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Princess Nostalgia Answers to No One But Herself


Princess Nostalgia - JORDAN ADAMS
  • Jordan Adams
  • Princess Nostalgia

Nineteen-year-old musician/producer Lilian Traviato arrived in Burlington last fall as many young adults do: restless, eager, totally alone and ready to begin her college experience at the University of Vermont. But a globe-trotting gap year, which included a stint at a Danish folk school near Copenhagen, left the first-year student in a bit of a fog as structure returned to her life.

"The first month I was here, I was miserable," the R&B singer-songwriter says while sipping tea in a downtown Burlington café.

"I wasn't involved in anything yet," Traviato continues. "But as I've discovered Burlington and gotten involved — like, complete 180. I love Burlington and UVM. I feel like I'm self-actualizing here."

Evidence of Traviato's burgeoning self-assuredness can be seen, and heard, in her work under the moniker Princess Nostalgia — in particular, in her recently released music video for "Lost and Found," the opening cut from her 2017 eponymous album. Both song and video are strong productions, characterized by a playful and timely subversion of gender roles and power dynamics. Together they suggest that Traviato isn't just in tune with the zeitgeist, she is the zeitgeist: a young, self-empowered female artist in complete control of her creative life, from engineering to video directing to album art. She's a master craftswoman in the making.

The petite brunette artist was born in Rome. In a mellow, friendly voice, she describes her pre-tween years as an idyllic childhood, recalling carefree days Rollerblading in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, a palace turned art gallery. She relocated to Pittsburgh with her mother, artist Shannon Pultz, and brother at age 8.

Transitioning from international hub to rust-belt industrial city was a drastic change. Traviato's father, Ralph, still lives in Italy, and she visits him regularly.

"I've talked to other people who've, in a sense, been pulled from their homes," says the self-taught electronic producer. "When you go back, [there's] this feeling that people who've been in one place their whole life don't get — especially when you're pulled away at a young age."

There's a word for that feeling, and it's incorporated into her moniker.

"Nostalgia is my favorite feeling," she says with a smile.

Traviato's musical education began with classical training on the double bass, which was twice her size when she started playing at age 9. Though she doesn't play currently, electronic bass is prominent in her music.

"I think what I learned from playing the bass was how to arrange things," she muses. "I usually start with a bass line."

The first Princess Nostalgia tracks emerged around the time Traviato graduated from high school in 2016. Prior to that, her only music production experience was augmenting Apple loops to soundtrack "embarrassing" videos she made with her friends growing up.

Deep synth tones drive many of her soulful, danceable pop jams, such as the wonky bump-and-grind "Let It Spin" — from her debut 2016 EP Practically Civilized — and the slow-burning "Dr Dogma," from her self-titled 2017 follow-up. Incidentally, the latter includes a track called "Princess Nostalgia," written earlier in her career. Traviato retroactively appropriated the title as her stage name.

Lyrically, she combines abstraction with transparent intimacy. On "Princess Nostalgia" she sings plaintively, "I like to take my time / I can't tell wrong from right." While on "Lost and Found," she confounds, singing, "Tabula rasa / My only master / Join the disaster / She's the mold, and you're the plaster."

With an overflowing MIDI library of instruments and samples, such as flutes, strings and all manner of synthesizers, Traviato never wants for dynamic sounds. She sometimes ponders what her work would sound like if fleshed out with live instrumentation, but she always arrives at the same decision.

"I would love to have real instruments and to connect with people in that way would be amazing," she says. "But I love not answering to anyone. Having full control is what makes it so fun."

Her empowerment is realized in the "Lost and Found" video, which marks her third directorial outing. Dressed in a dapper men's suit and puffing a fat cigar, Traviato lords over a coterie of scantily clad, good-looking dudes. They fan her, feed her grapes, polish her shoes, and also endure a bit of harassment and, most notably, objectification.

For instance, in a spoof of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's famous "Draw me like one of your French girls" scene in James Cameron's Titanic, Traviato subverts gender roles by placing herself behind the sketch pad while a nearly naked gent poses on a chaise lounge.

Oblique connections to the #MeToo movement are evident, but they aren't the main focus.

"I try to stay away from being too overly political," Traviato says, noting her preference for whimsy. "I wanted to do [the video] without getting too dark or heavy in a way that's too angry or hateful."

Repeat performances at the Light Club Lamp Shop's weekly literature open mic, as well as her positive outlook, caught the attention of Rajnii Eddins, a poet and rapper who organizes poetry events in the area. He tapped Traviato as the only invited guest at ArtsRiot's January Poetry Riot.

"Expect to see great things from this rising star," Eddins writes in an email to Seven Days. He adds that Burlington is "fortunate to have her adding her light to our music and poetry communit[ies]."

And he's not the only one who's taken notice.

"[I] get so many guys approaching [me] — not only being creepy, but asking me to collaborate with them in a way that's actually insulting," Traviato says in a slightly exasperated tone. "It's clear they don't respect the amount of work and effort [I put in].

"They just want my vocals on their track," she continues, explaining that she feels those invitations reduce her to her singing voice. "I don't want to do that, because I consider myself primarily a producer and a writer. I have my own voice."

That's not to say Traviato is entirely opposed to musical partnerships — she's just skeptical. So far, collaborations have been minimal. Pittsburgh singer-songwriter HANK the Businessman provided guitar samples for her two latest tracks, "Satisfied" and "All It Takes." Additionally, Traviato says some coproductions with Burlington rapper/producer Christopher Morel (formerly Face One) are forthcoming.

"I've been nothing but enthralled by her work," Morel writes, citing her songwriting, poetry, visual art and videos. "She embodies beauty amid every platform she embrace[s]."

Traviato's output is prolific. New songs appear on her SoundCloud page frequently.

"I release singles when I'm excited," she says. "Once it feels like a certain phase or period is complete, I put them all out [as an album] and move on. There's no structure or plan."

That may be true of how Traviato rolls out her recorded work, but her strategy is unambiguous when it comes to the expansion of her local profile.

"It's about networking with other people who care," she says. "[Until recently,] my only audience was Facebook — and no one gives a shit."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Free Reign"