Track by track: Amy O

Adulthood often forces us to lose sight of the inner child who exists inside all of us. The child, who simply did things for the sake of it, gets lost amidst the ever-increasing heap of bills, appointments and shopping lists. On ‘Shell’, Amy O endeavours to rediscover the traits she had as a child and integrate them with the person she’s become as an adult, so that she can move forward in a ‘more fully embodied way’.

As a result, ‘Shell’ is an absolute hoot. It’s sun-kissed melodies bounce along like a sugar-filled child skipping down a footpath. “Listen to the sound of the birds outside” she urges on the title track, and that’s what ‘Shell’ is an ode to; the idea of simply just being, simply just standing still, simply just seeing everything that exists around you. 

‘Crushed’ is about teenagers exploring themselves and each other in abandoned roads, garages and suburban hideaways; let’s be honest getting private time at the family home back then was practically impossible. “Sit on hills and watch the sun / Going down on everyone” Amy Oelsner sings, an obvious humour seeping from her. ‘Good Routines’ is about exactly that; the little things we do on the regular to keeps our mental health in check. “Wash your hair on Sunday when it’s raining / Take a walk and look at all the ripe things”. 

On ‘Rest Stop’, the album’s most stripped-back song, Oelsner sings “A lot of things have changed / a lot of things remain the same”. With that seemingly simple line she captures the essence of ‘Shell’, the acknowledgement that yes, adulthood brings changes both internally and externally, but that plenty of us remains true to the child we once were. And when we can find those parts of ourselves, we are at our happiest.

Amy O exclusively explains each track for us below:

Shell

I wrote “Shell” after reading through a bunch of old emails and letters.  It inspired the lyrics which are a collage of memories from different people and places over the past ten years.  In the song, I’m looking back fondly on a younger version of myself – celebrating the ways I’ve grown since then and also seeing how I can reincorporate some of those traits I’ve lost over the years into myself now.

Synesthesia

This is one of the earlier songs I wrote for the album.  Initially the lyrics were written in a stream of consciousness style.  I couldn’t figure out how to finish it and left it undone for about a year.  I came back to it closer to the time of recording and was able to refine/restructure it with the perspective gained from time away.  It explores personal relationships (both with self and others) in contrast to one’s relationship with the world at large. In each, choosing hope and concerted effort in the face of what can feel like overwhelmingly destructive forces. And the paradox of drawing both fear and inspiration from nature. After recording it, the final outcome surprised me- in a good way.

Good Routines

This song is an homage of sorts to the mundane daily routines that support mental and physical health.  They’re not the most exciting thing to talk about, but they’re so vital. In my experience committing to daily practices adds up over time, but it’s easy to doubt that when you’re in the middle of it.  I find at times that those practices can swing too far into personal isolation, so it’s also about figuring out how to balance community and friendship with self-focused growth/healing.

Planet Blue

“Planet Blue” was the first song I wrote for the record.  It ended up unintentionally setting the tone for all the other songs in mixing too.  I wanted it to be playful even though the lyrics are actually kind of heavy. It’s about recognizing and appreciating the luxury of having space to grieve and feel hard feelings.  It’s also about a relationship that is so formative, it changes your world. And how light, silly feelings can sometimes coexist with depression. Both can be present and that’s okay.

Rest Stop

I wrote “Rest Stop” shortly after my husband and I moved into our new home, and I had left my job of 5 years.  It’s about when something changes and you’re halfway between the old and the new. I was tired and overwhelmed- but also in love and grateful.  I wanted to challenge myself to be confident in letting certain songs have more space and simplicity in them, and this was certainly one of those.  Not feeling the need to prove myself as much or push as hard. The first version we recorded had drums, but it felt rushed so we re-recorded it in its final inception with just guitars, a little Rhodes piano and vocals.  

Zero

I wrote “Zero” during the height of the Me Too movement in response to all of those complex feelings being dredged up- both personally and within the collective consciousness.  Even though it was hard to witness so many stories of violation and marginalization, it was also very powerful to hear people naming and acknowledging these common mistreatments and abuses.  When someone (or the whole system) tries to make you feel like you’re nothing, you can sometimes subvert that message by simply repeating it out loud. When taken out of the shadows, you can both hear the ridiculousness of it, and also turn it around on the perpetrator(s).  “This is how you’ve made me feel, and you have to face that now.”  

Blueberries

This song is about how bizarre it is when you’re grieving and everything that was once shared between two people is now confined just to you.  All those memories, feelings, experiences- two people’s worlds condensed down to one. That’s a lot to hold. The relationship continues but only within yourself.  I imagine a snake eating its own tail when I think about this song- both structurally and lyrically.

Crushed

“Crushed” is about looking back on that time in late adolescence/early adulthood when you don’t have much of a place of your own in the world, so you find spaces that are yours in the public sphere.  Abandoned roads, parking garages, suburban hideaways- somewhere to discover yourself and each other. I made a music video to accompany this that was directed by Anisa Curry Vietze and animated by Hadley Gephart.  Not too long ago, Anisa attended the teen center where I worked with her friends (who were also featured in the video.) It was special to work with them on this project as it tied together my own personal memories of adolescence with my present self, who works to empower young people in their creativity as an Arts Educator and Organizer.

Loose Cassette

This song is about how when you’re young the stakes are pretty low, but only in retrospect.  It’s more about missing the idea of youth rather than what it actually felt like to be there at the time.  It’s also about observing cycles of relationships when people no longer hold a daily presence in your life, yet their influence still weighs heavily on you.  Especially those formative relationships in which you hadn’t learned how to support your own needs around healthy boundaries yet.

Shrinking

“Shrinking” was actually originally written to be a Brenda’s Friend song (my old band with Erin Tobey.)  We never ended up using it and I always liked it, so I decided to retool it a bit and put it on ‘Shell.’ Erin sang the harmony on it, so it turned out to have a little Brenda’s Friend infusion after all.  We experimented on this one probably more than any of the others in the studio, as far as getting a little out there with the process and letting it take us to unexpected territory. We recorded piano into an old tape loop machine and then played around with disintegrating the sound- that was fun.  

Later On

I wanted this song to have an easy-going “walk-in-the-park-on-an-autumn-day” feel and I think the piano riff that Jon Meador wrote for it really added to that.  It’s about intentionally taking time away from the daily struggle of adulting to get lost, reconfigure and have a look around. I’m in a phase of life where it can feel like there’s an awful lot of foundational building/forward thinking- in career, relationships, home, self.  Sometimes I need to take a step back and just enjoy how things are now.

Shell is out now on Winspear

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