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Screeching feedback strikes a nerve like the piercing wails of a dog whistle in the first notes of Ian Sweet’s album opener “My Favorite Cloud.” The jarring chords are a personification of anxiety, as though songwriter Jilian Medford is assigning her racing thoughts a sonic identity as a way of examining their effects on her.
Anxiety is a feeling that Medford, unfortunately, is all too familiar with. “There are days where I feel invincible and strong and like I could f*ck anybody up,” Medford said over a phone call. “But there are other days where I can’t even be looked at without crying or wanting to hide.” It’s this dichotomy, one of strength and tenderness, that she explores throughout Ian Sweet’s radically honest third album, Show Me How You Disappear. Too often, women are taught that their emotions equate weakness, but Show Me How You Disappear acknowledges the importance of understanding them: We are strong as hell, but also sensitive, and these simultaneous truths are the key to knowing our power.
Medford wrote the entirety of the album during a period where her anxiety had pushed her to rock bottom. She had checked herself into a two-month outpatient program following after struggling with mental health and past traumas. Though Medford wasn’t planning on making a record at the time, she poured her thoughts and lessons into a daily journal, which were eventually translated to lyrics on Show Me How You Disappear. By doing so, the album depicts the path to healing through music, delicately unpacking anxiety, depression, and trauma, while showing how Medford was able to rise above it all.
Each song on Show Me How You Disappear marks a different stage of Medford’s journey. It begins with anxiety overcoming her on “My Favorite Cloud.” But she eventually learns the importance of focusing on her breath, which gives her strength on the buoyant song “Sword.” Halfway through the record, Medford commits to healing and sings herself an empowering mantra on the Mazzy Star-reminiscent track “Get Better,” before coming full circle and reflecting on the mental health tools she’s acquired on her album closer “I See Everything.”
The 10-track album as a whole veers into new and experimental territory, a stark contrast to the type of heartbreak indie rock heard on Ian Sweet’s last two albums. Medford recently opened up about how she experimented with sound on Show Me How You Disappear, and how the record is indefinitely interconnected with her mental health journey.
I understand that a lot of this album was written during a two-month outpatient program that you did. And first of all, I want to commend you on seeking help, because that’s definitely the hardest part. But can you talk about how your experience there led to the album, Show Me How You Disappear?
I had just reached a dark place and I was trying to get help for some time. I wasn’t really thinking about writing music, because I was just in the darkest depths where music was the last thing I wanted to do. Usually music is very healing, but sometimes when you’re so beat down, it can be hard to even enter that process. So I took the space and decided to check myself into this facility. I wasn’t really planning on writing while I was there, but it ended up that every morning we did a 20-minute journaling session, just freeform thought. I was feeling inspired and throughout my process, I wanted to start making music again and see what that would feel like. Most of the lyrics from the record are those journal entries. So yeah, I wasn’t planning to write a record or do anything around being there. But it was something that sprung up naturally, which is good. I was learning and processing things in real time, and writing songs in real time, too.
A lot of the production definitely differs from your sophomore album Crush Crusher. It seems like a lot of that was experimental. What were some ways that you experimented on this album that you didn’t on previous ones?
I really wanted to be much more in control on this record and take the reins, basically from start to finish. For this record, I demoed out all the drums electronically myself. That was some of the foundational groundwork that I did that I hadn’t done on other records. I think that for me, creating beats and working with drum loops really opened up my eyes and made me want to experiment with other electronic sounds that I hadn’t played with before. I definitely got more into the use of my computer and using computers for music, which felt really good. Then, it just led to me wanting to experiment with other facets. The other records were done as a three-piece band; you play bass, you play a drum kit, I’ll sing and play guitar — and that’s what felt so good about this record is that there were just no rules. Everything was being done in a crazy, chaotic time in my life. So, whatever happens, happens and I was going with it and trying new things. I’ve always wanted to experiment more but always felt a little bit held back by having other voices involved and other bandmates involved. Now that I’m the boss of Ian Sweet, I just get to make it all up.
I bet that feels really creatively freeing for you.
It really does. I love the process of collaborating, but I also know that I have to find ways to trust my judgment and trust myself through experimenting with different sounds. I know when I know — I am that type of person. I have to hear it. I have to hear that angelic sound to know it’s the perfect thing for me. So, that’s why I like to mess around until I get it right.
Talk about your song/album title, Show Me How You Disappear. What does that mean to you?
I guess it has a few different meanings. But one of the main focuses of this record is trying to heal from something traumatic that had happened to me in the last couple of years. As well as healing from a relationship that was traumatic. That song, “Show Me How You Disappear,” is heavily focused, it’s just basically the story of that whole relationship. I want to be freed of my anxiety and my trauma, and I don’t want to have to live with it anymore. It is exhausting and I want it to walk itself out the door and never come back. It’s me saying that I’m tired of doing all the legwork for something that I didn’t even cause, somebody else did this to me and now I have to put in all the work to fix it. So, ‘Show Me How You Disappear’ is me pleaing with my abuser and my anxiety to just go the f*ck away and magically disappear and never come back. It is really their responsibility to show themselves to the door and get out of my life because I don’t deserve that.
That is really true how it’s unfair that a person came into your life, and then just put all of that emotional labor on you. They made it your job to both deal with your own stuff and theirs as well.
Something else that I noticed listening throughout this album is the theme of breath and breathing comes up a lot in your songs like “Dirt” and “My Favorite Cloud.”
It’s always been a difficult thing for me as far as knowing how to breathe, honestly, getting enough oxygen to my brain and my lungs. There’s a line in “My Favorite Cloud” about talking to a psychic and they said, ‘If you don’t learn how to breath, you’ll die.’ And that actually happened.
That’s a true story?
Yeah. I saw a psychic and they had kind of pinpointed how I do this thing — and I don’t realize I’m doing it — but I hold my breath subconsciously. I hold my breath and then suddenly, I’ll be like, “Oh shit, I can’t breathe.” And then let out a huge breath. And it cuts off all blood flow to my brain. It’s very anxiety-inducing. I’m like, what am I doing? Is this gonna happen in my sleep? There’s a lot of questioning with myself about why I do this subconsciously. I was doing this in the very dark period where I was having suicidal ideations and I was like, ‘Am I doing this on purpose to myself?’ It’s dangerous. It was almost like feeling I couldn’t trust my body to take care of me because it wasn’t just doing what it’s naturally supposed to do. It’s sabotaging itself by not taking proper breaths. So, a lot of things on the record are about that, feeling trapped and like I couldn’t breathe, and trying to find ways to help myself navigate that.
I bet that was a really profound experience for you to have been dealing with that for a while, and then to go see that psychic and for them to tell you the same thing.
Yes, it hit a nerve.
One of my favorite songs on the record is “Sword.” Lyrically, I really like how you use the metaphor of a sword to describe your body because swords are sharp, really strong, and powerful. Too often, women’s bodies are described using metaphors that are soft, fragile, and easily breakable.
I am both those things, that’s for sure. There are days where I feel invincible and strong and like I could f*ck anybody up. But there are other days where I can’t even be looked at without crying or wanting to hide. I do have both of those days. But “Sword” is a really important song to me because both lyrically and musically I feel really proud of it. I entered the pop arena with that and it feels so good to have a biting lyric paired with pop music. Because unless you’re really listening to it, it gives more of a fun feeling. That’s like the dichotomy of being a woman: You can have as much fun as you want, and there shouldn’t f*cking be anybody to tell you what you can and can’t do. Then, you also have your softer and more introspective days.
You just said “Sword” is a song on your album that is really special to you. But is there another song on the record that really holds a special place in your heart?
Yeah, definitely “Get Better” is my personal favorite on the record. I just remember where I was when I was writing it. I remember exactly how I felt, I remember how things smelled, that song is very poignant to me. I remember writing it and feeling so, so sad. But recording it made me feel powerful. Getting to scream the word “better, better, better” all over again, it was this weird form of a mantra. I was trying to tap into that just by saying it, “I want to get better, I want to get better. Okay, maybe I am feeling better, maybe I will get better.” I kind of tapped into something. I remember feeling transcendent through that song.
Like you were trying to convince yourself to get better, and it actually made you feel better.
Talking about everything you just opened up to me about your experience with anxiety, I was wondering, now that you can look back on your experience over this past year, what is something that you would tell to somebody younger who’s also struggling with anxiety and depression?
I would definitely say be gentle with yourself. Don’t be mad at yourself for going through something, it is not your fault. It only becomes a fault when you don’t help yourself, definitely, when you’re sitting and sulking in it. I wish I got help sooner to feel some sort of relief. I would say, don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to get help. And don’t push yourself, do what makes you feel comfortable. If you don’t find the right therapist, or if there’s one specific thing that you try and it’s not the right thing for you, don’t give up. Help is out there. People need to take advantage of that as much as they can because we’re such a fragile species. We just don’t give ourselves enough time, credit, or space to just feel good.
Show Me How You Disappear is out now via Polyvinyl. Get it here.