Kristina Esfandiari loves the people who listen to her music. But when she was writing “Uncontrollable,” the debut LP from her solo vehicle, Miserable, she wasn’t thinking about them.
“I really wasn’t expecting people to like it at all,” Esfandiari, 28, said over the phone from Nashville, Tenn. “I need this for me.”
Esfandiari, who also fronts King Woman and used to sing in Whirr, released “Uncontrollable” in April. Miserable performs at the Ottobar on Monday.
It’s difficult for Esfandiari to revisit “Uncontrollable,” which was written alone while isolated in a friend’s room “that was definitely haunted” in San Francisco. Sleep-deprived and reckoning with feelings of betrayal between friends and lack of closure, Esfandiari sat in a corner, looping guitar sounds and drawing out her intense feelings. (She declined to further discuss the specific issues she deals with on the album.)
The experience resulted in a collection of nine shoegaze-y songs both ethereal and morbid. Mumbled, haunting vocals wash over guitar arpeggios, synths and samples of rain.
Finishing Miserable’s first full-length album (she released two EPs in 2014) brought Esfandiari “so much relief.”
“Thank God this is over,” Esfandiari, a Sacramento native, said. “It felt so good to be over with. I can’t explain the feeling.”
Esfandiari often starts the songwriting process with an album title or word to write around, which was the case with “Uncontrollable.” Throughout the album, which she sees as a time capsule and a “gift” to herself, Esfandiari found a way to gain control of her experiences.
“The album’s about feeling like you have no control because you have no closure. And feeling a lot of regret and betrayal and getting to this breaking point,” she said. “I’m really proud of myself for getting through it.”
While Esfandiari finds “Uncontrollable” a hard listen because of the memories attached to it, she’s found a lightness in playing the same songs live and touring the country.
“It’s been a nice release to get to play these songs and see the reaction of everybody,” she said. “It’s really fun.”
Esfandiari has been using Miserable’s national tour to make her way east for good. Formerly based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Esfandiari said she “wanted to take a calculated risk” by moving to Brooklyn, N.Y.
Miserable started out as a “teen-angst project” that evolved into its current iteration, Esfandiari said. On tour when she was singing in Whirr, she found herself listening to bands like The Smiths and Brand New, seeking solace in the nostalgia as a young girl who didn’t express herself or feel safe.
Making other women feel safe has since become essential to Esfandiari’s life and work. After experiencing a “bad situation” when she was 21, Esfandiari’s feminism, and its manifestations in King Woman and Miserable, began to take shape.
“I was very lost when I was younger. I didn’t really have anyone to confide in,” she said. “I just wanted to exist as a force that could be a lighthouse for other women.”
Now Esfandiari spends time connecting with women after her shows, who often reveal deeply personal stories about how her music has affected them.
“It honestly just makes me cry,” she said. “I don’t know how to handle that. It’s really humbling when you’ve been involved in a stranger’s life.”