Play “Family Ties” by Cereus Bright.
Tell us the story behind “Family Ties.” Where did the idea come from?
This is a deeply personal song, unsurprisingly, about my family. As I’ve entered my 30s, I found myself thinking more and more about how we become the way that we are. Few things shape us like family, and few things are as effecting. The song’s about the ways family can feel constricting and suffocating, as well as grounding and supporting. In the song, I borrow scenes and details from my own story as well as those of my family members, to paint a picture of family life, in all of its complexities and joys.
Tell us about the recording process and the instrumentation.
On this record, I wanted to explore a lot of sounds outside of the acoustic folk world that I’ve primarily stayed in, but “Family Ties” felt like it still belonged there – rooted in organic, timeless sounds and tones. I recorded and built the core of this track in Nashville, TN, at the home of my producer, Thad Kopec, with the help of Juan Solorzano (co-producer, guitar, bass) and Cody Carpenter (drums). I think because this song was so personal and pastoral, we didn’t fixate on it too much, which really ended up serving it. It’s easy to overthink a song, and with certain ones, you really have to fight with it to find the right idea. “Family Ties” felt very natural and easy, we really just followed it, and landed in a place we were all really happy about. Afterward, I started thinking about adding strings, to add a little more drama to the song. Again, family is such a significant, but mundane topic, so I wanted to kind of push the tone of the song towards the drama and heartbreak you’d feel around a more expected topic. I had Bobby Chase arrange the stings, and he and his wife, Melodi, did an incredible job recording the strings (even during lockdown).
On a more general note, what does normally your creative process look like? Do you set aside “songwriting time” or does it just happen when it happens?
It’s really changed so much over the years. To borrow an overused metaphor, it really feels a lot like growing a plant – a time for cultivating the soil, for planting seeds, for feeding an idea, pruning it, and then harvesting a song at the other end. In different seasons, I find myself needing to cultivate different rhythms and postures towards creativity and song completion. When I’m just looking for inspiration, I’m rarely setting time aside. When I need to finish something, I have to be fiercely disciplined, or I’ll never complete anything.
If we rewind to the very beginning, how did your musical journey start? How did this interest in music translate into writing your own songs?
I took piano lessons early on, but never fully took to music until I started learning chords in high school and realized I could (poorly) learn songs from the radio. Once I understood those musical building blocks, I almost instantly stopped learning other songs and started writing my own. Writing my own songs felt deeply cathartic and important. I wrote songs privately for a decade before I started playing or performing publicly or in a band. To this day, 99 times out of 100, when I sit down with an instrument, I’m just trying to write something new.
Finally, what’s next on your agenda? Who knows? I suspect it’ll still be a while before I play any shows. As I’ve gotten older and settled into a more traditional 9-5 routine, I’m still figuring out how to balance work and art-making, but I’m always writing songs and dreaming up the next session. I’m hoping to track a few new songs before the year is out.
The original drums in this song were converted to MIDI using the ‘Tracker’ in Superior Drummer 3 and then replaced with the sounds from the Singer-Songwriter EZX. Song used with permission. All rights belong to the copyright owners.