A Studio of One’s Own: Backstory of Won't Let You Down
The best part about having some success in music is that you get to make more music. And music is the best!
Having spent the first half a dozen years after I graduated from college toiling as a freelance bass player for some odd 14 touring bands at a time, being continuously passed off at dusty highway-side rest areas from one shitty 12-passenger van at the end of of tour, straight into the next shitty 12-passenger van at the beginning of another tour, I was overjoyed when at the age of 27 I found myself, thanks to the success of my band Lake Street Dive, finally possessing Virginia Woolf’s classic recipe for creativity: money and a room of one’s own. Truth be told, I actually still didn’t have my own room…I was paying $150 a month to inhabit a Brooklyn living room. And the money was not much to speak of either…butbecoming a one-band woman had left me with swaths of TIME between tours, and there was enough cash to put food and beer on the table for me while I took my first ever solo songwriting retreat at a studio in the (slightly creepy) woods of inland Maine.
It was paradise. It was a studio I’d recorded two records in already, with two different bands and I knew its instruments and atmosphere well but now I had it all to myself! No schedules or agendas to attend to and crucially, no cell service or internet as well….just each day an uninterrupted flow of creativity, following each thought from the seed of an idea to where it made my mind wander from there, to where the wandering ideas coalesced and blossomed into something concrete, and then at the end of the day listening back to complete songs that I’d made THAT day, that hadn’t existed when I woke up. Amazing! All of those hours in the van, listening to Fleetwood Mac, Beck, McCartney, The Zombies, Cyndi Lauper, The Flaming Lips, etc, had endowed me with a wellspring of ideas and enthusiasm for music, and now, with time and space to work, the songs were just pouring out of me. I ran wild. I wrote songs about sex dreams (Daniel.) I wrote songs about gun violence (What Happened Today.) I wrote songs in odd meters that swerved through vast harmonic landscapes (Serenity) and slow, barren, cyclical songs that wallowed in their simplicity, self-aware that they, like their narrator, were doomed to repeat themselves (Who Are We Kidding?) I was in heaven. Then when I got back to the city, another opportunity presented itself…
I’d developed a friendship over my years in Brooklyn with a musician who I was secretly in awe of, musically. When he would invite me to a show or a party he was having, I would get all excited and nervous, then show up and try to act totally casual around him, like he was just any other friend to me and I wasn’t covertly obsessing over his encyclopedic knowledge of records, his vintage instruments and recording gear and the way he could effortlessly put different styles and eras of music on a footing of equality in his mind, mentioning 50s exotica in the same breath as George Michael and finding un-ironic merits in both. The ability to see past the fads of production and hear the songs and the sounds themselves, seemed like the epitome of cool to me. In an effort to seem cool to him, I’d told this man, the drummer and producer Robin MacMillan, about my Maine songwriting getaway before I left for it. When I got back he wanted to hear the fruits of my labor, and with those ears that can hear through production elements and into the songs (and specifically, could ignore my very suspect drumming on the demos) he got really excited about the possibilities for this music and asked if we could start working together in his studio in Brooklyn. Duh, I accepted!
Here we are again at the awesomeness of time and space for creativity… Now in my breaks from touring with Lake Street Dive, at home in Brooklyn, I had a STUDIO to work in! And a brilliant, capable, creative, open-minded, patient producer and engineer to work with. As liberated as I had felt writing alone in Maine, working with Robin in Brooklyn was like being free, with wings! We had no deadline and it was his studio space, so we took our time. We experimented. We labored over the sounds and the parts that each instrument would play and how they weaved in and out of each other. We put weird space sounds on things and turned em up loud (Won’t Let You Down.) We made some songs really really big (Nothing Does It) and some songs really really exposed (So Long.) We put things backwards. We used tape. We blew out amps. We got better and better at working together over time, let the music flow, and just kept doing it until we realized we had made a record. And then we listened to that record, and we loved it!
SO, all of this is to say, I made this music. And music is the best! This is an album that was made out of absolute love for music and blissfully unfettered by worldly concerns. I think accordingly, it’s some of my most personal and honest musical output to date. It’s fun, it’s sad, it rocks and it broods, I’m really proud of it and I hope I can continue to be so lucky as to make music for the rest of my life! Thanks for listening!!! -Bridget Kearney
p.s make sure to listen to “Wash Up” because it’s my favorite! As a lyrics nerd, I love the way the verses introduce the chorus, so by the time you get there “wash up” means simultaneously “clean up your act” and “go fuck yourself” at the same time. As a music nerd, I love that you can say “clean up your act/go fuck yourself” and make it feel so good!