Private Playlist: Wallice extols the virtues of teenage mixtapes and moody sleepover soundtracks

Wallice. Photo by Jerry Maestas

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

LA's Wallice began writing songs in middle school, contemplating secret crushes over instruments she learned to play in the school band. Drawing upon influences from bossanova to Black Eyed Peas, her music feels sweet and nostalgic, with a rowdy edge borrowed from her love of latter-day indie rock. Wallice's early musical ambitions led her to the New School’s Jazz Vocal Performance program in New York, but a thirst for independence drew her back to California after one year.

Linking up creatively with a childhood friend, she released her debut single, "Punching Bag," during the pandemic. Within weeks, a million bedroom-bound listeners gave her a breakout SoundCloud smash. The blogosphere followed suit, with kudos from tastemakers including The Line of Best Fit, Pigeons & Planes, and The FADER. Wallice recently released her fourth single, "Hey Michael," a wry takedown of self-important Gen Z boys through the lens of an unreliable female narrator.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Wallice recalls her favorite song on a teenage mixtape, spooking a sleepover with Radiohead, and coming around to Lana Del Rey.

“I was always drawn to standards [because] they tell a story, which is very important in my own lyric writing.” — Wallice

WALLICE: Yesterday, my fourth single, "Hey Michael," came out. And today, the third single, "23," reached a million streams on Spotify, which is so exciting to me. I'm just an independent artist, and [my debut single] was the first time I wrote a song that I hoped the musicians and artists that I love would actually listen to. Before that, I wasn't able to get a sound that could be compared to the people I listen to. And then finally with "Punching Bag" and "23," I was like, "This is what I've always wanted to do." I've studied music for many years since I was a kid, and finally I'm getting there. 


When I was 14, I had this app on my phone to illegally download music, and I would listen to Radiohead's "In Rainbows" a lot. And for some reason, "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" just makes me happy, even though Radiohead [has] kind of a sad vibe. One time I was listening to the song at night at a sleepover. And my friend the next morning was like, "That song you were listening to was really depressing. How do you go to sleep to that?" And I was like, "No, I love this!" I mean, I listened to this a lot in high school when I was very angsty. And whenever I listen to it, it reminds me of [that period of] imagining my life as a movie. 


The first time I heard Lana Del Rey's "Video Games," it was on the radio. I was 13 or something, and I was like, "That's a really dumb song title. Does she even play video games?" That was an annoying thought from 13-year-old me, but a lot of my friends were gamers, so I was like, "What? Why would she be singing about that?" I was very young. But then it was the first time that I heard something sound like this, those deep bells and piano and the little samples and her beautiful voice. And it really did inspire me to write music. 


In my own song, "23," I talked about going to jazz school for a year for college and then dropping out. I lived in New York for that year, and I was very lonely. I didn't make friends until I had already ... decided I was going to move home the next year. But the friends that I did end up making, I'm still friends with now. One time I went to one of their shows, because they're in a band, and I was feeling down that day, as a 19 year old would. My friend Jonah was like, "This song goes out to you, Wallice," and he played "Masterpiece" by Big Thief. And it just made me feel so happy. It was so sweet. Since that night, I've seen Big Thief perform this song a couple times, and Adrienne Lenker's voice is so beautiful. But I think it was more just the gesture of having a lame night, and that someone would dedicate this sweet song to me. 


I studied jazz in high school, and I went on to study vocal jazz for a year of college, like I mentioned. So it's a very big foundation of my music. I was always drawn to standards [because] they tell a story, which is very important in my own lyric writing. Even though I don't necessarily know what all the songs in Portuguese mean, I can tell there's a story within them too. Maybe that's why I like it [in Portuguese]. My brain just enjoys it without overthinking, "What does this mean?," which might happen with a lot of other songs that I listen to. 

I think if I were to look it up, I can't imagine that the translation would ruin the vibe of "Aquarela do Brasil." When you do look at the English versions of bossa nova songs — because you have to make it rhyme or fit in a specific amount of syllables or something — it's not as pretty, obviously, because it's a translation. "Desafinado" in Portuguese is a lot more beautiful than the translation. Even though they're relatively similar, it's not going to be the same. But that's just like most languages.


I've had the same musical taste since I was 13. And I think that's because my first boyfriend, who is one of my close friends now, made me a mixtape of really cool music. I still listen to it. And "Heart It Races" was one of the songs on this mixtape. The thing I love about this song is that, listening to it either when I was 13 or now, it's very "coming of age." It might be because I listened to this when I was at such a transitional point in teen life. Maybe it's nostalgic to me at this point. And Dr. Dog is such a good band.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

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TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
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Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and the Byrds
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Mary Lattimore is communing with musical kindred spirits
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Gabe Goodman longs for the sound of live musicians in a room
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The Koreatown Oddity is raising his daughter on a colorful musical diet
Dante Elephante is slowing down his life with sides of vinyl
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