Songs of love, loss and redemption
On her new album, Heartbreak Residue, Briget Boyle deals with the emotional, social and societal losses of the past few troubling years. The singer/songwriter said the songs aren’t precisely autobiographical, but they were informed by the events of the pandemic and the lockdown.
“I experienced a lot of loss, and my life really changed,” Boyle said. “Right before COVID hit, my dad passed away. I felt like I lost a part of me when he passed. I also lost the cat that I’d had for half my life and, after lockdown, it became clear that my marriage was coming to an end. My ex and I are still friends, but there was a lot of heartache in an already challenging time.”
“I started looking at the songs I’d written and hadn’t recorded and put together a list of about 50 songs,” Boyle continued. “I thought I’d record one song at a time and release some singles over the course of a couple of years. When I spoke with my friend and producer, Jacob [Light], he encouraged me to come up with a smaller list.
“As soon as he said that, I knew what I wanted to say, so Heartbreak Residue became a project about loss. The songs aren’t about one situation, but the breakup, COVID and the lockdown shaped the album. The title came from a lyric of a song I wrote a few years prior: ‘I guess I’ve grown a lot and now I know a lot of heartbreak residue,’” she explained.
Boyle said the original version of the song wasn’t strong enough to be on the album. “I needed to rewrite it. When I mentioned it to Adri Walker, one of the students I teach singing and songwriting to, she instantly started singing the chorus hook, so we wrote the song together,” she noted. “We had a few Zoom meetings to work on it and did some rewriting in the studio, during the recording process. It was very creative and inspiring.”
Boyle culled down her list of songs to 11, most of them written during the time of the lockdown, and contacted Light about making an album. They got together at ModernTone Studios in Lafayette and assembled a group of players to record the songs.
“My first album, The Parts Interior, is pretty folky and acoustic,” Boyle said. “My second, The Next Line, is more rock and helped me understand where I wanted to go, musically. This time, I focused more on the craft of the song, so they’d have lyrical clarity and musical weight. In the studio, Jacob and I wanted the songs to sound like they were being played live. We didn’t want to push it too far into a polished modern pop sound.
“I made raw demos with Jacob as part of the preproduction process,” Boyle recalled. “We ironed out the tempos, worked out the arrangements, fine-tuned the lyrics and made scratch tracks for a lot of the tunes. I brought in some folks I’d collaborated with in the past, and he brought in David Wellerstein on bass. Jacob played lead guitar and synthesizer; I played rhythm guitar and sang.
“It was recorded last year,” she continued. “We were all tested and vaxxed, but we masked when we needed to and made sure to keep everyone safe. We did the initial tracks live; then I redid most of my guitar parts for better sound quality. We brought in a few friends to add backing vocals, accordion and cello parts. The long and short of it is, nobody got sick.”
The songs on Heartbreak Residue sound like a novel set to music. They chart the course of a relationship, from its joyful beginning, to the breakup and the accompanying loneliness, introspection and acceptance. “Even Keeled Heart” opens the set, with Boyle’s acoustic picking and a relaxed vocal that describes the rush of energy one feels when meeting a prospective lover. Bang’s keyboard plays a twinkling waltz on the chorus, as Boyle lists off her dreams for the new relationship.
After growing up in Los Angeles and working with her father, the late Tim Boyle, as an assistant audio engineer on the soundtracks for films like Starship Troopers and Animaniacs, Boyle studied music performance and composition at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. After becoming obsessed with the vocal music of the Balkans, she flew back to California to audition for Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble.
“The first time I heard women’s voices together a cappella,” Boyle said, “it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.” Kitka hired her, and she quickly hooked up with Brass Menažeri and other Balkan influenced bands. In 2010, Julie Graffagna, one of Kitka’s former musical directors, reached out to Boyle and Leslie Bonnett, another former member of Kitka, and they formed True Life Trio.
“We got together casually, to sing in harmony,” Boyle recalled. “It slowly became the True Life Trio. We sing folk music from around the world, including Ukraine, Bulgaria and Louisiana. We plan to release our third album, At My Window, in the coming months.”
Briget Boyle and Katie Cash will be performing at an album release party for ‘Heartbreak Residue’ at 8pm on Friday, April 21 at The Lost Church, 988 Columbus St., San Francisco. thelostchurch.org.