There is perhaps no better way to sum up Eliza McLamb—an erudite old soul who has fallen into the role of Generation Z mouthpiece—than by peeking back at her life during the summer of 2020, when she was working as a farmhand in Kansas while simultaneously going viral on TikTok for a song she wrote called “Porn Star Tits.”
A Chapel Hill native who seized the shapelessness of early pandemic life as an opportunity to forge her own path, the 21-year-old McLamb is now a successful singer-songwriter as well as a professional podcaster, boasting around 70,000 regular listeners of Binchtopia, a weekly show where she and cohost Julia Hava guide listeners through the “current cultural hellscape.”
McLamb earns enough money from Binchtopia that she no longer has to worry about making a living through her music, which means that she’s eschewed songs like “Porn Star Tits”—an upbeat, unblushing bop that racked in plays on TikTok—for folksier indie rock tunes like the William Faulkner–inspired “Lena Grove” and the contemplative “Salt Circle,” which is also the titular track on her new EP.
Ahead of her two upcoming shows at Cat’s Cradle, both of which sold out in a matter of hours, the INDY spoke with McLamb about her ascension as an artist, her latest music video, and her changing relationship with the platform that launched her career. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
INDY WEEK: To an observer, the past three years of your life have seemed like something out of a movie. Has it felt like a movie to you? Or more of a slog?
MCLAMB: It definitely depends on the day. I think COVID was a time where the bottom fell out from under everyone, and where all of the systems that we made up to make sense of the world ceased to exist. In that sense, I felt like the world had opened up to me. During the first year, I leaned into uncertainty, which I guess is what happens in any great road trip movie.
Walk me through that first year—what are some of the grittier parts of the process that people don’t see publicly?
After COVID hit, I moved back in with my parents, then I found this job at this farm in North Carolina. It was wonderful. During that time, I was writing songs, and I started posting on TikTok; people would comment topics for me to write songs about, and it was a nice back-and-forth. But I definitely wasn’t a full-time TikTok creator; I was mostly butchering chickens and tilling the wheat.
Then I got a job at a farm in Kansas, and the TikTok stuff really started to blow up. But it was still a time when the world was so nebulous; I had no reason to believe that it would lead to anything, because it felt like everything was falling apart and we’d never have live music again. So I kept road-tripping through Colorado and Utah. I met a stranger on the road and traveled with him—everybody thought I was gonna get murdered, I’m very lucky to come out with my life—and then I eventually ended up in LA.
I lived in my friend’s laundry shed for a few months and sold solar panels door to door, which was horrible, but it built up my rejection sensitivity—I had to go into rich neighborhoods and talk to people face-to-face during the pandemic.I quit that job and nannied until I made enough money to move in with my friend Julia, who was a new friend at the time. And then we started making the podcast. Six months after we started the podcast, I was able to transition to that being my full-time job. But I was still doing music. I put out an EP, I got management. All of the best things that happened to me came from my willingness to let shit hit the fan—more often than not, I was able to get myself up and get through it.
What are some pros and cons of using TikTok to promote yourself as a musical artist?
TikTok did allow me to “go viral” and launch my music career, and I’m very grateful for that, but I’ve gravitated away from it. I come back to promote music here and there, but it’s healthier for me to not engage with it. Most of the songs that TikTok can meaningfully digest are songs that are immediately gratifying, extremely literal, and kind of like, punchy and a little kitschy. I had to get off TikTok in order to write songs that were more true to the music that I like to make.
I used to be branded as a TikTok artist, and I think I am starting to successfully move away from that label. A big indicator of that was when I got playlisted on Spotify in the folk category instead of in the “teen songs” or “TikTok hits” category.
In the music video for “Doing Fine,” you’re at a gas station and you scream “I’M DOING FINE” at the cashier while you’re buying a pack of condoms, a Slim Jim, and a scratch-off. Why those products?
I wish I could say that we thought really deeply about it. That’s an idea that my director had, and I was like, sure. But if you think about it, when you’re having a tough time, the only fucking consistently good things about this world are sex and food and money.
You’ve talked about your difficult relationship with your mother in your songs, as well as on TikTok and in your Substack. How did you decide to share some of your personal familial struggles publicly?
I’m extremely lucky that my mom is actually, for the most part, very OK with me writing about our relationship. The main thing is that I’m not here to expose anybody or embarrass anybody; I’m not trying to, like, sell secrets for secrets’ sake. I’m just trying to figure it out. Also, when I write about people in my life, they always end up being a character who’s an amalgamation of my own projections. I know that when I write about people, I’m really always writing about myself.
That’s why I’m not a journalist. I have no intention of getting every single fact correct, nor do I think I have the capacity to do it, because I’m such a profoundly emotional person whose physical reality will always be clouded by my emotional reality.
How does it feel to sell out two shows at Cat’s Cradle?
Oh my god, it literally is a dream come true. Cat’s Cradle was such a staple of my youth. When I was a kid, I was always so worried about money that I figured I would just be a lawyer so I didn’t have to worry about my financial situation. I was resigned to keeping music on the back burner forever. And so this feels really surreal and really special.
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