Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – Roan Yellowthorn
Little bits of me, here and there, are awakening. I can feel it happening as surely as seeds awaken and sprout when planted in fertile soil.
Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1 here!
This lockdown period has been transformative in many ways so far. Luckily, my family and I have not yet had to contend with any COVID-related illness. We have been able to hunker down and exist together, both my partner and I able to work from home.
I didn’t think that lockdown would be very different from my normal routine. I work from home anyway, parenting a two and six year old, writing, and managing the logistical and creative sides of my artistic pursuits. The main difference I expected would be that my six year old daughter and partner would be home with me now.
But the staying in one place part of it all – I didn’t anticipate the results of that to be so profound.
As a working musician, almost all of my free time in the last five years has been spent traveling.
Any free space on the calendar has historically been filled instantly with a trip – to play live music, to do recording, to play a tour. The on-the-go lifestyle is one I have enjoyed. I like to travel and go new places. I always thought that I was the kind of person who couldn’t stay in one place for too long. This extended lockdown has tested that theory.
For the first time really in my adult life (give or take a few years) I’m not going anywhere. Time is free as it can be and it is not getting filled up with any trips or travel plans. I have free time and I’m staying home. My relationship to free time has changed. I don’t see it so much now as a commodity to use or spend. It just is. And it feels like a luxury to be able to soak it up.
And it is a luxury, I know. It’s one that I feel thankful for.
I don’t feel bored. I feel like being forced to stay in one place is allowing me to interact with my life more closely, and live it more. I’m being forced to confront my life and myself. Emotions? I can’t run from them. Dissatisfactions? They now must be addressed. Childhood trauma? Here is the perfect opportunity to work through it. I still distract myself with the New York Times and Instagram but I don’t feel as habitually distracted. I’m writing a lot more and I’m feeling a lot more. I’m letting myself feel my feelings more. I feel more in touch with my life. With my surroundings. With my inner self. I’m learning to vocalize what I need. That’s a big step for me.
It’s a small shift, maybe, in the scheme of things, but it feels like a big one in the scheme of my own life. I want to feel more connected to myself. To my life. To reality. To be in contact. I experienced a lot of emotional trauma growing up and it causes me to disassociate as a coping mechanism. Getting in touch with myself is a really important step for me in the healing process.
It hurts to get in touch. The reason I disassociate is because it feels less painful in the moment than feeling my feelings.
I push them down and down and then, like coal under immense amounts of pressure and strata, they crystalize. These little gems are the things I polish up to turn into artwork – poems and songs. The process of writing these songs is painful. It’s emotionally difficult. It hurts to mine these feelings. But doing so clears accumulated pain.
Spending so much time and energy synthesizing old wounds into song crystals means that I’m not always present in my actual life. I fear conflict. But conflict is a part of life. In order to be present in my life, I have to be present in the face of potential conflict. This is hard when my coping mechanism for stress is distraction and disassociating. Why do I disassociate? Because, growing up, I learned that my opinion didn’t matter. In fact, expressing an opinion often caused a frightening conflict where the power dynamic was skewed out of my favor and out of my control. I learned that it was unsafe to express an opinion, to participate, to be present.
These days, I’m practicing being here for my life. And I think that the muscle is getting stronger. I’m connecting more to my surroundings and, in the process, I’m connecting more to myself. I have high hopes for what this will mean for my life moving forward. For my relationships. For my trajectory. For my contributions to the world. And for the thing that’s been evolving alongside me through the entire journey – my music and my art.
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📸 © Jackie McLean
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