Jenn Wasner can do now wrong. Whether delighting as part of alt. indie duo Wye Oak or crushing your heart alongside Future Islands, she's never been anything less than captivating. And now we have her first definitive statement as a solo artist, the wonderous If You See Me, Say Yes.
Written after leaving her native Baltimore, and produced by the esteemed John Congleton, the record is a blend of electro-acoustic pop and Wasner's heartfelt lyrics, a heady mix that showcases her skills with melodies and hooks. We asked her to give us the lowdown on the record's 12 tracks; this is what she had to say.
Sometimes It Is Right…
This song bookends the record, along with its obvious counterpart “…To Have No Answer.” Splitting them up in this way was an absolute last-second, down-to-the-wire decision made, of all places, on the mastering room floor. My dear friend Jonathan Meiburg attended the mastering session with me, and the suggestion was his —and I’m impulsive and know a good idea when I hear one, so there it is. God bless (genius mastering engineer) Greg Calbi for letting me fuck around with the formula so late in the process!
This song is about the perspective that can only arrive with distance. I wrote it around the time that I moved to North Carolina from my literal birthplace of Baltimore, MD. I had also been spending a lot of time doing these long, meandering solo drives around the country. In my mind, it’s sort of a sonic postcard — a message of love to the people I know and rarely get to see. Fun fact — the original demo of this song clocked in at exactly 4:16— my birthday.
This is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s about falling in love, of course. And it’s about the great cosmic joke — the ridiculous, sometimes sad absurdity of life, and the endless circularity of it all. And about somehow still believing in a kind of personal magic — a narrative of meaning meant just for you, despite the reality that you are but one of seven billion fucking people on the planet.
Everything Is Happening Today
This song is about that split-second feeling that happens that first day that you feel the seasons changing —when summer turns into fall, for example. There’s always a moment on that day where time melts and previously buried memories are unlocked — where every autumn day that I’ve ever experienced is suddenly present and available at my fingertips. Does this happen to everyone?
I get asked this a lot, so first off — flag semaphore is a means of communication using handheld flags held in various positions. Can’t quite remember how I originally stumbled upon this word, but it immediately struck me as a beautiful, percussive series of sounds, and the refrain “Too far gone for the Semaphore” jumped into my head a second later. It’s (perhaps obviously) about communication over great (literal and figurative) distances.
A banger! I needed at least one song on this record that didn't make me cry.
This song is about transitioning from life on tour — a frantic, hyper-romanticized, repetitive dream life — to the real world that you’ve left behind. When you live this way for long stretches of time, it’s possible to become isolated enough from the reality of your existence that you are shielded from the true consequences of your decisions. The pendulum swings far and fast for me.
This is the oldest song on the record. It’s about the ghosts of our past, and losing a love that was so brief that you’re not even sure it was ever there in the first place.
This song is about the passing of time, and the way that we build our lives in spite of the fact that everything, eventually, will be taken from us. It’s also about my own struggle to figure out where I fit in on the continuum of “normalcy” — how, at times, I feel equally drawn to and horrified by the traditions we’ve invented and require in order to fit in with societal norms.
This song is about trying to remember to bring some small kindness into the world, despite being overwhelmed by the horrific, seemingly inevitable injustice of everything. My perfectionist tendencies are not always helpful here — when I make a mistake with something, I want to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. Obviously this is not always the most realistic or productive way to move through the world. So, the only way I can avoid going in the direction of complete, destructive nihilism is by reminding myself that, in life, it’s impossible to wipe the slate clean entirely — and that even the smallest acts of goodness resonate outwards in a real, productive way.
You, The Vatican
This one is a sad and magical one for me. The instrumental had been sitting around for a while, and I hadn’t quite figured out what do to with it, but one day I just sat down and instantly, effortlessly wrote this song to fit. Later that week, two close family members passed away within days of each other. At the time of writing this song, I hadn’t realized it, but looking back, it was so clearly a song about death—somehow I had stumbled upon a strange premonition of the events of the week to come.
…To Have No Answer
See above. From the top. Full circle.
If You See Me, Say Yes is out on Partisan Records on the 23 September. For more information and tour dates, visit her official website.