Bixby” begins with airy vocals delivered softly over the simple strums of a guitar. As the story begins to unfold in past tense during the first verse, a feeling of nostalgia and reflection is immediately evoked.
You wore my eyes
you wore your grandfather’s sweatshirt
You wore that winter light as if it were a hood
Listen: “Bixby” – red steppes
Atwood Magazine is excited to be premiering “Bixby,” the lead single off of the upcoming debut album by red steppes — alias for Oakland-based singer/songwriter Nika States — that is due spring of 2018 (via Native Cat Recordings). States says that locality is very important in her music, and that becomes very clear in both the title of the song — “Bixby“ refers to Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California — and the album artwork, which consists of a beautiful palette of blues and greens.
With “Bixby,” States wanted to write a song that “can be both comforting and uncomfortable,” and she achieves this perfectly. “Bixby” is sonically comforting: The sweetness in red steppes’ voice, especially when layered, and the gentle guitars surround the listener in an incredible warmth. It is quite easy to lose yourself in this song, to feel yourself floating on top of its light. But there is another layer at work here. It is through red steppes’ lyrics that she finds the discomfort she sought to express.
This is the story of a falling out, a drifting apart of two people who were once one. States tried to leave some ambiguity to her lyrics in order to allow her audience to project their own stories onto her own. Still, there are moments of intense personal vulnerability. The heartbreaking simplicity of the lines, “Your feet were cold, your faith could not be recovered / You bought me for a square of chocolate and a poem” is enough to make anyone sympathize with her struggle.
And we have both been castaways
But you’re not sinking in these shallows
I am not letting go, and I do not agree
to follow you down
You bear that heavy load;
I am prepared to hear it now
The lyrical intensity drives this song. Each chorus ends with the lines, “In our aimlessness, we are faded / In our nights, man, we are all our own.” Her relationship with this unnamed other is fading away. They are wandering separately into new and distinct futures. Their shared past lingers but eventually it will disappear. A sense of finality is brought about the last repetition of the chorus. this time it is slightly altered: “On the face of it nothing’s fated / But in the nights, man, we are right where we belong.” By replacing “we are all our own” with “we are right where we belong,” States equates these things. Although the road that led her to this moment has been difficult and winding, full of nostalgia and moments of remorse, she finds herself at peace. This is where she belongs, where they both belong.
While the lyrics are the core of this song, it is ultimately the fusion of these aspects of comfort and discomfort that make the song what it is. This juxtaposition truly creates a unique experience for red steppes’ audience and requires an active ear to fully grasp the complexity that is packed into this seemingly simple song.
Says red steppes: “I originally wrote Bixby as a song with a sort of shuttered and hymnal – almost elegiac – feel, but when I got into the studio it wanted legs. I’m glad it took on a life of its own. It pleases me that this song – which lyrically is very much concerned with events upon which I find it troubling and unpleasant to dwell – took on at least a little more of the character of the place in which it is set (Big Sur, which I so often encounter as a place of movement, and vigor, unapologetic about both its boundaries and its graces) than that of its narrative. I always hope to allow people to join their own stories – past and future tenses – to the sounds I make, so even this much is a lot for me to say about a song. Mostly I just want this song in particular to be useful to others in some way.”
Atwood Magazine cannot wait to hear what red steppes has in store for us on her full length album. If “Bixby” is any indicator, we are in for a comforting, uncomfortable treat.
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cover © 2017