On July 6, singer-songwriter Michelle Mandico will release Ptarmigan, her debut full-length album. Produced by Luther Dickinson and recorded with Kevin Houston at Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Mississippi, Ptarmigan traces the Colorado-born, Nashville-based artist’s myriad influences, which span Western folk, roots, and Americana.
New song “Water Bearer” is an early preview of Ptarmigan. Showcasing Mandico’s ethereal voice and compassionate songwriting, the track offers a balm for our current social ills. Mandico has also shared a new video for the track, which she worked on with choreographer Laurel Desmarais.
Watch “Water Bearer” and read a short essay from Mandico about the song and video below.
“Water Bearer” is the opening track on Ptarmigan, serving as the thesis for the rest of the album. Writing this song helped me reconcile a sense of desolation and consolation within myself, and share my concern for the troubles in our world. “Water Bearer” is ultimately a plea for peace. It prefaces the songs to follow, where I attempt to sort through seasons of darkness and fears that show up on emotional, physical, and spiritual levels.
The song outlines a journey I experienced leading up to recording the album. I first became familiar with the phrase “water bearer” in regards to the Aquarius zodiac sign, which I was born in. Lyrically, it begins with a setting of me driving to Memphis in a bad storm during a time I was seeking direction and purpose. The rain made it almost impossible to see the road and move forward with ease, but I made it. The following morning was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so I made time to visit the National Civil Rights Museum, centered around the Lorraine Motel. It was difficult to put words to the heaviness I felt witnessing the pain and terror that resides in our past and present world. The message of the song moves into a reflection on healing from intangible fears that can be crippling. The lyric in the second verse is, “Underwater creatures trade bait for darkness, still the moon will tug their heart.” My attention is on the mystery in our nature to seek greater goodness, truth and beauty, even in states of temptation and places of deep darkness. The chorus, “Water bearer, wash this terror, humans helping humans helping humanize our fears,” gives way to the hope that lies in our connection of helping and consoling one another through a shared conscience.
The music video is a culmination of these separate yet related experiences, expressed through a dance, scenes of me alone in nature, and two young sisters, who symbolize the hope in our future.
My idea of incorporating the young girls stemmed from a short video clip that their mother sent to me of the youngest daughter singing along to the song. I was so moved by a 20-second clip of a child singing the words, “humans helping humans helping humanize our fears…” There was an obvious conviction in her voice that fit the simplicity and innocence of a child’s point of view.
The dance is a modern duet with choreographer Laurel Desmarais. I approached Laurel to be the dancer with me in the video because I was inspired by her intuition of body movement as she interprets music. These scenes represent how personal journeys are positively impacted and lifted by those who help and encourage us along the way. Working through the lyrics with dynamic poses offered me a way to settle into the song in a different, more grounded way. At times it pushed me out of my comfort zone and my focus became expanding my perception of physical limits.
In the bridge, I sing, “Maybe we can start again…” which is paired with sunshine and radiating light, signifying the beauty found in a new day and in second chances.