Listening to Illuminati Hotties may be the first time you’ve heard Sarah Tudzin’s voice, but it isn’t the first time you’ve heard her musical hand. Though she’s technically the sole permanent member of Illuminati Hotties, a moniker she started using in 2016, she’s been busy in recording studios over the years working as a production and engineering assistant to producer Chris Coady. She chipped in to a Porches studio session. She was in the production room with Macklemore. She even worked on the sound design for the original cast recording of Hamilton. But it’s her work as Illuminati Hotties that shows how talented Tudzin is in the studio spotlight, this time as a musician and a songwriter.
At first, Kiss Yr Frenemies sounds like a typical indie rock record, riding on amicable guitar melodies and driven singing. Give it a few songs, though, and the album showcases Tudzin’s skill for flexing the personable. Her heartfelt lyrical jabs appear between harsh noise and lulling interludes, the total of which drips with authenticity. She’s turned the album into one that feels familiar while also fresh, the type of record you want to put on to start your day and then listen to again as soon as you’re back home. And according to Tudzin, it was a creative endeavor that was fulfilling, even if it was hard to stop toying with the demos and finally let that ship sail on its own into the public eye.
“Honestly, I think I’m the most proud of finishing the album at all,” says Tudzin. “It takes a lot to get from point A to point B on creative projects. The hardest part artists like myself run into is being done, saying, ‘This is okay for the world to see.’ Maybe you never feel like it’s done-done. Maybe you want to add bells and whistles. I’ve listened back and thought there were a few things I could take a new look at if I had the chance, but really being brave and calling it a finished product is big. You know when you listen to a song the whole way through without stopping it. Then you should probably leave it be.”
To get to know the relatively new face on the scene that is Illuminati Hotties, we interviewed Sarah Tudzin for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Kiss Yr Frenemies as the prompt, her answers are cheerful and optimistic—qualities that will quietly weave themselves through the music when the band headlines O’Brien’s Pub this Wednesday.
1) “Kiss Yr Frenemies”
DIGBOSTON: How would you define frenemy, and who is your biggest frenemy?
TUDZIN: [laughs] I would define frenemy as someone that you get along with and would say hey to at the gig, but there is an undeniable air of competition about any interaction you have with them. You’re like, “Hey, what’s up man? Nice guitar solo!” But on the inside you wish you were up there ripping instead. [laughs] So yeah, that. Someone who you get along with or maybe inspires you but while fueling your fire to win.
As for my greatest frenemy, that’s a really hard question. I don’t think I can call people out. Gosh. I wish I had an answer to that. I’m not ready to do that. But for now, I’ll say my greatest frenemy is my sister. She will be mad at me for saying that. [laughs] We are friends, but for a long time we had sibling one-upness. She’s younger than me by three years, so enough for that to happen. We’re good now.
2) “(You’re Better) Than Ever”
DIGBOSTON: Have you had any “glow up” moments this year so far?
TUDZIN: Oooh. I’d like to think that the glow up is still in progress. I don’t think I’ve peaked yet. I hope I haven’t. I think once we fill into ourselves as adults and realize what we want to do and start working hard towards something, that’s when the glow up begins. I’m still glowing upping. Honestly, I was pretty terrified of performing music live for a long time. I spent so much time making music in the studio. That’s been a big difference in my art, that there’s a performative element now that I’ve been working hard at making fun, exciting, and special as the shows before it. We’re on tour with Diet Cig right now. The first show we did with them, during the quiet parts of the songs I could hear people singing along. That was a really awesome moment that I totally didn’t expect. That felt pretty glow upish.
3) “Shape Of My Hands”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your worst hand habit?
TUDZIN: Ooooh, definitely nail biting. I bite my nails and I also crack my knuckles super loud. I don’t know if it’s proven [to be bad] but I hear my mom cringing when I do it and telling me I shouldn’t.
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you had a cuffing season fling?
TUDZIN: So that’s a term I just heard this year. It’s when it gets colder outside and you want someone to snuggle with, right? I don’t know if I’ve had an exclusively cuffing season fling. I think it’s either way shorter or way longer than that. But you know what, I think that friends are tight and we should snuggle our friends and kiss our friends if we like them. That’s where I’m at right now. I don’t know if that counts as cuffing? I’ve been on tour for so long that I feel pretty uncuffed anyway. [laughs]
5) “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food)”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite cheese-flavored snack that isn’t cheese itself?
TUDZIN: Okay, so this is an interesting question because I am horribly allergic to dairy. I used to have an EpiPen. My throat was closed up, hives, the whole thing. I haven’t run into a dairy reaction in a while, but there are no cheese-flavored things that I could eat as a kid, that’s for sure. If we’re talking vegan cheese, then I’m all about some vegan cheese pizza, some vegan quesadillas, nachos. I like the vegan cheese stuff! I know a lot of people aren’t into it, but I don’t know any better. I think it’s good.
6) “Paying Off The Happiness”
DIGBOSTON: Where’s the place that makes you happy no matter what you’re going through?
TUDZIN: Aw. That’s such a sweet question. The one place I can go that always makes me happy is a spot in LA off Mulholland Drive called the Hollywood Bowl Overlook. You can see all of downtown and the valley from one side. If you look directly down, you’re really looking right at the Hollywood Bowl. That place makes me pretty happy. As long as I’m somewhere outside where there’s something nice to look at or I’m with somebody I like, that makes me very happy. That Hollywood Bowl overlook is particularly great. It makes me feel a lot of love for LA and where I’ve gone with my life so far.
DIGBOSTON: What’s a recent example of how patient you are (or are not)?
TUDZIN: Interesting. I think I’m a pretty patient person, honestly. I definitely get antsy and restless and excited for things, but I feel pretty calm in handling things. This is tough. I wish I could think of an outstanding example … Okay! I got one! I went to school in Boston and I haven’t been back in Boston since then, which is about four years ago. I went to Berklee. As amazing as LA Mexican food is, there is one burrito place in Boston that I haven’t been to in four years, and it used to be right across the street from me. It’s called El Pelon, and it’s the best burrito of all time. I have been patiently, patiently, patiently waiting to get to the Boston date on this tour so I can go. We’re headlining O’Brien’s and I am going to take burritos to go from that place. I’ve been really, really stoked on that for a while.
8) “The Rules”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any unsaid rules for yourself that you follow?
TUDZIN: I don’t think I have any unsaid rules, only because I try to be pretty straightforward with my expectations for myself. That said, I do this thing called “no more zero days.” It was floating around the internet a little while ago. Basically it means that you can’t have a day in your life where you don’t do even the smallest thing that’s productive towards a larger goal of yours. Some days you write a whole song and go on a run and feel good, but some days you sit around watching a movie or doing nothing. I ruled out any days like that, where the total comes out to zero because I didn’t do anything productive. That just means on a day where you’re lazing, at least do five sit-ups, or write one line of a lyric, or clean out your fridge. Do something stupid that will contribute to your goal in the long run. Honestly, I’ve been doing it for two years now and I really think it changed my whole game. I don’t really use Reddit, but somebody sent that post to me and it was a huge gamechanger. It makes you look at how you move through life and view your successes.
DIGBOSTON: Which AIM-era slang do you still hold close to your heart?
TUDZIN: You know what? Before emojis were a thing, they had emoticons where you could make a little thing with the characters on the keyboard. There was one you could do with equal signs and carets where you could make a tiny cat face. I loved making tiny creatures with all the letters and stuff.
10) “Pressed 2 Death”
DIGBOSTON: Which one is better: pressed juice or pressed clothes?
TUDZIN: Oooh. So, I gotta say I love when clothes are pressed, clean, and folded. I’m not good at it. Putting on clothes like that sounds like a luxury right now while two weeks on tour. But I cannot deny there is something inside of me that wants to buy the $10 juice. I don’t get to do it that much, but that shit is really good—especially out in LA. They got some fresh-ass juice. I prefer the sweet fruity ones, but in order to justify to myself that I’m spending an exorbitant amount on juice that shouldn’t be that expensive because it’s mostly water, I try to get something with kale, spinach, chard, all that good stuff. Then I’ll get one with pineapple or something in it so you can kinda cheat the green flavor. Honestly, I think that’s a tie for me.
DIGBOSTON: What are you working on decluttering from your life right now?
TUDZIN: I am working on getting rid of clothes that I’ve had since high school that I don’t need to wear anymore. I’m a terrible overpacker and I learned that very quickly on this tour. I think I knew that before, but I would love to have the basic staples of what I need to live: a set of speakers, a computer to run them with, some mics, guitars, drums, and then the 10 outfits I can wash and wear again and again. I don’t want to hold onto all this extra stuff for sentimental reasons anymore. That would be amazing to declutter all of that.
ILLUMINATI HOTTIES, OLDSOUL. WED 10.3. O’BRIEN’S PUB, 3 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$10. OBRIENSPUBBOSTON.COM