Track By Tracks: Watch Me Breathe - The Strange Pull Of What You Really Love (2019)


1. PAIN:

This is a song about the relationship between depression and level of affluence; namely, how there isn’t one. I’ve dealt with depression and type 2 bipolar disorder since my early teens, and I’ve always been troubled by the fact that I come from a wealthy, stable family.

Why would I be depressed when I’ve never had to worry where my next meal is coming from, or whether I’ll be able to afford basic needs like healthcare? Why would I be depressed in an elite, small and very safe private high school with virtually no bullying and teachers who actually care about the students?

During one of the verses, I wrote: “I know it doesn’t make sense; win the lottery, all the odds against, life should be the best, but...I’m still not satisfied.” I’ve never been ungrateful for how fortunate I am, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve only learned more and more what an extraordinary level of privilege I happen to have. But I’ve also felt like most of my life has been heavily sheltered, and my curiosity and longing for a connection to the living experience of most people on Earth today has always gnawed inside me. The song is not a plea for sympathy; rather, it’s intended to be an illustration of how stability and fulfillment are often two different things. - Jake Aaron Ward

2. THE OTHER SIDE:

Even though, as fate would have it, the movie came out many months after I wrote the song, Jordan Peele’s Us (which was coincidentally shot in our city) is a perfect reference point for this song. When the evil twin version of the family first shows up at the house, the mother asks “who are you?” They answer, “We are Americans.”

And indeed they are. This is a complicated song and I could go on for way too long breaking down each element, but I think an adequate summary would be that I see a dark underbelly to American life and, at 23, I find myself at a troubling crossroads wondering whether my perpetual alienation from it will ultimately help or hurt me in life. - Jake Aaron Ward

3. NOTHING ELSE:

I hate the education system. The main reason is because it doesn’t work. Education is supposed to empower young adults with the skills and experience they need to become the best human beings they can possibly be. In America, we do the opposite. We nearly destroy everyone’s childhood indoctrinating them into becoming, as George Carlin so perfectly put it, “obedient consumers.” In a healthy society, education should encourage and reward bravery, creativity and originality. In America, education encourages and rewards the opposite. It is a rigorous filter which is designed to weed out all the troublemakers and put them in positions of minimal power, while all the people most willing to do what they’re told unconditionally and complete menial task after menial task are given the “degree” and the most opportunity to gain power, since these people are of course the least dangerous.

“You’ve got a lot of these papers to write, setting you up for the rest of your life. But is it a life that you ever will like?” I think that’s a really important question. - Jake Aaron Ward

4. DON’T FADE AWAY:

This is the oldest song on the album. In fact, I wrote it before most of the songs even on our first album, The Lighter Side of Darkness. But I wrestled with it for multiple years; somehow, the lyrics never fit quite right, or the demo I would arrange wouldn’t sound how I imagined it, and so I was hesitant to publish it because I felt I didn’t fully believe in it yet.

I’m not sure what changed or why, but something just clicked at some point during the creation of album #2 and it all came together. It was incredibly satisfying, after all that time.

The core element of this whole song is the riff. I really took a page out of the progressive metalcore playbook with it, because it sounds a lot like an odd time signature, even though it’s really just 4/4. It’s definitely one of the hardest riffs to play in our catalog, second only to maybe “We’re All to Blame” off our first album, and playing the riff and singing the verse at the same time took me many hours of agonizing practice. But it’s one of my favorite songs in our set and playing it live is incredibly fun.

5. HERE AND NOW:

I had the good fortune to go to a private highschool in Watsonville, CA called Mount Madonna, where juniors and seniors take a course called Values In World Thought. The class primarily consists of reading and discussing interviews with notable people in fields such as philosophy, politics, etc., and some pretty remarkable international trips as well.

In my estimation, the intention behind the class is best summarized as a counterbalance to a pervasive kind of shallow amorality throughout most typical high school courses. This class is a chance for students to explore what matters most to them on a fundamental, human level, which is something (in principle) that I can 100% get behind.

I’ll never forget the first day of class my junior year. Our teacher SN had us all sit in a circle, and he explained to us that, in some ways, he doesn’t like high school either. The point he made that really stuck with me most was that, here most of us are, already thinking about college, looking ahead to the next big step, our first leap out into the world, about to start our lives - and yet, our lives have actually already begun. These were his words, not mine: “Your life is here and now.” 

6. FEEL ALRIGHT:

This track is lyrically the least interesting on the album, but musically and in terms of production, I feel it is the most interesting. The whole track is built around drums. There are many, many layers of percussion. Carl’s part is of course the foundation, but on top of that are at least half a dozen quirky loops and hits from instruments found all around the world. I’m a library addict - both public book libraries, and also sound libraries. I love exploring the world through both. This song really started as a worldly amalgamation of sounds and an experiment to see what the combined experience would feel like. The result? It feels like...night time. Distinctly. Unmistakably. Why? I have absolutely no idea. But it does. It’s these kinds of mysteries that keep me driven to create more.

7. DON’T THINK I HAVEN’T THOUGHT ABOUT IT:

From a pop standpoint, it’s my opinion that the best lyrics need no explanation. If I were to ever teach a course on contemporary pop songwriting (God forbid), one of the first things I would say would be “if you have to explain what the lyrics are about, the lyrics are not good enough.” It’s in this sense that I believe this is one of the most objectively high quality songs I’ve written, because it meets the fundamental criteria. It’s immediately obvious when the chorus hits; the chorus doesn’t hit too late into the song; the chorus is instantly repeatable and very catchy; the lyrics tell a crystal clear story that anyone could understand. I’m not trying to brag too hard, because I’m saying I fail at meeting these criteria almost every time I try to write a song. But I am incredibly proud of this one, and I think its immediate rise to the top of our Spotify chart is a solid confirmation of my theory.

8. MOVES THROUGH YOUR BODY:

I almost didn’t put this song on the album. It arrived, as songs do, unexpectedly. Even though it started as something I expected to save until album #3, it seemed to fit so well with the other songs that I decided to include it on this album.

The inspiration for the lyrics is essentially jealous of atheism. Ultimately, if I could choose, I don’t think I would choose to believe in God or in a major organized religion, even if it made me personally feel better about the world or about life. But I definitely envy the unhinged joy and exuberance of so many of the people who do.

9. ALIEN:

It seems to me that the word “life” for many people means “working all day, going to a bar and standing around trying to get laid all night.” After a particularly frustrating attempt to obligingly participate in this with some friends (apparently humans refer to this as “going out”) I got in a weird kind of mood and went home and wrote this song. A lot of people who hear it tell me it’s really sad, and I understand why they feel that way. But for me, it’s more of a cathartic identity statement. The truth is, even if I feel alienated sometimes, I’m proud of the fact that I’m different and I wouldn’t choose to be normal, even if I could. The message I want to leave people with is not that it sucks to be an “alien” and that you shouldn’t be like me - quite the opposite. I wish people were more willing to look their society dead in the face and say “Fuck you,” and dare to be themselves instead. I ultimately see this as a bohemian anthem, not a cry for help.

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