Interview: Sandra McCracken
Thu, 14 Feb 2013 10:59:54
"Desire shapes who we are and the decisions we make," says Sandra McCracken.
It absolutely does. It's the driving force for pretty much everything that happens in life. It's also the perfect subject for her to tackle on her phenomenal new album Desire Like Dynamite [iTunes link]. McCracken eclipses elements of ethereal folk, pop, and alternative on the collection, yielding a dreamy sound unlike anything out there. It's as emotional as it is entrancing, and it makes for one of the year's most rewarding records.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Sandra McCracken talks Desire Like Dynamite and so much more.
Did you approach Desire Like Dynamite with one overarching vision or vibe in mind?
I don't know that it was intentional, but I do think the songs are thematically and musically woven together. I did so much of the early writing and the recording all by myself. There wasn't a lot of collaboration. It felt like journal entries, and it had that solitary core. Maybe that gave it a thread of what was happening over those couple of months for me. It made everything a little homogenous—hopefully in a good way [Laughs]. As the topics began to weave together, I started to pay attention that, tried to listen to it, and let it become one body of work rather than individual pop songs.
What were some of those topics you wanted to cover?
The first one is probably relationship, so I thought of my own marriage, my relationship with my kids, and my relationships with some close friends who are having some normal, rocky times in their lives. As I walk through that with friends, I tend to feel it pretty deeply from people I care about. It comes out in the songs. Some of this record really came out of community and friendship and giving voice and words to that. Songs like "Forgiveness", "First Things First", and "Gridlock" and several others were born out of friendship.
What's the story behind "Hourglass"?
That one really started as a free-write. I was actually on an airplane, and I tried to write everything without having any intention or filtering myself at all. The majority of that came right out of that bit of free-writing I did in one sitting. It had that feeling of where I was at the moment, which was literally up in an airplane. It had the bird's eye view. I wrote it more as a stream-of-consciousness, but when I came back I saw little pictures or images of things that surprised me. My friend's family lost their house to a fire in Kentucky. It had been in the family for four generations. When I looked back at the first verse, even though I didn't intend it, I realized it really spoke to her particular loss and how much it meant to them and me. It's strange to see how your subconscious pulls out these emotional threads already existing in how you feel. Music helps us to process those things sometimes.
Where did "Gridlock" come from?
It's the idea of conflict and resolution. I've been married for 12 years. You may want something different than the other person wants and you find yourself at these crossroads of desires. That's true of every relationship. I have a three- and five-year-old. When I watch them fight over a toy or what they want, it's a bit fascinating. A lot of times neither of them is in the wrong. They just have to work out how to negotiate what they want and how to care about each other in the process. It's almost a little sociology study that's right under my nose in my own house. There's the literal metaphor of traffic and vehicles driving. There's also the idea that we're all moving in these city streets. Everybody's trying to go a certain way, and we get stuck in the middle of our desires.
What song speaks to you the most right now?
"Go" is a pretty lighthearted song. It's one where I was thinking about my daughter in large part. As the months went on, it spoke to me as I tend to shy away from challenges and new experiences. Every time, I push myself towards a new experience that's a little risky, I find it's so rewarding. It's a thrill though [Laughs]. Those moments help shape who you are.
If you were to compare Desire Like Dynamite to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
That's a tricky one! Some of my favorite movies are comedies, but I'm not a lighthearted type of writer. I wish I was [Laughs]. I tend to move towards the serious content!
What are you listening to now?
I tend to move towards instrumental moment or music in another language. If I'm listening to Pandora, I'll go to a French station. I don't speak French, but I can enjoy the melodies. Bon Iver's self-titled record has been really influential to me over the past couple of years. It's incredibly emotive.
What artists shaped you?
I'm the youngest of five kids. Everybody had different tastes in music. It was The Eagles and '70s pop country at the time. Then there was a lot of Johnny Cash. By way of Cash, I discovered Bob Dylan, lyrics have been really primary for me.
Have you heard Sandra McCracken?