An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Cassandra Jenkins

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

In August 2019, New York singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins thought she had the rest of her year fully mapped out, starting with a tour of North America as a guitarist in David Berman’s newly launched project Purple Mountains. But when Berman took his own life that month, everything changed. “All of a sudden, I was just unmoored and in shock,” she tells Apple Music. “I really only spent four days with David. But those four days really knocked me off my feet.” For the next few months, she wrote as she reflected, obsessively collecting ideas and lyrics, as well as recordings of conversations with friends and strangers—cab drivers and art museum security guards among them. The result is her sophomore LP, a set of iridescent folk rock that came together almost entirely over the course of one week, with multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman in his Brooklyn studio. “I was trying to articulate this feeling of getting comfortable with chaos,” she says. “And learning how to be comfortable with the idea that things are going to fall apart and they're going to come back together. I had shed a lot of skin very quickly.” Here, Jenkins tells us the story of each song on the album.
Michelangelo “I think sequencing the record was an interesting challenge because, to me, the songs feel really different from one another. ‘Michelangelo’ is the only one that I came in with that was written—I had a melody that I wanted to use and I thought, ‘Okay, Josh, let’s make this into a little rock song and take the guitar solo in the middle.’ That was the first song we recorded, so it was just our way of getting into the groove of recording, with what sounds like a familiar version of what I've done in the past.”
New Bikini “I was worried when I was writing it that it sounded too starry-eyed and a little bit naive, saying, ‘The water cures everything.’ I think it was this tension between that advice—from a lot of people with good intentions—and me being like, ‘Well, it's not going to bring this person back from the dead and it's not going to change my DNA and it's not going to make this person better.’”
Hard Drive “I just love talking to people, to strangers. The heart of the song is people talking about the nature of things, but often, what they're doing is actually talking about themselves and expressing something about themselves. I think that every person that I meet has wisdom to give and it's just a matter of turning that key with people. Because when you turn it and you open that door, you can be given so much more than you ever expected. Really listening, being more of a journalist in my own just day-to-day life—rather than trying to influence my surroundings, just letting them hit me.”
Crosshairs “You could look at this as a kind of role-playing song, which isn't explicitly sexual, but that's definitely one aspect of it. It’s the idea that when you're assuming a different role within yourself, it actually can open up chambers within you that are otherwise not seeing the light of day. I was looking at the parts of me that are more masculine, the parts of me that are explicitly feminine, and seeing where everything is in between, while also trying to do the same for someone else in my life.”
Ambiguous Norway “The song is titled after one of David's cartoons, a drawing of a house with a little pinwheel on the top. It's about that moment where I was experiencing this grief of David passing away, where I was really saturated in it. I threw myself onto this island in Norway—Lyngør—thinking I could sort of leave that behind to a certain extent, and just realizing that it really didn't matter what corner of the planet I found myself on, I was still interacting with the impression of David's death and finding that there was all of these coincidences everywhere I went. I felt like I was in this wide-eyed part of the grieving process where it becomes almost psychedelic, like I was seeing meaning in everything and not able at all to just put it into words because it was too big and too expansive.”
Hailey “It's challenging to write a platonic love song—it doesn't have all the ingredients of heartbreak or lust or drama that I think a lot of those songs have. It's much more simple than that. I just wanted to celebrate her and also celebrate someone who's alive now, who's making me feel motivated to keep going when things get tough, and to have confidence in myself, because that's a really beautiful thing and it's rare to behold. I think a lot of the record is mourning, and this was kind of the opposite.”
The Ramble “I made these binaural recordings as I walked around and birdwatched in the morning, in April [2020], when it was pretty much empty. I was a stone's throw away from all the hospitals that were cropping up in Central Park, while simultaneously watching nature flourish in this incredible way. I recorded a guitar part and then I sent that to all of my friends around the country and said, ‘Just write something, send it back to me. Don't spend a lot of time on it.’ I wanted to capture the feeling that things change, but it’s nature's course to find its way through. Just to go out with my binoculars and be in nature and observe birds is my way of really dissolving and letting go of a lot of my fears and anxieties—and I wanted to give that to other people.”

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