With the arrival of his acclaimed EP Vulnerabilia, Chaz Cardigan proved his talent for turning his deepest insecurities into wildly cathartic pop songs. Featuring his smash single “Not OK!”—a top 20 hit on Alternative Radio—Vulnerabilia found the Kentucky-born artist opening up about his panic disorder and other troubles while also building a high-energy but beautifully nuanced sound. On his latest EP Holograma, Chaz makes a new leap in what he calls “cracking codes to emotion,” sharing a batch of songs that show incredible growth in both his life and his music.
“On Vulnerabilia there was a lot of recognizing my toxic behaviors, but this one came more from me asking myself what influenced those behaviors in the first place,” says the Nashville-based 25-year-old. “All of the songs are about looking back on old memories and re-contextualizing them, seeing everything in a new light now that I know myself better and I’m way more secure in who I am.”
With its in-depth reflection on so many aspects of his life—his faith and past relationships, self-esteem and sexuality—Holograma took shape in a period of major change for Chaz. “I wrote the EP right as I was signing my record deal, at a moment when I’d just gotten into a serious relationship that was unlike anything I’d been in before,” he notes. “The songs came from the shifting of ideas and shifting of perceptions, and I saw them as these iridescent, shimmering colors, like a hologram.”
Made with songwriter/producers like Simon Oscroft (Dreamers, The Naked and Famous) and Daniel “Robopop” Omelio (Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Lana Del Rey, Maroon 5), Holograma finds Chaz mining inspiration from the impossibly catchy post-grunge he grew up on and dreaming up a genre-blurring sound all his own. In that process, he embraced total spontaneity in the studio, more fully relying on his instincts as a classically trained pianist who taught himself to play guitar, bass, and drums. “The production on this EP is way less overthought than Vulnerabilia,” says Chaz. “I don’t feel the need to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks anymore—I feel much more confident in what I’m doing.” The result is a body of work that’s brilliantly detailed yet spacious enough to contain the many complex emotions Chaz cycles through: longing, regret, and newfound clarity.
The first track written for Holograma, lead single “Everything’s Wrong” sparked the intense retrospection that ultimately informed the entire project. “I went into that song saying, ‘Okay, if I want to break these toxic patterns, what does that look like?’” recalls Chaz, who penned “Everything’s Wrong” with songwriter/artist Julian Dente. “It ended up being a song about being in the middle of a bad day and knowing things can only get better. It’s about finally letting go of feeling stuck.” Revealing Chaz’s extraordinary gift for infusing his lyrics with heartfelt humor (“Guess it isn’t all rosé and roses/Every day can’t be avocado toast”), “Everything’s Wrong” channels that sense of release by creating a heavy tension in its verses, then exploding into a rhapsodic chorus that instantly hits like exhilarating relief.
Elsewhere on Holograma, Chaz delves into his past and returns with new perspective on sometimes-painfully vivid memories—or, in the case of the heavy-hearted but anthemic “Middle of the Road,” a reaffirming glimpse into what could have been. “That song came from ruminating on what my life would’ve been like if I’d stayed in my hometown,” says Chaz, who hails from the small central-Kentucky city of Elizabethtown. “I realized I would’ve been miserable, stuck in a cycle of debt and probably addicted to something, pretending to be someone I’m not for the rest of my life.”
A dreamy slow-burner lit up in lush string arrangements, “Room” lures the listener into Chaz’s starry-eyed memory of the bedroom of his first love. “We really dug deep and tried to make it as tactile and specific as possible, with lots of little details, like the map of Ecuador he had on his wall,” says Chaz. “Once we started writing, it just snapped me back into being 16, and I realized that feeling of being in love for the first time is something I’ve been chasing for so long.” Another song steeped in bittersweet nostalgia, the gloriously radiant “Losing Touch” came to life from a dream of Chaz’s estranged childhood best friend. “This has never happened to me before, but the chorus and the pre-chorus to that song were actually written in my dream,” he says. “I woke up in this half-awake state and did a voice memo, and it became a song about losing touch with someone who used to be like family to me.”
Throughout Holograma, Chaz showcases his eclectic musicality, delivering everything from the guitar-laced reverie of “Let It Rest” (a song about “deciding not to dwell on the anxiety about the past anymore”) to the piano-driven powerhouse “Jesus Christ, I’m Lonely” (a subtly politically charged epic echoing Chaz’s belief in “loving people who don’t look like you, and knowing that they matter just as much as you do”). The EP’s kaleidoscopic sound perfectly reflects Chaz’s musical journey over the years, which includes gigging in punk bands at the age of 11, mastering electronic production in his early teens, and covering classic songs in Louisville bars during his high-school years. After cutting his teeth playing everywhere from open-mic nights to pool parties, he moved to Nashville at age 17 and soon started producing in a local hip-hop collective called The Diatribe—an endeavor he refers to as “the most formative musical experience in my entire life.” When the collective dissolved, Chaz focused on writing for what would become his 2017 album I. The following year, he put out a series of singles that all ended up on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, then started joining sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles with A-list songwriters like Tim Pagnotta and Matthew Koma. Within a month of his first L.A. visit, he became the first artist jointly signed to Capitol Records and Loud Robot (a label from J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot).
With the release of Holograma, Chaz hopes that his songs might inspire the same sense of boldness he’s recently discovered in his own life. “This whole EP is about recognizing that you have to be an active agent in your life instead of just gliding through—otherwise you’re never going to know yourself,” he says. “I hope it helps everyone to focus in on what makes them really feel alive, and I hope it brings them closer to the people who make them feel safe, confident, and important.”