By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Praised for heartfelt earworms like “Remember Less,” “Behind Closed Doors” and “Just Air,” Rebecca McCartney proves she is a must-listen with a whopper of a genre-bender in her debut EP ‘How You Feel,’ produced by her close friend and Garden Party bandmate, Jakob Leventhal.
‘How You Feel’ is based on McCartney’s return to New York City, where she was brought up by a family of nerds and musicians upon a environment immersed in classical music. It goes to show that sometimes, it’s not the person that makes the city, but rather, the city that makes the person.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with McCartney about her ‘How You Feel’ and more.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your debut single “Remember Less”?
Rebecca McCartney – I wrote “Remember Less” in the dead of winter, when I was fairly isolated from friends, family and really, any kind of social life. I had just gone back to school in rural Minnesota after spending a couple months back home in New York, where I was spending a lot of time with a certain boy. When I left him, I was thinking about him a lot, but we didn’t stay in touch at that point, so I had no idea what was going through his mind. Writing music helps me work through my thoughts when I still don’t really know what I’m thinking, or how I’m feeling, so I wrote this song while I was processing all that emotional stuff about being away from someone you wish you could still be around. You can hear me asking questions in the song, wondering if this other person is feeling the same way as I am and you can hear me basically trying to convince myself that I’m “over it,” when clearly, I wasn’t. I think the goal of the song, then, was to write something that captured that sort of in-between-ness, the stage of moving on, but still thinking about someone. I think the genre speaks to that feeling, too, where you can’t quite tell if it’s R&B, if it’s singer/songwriter, alternative, or something else. Just like me trying to figure out how I feel, I’m trying to figure out where my music belongs in the world.
Music Bugle – What has been the most exciting thing for you lately?
Rebecca McCartney – I spent a lot of time with my family this past summer, which meant cooking a lot of big meals for all the guests we like to have. A few of us in my family are vegetarian and we love talking about how much we love vegetables (Laughs), but the rest of our big family are big meat-eaters. It’s been really exciting to test out my cooking skills with those big crowds and make some delicious vegetarian food for people who didn’t know vegetables could taste so good and meet the warm responses of our guests.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Rebecca McCartney – I’ve been loving Charlotte Day Wilson’s new album, ‘ALPHA.’ It’s great to hear the singles she’s released over the past few years now in the context of this full album. I also just started listening to this LA artist Monogem, who’s got some great dance-y songs in Spanish that just put me in a good mood and of course, my day isn’t full without listening to some old jazz or bossa album. Chet Baker and Gilberto Gil are favorites.
Music Bugle – How would you describe New York City to someone who has never been there before?
Rebecca McCartney – Man, it’s got this energy that you just can’t help but feel alive when you’re walking around the city. One of my favorite things about growing up there was hearing all the different languages people were speaking just on one street. There’s an endless amount of great food, great music and great style anywhere you go. It’s pretty beautiful. All these millions of people living independent lives, you know, just doing their own thing. You never run out of new people to meet in New York, even though it can start to feel like a small world once you find your community. It can be tough, you know, you need some grit. It’s all of that.
Music Bugle – How would you compare your solo material to that of Garden Party?
Rebecca McCartney – The Garden Party record has a really sweet, intimate sound, because we recorded the whole album with just two voices and a guitar. Some of our lyrics on that record are kinda dark, but I think you “get it” right away, because the sounds are so digestible. The songs on this EP were written the same way, just my voice and guitar, but working in the studio with Jake – who produced this EP and is also my duo partner in Garden Party – brought out a totally new world in these songs. They sound much bigger than the GP tunes – much more high energy, full band, “scream it out” instead of lullaby types.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut EP ‘How You Feel’?
Rebecca McCartney – Working with Jake is the best, because we’re good friends, so we can push each other more than we would with just a random colleague. We don’t have exactly the same taste, which means we wind up criticizing each other a lot and it only makes us work harder. Jake might tell me that the form of the song doesn’t feel right, even when I’ve convinced myself that’s the only way it could possibly go and in the process of me testing out new ideas, we’ll come up with something totally unexpected and better than what either of us could’ve thought of on our own. It’s the same thing with his production ideas, where sometimes, the soundscape just doesn’t sit right with me, so Jake will work for hours to come up with a new sound. It was a dream, putting the EP together. From my room in my college house where I wrote everything, to totally reworking it all in the studio with Jake, to hearing the drum tracks come back from my drummer Jason Berger in Nashville, to getting the masters from Dan Knobler, it was incredible. I feel really lucky.
Music Bugle – What do you love the most about your style of music?
Rebecca McCartney – I love that I can’t even pin myself down. I was raised in the classical music world, so I have some really strong roots in “traditional” styles and rules of music, but I branched out into jazz, R&B, soul and folk as I got older, so I think you can really hear all of those influences in my songs now. I feel lucky to have released this EP in a time of so many “genre-bending” artists paving the way for us to not be pigeonholed anymore. Lianne La Havas, for one, has influenced me so much. There’s this depth of soul in her voice, but her arrangements are really clean and sharp and her instrumentation sounds like some sort of acoustic funk band just jamming in a live room. You can’t call her just one thing and that’s what I’m trying to follow, too.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Rebecca McCartney – The late, great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat said, “Art is how we decorate space. Music is how we decorate time.” I love that quote. I get the chance, with music, to decorate people’s life events and memories and daily walks. What could be more lucky?
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Rebecca McCartney – I go for long walks by myself. Something about growing up in the city means that street sounds – sirens, people talking, bikes whirring by – is really comforting to me, so I just walk when I need to calm down.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Rebecca McCartney – Covid hit when I was in my junior year of college and I immediately drove from rural Minnesota to rural Maine, where a bunch of my family was living. Eight of us podded together and barely saw another soul for a few months, but it was okay. We were each doing our own work/school things during the day and then, we’d come together for a huge dinner at night. However, taking music classes online was… not ideal. I missed playing shows and running into my friends. When I was finally back at school in the fall, everything was still online and the Minnesota winter – which lasts about eight months – meant that I couldn’t see friends much, even when I was right near them, because we couldn’t really be outside with each other. By the end of the year, though, we were all vaccinated and I was able to play two shows for almost the whole school. It was insane how alive I felt, how quickly the rush of being on stage in front of all those people just came right back and reminded me that, of course I have to keep doing this.