On day 18 of social isolation, Allie Nasr and Megan Nichols are on Zoom again, trying to figure out their musical future as the pandemic rages on.
Nasr is wearing a sweatshirt adorned with ewoks, the fictional furry forest creatures seen in “Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi,” her long, brown hair hanging loosely past her shoulders. Nichols is snuggled under a blanket decorated with images of “Star Wars” spaceships, wearing a similarly designed black sweatshirt and a mint-colored headband to hold her blonde hair out of her face as they strategize from their laptops on how to write and release songs for their electric folk band, MissThis.
Nasr, 26, the lead singer, guitarist and mandolin player, is an elementary music teacher for the Cave Creek Unified School District. Nichols, 27, the bassist, works as an admissions representative at General Assembly tech school Phoenix. Both women are working at home now, which makes it hard to collaborate musically. Still, they’re trying. They’re watching “Star Wars” movies for inspiration and writing love songs about nameless “Star Wars” characters.
Star Wars aficionados would recognize the characters, like Rey and Kylo Ren, in the songs. But others might not, which may explain why MissThis didn’t always have a large following. But their Spotify plays are growing now at a rapid rate.
Writing songs about a galaxy far, far away
The “Star Wars” themes that distinguish the music of MissThis made their way into the music by accident. In 2018, Nasr began writing a song about herself and her husband, Mathew. As she wrote, Nasr, a long-time “Star Wars” fan, said she noticed parallels between her personal love story and the chemistry between the beautiful scavenger-turned-Jedi knight Rey and Kylo Ren, the son of Han Solo and Leia.
“I think the big thing about Reylo (Rey and Kylo’s romance) is just the love connection and finding your other half, and the opposites and the yin and yang kind of thing,” Nasr says.
When Nasr first showed the song to Nichols, she asked, “Is this about Reylo?”
“I was kind of embarrassed at first,” Nasr says. “But she then was like, ‘Let’s roll with it,’ and we just did. We totally went for it, and we wrote the rest of it together and haven’t looked back.”
This song was the first single, “StarCrossed,” which has garnered over 47,000 plays on Spotify since its release in 2018.
Since then, MissThis has written more songs alluding to Reylo, as well as other “Star Wars” romances. This includes the love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.
The band’s latest single, “Rise,” was released in December 2019 in anticipation of the final film about the Skywalker family. Since the pandemic hit, the romantic song has over 30,000 plays on Spotify. In February, before news of the pandemic was widespread, the song had garnered only about 6,000 plays.
Despite their frequent “Star Wars” inspiration, Nasr and Nichols say they want to make it clear that they do not only write music for franchise fans.
“We start pumping out either a sad song or a love song, because that’s how we like to write,” Nichols says. The music might have “Star Wars” themes, but it’s intended for a general audience and “can still be interpreted any way,” she says.
A world between worlds
Nasr and Nichols, childhood friends, began making music together when they attended Grand Canyon University.
The women hoped to play more local shows and make a music video this summer, but the pandemic thwarted those plans. Now that the two women are stuck in their separate houses, Nasr says she realizes the importance of collaborating with Nichols.
“I think you don’t really realize what you have until it’s taken away from you in a certain way, and that’s kind of what’s happened to us here,” Nasr says.
Nichols finds that social isolation has given her more time to focus on her music. She is learning to play the piano and practices her bass every night. She and Nasr hope that once stay-at-home orders are lifted they will have new songs to release over the course of the year.
The women prize creativity over popularity but would still like their music to reach more people.
“We just more naturally look more toward the creative outlet than, I guess for lack of better words, getting people’s attention,” Nichols says.
“If people want to hop along and come with us on our storytelling ride, then that’s great,” Nasr says. “Obviously we want to get better at marketing ourselves and putting ourselves out there, but I think at the end of the day it’s really, really nice to be able to just create and write and arrange.”
The rise of female fandom
“Star Wars” entered American pop culture in 1977, when “Episode IV” was released. Since then, there have been many movie sequels and the films have amassed super fans who even dedicate rooms in their homes to memorabilia collections from movies, comic conventions, toy stores, fast-food restaurant promotions and “Star Wars”-themed events.
Since its debut, the franchise as a whole has made more than $10.32 billion in worldwide box office revenue.
“Star Wars” characters like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are cultural icons, brave Jedi knights who fight for justice and hope. It wasn’t until 2015 that a female Jedi knight rose to become a new hero: Rey.
Nasr and Nichols say they were greatly inspired by Rey and that the emotional and moving journey she goes on over the course of the sequel trilogy has been a significant part of what has inspired them to make music for MissThis.
“Having a female hero being the central character and getting to watch her develop and have her own heroine’s journey has really changed it for a lot of women,” Nasr says. “That’s why I was recaptured again.”
Nichols adds, “The whole sequel trilogy she was supposed to be a nobody, and that’s cool and that’s OK. I liked that. But I thought it was cool that she didn’t have to have a connection to any of the main family in the other movies.”
Rey’s story of coming from nowhere and finding a place for herself within the galaxy as the last Jedi, Nasr says, mirrors the journey that many young women have experienced as they become integrated into one of the largest male-dominated fandoms in the world.
“You can be who you are and still be important, and I think for women in general, it was kind of like you don’t have to be an old fan to be in this,” Nasr says. “I think the sequel trilogy finally opened up women to that experience.”
Looking to the future
Even as they quarantine themselves in their separate houses, the women of MissThis have been hard at work and plan to continue doing so for the duration of the pandemic.
Nichols has been playing music every night using the in-home studio shared by her and her husband, another local musician, who calls himself Laroshi. Nasr says she is in the process of getting her own recording equipment so the two bandmates can practice cutting their own pieces of tracks and sending them to each other to complete separately as they social distance.
“If we’re in this for the long haul, we’ll still be pumping out music for the foreseeable future,” Nasr says.
In the meantime, Nichols says, MissThis hopes to retain the spike in plays they have been receiving recently and to stay in contact with their listeners on social media.
“We’re still making music,” Nichols says. “We haven’t disappeared.”