Heavy Light

Heavy Light

Is Heavy Light an experimental pop album or a pop-obsessed art project? As with Illinois-born, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Meg Remy’s last few outings under the U.S. Girls banner (particularly 2015’s Half Free and the leftfield funk of 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited), the distinction is blurry: The songs are catchy, and certainly Remy has absorbed pop with the passionate—if analytical—fervour with which a lepidopterologist might gush over a rare moth. But where In a Poem Unlimited was, in Remy’s words, “stylised, almost to the point of perfection”, Heavy Light is raw, direct and live. “I really wanted it to be a percussion- and voice-based record,” Remy tells Apple Music. It’s that spirit—that sense of people with two hands hitting things—that carries the album. So if you don’t immediately discern that the slow, gauzy disco of “4 American Dollars” is about the discomfort of trying to resolve capitalism’s inherent contradictions, or that the girl-group soul of “State House (It’s a Man’s World)” explores how the patriarchy survives in part by pitting strong women against each other, don’t worry—that’s what melodies are for. In the end, it’s that unusual combination—dense ideas embodied by music just accessible enough to make room for listeners from both poles of the experimental-pop axis—that makes Remy’s work stand out. So think of Heavy Light as what happens when you’re raised on leftist politics and oldies radio—but more importantly, what happens when you weigh them equally. Track by track, she tells us about some of the influences and concepts behind the album. 4 American Dollars “It's an undeniable tune, and for people that were into the last record, it's a nice little segue. I think a lot of people hate money and feel oppressed by capitalism, but they just can't imagine any other alternative. The first step, though, is to openly express your anger, frustration and hatred about it, and see how many people agree with that. I don’t know many songs that speak critically of money. I think it's a really funny thing to do, especially because I'm selling it. So it reveals that boring contradiction thing that humans have, especially when they're placed in really restrictive systems. You're just going to be contradicting yourself all the time; you usually have no choice. There's a lot of jokes in there, but it's also one of those things—if you don't laugh, you're going to cry.” Overtime “This song comes from a story that I heard about a woman who had been married to this man who was a drinker. She kept thinking that he was drinking away all his pay. She ends up leaving this marriage, she can't handle it. Years later, this guy dies from drinking, and then she finds out that he only ever drank away his overtime pay. She didn't have enough information for the choice she made, and she wishes she hadn’t left. It’s about hindsight, how you always get to look back with clarity.” IOU “It’s really a song for everybody, including myself. Everybody that could hear it has been born, and will die, and we all have that in common. I started thinking about it around the idea of consent, and how there's no consent in your birth. You come from a non-consensual act. And how interesting that is, especially in relation to the kind of pro-life/pro-choice shit that's still going on in the States. It's really interesting when you actually just put yourself in the shoes of the baby. That’s the thing: There’s no bad nature. I think nature is a thing that we have a hard time understanding or accepting isn't something that's for us. It's something we're just actually a very small part of. We're making ourselves a very large part by being such pollutants, but nature is not there for us.” Advice to Teenage Self “One of the people in the band, Kassie Richardson, she had done this guided meditation: You visualise you're walking down a path in a forest and you see someone coming in the distance, and you get closer to them, and it's your 15-year-old self. That was really interesting to me, and that kind of stuck in my mind. I decided to make up a list of prompts around the themes of the record, things I had been talking about with [co-writer] Basia [Bulat] and different people. Then each person went into the vocal booth, and I read off these prompts, and they could speak or they could say ‘pass’ if they didn't want to do it. I got all this data—if you want to call it that—that I was then able to sift through. The teenage one in particular was so interesting because so many people said the same thing: ‘Don't worry, don't worry, don't worry.’ It’s funny because I haven't stopped worrying as I've gotten older. If anything, I worry more. But there is something about the worry that you experience as a teenager, because you're not convinced life is long, or that it could be. As a teenager, you're very mindful. You feel the pain of the moment very acutely, and you can see it stretching out forever and ever.” State House (It’s a Man’s World) “‘State House’ is a song that I released in a different arrangement and different form in 2010. It was made from a sample of an old girl-group song, a one-hit wonder on one of these Rhino comps or something. The thing that influenced me more than anything was what they call oldies radio—Oldies 104.3 in Chicago. As I aged, and I started learning about the people that wrote these songs—how they recorded, the culture of that stuff, how the singers were treated—I started dissecting lyrical content that I hadn’t questioned before. Subverting forms is something I’ve done since my first record. And this is a subversion, but it's also a song about how women are put into a forced competition with each other, which is what allows patriarchy to perpetuate itself, because we're too busy fighting with each other to compare notes. It feels as relevant as ever.” Born to Lose “Jack Name is an LA singer-songwriter. He used to play in White Fence and was kind of in that garage-rock-y scene, but he's totally beyond that. ‘Born to Lose’ was on his first record, [2014’s] Light Show, and I've always known I wanted to cover that tune—I was obsessed. His version, the original version, is insane. But the arrangement that we came up with, I think, fit what the song is about, which is the medicating of children. You can also see it as just the over-medicating of everybody, kind of like another one of those loops we put ourselves in to not feel or think. Just take a pill every day, get through it. That’s one way to live, and I’ve been medicated before. But the difficulty and pain in dealing with things has made my life more rich.” And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve “I wrote this one with Rich Morel, who's an insane musician from D.C. It’s a little bit of a no-brainer, an earworm. When you speak English and you travel around the world singing and speaking English, it becomes a little bit embarrassing. It really got me thinking about language in general, especially being from America. English and Spanish are both colonial languages that came and wiped out languages that had been here for thousands of years. They’re kind of agents of the same lie, which is that some people are better than others. And when you're talking about something like this, you kind of really need to make the song as good as possible and as dancey and pleasant as possible. Otherwise, it’d be mistaken for a lecture.” The Most Hurtful Thing “I just don't think it's something that people really get asked. It's definitely not something you willingly bring up on your own or want to think about, unless you're doing some sort of self-work or something. But without a doubt, you probably remember it. There were people who instantly knew, and there were people who had to think about it, and then there were people that didn't want to answer that question. But I think it's the things that we don't want to think about—the hurtful or unpleasant—that are the things we should probably be thinking the most about. To just get it to move through your system, and change into something else instead.” Denise, Don’t Wait “This is about my mom, straight up. There seems to be something about the mother-daughter dynamic—you're both women, you've both been girls. It’s really interesting when you're having your period at the same time as your mother—it’s a trip. I've found when I'm around my mother's body, my body can relax. For some reason, something clicks into place. It’s got to really be from that connection with the body, of cycle—both people being able to give life. A mother gives birth, and if it's a woman, that woman can then give birth to life. It almost feels like nesting dolls.” Woodstock ’99 “Wrote it after visiting a really good friend of mine in LA who lives right on MacArthur Park, on the seventh floor of this building, just like the song says. I was getting ready to go to LAX and he took me to a diner, and we had a chat, and we started to talk about high school. We were both raised by our moms, and we both realised we had both watched Woodstock '99. His mom had paid for the pay-per-view stream, and my mom wouldn’t. I wrote the song on the flight home. When I was working on the chords for the song, it was just like, we've got to put the original [1968’s] ‘MacArthur Park’ in it. We were able to get clearance from Jimmy Webb, and it just fit perfectly.” The Color of Your Childhood Bedroom “I think details in a song is what makes a song good. There's a Leonard Cohen quote that's like, ‘You don't talk about the tree, you talk about the sycamore.’ Details are the things that make it believable, vivid and really felt. Think of all the times you spent in your room looking at those walls. Miserable, or excited, or stressed out—it just brings up a lot. I asked myself these questions and gave myself these prompts before I did this to anybody else to ensure that it felt like a fair thing to ask of people. The purpose of these little collages is to be interacted with, in hopes that the listener would ask themselves these questions just by the nature of hearing someone else talk about it.” The Quiver to the Bomb “I love all the places that this song goes. I wrote it because I went to the Native American history museum in New York, and I was really upset after going. You walk in and there's this massive portrait of Trump. You're looking at all these artefacts behind glass, and you're just wondering, ‘How did they get these artefacts?’ There is no discussion of colonialism or genocide. It’s just like, ‘Look at these old things. Aren’t they so old?’ There was a beautiful quiver that I saw in there that had intricate beadwork on it, and it was incredible. It was interesting for me to find part of a weapon so beautiful. Because when I see things like bombs, the hair on my neck stands up because it's so evil-looking to me. It just looks unnatural and bad and fucking terrible. It just got my brain going, about the tools that people in that time period were using and how quickly the technology has progressed.” Red Ford Radio “That was the first song I ever made that people knew about or would request. Re-recording it just seemed right, particularly because it's a percussion and vocal song, and that was the core of this record. I wrote it in my bedroom, in West Philly, in probably 2009. It was interesting to be like, ‘This is actually a form I've been working in the whole time, but now I have literally three professional, classically trained percussionists that I can use, instead of me playing a shitty electronic drum pad poorly.’ I think we did it in two takes. It was scary. Kassie and I were at the vocal mic together with our arms around each other, touching, so that we could have our breath the same and be very on it. That song’s very haunted for me, and I like ending the record with a haunting. That's how I like to operate, I guess. I am trying to please people—it’s just not in a way that they would ever expect. Because I know that deep down, to be pleased is to be challenged.”

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