A few weeks ago, Armen Paul shared “Drowning,” a sulky, submerged electro-pop number about the difficulty of asking for help when you need it most. Today, the New York City musician is back with a new version of the song called “Drowning II,” featuring New Jersey singer-songwriter Maria Lynn and premiering below.
“We had been working on another duet for her solo project and after hearing how we sounded together on that song, I thought she could bring something really cool and meaningful to this one,” Paul tells American Songwriter in an exclusive Q&A. The final product is a haunting duet, which Paul says “captured the fear and hesitation behind asking for help, as well as being met with overwhelming support and empathy when making that leap of faith.”
For Paul, “Drowning” and “Drowning II” follow his feature on “Faded” (with Feb and Strange Fruits Music), as well as his previous EP I. and a string of 2020 singles. For Lynn, “Drowning II” comes after her latest collection Lost and Found, which arrived last year along with an extended take. We caught up with Paul over email about both versions of “Drowning,” his musical mantra, and his plans for 2021. Check out the full interview below.
American Songwriter: What’s the story or message behind your latest single “Drowning”?
Armen Paul: “Drowning” is about the fear that so many of us have about reaching out for help. Because we don’t know what type of response we’ll receive from someone else, we hesitate and perhaps never reach out at all. Sometimes this hesitation can also occur when we feel like asking for help could be imposing a burden on someone else.
What we rarely realize is that asking for help is not only a sign of strength, but that it can even comfort someone else. Perhaps they feel the same way, or maybe our courage to ask for help impacts them enough to reach out to someone at a time when they need support.
This past year was tough for a lot of people, myself included. We wrote the song in 2019, but hearing it again in 2020, it impacted me in a different way. I decided that I wanted to release it towards the beginning of the new year (2021) to symbolize a sort of “rebirth” or rejuvenation. The song isn’t just about an internal battle, but also about overcoming that struggle.
AS: Can you tell us about how the initial track came together in terms of writing and production?
AP: My friends Skyler Cocco, Zach Miller, Alex Wilke and I wrote the song in only a few hours. It only took one session. We even recorded the vocals and had a rough production on the song by the time we left that day. It was really fast, and collaborative—we all kind of had something unique to contribute. Zach started with a guitar loop that we all unified the songwriting around.
After we left I honestly didn’t think of releasing or finishing the production until later that year. I’d been working on a few songs with my friend Christian [Ariza], AKA Rad Cat. I asked him if he’d be down to add some production and finish the track. What he sent over was incredible—he really captured the emotion and anthemic nature of the song.
AS: How’d you get connected to Maria Lynn? How did you two approach collaborating for “Drowning II”?
AP: Maria and I met through a mutual friend/co-writer Jack Laboz. We had been working on another duet for her solo project and after hearing how we sounded together on that song, I thought she could bring something really cool and meaningful to this one. I sent it over to her and asked if she might be down to sing with me on it—she loved the song, so we cut her verse with Zach and Skyler and finished that version up really quickly.
Her voice locked into the song so effortlessly. She created a new compelling vocal dynamic, but also having another voice on the song really served the purpose of the “reciprocal” component of the song (a call and response for help). It captured the fear and hesitation behind asking for help, as well as being met with overwhelming support and empathy when making that leap of faith.
AS: What are some of your recent influences or inspirations?
AP: My influences are across the board and aren’t bound by any genre. What inspires me are artists that learn their craft inside and out and project their most true selves and stories through their music. I grew up listening to pure songwriters/producers/musicians—some of my favorites were Ray Lamontagne, Bob Dylan, and Moby. I studied their songs religiously.
This past year I had the incredible opportunity to work with one of my musical idols, Moby. The way he approaches his production and his music in general is effortlessly pure and true to the spirit of what music and songwriting is/should be about: honest self-expression and reflection. I try to live by that mantra when creating my own music.
AS: What else can fans expect from you in 2021?
AP: I have some really exciting projects coming up, some of which I can’t elaborate on, but they feel special, maybe even career-defining. What you can expect though, is music that is true to me, my evolution of self, and the progression of my craft. I want every project of mine to parallel a defining stage of my life and as I continue to release music I want the person listening to be able to experience that evolution and grow with me. I’m beyond excited for this year and next one and the one after. Thank you for listening.
“Drowning II” is out February 12. You can pre-save it here.