Sara Curtin and Maureen Andary, the two soulful folk musicians performing as The Sweater Set since 2008, recorded their new album Fly On The Wall in front of a live audience at Tonal Park in Takoma Park MD two full years ago, in April 2018. In “Being Alone”, the fourth advance single from Fly On The Wall which we’re honored to premiere today, Curtin sings “When did we get so bad at being alone?” Songs written ages ago can take on new meaning when our world suddenly shifts into a strange new quarantine. Hopefully we’ve gotten a bit better at being alone over the last month, and maybe this quiet, mellow tune can help.
Curtin and Andary have this to say about “Being Alone”:
SARA: I wrote this song in the dead of winter. Washington, DC is a city that clears out in December around the holidays and again in August during government recess. “Parking is easy, bars are empty.” The predictability of the pattern and the quiet of the city got me thinking about how we behave when we’re alone. Do we let ourselves feel it? Do we stare into the mirror discovering every new wrinkle and gray hair? Or are we forced to feel it only when the internet goes out and we can’t numb our loneliness with a mindless scroll through Instagram, or a whole night-long Netflix binge?
It’s meditative to sing this song. There are only two chords and even the vocal melodies and phrasing repeat while only the lyrics change. We always work very hard to sync our exact phrasing and breaths for our songs, but we spent extra time on this one because of its precise use of unison and counterpoint melody. If something is off, it pulls you out of the trance. Like when a fire engine goes by at the very end of a yoga class.
MAUREEN: It was special to sing this song together. It’s so interesting when we sing the refrain and the verse at the same time to end the song. The refrain is an expansive melody and we had to really plan our breathing for this one. We’ve done counterpoint in choral singing and also in our school days of musical theatre so this is a fun callback to those experiences. Don’t let the electric guitar fool you, this is Sara’s most Stephen Sondheim-esque reverie on the record.
SARA: “Being Alone” was the most patient and quiet I can remember ever being while writing a song. I remember sitting there, playing the chords over and over and just waiting for the words to come out. While experimenting with the effects on my electric guitar I started to notice very faint overtones. Those notes ended up as the very simple 2-note melody Maureen plays on the classical guitar. It happens very specifically only 3 times throughout the song when one or both of us sing the word “body”. It was one of those things that I was only able to notice because of how quiet I let my mind become while writing. It was fun to put hidden nuances and patterns like this all throughout the song.
MAUREEN: I love the backdrop this song has with the weather and the sense of place. What’s interesting is that the seasons and the places are so predictable, even in the city, the patterns of the people on the street are the same, but what changes is us. In February I complained to a mentor of mine that I didn’t want it to snow because I didn’t want school to be cancelled. And this guy was like “NO!! Don’t ever say that! It means you’re no fun anymore!” I realized he was right and immediately took it back. But I think that’s the essence of this song. I think that the narrator is feeling oddly confronted by the seasonal shift and wondering, why does this bother me now? Why am I uncomfortable with the quiet?”
Tune in Friday May 1st at noon to see The Sweater Set performing live in a split-screen Facebook livecast, and pre-order Fly On The Wall that day too, as Bandcamp is waiving their fees that day and sending more money to the musicians that need it most right now.
Photo credit: Amanda Reynolds