INTERVIEW: Chelsea Cutler

As you enter your early-to-mid twenties, time begins to move really fast. You experience such a rapid range of emotions that you start to give yourself whiplash. Days and months roll into each other, but you find yourself naturally growing through the hurt and lessons you experience. It’s been nearly 2 years since Chelsea Cutler put out her acclaimed debut album ‘How To Be Human’, and now she’s dropped her highly anticipated sophomore record ‘When I Close My Eyes’, and in comparison they’re contrastingly quite different records.

Thematically sitting in a lighter and hopeful soundscape, she explores the gratitude and patience time has taught her during the pandemic. Learning to be more present with everything happening in her life, she’s acknowledged the way that social media sees us constantly comparing our lives and relationships to everyone else. Holding herself accountable, this body of work is a mature approach to stepping into adulthood and embraces the positive moments that we are so quickly to skip over to dwell on the heaviness that also comes with life. 

Finding herself in a happy place within her relationship with her girlfriend and with touring beginning to open up, this album is a reflective accumulation of emotions. From the immediately breezy production behind ‘Forever’ and ‘Calling All Angels’, you will feel the radiating happiness. But there are still the emotionally heavy tracks like the break-up anthem ‘Walking Away’ and the mental health awareness of ‘Devil On My Shoulder’ that will comfort listeners who are needing to feel understood and not alone.

I recently caught up with Chelsea Cutler to discuss the lighter and hopeful soundscape her sophomore record ‘When I Close My Eyes’ is built around, reflected on the process of personifying missing touring on ‘Without You’, and explored the coming of age sentiment behind her lyrical introspection. Check it out BELOW; 

THOMAS BLEACH: ‘When I Close My Eyes’ is a record that cohesively breathes a lighter and hopeful air. Looking back at ‘How To Be Human’, do you feel like it was an important coming-of-age project for you to do to be able to step into a lighter space and now create this contrastingly different record?

CHELSEA CUTLER: Yeah, definitely! I think so much has happened for me in the two years between albums. I think we’ve probably spoken about this before in our previous conversations, but I feel like these early to mid twenties are so pivotal, and there is so much growth rapidly happening. I feel like a different person to who I was 6 months ago, let alone 2 years ago. There was so much growing up to do, even in the span of 2 years for me. 

Especially in a time where everything has just been so heavy, I wanted to write about gratitude and explore feeling blessed to be where I am. Ironically the album is titled ‘When I Close My Eyes’ because I felt like I wanted to be anywhere except for where I was in the last two years because of the state of the world, which I think is a very universal feeling. 

TB: ‘Forever’ opens the record and perfectly sets the hopeful tone with a euphoric love song that hears you professing “Cause forever, never sounded good before I met ya”. Can you explain the creative process behind this track? 

CC: I wrote this song with Quinn XCII, ayokay and Hazey Eyes. We are all on the same management, and ayokay’s parents have a house in Newport, Rhode Island, so we spent two weeks there writing music. The guys laid down a loop of those four chords, and Quinn XCII and I wrote the song so friggin fast. It felt like the words were just pouring out. It was one of those songs where you don’t even think about the lyrics that much because you are just saying what you feel. There is nothing too deliberate about it. It was written in an as carefree manner than the song is sonically. 

TB: ‘Without You’ sounds like a breakup song, but what you actually did was personify not being able to tour during the pandemic. What was the creative experience like taking a situation like that and turning it into a person to be able to explain the heaviness?

CC: It was super weird. I felt like I had gone through so much over the past two years, and I was so sad that I couldn’t tour. I’ve always written songs about people, or about being mentally ill, so I was like “fuck, how do I write about this sadness and channel the way I am feeling”. A song is not going to be relatable for everyone if I’m singing about being sad about not touring as that is something that most people won’t relate to. So I decided to turn it into a person so everyone could relate to what I was feeling. 

TB: Have you ever done something like this in your songwriting in the past? 

CC: I think I’ve written to my depression before. But I think that is a bit of an easier emotion to draw on, whereas being sad about tour is again something that isn’t universal so it was definitely more about out of the box for me to personify something like that. 

TB: You’ve explained online that ‘Under’ is the best representation of where you see yourself sonically heading as an artist and producer. What is it specifically about the production on this track that is getting you so excited for where you see yourself heading artistically? 

CC: I think what I love so much about it is that everything on it for the most part is organic. It’s piano, bells, a lot of guitars, and real drum samples. It feels like an accumulation of my biggest influences. Two of my favourite songs ever are ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ by Coldplay. I love that upbeat, hopeful and organic feeling that those songs give as it doesn’t matter what mood you’re in because as soon as you hear it your mood is lifted. I really wanted to make something like that.

TB: Well I think you did that! The record actually saw you solo produce the songs ‘Walking Away’, ‘Without You’, ‘Under’ and ‘If I Hadn’t Met You’. And then you co-produced ‘Forever’, ‘Devil On My Shoulder’ and ‘Red Flags’. So through co-producing those latter tracks, was there a big takeaway you had with how you wanted to approach visualising those other songs on your own? 

CC: Honestly there wasn’t a ton of crossover. All I knew is that I wanted more organic sounds on this album, and that was a lens that I looked at every song with. My process isn’t too different whether I’m co-producing or doing something by myself, as I don’t like to do anything in front of anyone else. If I’m co-producing I will take the stems back home with me to work on them in my studio totally alone. I’m too nervous to do it in front of other people, so that’s a commonality with the two processes. 

TB: What song on the record would you say went through the most alternate versions when you were producing them up? 

CC: That’s a great question! ‘Calling All Angels’ went through eight different iterations before we settled on something. We experimented with so many different things within the song format. The way we originally wrote it was really repetitive. It was a four minute song, and it was just long and repetitive. So we kept playing with it to make it feel better and I think where we landed was great, but it took us a long time to get there. We also had a lot of cooks in the kitchen giving feedback. 

TB: ‘Someone Else’s Heaven’ has a really beautiful and self-awakening lyrical approach with the sentiment that “Your hell is someone else’s heaven”. When you personally find yourself in a dark headspace, how do you find a way to remember that sentiment, because it’s not always easy to do so? 

CC: I think everybody’s problems are relative. I really do believe that, to some degree. But I almost didn’t put this song out. It didn’t make the album when I first submitted it actually, and it was a super last minute add on. I think it’s a great message, but I didn’t know if I was the person who was right to deliver that message being a white girl from an affluent area in Connecticut. There were a lot of things I was trying to rationalise, and if it was my place to put a song like that out. I’m also just terrified of cancel culture, and I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing unintentionally. But we decided to put it on the album in the end, and I really do love the track!

TB: ‘Walking Away’ did feel like the perfect bridge between ‘How To Be Human’ and ‘When I Close My Eyes’. It was a really heavy but cathartic song about letting someone go, and there was a lot of very visually charged lyricism that supported it. One of the lyrics that painted a specific moment in my mind was, “You look at me and I look at you, like one of us might know what else to do”. Can you tell me the story behind this lyric for you personally? 

CC: It’s such a simple line, but I think we’ve all been there before. I wasn’t really driving inspiration from any particular moment. When we are younger I think we go through relationships and think that bending over backwards and sacrificing your own needs is necessary, but then you get older and you realise that “oh shit, a relationship is supposed to fulfil both of our needs. And we are both supposed to be happy in this. And if it’s not serving that purpose anymore then the relationship isn’t serving us anymore”. I’ve been in that position in relationships before where you both want it to work but there’s nothing you can do as it’s not serving you in the ways it’s supposed to. So that is what that line is referencing.

TB: ‘You’re Gonna Miss This’ was a real coming of age introspection into adulthood that saw you reminiscing on things in your past that no one warned you about missing. Are you finding yourself having a lot of these bigger picture reflections in your songwriting as you find yourself entering your mid twenties now? 

CC: Something I wrote about a lot on this album is acknowledging that with social media we are constantly seeing what everyone else is doing, and constantly seeing these other places we’d rather be, and other relationships that look so much better than yours. You’re seeing all of these other things and you’re constantly striving for more. You then reach that goal, and then you’re reaching for the next one. You then suddenly wake up one day and you realise that all this time has gone by and I haven’t even been soaking it up and being present. So that is just a feeling that I’ve become super acutely aware of. That song and ‘When I Close My Eyes’ both are super inspired by the FOMO we feel all the time for no reason. Sometimes I don’t think we realise how fucking cool right now is. Every lyric in that song I feel super passionately about. 

TB: You’ve just announced your first run of North American dates for the ‘When I Close My Eyes’ tour. And online you’ve been revealing songs that people may be able to expect to hear in the new setlist. So When you’ve started to line up the songs, have you found any interesting lyrical or sonical parallels with tracks from this new album and your back catalog that make them feel like siblings, that maybe you didn’t notice before? 

CC: That’s an awesome question! One thing I will say is that there is so much music that this is becoming like choosing your favourite children *laughs*. I’m looking at the setlist right now, and something I’m really excited about now that ‘When I Close My Eyes’ is out is that there is such a broader scope of emotion that I can take people through in the show. Before there were so many sad songs, which is cool I guess as that is what I was going through at the time. But I like giving people emotional whiplash in a show. I think it’s great if you’re crying one second and dancing the next as you don’t know what you’re even really feeling as it just becomes an emotional outpouring. So I think that is what I’ve noticed the most while piecing together this show as there is so much we can do dynamically. 

TB: Are we going to finally see you on Australian shores in 2022?

CC: I would absolutely kill to do Australia and New Zealand! I’ve never been! Someone open up the borders and I will be there. 

‘When I Close My Eyes’ is out now!