PART ONE – ROSES & REVOLUTIONS’ ALYSSA COCO AND MATT MERRITT
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on your new Nettwerk EP Midnight Monsters. Before we discuss those songs, let’s begin with another duo, Mazzy Star. We were living in Roanoke, Virginia in 1994 when “Fade into You” was on the radio, included in the weekly show Casey’s Top 40, which was his radio sequel to his time hosting American Top 40. I remember Casey Kasem saying that Mazzy Star did not want to tour, which I think limited their success. What has been your experience with performing live and touring, especially with releasing new music during this pandemic?
MATT MERRITT: First of all, we love touring, so any opportunity to tour we usually take it. In the 1990s, as you mentioned, touring was the way to get out there and introduce your music in a live show. Now artists make more money on touring as it is hard to make money on streaming, although with social media, you can play live and share the concerts on the internet, so I don’t think it is as impactful to tour and play live as it once was, but it is still important, especially financially.
GM: I’ll be talking with Jackie McLean, from the duo Roan Yellowthorn, about “Fade into You.” For you, I have chosen “Halah” for our song discussion, which was the cassette single flip side equivalent, the second song on their single.
ALYSSA COCO: We like “Halah,” and I think it is as good as “Fade into You,” which is one that everyone knows. When you listen to these two songs back-to-back, like someone might have done in 1994 with the cassette single, it is pretty much a continuation of the interesting sonic world that they created.
MM: It sounds like these two songs would be from the same movie, which is really cool.
Flip side: Halah
A side: Fade into You
Billboard Top 100 debut: September 3, 1994
Peak position: No. 44
GM: Their songs allow the melody to shine, and talking about melody, let’s begin with “End of the World,” the one closest to a Mazzy Star sound for you. Alyssa, you deliver a melodic vocal with the phrases “the world will be on fire” and “we could say we tried,” which bounce nicely.
AC: Thank you. I feel that is the most alternative song we have on the EP.
MM: That song, like the ones we discussed with Mazzy Star, are purposely monotone, creating a dreamy atmosphere you may hear from Cowboy Junkies. I think you can hear that even in modern songs from Billie Eilish, where it never goes huge. If there is a change between the verses and chorus, it is very subtle.
GM: Going back to the 1990s, I compared your tender “I Remember Dancing” to Jewel when we posted the Goldmine song premiere of it this summer. It reminds me of both of her earliest hits in 1996, “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant for Me.”
MM: That was an awesome Goldmine promotion of our music.
AC: Yes, thank you so much. You guys are the best. I love your comparison to Jewel, who was definitely an influence of mine growing up.
MM: With “I Remember Dancing,” the lyrics came first. The original demo was more piano based, but we wanted more of a whimsical sound, so we gravitated to an acoustic guitar with a laid-back style, like someone sitting on a hill just strumming.
GM: Alyssa, you mentioned growing up. When I was ten in 1968, on the radio, anything went that year. We had long songs, hard rock, soul, novelty numbers, and a variety of instrumental hits that I bought including “Love is Blue,” “The Horse,” “Grazing in the Grass,” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly,” written by Ennio Morricone. Your EP’s opener “Feeling Like Myself” captures that haunting Morricone sound.
AC: Thank you so much. I love that reference. The “ooh sounds” are definitely influenced by him, so that is so cool that you picked up on it.
GM: When I was listening to “When the Moment’s Gone,” with its edginess, it took me a few days to figure out what I was reminded of, which is Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It.”
AC: Wow. I am going to have to check out that song. That is an interesting comparison. She is phenomenal, so thank you. Thank you for listening so intently here.
MM: That is the one tune which wasn’t written recently. It is one that we had been working on before and is like the JV player that gets bumped up to varsity. We started playing it live to test it out and it had a good reaction, so we decided to give it a full treatment and include it on the EP. The theme might be a bit cliché, that you don’t know you are in a great moment until it has passed you by.
GM: My favorite song may be “Coffee.” There is a steady tempo. It is a duet where the chorus contains great harmonies. There is the story of a fragile relationship with potential hopefulness of having a chance of salvaging. You are joined by vocalist Lostboycrow.
AC: That was an interesting and exciting collaboration for us. I am a big fan of Lostboycrow’s voice. We are a fan of his music and he knew about us. We thought his voice would be perfect for the tenderness and upbeat sound of the song. Having his voice adds another dimension. The only people on the EP, other than Matt and me, are Lostboycrow, our producer Nigel Hemmye and our touring drummer Levi Bennett.
MM: The original version was just Alyssa singing everything and we showed it to our A&R person. We brainstormed and discussed that it would bring another layer to the song if it was a conversation between two people.
GM: Speaking about A&R, let’s discuss one of your older songs, “Still Standing,” with choir-like harmonies. How did you get that placed on the CW television show Charmed?
MM: Our awesome team at Nettwerk got us that, a couple of Lifetime movies and more.
AC: A lot of times our songs will be placed with television, movies, or commercials, based on the sound, but the Charmed placement was really cool because the lyrics of “Still Standing” are empowering for women and the scene that they used it for had a bunch of women of different ethnicities holding hands while it played. That choir sound is all my voice with a lot of overdubs, which was a lot of fun to record.
GM: You are in Rochester where Gary Lewis & The Playboys are now based out of.
AC: There is a lot going on here. We have both been here our whole lives and are grateful to have grown in up a very creative environment. There is so much talent here. There is RIT. There is Eastman School of Music. We are about an hour from Canada which is where our label is based out of.
MM: Beyond Rochester, we are easing back into touring with four shows coming up in March, in New York City, Boston and D.C., all listed on our website.
AC: Thank you so much for your interest in our new Midnight Monsters EP. We really appreciate it and your ongoing Goldmine support.
Roses & Revolution links:
PART TWO – ROAN YELLOWTHORN’S JACKIE MCLEAN
GM: Congratulations on your Blue Élan album Another Life, filled with all original music, following your Rediscovered album of covers that we discussed early this year. You and Shawn did such a nice job on this, but before we get to it, let’s look back on another duo, Mazzy Star, and their hit “Fade into You.”
JACKIE MCLEAN: Definitely. I've heard “Fade into You” so many times but, somehow, it doesn't lose its potency. The soft, easy way that Hope Sandoval sings, blended with the slide guitar, makes the whole thing feel like a dream sequence. As a lyricist, I always try to say what I want to say with the fewest number of words, to get to the heart of what I want to communicate. I think that this song applies that principle, but with melody, and the melody is exactly what it needs to be. There are no extra, gratuitous notes. The lyrics never overstep their bounds. If anything, they hold back, but the point is communicated through this restraint. The parts come together to make something greater than the sum of each element. The vibe of this song is what strikes me the hardest. There's a dreaminess, a softness, and underneath, a longing.
GM: Your new song “Stranger” also shares a dreaminess element, and it is mysterious with your subway observational imagery.
JM: I have found that I really like writing portraits of people with songs. In composing songs for this album, I pulled from all the things which were present in my own little universe. There is an artist named Alex Cameron who I have always admired. He has a duet with Angel Olson called “Stranger’s Kiss.” My “Stranger” title is a homage to that and the imagery in my song, I pulled from his music videos. At the time I was writing, he was a big part of my landscape. My daughter Rosa, who was four at the time, really loved his music and videos, too, and we would watch them all the time together. I ended up sending him the song and he loved it and we became friends. We put out a duet together this year, covering “Islands in the Stream.” We have developed an artistic collaborative relationship which is so gratifying.
GM: When I heard “Acid Trip,” immediately I thought that I could play the piano part and I think a lot of people can. It is a simple and catchy fun note pattern. It is up-tempo yet includes a stigmatic theme of a not being good enough. A phrase that I thought was most interesting is, “happy when I’m going on the road to somewhere new,” which is a wonderfully adventurous line, and I know my daughter Brianna feels that way too.
JM: Aw, that’s so cool. The idea came to me when I was driving by myself somewhere. When you are on a long drive, your mind starts wandering. I was thinking about all the feelings that come along with a daydream, pulling from desires, thinking about your past and what you want your future to be. It seems so real in that moment and so vibrant. It was a way to explain some deeper issues I was feeling along with how they manifest.
GM: If you think about The Cyrkle’s “Red Rubber Ball,” it is so fun and so up-tempo, yet it is about a breakup, among the happiest breakup songs. Your up-tempo approach offsets any issue in an entertaining way, and the listener is convinced that you are doing OK.
JM: That can be the case, but sometimes a song can be even sadder if you interpret it as a desire to be happy, conflicted with what is really going on.
GM: Who is playing piano?
JM: For all the songs we had Andy Burton playing piano, who has toured with John Mayer and Cyndi Lauper. He is a force of nature.
GM: There is another song from the 1980s called “Captain of Her Heart,” that my wife Donna and I would listen to on the radio, by a Swiss duo named Double (pronounced doo-BLAY), which reached the Top 10 in the U.S. I am reminded of the piano in that song with what Andy has brought to your recording. Now let’s talk about “Bloodline,” recalling Stevie Nicks’ Fleetwood Mac songs, plus a wonderful string arrangement. Last time we talked about the 1960s album Best of Bee Gees. If we move to the 1970s, The Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway” contains extreme tempo changes. My wife Donna told me that when she and her friends were dancing in the mid-1970s to that song, they didn’t know what to do on the dance floor when those changes would happen. Your exaggerated tempo changes in “Bloodline” remind me of this, bringing emphasis to the slower parts, and I love that creativity.
JM: This song came from my need to express what I was feeling, get it out of me and put it in another form. The words are straight to the point. Our producer, John Agnello, understood immediately what I wanted to create to emphasize tension and vulnerability.
GM: “Vampire” deals with freedom from a relationship, including the line of realization, “How many hours have I wasted?”
JM: That is another one that came out of the need to process emotions. Turning feelings into a song gets them out of your body and can heal you to some degree. That is a song where I shared feelings of frustration, anger and grief.
GM: “Little Love” is forward looking, planning for a life together and planning for a child.
JM: That is another example of pulling out feelings that I hadn’t examined in a long time. This is one of the first songs that I wrote for the album. John had me sing the verses on a microphone that was intended for drums, giving it a slightly distorted sound, and the choruses were lush with harmonies on top. I am so happy on how that one turned out.
GM: There are two brothers who lead the quirky band Sparks. On their Propaganda album, among songs with a novel approach, Ron and Russell Mael created a beautifully tender track called “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.” When I listened to your finale, “Mother,” I was reminded of that theme and the importance of the content, which I can hear in your voice. Also, the nature sounds add to the uniqueness of the recording.
JM: It was recorded outside, and the demo of the song is what we ended up using as the final track. I recorded it on my phone on our porch where there were bird sounds. Near the end is the sound of a truck going by, which was really appropriate for that moment in the song. We had a harpist, Mary Lattimore, send a harp track which we put on top of the recording, and that was it for the song. We thought we couldn’t replicate the bird sounds and it would be appropriate to keep that in for the recording. It feels like a bonus track and is my favorite of all the songs on the album. Thank you so much for listening to Another Life. It is always wonderful talking with you.
Roan Yellowthorn links: