Yowler’s Maryn Jones Finds Faith In Herself
The musician talks astrology, self-doubt, and her new single "Angel"
Yowler debuted in 2015 with the release of The Offer, a short, lush collection of songs that honed in on a very particular strain of sadness. The project started as a songwriting outlet for Maryn Jones separate from the music she worked on with the Columbus-based indie-folk act Saintseneca and her scrappy rock band All Dogs. After The Offer was released in February, All Dogs put out Kicking Every Day, and since then we haven’t heard all that much from Jones aside from two one-off Yowler singles she shared last year.
That isn’t to say that Yowler dropped off the map. Jones has been touring behind the project extensively in the years since The Offer debuted, but she’s gone through some significant life changes over the past three years. Jones moved out of her longtime home of Columbus and settled down in Philadelphia, a city that boasts a vibrant music scene where a number of her friends and collaborators live. But despite being a road dog, Jones was pretty shaken by the change of pace in Philly and it took her a long time to settle back into life as a working musician.
Jones started writing a new Yowler album out of necessity. She no longer had a collaborative creative outlet after moving to Philly. All Dogs’ fate remains uncertain now that its members are scattered between two cities, and Jones is no longer able to play in Saintseneca from out of state. So, she enlisted friends to record on a new Yowler album. Produced with Kyle Gilbride (Swearin’, Missing Earth) and featuring contributions from Matt O’Conke (Saintseneca), Catherine Elicson (All Dogs, Empath), and Michael Cantor (Goodbye Party), Black Dog In My Path is the result of a long period of transition. Jones describes it as a sad album, its lyrics largely derived from intense self-reflection instigated by an increasing interest in her ancestry as well as astrological symbolism.
Yowler’s new single, “Angel,” is Black Dog In My Path’s opening track. Like lead single “WTFK,” “Angel” deals in conflicts of personal belief and the way they manifest in daily life. In the second verse, Jones describes a moment of temptation, bookended by passages of faith. “And by your candor, big and bright, framed by a halo yellow/ An apple bit I can’t unbite,” she sings. Listen to “Angel” and read a conversation with Jones below.
STEREOGUM: Did moving to a new city mess with your creative process at all?
MARYN JONES: I struggle with songwriting pretty deeply. I have trouble focusing a lot of the time, so sitting down for long enough to make something is pretty hard for me. This happens a lot when I record things where I’m like, “OK well let’s start this song. It’s not finished but we’ll lay down the groundwork and then I have to finish it because it’s started.”
When I was in Columbus I had, I don’t know — I didn’t have as much going on. So it was easier to just wake up in the morning and work on songs for a couple hours. But now I have had a lot going on. [When I first moved to Philly] I was living with the person I was dating at the time and, you know, it’s harder to find time alone and personal space and is just kind of harder to get bored so that you get to that place where you want to make art. I feel like boredom is a great way to encourage creativity.
I feel like it’s hard to be bored now with phones and stuff. Everyone’s so distracted all the time. I’ve always had a rough time with mental health stuff, too, and transitioning to a new spot and a lot of changes was pretty tricky.
STEREOGUM: In the press bio you mention that the album kind of came out of an “unaccepted” and “unasked for” period of self-reflection.
JONES: That’s like some secret language where basically I’m saying that I came to some really interesting revelations about myself as a person that were really … tricky. I don’t know how deep to get into it. Basically, just touring a lot and being in relationships and then kind of realizing that I don’t know how to function in relationships normally. I don’t wanna get too specific, but [I was thinking about] non-monogamy and stuff like that. I never have been able to [articulate it], but for once I’m finally able to realize like, “Oh this is actually how I am and I should be true to that.” I don’t know if that’s too spicy but — [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: I talk to a lot of musicians who spend so much time on the road and it seems like one of the biggest things that comes out of being away so much is the strain it puts on the relationships you try to maintain in whatever place you decide to make a home.
JONES: It’s really hard. It’s so hard to have to come back and have a sense of place and not feel like people have just moved on without you. Everything keeps going whether you’re there or not, and sometimes coming back to that is really strange.
STEREOGUM: Do you like being on the road?
JONES: I actually do. It’s complicated, obviously — it’s back and forth. It’s [dependent on] what kind of place I’m in, who I’m touring with, but I would say that generally I actually do like touring and I think that I have the constitution to do it. I like new things and I love traveling the country because I love, I don’t know, natural stuff and seeing different things. Even when it gets hard, I’m like, well, at least I’m doing something interesting. ‘Cause I just do a lot of nothing when I’m home. My natural state is very sedentary.
STEREOGUM: Pushing yourself to that bored place.
JONES: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. Or I’m just looking at my phone too much, which is another thing that I sort of touch on with the record, that’s sort of hidden in there … I think everyone’s at that point though. Everyone’s like, “What are we doing?” Something’s gotta give, this phone thing is not good.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel too connected or a bigger disconnect when you’re constantly in people’s orbits?
JONES: I think smartphones put more weird space between humans. Me and a friend were talking about this recently, we were like, “Everyone is fucking anxious as hell now because there’s so much stuff in between — you’re not just going up and talking to a person.” There’s all this context in between you and there’s also too much information.
My personal relationship with my phone is that I’m disappointed in myself because I can’t stop looking at it. Like when I’m traveling or something and I’m looking at my phone and not looking out the window or just listening to music it’s like, the things I really care about are the beautiful things around me and it’s just such a shame that I stare at a fucking screen. There’s nothing there that I need to see. My life would go on without it either way. [Laughs]
When I wrote the song “Where Is My Light,” that’s what it’s kind of about. It’s going through a period of pretty intense isolation and regret and feeling really hurt by people. I was thinking about being on tour and traveling and [searching for] that concept of “the light.” Where am I receiving joy from? Am I just sort of looking at my phone and looking at everybody else doing these things that I wish I could still be doing or am I receiving joy from the natural world or my friends?
STEREOGUM: It’s easy to get caught up in the regular BS of the day-to-day without sitting to think about what makes us happy.
JONES: That’s been such a huge thing for me the past couple years, trying to figure that out. All Dogs stopped touring because of personal things — other members having personal stuff going on — and that felt like a rug being pulled out from under me ‘cause I wasn’t expecting it. Then I moved away [from Columbus] so I wasn’t really doing Saintseneca stuff. And with Yowler, it’s hard to tour when you don’t have a new record out. [Laughs] You just play the same songs over and over again.
After having all that stuff suddenly shift I’ve had to think about … I think that a lot of musicians around my age are in the process of thinking, “I’ve been doing this for so long, is this really what I want to do? Is this still working for me? Should I just do something else?” Sometimes I’m like, “I had my fun. I played a show with Billy Joe Armstrong, I guess that was my peak.” [Laughs] What can be better than that? I’ve just spent a lot of time asking myself what actually makes me happy. Like what are my actual passions ‘cause sometimes you don’t stop and actually think about those things.
STEREOGUM: When your creative outlet becomes your job it can feel kind of stifling.
JONES: Yeah, and I feel really, really fortunate to have had the experience of working on many different projects at the same time. I feel really grateful ‘cause it’s so helpful for me to have multiple things going on, writing different songs for different projects, that helps me be creative. When there’s just one project that’s sort of hanging over you that you should be writing for, it creates this weird stress and tension and feels less like a creative outlet and more like a … foreboding stress or something. Words can’t describe how excited I am for this project to finally be out in the world because it’s been a long process.
STEREOGUM: Let’s talk about the title Black Dog In My Path. It reminds me of Sirius Black from Harry Potter. It suggests superstition, a bad omen, negative vibes.
JONES: I’m so glad it reminded you of Sirius Black because I love him. Another thing that I’ve been interested in is astrology, especially [affirmative horoscopes]. There’s a person that makes these books called Many Moons, my friend Cynthia gave it to me. There’s a chapter about reconnecting to yourself as a human being and reconnecting with your ancestry. The original mysticism or beliefs or religions of where your family came from.
My family comes from this island off the coast of Scotland called the Isle Of Man. It’s this tiny, tiny island, and I believe that they originally practiced Paganism way, way, way, way back because people have been living there so long that they don’t know where they originated from, like which continent. So they’re actually their own nationality. They’re called Manx. Anyway, I decided one day that I wanted to look up stuff about the island and learn what happened there and what their beliefs were, and what kind of people live there because it’s cool to think about where you’re from.
I was reading up on some urban legends and stories and there was some imagery that was really inspiring to me. One of the concepts was this black dog that is seen around the island. To some people it’s a bad omen and then to other people it’s like a protective sign. There’s this story about a fisherman or something who’s about to go out on his boat and he sees this black dog blocking the way and so he doesn’t go out [on the water]. And then there’s this huge storm. So [the title represents] both — it’s like a warning and a protection to not go where you shouldn’t go, don’t go to the sad dark place.
STEREOGUM: When the album’s lead single “WTFK” came out, you mentioned that the song was influenced by being raised in a religious household and thinking a lot about sin and how deeply that’s ingrained in people raised in church. I hear anxiety about that throughout the album. Can you speak more to that?
JONES: I was raised in a very religious home. I was raised in a LDS family, Mormonism, so it’s pretty … it’s pretty all-encompassing. It’s your whole life. It’s not just like you go to church on Sunday. When you’re in high school you go to a church class every morning before school and you go on Wednesday nights and you go on Sunday. You pray three times a day. I didn’t date until I was 16, I wasn’t allowed to do anything. It’s this whole world that’s so … you’re so steeped in it that the [instinct of] feeling bad for doing something is so strong, it just takes over. I think that it’s interesting, having grown up that way and then leaving and realizing that. I think one of the main reasons I left originally was because I was like, “I wanna govern myself, I wanna make my own choices. I don’t wanna decide what my answer’s gonna be to a situation before it happens. I just wanna make a decision in that moment.”
The process since then has been figuring out what my personal belief system is, and feeling really good about that and feeling like I’m proud of myself where I am, feeling like I’m a pretty all right person, but then still at this stage having those moments where I make a decision or come to a realization and I’m still able to feel that old all-encompassing guilt and shame. Because maybe the things I’m thinking about, they’re not normal or they’re not like, widely accepted or something. It’s so deeply ingrained in me. I’m 30 and I feel like I’m kind of going through that again.
STEREOGUM: The song “Angel” opens the album. Why did you choose to set the scene with it?
JONES: “Angel” is a higher note, mood-wise, on the record. I opened with it because I like the vibe of the song. To me it’s such a positive, joyful song even though it’s about being confused.
It’s about a lot of things, mostly the complicated boundaries of friendship, romantic relationships, different type of relationships and how the lines [can get] pretty blurred. To me, it’s a celebration of coming to personal realizations and having experiences with people that informed those realizations, or whatever. I feel like a lot of the rest of the record is sort of the opposite, where it’s about having experiences that aren’t easy to come to conclusions about that feel comfortable. And a lot of that has to do with [friendships] and not just romantic relationships — I definitely don’t want it to seem like the record is [strictly] about romance. I wanted to start the album on a not-super-dark note, because I think the rest is dark enough.
09/19 Richmond, VA @ Camel Club ~
09/20 Washington, DC @ DC9 ~
09/21 Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle ~
10/11 Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA ^
~ w/ LVL UP
^ Black Dog In My Path Record Release Show
Black Dog In My Path is out 10/12 on Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.