Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler are both very vivid storytellers through and through. Their songwriting comes from an unfiltered place of honesty, vulnerability, and transparency with the hope of just wanting to connect. Last year their individual solo debut albums brought a voice to so many listeners who needed their candid reflections to feel not so alone. Exploring intimate and expansive soundscapes, they used production and lyrical experimentation to capture their creativity in the boldest light possible.
With their touring schedules getting completely wiped due to the global pandemic, the singer-songwriters returned home and started to work on their sophomore efforts while also trying to process what was happening in the world. During this time of forced introspection, they decided to start working on the highly anticipated follow up to their 2019 collaborative project ‘brent’.
Intimately penned, ‘brent ii’ is a mature exploration of love, family and lockdown. With a hopeful sentiment embedded into the songwriting, their shift in perspective is commentary of the experiences they’ve both personally had in the in-between periods of these body of works. From the romantic swaying of ‘this is how you fall in love’ to the fictional crossover with candid reality on ‘Emily’, they’ve both pushed their boundaries to create something quite different but still conversationally them.
I recently chatted to Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler about the creative process behind each song from ‘brent ii’ and dived into the lyrical vulnerability and maturity that these songs capture. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Lead single ‘this is how you fall in love’ is a romantic shift in lyrical exploration with an atmospheric lightness shining through the production. So can you explain the creative process behind this track?
CHELSEA CUTLER: We were actually in the middle of working on ‘parent song’, and you know those little vocal ad-libs that were like “da, da, da, da, oh my love, side to side”. Jeremy told me to sing whatever came to mind, and I just sung that, and we were both like “holy crap that ‘oh my love, side to side’ is really cool”. So we dropped everything and sat down at the piano and wrote ‘this is how you fall in love’ completely around that one line. It was crazy as we’ve never done anything like that before.
TB: Lyrically it’s also quite different for you as it’s quite romantic and hopeful whereas we are kinda used to hearing heartbreak songs from you both.
JEREMY ZUCKER: That’s why it was so fun to write, because I don’t think we’d ever written a song with such pure and positive emotions.
TB: ’parent song’ begins with that acoustic refrain from ‘this is how you fall in love’ that you mentioned before. Where in the process did you decide to add that part into the song?
JZ: It actually came towards the end of writing that song. We were trying to figure out how to start it, and we had this long acoustic guitar intro, and it just didn’t feel interesting enough to us as we wanted to create a bit of texture and background. The song felt so endearing and personal, but it also felt so playful. So the little “da, da, da, da, da” in the background made it feel a little playful and endearing especially since it’s coming from the child’s perspective.
TB: What I loved about this EP was the cohesive intertwining of the songs. For example, between ‘parent song’ and ‘this is how you fall in love’ with the refrain, but also Jeremy with your solo song ‘brooklyn boy’ there’s a voice note about stars that then segues beautifully into Chelsea’s solo track ‘Stars’.
JZ: We did try to make everything as cohesive as possible, but it’s funny because that specific example was a complete coincidence. It’s a voice memo of my friend Lauren, and she’s just a very dreamy person and thinks about the universe in very interesting ways that always inspires me. One of the thoughts she had was “do you think the stars wish on us”, and I just thought it was the cutest and most endearing thing. So I asked her to record a voice memo of it, and then I pitched it up and made it sound like part of the atmosphere and included it in ‘brooklyn boy’.
TB: Lyrically ‘parent song’ is a beautiful track dedicated to your parents about having to be away from them. It’s a different shade of vulnerability, but one that I feel would’ve been quite an emotional one to write as family is sometimes even more tender to write about than heartbreak?
CC: Yeah! That was my first time going down that path, and I actually still haven’t played it for my parents as I’m too scared they are going to cry, and I don’t think I can do that right now *laughs*.
JZ: Chelsea really started the writing of this song, and this is fundamentally very much Chelsea’s song that we both sing on, co-wrote and co-produced. I was able to show my mom and not feel weird about it because a lot of these lyrics are from Chelsea and her relationship with her parents. My mom has always wanted me to, and joked about, me writing a song about her. So this was a way to give her a song about her without it being the song I’m writing about her. But yeah, she definitely cried a little bit *laughs*.
TB: ’emily’ is an honest reflection on a relationship and it’s built quite cinematically with strings and a gradual production. Using someone’s name is always quite jarring emotionally, as it explicitly humanises the song, similar to how you did in ‘julia’ Jeremy, and how you did in ‘NJ’ Chelsea. So when you’re writing these songs, are you intending to use the name for that purpose?
CC: To be completely frank we didn’t write that song about anyone specifically. At least for me it wasn’t the same conscious decision as writing something like ‘NJ’. It felt like a fitting title for the song, but it wasn’t this deliberate choice.
JZ: There is no Emily, whereas there is a NJ and a Julia. We were thinking for so long about what we were going to say for those three syllables. I remember being in that room with Chelsea and our friends who were in there with us, and we were just tossing around names and ideas until something worked. But yeah we settled on Emily as it just felt right, and it’s also Chelsea’s middle name.
The story and song itself is fictional, but Chelsea and I have both experienced these very specific things, and felt these very specific feelings. So yeah, I guess it is humanised, and it is humanising when you give it a name as it feels more personal.
CC: It was a really interesting experience for both of us to collectively pour all of these different experiences into one fictional, but comprehensive storyline. It was really weird but cool!
TB: Jeremy, ’brooklyn boy’ is your solo song on the EP, and it begins on piano and builds up into this surprising explosion of production at the end. So how did you map out the growth of that production?
JZ: The end of that song is definitely in the scope of the production of the whole project completely uncalled for *laughs*.
CC: Somehow still cohesive feeling though!
JZ: Yeah it’s still cohesive! I wrote that song completely as a piano ballad, and the majority of the song still plays into that realm except for the very end. For me it was a true quarantine song, and honestly the only quarantine song that I’ve written about being stuck inside, feeling depressed and not wanting to go outside, how so much time is passing but nothing is really changing, and having these lucid fantasises about what life could be like if things were normal. And a lot of that was grounded in this idea of a perfect relationship.
The explosion came from this frustration of feeling like these feelings were never-ending. I just really love messing with dynamics and making things very soft and gentle, and then smacking you in the face, because it just feels fun that way.
TB: ’stars’ then hears you Chelsea reflecting on fate and love. One of my favourite lyrics is “maybe I want your love forever, is that so bad to say”. Can you explain what inspired that lyric?
CC: I think I’ve just had a change of heart with my perspective on love, considering this is the first time in my life I’ve been in a substantially long relationship. I’ve always idealised and romanticised words like “I want forever with this person”, but in my heart never really truly believed that those words really carried any weight. Like you tell you high school boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re going to marry each other, but in reality you’re just sixteen. So I think that lyric is just me commenting on that, and how I’m irrationally or rationally starting to believe in that.
TB: The songs on ‘brent ii’ have a lighter production, and lyrically hears you both being a little more hopeful with your personal reflections instead of the heartbreak focus of the first EP. Was that direction something you wanted to intentionally explore?
JZ: I think it’s just really telling with where we are at in life. With ‘brent i’, Chelsea and I were both still very new to this as a career, and personally I was in a solid but not amazing place, and I think I’ve just grown so much over the years and learnt so much about myself. So I think ‘brent ii’ has come from, on both the music and life fronts, from a more informed perspective. All of our decisions were very purposeful.
‘brent ii’ is out now!