“This year has been a lot to take,” Harmony Byrne unpacks with “Daisy Chains,” the haunting opener to her new EP. The Songs I Sing When No One is Listening (out now) finds the Australian singer-songwriter working through not only universal pains, as we’ve all witnessed in some form on the evening news, but deeply personal traumas. She filters raw, confessional songwriting through stripped compositions, which give her honeyed vocals plenty of room to breathe.
When Byrne originally demoed the songs, she never intended to ever release them. “I feel like the best songs have elements of raw honest expression, and these particular songs felt happy-little-sad-chappies after recording them in this way,” she tells American Songwriter.
Rough-cut, barebones production punctuates the journey through which she scoured deep within herself to finally mend old wounds. “What I find most incredible about songwriting is that you not only heal yourself, but you can heal others, too. In the process of writing a song, I find my pain is transformed,” she says. “I’m no longer in my head ─ I’m in my heart. I’m allowing the pain to wash through me and to be expressed in a creative, rather than destructive, way.”
“It’s not your fault you can’t find happiness / In a world that doesn’t care when you’re sad,” she later croaks with “The Good Days & the Bad Days,” a crackling entry written soon after COVID-19 hit. Acoustic guitar appears to send up a similar lamentation, elevating the vocal performance to an otherworldly level. In many ways, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the last year of our existence.
For her part, Byrne has found herself drawn back to Mother Nature to keep herself grounded and at peace. “[I’m] not keeping my head above at all but rather diving deep into her waters of love ─ forgetting the world, remembering Her… Turning my gaze inward and finding beauty in the natural world and trying to connect and protect as much as I can.”
“Sparrow” teeters like an acrobat on a high-wire, balancing between the rush of falling in love and inevitabilities of crushing misery if, and when, it comes crumbling back down again. “Falling in love… what a painful, insane thing to do! Perfect timing saw me recording the song shortly after that relationship ended, which was pretty brutal,” she confides.
Intense, red-hot heartache echoes throughout the arrangement and Bryne’s vocal, slowly flaking around the edges until she the emotions completely flood her lungs. “Oh, breathe in / Oh, breathe in / Like the first time,” she mutters, barely able to get the words out.
“I didn’t think I’d be releasing these demos so I stayed very vulnerable the whole time. I didn’t intend to choke up,” she says, “and I wouldn’t say I allowed it to happen, rather it came over me and I accepted and surrendered… I did other takes, yet this felt most true to the song.”
As honest, often quite vivid, as her songwriting is, there is always a “balance between oversharing and being closed off,” she muses. “And this will change circumstantially. I’ll always be an open book, but there are some things, deeply sacred, just for me.”
Byrne closes out the EP with an equally-stirring, poignant adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a frequent inclusion in her live shows dating back at least 10 years. “I remember performing it for the first time after seeing Leonard play. My boyfriend at the time had bought us tickets to his show, but I had a gig booked the following day, so we had to leave super early the morning after to make it,” she remembers.
“[This song] was one of his favs, so I learned it for him and performed it at the show. It hits all them nostalgic feels and remains true to my soul to sing. It’s never been recorded, and I thought what better way to end my first solo EEP than with a song that has stayed with me all these years.”
The Songs I Sing When No One is Listening follows up Byrne’s debut long-player, 2020’s Heavy Doors.
Photo by Isaebella