The Story Behind Every Song On U.S. Girls’ New Album Bless This Mess
Ever since U.S. Girls dropped the single “So Typically Now” way back in July of last year, it was clear Meg Remy’s next outing would continue the wild ride kicked off when the project signed to 4AD in the middle of the ’10s. All the pop influences Remy toyed with were in full bloom here. It was easy to imagine all the grooves and soul of In A Poem Unlimited and Heavy Light now recalibrated in Remy’s latest deconstruction, her aim on pure dance release.
Of course, the story is never simple with U.S. Girls, and Bless This Mess goes in a lot of directions. Funk, synth-pop, disco, tinges of arena rock and dream-pop — it’s all in there somewhere. The album was made entirely differently than its predecessor, which was recorded with a live band in studio in the span of a week. Instead, Bless This Mess was pieced together remotely, with various collaborators, during pandemic years in which Remy became pregnant and gave birth to twins.
The resulting album is one of Remy’s finest works, transfixing and often exhilarating. It’s music that’s just straight-up fun to listen to, but it also pieces through all kinds of complex imageries and life experiences, from Greek mythology to Remy’s changing relationship with her body and voice during her pregnancy. Now that you can hear the album for yourself, read our breakdown of each track on Bless This Mess.
1. “Only Daedalus”
You said that this song is about the act of creation? Tell me why this one kicks off the album.
MEG REMY: Because of how it sounds, how it starts. It hits. As they say, “It slaps.” An instant “Oh, shit.” Thematically, the song’s really all over the place. I was initially writing it in my mind as a duet. I really wanted to do a duet with Julian Casablancas, which obviously didn’t happen. Then there was a brief moment where it was going to maybe be a duet with Donald Fagen. That didn’t happen either — someone got my hopes very up.
When I was writing it, I was reading a lot of Greek myth and I was drawn to this particular story about Daedalus. He was exiled. In order to find Daedalus, this king sends out a messenger and tells him, “Scour the lands and present people with this problem and the person who can solve it will be Daedalus.” The problem is how to get an ant to crawl through one side of a shell to the other. Daedalus came up with tying a little string on it and you would put honey on one side and it would entice it through. I thought that was very beautiful. Most people, I think, are familiar with Daedalus — maybe not even his name, but that he’s Icarus’ father who invented the wings. I think a lot of people read into that like “Don’t go too close to the sun,” “Don’t strive too much.” I heard something recently, where Stanley Kubrick said he thought this myth was really an example of “Make better wings.”
I related to that, but really what I related to is … making anything is futile. Whether it’s a piece of art or a child, all things die. All things return to the beginning. I like that. I find that comforting. The song has a bit of a spin on it in a romantic sense. I’m often trying to work in pop forms and I feel that existential subject matter is missing in a lot of music, particularly music about love. A lot of it is “I miss you” or “You hurt me” or “I want you,” but not “I don’t want to fall in love with you because you’ll die one day.” [Laughs] You don’t really hear those songs.
Was there a reason Julian Casablancas was your first choice?
REMY: He’s one of my favorite singers and songwriters. He’s a wild singer. The tone of his voice, his phrasing. A friend of mine sent me an interview with Bob Dylan when he put out that book about songs, which is mostly about older songs. The interviewer asked him about some of his favorite modern songwriters and he listed Julian and I was like, “Thank you.”
It’s not like Julian Casablancas is under-fucking-appreciated, he’s a millionaire. But his phrasing is really amazing and I really want to sing a song with him. I still hope it can happen someday. I’m interested in the form of duet and I liked the challenge of writing for someone else’s voice. I like when people have done that for me. It’s fun when someone chooses to write keeping your voice in mind.
You did an interview with Rolling Stone where you said you were drawn to mythology because it was the only thing that matched the “epic shit” of being pregnant.
REMY: Yeah, when I started reading mythology it made a lot of things click for me. Well, consciously reading it — we’re always reading it, because everything we read is myths or substitutes for myths. It definitely matched … like when I would stop think about the fact I had three times the amount of blood in my body at the time. I would imagine getting cut open and the room just filling with blood. Or when I think about 9/11, watching that — that is mythic imagery.
It helps me to digest the onslaught of violent spectacle that we are so inundated with now. We create these spectacles because we’re missing myths and stories that keep us rooted. We’re searching for that. If we were more in touch with stories and cycles, we would know you can’t win a war, or if you won it’s pointless. You can’t beat life. You can’t outlive it. You can’t draw a boundary that’s so great it will last for all time. The only people that can do that are the gods, and now we’re trying to mimic the gods more than accept them.
In terms of this album, mythology helped me get through the taxing physical, emotional trials of being pregnant with twins. My body was completely distorted. I could feel my ribcage expanding. Just wild stuff. It was like being in a car crash for eight months. Your bones are moving. Seeing ultrasounds — with twins you can run out of room and the babies stop growing. I had to do ultrasounds every two weeks. I saw them a lot, in the inside of my body. How often do we get to see that? Maybe you break your arm and had an x-ray or maybe you had a scan, but not every two weeks. It was a very wild thing. Because it was Covid, I experienced it on my own. My partner wasn’t there. I would be in this stuff and I’d come out and try to explain to him what I saw.
I needed big stories. I needed big imagery. I wanted to be connected with large forms and also a lineage. Knowing: OK, people have been doing this for a really long time. How many people have survived giving birth to twins? I need to put myself in that lineage. Or, in the lineage of “I won’t survive,” or “One of the babies won’t survive.” How many times has that happened? I will be OK no matter what because I have this story, I have that story. I can pull from all of these and find comfort.
2. “Just Space For Light”
REMY: This song is a cover from my husband [Max Turnbull]’s project, Badge Époque Ensemble. They originally recorded this song with the amazing, amazing singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle singing lead. It’s off an album of theirs called Self Help. I also sing a song on that album, but I really wanted to sing “Just Space For Light” and I was so bummed when Max said “That’s not the song I have in mind for you.” But when he said Jennifer Castle was singing it I was immediately like “OK, I totally understand, but I’m going to cover it some day.”
That was my main reason for doing it. I wanted to do my own version with my phrasing. But thematically, I love how it fits in and it doesn’t fit in. I would never write those lyrics. They’re so cosmic. These lyrics are Max speaking very plainly. That’s how he expresses himself. He’s very deep and he likes to express complex things with complex language, where my instinct is to break it down. I like that it’s separate but the content is the type of song I would write.
3. “Screen Face”
This and a few other songs have topics where it could be generally of this time — in this instance about online dating — but people could also read in to it being specifically of the pandemic era.
REMY: Having written it during the heavy days of the pandemic, I knew that if the song came out it would be “Oh this is a Covid song.” I think it’s a general distance song. It really could’ve been written in 2018 as well. It couldn’t have been written before the iPhone, it’s of that era.
It kind of came about because of that movie Licorice Pizza. It’s a great movie, PT Anderson’s amazing, but my husband and I started talking about how it’s easy to make that kind of movie because a period piece is super satisfying. Everything looked good then and you’re remaking it. It’s a nostalgic “Aw, I wish we lived back then, kids are running down the street.” I think it’s more challenging to make content now that’s about now. Because now is pretty ugly and we’re so steeped in it.
A friend of mine made a comment about how he was dating someone but they had never met even though they only lived fifteen minutes away from each other. They would watch movies together on FaceTime and have dates, but they hadn’t met. I wondered if I could write about that. How awkward will it be? I think that song is awkward. It’s a strange song — no one wants to hear about it because it’s everybody’s life. It’s almost like a song about taking a shit. Who wants to fucking hear that? [Laughs]
It was more like a personal challenge to myself, and again wanting to write in a duet form. That form, I find, is existing less and less. And I think is a great form because it talks about two different perspectives, which we always need to be thinking about — endless different perspectives. That’s where we are in our culture, where this is what we’re supposed to be doing but we’re obviously not. I thought the theme of the phone was perfect for a duet.
4. “Futures Bet”
In this song you sing “Goodbye history!/ Why don’t we let it be a mystery/ That we never sort out?/ I’m laying down a futures bet!/ There’s always gonna be someone alive/ Someone wanting to know why/ Why do we wanna know why?” What was on your mind when you wrote that?
REMY: I wrote that song with Basia Bulat. I wrote it a cappella and I sent it to her to put some guitar to and re-record. I was writing two songs filling a brief for a movie. It was “Futures Bet” and “Bless This Mess.” They weren’t chosen, but I liked them a lot and I’d gotten very good feedback. But where my mind was in writing that was following this brief. I was trying to write something for a Hollywood movie that is very, I don’t know, meat-and-potatoes. Keep it simple, following this character and what the plot was, but while still making it a song I would write and could stand behind. Even if I was writing something for a Clorox commercial or something, I’d want to like it and be able to listen to it.
I really shifted how I felt about topics like climate change, and how the climate is continuing to change, politics, capitalism. Very big topics that I used to be hard-line about or reactionary about. I don’t really feel an impending doom. I don’t know why that shifted, but part of it was changing what I was reading. Not reading as much theory, and reading more poetry and spiritual texts. Getting offline more. In 2018, I got rid of my iPhone. My husband has one, so we use his and then I have a flip phone. Sharing one phone made the usage go way down. And not being so in touch daily with news, that brought the temperature way down as well. Things are way broader. I’m not caught in a spectacle anxiety addiction. The constant ups and downs and breaking news. “Futures Bet” came out of that.
It’s also a form I’ve tried to work in — there’s something very Pepsi commercial anthemic about it. I love the anthem as a form, it’s literally what got me into music. I was trying to write more complex anthems. The lyrics are often … not the best part of an anthem. It’s more of how it makes you feel. I’m always trying to make the things I haven’t seen or heard.
5. “So Typically Now”
More so than “Screen Face,” you seem to be documenting a specific period of time during the pandemic where people fled New York — although, given, I’ve been here long enough I’ve witnessed a few iterations of that Upstate migration.
REMY: If I’m 100 percent honest, that song came to me with some lyrics written. My intention was to change them. I was like, “Eh, this is a bit topical.” Almost too topical, and I don’t live in New York. But it was exactly what I was experiencing in Toronto at the same time. Everybody was leaving. I fell in love with that song, with the holes in it and everything. It makes me feel a certain way. That anthem. There’s really nothing like listening to that song walking down the street. You can match your footsteps to it and it gives you that “I’m in a fucking movie.” This is why I love listening to music, I’m going to a different place.
I knew I wanted to work on this song. I thought I’d change lyrics, make it more me, cut it up, move some stuff. And when I started getting into it it was like “No, this has to stay.” This song is like a condo, it looks and sounds and was made like a condo. It can’t have other lyrics. It needs to stay in this play it’s set up. I stayed there, and similar to “Screen Face” I challenged myself to write in this form I didn’t really like. It was a little bit gross to me.
Are you talking lyrically or sonically?
REMY: Yes, the whole thing! Max is always saying — people who liked the early U.S. Girls albums, what the fuck are they thinking when they hear this. That’s why I wanted it. I’ve never worked with a song like this, I’ve never put myself in a song like this, it makes me uncomfortable, I think I should do it and stick with this. The lyrics I wove into it were similar to “Screen Face.” An uncomfortable, gross thing. I don’t know how it’s been received really. I’m sure there’s people from Brooklyn like “Fuck this bitch, she’s not from here.”
But the thing is, if anything’s been revealed it’s that all cities are the same. They are a front, basically. [Laughs] I don’t care if you’re talking about New York, Toronto, Seoul, Rio, they’re all the same. We’ve all bought into this idea, and there’s only a few people benefiting from it, and the cities aren’t really ours, and they’re not really for us. I think that’s become more apparent than ever. I remember years ago someone saying to me New York was going to become like Monaco. I wonder now, if that’s true about Manhattan, because I don’t think it’s going to win out against rising water.
You made this song with Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser of Holy Ghost! along with Ryland Blackinton. How did this collaboration come about?
REMY: Alex Frankel did a remix of “4 American Dollars” off of Heavy Light. When I started making this record, I don’t know if he was prompted, but I got a folder of some music from him, starts of songs. I picked a couple. It was all over email and phone.
Heavy Light was all recorded live with a band, but that was the big pivot for Bless This Mess, that it was all done in pieces remotely.
REMY: The whole record was done via email. We did a few studio sessions for tracking vocals and some things we ended up not using. It was all email, sending stems, lots of MIDI.
So through that process, you have a cover, you have at least two songs you were on some level disgusted with —
All done piecemeal with different collaborators and voices — did you have a vision of how it was all going to hang together?
REMY: It seems like you to have a vision to promote a record. [Laughs] I think often people’s vision for a record comes after it’s made. I think that’s the world you and I exist in. Sometimes there are visions throughout the whole thing — like Heavy Light, “I’m arranging and writing this stuff so it needs to be played live, recorded live in the studio, with this many people.” Those were our parameters. That was our concept — “How do we do this?”
This record, a big part of the concept was “I’m pregnant and I need to make a record.” I don’t know what the nature of my life is going to be when these kids come, I don’t know what’s going on with the world. It still feels very precarious. A theme was pushing. Doing things that are challenging, making me uncomfortable, pushing my voice, getting slicker with the sound. How to make a reactionary album to Heavy Light. I once referred to that one as a “covered wagon.” It was an old-fashioned way of making a record.
Making Bless This Mess was not being scared of technology, not shunning MIDI, not thinking it doesn’t have heart because it doesn’t have live players. Saying forget about all of that. How to make something immediate, how to make it sound good. Writing two songs for a Hollywood movie — how to reach people. A Hollywood movie is trying to reach people to get their money. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing here, I don’t know. How do you speak to more people than the thousand U.S. Girls fans in the world. How do I make music where my mom would be like, “I like this!”
6. “Bless This Mess”
REMY: I really fought it being the album title.
Like other people’s opinions or internally?
REMY: Internally. It was so apparent that it was the title of the record and I was like “No, it’s just too easy!” Like, yeah, I’m a mom now, bless this mess. Talk about the concept. I was like, “This is going to be too easy to sell! It’s a no-brainer, a home run, it’s embarrassing!”
Again, “bless this mess,” that’s a pretty universal thing for North American homeowners or homemakers. I love thinking about “bless this mess” as a coping mechanism. I think it’s really smart. I think that’s an avenue I wished we explored more. It’s not a negative idea. It’s a realistic and comforting concept. I was trying to name it all this smart shit and I just had to succumb to Bless This Mess. Although I equate it with homemaking, I think it’s three words anyone could go into and have a perspective on.
You calling it this comfort is taking me back to talking about myths, and how you don’t feel this impending doom anymore … I’ve thought about this a lot in the last seven or eight years. Basically the idea that in most of modern history people could think the world was going to end with their generation — world wars, nuclear weapons, the climate now, etc. But then there’s also that idea that humans have survived plagues, and collapses and revivals of civilizations.
You said things changed for you in the last few years. With people who have children, you get this whole new set of anxieties. But as more of my friends have had children, it’s almost like something gets triggered — the species has been surviving for a long time. All these things we spin ourselves out about through our twenties sitting around bars or whatever, then people have kids and their whole scope seems to shift. Was that part of the process for you?
REMY: For sure, for sure. I don’t think I’ve yet fallen victim to the “I want everything to work out because I’m scared” thing. Maybe that’s what it is deep down. Before I had kids, hearing people tell me I was very cynical and they were like “You can’t be cynical when you have kids.” it’s not possible. You can’t look at them and be cynical. It’s not fair to them. You get obsessed with them being these little wonders. I don’t really like that word “cynical.” I don’t relate to it. But if anything having kids has made me feel more in touch with cycles. That makes me feel lots of meaning and that also I don’t need meaning as well. It’s this strange pull. There’s just no comparison pre- and post- with having kids.
What I wasn’t expecting either is it made me think about death constantly. Constantly.
I do that anyway without kids.
REMY: I did too! But before I was thinking about my husband’s death, even more than my own. Now it’s like, a lot of thoughts of experiencing death. Like if I found one of my children dead. What that moment would be like, what would I do, I’d be ripped in two, the world’s going to collapse. That thing I mentioned earlier. People’s children die. They continue living. People have gone through immense, immense spectacle trauma and then survived to just go on and die. You survived that to die — not in that moment, but later. I think that’s why people can survive such unimaginable horror and trauma, because they’re like “Fuck this, I’m not dying here. I’m surviving and I’m dying elsewhere.”
Having children also gave me an experience of being very intimate with my body. Watching it grow, watching it change, having living things come out of it, then feeding them from my own body, and watching them grow and get fat and knowing that only my body is creating the substance to make this child fat and survive. Everything else fades away. Notifications on a phone in relation to your body? Taxes? Whatever some fucking celebrity is doing?
7. “Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)”
So this is seemingly really written from the perspective of a tuxedo but I assume something else is going on here.
REMY: [Laughs] It’s pretty much from the perspective of a tuxedo, yeah. This is probably the most Covid-y song, if Covid’s a genre. I was thinking about having nowhere to go, thinking about clothes, thinking about coveting objects. “I wish I could get these pants, they’re so sick” and all of that was revealed to be so … straight-up silly. Thinking about closets full of designer shoes that are just sitting there, not just in pandemic times but most of the time. So I was thinking about tuxedoes.
I was thinking about the group Sparks. Their lyrics are just for me. It’s funny, it’s deep. It’s the personal, the political. Strange narrators. It hit me like, “What Would Sparks Do?” WWSD? That got me thinking on it and once I started writing it, it was just hilarious and so much fun to write. It was fun to personify something that does have the human form. We all agree that humans have consciousness, but it starts getting murky. Some people don’t think animals do. Then you think about inanimate objects — do they have a memory, do they react, do they know something’s touching them? It goes back to that bigger thing of what is life and who gets to say, who makes these definitions we all live by?
8. “RIP Roy G Biv”
Similarly, you turned Roy G Biv into a character in the next song.
REMY: I just always loved ROYGBIV in school. I was like, “Who is this guy?” [Laughs] That song came to me with just drums and keys and the male vocals, from Chris Cummings. He has a project called Marker Starling, he’s just one of my favorite singers and songwriters. It only had the “With a sun in your heart you might shine.” The rainbow jumping off point came from that, thinking about sun in songs shining, weather. My husband and I were talking a lot about emotions passing like weather a lot at the time. We were using that metaphor a lot. OK, this day sucks but these clouds are going to pass, tomorrow could be sun or rain, we don’t know but it will be different.
I’m always coming back to death. You could say each ending is a death. When you see a rainbow and it’s so vivid and it starts fading that rainbow is dying. You’ll never see it again. It doesn’t exist anymore. The song came from wanting to personify something we know very well but we mostly think of it as the colors, or the sun passing through rain. What else is this? What else can it tell me?
I can’t put my finger on it but the chorus reminds me of something — were you going for a specific vibe?
REMY: I know what you mean, I think it might be a Michael McDonald song. [Laughs] I think it more had to do with who I was writing the song with. Marcus Starling, his milieu is very AM, lounge, crooner. It’s a very specific area he works within, and I think that dictated a lot of it. I was trying to, again, fit into someone else’s form or a form I hadn’t done before. And can I do that. Can I take a sketch and make it mine? Those crazy vocoded vocals, they weren’t like that originally. But it became like, “If that’s the rainbow singing, that’s how the rainbow has to sound.” Fractals of light. The form of the song began dictating production. It was really fun.
9. “St. James Way”
On the lyric sheet, you have this one written out differently, with this big quote from the driver in the beginning of the song. I love the line “I’ve spent a lifetime collecting things and I like the names more than anything.”
REMY: This came out of reading Luis Buñuel’s autobiography and writing sentences or words and at the end of that I had almost all the lyrics. I had to add some words, I wrote some joiners — the whole section at the end about the woman with a castle is all made up but continuing from him. It’s like I made cut-ups from his book almost. I used to think Surrealists were kind of corny. I didn’t really believe it. Like “Oh yeah, you’re so kooky.” In reading his book it was like, “Oh, no, this is actually this person’s brain.” His brain is surreal. His brain is a magnet for these things. Reading what he observed on a daily basis, you know? That’s what I was pulling out of the book. He lived almost a supernatural life because of his seeking out the surreal, going into the unknown. I was so moved by it.
When all the words were down and I started moving them around, it felt like a one act play. This driver coming, this speech being delivered, before this person had even gotten in the car. As if they’re standing outside the window and have this entire exchange. “St. James Way” is a very old phrase for the Milky Way. That was a way Christian pilgrims would walk, looking up and going St. James’ Way. That really resonated with me. I felt like I would like to do this — not to seek Christ, but to listen to something larger than me that just appears, and follow it. I didn’t have to charge it, or do anything to receive it, or pay for anything. I would just go out and see it and other people would be doing it and I would walk. What would happen to me on that walk, I don’t know. It may be uneventful. But there could be no greater event than turning yourself over to something and following it, no questions asked. Being open, taking this journey.
So now we’re on the closer, which samples your breast pump.
REMY: [Laughs] This is what I’m saying, the concept is almost too good to be true. I’m pregnant with twins, blah blah blah, but it’s honest. That’s what producers do, the way people like me or my collaborators think about music. What can I sample, what are the sounds of my life I can put into something?
Another thing you’ve said is after Heavy Light and your book, maybe you divulged more of yourself than you wanted. There are a lot of layers on this album, but at the end of all that you have this very bare, poignant, personal scene. As we’ve talked about bodies and machinery, the album also ends with this mix of the miracle and the daily banalities of new parenthood.
REMY: Oh my god, yeah, yeah. I think life is banal. [Laughs] It is and it isn’t, but that’s thing we just can’t get over — that it can be banal, or it all just ends up in something that’s so what? We all die at the end? Think about if we just accepted that. Life is all this work and struggle and you get somewhere and you find some meaning and as far as we know it just cuts off, and you don’t know when.
Maybe it’s obvious after talking about all of this, but why was this the final word on the album?
REMY: I think because it has a long-ass monologue at the end. [Laughs] Can’t put that in the middle. But I think, as well, saving that very specific pregnancy story for the end. Pregnancy is a very hot button topic. You have a whole range of things. There’s a lot of ways to talk about it, it relates to literally everything. Some people think you shouldn’t have kids because there’s too many people, or you should have kids because God wants you to. I think it made sense to save it for last. You don’t want to put that early on. It just had to be last — it sounded like the last song. The end of it ties up what the whole record is about.
Bless This Mess is out 2/24 via 4AD.