Sweet Pill’s new album exists in a long lineage of debut records that took years to compile due in part to the fact that it’s no easy task to make sense of all the goings-on of one’s early-twenties—a highly disorienting period of being spit out of college and trying to find peace with the fact that you’ll be spending the unforeseeable future squinting at a computer screen upwards of 40 hours per week. As if to complement vocalist Zayna Youssef’s frustrated, wandering lyrics on the yearningly titled Where the Heart Is, the backing instrumentation consistently lands somewhere between ferocious punk—hailing from Philly’s DIY scene, they clearly share some DNA with Mannequin Pussy—and the noodling math rock of their Midwestern peers.
Among the first samples of the record, the rage-filled “Blood” arrived with a music video that summed up much of the album’s irritation. In the visual, Youssef goes head-to-head in a boxing ring with a pre-teen doppelgänger of herself only to get KO’d—a relatable sentiment both in the sense that it often feels like the roadblocks we’re currently staring down lie at the end of a road which forked for us years ago, as well as the way in which the things we find most exasperating in life often look ridiculous once we have a bit of distance from them. On top of all that, it presented the group in its finest form instrumentally, with grungy, attitude-schlepping bass giving way to some of the album’s best throat-shredding vocals.
With the record officially dropping this Wednesday via Topshelf, Youssef took the time to break down each track on the record, venting the specific frustrations behind each song—from career uncertainty to the shame of throwing money at a dating app only to still see zero results—in more detail (and with a bit less shouting). Listen along to an early stream of the LP below, and read on for Youssef’s thoughts.
1. “Where the Heart Is”
Where is the heart, you ask? Well for me, it could be home. Where is home, you ask? God, I don’t know, too many questions and no right answer. This song was written at a point in my life where I was finishing college and starting a “career.” I started an eight-to-five job in graphic design sitting in front of a computer. It felt like I was wasting my life. It was also a time where I tried to build up my own meaning of “home.” Home can mean so many things for other people. I desperately wanted to escape work for home. Yet home can also be a place that holds you back and can never quite leave. The lyrics are simple and literal for me. I felt frustrated, bored, and meek. Almost three years later and I finally quit that darn place and am still trying to find my own meaning of “home.”
This was written when I was experiencing a falling out. I am pretty much trying to convince myself I’m better off without someone or something. You know that feeling? When you feel like you gave too much for too little in return? Fun fact: I actually punched a hole in my wall out of rage, hence the lyrics. I’m not usually an angry person, I swear.
3. “High Hopes”
This one is a wordy one, but I love that. I walk through some of the human sensations like hearing and sweating—basically describing what it feels like to be anxious or overwhelmed, and facing it instead of hiding from it. I also touch on saying things you don’t mean to not hurt someone’s feelings. I think honesty is key, folks. The music mimics a lot of what I’m feeling. The melody goes up and down, then leads to tender moments shadowed by edgy parts. The flow of the melody made the words flow out of me.
4. “Dog Song”
Who doesn't love dogs? “Dog Song” came about from a Lemuria lyric: “Like a goddamn dog, with its tail between its legs.” I loved the imagery (and the band). Dogs do funny things—like my pup when she chases her tail and looks like a spinning donut. She looks dizzy, chaotic, animalistic, and I wonder what it looks like through her eyes. Connecting back to “Where the Heart Is,” life felt very cyclical and mundane, and “Where The Heart Is” was the literal representation of that while “Dog Song” is the metaphoric representation of it.
5. “Sucker Punch”
“Sucker Punch” is about being a sucker for love. I love to be in love! Obviously, romance has a price, and it’s usually a costly one on my heart. I kind of don’t want to ruin the lyric for anyone, but the first line, “Love’s expensive,” is literally buying Tinder Gold and getting nowhere with it. To me, love is like getting punched in the face. But here I am, always coming back for more. It hurts so good!
This track is cool because it’s the first time I wrote lyrics with another person. Jayce came to me with the line and the riff for “Sometimes, I’m waiting for the worst time to get hit with what feels like dynamite.” From there, I filled in the gaps and created a whole narrative behind the sentiment of having bad luck. The lyrics are self-reflective and show a pessimistic point of view of simply just existing. Like “High Hopes,” I talk about the body and how my body parts always seem to fail me at the worst moment.
7. “Diamond Eyes”
This could be the saddest song on the album. I kind of was comparing someone/an experience to something materialistic—like a diamond. I’m so entranced in it (them/the diamond) to the point where I tarnish it. I lost my sense of self and my direction. (Literally like physical direction, as in moving, and mentally, like finishing college and figuring out myself). I’m kind of mad at myself for being obsessed with something that really wasn’t worth it or priceless. At the time, I also had a partner moving across state lines. Hence the “Defined lines, what state am I gonna die?” lyric. Still trying to figure out my own direction and where I’ll end up in my own life.
8. “Fate” [instrumental]
9. “Red String”
I love anime so much. A common belief in Asian folklore is that you and your life partner are tied to each other by a red string on each of your fingertips. When this was written, I was feeling pretty hopeless, and that the other end of my string was partnerless. I felt like a tangled knot of string that couldn't make their own choices. My string felt frayed and ragged. Clarity was the last thing I was feeling.
I was able to write “Cut” after listening to Hayley Williams’ “Simmer.” Her whole album is about stepping out and looking at herself and blooming into herself. She references the life cycle of beautiful organic flowers that all eventually wilt for new life. Again, I’m talking about circles and cycles and where I lie in the mix of it. I talk about death (“Towards the grass the bodies fell”) and that I can't escape it. I’m rooted in my ways, and no matter how we change, we all share the same fate. You can’t cut someone out of their habits or their destiny. Damn, kind of dark, but kind of romantic.