by: Peter Keough ’20 A&E Co-Editor
In today’s music industry, collaborations are often saddled with large expectations and surrounded by excitement. Whether fans are waiting for the next DJ Khaled-produced album of star-saturated hits or enjoying Ed Sheeran’s newest album No.6 Collaborations Project, the coming together of artists to create songs cooperatively is undoubtedly a popular phenomenon. Due to the aforementioned expectations, however, the process of making these kinds of projects can become complicated and muddled, all in the pursuit of making the perfect song.
This kind of perfectionist attitude is exactly what Red Hearse sought to avoid on their self-titled debut project, Red Hearse. Comprised of singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Jack Antonoff of fun. and Bleachers fame, Grammy-winning and Top Dawg Entertainment-affiliated producer Sounwave, and singer-songwriter Sam Dew, Red Hearse was formed more out of coincidence than intention.
In an Instagram post from June 26, Antonoff wrote about the simplistic approach the group took to creating music. Speaking on himself, Sounwave, and Dew, he stated, “We’d meet ever[y] once in a while in California at the studio. We don’t think much about what we are gonna do, we just make a plan to meet.” Continuing on, he claimed, “[S]omething that we loved came from the three of us in that room…Red Hearse is the sound of the 3 of us in a room. I love that about these songs.” Antonoff’s main point in this post was to describe how, through the simple act of getting these three artists in a room together, they were able to produce something cohesive and noteworthy.
Although Sam Dew, Jack Antonoff, and Sounwave come from disparate musical backgrounds, their expertise in songwriting, instrumentation, and producing respectively come together to create a cohesive sound.
“Half Love,” the first track off of Red Hearse, sets the tone for the rest of the project. Heavy bass synths, no doubt a product of Sounwave’s experience with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, outline the catchy chorus of Dew, “Cause everybody’s playin’ it loose, but / What if we were real with it? / ‘Cause honestly / I’m just too good for that half love / Now that you’ve been feelin’ it too / Ah, admit the truth / Never gonna love another like you.”
The group replicates this formula throughout the rest of the album to reinvent the typical R&B sound while pushing the theme of love to the forefront. On “You Make It Easy,” Antonoff reflects on the effects of being in love, singing, “Now I’ll never want another / You left a mark that just can’t come off / Now I’ll never want another / Never learn my lesson.”
Although the lyrics sound cliché, they actually paint a sophisticated picture of love. Antonoff and company look at love through the past, present, and future. It is a complicated phenomenon which gives life when it is received but also haunts when it is unrequited. Like Antonoff and Dew sing in “Everybody Wants You,” “Feels like I’ve been burnin’ up on the coldest day, uh, mm / Feels like I’m comin’ up on a perfect moment, take a moment / But you don’t ‘cause you don’t want it, uh / ‘Cause everybody wants you.”
Yet the beauty of this album’s story lies in the resilience of the protagonist. In the standout “Born to Bleed,” Antonoff and Dew sing, “You can cut me, doesn’t matter / All the better / I was born to bleed / You can’t do too much damage / I can manage all the same to me / ‘Cause I’m a healer / That can bring me back to life.”
Overall, Red Hearse is a collaborative experiment about an extremely personal experience. Each artist uses their own sound to bring light to the ups and downs of love. In its own way, the album demonstrates the power of coming together to talk through struggle but also the ability of individuals to practice self-care.