Sarah Mary Chadwick Breaks Down Her Intimate New LP “Me & Ennui Are Friends, Baby” Track by Track
The Melbourne-based songwriter dives into the trauma, sexuality, and humor of her latest record.
While “intimate” has never been a descriptor that couldn’t be applied to the records of Melbourne-based songwriter Sarah Mary Chadwick—whose stripped-bare compositions place her lyrics often detailing various traumas and other personal matters front-and-center—the trilogy of albums she’s released over the past three years have exhibited three very different instrumental experiments in how best to translate that intimacy to sound. After a full-band record and a solo LP performed live on an organ, Me & Ennui Are Friends, Baby sees Chadwick taking a first-take (or second- or third-take) best-take approach with these twelve jarringly raw tracks.
Without doctoring these recordings up, the resulting album is intentionally full of details like mics picking up creaking piano benches and sniffling in the background, as well as more Björk-ish voice breaks than previous LPs permitted. While there’s no roar of the crowd to be heard punctuating each track, it encapsulates the exact type of live experience we so badly miss in 2021.
Though her lyrics mostly speak for themselves, Chadwick took the time to detail each song on the new album, recalling the ambulance rides and magic nights in Melbourne that provide the dramatic shadings to the project. Stream the record below, and read on for her thoughts.
1. “A Mother’s Love”
I like the lyrics to this song. “Mothers never love me / Baby that’s why you should,” “Fathers always dying / Baby that’s why you will,” “Brothers bide their time / They’re not much for showing / and so you disappear.” I like the idea of making Big Rules based on the research of exactly one experience. I like the idea of demanding impossible things from a relationship while being conscious that the things you are asking for are direct derivatives of something completely separate from the relationship at hand. No mothers ever loved me, so you have to. It’s an insane demand. I like how ridiculous and sad it is. In saying that, ridiculous and sad probably isn’t a bad way to describe this entire record.
I like the imagery of the restaurant scene at the end—having an emotional conversation with someone, confessing your innermost insecurities over the table and then either getting distracted by the waiter’s ineptitude, or maybe more accurately using the waiter’s work ethic as a way to avoid continuing the conversation, ’cause it hurts like hell.
2. “At Your Leisure”
A lot of this record is about throwing yourself at the mercy of someone whilst being completely conscious that they are 100 percent unable to rise to the occasion and function in the way that you need them to. This song is about the time spent waiting for them to prove your suspicions wrong and show up. When I first was waiting, it was exciting like delayed enjoyment and excruciating tension. But after months and months, the gratification I get from servitude was shouldered out of the way by my need to exist and be seen. Like, why am I putting myself through this? That’s when I had to wonder, is this all for this song?
3. “That Feeling Like”
When I have played this song live it gets laughs, so I’ve begun to play it up. I know a lot of my music has grim content, so as I have gotten older I try and keep the banter and stage persona pretty lols. It’s also because it began to get increasingly difficult for me to perform and hold it together. I dont like crying on stage, it feels gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s not so much that I undermine my work or myself, more so that I try and interestingly contrast the bleakness with humor. Also, life contains comedy and tragedy so I feel like it more accurately represents a real experience that way. My favourite lines in this song are the ones criticizing people who do talk about art, then immediately criticising people who don’t. I like exercising the liberty to change my mind. I dislike immovable things.
4. “Every Loser Needs A Mother”
I don’t deliberately keep smashing the Oedipal complex button, but it keeps happening. This song is a very pointed, one-sided conversation to someone. It’s interesting to me that no matter how specific I make the lyrics and scenarios explained in my songs, people still seem to be able to find themselves in them. That’s sometimes why I put exact details like dates and years in songs, so I can retain a little bit of the narrative as my own. The last lines of “Every Loser” question song and songwriting’s ability to function effectively as the sole means of understanding and registering the world. I often find lyrics in my work that query the purpose and activity of my songs, like what do they do? On the day this single came out I got a message from the person it’s about. “Huge track.”
5. “Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby”
This song details an ambulance ride after a suicide attempt. I don’t particularly like talking about that—in some ways it seems obscene to talk openly about something so deeply private and personal—but at the same time I think it’s important for me and perhaps for people at large to acknowledge suicide, to prevent it becoming our Biggest Enemy. To demystify it seems to disarm it. For me, everything that happens to me is a part of me, and everything that is a part of me has always gone into my songs. I do find it almost unbearably sad to think about what I must’ve been feeling like to lead me to that occurrence. It’s not something that looms very large in my psyche, and honestly it was not even a huge moment of change in my life. It was an awful experience amongst a lot of awful experiences that thankfully are retreating into the past.
One funny thing happened—my friend who was in the ambulance with me told me that the nurse who was in the back of the ambulance doing my drip or whatever asked me “What do you do for work?” and I said “I’m a chef, what do you do?” and he said, really straight-faced, “I’m a paramedic.” That really cracks me up.
6. “Always Falling”
This song is pretty futile and it knows it, I think. It sounds very resigned and trapped and pretty aware that nothing is going to work out the way that I wanted.
7. “Full Mood”
A magic night I won’t forget. Sometimes things are beautiful and everything holds its breath for a second. I’ve got lots of energy for beauty and joy and love, I always have. I love it when things are shiny and warm, and my anxiety isn’t home. This night felt like that. Melbourne is a good place to live. You can kick around town and know people and be known. There’s places to go and you can disappear into it if you want to. When I think about where I grew up, the oppressive silence and drastic countryside seem ominous and cold. On this night walking home-ish, around the sparkly streets, drunk and in love, I thought of my childhood home and my parents and I felt the distance from there to where I was and it felt amazing.
8. “Let’s Go Home”
This is quite a tender song, I think, and one that expresses remorse and regret. It’s about wishing happiness for someone that I wasn’t able to give them, happiness that I believe I have felt and thought that maybe they hadn’t. It’s about wanting better for someone than I was ever going to give. I really like the line about trees: “’Cause you can leave / But they can’t leave / Well they can leave / But they can’t leave.” It’s funny and it captures what I wanted to capture—a wall of black willow trees moving in the darkness against the sky, surrounding a house I want to run away from.
9. “Don’t Like You Talking”
I don’t think I’m by nature a particularly jealous person, but then when I hear this song I question that. It probably says more about the ability of the other person to make me feel uncertain and insecure. I like this song a lot.
10. “I Was Much Better at Being Young Than You Are”
If I’m honest, this song was written in the studio the day of recording because Geoff O’Connor, my friend who records all my records, remembered it as a title I had been throwing around earlier in the year that never got a song attached to it. It’s about being eighteen in Wellington. I had red satin sheets, and I suppose looking back they saw some action. I fell proper in love for the first time in those sheets. We melted a big hole in them from smoking in bed. God I love smoking in bed.
11. “When You’re Sleeping”
This song has the only overdub I did for the whole record—I did a second vocal take to double it up. Apart from this song, this whole record was recorded live over a day, with three takes max on each song. It was an approach closer to The Queen Who Stole the Sky than Please Daddy, and I was aiming for immediacy and energy rather than perfect takes and flawless singing. To a large extent I think I achieved what I wanted. It’s difficult to talk about this record song by song, because for me the lyrics and intention are so explicit and unguarded I’m not really sure how much more I can say. I can kind of just play free association a little bit and see what comes to the top.
I like the power of knowing that no matter what, if someone is connected to you and you to them, they can’t stop you crawling into their minds when they’re asleep. You don’t even have to pay for an Uber to get there. The love on this record was not my greatest love, or my longest love or the nicest or most tender love. It was jarring and filled with despair and unconvincing acting. It was intermittent and seedy and hidden from sight. But it was completely consuming and took over my mind. And it was worth it.
12. “Will the Lord Hold My Hand”
I see this song as the partner to “Make Hey” from Please Daddy. I like pseudo-religiousness and I like calling the sky God. This song is just begging the sky for the hard sad times to be over. Where I am right now is very far from this place, and I am relieved and in disbelief. I’m glad I’m not very good at killing myself.