“Stick figure sisyphus”: Cassandra Jenkins Dwells in Her Heartache on “Only One,” a Seductive Song of Emotional Stewing

Cassandra Jenkins © Pooneh Ghana
Cassandra Jenkins © Pooneh Ghana
Singer/songwriter Cassandra Jenkins provides a first look at her highly anticipated third album ‘My Light, My Destroyer’ with lead single “Only One,” a smoldering, soul-stirring song languishing in heartache and hopelessness, nostalgia and inertia.
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Stream: “Only One” – Cassandra Jenkins




The lesson in the song, for me, is to let something grow before you decide to squash it, because then maybe it’ll have a fighting chance!

Just as there are times for moving on, there are times for staying still and sitting with your feelings –

for processing your emotions at whatever speed suits you best, regardless of everyone and everything else. Thus, in her new single, Cassandra Jenkins shuts the world out and stews in her heartache. She lets nostalgia and longing, sadness and mourning wash over her in waves as scenes from a warmer, sepia-toned past flicker in and out, bringing with them the weight of the world and all that’s come and gone.

It’s a malaise familiar to anyone who’s loved and lost; one that consumes the mind, body, and soul, seeping into our bones and preoccupying all aspects of our waking lives, until one day we rise and find we can shake it off and move on.

But this song isn’t about moving on; it’s about stewing. Jenkins dwells in her heavy, broken heart on “Only One,” a smoldering song of inertia and utter hopelessness.

Only One - Cassandra Jenkins
Only One – Cassandra Jenkins
Seasick dawn
Come to tear off another page
Blink my eyes open
Punch the clock in the face
Another formula
Everywhere I turn
Everything adds up
To your number
You’re the only one I’ve ever loved
The only one that I know how to love

Released April 16, 2024 via Dead Oceans, “Only One” is the seductive, soul-stirring lead single off Cassandra Jenkins’ forthcoming third studio album My Light, My Destroyer (due out July 12). The highly-anticipated follow-up to 2021’s critically acclaimed An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (labeled Pitchfork‘s Best New Music) is described by the New York City-based singer/songwriter herself as “a collection of sonic outliers bound together by textures and themes and ideas,” and while we wait for its summertime release to bear out this truth in full, its first tease is an irresistibly breathtaking, brooding delight: The kind of visceral, vulnerable reverie that sends shivers and chills down the spine as Jenkins bares her soul, exposing the cracks within for all to see, hear, and feel. “You’re the only one I’ve ever loved; the only one that I know how to love,” she laments in an impassioned, unapologetically direct chorus bookended by poetically poignant verses full of intimate imagery:

Stick figure sisyphus
Behind massage parlor window glass
How long will this pain in my chest last?
How long will it last?

“Most of my songs are distilled versions of several stories and experiences — and this one is exactly that,” Jenkins tells Atwood Magazine. “¬The title is deceptively singular, and it might sound like a straightforward love song directed at an individual, but it’s really about identifying a painful pattern, finding yourself in the same place over and over again, and not knowing how to break it.”

“It’s also about the idea of a confirmation bias – seeing the world around you according to how you feel. So, if you feel heartbroken, you’ll see heartbreak everywhere, and in some ways, that’s all a broken heart wants to see until it’s ready to move on. This song isn’t about moving on, it’s about encapsulating the feeling of utter hopelessness.”

You’re the only one I’ve ever loved
The only one that I know how to love
You’re the only one I’ve ever loved
The only one that I know how to love
How long will this last?
How long will it last?

Atwood Magazine caught up with Cassandra Jenkins on the heels of her new song’s release to discuss the relentless and unabating heartache at the core of this beautifully gut-wrenching enchantment. Dive into “Only One” below and surrender to the full weight of the artist’s Sisyphean longing.

My Light, My Destroyer, Jenkins’ third studio album, is out July 12, 2024 via Dead Oceans.

You’re the only one
The only one
You’re the only one
The only one
You’re the only one I’ve ever loved
The only one that I know how to love
You’re the only one I’ve ever loved
The only one that I know how to love

— —

:: stream/purchase Only One here ::
:: stream/purchase My Light, My Destroyer here ::
:: connect with Cassandra Jenkins here ::
Stream: “Only One” – Cassandra Jenkins



CATCHING UP WITH CASSANDRA JENKINS

Only One - Cassandra Jenkins

Atwood Magazine: Welcome back, Cassandra! What's the story behind “Only One,” and why did you choose to release this as the first single off your new album?

Cassandra Jenkins: Most of my songs are distilled versions of several stories and experiences — and this one is exactly that. The title is deceptively singular, and it might sound like a straightforward love song directed at an individual, but it’s really about identifying a painful pattern, finding yourself in the same place over and over again, and not knowing how to break it.

It’s also about the idea of a confirmation bias – seeing the world around you according to how you feel. So, if you feel heartbroken, you’ll see heartbreak everywhere, and in some ways, that’s all a broken heart wants to see until it’s ready to move on. This song isn’t about moving on, it’s about encapsulating the feeling of utter hopelessness.

“Only One” feels like a bridge for anyone coming along with me from my last record because it has some familiar elements while being quite different. It’s heartfelt, and a little off beat. The last record was very sax heavy, and this one leans more on the trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn. It hints at a more arranged approach to songwriting and recording than my last record, which was pointedly modular.

You've talked about this song in the context of a Sisyphean string of sleepless nights. Where did those emotions stem from?

Cassandra Jenkins: “Seasick dawn” is a turn of phrase I first heard in my friend Kristin Andreassen’s song (of the same title). The first time I heard her sing it, it felt like someone had finally described the feeling I’ve had many times – the literal stomach ache that accompanies mornings when I haven’t slept – whether or not this is what she meant by it, that phrase gripped me and never let go.

Seasick dawn
Come to tear off another page
Blink my eyes open
Punch the clock in the face

The opening line essentially talks about insomnia, something I’ve experienced on and off in my life, but it’s really about the effect insomnia has on the psyche – when the arrival of morning signifies another sleepless night, and days start to blur together.

How, for you, does “Only One” serve as an introduction to My Light, My Destroyer?

Cassandra Jenkins: Dawn feels like a great place to start, and the record starts and ends at dawn. Depending on how you want to look at it, dawn is either a rude awakening, or a time of new beginnings.

Sonically speaking, “Only One” is a real outlier, and the record is really a collection of sonic outliers bound together by textures and themes and ideas. Because I drew from vast sources of inspiration, they all sound quite different but you’ll find that they connect like constellations, bridging themes and observations across the album, and letting you connect the dots if you choose to.

My Light, My Destroyer - Cassandra Jenkins
Cassandra Jenkins’ third full-length album, ‘My Light, My Destroyer,’ is due out July 12 via Dead Oceans

What do you love most about this song, and what do you hope listeners take away from it?

Cassandra Jenkins: I loved writing this song, and how it seemed to have a life of its own from the get go – it gave me a new way of expressing myself. I wrote the chorus first, with my friend Steph Marziano, and I was honestly a bit scared by it. I remember sitting at the piano with her, singing it, and immediately asking, “What is this? Is it awful? Is it so cheesy? I’ve never heard something like this come out of me before.” She was so encouraging, and reminded me not to judge something in its nascent state. This is a great reminder for anyone creating anything. We recorded a demo of it that day and it sat on my hard drive for months, sort of taunting me.

I think the song itself is open to interpretation; it belongs to you now. But the lesson in the song, for me, is to let something grow before you decide to squash it, because then maybe it’ll have a fighting chance! I’m happy to pass that along to anyone willing to listen.

Lastly, do you have any favorite lyrics or lines from this track?

Cassandra Jenkins: “Punch the clock in the face” and “stick figure Sisyphus” are probably my favorite lines.

I really let myself enjoy the process of playing with words on this record with a sort of newfound freedom and abandon; I wasn’t afraid to laugh at my own jokes.

The clock pun could almost be in a kid’s candy wrapper, if it weren’t such an adult experience – anyone who’s ever worked a steady job can relate to waking up some days wanting to hit the snooze button instead of punching in at work. It’s also referencing the scene in Groundhog’s Day when Bill Murray literally destroys his clock out of frustration. I wanted the song to evoke that same pent up, fed up state.

Stick figure Sisyphus is referencing a literal drawing I saw in 2020. The single art is a photo I took on my phone when walking by a massage parlor in my neighborhood during a very dark time for humanity and NYC. I was walking by the same window last year with a friend and when that phrase rolled off my tongue, he said,  “try saying that 10 times fast!

There’s also something inherently funny to me about stick figures. They always make me laugh. And then when I think about the frailty of a little stick with the task of rolling a boulder up a hill, it hits me again. The things that make me laugh hardest, that shake me to my core, are usually shedding light on suffering in some way. And finding humor in the face of suffering? Now that’s Sisyphean.

— —

:: stream/purchase Only One here ::
:: stream/purchase My Light, My Destroyer here ::
:: connect with Cassandra Jenkins here ::
Stream: “Only One” – Cassandra Jenkins



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? © Pooneh Ghana


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