I’ve been looking up, I’ve been going blind, sings Bethany McKee, lead vocalist of Waking April—a Raleigh, North Carolina-based electro-pop duo she formed with her husband, Alex. The two began writing music together in college, playing shows wherever they could find the opportunity. On April 30, they shared a new track, “Stuck on Silver Linings.”
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As the fifth of a series of single releases over the past year, the buoyant beat-driven song embodies the duo’s sonic palette. Borrowed from several genres, Waking April’s indie-rock roots bloom with pioneering pop sensibilities, ample drum grooves, and electric guitars. Their undeniable emphasis on a melodic hook shines through “Stuck On Silver Linings.” They wrote the music for the song well before it’s release date, but couldn’t move past that initial lyric line.
“Originally we thought it was going to be a love song or something about our relationship, but after finishing a draft of lyrics we realized that just didn’t feel right,” they tell American Songwriter about the instrumental body. “A few months into the pandemic we re-wrote this song to reflect how exhausted we were feeling in the stress-tsunami that was 2020.”
Beneath the labyrinth of lush sonic scaffolding is a strong song with a simple sound design, originally crafted on an acoustic guitar. Looking to the likes of CHVRCHES and Chainsmokers, the duo delicately layered vocal samples, leaving intentional space for interpretation with pivotal acoustic breaks.
Waking April had just hit their stride as social distancing measures barred their performances last March. The McKees continue, “It’s speaking to the exhaustion we felt trying to find the bright side and not letting our fears of the future dominate our present. But it’s hard work being optimistic when doing the things that bring you joy (playing shows and touring) is literally dangerous.”
The secondary messaging here is something more transcendental than the current moment—the toxicity of social media-induced comparison. The phrase living with the lights captures the shadowed moments lost in upward comparison as the duo strolled through a timeline of peers and strangers, who seemed to be productive, or making the most of a mentally oppressive moment in time.
“Of course, everybody’s social media is ‘filtered’ and we only see a manufactured projection,” they share. “But with the lockdown, there was no ‘real life’ to compare it to. All we had was the manufactured images, so we lost the balance between reality and projection. We want to be the kind of people who ‘live with the lights on but we have to ask ourselves what that actually looks like.”
Songwriting is a fruitful space for this type of processing. Bethany feels it allows her to connect with people on a new level, especially about important personal topics like mental health.
“I always hope that if I’m being honest in my songwriting someone will be able to relate to what I’ve experienced,” she says. “When I write lyrics I feel like I’m able to get things off my chest, or articulate truths that I’ve lived through whether they’re joyful or painful, and then I get to go on stage and literally sing about those things at the top of my lungs.”
Where Bethany seeks shared experience through her words, Alex paints a more abstract portrait through instrumentals and production. He leaves the poetically crafted lyrics to his wife as he shapes a soundscape that evokes an equally emotive response from the listener. “I’ve always held onto the quote attributed to Michelangelo that he would chip away all the bits of marble that weren’t the sculpture,” Alex says.
For Alex, he envisions a song patiently waiting to be revealed as he hammers through his production. The narrative in his music is chronicled through chord changes and sound design, rather than lyrics, connecting a congruent storyline as the pieces come together.
“I think there’s a magical thing about creating anything which is that once it’s finished and released, it no longer only belongs to the creatorl,” he continues. “Art is inherently subjective so everyone walks away from art with a different experience. I love how what I meant to do with a song may not be what people walk away from it with—but both my intent and their interpretation are equally valid.”
Listen to Waking April’s new track, “Stuck on Silver Linings”—the first of four new songs they recorded earlier this year—below. Keep up with Waking April here.