The Story Behind Every Song On Tomberlin’s New EP Projections
Tomberlin’s 2018 album At Weddings was a stunning debut, reimagining the church music of Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s strict Baptist upbringing as hushed secular hymns meditating on love and faith. Since then, the Artist To Watch has moved from her native Louisville, Kentucky to Los Angeles and expanded her circle of friends and collaborators, and today, she’s following At Weddings up with a brand new EP called Projections.
Although it may be short — just four new songs and one cover — Projections is no mere stopgap release. The initial idea was to get a different producer to work on each track, but Tomberlin ended up recording the whole thing at indie-rock cult hero Alex G’s Philadelphia apartment, and he co-produced the record alongside his bandmate Sam Acchione. Together, they take Tomberlin’s sound in some interesting directions, augmenting her fingerpicked guitar and heavenly vocal harmonies with a new rhythmic brightness and letting a little light into her dusky world.
Where At Weddings was laced with isolation and loneliness, Projections is full of communication and the promise of human connection. “It’s all sacrifice and violence/ The history of love/ But remember when we stayed up?/ And took turns playing songs/ My favorite game/ And I never felt ashamed in your embrace,” Tomberlin sings on opening track “Hours.” And on the dazed queer love awakening of “Sin,” she asks, “What are boyfriends when I have you?/ Time rolls by so quickly when I’m standing next to you/ And every day is pretty when I wake up turned towards you.”
The world could use a little prettiness right about now, and luckily, the entirety of Projections is out in the world now. Listen and read Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s breakdown of every track on her new EP below.
“Did I run into your arms, a flower fire/ was it crushing your heart, too? Or just desire.” I have a tendency to feel the need to explain myself before I’ve been asked to. I think this song is me trying to do that in my head instead of with that person, prematurely — even though I sent this song to them directly after I wrote it, so, RIP. In an interview recently someone said to me that in “Seventeen” from At Weddings I wrote “love is mostly war and war what is it for” and in this song I write “it’s all sacrifice and violence — the history of love.” I hadn’t realized those lines mirrored each other in a distant way. I always like noticing repeating themes in other artist’s work, but it’s hard to see them when you’re the one writing it (or at least I’m less aware of myself).
This one just started with the first line. “I tried to keep it close, keep it in a locket.” I wanted to describe a “sacred crush,” something you want to keep close because you don’t want to let it get out and let everyone project their own feelings onto something that only you are really feeling. The rest came pretty easily. It took me maybe 30 minutes to write. I’d been playing the riff over and over and then it finally struck once the first line came. Hours of playing a simple little chord progression and 30 mins to write. I love when that happens and I still like it the next morning.
I started writing this song on a walk a few years ago. At my parent’s house in Fairfield, Illinois, there is a cemetery on the end of the street and another one behind the house. I walked a lot there and would … hang out there? It sounds very emo, but it wasn’t? Or maybe it was, but it’s just a very good place for reflection, which is really what this song is about: reflecting on moments and fragmented memories and trying to put sense to it. But there were actual broken tombstones and I was tracing them with my hands trying to place the names. “I touched their names in the cold cement” was just something that happened. There are a lot of very literal lines like that in my songs.
“Boyfriends, what are boyfriends when I have you.” “What the fuck is a boyfriend when I have you.” Not a boy, maybe not even a woman. Whomever you might be. When I wrote this I was becoming more internally comfortable with my sexuality, but wasn’t really able to explore it (living at home where being gay was indeed not chill). So instead I did what any young rural queer does and I fantasized about my future while swimming in parts of my present. This one was written around the At Weddings era, but I didn’t feel like it went with that record. I kept playing it to myself and occasionally at shows towards the end of last year and people responded to it. I felt like it meshed with the rest of the EP.
5. “Natural Light” (Casiotone For The Painfully Alone Cover)
I heard this song, by Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, for the first time earlier this spring and was moved to tears. I’d thought about putting a cover on the end of the EP, but didn’t want to just thoughtlessly slap one on the end. I felt like the EP was pretty concise and cohesive in a way that felt right. I recorded an iPhone voice memo of the song and was like, “Fuck! This is the cover!” My friend Ryan Hemsworth agreed to help me produce it out so he took the iPhone demo and took my text asking for “Some warbly Grouper-ish bass and twinkly keys” and he truly got it. Then I sang some weird harmonies into my phone and asked if he could punch them in at specific time stamps … So it’s really just an iPhone voice memo with some magic. I’m extremely happy with it. Thank you, Ryan, for helping and thank you Owen Ashworth for writing a beautiful song. I sent it to him and asked if I could use it and he said yes and some kind words and that was a very sweet moment for me.
The Projections EP is out now via Saddle Creek. Buy it here.