rhythms” and Hoglund simply describes as “crunchy” — a far cry from the fairly straightforward jazz- and Latin-inspired folk music she creates with Bomba de Luz. Alexander has also become something of a mentor to Hoglund, introducing her to new styles of music and encouraging her to take chances with her art.
“She’s nuts. She’s hilarious,” Alexander says. “It’s amazing, because when you hear her sing you think that she’s like this ageless being, and then when you hear her talk or just hang out, she sounds like a 17 year old who is just excited about the world and just ready to do whatever. She reminds me of just that super, super crazy creative energy of being a teenager.”
Hoglund says she only recently discovered her love for performing, and that her passion was ignited by a hip-hop workshop she took on a whim at McNally Smith. To this day, videos of that experience are referenced by McNally faculty, like Heiruspecs bassist Sean McPherson, as evidence of her natural talent. Shortly after that workshop she recruited three fellow Central High students, guitarist Evan Slack, bassist Gavin Taylor, and drummer Jonas Taghavi, to form a band, and insisted that they work as a unit rather than billing themselves “Lydia Hoglund and her backing band.” (“I hate that,” Hoglund says, rolling her eyes.) After a quick stint under the name Reptar, she typed the phrase “light bomb” into a language translator online and settled on the name Bomba de Luz.
“They feel like they are a backing band, and I don’t want them to feel like that because it’s so collaborative,” she says. “I think more of the songs on this album were collaboratively written than we’ve ever done. And recently Gavin and Evan have been coming up to me with new songs.”
Bomba de Luz will perform as part of a massive bill at the Amsterdam this Sunday at their “album release blowout” alongside established artists like McPherson’s Twinkie Jiggles’ Broken Orchestra, Desdamona and Carnage’s Ill Chemistry, Ashley Gold, Guante, and more — a testament to Hoglund’s networking and community-organizing abilities as much as it is to Bomba de Luz’s magnetic talent.
“You have to be really annoying. I’ve learned that you have to be your own advocate and be super annoying sometimes,” Hoglund says, reflecting on her ability to circle the wagons around her project. “Everybody has taken this interest in me, so I feel like there must be something in me I have to bring out, and the only way I’m going to get that is with help, and the hunger to learn, and to make yourself better. Because nobody is a perfect musician, ever. And I’ve realized the only way you can learn more and do more is you have to connect and work with other people. I’ve never once been like, ‘I can do this on my own, guys.’ If I hadn’t started the band I’d be nowhere. You have to work with other people.”
When I ask her where she learned those unteachable qualities of humility and respect, she laughs and shrugs. “I think my parents just brought me up as a decent person.”
For how confident and focused Hoglund seems, she also carries her own share of burdens, a theme that is explored on What a Heavy Weight. “I’m such a little anxious nerve-ball,” she says. Though she is just at the beginning of her journey, she already frets about what might happen if creativity dries up. “I feel like once I run out of material — and I don’t know when that’s going to happen, because it seems like it just comes to me without me even thinking about it — but I feel like once I can’t gig anymore and run out of inspiration I’ll feel like I just want to die. You know? What if the excitement just, like, ends? What if it ends up being super awesome and that just stops?”
She stops, squinting her eyes closed and laughing at herself. “I mean, it hasn’t happened for Justin Bieber yet, so I think I’m ok.”
Bomba de Luz play a CD-release show this Sunday, July 29, at Amsterdam Bar & Hall with Ill Chemistry, Twinkie Jiggles’ Broken Orchestra, Oso, Ashley Gold, Guante, Bobby Raps, Brian Laidlaw, Whistle Kid, Northern, the Family Trade, and special guests. All ages. $7. 5 p.m.