The Overstory Tap Into Animal Instincts on “Something Wild”

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“It’s taken me almost thirty seven years to remember I am an animal,” says  Audrey Assad. She’s in deep reflection about her past, and where she is planted now. 

“Growing up in a fundamentalist religious cult had me dissociated and numbed out to the wild in me,” says Assad. “Only recently in life have I begun to ground into the soil, make amends between my body and spirit, and remember where I come from—the earth.”

Assad, who joined Death Cab for Cutie drummer Jason McGerr and multi-instrumentalist and producer Marshall Altman for The Overstory, oversell their tale of connecting with their animal instincts, survival and other innate yearnings on “Something Wild,” off the trio’s self-produced album, out fall 2020. 

“Something Wild” isn’t just about the things we often associate negatively with our animal natures, says Assad. It’s about human nature and holding back. “It’s about that throbbing, yearning feeling in our veins when we look around at our lives and realize we have ruthlessly tamed every wild thing in ourselves,” says Assad. “If we could remember all along that we are not purely spirit—that we live and exist in bodies that rage and flail and dance and make fierce and passionate love—maybe some of our midlife crises could be avoided. We’re spirits, but we are animals, too. I need to remember that, and keep remembering it.”

Conceptually this desire to break out of this mental conformity is revealed in The Overstory’s dreamy soundscape and Assad’s soaring vocals motioned pensive lyrics Do you wish I was made of something less / Something easier to hold / Something simpler to control?

McGerr says the track also speaks to the current climate of fear in the world and how people need to convey honestly—publicly and privately—to make any progress. “A parent would never hesitate to cry out if their child was in danger because there’s no such filter in place to stop them,” says McGerr. “Why we slowly become conditioned to conformity is sad but often true, and apparently natural. It’s far from irreversible though.”

He adds, “So long as we’re capable of enduring the kind of lessons that aren’t taught in school or learned from books, we can use a trembling voice to make a statement that has real impact, and eventually with practice, it no longer waivers.” 

The Overstory (Photo: Michael Porter)

For The Overstory, all three musicians share the songwriting duties equally. “Something Wild” was written fairly quickly in a “rush of lyric and melody,” shares Altman, but it was a track that was 12 years in the making. “That’s how long Audrey and I had known each other when we wrote it,” says Altman. “We spent three hours or so just talking that morning, about our relationships, and lives, about the things we give and the things we deny to those who are our partners, our families, and mostly, to ourselves. It’s the raw, emotional truths that you only find on the other side of 35, that you can only share with someone you trust.” 

It’s yearning for the danger of the unknown, and the safety of the known, and searching for the balance between the two throughout our lives, says Altman. “Adulthood is a strange thing,” he says. “We learn to control our urges, reign in our base instincts, and try to hold on to  the enlightened principles that allow us to love, parent, prosper, and maintain, but the wild thing still lives within all of us.”

He adds, “Call it what you will, but at its core, it’s the thing that makes us most human. It’s the part of us where art, passion, joy, hunger, lust, anger, and hope take refuge, and eventually spring from the desire and the restraint, the fidelity and the yearning to destroy it.”

It’s the acceptance of these contrast points that allows us to find where creativity waits, and where this song lives, says Altman.

“For me, this song is about those moments of clarity, and the admission to yourself, and the people you love, that there is an animal in all of us that feels the metaphorical and literal pull of the tide, the raucous fire of lust, the dangerous thrill of the hunt, and the seductive impulse of unrestrained ambition,” says Altman, “And still, in spite of it all that, chooses to love and be loved, above all.”

On “Something Wild” The Overstory offer a sonically profound narrative on letting go. “Something Wild’ did not come together easily, but it’s a very clear example of intent, honesty and fearlessness, in that it emotes a wide dynamic range of music and lyrics, much wider than the first song we shared as a band and yet it’s nothing like what will be next,” says Altman. “My hope is that every song we write has a depth that continues to reveal itself through repeated listening.”

Even after listening to “Something Wild” 1,000 times, Altman says the song still explodes as if it were just written. “It feels like a letter to the people we love, and to ourselves,” he says. “We are wild. All of us. Reckless, restless, hungry, lustful, dangerous, but constantly trying to tame those things, but for the songs we get to write.”

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