interview: Widowspeak

interview: Widowspeak

Near the end of August, Widowspeak released Expect the Best - the latest in a catalog already full of impossibly beautiful albums. From the minute the album begins it feels intimate and magic. We haven't been able to quit listening and are excited to share an interview we had with the band over e-mail.

photo: Kyle Jacques

photo: Kyle Jacques

The Grey Estates: What made you decide to record this album as a quartet and what impact do you feel those additional members had on your recorded sound? 

Widowspeak: We decided to record as the four live members because I wanted the record to have a greater range of dynamics than we are sometimes able to create when recording more studio-overdubs style. Also, wanting for those dynamics to come organically out of the way the band actually would be playing the songs at shows.  For other records we sort of reinvented them for playing live, as we didn't have all the instruments available. This time they were always meant to be performed by this band. 

You had tweeted that you were anxious about this record coming out because it was really personal. What was it about the record that you feel might be too much to share and have you ever felt that way before? I've always really admired artists because so much of what I keep hidden in journals there singing about on stage. 

I think the biggest struggle for me was that a lot of the feelings I was talking about lyrically were about feeling stuck, feeling at odds with friends and strangers, the world in general. I think people tend to idealize either happiness or sadness in songs, and feel attracted to those emotions as catharsis, but it's hard to describe aimlessness, hard to make that noteworthy as content for a song. You feel more bare. In the past I've written songs more from a perspective of being past something and getting closure; this time I was writing more in the moment.... so it definitely ended up feeling more personal.  

A lot of the press for this release mentioned how there was a point where you weren't sure if this fourth album would even be released, so how does it feel to have this physical object out in the world? And not only that, but how does it feel to tour on this material and to continue to share music?

I'm really glad we made another record because in a lot of ways the process helped me to understand what this music has meant to me over the years, and how it's affected me.  Everything we have done as a band, and every incredible experience or terrible one, everything about normal life we have sacrificed to do it (and not regretting it). After "All Yours" I had a real crisis of meaning and I think "Expect the Best" just tells that story pretty plainly. I'm more comfortable with the uncertainty now, and having the record out in the world is a great way to encapsulate those feelings and move forward from them. 

Do you feel like music has an important role in these times, especially with the current political climate? I recently spoke with some other artists for a different piece and they all spoke to the idea of music being a catharsis for others going through something and knowing they're not alone. With this album being so personal how would it feel to know someone might be listening and feeling less alone or just feeling a moment of peace?

I have definitely had people come up to me at shows and tell me that my songs helped them through a dark time. There's really nothing that is more powerful than that to me, music wise. It's weird because lately I've felt kind of overwhelmed by the music industry and how much there is, just a flood of content, always a billion new must-hear things... and how things are always being sold to us with hidden money exchanges, and sponsored/branded... Not to sound all tin hat but I struggle with reconciling my aversion to what we have lost, even with the internet providing a platform for artists that deserve to be heard outside the old avenues. People are inundated with music to the point that it is devalued. So, back to the point (sorry! Ha) there is nothing more important to me than the idea of someone listening to us, or anyone, because it has a lasting impression and carries over the din of everything else. And not just that, but helped them in some way.

Is there a particular track that really resonates or stands out to you on this album? When did you first start working on this new material and what inspired you? What was the writing process like?

I hadn't really written any songs until January; it was just a lot of voice memos and sketches of lyrics up to that point and I felt uninspired. After the election I questioned the legitimacy of music that doesn't do some obvious social good. But then the inauguration happened and I just felt more inspired to talk about personal things, because we are all still emotional creatures that have everydays and small pain even beyond the things happening in the news. So, I think it all just came in a flood after that, and the songs were all written within a month, except Expect the Best, which we wrote in the studio.  I think "Dog" is a song that really represents the record to me as a whole, the headspace of trying to figure out why I was unhappy.  Sonically it feels really present to me and I think that's a good foil to the darker parts of the album.

I wanted to talk about the track Dog in particular. The idea of social media showing only the best parts of people and making you feel bad is something I actively notice in my own life. How have you kind of worked that mentality into your own experience as a band using social media and are those feelings still something you combat with? p.s. do you ever wish you could text your dog on the road or like when you're away from home?

I definitely struggle with social media, both as a voyeur and as a poster, personally and as a band. On tour there is really no way around it because you have to make posts, even if they are silly or whatever, just to let people know the shows are happening, crowd source places to stay or look for things to do... It feels less organic but it also is helping to show people that you are actually out there, playing on stages and hopefully they can show up and see us play.  That way it actually crosses into the real world.  The rest of the time, and in my personal life, it just mostly feels terrible. And like there's so much curation that you get a false sense of the world around you.  I don't ever feel like I'm being honest by posting one thing and not another, editing what my life looks like. And alternatively, I don't think I'd be happier I really did just share every little thing. That's just my personality; it can work for people.... but I keep hearing about studies that generation after millennials is seemingly more unhappy, in a lot of ways. So who knows.

And I definitely wish I could text my dog; I miss her so much on tour. We tried to FaceTime her but she doesn't really get it. 

Also, what is "Good Sport" about? I really like all the sports imageries and your line about not sitting this one out. I'm guessing you don't directly mean sports so what in particular were you taking action on? Also the track is so short but it's like really meaningful and beautiful so if you want to share a little more on what it means?

It kind of circles back to how I was feeling about aimlessness and depression, like I was shooting myself in the foot by being unproductive, being overwhelmed by expectations (my own and others).  I was sort of trying to will myself to be more present, participate more.  And not specifically in a social media sense, but the idea of looking at other people's lives like it's a spectator sport and not really feeling great about where your own is at. It's about knowing you self-sabotage but trying really hard not to.

Lastly, I wanted to ask about the song Fly On the Wall. That song knocked me off my feet the first time I heard it and every time since. What went into creating that and what is it about? It feels like massive. 

It was maybe the second to last song I wrote, and I just wanted the record to close in a sort of sad chaos, because that felt like the thing I was trying to get past.  Lyrically, it's about coming home late and flipping through tumblr photos, which I used to do a while ago when tumblr was more of a thing, instagrams now, or just my photo roll.  And then coming across those photos years later and wondering what has changed. The idea of these images that somehow feel significant and tied to memories but they aren't. Feeling overwhelmed by content, and the idea that there is so much out there that it's hard to feel like you are doing anything unique... even outside of music or art.  Music-wise, we wanted it to feel cyclical and build, then sort of fall apart.

And just for fun - what would the dream Widowspeak merch item be? I think y'all might need to capitalize on that lava lamp you have on the cover.

The lava lamp would be rad but they discontinued that color! I know because I broke that one, which belonged to my stepmom, and I'm trying to find one to replace it,  I would love to sell big foam fingers, except they are probably terrible for the environment.... maybe custom coffee blends, seems appropriate to our vibe?