The FADER's longstanding GEN F series profiles emerging artists to know now.
As a lanky, video game-obsessed 15-year old who’s recently begun painting his nails in various colorful shades, Ash Gutierrez is something of an outlier in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The small town south of Asheville is home primarily to a large community of retirees, so there aren’t too many kids around the same age as Gutierrez, and those that are don’t share many of the same interests. “If you’re from this town, you just do really Southern things like ride dirt bikes or drive trucks around in the mud,” he says with a laugh over a Discord call in early November. “I’ve never been into anything like that.”
Kids can be cruel, and Gutierrez says that even in normal times he found it hard to connect with many people in his town because he wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. “I used to have a lot more IRL friends, but now I have like one,” he says.
For Gutierrez, life has changed a lot over the last eight months. Just after the pandemic caused much of the world to shut down, he channeled his own boredom into a new pursuit. Inspired by smaller producers and artists he discovered in the internet underground he started making genre-hopping tracks under the name glaive, drawing on the vast unpredictable influences of an energetic kid raised on the internet: the bitter beauty of classic Midwest emo, SoundCloud rap’s erratic ecstasy, and the glow stick drip of glitch-pop luminaries like 100 gecs.
The internet quickly caught on. Perhaps because of the bruised, relatable emoting of songs like “Astrid,” a desperate love song that sounds like an American Football track played back at the wrong speed, or the fact that few of his songs stretch beyond the two-minute mark (perfect for shattered pandemic attention spans), the handful of tracks he’s released have quickly garnered millions of streams. His manager Dan Awad told The New York Times that he found his song “Sick” on SoundCloud this summer and thought that glaive was “the best songwriter I’ve ever heard in my life,” which doesn’t seem to be a totally unusual response. He’s quickly become one of the faces of the burgeoning movement of genre-flouting experimenters collected on Spotify’s beloved Hyperpop playlist, while disavowing that label at the same time. (He thinks he more or less just makes fast pop music). Today, November 19, he’s releasing his debut EP Cypress Grove, a charming collection of messy art-pop miniatures that explore the strange headspace that this sudden success has put him in, grappling with all this attention amid the usual angst of growing up in a weird world.
“Me doing what I’m doing is one of the biggest things that’s happened in Hendersonville in a while,” he says with a laugh. “People don’t know how to react.”
Gutierrez was born in Florida and lived near Sarasota for the first nine years of his life, before his family moved to Hendersonville. He doesn’t have a lot to say about his earliest years except that his time in Florida was a lot like his life in North Carolina: kinda slow. Music wasn’t a huge part of his life as a kid, except for in the back of his mom’s car. Gutierrez remembers hearing the stars of the early 2010s on the radio, like Kesha, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift, which forged a love for sugary hooks and the immediacy of pop music’s emotions. He says he never imagined that making music was a thing he could do, but in the back of his head he did feel the itch to perform. “I’ve definitely stood in front of my mirror singing a Justin Bieber song,” he says.
Over the past couple of years, Gutierrez has found refuge from his small town boredom — like a lot of kids his age — on the internet. When he was younger, he says he wanted to be a YouTuber, so he’d record half-baked vlogs talking to the camera about whatever nonsense was on his mind. “I’d get one view and I’d be like, ‘A person watched me talk about nothing,’” he remembers. Eventually he joined the Discord servers of a few of his favorite video-makers and started meeting like-minded weirdos across the globe. At the same time, he got invested in the SoundCloud underground, which introduced him to the idea of a musical world outside of the radio. First he was obsessed with Lil Peep and Lil Tracy, but then he realized that there were smaller artists making similarly damaged rap music, which led him down the rabbit hole to more esoteric pop acts like Brakence and 100 gecs. If they could do it, why couldn’t he?
So he started making music as glaive earlier this year, taking the name from a weapon in the punishingly difficult fantasy RPG Dark Souls III. Gutierrez isn’t the first kid to make pop music from his bedroom fueled by rural boredom and alienation, but few sound as self-assured as he did from the jump. While he says that he “literally hates” the earliest recordings on his SoundCloud page, even the very first one, “petrolman,” is distinct in a way that you might not expect for a project that formed more or less on a whim. It’s glitchy and grating, but emotionally forward and dewy-eyed, like a Drain Gang song playing back from a corrupted external hard drive.
Over the last few months his process has more or less stayed the same. He toils away in his room on a beat and some vocal layering, occasionally reaching out to internet friends for help with guitar parts. When a track’s more or less finished, he shows it to his mom first, then his closest IRL friend, and if either of them don’t like it he doesn’t release it. There probably aren’t many young musicians who give much consideration to their parents’ approval but since his mom was his introduction to pop music, he values her opinion. At first she had a hard time with some of the intensity of his songs — over time he’s sung and rapped about romantic dissolution, rapturous anger, even suicidal ideation — but he’s been able to explain to her that he’s able to use these songs as an outlet for his angst. “She used to think I was really depressed but now she understands that’s how I get out those emotions,” he says.
Cypress Grove’s seven tracks — which include two earlier singles, “Pissed” and “Astrid” — show just how accomplished Gutierrez already is as a songwriter. He covers heavy themes, purging dark thoughts about the nature of his young life, while also trading in clever wordplay and playful barbs like “Astrid”’s opening line: “Yeah you look so pretty in that dress, but I’d look better.” Even “dnd” — a song explicitly aimed at the kids from his town who are only talking to him now that he’s making music — is a sober and poised look at the strangeness of becoming successful while the world is on fire. As a whole the EP is self-possessed and confident in a way that makes it easy to forget his age.
And yet, talking to him and reading his Twitter, there’s reminders that Gutierrez is still a kid. He’s obsessed with Minecraft, he talks a lot about the burgeoning success of his TikTok account, and generally speaks in the charmingly awkward logorrhea of an Internet-poisoned teen. Now signed to a major label, and with a management team behind him, he’s had to grow up quickly in a way that most SoundCloud kids don’t, which has introduced some changes into how he releases music. There’s a lot more people to run tracks past, a lot more steps between playing it off his computer for his mom and uploading it to the internet. But for now at least, he isn’t too stressed about what comes next. He’s hoping that this new attention allows him to keep making music for the foreseeable future, but for now he’s just worried about passing his Zoom classes.
“I’ve told all my teachers that I kinda have other things to do,” he says, smiling. “I understand school is my top priority but I’ve been... busy.”