“A lot of my songs are about unrequited love or love gone wrong, so I’d say that’s probably when I write my best.” These words spoken could have easily been said by a myriad of songwriters who were inspired to write about that oft-used trope of fruitless heartbreak like in Wuthering Heights or more recently Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But these particular words belong to Sydney Sprague, a singer/songwriter who lives in Phoenix, AZ about her new single “staircase failure.”
The object of her unreturned attention? A musician. Of course.
“I wrote ’staircase failure’ back in 2018 when I had a terrible crush on someone who was way out of my league,” she confesses, now two years older and probably a decade wiser. “He was a bassplayer in a touring band, and there were a million red flags but I couldn’t stop myself from falling. I was losing my mind over it because I had no idea if he felt the same way, and since he was on tour so much, there was a lot of space for my mind to run away with all the possibilities.”
A lilting emo ballad that incorporates bits of ‘90s Lillith Fair (courtesy of Abra Moore and perhaps Paula Cole) with pop constructs by way of Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, it’s an interesting beast that keeps a midtempo metronomic beat in the midst of the fuzzy cushions of reverb-heavy guitars and airy, feather-weight vocals. It’s heady but it’s also fluffy like an 2020 update of Michelle Branch. It’s music that angsty teenage girls can rock out to and that their boyfriends will be okay with playing loud.
In reference to the subject matter, Sprague continues, “That chaos in my brain/heart is where I got the idea to write a song that ‘felt’ like [I was] physically falling down the stairs. I wanted to capture that adrenaline in an audible way. When I first wrote it and played it live acoustically, I would do this super-aggressive, descending, banging thing on my guitar. Physically it really helped me get all of those feelings out of my system.”
Cathartic and a little bit dramatic, the lyrics fight the eternally agonizing battle between “I should know better” and “Oh God, why doesn’t he notice me???”
“I’m descending into hell / It’s the way you fuck my head up / I think that you’re something else / Maybe something I’m afraid of,” she sings. It’s a confessional kind of songwriting.
“I’m an only child, and I grew up spending a lot of time getting lost in my thoughts and in music, so I write mostly when I’m alone and reflecting,” she acknowledges, clearly in touch with her inner voices.
Thankfully for Sprague, songwriting comes rather easily and fluidly. “I daydream a lot and that’s where a lot of my songs start. It’s definitely easier to write when I’m sad or when there’s a pressing issue at hand, but if I sit in a room alone for long enough, I’ll come up with something to write about.”
The song titles from her upcoming album maybe i will see you at the end of the world signal a rather anguished existence of crushes and their aftermath. Song titles like “i refuse to die,” “you have to stop,” “time is gone”, “quitter”, “the end of the world”… are all titles that could be ripped from a diary.
“Generally I think I write mostly when I’m sad,” she laughs, surveying the breadth of her songs.
She sees “staircase failure” as more of a lighthearted track… especially, in contrast to the other album tracks of course. Or at least recording it had more levity. “I had way too much fun with the production on this song,” she smiles.
“We were really inspired by bands like Sleigh Bells and Phantogram when we made the demo, and I think it ended up a more modern, eclectic vibe that stands out from the rest of the album. It’s definitely the most hype song on my album and it’s a nice little reprieve from all the sadder songs.”
In a way, recording “staircase failure” and pretty much the whole album has been a bit of a purge for Sprague, cleansing the remnants of age-old crushes and ill-warranted infatuations. She hopes that her musical shucking of the emotional husks of these never-paramours will transpose onto her listeners who might be wallowing in similar dead end situations.
“I would love if people connected with the reckless energy of this song and the experience of feeling out of control emotionally,” she hopes, embracing the fact that she has progressed beyond that forlorn feeling and into ablution. “For as full of angst as I was at the time that I wrote it, I really only associate this song with excited, hopeful feelings now. I hope it helps people going through something similar learn to appreciate the invigorating parts of that struggle and all the good that can come of it. It’s scary but it also makes you feel alive.”