For Jesse Mac Cormack, the pandemic wasn’t just an inconvenient setback that hit pause on his ascendant career; it marked an intense moment of reckoning that involved a messy breakup, bouts of depression, a lot of counselling, and a radical reinvention—both as an artist and as a person. In stark contrast to the grandiose, guitar-centred indie pop of his 2019 debut, Now, the Montreal polymath’s second release, SOLO, feels less concerned with engaging festival crowds than in analyzing the voices inside his head. “When the first lockdown happened, I spent the first three months out in the woods in a cabin,” Mac Cormack tells Apple Music. “All I had was my computer, a guitar, and a synth. I was used to working in my studio with a shitload of gear, so it really changed my workflow.” But from those minimalist means, Mac Cormack executes a bold fusion of singer-songwriter confessionals, motorik synth-pop, R&B hooks, and abstract electronics that provides the perpetually unsettled soundtrack to his darkest thoughts and most vulnerable admissions. “These past two years have been really challenging personally—I went through a lot of therapy,” Mac Cormack says. “This record is really about getting rid of the load I was emotionally carrying. So, this whole thing—sonically and emotionally—was a really liberating process.” Here, Mac Cormack offers his track-by-track guide to finding his inner peace. “Blue World” “I wrote this track during our first lockdown, and it was kind of about what was going on in the world. I’m not very politicized, so it was more from a gut-feeling point of view. I felt like there was a lot of treason going on—lots of leaders making bad decisions. This song is kind of a metaphor—it’s like a theory about where all this madness comes from. Where did it all begin? It’s like a poem about who threw the first rock.” “Let It Go” “The synth riff for this came from a Caribou song, ‘Second Chance.’ This is a relationship breakup song, for sure. The title says it all. It’s about a toxic triangle relationship pattern that I was caught in for a very, very long time, and the song is about letting go of that and moving on and freeing myself from the weight I was carrying.” “NHFN” “I wrote this during the first lockdown, too, in the basement, sitting with my computer. It’s actually a riff that I came up with maybe a year before, when I was making a record with a French artist called Lonny. I kept it in the back of my mind for a while and when the world stopped spinning, I had the opportunity to do something with it. The song is about the loss of privilege during the lockdown—losing the ability to tour, see friends, see family, and just have a normal life. And it’s about realizing how important these things are to have a balanced life. You appreciate those things a lot more when you have access to them again.” “A&E” “This track is actually in reference to Adam and Eve. I was going through a bad breakup, and I had a very pessimistic view on love and relationships. It’s obviously not how I feel now, but in this song, I’m telling a story about how I felt then, and how, if I could go back in time, I would do something to prevent Adam and Eve from falling in love and making the human race happen.” “Untitled” “It’s funny how this one happened. I wrote it and wanted to send an audio clip to a friend. So, I just put the phone down on the corner of my bed, and I sang it. And that was it—this is the iPhone recording. I didn’t feel like reproducing it—it all happened in the moment, and it felt right.” “L.A. Sky” “There’s a track by Radiohead on Amnesiac called ‘Hunting Bears,’ and the guitar sound on this was inspired by that. SUUNS were also a big reference for the whole soundscape—like how their singer, Ben Shemie, mimics his guitar with his voice. I recorded this one in my living room—very simple setup. This track is also in the same family as ‘Blue World’—it’s politically engaged, but again, coming from a gut-feeling point of view.” “LBTA” “This is a very dark track, for sure. There’s a lot of James Blake in there—most of his songs are piano-based tracks, and then all the textures and noises give it a more electro-based production sound. But when I was recording it, I had Rihanna in my mind for the chorus part—even though it doesn’t sound like Rihanna at all!” “All at Once” “This one’s a little more abstract for me, but it’s definitely in the realm of the ending of my relationship. Some of the lyric ideas came from an acid trip I did at a festival. I was in this park at night, and it was very windy, and I just had my eyes closed and I could hear the water and feel the wind, and I saw this big egg in my mind with all the people I loved—like the mother of my daughter—and they were just kind of melting all together into this, like, love egg. It was very spacey!” “The Hills” “I was having the deep blues during the lockdown, and I felt as if I had missed my moment—I couldn’t play shows, I couldn’t be out, it was really a weird time. So, I came up with this story of an actor or musician who lived in the Hollywood Hills and who had everything from the start. He was a star from the moment he was born and he’s still living the dream. But at the end of the song, I picture him driving off a cliff at dawn with his girlfriend sleeping in the car. I picture him being high and not really knowing what’s going on, so it’s kind of like a conscious-dream suicide. It’s about throwing it all the way without really knowing the value of what you have.” “Pattern” “This track has the same lyrics as ‘A&E’—it’s kind of another version of that same song. I’m really into a dark techno vibe, and that’s what the track reminded me of: I picture a club in Berlin with red strobe lights and the repetitive groove. This is definitely a dark album, but the artwork makes this a dark record with a bright closure—the artwork seals it with a happy ending. It’s about embracing the vulnerable part of me and learning to accept it and move on.”

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