Socially minded and politically aware, Chicago singer/songwriter Wallace Tallman’s urgent ‘American Human Nature’ EP is a cinematic, raw, and timely upheaval: A rousing call to action as 2020’s US election season nears its turbulent end.
Stream: “The Madness” – Wallace Tallman
Call it a “collective grief cycle” or “crisis of conscience” (all his words) – Wallace Tallman’s new American Human Nature EP is a cinematic, raw, and timely upheaval. Socially minded, self-aware, and politically conscious, Tallman’s music is a call for unity, change, and collective action – a reflection on systemic prejudice, and racial injustice, privilege, and politics that demands us to stand up for what we believe in and to do our part, however small or insignificant it may feel: Because what we do does matter, and sets the tone for all those around us.
Tell me that you don’t know what you’re doing
It’s obvious you don’t think we’re that wise
It’s gonna take an awful lot, to make us all forget about
The way you bend the truth around your lies
We won’t go away, no not this time
If this is human nature
I don’t wanna be human
Let’s take out the eraser
And try it over again
If this what you stand for
Then you shouldn’t be standin’
‘Cause we just want to love more
But your hate never ends
Let’s stop The Madness
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering the music video for “The Madness,” the opening track off Wallace Tallman’s brand new EP American Human Nature (released October 23, 2020). A surprise release following his visceral September single Repa(i)r[then]ation, American Human Nature delivers a dazzling array of stirring folk and rock packed with invigorating emotion and dramatic depth.
In covering his previous release, Atwood Magazine described the Chicago singer/songwriter’s music as “a powerfully present reflection on privilege and racial discrimination and systemic injustic… As beautiful as it is raw, “Suite: Repa(i)r[then]ation” finds Tallman preaching his purpose with poise, ready to connect on a human level. His voice comes like a whisper; he sings tenderly over naked fingerpicking, his guitar strings shining with light as his voice fills the room with melancholy.” Tallman – whose debut single “Valentine” arrived this past Valentine’s Day – has held nothing back over the past month, delivering a slew of societally-critical, social justice-minded songs that strike at the core of so very many issues.
“I definitely was first encouraged to think that politics matter by my oldest brother before I saw any value in it. I think what really got me into it though was when I went off to college and had to deal with anxiety and depression for the first time, and the subsequent journey out of that place over the last 12 years,” Tallman reflects. “The empathy that has come out of that darkness is definitely the foundation of my investment. I’m a white male from an affluent suburb who has basically been afforded every opportunity I could ever want. If someone in my shoes is able to go to the depths I went to, then I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people who the system is built to crush. I think we have a tendency to think that politics are different from social issues, but our politics are the decider of our morals and every decision has a human impact and cost. I’m done watching needless suffering at the hands of people claiming to speak on behalf of love and decency. I’m done hearing people say it’s not polite to talk about politics in some settings. You can’t separate politics from people. The people who want to keep talk of politics to a hush are the same people who know the policies they’re supporting are having devastating effects on certain communities. Enough.”
The people who want to keep talk of politics to a hush are the same people who know the policies they’re supporting are having devastating effects on certain communities.
“The Madness” acts a stellar mission statement for an EP whose melancholy comes not necessarily from inside, but rather observations of the world that surrounds. “If this is human nature, I don’t wanna be human,” Tallman sings in a heavy-hearted chorus. “Let’s take out the eraser and try it over again… If this what you stand for then you shouldn’t be standin,’ ‘cause we just want to love more.” It all comes down to just wanting to live and love in peace and harmony; Tallman’s verses tackle racism and calls out those who use their religion or scriptures to support racist agendas.
Tell me that you can’t see what they’re doing
It’s obvious you just see what they feed
Show me where the scripture says, don’t protect the sicker men
And make sure that you take more than you need
It never does, believe me
Written and recorded about two years ago, American Human Nature feels as relevant now as it would have back in 2018; its release around 2020’s election season just makes it that much more salient a listening experience. “It’s interesting because I finished the record before the 2018 midterm election, but something told me to keep holding onto it,” Tallman notes. “I knew the songs weren’t going to get any less relevant, unfortunately. The music was a coping response to the horrors of this administration, and after I was done with it I was so exhausted that I didn’t have it in me to put it out and support it. And now time is running out for relevance, hopefully, so it’s coming out at this election.”
American Human Nature‘s music tackles guns, racial equality, religion, fake news and denial, neonationalism, and so much more; he sings poignantly and critically in his acoustic ballad “Are You Proud” of the “casual Christian, when the message is convenient“:
A casual Christian when the message is convenient
You say love thy neighbor but you don’t seem to mean it
If you met a brown Jesus do you think that you’d believe him?
Or would he be turned away again?
Well that’s the country we’re living in
Back in 2018, Wallace released the below “Are You Proud?” video alongside the following message:
A little something to think about for those of us that are using Jesus to defend the indefensible. It’s not too late to choose love.
Yet if folks were to listen to just one of his EP’s songs, Tallman directs them to turn their attention toward his soulful lick, “Your Fucking Neighbor”:
“It’s my favorite sounding recording I’ve ever been a part of,” he explains, “which part of that is, this is the first record I’ve made where I wasn’t the main producer. I approached my friend Noam Wallenberg (the best producer in Chicago, if not an even larger radius) about treating me more like a singer-songwriter on this project, and that led to some cool places that I never would have heard these songs existing. On this tune he had me do it live with the band and without a metronome and we ended up using the live vocal. I feel like there is a looseness and a spontaneity. You might hear a couple laughs on the vocal, that are fitting for the mood of the song, but were totally involuntary. My new friend Woody Goss, of Vulfpeck, volunteered himself to play keys on this one. And he’s so stupid good. It’s really unreal. My reaction whenever someone plays something great is to laugh, but usually I’m not singing at the time. So I kept hearing him throw down the most ridiculous stuff in my headphones and I couldn’t not laugh. Luckily they happened at some fitting spots. I think this song is the closest I’ve gotten to blending my personhood of sincerity and absurdity into musical form. And it’s kind of a mission statement for Wallace Tallman. It’s not that hard to love your fucking neighbor. Are we really still confused about this? Also it has a flute solo; what more could you want from a song?”
Why’s it always called utopian
To think everyone should have a chance
To feel like they’re worth something
Or that someone gives a damn
Whether or not they live or die
Let alone live to laugh?
Sure would put a dent in
The number of psychopaths
‘Cause everybody wants the same love
Nobody ever gets enough
It couldn’t be more obvious
Can’t believe it needs to be repeated ‘cause
It’s not that hard
To love your fucking neighbor
Even at his most relaxed, Tallman manages to inject his music with meaning and urgency. The singer/songwriter wastes no time in mincing words, singing truth to power in songs that all can understand without needing to simplify the language or decrypt hefty metaphors.
Tallman owns his music’s provocative nature, preferring to think of it as “soothing encouragement.”
“My hope is that this election will be the end of this specific incarnation of evil, and that these songs can be an accompaniment to the potluck of emotions we’re all carrying into these final days, as well as soundtrack for the work we have ahead in building a better world,” he says.
We’ll certainly be listening to American Human Nature on repeat as the coming week gets underway. Wallace Tallman’s music is tender and buoyant, authentic and thoughtful – it’s an enjoyable, engaging way to start thinking about important issues that affect each and every one of us. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Wallace Tallman’s American Human Nature EP with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut EP!
Stream: ‘American Human Nature’ – Wallace Tallman
:: Inside American Human Nature ::
The Madness was the first song I wrote for this group. At the time I was teaching music production and positive psychology at a private high school and was not able to work on my own stuff very much because of how consuming that was. One morning before school I wrote most of the chorus melody and lyrics in the shower, then continued to write on the drive to school, and on through my morning meeting, which I’m not sure I heard a word of. It felt so exciting to have this song bouncing around in my head, and it was a big part of me feeling like I needed to quit my job and be in a situation where I was making music full time. The tune was originally called “Human Nature” which then inspired the name of the record, “American Human Nature.” Then a subsequent rewrite to remove “fuck” from the chorus resulted in the landing line of “The Madness,” which came from the feeling of watching this “president” bend and break reality day in and day out. And the experience of that first starting as a surprise, or a joke, but then watching it descend into an endless fever dream of hate and misogyny. The idea that if what he’s selling is human nature, I don’t want to be human. I want to be the literal opposite of everything that he represents. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can redefine ourselves at any moment if we have enough courage. A lot of stuff isn’t working, and it’s okay to admit that and move towards something that is better suited to meet the requirements of our new realities.
One step was my first attempt at writing something more overtly positive for the record. I had written three tunes (The Madness, Good Guy (With a Gun), Are You Proud?) that were all pretty heavy energetically and mostly examined the hypocrisy in our country. But I didn’t want to just point my finger at what was wrong. There are few things more frustrating than getting feedback that something you’ve made is bad without any notes on why or how to make it better. So I was excited by the challenge of saying something positive while trying to stay away from being too cheesy. I think part of what helped that balance was being hopeful while still acknowledging the weight of the current reality. It’s not naive hope. It’s ‘knows what it’s up against, but keeps going anyway’ hope. The chorus was based on the phrase “It’s Chaos, Be Kind,” which I actually heard in Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” special. It was something that his wife used to say, and it struck me right so I wrote it down. If Patton Oswalt sees this and would like some credit or money for charity I would be happy to discuss it, Sir. Basically it’s the idea that life is hard enough without having people deliberately trying to make it worse. Just be kind. We can get to a world even better than we’ve imagined if we take one kind step at a time. Which I suppose is a little cheesy, but mostly because of how pessimistic we’ve become about anything promising. One of my favorite lines in there is in the last verse “It’s darker now than usual, but I saw some hope today. Unexpected victories, however small still feel like change.” I wrote this song the day that AOC won her primary. I was so immediately blown away by her power and sanity, and moved to tears by her authenticity. She has definitely been a light in this storm that feels like anything is possible even on days where it seems like things will never change.
Good Guy (With a Gun)
I wrote this one after the Parkland shooting. I had thought about writing something about school shootings since Obama was president, but unfortunately there were so many opportunities that it became numbing. Something about Parkland hit differently, probably because of how the students responded. Their determination in the face of a tragedy of that magnitude was super inspiring. I had been so sick of all of the ridiculous arguments for why we didn’t need to change anything around gun safety, particularly the idea that some upstanding citizen haphazardly trained in firearms was remotely considered a potential solution, or that we should give teachers guns, when we can’t even count on police officers to use them responsibly. I honestly started writing it as a joke. I initially intended to keep the whole thing very sarcastic like the verses. And then the chorus came and I found myself transported further into the psyche of this supposed good guy. And I wondered if gun owners ever reflected on the ramifications of their privilege to have a gun. Or ever felt like there was blood on their hands as a result of that privilege. Or if I was in a similar situation, would I continue to do nothing? Like if I found out that my joy for playing basketball was killing thousands of people every year would I stop playing basketball? I know it’s not a perfect analogy, but is the carnage of firearms really worth the illusion of safety they provide? I am very much of the mindset that I’d like to live in a world where you wouldn’t even consider needing a gun because everyone’s basic needs were taken care of, but apparently that makes me “crazy” and inspires people named Mitchell to comment things like “fuck Wallace snowflake” on my posts. Which if you listen closely you can hear me yelling “fuck Wallace snowfalke” in the warping section of “One Step” before the line “screamed at by a stranger.”
10th Place Ribbon
This was another one aimed more at positivity or encouragement. Something to help energize young people to vote. I think it was the Parkland students again who started saying “the young people will win” and I loved the certainty of that statement. I’ve gotten so fed up with people shitting on millenials for things that couldn’t be further from our fault. The idea that we’ve had any power in the ability to make the decisions that got us to this madness is absurd. I’m sorry we don’t want to eat at Applebees. I’m sorry we don’t want to watch the planet burn. I’m sorry we want people to have shelter, food, and clean water. Somehow that makes us entitled. And it always comes back to the idea that we got that way because of orange slices and participation trophies after our soccer games. Like we as 7 year olds all got together to conspire about how to get more snacks and shiny plastic. Those weren’t our ideas! A previous generation raised our generation to be kinder and more generous and inclusive and now when we’re pointing out all the places where kindness is missing or where we’re not sharing or excluding people, we’re called unrealistic socialists. It’s astounding how little responsibility previous generations are willing to take for the mess we’re in. Every once in a while I’ll meet a boomer who straight up says “We failed. We had our chance to make a better world and we chose selfishness over selflessness.” Which is refreshing and frustrating at the same time, but now the ball is in our court and we can’t make the same mistakes. We’ve got new ideas based on us watching “the way the world works” disintegrate before our eyes, and it’s time to implement them.
Are You Proud?
This song was a long time coming. I’d had an idea for a song called “Casual Christian” for several years, not to be confused with DeGarmo and Key’s song of the same name. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylqCB3If54M ) I don’t identify as Christian, but I grew up in church and still feel connected to the foundation of love at the core of the message, so seeing adults I grew up with making political choices antithetical to that core has been deeply disillusioning. I actually just sent off a pleading 12 page letter to a dear family church friend who recently revealed her candidate of choice to me…The cognitive dissonance of supporting this administration and being a person of faith is an olympic level mental gymnastics feat I cannot process. So when they started putting the kids in the cages (a cool sentence) and the bible crowd was cool with it, the song finally found it’s way out. I think a lot of songwriting is being ready to be ready. I had been avoiding writing something about the cages because it was so fucked up, but I was definitely seeing it and hearing it and sorting out my feelings with it. One morning I had an inkling that I should sit down with my guitar, and it all poured out pretty immediately, cancelling whatever else I was planning to do that day. Sometimes the song finds you when it’s ready to be revealed, and actively pursuing it can actually chase it away from the space it needs to speak. What came out was part of the original casual christianity idea, mixed with the fact that if Jesus came back today as the brown man he was, he would absolutely be crucified again by the people who claim to love him most. Which would be really fascinating if it weren’t so sad and angering!
Your Fucking Neighbor
This is the last tune I wrote for the record. Originally it was aiming towards the idea of manifesting heaven on earth, as opposed to some invisible location outside our circumstances. Or more plainly, choosing love over fear. During that time some new neighbors moved in upstairs and what came out is more along the lines of what I imagine a fed up Mr. Rogers would say if he respawned into our current reality. It’s not that hard to be kind to people. It’s actually much easier than being shitty. By a lot. I think a lot about how we just woke up one day in our bodies and our lives and our families. And how some people who wake up into well to do situations can be so confident in their ownership of that like they did anything to earn it besides waking up into the right body. It’s a lottery. All of us want the same love, none of us get enough. We’ve got to get back to the basics and choose love as our first instinct, not fear people with different backgrounds than us. We can do that or we can watch more division and destruction take us further and further away from the love that we crave. Seems like a pretty simple choice.
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Stream: “The Madness” – Wallace Tallman
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📸 © Keegan Snyder
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