A week before I interviewed DIY punk rocker Lisa Prank over the phone, I celebrated my 24th birthday with some friends in a private karaoke room. Halfway through the night, I put on the All-American Rejects’s “Swing Swing”; despite not having listened to that song in probably a decade, I remembered every lyric, every rise and dip in the song, the catharsis in the bridge when you scream “Caaarry me / Away, away, awaaay” right before the final chorus. Like so many bands within or associated with that mid-2000s pop-punk/emo/angsty indie rock movement, AAR meant the world to the fans who’d used the band’s lyrics as mantras and salves. Though many of us graduated out of these band fandoms as we grew up, our associations with that kind of music remain strong.
Robin Edwards grew up in that same era listening to the same kind of music, but instead of shunning her teenage proclivities, she’s turned them into her own art. Recording as Lisa Prank, Edwards examines her loves and lusts and desires, all through the critical eye of someone who feels deeply but knows the world doesn’t always reward or recognize that. Or as she sings in “Baby, Let Me Write Yr Lines: “At first I thought that you were shy / I dreamed of all the ways your words would blow my mind / but I am finding out the reason nothing’s in your mouth / is your long hair hides a waste of time.”
On her debut album Adult Teen, Edwards sorts through the rawness of her feelings using musical motifs and riffs straight from the emo music that defined her early teenage years. The genre’s influence creeps into every aspect of her music, which she credits to her exact moment of exposure: “I was listening to music for the first time, and there’s something about those years where your heart is really open, and whatever you listen to at that time sticks in there, and sticks with you. When I started making music on my own, you are always influenced by the stuff that you love from every era of yourself. And that, that era specifically, goes really deep in my heart.”
Though some of the emo bands of her youth, my youth, have evolved and stuck around, more and more people are becoming more open about their emo adolescences, a phenomenon Edwards is skeptical about: “We’re all just waiting for a chance to show everyone what dorks we are. The second it becomes okay to say you liked Jimmy Eat World or whatever, everyone wants to jump at that chance.” But her judgment isn’t severe: “When you’re ten or eleven or twelve or thirteen, it’s a process of shedding layers of yourself. You are one person, and then you decide, I’m growing out of this phase, I’m gonna be this next version of yourself. Then you renounce all the things from your other version, and then readopt them again ten years later.”
“It’s just so cool that music can speak to so many different people in so many different ways, and there’s some kind of magic of circumstance for when you hear a record and how it speaks to you.”
One of the most memorable records from Edwards’s childhood was Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American; when I bring the band up, her voice lights up. “I was probably in 5th or 6th grade. Burning CDs was a new thing, and my best friend burned it for me. I remember listening to it over and over on my little CD Walkmen — that record is just so perfect all the way through… They were a DIY band, doing the DIY thing, playing house shows for years and years and years and years. What it is about that music that’s special to me is, it is not afraid to be big and dramatic about feelings.”
Edwards is rhapsodic on the subject of feelings, bemoaning the lack of open hearted outlets for adult sentimentality: “Why should we have to give up feeling things dramatically, as we get older? Why is that valued? I don’t know why that’s valued! I don’t know why hiding your feelings is valued. I don’t think it should be. It’s interesting to me that big feelings are seen as a sign of immaturity.”
The ironic thing is, of course, that Edwards’s entire aesthetic does invoke immaturity, or rather the opposite of “serious” adulthood. The Adult Teen album art looks like a mixture of a Lisa Frank (Edwards’s name inspiration) coloring book and a ’90s throwback Tumblr fantasy, all pastel colors and sweetly quirky, aggressively feminine imagery. (The record art was designed by Faye Orlove; the two previously collaborated on the music video for “Starting Again,” and Edwards recently performed in Orlove’s Hollywood art space Junior High.)
This “immaturity” is by design, part of Edwards’s guiding mentality: “I keep my teenage self a lot when I make decisions in my life. Definitely when I make music… It’s important to keep on good terms with former versions of yourself.” And of course, what might read as immaturity to a “grown-up” outsider is part of the well-worn DIY ethos; void of polished perfection, the work in that scene creates its own guiding principles, shines its own light.
The scuzziness in some of the recorded tracks; the cute and pleasing color palette of her album art; the PRANK crown she wears in live shows and her earnest and inviting in-person show banter — they form the attainable mythology of Lisa Prank, the eye-rolling older sister who unpacks her heart so that generations of sensitive teens can quite literally have a voice in their life telling them that things can suck, but they very much aren’t alone and have never been alone. Adult Teen is engineered to be the exact kind of record that such a teen might pick up for their burgeoning collection — but at its heart, it’s a capsule for its creator, whose feelings about it are very much, well, mature.
“Listening to songs that I’ve written, I feel like I’ll understand, a year after I wrote a song, what I was writing about,” Edwards muses. “I keep journals, and it’s so weird to read back on them. It’s such a weird, navel-gazing thing to do, but every time you read back on a journal or listen back to a song you wrote a long time ago, it’s such a moment of reflection. You can see your past self a little bit more clearly, but then it always makes me think, what am I doing now that I can’t see clearly? What is the thing that, in a few years, I’m gonna look back on and it’s gonna be this glaring, obvious thing to future me?”
Edwards is now making the kind of music her teenage self worshipped, and is now around the age that those musicians were when they made those records. Even now, she turns to those early influences to help guide her in her songwriting: “Sometimes, when I’m writing, I’ll be like, oh this is too specific. But then I think about other art that I like, and specifics really ground it in reality. Specific details are what make it feel real.”
“There’s this one Rilo Kiley lyric I love — ‘And Mexico can fucking wait.’ Even though I have no real context for what she’s talking about, that lyric is really evocative to me. It brings me straight to a conversation.”
Edwards’s music hasn’t just been a log for her feelings; it’s also served as intimate, real-time therapy: “I used to have a harder time talking about my feelings in my real life, and saying what I needed. Music has been a cool way to learn to do that better.” And while she oftentimes writes and sings with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, by naming the very real pain behind heartache and the ache of living, she can then recognize it, capture it, and share it in a song: “[Putting those feelings into songs] gives it less power when you say it out loud, less power over you. It makes it more into a shared, collective experience, rather than just this feeling that’s consuming me and making me sad and making me want to stay in bed all day. It takes the weight off of it.”
Now, Edwards is paying it forward; sometimes she reads fans’ tarots at shows, and sometimes she sends out relatable missives from her Twitter. And then there’s the music, in which she shreds like her heart’s being ripped apart; like her heart couldn’t be more over it; like her heart is filled to burst, with all the feelings she couldn’t express before and is now inviting us into. Teen or not, you’d do well to come inside — to a world where nothing and everything hurts, nothing and everything matters, yourself most of all.