Never again. That was the thought going through Christina Horn's mind a few years back as she attempted to finish recording her band, Hudson K's album. The producer she was working with, who shall remain unnamed, was putting her in an increasingly uncomfortable position.
"The producer was male, and he hit on me," Horn says. "That's putting it lightly. It was very uncomfortable because I was trying to maintain a professional relationship with this person, and we were coming to the end of the project. This is the person who owns my masters, and what if he's holding onto them, and I'm not going to do X, Y or Z to get them? I felt that tension throughout the entire project."
That any performer would have to go through an experience like that is terrible, and Horn later found out that she wasn't the first to have to deal with it from that specific producer. "I learned after the fact that he'd harassed and exploited several women in the past," she says, "and they didn't say anything because they didn't want to jeopardize their careers."
Horn decided that next time out, she'd find a female producer or engineer to work with, but then another problem arose: There weren't many to choose from.
"I did a ton of research because I love audio engineering and anything on the technical side of things," she says, "and through that research and my experiences, I realized that there weren't a lot of women running sound at shows or engineering in the studios. In fact, less than 5 percent of women in the music industry are on that side of things. It's been a boys' club for a long time."
It's a shame that Horn, who handles the songwriting, vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, and programming alongside drummer Nate Barrett, had so much trouble getting where she needed to be to record, because for the last decade, Hudson K has been making some gorgeous music.
Horn has master's degrees in classical piano pedagogy and literature from the University of Tennessee, and she's developed an uncanny ability to combine the sweeping, emotional majesty of classical compositions with the icy, haunting pulse of electronic dance music. A typical Hudson K song is spacious like a soundscape, anchored by massive-sounding synths and Horn's nakedly emotional voice. These are not so much songs to be listened to as immersed in, and what she creates can often feel like the center of a raging storm; moments of odd tranquility mixed with roaring power.
It's a combination that Horn was first inspired to explore when she attended a performance by Imogen Heap and noticed her using Ableton Live, a Windows-based music-sequencing program.
"She had this setup onstage, and I thought, 'That's the coolest thing I've ever seen.' She had taken out the insides of a grand piano and just had a MIDI controller inside it, with her computer, and I decided I was going to learn how to do it myself."
As she learned more about fusing electronic and classical music, she also developed an arresting stage show. Many Hudson K performances feature Horn in wildly colorful, theatrical costumes, hurling herself into her vocals while Barrett thrashes away at his kit. There's plenty of room for improvisation, as well.
"I love EDM and what people think of as traditional electronic music, but we don't do that," she says. There's tons of space; nothing is pre-decided. It's not just getting up onstage with a laptop and pressing buttons, even though I'm fine with people doing that. I'm sort of obsessed with having a visual representation of what's happening. I want people to be engaged and have a lasting impression when they leave. I want it to be special."
And the music that she wrote for Hudson K's self-titled third album lived up to her ambitions. The songs, particularly the singles "Mother Nature" and "Gravity," are cinematic in scope, bristling with anger, confidence, and skill, along with the most complete fusion of classical ambition and electronic finesse that the band has yet accomplished.
"It's self-titled because I feel like I've finally gotten close to the sound I was looking for when I started this band 10 years ago," she says. "It took a long time to figure that out. For me, the album is about that battle between the electronic and classical world; Mother Nature versus. what human beings created kind of clashing."
Well, that's what it's about, other than "Serial Killer," a poison-pen letter to a certain former producer. "I gave my blood; I gave my time," she snarls over the song's cavernous beat, "All I got was this sick design."
"It was the first song that came out of me for this record," Horn says. "I was very angry, and I've worked past it, because music helps you get through those emotions and feelings. Performing that song onstage feels like I'm letting go of that anger. I can't carry it with me every day, and the stage is a way of me working that out."
As for her new producer, Horn's search ended close to home: She produced the soon-to-be-released album herself.
"Most people in the industry will tell you not to do that," she says with laugh, "because you'll need someone to come in and tell you what's what. But we've made a lot of records and played hundreds of shows, and I was able to trust my own voice. That was really important to me with this project, because I hadn't really done that before. It was kind of freeing. There was an 'I Don't Give A Fuck' switch that got flipped while I was recording, and as soon as it got flipped, that's when I started making authentic music."