In the Catskills, Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas play and recorded songs about growth. Plum, Widowspeak’s fifth studio record, was born this way, right before the blossoming of springtime. It took a lot of reflection for these nine songs to come to life—reflection on themselves, on society, on capitalism, on Japanese philosophy. The knowledge and revelations that ensued are evident in this serene, free-flowing record that melds indie rock and folk. It’s hypnotic from the beginning, drawing you into a trance.
The duo broke down each track on Plum for us, discussing everything that went into them. From social media content to “YOLO” songs, Widowspeak found inspiration from unlikely places, and made gorgeous, sprawling ballads from them. Read Hamilton’s explanations below, and grab the record here.
This song (and many songs on this album) came out of a place of trying to accept what I can’t control, and trying to be more present with the fact that all things are temporary. It’s a sort of easy breezy idea, but also a little sad: I think that’s the space where Widowspeak usually resides. I had been in a pretty dark place for a while, and one of the many things that helped was actually just sitting with the reality of life, as scary as that is: it’s short, it’s sometimes painful, but there’s also this underlying beauty in the fact that everything is slowly changing, gradually falling apart, or becoming something new. Everyone’s in their own time, and you can’t rush the process. The fruit metaphor to me is also sort of about how you can’t necessarily predict the underlying purpose of something, or the worth that someone has beyond what is immediately observable. The song felt like a central idea to all of the rest, so it became the title of the album too.
2. “The Good Ones”
Originally, these lyrics were inspired by seeing so much “aspirational” content on social media, the idea that one can eat “cleanly” or strive for perfection, will yourself to be happy by doing all the right things or make yourself more virtuous by calling out others. Sort of comes from a similar headspace as “Plum,” where I’ve been getting more comfortable with flaws, trying to embrace the idea of age and time and change that happens gradually. There are no miracle fixes for life, no formulas for success. So it comes off as a little salty, and the mood of it is a little dark, slinking…but I had been feeling frustrated with how society often rewards those who are already “winning,” implying that anyone else is “losing.”
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, and it was sort of an exercise in being more direct and asking real questions, however simple. On the one hand, being in some sort of creative career means trying to keep that balance between believing in art as practice and having to deal with the capitalistic system that supports it. And maybe the work you put in won’t actually pay off. The song is also definitely about the things we take for granted in our environment, and the myth of perpetual growth.
I wrote this one not necessarily about a specific job or moment, but just about the struggle to be fulfilled in work, and that feeling of frustration permeating all the other areas of your life, especially your life with someone else. I definitely recognize that since we wrote it there are a lot fewer possibilities to imagine a new path. But I think it’s more about wanting to support someone you love, dissolving traditional roles in domestic relationships, and realizing that there are times where goals are going to shift into focus as the main priority.
5. “Even True Love”
I had been thinking a lot about those sort of “YOLO” type songs that are always around, that sort of glorify youth and “we just have the moment” but are generally about taking advantage of whatever is in front of you, getting the most out of each situation. And I think there’s some fallacy to that, like grabbing whatever you can while you can isn’t really the point. This one is more about appreciating what you already have, and understanding that you can’t hold tight to anything—because ultimately, you can’t even take true love with you. That sounds depressing, but I think the rest of the lyrics also try to get comfortable and OK with that concept.
This is sort of an outlier on the record in that it’s more narrative. Amy was a babysitter that I’d had as a kid, and when she couldn’t pick me up one day, sent a friend of hers instead. I refused to go with a stranger and stayed there a few more hours until my dad could get me, but she ended up getting fired because of it. The song’s sort of about how small details about people or events might stay in your mind when you’re young, and your understanding of the emotional weight of a situation (in this case, the guilt I felt) might not be grounded in reality.
7. “Sure Thing”
When I first started having ideas for these songs, I was thinking a lot about fruit, food, flowers, and the sort of natural consumable things that we take for granted. The economics of that, and how far products travel, but also just the way we assume these perishable objects are always readily available. I think that happens in relationships too: you become ever-present for someone else. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s just about that weird concept of temporary permanence.
This one started as a totally different song with a chord progression that Rob turned into a sort of loop; eventually we decided it didn’t match the original lyrics, and I was going to write something else, sang some super basic French phrases over it in the meantime. But it felt strangely right, and I ended up weaving them together with some translations. In a very basic sense it is about the feeling of wanting to communicate something but being clumsy and unable to.
I think this song became the closer because in some ways it summarizes all the other disconnected ideas. I had seen pictures of the “rainbow valley” on Everest where so many climbers have died, their bodies still up on the mountain, and it seemed like such a strange reality of modern life: you have the ability to do anything you dream, and it might kill you, and that’s the choice. Nothing makes sense because all the paths are so divergent, people are all seeking different mountains, as absurd as it sometimes seems. I don’t have any opinions there, I think the song was just me thinking aloud, recognizing that the actions others take don’t always make sense. There’s also a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: the idea of choosing wisely—the result kills you or leads to some sort of redemption, maybe.