Plenty of artists deal in emotional rawness with nothing more than their voice and a guitar, but few do it with as much power and poise as Melanie Alanna Glenn. Away from her seven-piece group, Upstate, the Western Massachusetts artist used quarantine time to dig deep into her feelings, rendering emotional responses like those for classic folk artists like Joni Mitchell or Vashti Bunyan, as well as Jessica Pratt and early Angel Olsen. The resulting self-titled album is consistently gorgeous and evocative through its patience and specificity.
Singing of swimming holes and general longing with a voice that’s wounded but not defeated, Glenn lets rustic strums and plucks of guitars both acoustic and electric give her words and their journeys even more meaning. If you need any more idea of how intimate this all is, the album was all recorded in a bathroom. It makes sense. After all, what’s a better place for privacy and cleansing, much like what this album offers?
Stream Melanie Alanna Glenn below, and read our email interview with Glenn.
What is it like going from writing songs with a seven-piece band to making ones for yourself?
Well, most of the time I begin writing a song alone, even if it’s for the 6-piece band. The biggest difference is during the editing process. I will usually bring rough drafts to the full band and we will collectively edit the song until it has morphed into its full being. When writing alone, the editing is much quieter. It may sound easier with less opinions, but actually, it’s harder to get out of my own way and allow the song to bloom. I can be really hard on myself when editing and can be too quick to throw out a whole song if I don’t think it’s worthy or fully finished. I have grown immensely while writing alone and working on my internal dialogue while creating to let things marinate and morph into their full existence as a song.
Do you expect to stick primarily with guitar for your solo work, or are you open to expanding things?
I’m definitely open to expanding the solo work to a full band some day. I can hear drums and bass on many of the tracks on this album, but I felt a push to release this music a bit more raw, bare-bones if you will. I recently had the pleasure of experimenting with creating ambient music that will be playing during Auditory After Hours at MASS MOCA in my hometown of North Adams, MA, and that journey was really amazing and explored realms of music I’d like to further pursue. So keep your ears out for some soft melodies and guitar picking Thursday evenings through June at the museum!
Do you plan out your vocal deliveries when writing your lyrics or do you decide how you’ll sing further on?
Ahhh, what a good question! I do a lot of voice recordings when creating rough drafts of songs and very frequently I will fall in love with a vocal melody but find the lyrics are lacking. Then begins the sculpting of what to keep and what to change. The first moments of creating a song can feel so magical, and sometimes emotional, that it can be very difficult for me to edit away from the original takes. I can be nearsighted at times and forget that there is also magic in the editing and that the new version of a tune can be just as moving if not more than the original takes. Once the song has taken its full form, then I usually tend to change vocal lines live which is one of the most liberating and expressive feelings of all. For most of my performing career, I have sung in harmony, which I deeply enjoy, but it can limit the ability to change a song live. If I decided off a whim to change how I sang something during a harmony, it wouldn’t align as beautifully as the arrangement we had worked hard to create as well as perfect.
If you could show this album to any one person, who would it be?
Joni Mitchell. I would love to hear her thoughts on the pieces, what came up for her, where she could see future growth for me in my musical creations. There are a handful of songs on the album that are very much Joni influenced, specifically “Seasonal.” It would be a true honor if she ever listened to my solo album.