A year and a half ago, we embarked on a tour to share the Love Songs for the Rest of Us “concertsation” in the homes of (mostly) strangers across the country. We hoped to create a space where people would feel free to sing and share their hopes and fears about love, sex, relationships, and family. We knew this was a lot to ask of people, and even though we were driven to build this set of songs and open-ended questions because of all the times we wished for a place to have these conversations ourselves, and yet, we were still surprised at how much people wanted to talk about all these things and all they needed was a space to do it. In Michigan, we had women who had known each other for decades, share how they felt about themselves as teenagers, and tell us they had never before had a chance to talk about it with one another. In Montana, a couple at a senior center told us how they managed to fall in love again after being married for thirty years. In Washington, a man shared his fears around sex, ones he had never spoken to anyone about before. In Mississippi, three generations of women shared what it was like to come out to their families. In North Carolina, a group of teenage girls told of the ways they have struggled in their own bodies. And everywhere, people, even those who didn’t say much during the discussions, sang with us.
We had a second ambitious aim, which was to write an entire album based off the conversations we had with all the people we met. We struggled with this when we returned to New York. It seemed like a life’s work, rather than the work of a single record, to begin to capture the complexity and spirit of what people had shown us of themselves. There were themes, surely, but we were also captivated and thinking a great deal about the beautiful, unique individuals we had met and the nuances of their stories. We had been clear from the beginning of the project, however, that we would not indulge in what we saw as the exploitative practice of writing songs based on specific experiences that were shared with us. It became clear that our collaborators, those who took the risk of showing up for this strange prospect in the eleven cities we stopped in over the course of two months, would be influencing our creative work for many, many years to come, and we could not, on command, force the shape of this.
But amongst the themes that arose over the course of the tour, there were two that kept popping up in our brains, first thing in the morning and as we tried to fall asleep at night. For me, it was the issue of enthusiastic consent, and the way in which talking about sex with sexual partners has been ridiculed and maligned as an awkward way to kill the mood. Conversations about sexual assault and the language we use around it came to a peak in Missoula, a small college town torn apart when rape and assault allegations came to light, sadly, a tale that could be told on most campuses across the country. But the theme came up again, in other places, with people older and younger. And the conversations I had, especially with young women, stuck with me, because of my own experiences, and the important Yes means Yes legislation that was passed in California, and the courageous organizing being done by young women at Columbia. And so I wrote, Ask Me How I Like It, in attempt to make something fun and danceable that celebrates not just the necessity of clarifying sexual desires and boundaries, but also the joy and sexiness of it.
For Stephanie, it was conversations around the shame we are made to feel about sexuality that stuck in her head. It is something she has thought about a great deal in her own life, but realizing the great myriad of ways that people are able, and often stopped from, expressing al of who they are took on greater dimensions and clarity during conversations on the tour. Beyond the question at the heart of one of the greatest civil rights struggles of our time, that of who we love, it became clear that we additionally need a bright, celebratory light shone on the freedom people should have in how they love and how they choose, or choose not to, engage in sexual and/or romantic lives. And with all this bursting forth from her, Stephanie wrote the song No Shame.
These songs are invitations. We want to share them as widely as possible, through the music videos we are filming in the coming weeks, in the hopes they will become footholds of comfort and joy for those who have thought a great deal about these issues and are working everyday to ensure the freedoms we are celebrating here are real for everyone. We equally hope the songs will ignite new thought processes in those who haven’t had the opportunity to think about what it would be like to live in a world where enthusiastic consent and sexuality without shame are the status quo.
On June 21st, we will release a record that will include these two songs and several others from the tour. It will exist as the culmination of a project we started nearly two years ago, a record that can’t quite capture, but we hope will honor, the laughter, honesty, and compassion we encountered in all the homes we were welcomed into. And in that sense, it is an ending, an emotional archive of the tour. But it is also a beginning, as we continue to face the exhilarating challenge of creating artistic work that feels true for us as individuals, and also honors all the people in the world, some known by us directly but most not, who have influenced us, who have been singing when we are singing, even if we can’t hear them, in their own living rooms, telling their own truths.