Lapel, by Robert Alleyne

“I always look at past records like prom dresses,” explains San Francisco based singer-songwriter Debbie Neigher. “At the time you thought you were just the star — you felt so awesome, and you thought that you were wearing the most beautiful dress in the world…And then, you look back at photos, and you’re like, ‘How did I walk out of the house in that?'”

Neigher has been a songwriter in the Bay Area for around seven years, and right now she is in a period of transition. After touring piano-based music for almost a decade, she came to the point of reflection. “I just realized a few years ago that I hadn’t…actually listened to that type of music in a long time. It was kind of just what I’ve always done…I just wasn’t actually inspired by that kind of music anymore,” confides Neigher.

So she did what all good musicians do at these moments: she changed. Out went the carefree piano melodies, in went a synthesizer. “I made a rule for myself that I wasn’t allowed to use any piano!” she says. This new vision led her to her latest moniker, Lapel.

A few hours before our interview she shares her as-yet-unreleased album under the new name. The difference is stark — there’s a fusion of genres: pop, R&B, dance. Whereas her previous albums sounded more organic, this album feels like a melting pot of ideas wrapped in a blanket of electro samples.

Among all this change, she has not disregarded her old music — as much as it is a dress she may not wear at the moment, Neigher remains proud of the work she created. “Every record is a snapshot of wherever you were in life,” she says. “I still am really, really proud of my past records because that’s who I was…I still think that the production is great and the songwriting is good. But there’s always a little bit of cringe; a healthy little sprinkle of cringe.”

Lapel, by Robert Alleyne

The third song on the album is called “Less of a Woman.” It is a conversation between two women about reproductive rights and choice. “I felt like I really wanted somebody to tell me, or just women in general, that your reproductive choices or abilities

[do] not define your worth or value as a woman, which is just a message that we just do not hear nearly enough,” she says.

Instead of waiting for someone else to have this talk with her through music, she decided to write the song she wanted. “The song was written as a conversation between two women, so you hear us [Neigher and band member Jess Silva] alternating the lines of the verses and then really coming together in a super powerful way for the choruses,” she says.

“I can’t speak for all women. We all have different experiences,” she says. “Because it was so personal and it was a very specific thing I was feeling…I crafted it to be more of a conversation,” she explains. “There’s also the whole chorus, [which] is expressing your own self-consciousness about speaking out, about those things. Does this actually make me less of a woman if I choose not to have kids or if I’m not able to? So it is like being able to talk about it.” The end result is a lively, yet affecting record; Neigher purposely injecting effects and loops to give it a “bombastic” feel.

I ask her about the other conversations we should be having at the moment. “Where do I begin?” she responds. “I think there’s so much that we need to destigmatize around abortions, around talking about our periods, talking about our bodies,” she says. “A lot of good work is finally starting to happen…[but] there’s just so much [to do]…Dismantling the patriarchy, battling sexism across so many fronts, rape culture, income inequality. There’s just so much work to be done,” she expresses.

“There’s a product out there now, Thinx…that’s specifically-designed underwear for women with their periods. Can you imagine seeing that 30 years ago? So things like that, where little things are starting to become a little bit more normalized or talked about,” she shares.

Lapel, by Robert Alleyne

We move on to talking about the local music scene. “There’s a ton of band incest,” she says, jokingly. “You go to a show, and you always run into someone.” We talk around the familiar narrative of people leaving the Bay Area: Austin, Portland, and LA are all places close friends of hers have moved to make music. “[Here] We all have to hustle so much just to pay rent, and then on top of that to pay for recording, to pay your musicians, to pay for graphic design and gas money to get to gigs. All of it is really challenging.”

I ask her what could be done to stop artists leaving. We discuss supporting not just musicians, but also teachers, social workers, and “the types of professions that keep the city what it is.” In true Bay Area fashion, she even mentions an idea that sounds like it could be an app: a punch-card system, or loyalty card, that would reward you for attending local shows with free drinks. “If you set up a lifestyle where your work provides everything for you — your meals, you’re eating dinner at work. Big tech companies, they encourage you to stay late and your culture is centered around work. You have all these amazing perks and activities and free meals. And you live in a high-rise that’s nearby. And then you take the shuttle to work. You’re never actually interacting so much with local culture. It’s all a little bit siloed. And a bit isolated.” She shares this from a position of caring — some of her best friends work for tech companies and have to work through the struggle of balancing their jobs and interacting with the local culture.

For now, Neigher is focused on playing shows and preparing for the launch of the new record. With a new sound and an opportunity to explore topics in a new way, Lapel looks like a prom dress Neigher will be wearing for some time.