Unsettled, chaotic, and getting over it with Widowspeak's newest and most direct record, Expect The Best.
The Widowspeak style of songwriting has always been concentrated on mood and emotion. How is the mood of the new record, Expect The Best, different than the previous recordings? Are there concepts that are continuously drawn on for each Widowspeak record?
I feel like Expect the Best has a bit more of a somber sort of mood to it than other records we’ve made, also it’s a bit less embellished and a bit more chaotic; in a lot of ways I wasn’t really being very hopeful about the future, and the title, and vibe of everything, was kind of a comment on that. Not just about the future of the world, or my future as a person, citizen, woman, musician, whatever… Just this sort of dread I felt about everything. I felt pretty crippled by it, but also tried to not take it too seriously. That’s the mood I hope it has… dread, but trying to get over it. Like you said, we have always been really focused on mood, but with these songs it was less of storytelling and remembering, or painting a picture, and more figuring out how to get out of a dark place in the songs…. It just was the type of record I needed to make.
You made the move to Tacoma, Washington from Brooklyn and Upstate, New York before beginning the writing of Expect the Best. What prompted the move? What did you find beneficial about the change in location? What did you miss most about your previous living conditions?
I moved back home to see what had changed, or hadn’t changed, about my hometown and the Pacific Northwest in general, to figure out whether I wanted to permanently end up back there. I hadn’t lived there for about a decade and it just kept nagging at me, this need to go back and stay a while. I kept thinking that was why I never felt settled, in Brooklyn or upstate. In a lot of ways moving back (and then moving back east, again!) gave me a lot of closure on some things I hadn’t figured out. Namely that nothing is ever really figured out! That I don’t have to buy a house by the time I’m 30, that I’m not somehow missing out on things by still being adrift, and that the sort of yearning I have to try out different versions of myself, different places and jobs, might just be part of my personality, not something I need to over-correct by moving around all the time. Maybe it’s because I’m a Sagittarius. Ha. But really, I love Tacoma, and I love Brooklyn, and I love upstate New York. I think right now I’m going to try to be split between the Catskills and the city, and get back to Tacoma as much as I can.
Besides some new personnel, how was the recording process different for this record? Has your experience previously releasing 4 records with Widowspeak helped the effectiveness of the recording stage? Is the "album process" unique for each record?
We’ve made each record totally differently, whether as a trio, duo, duo plus studio musicians, or now with the live band, which I think has been great for us. It makes each one feel like a totally new experience. With this record we went in with Willy and James, who we’ve been playing with for three years, and were able to finally stop treating records like a studio project, and more like creating an artifact of the live sound. I think of anything Widowspeak has accomplished as a band or idea, (and I am of course proud of our recordings) this one comes closest to the way we play together, at shows, which is maybe the best thing we can do. And because we can’t tour all the time, I’m really proud of the way this record captures those shifts in mood and dynamics that we’ve worked on so long.
Expect the Best finds the bands experimenting with more energy and momentum than some of the earlier material. Was it a conscious effort to exert more force for this collection of songs? Was it something that came naturally from life's goings-ons during the conception of the album?
I think it definitely came naturally, and also sort of from being inspired by more forceful displays of emotion. I have always loved some louder, more frenetic, heavier music, it just didn’t really seem relevant to this project before. I tend to be sort of reserved about expressing myself, and usually want the songs to be more subtle, restrained, observational. This time we just wanted to let the songs have the energy that fit the mood, the words… and that felt like it needed some build and release of tension that we don’t always have on other records. That said, there is usually a song or two on our previous records that is sort of the same idea. We tend to jam heavy at our shows, too.
The albums first single "Dog" reveals the hostile compulsion to recede from a frustrating situation, feeling of disarray, or loneliness. You mention social media's discouraging ability to heighten this sensation. Are you motivated to create during times of high stress and lowdown feelings or is it a way to circumvent further distress?
I am definitely not motivated to create when I’m feeling down; I sort of have to be on the upswing to be able to distill that emotion into anything useful. I have to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It can be frustrating to want to be in a different stage of acceptance than where you are, but taking your time to journey through those sort of moods is important. Otherwise, they come back right away. In terms of social media, I am still working out how to find balance with it. On the one hand I’ve been critical of it forever, since I first got a LiveJournal or a Myspace, and I’ve really held onto the idea of wanting to preserve my integrity… not get too pulled into the need for validation, not oversharing or overposting or letting it be too much of my life, or time.
But on the other hand, it seems to be just a normal way of communicating for other people; with younger people it’s just the main way they express themselves. They don’t think too much about it, and it doesn’t bother them or cause anxiety, and is maybe just a mostly positive if not totally neutral experience. So, I’m trying to find balance. I find that it is super destructive to me to be scrolling through my phone when I’m depressed or feeling anxious, because I end up seeing all these people with their lives seemingly in order, all tidy and happy. Realistically, they have crises too. I don’t know, I’m still working it out.
How have your creative motivations changed with age? Are your writing styles and habits adapting with each year's passing?
I think my creative motivations have definitely changed with age. I’m 29 now, and have been writing songs since I was probably 15; in that time I think I’ve grown into myself a little, and also stopped being so concerned with the end result. I think less about what I wish I was doing, and just try to do it. I’ve gotten better about letting fragments of ideas be enough, overworking things less. And on the other hand, knowing when to let things go and come back to them. Sometimes it takes years, literally: “Expect the Best”, the title track, was based on a chord progression from the first year of the band.
In terms of changing writing styles, I think those sort of ebb and flow with whatever is interesting me at the time. The first couple records I was more flowery with language, more symbolic, and the last two records were more deliberate and direct. I’m not sure if one approach was “better” or “worse” but it was useful to me to think about things differently. And now, I am feeling more able to move on from the direct and maybe revisit previous approaches, or totally new ways of saying things. I don’t know, it comes in waves.
Expect the Best is your fourth record on Captured Tracks. It's pretty impressive to find a business relationship that works well enough to sustain that many years together. Has the label given you freedom to explore and experiment with the songwriting? How has the label helped Widowspeak get to the point it's at today?
Captured Tracks has definitely given us total freedom on all our records, and also are totally supportive of us doing things the way we want to, at our speed. They have definitely said that they imagine us being around for a long time, in whatever form or incarnation that is, which is really encouraging and also a relief. In the current music climate (maybe in all music climates forever, I don’t know) it seems like there are are a LOT of bands that are all vying for attention, for streams, for the chance to break out. I don’t know if we will ever “break out” but I am really grateful for Captured Tracks’ belief in what we are doing, in the music, and the fact that they don’t need us to prove we are “worth” some investment. The investment for them is just the longterm careers of artists, which is so great. They signed us after our sixth show or something, I forget, and ever since then they’ve helped us figure things out, on our own terms.