There’s no way your summer’s staying silent. Sarah Tudzin simply won’t allow it. Under the moniker illuminati hotties, she’s crashing your beach parties with margaritas in hand and a set of sun-baked songs on her back. Their 2018 debut, Kiss Yr Frenemies, encapsulates a youthful restlessness, as evidenced by tracks like “(You're Better) Than Ever,” a jangly slice of punk-pop made for skateboarding in hole-filled socks. And as the sun sets, “Cuff” and “Shape of My Hands” sweep in with downbeat, twilit textures. As she says on “Paying Off The Happiness” so eloquently, “At 24, I'm somehow making rookie mistakes.” We feel ya, Sarah.
Tudzin, though, is no amateur. As a studio producer, mixer, and an engineer by trade, she’s worked with artists from Porches to Lady Gaga, and honed a shrewd ear and sonicism in the process.
The evidence is all over the playful mood board that is KYF, which she initially assembled as a sort of calling card. It’s nonetheless earned her critical plaudits and landed her on stages across the country. As you read this, illuminati hotties are about to head out on tour with American Football—what a way to kick off the season.
And how else can we tell our favorite season is around the corner? Why, with Tudzin’s "Guide to Summersintown," a playlist featuring her favorite dog-day jams, exclusively compiled just for you and us! Hit play below, catch the vibes, then keep reading for our confab with the rising multi-instrumentalist about life on the road, life on a beach, and life as a tenderpunk.
Hey Sarah! What are you most looking forward to on your upcoming tour this month with American Football?
Hello! I am very much looking forward to playing in some of the biggest rooms we’ve played in to date, to spending a week traveling up and down my favorite stretch of the US, and of course, to seeing American Football in action every night! Also looking forward to catching up on some reading in the van.
How has playing live or touring shaped your perspective on music and songwriting?
Honestly, spending the better part of the last six months on the road has proven to be rather challenging for my usual writing process. I get a lot more little chunks of inspiration, but it’s hard to find the time to sit down in a quiet place and turn those chunks into real full-course songs. In the moments when I AM writing though, I find that I’m tailoring a lot of songs to maximize the amount of fun that the band has playing their parts.
Take us back to the beginning: what was it that drew you to studio engineering and production?
For a long time, I never realized there was even a job that existed in music other than the performers or the business people. Then toward the end of high school, I was made hip to the fact that there’s a whole world of nerds who get to press buttons and be creators from a wider perspective than just playing or writing or doing the paperwork. Being behind the scenes but still executing a creative vision and steering the artistic ship from a technical perspective really intrigued me.
How did your production work lead to illuminati hotties? How do you think your day job fed into the project?
The IH record first started as a way for me to flex my production chops. I wanted to have a hard piece of evidence I could use to convince bands to work with me in the studio, and a handful of songs I had written the summer before I started recording Kiss Yr Frenemies started to sound like they could be grouped into the same project together. At the time, my day job was engineering for Chris Coady, which VERY much allowed me to get this project off the ground. Chris was (and is) always so kind and accommodating about letting me get into the studio during his off-hours, and I also picked up a big bundle of studio tricks from him along the way.
How did it feel to step out from behind the scenes as a frontwoman? Was it a smooth transition?
Oh man, I was so nervous. My very first show as IH got cancelled actually, because the bar we were supposed to play at didn’t have their liquor license straight and they got temporarily shut down the day of the gig. We had to reschedule at a different spot (that is now also shut down). There was a huge learning curve for me as a performer. You’re really exposed up there, everyone can see and hear everything you’re doing, and the lyrical content of my songs happens to discuss some pretty intimate moments. Soooo… I can’t speak to it being very smooth, but I can say it’s something that I have grown to really love over the last year.
What’s your favorite thing about performing live?
There is undoubtedly nothing greater than seeing a group of people sing your own lyrics back at you. It simultaneously breaks my heart and puts it all back together, and it truly never gets old.
And we have to ask: how did that amazing band name come about? Who is an illuminati hottie?
Everyone’s got a list of stupid band names in their phone, and finally one day my stupid band name list came through. An illuminati hottie is anyone who’s tender or loud or tender AND loud and is looking to shred. Also usually they are wearing red shorts.
Kudos on your excellent Kiss Yr Frenemies. What are your own feelings about the album now that it’s out in the world?
It’s hard to listen back to past work sometimes, especially because it spins my brain into a weird flux between, “oh man, I will never make anything this good again,” and “what in the world was I even THINKING with this silliness.” It has been almost exactly a year since the record came out though, and most days I’m pretty proud of KYF. I hope it means something to people, and I hope it continues to float around in the world in the tender lil way that it has so far.
The album, particularly with songs like “(You're Better) Than Ever,” is such a surfy, summer-friendly listen too. What are some of your all-time favorite summer jams?
Anything easy and open that leads you to the beach or makes you countdown every second before the bell rings or drop a straw into your beer so you don’t even have to sit up to drink it. I feel like I regress to early high school days when I think about summer jams. And as much as I love to talk about deep cuts with cool kids, I also love to put on Sublime and roll all the windows down. DON’T PRETEND YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS.
You’ve also described your music as “tenderpunk.” What does the term mean to you?
Tenderpunk is about being sweet and passionate and anarchic, but considerate and giggling and crying and tying your shoes on tight to make yourself braver and calling your mom on the weekend and buying local wherever possible and sending your best friend a postcard and kicking the patriarchy and landing an ollie and slamming your guitar and kissing your crush in a photo booth and sleeping when you need to and not-sleeping when you’re on one and starting over the very next day.
Where do you see illuminati hotties in five years’ time?
Oh ya know, just nibblin on sponge cake… watchin the sun bake… with all of the tourists covered in oil. I’ll probably be strummin’ my six-string on my front porch swing, smellin’ those shrimp beginnin’ to boil….
When we say Big Break, you say…
WASTIN’ AWAY AGAIN IN MARGARITAVILLE.