Eliza McLamb is sitting in her home, connected over Zoom and wearing a gray short-sleeved t-shirt that reads, “Faulkner?! I hardly know her!” At the time of our interview, McLamb’s debut album, Going Through It, is due to come out in ten days. The road to her album’s arrival has been winding, with sharp turns on a cliff’s edge, much of which is chronicled across her record, but by the end of both our chat and the last track, I’m left feeling as though she’s glad the car always stayed within the guardrails.

In the years leading up to her album’s release, McLamb dropped out of college, thinking that the transition to online schooling during the pandemic wasn’t the best use of her time. She also, “wanted to see what would happen if I just let myself not do that.” Instead, she traveled across the United States, making her way from North Carolina to Los Angeles with the help of work exchange programs on various farms, which is also when she started posting on TikTok. “I would just be literally out in the middle of the farm with my guitar, writing songs. I started this little thing where I said, ‘Leave a comment and I’ll write a song about your comment.’” By the time she arrived in LA her TikTok had picked up some traction and her friend had a laundry shed that she offered up as housing. “She was like, ‘You can stay here until you get your shit together,’ basically. So I lived in the laundry shed for a few months and sold solar panels door to door and I was a nanny,” McLamb says. “I recorded Memos in there, which were songs that I had written over the course of my travels across the country, when I was in a period of being able to reflect on stuff.”

McLamb’s first EP, Memos, featured her most commercially successful song to date, “Porn Star Tits.” This song in particular had gone viral on TikTok when she first wrote it in 2020, but when deciding what songs to include on the track listing, it was not at the top of the list. However, it seemed she felt obligated to include it, as it initially helped drive her success. “I wanted to Trojan horse the rest of the work through that song, being like, ‘Okay people listened to this song. Maybe they’ll listen to the rest of it,’” McLamb explains. That tactic seems to have worked as the success of Memos allowed her to move out of the laundry shed, move in with Julia Hava who would become her Binchtopia podcast co-host, find representation, and collaborate with Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties, on her second EP Salt Circle, as well as Going Through It.

In the spring of 2023, three years and nearly four million streams later, McLamb wiped “Porn Star Tits” from her public music profiles. She tells me that she doesn’t think it’s a bad song, but feels it doesn’t belong in her discography. “It should go in a feminist musical or something,” McLamb says, laughing. “I wanted to challenge myself to not cheapen the rest of what I’m doing here and to not keep something up just because it’s getting streams if I don’t like it.” Though McLamb’s initial success is owed in part to TikTok, she’s barely been on it since the winter of 2021. She recently went as far as to let her followers know that she would be moving towards long-form content, by way of her Substack, in the future. As she puts it, “I don’t think TikTok is like a grand demon for musicians… but the tool works, for lack of a better term, for the man now.” She admits that she initially stopped using it due to her declining attention span, “I couldn’t finish a movie, let alone start a book and I would listen to myself talk on my podcast and be like, oh my god like every other sentence is, ‘So I saw this TikTok… So I saw this TikTok.’ Like you sound stupid b*tch.”

Attention spans aside, McLamb explains that the current landscape for the “TikTok artist” is one that encourages them to simplify themselves and their art, driving them further away from their artistic truth. “They have to start doing humiliating shit like, ‘Are you listening to Elliott Smith, at 1pm, in a flannel, in your Converse?’ It’s degrading. Nobody likes doing that.” As an artist, she realized that being on the app too long caused her to write bad songs, “I got into this mode of getting really hooked by catching the algorithm and I got really good at it. I just figured it out a little bit like where to put the kitschy stuff, how to be a little bit tongue and cheek and like a little provocative, but still listenable.”

That brings us to the release of McLamb’s debut album, Going Through It. On the record’s cover art, McLamb is in a pool, though whether she’s about to emerge from its depths or dive below is unclear. This sentiment is purposefully ambiguous, representing two sides of the album: Side A shows us everything, as we dive into the water with McLamb, eventually hitting the bottom, while Side B asks how she’ll take everything she experienced with her, as she rises back to the top.

The opening track, “Before,” lives up to its name in every sense. Symbolically it represents the surface of the water which has yet to be broken, but it also quite literally mentions the lake under the dock at her grandparents’ house that she frequented as a child. Sonically, the track holds the earliest recording of McLamb on the record. “Where it cuts to this kind of lo-fi recording, that’s from the demo that Sarah and I did at her house when I was maybe nineteen or twenty. So it’s actually the youngest my voice is on the record.” Her stacked harmonious murmurs, layered on top of a woodsy soundscape of birds chirping amidst the slide of electric guitar, evoke a similar feeling as that of Sufjan Stevens’ “Death With Dignity”: delicate in nature, but emotionally potent. This is the only time on the record where we understand that McLamb’s personhood existed before she became familiar with pain. She sings, “Though I was too young to have understood / The beauty in / A time before knowing.” In reference to these lines specifically she says, “I think most people, especially people who have endured significant trauma, reach a point where they kind of realize that something has happened that will just change the rest of their life.”

It’s at this point that she begins to quote William Faulkner and I point out the words on her shirt. “I’m so on brand today!” she laughs. The quote, “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders,” from the novel Light In August, is one that McLamb doesn’t feel the need to dissect, but in relation to the song, “It’s about that quality of deep memory and just grappling with the totality of a lifetime and of realizing that you are in this period now where it’s always going to be after something has happened.”

Track six, “16,” is where McLamb hits rock bottom. She describes it as, “the soft belly center… there’s minimal metaphor, like lessons trying to be taken from this, it’s just this is the darkness and here’s where I am.” McLamb sings, “Your girlfriend wants to take me to yoga class / And you want me stop cutting myself in the bathtub / The hospital wants to let my mother go home / I said ‘I won’t give consent for that over the phone.’” “I had a pretty tumultuous childhood,” she tells me. From both the lyrical content of songs like “16,” as well as her Substack essays, such as “my mother, bipolar, and me” I’ve come to understand that McLamb was raised in an unstable environment, with a mother who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a father who, as McLamb puts it in her essay, was less so “my father: the hero” and “more often my father: the witness.” I hesitate to dissect this song any further than I already have, except to say that the last lyric, “I’ll come later with a hammer and break open my burden,” seems to serve as the conscious choice that McLamb makes to press her feet to the bottom of the pool to push off as she begins her slow ascent to the surface, with all that she’s learned.

While the metaphor of the pool gives the record conceptual structure, it’s girlhood as both an idea and a practice, that McLamb clings onto throughout the album. The second track, “Glitter” speaks to the bond girls have with their best friend, as she sings, “I wanna kill your boyfriend / He can never know you / He wants to crush you in his hands / And every time / That you say ‘he loves me’ / I say ‘that’s not what love means.’” “I think there’s just something really compelling and beautiful about the friendship that happens in adolescence between girls,” McLamb says. “When we’re in this period we are realizing ourselves as a commodity… and simultaneously having somebody who really sees you and really, really knows you. Kind of in a similar way to ‘Before’ where you get this realization that things from this point on will never be this simple again. Relationships will just necessarily become more complicated than they were when you were children.”

This sentiment rings true as the album continues and the relationships she describes become more convoluted. The biggest of these is the relationship she has with herself and how she thinks others perceive her. I notice that on several songs including, “Mythologize Me,” “Anything You Want,” and “Modern Woman,” McLamb uses the idea of the misunderstood woman as a trope. The lyrics, “I’m just so f*cked up / You couldn’t understand me,” on “Mythologize Me,” “I’m a hard person to unravel / I’m an endless ball of yarn,” on “Anything You Want,” and “I feel like a modern woman / An effortless, beautiful mess / I’m crying in a way that’s not pathetic / You just wouldn’t get it,” on “Modern Woman,” all speak to the quintessential girlhood experience, which is that we are simply too complicated to be deeply understood, particularly by men. “I think that women are constantly being misunderstood purposefully and not purposefully by the fact that there’s a great disrespect to the interiority of women,” McLamb says. “I also think it can be something that can be a protective thing to make you feel superior to other people like, ‘I’m so complicated like you would never get it.’ But also I am so complicated and you will never get it.” she laughs.

“All of the suffering / I thought, maybe one day / I’ll use this in a good way / Isn’t it great what I made of it?” McLamb sings on “Mythologize Me.” Even with the twinge of sarcasm in her voice, through these lyrics we can see that McLamb has connected the grief that accompanied her adolescence, as well as her response to it, back to her higher self, to make this album. The final track “To Wake Up” is steeped in gratitude, for being able to appreciate each second as though it may be your very last. To some, this may come off as the nicely tied bow that closes a chapter of a story. Instead I think it’s the realization that to do anything but accept the present moment, for what it is, is futile. “You have to release the idea that you can control and you have to learn that lesson literally every single day, over and over, multiple times,” McLamb says. “But the one thing that you always have is right now. Like this moment is actually the only thing that you will ever have that’s just for you. So if that’s true which I believe it to be, the only thing that makes sense to do with it is to be present for it.”

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