When Jamie McDell sat down to write “Dream Team,” she had just finished watching the last episode of HBO’s Chernobyl series. Considering the receipt surrounding the nuclear disaster, the New Zealand-based artist plopped down on the bathroom floor of her partner’s boss’s apartment and penned the new track, released August 6.
This songwriting approach lines up with her usual process—though the location usually varies. The 28-year-old writer jots down bits of inspiration as they come, and finds time at the end of each month to sort through the ones that seem to have substance enough for a song. From a managed Isolation Facility in Christchurch, the artist considers her thought process in that moment of creation:
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this song was inspired by the tragic events that took place in 1986,” McDell tells American Songwriter. “But the various devastating stories depicted, paired with a social media post—by some popular boys I used to know from home—with the caption ‘Dream Team’ had me questioning the hands that we choose to put our lives/our families lives in.”
Over incandescent instrumentation, McDell examines the price we’re willing to pay for power and possession. Her lyricism lays out devastating depictions of deceit and the rippling fallout from a false sense of security. She points to Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel solo that ushers in a searing conclusion. “Knowing his track record, with especially Linda Ronstadt, it was the utmost honor having him in the studio,” McDell notes of Dugmore. “A career highlight for me.”
This is the first single from her forthcoming album coming out in early 2022 via ABC Records. The Nash Chambers-produced project will be her third full-length, following 2019’s Extraordinary Girl and The Botox EP. Her artistry began at age 7 when her father left his corporate job in Auckland and brought his family aboard a yacht where they would live in the Mediterranean. Out on the water, McDell wrote her first song—inspired by her parents’ favorite cassettes including John Denver and James Taylor. At 16, she signed to EMI and released her award-winning debut LP Six Strings and a Sailboat in 2013. She gained traction with her sophomore Ask Me Anything album, establishing herself as someone the global industry should take seriously. The folk artist has been pushing her bounds, teaming up with members of the Nashville and Toronto music scene, to create boundless trans-genre music.
“Dream Team” offers evidence of her transcendent growth as a storyteller. Stepping out of her own way, McDell wields worldly influence to tell stories from others’ shoes. Songwriting offers her a reprieve from the unrealistic poise of everyday life, creating space for authenticity. The craft, she says, allows her to be “my most troubled, most critical, most vulnerable self without much consequence other than it provoking a more realistic perspective in those who intentionally listen.”
McDell adds, “I like that writing music is the space in my life where those stranger, more shameful parts of me go. It feels like it gives me the freedom and self-esteem to pour joy and kindness into every other element of my life. I think my friends might describe me as generally happy and easy-going and I would say songwriting is the reason why.”
Listen to Jamie McDell’s new song “Dream Team,” here.