There are songs on Covey’s debut album that cover unthinkably heavy—and oddly specific—thoughts and memories, like reaching old age without a friend or family member left in the world, or a dysfunctional Christmas spent exchanging dollar store gifts with one other person, or seeking revenge against the man who purposefully scalded a 13-year-old with hot coffee. Yet according to Tom Freeman, none of these are even the “heaviest” song on the album. While there’s certainly a point to be made about the songwriter possessing an instantly recognizable singing voice, what his new collection of songs makes clear is that his brutally open lyrics (and accompanying videos, which are as creative as they are heartbreaking) are what make Class of Cardinal Sin one of the most unique debuts of recent years.
While the album explicitly touches on “oversharing” lyrically, each song together feels like a tapestry of taboos sure to put an end to a casual encounter on the bus—from the quiet, matter-of-fact proclamations like “A different home every year creates an oddly scattered head” on “1991,” to the rousing, undeniable chorus of “Fuck that guy I hope he’s dead” that closes out “Sam Jam.” I imagine these tracks could come across as corny if even just for a second they didn’t feel entirely genuine.
To take us deeper into the stories that inspired the record, we asked Freeman to walk us through the LP track by track. In true Covey fashion, we got a little bit more, as the track-by-track breakdown is preceded by a brief essay about the work as a whole. Listen to the record in full below, and read on for his words.
I wanted to make this record about something that would resonate with me regardless of whether I was going through a breakup, struggling with depression/anxiety, or simply missing my friends (these are just some examples of what I’ve written about through Covey to date). I wanted to tackle something more complex and deep-seeded in me, more of why I am the way I am, why I have the problems I have, and why I struggle the way I do sometimes—almost like the steps one would go through in therapy to figure out where the issues lay at the root. And in that process I derived almost everything back to the way I was raised and the troubles I faced growing up in a broken home, which let my relationships with my family suffer greatly through a drawn-out split (about 10 years) to the degree that I now have a multitude of issues in personal relationships that I desperately need therapy for in order to maintain relationships and a normal life.
As I dove more and more into writing about these experiences and trying not to put a filter on it, I came to realize that this is a topic that resonates with a lot of people, particularly coming to New York and being around the artists that I find myself around every day. Everyone has their own story to tell and their own troubles they experienced growing up. Perhaps that’s why we all migrated to a trash-filled town having felt like trash for the better half of our lives? We are the rat children and we live in rat town because that’s what we feel we deserve. Rat children unite. The relatability of the topic really got me excited and the songs started pouring out. It’s not a subject I hear in songs often, and I battled the concept of oversharing a lot on this one as it felt like I was in a way exposing my family, warts and all. But ultimately felt that a transparent discussion of this was necessary if it was going to mean anything to me in the long run. I don’t talk to my family as much as I would like, and I’m sure they feel the same way. But in a lot of ways, the damage is already done. It’s hard because I look back on it and can see that we were all suffering in our own way, not just me. It’s easy to hold the adults in the situation accountable, but as I’m entering adulthood, it’s easy to see that no one truly has it figured out, and although I find it hard to accept, I can understand what the family went through.
I still love my family, and I know they love me, but there are still so many things that I have never discussed with my parents, and so many horrible memories I have, that I suppose I’m just supposed to forget happened as we make out like things were just fine growing up. Things only really became tolerable once we all went our separate ways, which in itself says a lot to me. Throughout this writing process I’ve had heavy breakdowns and realizations that have helped me in some ways, but pulled up a lot too, for better or for worse—I’m not entirely sure yet—but I think the thing I felt most whilst writing this record was nervousness and guilt.
Depression, anxiety, and all that fun stuff can be so complex sometimes, but I wanted to dig into why it was that I struggle with affection, why I love my friends so much, why I recluse at times and deeply value alone time, but at the same time need human contact after a stint alone, why I’m so cynical and why I feel that life is futile so frequently. I feel that almost everything runs back to these six years where my home was one of the unhealthiest places i’ve ever known.
1. “Cut on the Crease”
This one outlines pretty much everything I spoke about above. It’s a general assessment of myself and why I have the issues I have, what I would do if I could go back and do it again, telling my parents to split early instead of dragging it out (“I’d tell my parents not to stick it out for us”). I touch on how many other people have gone through something similar to this (“There’s too many cases out there for me to count”) and close the song out addressing that I know I need to fix these issues I’ve grown into as an adult before I’m “old and alone, filled with regret.”
This song follows up on what “Cut on the Crease” touches on, going into more detail, briefly mentioning sleep hallucinations and night terrors I experienced growing up. I briefly touch on my frequent moving and how that has affected me in verse two (“A different home, every year, creates an oddly scattered head”) and once again go into more detail on that following why it contributes to my issues. In verse three I think back to the first Christmas I had without my parents. Me and my sister got together and decided to just spend Christmas with the two of us. And it was a pretty rough Christmas—we made some janky Christmas tree out of Amazon cardboard boxes and went to the dollar store to buy all our gifts for each other because we didn’t have any money to really dig into real gifts. The morning of, my sister cried a ton, and It was just horrible. So now I just spend Christmas entirely alone each year. I don’t mind it. That’s actually when I wrote and recorded this record. December 2019 through January 2020. Locked myself in whilst everyone went home and just did this, day-in-day-out, for two months.
3. “Fuck It (Why Am I Alive?)”
Sometimes I get into these thought spirals and start drawing conclusions that may or may not be true, but in that moment make a lot of sense to me. I was thinking about what life would be like when I’m “old and alone,” as mentioned in “Cut on the Crease,” and how that would look. If all my friends were dead, or busy with their lives, whatever it is, how long would it be until I just decided fuck it, pull the plug, lets opt out. “Will I last long, when I’m 80, putting time in on my own, counting down the days.” I then had this thought: “Is that why we have kids?,” because people who don’t have kids or friends at 80, how does that feel? Are they wildly lonely? Do some people have kids because it gives them purpose after they’ve achieved everything in their lives? Or is it another try to achieve those things? So they can live vicariously through a mini version of themselves and take pride in them achieving things too? Almost like getting to live it all again—kindergarten, high school, college, first job, etc. Is having a kid actually some selfish act in its core for purpose after your life? No disrespect to anyone who wants kids—I want kids someday—but this thought stuck with me. People love to see themselves in their child.
4. “Four Dollar Sandwich”
This song is a kind of running thought process on a trip to pick up some drugs, about a 30 minute walk away from me. Someone once told me that I walk too close to strangers when I’m just in my zone and not paying attention to my surroundings, and I ran with that thought for the chorus when I say “I keep my distance from strangers, I don’t wanna scare them / I don’t think I’m scary, but that’s not for me to say.” I ran with this further and kind of fleshed out the idea of how many people we could have probably connected with, fallen in love with, become best friends, etc., but we just walked right by them on the street as strangers, or said hi at a friend’s gathering and it never went any further. I feel like humans are so guarded and the whole taboo of “oversharing” is a silly concept. I tend to overshare a lot and do so unapologetically, and it’s just so frowned upon for some reason.
5. “Sam Jam”
This one is about wishing that I was around for key moments in my sister’s life. I isolated myself a lot when my household and family life become so toxic, and in turn it meant I wasn’t there for these two significant events in my sister’s life: one being her eight-hour scoliosis surgery where she had four metal rods put in her back, and another is a time that she was running through a cafe and accidentally ran into a man with hot coffee. He got angry at her (she was about 13) and decided it would be a good idea to pour coffee on her head, scalding her. Just to paint a picture, my sister is about 4’8” at this point in her life, if even that, and no one around did anything to this piece of shit. My parents held off telling me because they knew I would probably kill him. So I wrote about what I would do to him if I ever saw him, or if I was there in the moment. What a horrible person to assault a little child like that. I’m getting fired up just writing this. And to finish the song off I wanted a chant that I could get everyone at shows to sing along to as some kind of justice served as hundreds of people chant together, “Fuck that guy, I hope he’s dead.” I think this should be a single for that reason alone
6. “Point Mutation”
This one is directly addressing my family and how we attempted to force a normal, happy life on ourselves, forcing dinners and trying to hold it all together when it was clearly falling apart.
7. “Crooked Spine”
Another song about my sister, outlining an abusive loser boyfriend she had and how her confidence has been shot over the years. I blame myself, too, for not being the best brother when I was younger and try to encourage and nurture her confidence back throughout the song.
8. “Local Anesthesia”
This is the only song on the record that isn’t about family—instead it’s about mental illness and issues I face now as a result of my upbringing, as it outlines struggling with memory and what each memory means, as well as coping day to day with depression and anxiety, letting myself rot away when I’m in a hole.
9. “Sound of a Gun”
This song is actually about my best friend Danny that lived up the road from me when I was going through all of this family shit through the years. He was my safe house, and to this day is still my best friend. He comes on tour with us as our tour manager sometimes!
10. “Marzipan Pills”
This is probably the heaviest song on the record for me because its a play-by-play of one of the hardest phone calls (more a series of phone calls) I’ve ever had with my dad as I attempted to stay on the phone with him throughout a day as he weaned off and didn’t have delirium tremors. It didn’t go so well. I love him so much and he’s the best person I know. Just struggles with an ugly, ugly disease and has for as long as I can remember. No metaphors, no poetry—just, exactly what happened.