“Contemplative, Eclectic, & Cerulean”: Inside Mackin Carroll’s Debut Album ‘Learning How to Swim’

Mackin Carroll © @kugelmama
Mackin Carroll © @kugelmama
A cathartic release full of raw emotion, passion, and heart-on-sleeve zeal, Mackin Carroll’s spirited debut album ‘Learning How to Swim’ is a radiant indie rock introduction that soars to high heights and dwells in the dramatic depths of soul.
for fans of Wilco, The Format, Dawes
“Black Hole Song (I Miss You)” – Mackin Carroll

I’m learning how to swim, I forget (and then I remember). I take all deep breaths, ‘cause God knows when I’ll get another…

Life can get tough; sometimes you need to get everything out in song. Honest and intimate, introspective and inquisitive, Mackin Carroll’s debut album is dynamic and definitive: A cathartic release full of raw emotion, passion, and heart-on-sleeve zeal. Spirited and stirring, Learning How to Swim is a radiant indie rock introduction that soars to high heights and dwells in the dramatic depths of soul. It’s a record of self-discovery; of reeling through life’s ups and downs in sound and story alike, embracing the good with the bad and everything in-between.

Learning How to Swim - Mackin Carroll
Learning How to Swim – Mackin Carroll
I’m learning how to swim
I hold my breath beneath the surface
Ration my oxygen
My parents watching makes me nervous
I’m terrified
Does it really make a difference if I
Come back up for air?
I’m at the bottom of the pool wondering
What the hell is even up there?
I don’t know

Released November 12, 2021, Learning How to Swim finds Mackin Carroll throwing himself (often involuntarily) into the deep end of the metaphorical ocean, finding his bearings in real time and gleaning some meaningful life lessons along the way. Observant lyrics come alive through a carefully constructed mix of soft balladry and raucous anthems, resulting in a journey through the mind and heart of a budding singer/songwriter. Akin to the earlier works of Wilco, The Format, and Dawes, Mackin Carroll’s music is as substantial as it is invigorating – and like so many records released over the past year and a half, it almost didn’t happen at all.

Mackin Carroll © Mallory Hauser
Mackin Carroll © Mallory Hauser

“This record came about because the pandemic hit and I had all these songs that didn’t have a home yet,” the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter tells Atwood Magazine. “I’d done some producing, but never this much and never by myself. So I set out making demos and obsessively recording in my room. I had a group of trusted peers I’d send things to for feedback. And the making of this record really got me through that first year of the pandemic and allowed me to spend a lot of time on it. I had 13 songs originally that became 11. Some of the songs took on different shapes than I had imagined originally and found identities throughout the process. I originally didn’t think they’d fit together because all the songs were from different periods of my life, but they slowly became a team and a through-line emerged that made it feel like an album.”

“I think it really captures all my best parts and says what what I’m trying say. Introspective songs, hi-fi homespun recordings, interesting textures, fresh lyrics, melancholy, specific, cathartic. It’s a dynamic record, there are whispers and shouts. And we go from solo songwriter vibes to fuller indie rock arrangements taking weird drum machine detours and then something Americana slips in and then we’re in a bedroom indie space. I think it reflects the music I listen to and crave, goes to interesting places, and says what’s in my heart. I think there’s plenty to grab onto on first listen that let’s you know what I’m about and then layers underneath to chew on if you stick around.”

The title Learning How to Swim is entirely apropos to Carroll’s songwriting, as well as his personal experience of figuring out his artistry and bringing these songs to life.

“The album title was actually the first piece of the puzzle that came before the song or most of the songs,” he explains. “I heard Duncan Trussell quote something to the effect of “the madman drowns in the same waters that the mystic swims,” – and that dynamic of swimming vs. drowning really stuck with me. It’s really about finding equanimity as a hyperemotional person and navigating the intensity that comes with that. And it feels like that’s what the heart-wisdom that comes with age is – learning how to swim.”

But you can find
Your way back home
If you make maps out of the stars
They’re probably dead by now
But they’re still up there
Tryin’ to say something, yeah
Say something, yeah
Oh, just say something, ah
You don’t have to feel
It’ll all make sense
In due time, yeah
You don’t have to feel this way
At least not forever
You don’t have to feel this way
No no, not forever
You don’t have to feel this way
But you already knew that
Didn’t ya?
– “Anxious in the Alley,” Mackin Carroll

Highlights abound on this sweeping unveiling of the self: From the gentle giant opening track “Learning How to Swim” and the poignant, heartaching breakup song “Black Hole Song (I Miss You)” to the groovy, sun-kissed “No Tiger” and the tender finale “Hangin’ Out,” Carroll’s record is full of memorable moments where substance marries catchy melody.

If wine just makes you sad, why do you drink? … If colors make you happy, why do you wear black?” Carroll asks on ‘Creature of Habit,’ a song about vices and understanding our inner selves. On the frenetic “Frozen Strawberries,” churning electric guitars and a pulsing backbeat make for an exciting accompaniment to lyrics yearning for connection and understanding. Elsewhere, the sweeping “I Wish I Could Cry” proves a particularly powerful moment of reckoning and catharsis as the artist finds a balance between volatility and a hushed, calmer sense of surrender.

Mackin Carroll © Alex Pachino
Mackin Carroll © Alex Pachino

Packed with thought-provoking lyrics and rich harmonies along the way, Learning How to Swim all but ensures we’ll be back for repeat listens.

“The title track [is a personal highlight] for sure,” Carroll says. “I’d been trying to write something in that vein for a while. And I’m proud of the writing that it’s a mix of both simple, childlike ideas and more complex ideas. My personal favorite is ‘Intermission,’ mainly because I don’t have any other songs like that one and the production was a feat for me wrangling all those drum kits. I think it’s a unique vibe.”

The songwriter goes on to cite a few of his favorite lyrics as well – each of which holds its own special meaning to Carroll:

  • I’m an apple in reverse / Sugar in my stomach, poison on my skin” from “Anxious in the Alley”
  • I only ever stay until the intermission / It’s too hard to watch a good thing end” from “Intermission
  • All love is incomplete” from “Not Even Hungry”
  • I’d be happy for ya if I wasn’t sad” from “I Wish I Could Cry”
  • Swimmin’ scared like a shark / Like stillness would kill me” – from “No Tiger”
Mackin Carroll © @kugelmama
Mackin Carroll © @kugelmama

In point of fact, Learning How to Swim is in many ways Mackin Carroll’s coming-of-age album.

He never sinks, because he’s constantly trying to get by – to keep his head up and swim.

These songs are his tales of perseverance. Inward-looking lyrics seek a deeper understanding and appreciation of life’s fleeting moments big and small, while energetic indie rock swoop, stirs, and soars. He comes away a little less anxious, and hopefully a little more confident in himself and his understanding of the world inside and out.

“I hope listeners feel a little less alone, a little more seen in their sorrow and despair,” Carroll shares. “Compassion, joy, and insight are always my goal. Hopefully it’s cathartic. It certainly was for me making it. It kept me sane working on it, but also in writing it, carried me through some dark times and emerged on the other side with pearls of some kind. And I learned a lot as a producer on this project and about how I like to work. Mostly that making something takes a long time and that’s okay.”

Ultimately, he says, “I hope it means something to people and they get what I get from my favorite records, but in a way that’s not quite like the other records they know and love.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Mackin Carroll’s Learning How to Swim with Atwood Magazine as artist goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut album!

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:: stream/purchase Mackin Carroll here ::
Stream: ‘Learning How to Swim’ – Mackin Carroll

:: Inside Learning How to Swim ::

Learning How to Swim - Mackin Carroll

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Learning How to Swim

This song is about having depression as a kid and not having the tools to navigate it or articulate it to anyone around you. And now as an adult trying to either ride the waves or get barreled over. Also my dad whistles on this song and it was really special recording him.

Black Hole Song (I Miss You)

This song is about a long and confusing breakup I went through around the time that NASA took the first picture of a black hole. What happens when love goes away? What happens to energy and matter and time when they cross the event horizon? All explored over a drum machine, nylon string guitar, and some fuzz bass.

Anxious in the Alley

This song came to me in a dream. I was in a treehouse with my therapist and I had a goat on a rope leash. My therapist put a cigarette in my mouth that I thought was candy and he lit it and told me to sing him a song and this is that song. I wrote it just after graduating college and and feeling too old and too young at the same time.

Frozen Strawberries

This song is about breakfast and being desperate for affection. I had a songwriter teacher in college named Andrea Stolpe and we were talking a lot about Tom Petty and how powerful his music is without being overly wordy. As I was writing the chorus of this song, I was tempted to write hella words, but Andrea reminded me of Tom and I kept it brief and the song is better off for it. I also played it over my phone speakers for some strangers from Scandinavia while we were all on a big hike in Peru and they did not like it.

Creature of Habit

This song I wrote on an airplane, originally wanting it to be for my friends’ band Trousdale. I was also obsessed with the song “All Your Favorite Bands” by Dawes and wanted to write that song. This song is about habits, vices, hiding in yourself, and trying to break through all of that while being gentle and kind.


This song I wrote about a fight I was having with a close friend whose feelings I had hurt. I had to leave him alone and give him space and it was really fucking hard for me, but it was the kindest thing to do. I also wrote most of it on this cheap nylon string guitar I’d gotten on a trip to Peru. I wrote it during the holidays while dog sitting at this couple’s house in LA, an emotional season anyways and also being in my home city, but isolated from my friends. There’s also 5 drum sets playing at once which I think is cool – my friend Carter and I each playing a full kit on either side with a drum machine in the middle. That sound I’m very proud of. And took 10,000 years to get right.

Not Even Hungry

This song I wrote as part of a poetry workshop some friends from college put together. One of my favorite songwriters Rosie Tucker has a lyric about being “never not hungry” and they also showed me the band Hop Along. This song was both a riff off of that lyric of theirs and my most transparently Hop Along song. I wrote it pre-pandemic, but it’s very much what my pandemic looked like too in terms of aimlessly puttering around the house trying to change the way I feel. Also, my mixer, Joey Messina-Doerning, went hard with reverbs and delays and brought a lot of magic to the track.


This song I wrote when I was 19 and is the oldest song on the record. Duncan Trussell talks a lot about “emotional vampires” and I was listening to his podcast a lot at the time, and thinking about being in my head and resenting everyone around me all at once. The song is about projection and anxiety. And my friend (and brilliant songwriter) Jack DeMeo had just recently showed me A Ghost Is Born by Wilco, which became one of my favorite albums of all time and this song is *heavily* influenced by it.

I Wish I Could Cry

As a sad boy growing up and becoming a sad man, I find that I cry less often in this season of my life – but still feel the deep urge to. I don’t know if it’s age or some internal block, but it’s a strange feeling. And this is definitely the saddest song on the record about just having nothing left after a breakup.

No Tiger

This song is about anthropology and the history of anxiety and its function in human beings. I was at a meditation class in East Hollywood and the teacher was speaking about how our brains are wired for survival because that’s what they spend millions of years being developed for and negative emotions therefore have a louder resonance even in the modern age when running away from tigers is not a priority. The verses are about the anxiety and the chorus is about imagining a headspace having let go of anxiety.


This is the only song on the record that is essentially the demo. Most of the other songs I rerecorded the main instruments and vocals for, but this one I left. I wrote it while on a date that I wasn’t into and a friend came to my show that I’d had a crush on for years and was pining after, but coming to peace with that. So as opposed to the other tunes that come at romance from a place of desperation or frustration, this one is calm and content and just like, “Hey, I like you. And I’m chillin’.

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:: stream/purchase Mackin Carroll here ::

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Learning How to Swim - Mackin Carroll

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