It’s fascinating just how varied and vastly different, individual approaches to a single topic for an album or a song can be. Goodness knows there are a myriad of songs that talk of love from every conceivable angle. In the case of folky acoustic singer-songwriter and producer Jordan Lehning, his newest musical pursuits look to the lane of love as his primary source of storytelling inspiration. However, unlike many who turn to the expected exploration of a limited range of common stages – infatuation, deep love, conflict, or break up – the Nashville, TN artist not only opted to write about infidelity, an often more taboo topic of songs about love, but Lehning also chose to craft his music with the framework of film, over traditional songwriting convention, in mind.
Premiering today on American Songwriter is Leaning’s
new single, “Little Lie,” which comes ahead of hi accompanying new album, Little
Idols, due for release on August 7, 2020.
Looking to stretch his creative muscles in ways beyond the usual tasks of simply coming up with a subject for a song and then splicing that subject up between a hook, verse, and chorus, “Little Lie” being the fictitious affair that it is, feels like an idea born from something a writer’s open-ended story prompt rather than a single word-steered thematic concept. Past the initial change in vantage point for his concept, Lehning takes his push for atypical art even further with a minimal, vocally-driven melody that unfolds more like a musical diary entry than a song meant for seamless sing-alongs.
The mostly untouched but smoothly rounded sound quality of the strings on Lehning’s acoustic guitar through much of song’s first third reinforces the feeling that “Little Lie” is meant as a private reflection for the character in the story. Over the song’s progression, the imagined man comes to face a fall out of emotions from the woman with whom he is having a secret affair. One can almost picture the man in the story sitting alone in his bedroom, subtly strumming and picking his guitar, singing about the events that led up to the situation he finds himself in when the woman involved ultimately succumbs to some visible sadness and guilt by the song’s end.
Heavy is the heart on her side
Her back is bare with watery eyes
I don’t mind if you sleep
Just little lie don’t leave
“’Little Lie’ is a quiet song. It’s about the moment after an affair begins and the diametric emotions of guilt and passion. We’re in the character’s apartment for most of the song and they’re laying there quietly in bed. Towards the end her naked back is turned towards him and she’s quietly crying. She knows she’s in love with him,” Lehning says.
Despite “Little Lie’s” somewhat unsavory core topic, the way Lehning explores the emotional complexities that permeate an arising affair, make the song an intriguing listening experience. Delicate instrumentation like the low-toned, soft-edged harmonizing horn; the bright, bouncing tones of a vibraphone; and the ethereal, nebulous pitches of a musical saw, create an unexpectedly innocent and playful vibe. This is understandable seeing as the woman in the story is continually referred to as an intangible, purposefully vague, “little lie,” right than perhaps more expectedly, a lover.
“It’s such a private song and intimate song,” says Lehning. “Austin Hoke, who plays cello on this song, also plays saw, which you can hear during the instrumental section. I love the saw. It has a nervous beauty which worked perfectly for the setting,” he says.
The lack of directness for the song’s fictional figure mirrors the arrangement’s learning toward timbres of looser and less defined quality. The combined stylization really shows just how much careful though Lehning put into every detail of the song, being acutely aware of how every facet of what listeners hear would either work with or against the narrative Lehning was trying to create for both “Little Lie” and the rest of “Little Idols.”