Autumn Luz on Balancing "Speed," Creativity, and Physical Limitations
Arts Administration major and Dix Scholar Mary Garcia Charumilind '12 was highlighted by Jazziz Magazine for her debut original single, "Heat," released in late 2022 under her stage name Autumn Luz. More recently, she was featured in Glide Magazine after the release of her second single, "Speed." We caught up with her about her music and how she navigates the music business while managing her own creativity and limited energy in light of a medical condition.
Where did the name Autumn Luz come from?
My middle name is a Japanese word that means "autumn wind," (my father loves languages). and my sister's middle name is Luz, after my aunt. I combined the two, because I thought Autumn Luz sounded better.
What led you to pursue Arts Administration at Simmons?
I was a biology major at the University of Chicago and trained with the Ballet Chicago Studio Company. I started a student ballet company on campus, offering free advanced ballet classes. I was good at establishing and running the organization, and I enjoyed producing performances.
Eventually, I dropped out of the University of Chicago in search of an Arts Administration program. There weren't many programs available back then. Then I found Simmons, where you could do core courses in art or music. By the time I applied to Simmons I was already on a career path and didn't want to start over on a four year degree. I found the Dix Scholar program, which offered credit for prior learning and professional experience.
At Simmons, I took music theory and history, management courses, and courses that focused on arts and nonprofit administration. I loved that mixture. It was cool that it was a women's college, which boosted my confidence in my music and management skills. I don't know if I would be as confident now without Simmons.
How did your music career begin?
I have a medical condition that causes fatigue, and not until I started working remotely did I have the energy to pursue music the way I had always wanted to. Once I didn't have to worry about a commute, I was able to take voice lessons for the first time. And this happened to coincide with finally having the financial opportunity to do what I wanted for the first time in my life.
Is it a challenge to balance your work with your fatigue?
Yes. My second single, "Speed," addresses the theme of bumping up against my own limitations.
It took me years to get diagnosed, and then more years to come to terms with the fact that I have physical limitations and couldn't really have a life outside of work while I was working full time. It's not surprising to me that giving my body what it needs and letting my music out came hand in hand. It was all part of the same journey. There are so many dynamics at play in it, but I think a lot of it is about authenticity, and having the circumstances to finally take the risk of embracing both my limitations and my music. I wish so many of the circumstances weren't social and societal and economic, but they definitely are.
I care a lot about accessibility and inclusion for the diversity of different abilities people have. The fact that it's not always possible for people to get what they need does not mean they don't deserve it. One silver lining about the pandemic was how accessible a lot of things became to people like me when they went virtual: lessons, concerts, networking opportunities. Most of my collaborations and performances thus far have been virtual — just one more thing that would not have been possible if I'd tried to do this in a more "business as usual" time!
Tell me about your creative process.
Each song is different. Sometimes I'll have some lyrics or a melody to work with. I'll experiment at the piano, then collect all of these little pieces that fit the same theme and seem like they go together. But there is definitely more than one way to approach songwriting. I just keep experimenting. I think you need to write a bunch of crap before you get to the good stuff.
This isn't very different from the other work I've done, but now I have to be my own manager. It's difficult, but at least I have a choice: today, all I have the capacity to do is to write lyrics, or sit at the piano, or do administrative work but not sing. I can make those choices, as long as all the work gets done.
I did feel a pressure to crank out demos [recordings of songs as preparation for a full recording]. My collaborator would listen to them all, then choose the best ones. Usually, others were in agreement. Sometimes it takes a year to make something work, and sometimes the first draft is a beauty.
These singles ["Heat" and "Speed"] came together remotely. My main collaborator just moved to Washington, DC. We jammed in person for the first time [in November] and it was the best we've ever sounded. Now I can actually put together a band and play some shows. I did some private open mic performances last year to get a sense of what it feels like to perform, but it's not the same if I don't have other musicians with me. Everything sounds better, the energy is better [with other musicians], and I can get feedback on early versions of songs.
What first inspired you to write "Heat"?
A year ago, I bought my first studio microphone for my birthday. I decided, I'm going to record everything in the house! In the kitchen, I recorded the burner that clicks a million times before it comes on. It created a beat. Once I had that groove down, the bluesy piano parts came together, and the opening lines of the song came out. It was soulful and jazzy — something I hadn't fully tapped into before, in anything else that I'd written.
How have you balanced administrative tasks with creating music?
It's a constant push and pull. I definitely take care of my instrument and make sure I'm practicing every day. I'll warm up with some exercises and sing through whatever needs attention and is doable that day. Being busy with administration has been good for my voice — otherwise, I would oversing every day.
What do you do when you feel creatively blocked?
Stop forcing it. I usually just step away and try to do whatever speaks to me at that moment. This is the good thing about having 10 different songs in progress! If it's not a verbal day, I can focus on the music. But if it's not coming I just walk away. Other times, I need someone to kick me back to the microphone to improvise some more.
Photos by Zave Smith.