In our latest edition of Track by Track, Margaret Glaspy explains why Devotion runs through her sophomore LP. Read on to find her breakdown of every song on the new album.
Recorded at Brooklyn’s Atomic Sound studio alongside co-producer Tyler Chester, Devotion finds Glaspy expanding the scope of her sound. While the crunchy indie folk style that won her acclaim on Emotions and Math and 2018’s Born Yesterday EP are still prevalent, the singer-songwriter composed many of the new LP’s tracks on computer first. The results are decidedly more electronic and adventurous, a reflection of Glaspy’s growth both in terms of her art and her personal understanding of the world.
As Glaspy explained to Consequence of Sound on the phone,
“I think a lot of songs get written about the kind of ups and downs, but the in-between sometimes feels very uncharted. And we’re mostly spending our time in the in-between. Not everything is up all the time, and not everything is down all the time. I hope. The things that I’m most interested in and privy to writing about is sometimes you can be happy and sad at the same time. You know, I love that Kacey Musgraves song: ‘Happy and sad at the same time.’ Because I think that’s such a feeling. Of course not everything is always up. And when it’s not up and when it’s not completely down, what is it? It’s just life. It’s not negative. It’s not positive. It’s just life, and you make your way through it. And when you find someone you love, you find that it’s worth it to understand their views on things and understand where they’re coming from.”
Check out Devotion below, followed by Margaret Glaspy’s complete Track by Track breakdown of the effort. Though her tour has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, she plans on touring behind the album as soon as she can; find tickets here.
“Killing What Keeps Us Alive”:
The song is about global warming and climate change, but it’s more in kind of the context of a love story. I’d actually written a short story that I was working on. The context came from the short story, basically two people and they’re in some kind of futuristic time and they know that they have a very short life expectancy. So it’s kind of a snapshot of understanding that time is of the essence and they have to act now if they want to have a life at all. That’s kind of the backdrop for it, but on a bigger level, just in the time that we’re living in right now, it’s totally references to global warming. But it’s more a reference in context to young people who are just living their lives and are falling in love for the first time, et cetera, with the backdrop of climate change and the world feeling fragile and finite in a certain way.
Because, you know, as grim as it may be and as daunting as it sounds, the world will keep spinning. It’ll change its state and whether we’re on it or not, it’ll still be the earth. So it’s like our lives will end, and the world will continue on being the Earth. It feels like our world will end, but really, the actual world and the Earth is just gonna keep doing its thing. We may be more impermanent than we thought.
For me, that song is about relationships in general. When I say something like, “We fly high, sink low/ Between the ups and downs, bask in the glow/ Of working hard and trying to let go,” it’s really like that’s what we’re all doing, right? You got your highs and your lows, you work hard, you try and relax. “And every time he walks away I wonder/ What if he was walking away for good?” And then you think about in relationships, what if I didn’t have this person? What would that be like? It’s basically just a portrait of what having a partner is. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience, but at the same time, the point of that song was kind of to distill the experience at large, a partnership in general.
Even later on in the last verse, “They say two halves make a whole/ Well my mine is half empty and yours is half full/ But who cares what they say?/ I’ll fill up my glass if that’s what it takes” — kind of understanding that sometimes you just have to, sure, maybe you don’t have a tendency toward one way of being or acting, but sometimes you just gotta compromise a little bit, put yourself out on the line and maybe take some risks once in awhile. See it through someone else’s eyes.
I made a demo of this song on my computer at home. I think I was living upstate for a week. We rented a house upstate for a little while in Hudson Valley. I was working on that song for a little while and it was all synthesized then. And when we brought it to the studio, Tyler Chester, the producer for the record, brought in more kind of organic elements like live drums and acoustic guitar. And that kind of brought it across the finish line to feel more integrated, less living on its own kind of a little of Island. So I like to where it landed.
“You’ve Got My Number”:
That song has a little more of an edge on it. It’s more a snapshot of telling someone, “You know where to find me,” basically. “You got my number. If you’re looking for me, you know where to find me.” That was definitely written to feel like more of a dancing kind of number,. It makes you feel like you’re a little bit mysterious. And also a little more evocative than the rest of the record. I think it has a different kind of a narrative and a different pulse. It’s totally like a flirtation between two people.
“Stay with Me”:
Things change. Things are malleable and they can be dualistic. I think that sometimes it’s really easy when we’re in a partnership to say, well, I’m the spontaneous one, right? Or like, I’m the really rigid one, or I’m the one who always does X, Y, Z. And really, if you give it space and let it evolve, it allows you to be a lot of different things. And I think it feels better that way. Often in my experience, I feel like I have the liberty to be a lot of different things to my partner, which feels good. Because you’re not like, “I’m the zany one.” It’s like, “No, I’m a human being with a lot of different sides to myself.” And so is everyone. When you feel like you can be at home in your own body, in your own mind — that’s kind of what it’s getting at.
“So Wrong It’s Right”:
It kind of feels like the cousin to “You’ve Got My Number”. A more reckless or spontaneous song and narrative. It felt fun to write a song like that, just capturing someone letting themselves go in a certain way. It was really fun to play because it, I think as musicians, we felt like we were just kind of letting ourselves go in a certain way. It felt like a rocket kind of just going off when you play that song. It’s really, really fun. And Tim, the drummer, really kills it on that one in particular. That was a really fun song to play and just go all out. That was our opportunity to go all out on that tune, and I think we did that successfully.
So I had written the song completely on guitar and then when I brought it to Tyler, it came into this zone of being more of an R&B song. He had these amazing string samples that he mixed in with the song that were crazy, and having these NPC moments was really exciting. The song itself is totally a capture of someone getting their heart completely broken by someone that feels maybe a little bit manipulative. Letting themselves get heartbroken, watching it happen in real time happen. It’s got a little bit of pep in the step, which is good. It doesn’t go totally sad.
“You Amaze Me”:
It goes from a very low to a very high. It was hard with “You Amaze Me” because it was such a pristine, angelic song that you had to kind of have it up against something that felt different. Otherwise, I think the weight of it didn’t quite catch as much. Because I think “You Amaze Me” is a really heavy song in its own right, but the instrumentation is just me and a guitar and it’s one microphone. It just is what it is. The placement had to contrast against something else in order for it to have its own moment. If it was next to something that felt similar, it felt like it was going to get a little lost.
The actual song itself is a total devotional song to someone that you’re in awe of and that amazes you. Always picks up when you think you’re just about to fall down, always follows through when someone else won’t be, et cetera, et cetera. I felt like I hadn’t quite heard that song before; a song that is just completely defenseless in just letting someone know that you’re the shit. You’re the best of the best, you amaze me. I wanted to write it and it came very natural. That song is really special to me.
I had written that song with a friend of mine. We had written a little line together, the second half of the chorus, and then I kind of just took it on a ride of my own. That was Bridget Kearney of Lake Street Dive, she’s a good friend of mine.
I took it and sat with it for awhile, and then it became what it is now. When we took it into the studio, we tried a lot of different iterations of it. Tim, the drummer, just started to play drums on his lap; it was pretty clear that was the vibe. It was a nice surprise to find a way to make something groovy, but not have to just have kit on it. That was fun. The song is one of my favorites on the record. I’m proud of myself for the lyrics on that record. It feels like the epitome of being in that gray area, that between good and bad. Letting someone know “It’s a sign of by devotion when I show you my emotions.” I’m able to get mad at you because I love you. That’s a favorite of mine.
For me, that wasn’t about relationships. That’s just in general how people can be vicious. It was more about looking at society; sometimes people can say a lot without have to be very accountable for it with the Internet, social media and all this stuff. So the lyrics right at the top: “Are you alright? Are you ok?/ Did a broken heart turn you this way? Do you recall the very day that hope walked out on you?” It’s really coming from an empathetic place of asking, “What’s the deal? Are you okay? Is there some reason why you’d have to rip down on everybody?” “‘Cause you’re so vicious/ I’ve never seen anybody be so cruel/ You don’t get to talk to anyone the way you do.” It’s honestly empathetically calling someone out, saying, “You’re being an asshole.” You don’t need to talk to people like that. Everyone’s fragile and doing their best. It comes from a place of empathy and also a no bullshit moment of someone just calling it like it is. “You’re not being nice.”
“What’s the Point”:
“What’s the Point” almost feels like a metaphor for my evolution from Emotions and Math to Devotion. Because Emotions and Math really felt like I had my middle finger up for a lot of that record, being a little defensive and wanting to show everyone where I stood on things. Which I’m very proud of. But now being a little bit older, a little more settled, and being a partner, I think that I’m able to evolve and feel more malleable. And I also understand what the point is like literally in life, a little bit more than I did then. So that whole song feels like the arc of me growing up and maturing a little bit; the way that it evolves in saying, “What is the point of being alive if everything goes to shit anyway?” And then by the end of the song saying, “Oh, because when everything goes to shit, you’re able to share that experience with other people around you and be able to empathize with them and share your experience so that they don’t feel like they’re alone. That’s what the point is. That’s how I feel as a writer, really.
Sonically, it felt really fun to experiment, to make that song arc the best that we could. One of the big references for that song was Nine Inch Nails for me. The song “Closer” was a big inspiration for that song.
It was conscious to bring you in in a very particular way and bring you out in a very particular way. There was thought into kind of leaving the listener to feel a little more suspended. Also keeping with the theme of exploring gray area, I’m not going to put the period at the end of the sentence for you. You have to go find it yourself. Even when we were talking about something like global warming, like the world is just gonna keep on spinning and we can stay a little longer here if we’d like, but it just depends on what your decisions are. That song is a big question mark in a way that I get really excited about. It feels a lot more improvisational and a lot more composition heavy. It took a lot of thought in order to make that arc well and to not have it feel either under or overcooked. It was intentional to end that with that song, for sure.