Sneaks is the stage-name of DC’s Eva Moochlan. This self-consciously cool, street-inspired moniker epitomises the youthful spirit of her debut album, ‘Gymnastics’. It was written, Moochlan tells me, by “just taking from my environment, lyrically: words, some of what sticks out in a commercial, or what sticks out in an ad, what words grab my attention. And then reusing that with a different meaning. With my own meaning.”
The result is cartoonish, edgy, bubble-gum post-punk. A fast, fun record with tracks that are like little explosions of the city that burrow their way right down into your subconscious (a week after I hear it, I’m still trying to shake the sound of ‘True Killer’, the lead track, from my cerebrum, where it has curled into a persistent earworm). ‘Gymnastics’ is so full of attitude, so tongue-in-cheek and current, that you imagine the album cover might have ‘youth’ scrawled across it in neon-bright graffiti.
What with her self-aware songs that seem to have been composed for a very contemporary high school movie (think Tarantino remakes Clueless) and the fact that, after recording an album in her friend’s basement, Moochlan has been approached by no fewer than three labels who’ve all subsequently released it, this is a girl who obviously knows what she’s doing when it comes to making music.
When it comes to promoting music, she’s less sure. I interview Sneaks to discuss the reissue of ‘Gymnastics’, on the North Carolina-based Merge label, and her forthcoming album, still very much a work in progress, due for release next year. This should be an exciting time for any young musician: after two small-scale releases of her debut record (a local label produced an early version on tape, and Danger Records distributed it on a limited vinyl release in France), she’s about to drop the record internationally, she has tour dates scheduled across the US and in London, and Merge is locked in to producing her next album.
It’s a dream come true, surely, for a 21-year-old who spent her freshman year at college writing songs alone in her bedroom. But in person Moochlan doesn’t exude the charisma and confidence of her musical persona. She does not seem like someone thrilled to be sharing her record with the world. She seems, well, low-level pissed off.
Perhaps it’s because we get off to a bad start: there’s been a timing mix-up and she’s not in DC when I call, as anticipated, she’s out on the West Coast, in Big Sur, so it’s 8am instead of eleven and she’s not expecting me. (“Can you talk now or shall I call again later?” “Erm, I mean, I can talk now.”) Or perhaps it’s because she’s at a retreat and, therefore, tuned into a spiritual plane that is so far removed from the music industry that the conceit of media coverage feels ludicrous. Certainly, the landscape that serves as her backdrop during our video call – those undulating green hills sprawling out lush and fertile, rolling right off into the distance – makes me wish I was outside, connecting with nature in the real world, instead of stuck in this tricky situation, making stilted conversation over a terrible broadband connection.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Sneaks is not wholly enjoying the experience of talking with me.
It’s not that she’s rude, if anything she’s good-girl polite; it’s just that, as soon as the questions move away from specifics to do with the production and distribution of the album, whenever I touch on anything even remotely personal (where she grew up, her development as a musician, supportive family and friends), she clams up, becoming monosyllabic and evasive. Maybe she doesn’t realise I’m a fan of hers. When I ask her if there are musicians who have had a tangible effect on her work she lets out a long, bored sigh. “Yeah,” she says, “there are. But I don’t really feel like mentioning them.” She wants her music to stand alone, she says, to speak for itself. Which is fair enough, but it feels very much like another conversational avenue closed down; another sentence about her music that I can’t write.
The details Sneaks does grudgingly consent to share are hard to spin into a compelling narrative: yes, her parents are supportive, she eventually concedes. Yes, her family were “kind of” musical: her Dad taught her guitar and is “a big inspiration,” although her mother “doesn’t listen to music.” She pauses for an extended second, “So that was a contrast growing up.”
Moochlan does seem like a genuinely sweet, intelligent person. And I get the sense that at least some of her unwillingness to share the background details of her life, to discuss her musical tastes and longer-term aspirations in any detail, is to do with the fear of putting herself out there. Early on in our conversation, she hints that she is apprehensive about what releasing a record might do to her personal life. She tells me that signing with Merge “was kind of scary,” and that she was particularly concerned about the attention. Opening up a little she admits, “I was like, oh my gosh! How do I deal with, just, like, that drastic movement? But at the end of the day I just want my music to be available to everyone. And that’s what Merge was offering me.”
I’ve interviewed lots of artists who find the promotion process difficult, and I understand. Media exposure can feel intrusive, but it is there to create an interest in your work – and, if you’re going to consent to give interviews, surely you understand that you have to share your opinions, engage with the questions, or tell at least some compelling anecdotes (they don’t even have to be true!) that might spark a reader’s interest in your work. And Sneaks’ album is of interest to you. “You’ve written this catchy, edgy album!” I want to shout at her. “You’re a witty young woman with ideas! Just bloody help me tell people about it!”
But she doesn’t want to. She’s adopted a non-disclosure tactic and she’s sticking with it. “I’m not paying attention to what’s being written about it,” she shrugs, when I ask her how she’d like to see her work discussed, what she’d like potential fans to know about her music. “I just don’t think it’s that important. That’s not my job. People can write about it, they can try to sell it, but I’m just gonna do me.”
It’s a bizarre statement to make to someone who is literally about to write a feature on your work. Although, it is honest.
“Can you tell me about the progress of the new album?” I ask. “How does what you’re doing now differ from what you’ve done with ‘Gymnastics’?”
“I’m really excited,” she says, “because there’s been a lot that’s happened over the past three years that I’ll be able to shed light on.”
“Anything in particular?”
There’s a long silence.
“Just like,” she pauses, as if even this is an unwarranted invasion, “transitional things. Relationships. Environment. Those kind of things.”
“So you grew up in the suburbs of DC, tell me a bit about that.”
“It was pretty boring.”
“Were you making music growing up, or just playing guitar for fun?”
“Playing guitar for fun.”
“Does your father still have anything to do with your musical career?”
She doesn’t answer.
“…or is he more, sort of, a source of guidance now?”
“He’s a source of guidance. In many ways.”
“And are there any other important figures who are supporting you in any way at all?”
“Definitely. There are a lot of people behind the scenes.”
“Anyone you’d like to mention?”
“I have a great group of friends.”
“And the name Sneaks…” I’m getting desperate now.
“It’s just a word that I liked.”
We continue on in this vein for some time, with all my prepared questions stone-walled, and no real conversation to refer back to. I’m just throwing out whatever comes to mind, hoping something will spark her interest. But Moochlan’s becoming distracted – we’re barely twenty minutes into the interview and it’s clear that she’s done. “I should go soon,” she tells me, gesturing at the space behind her, which it turns out is the retreat’s dining hall, the only place with wifi; its huge windows look out over those lush hills.
“Hang on,” I say, “Can you just hang on a few minutes? I just have a couple more questions.”
But Eva Moochlan is definitely over the interview. There is a moment of silence as she considers her options, and then a familiar click emitted from the keyboard at her end. The call is over. Sneaks has retreated.