IMAGE: NILINA MASON-CAMPBELL
[ELECTRO-POP] Michele Wylen doesn’t know exactly how she came to be branded a dance act, but making her live debut opening for Liverpool-based electronic act Ladytron last October may have had something to do with it. Less than 24 hours after emailing the MP3 of her electro-pop song “Cruel” to a family friend, she received a performance request from the cultishly adored, synth-heavy quartet’s manager.
Unintentionally landing the opening slot for Ladytron’s Portland show with less than a month’s notice made for the most stressful month of Wylen’s life. “That was when I started smoking,” she says behind a plume of smoke from one in her endless chain of cigarettes. “I only had three real songs...that I didn’t even know how I’d play—but you are an idiot to say no to that.” So began a period of frantic songwriting and a hastily booked warm-up gig at Backspace.
Though Wylen’s known for accessible, uptempo songs (many of which she wrote with the Ladytron gig in mind), there’s an undeniably dark undercurrent in her organ playing and layered vocals. In fact, the 20-year-old songwriter’s sound often mirrors a circus atmosphere (she even adopted an elephant as her logo). Plus, she readily admits to having a fascination with clowns—even though she can’t bear to watch even vaguely scary programs like Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? (a fear she’s even sought therapy for).
Growing up on recording-studio floors across the world—her time split mostly between the Philippines with her pop-songwriter mother, Sarah Mayor, and in Los Angeles with her guitarist father, Stuart Wylen (who appears on the critically acclaimed Eels’ album Electro-Shock Blues, among other works)—choosing to follow a musical path wasn’t too obscure of an idea. It was a stint in Redmond, Ore., not exactly renowned for its music scene, that led Wylen to create music solo, putting her on the path to self-sufficiency.
Even as she adds musicians to her live setup, Wylen says her independence remains of the utmost importance to her. And having a band is largely meant to free her up for more dancing—which will hopefully aid in her audience following along. While she didn’t start out with the idea of forming a dance outfit, the label has grown on her. “I like dancing,” Wylen says from her front porch. “I like when people dance. I like when I go to shows and wanna dance, and I want people who come to mine to feel that way, too.”
SEE IT: Michele Wylen plays Wednesday, Oct. 31, with Fleshtone and DJ JoeeIrwin at Tube. 9 pm. $5 (free with costume). 21+.