The other night, Lissy Rosemont of Junior League, the subject of this week’s One Track Mind, came over, chain-smoked on my window sill, and explained how her solar-panel-powered house led to songwriting advice from Death Cab for Cutie. (However, she’d only do an interview if I agreed to name her many band-mates: Dale Manning, Devin McGaughey, Rob Blunt, Martin Thomas, Alex Platt, Elias Cohn, and Kailin Yong.)
Read on for more from the cutting-room floor.
When “Pennies” starts out, it has a nice, deep clarinet-ey sound. Is that just you singing?
Yeah, that’s me humming. Well originally we had done the hums to help the fiddle player know the rhythm. It’s so slow, we didn’t want to use a click track. Rob [Byers], the audio engineer…suggested that we go ahead and keep the hums.
Who played the accordion?
Kailin…He has just been so supportive, helping me become ready to write. That was a really hard time for me, after Rosemont [Family Reunion] broke up, where I didn’t know if I was a songwriter or how to write songs…He was very affirming, and I was able to catch up with his own belief in me.
Where did you come up with that melody?
I just heard it in my head. It was sort of a series of events: The last band broke up, and then I had a really fun time with Death Cab for Cutie. They were in town at Constitution Hall, and my housemate knows their manager. And so they were at the house—I live in this solar panel green house thing. Mike who owns the house wrote an op-ed for the Post. It’s one of the first green houses and we don’t get any electricity from Pepco or anything. And Andy, his best buddy from home, is one of the managers of Death Cab. So they were in town and they wanted to tour the house. So…I started to pick Chris Walla‘s brain, the guitar player, about songwriting.
What did you get out of talking with him?
I knew how I needed to write songs. I wanted to try to be the ability to be abstract—tell a story like a country song, but also keep it loose enough so people can bring their own interpretations. I also knew I didn’t want to write a space-jam-band out-there kind of thing, where you have to be in Phish to understand what it means…I had a big old folder of my favorite words. And then I take a melody I hear in my head. It is sort of like catching them. I was in Barcelona, my sister and my grandmother and my godmother, we all were traveling and touring cathedrals and I had just started to hear the beginning of Pennies and I had brought my microphone and my Mac to record what I heard.
To hear you came up with that tune in while you were touring cathedrals is interesting because the drone in the background has a monk-like quality for me. Was that in your head from the beginning?
I knew I wanted it to be really, really slow. It is, probably, the only love song on the record that is just a straightforward love song; that is not demented in some capacity. It is the love song on the record so I wanted a simple melody…I wasn’t thinking about monks and monasteries as much as just that sort of meditative serious place of true affection. I wanted the music the match.
It’s not a happy song though; it’s got a mournful sort of sound to it. Where does that come from?
Probably from failed love….Perhaps if I was in love at the moment, it would be, um…
Exactly. But I kind of like that it is—I don’t think as much mournful as tense, you know, and probably expecting the complications that come with the feelings of love. It is not always happy. That felt very right. It’s a love song; it felt right to keep it extremely sad.