Melissa K Jones wasn’t sure she would ever share the songs that make up her new album, Howling & Crying
The breakup album weaves together years-old song ideas and new perspectives into a stream of consciousness. It’s a marker of both time passing and a new beginning as a Denver-based artist.
“It was a very personal process to write,” Jones says. “Everything was pulled directly from my emotional side and put into song.”
The singer-songwriter was formerly based in Minneapolis, where she fronted a punk/surf rock band (Tony Peachka
) and a four-piece indie project (Wetter USA
). In 2018, she moved to Denver with her partner. They broke up shortly before the pandemic began.
Many of the songs on Howling & Crying
include ideas that Jones recorded as voice memos during that relationship. She re-approached the old recordings in late 2020.
Some of the memos reflected “cute little love songs with very specific details" of the relationship — material that she was able to juxtapose in the new compositions with "the reality of what happened,” she explains.
In the title track, Jones recounts a birthday that she and her partner spent together. “We walked to the park eating tangerines / Snow was melting beneath our feet,” she sings. But she continues with this refrain: “If I could see the future then, well I’d howl and cry / In the end, we called it kind / Treating our love like an old dog dying.”
Shortly after exploring the voice memos, Jones set a goal for herself of recording one song a week, a challenge while she was working full-time. But in January, she was laid off — “a blessing in disguise," she says. "Or really, just a blessing."
Melissa K Jones (right) recording with Abby Gregg, a member of her new band, duck turnstone.
She decided to go to her parents’ house in Kelley, Iowa, where she stayed in the basement and found the silence and isolation conducive to creating an album. Her parents “would go to work in the morning, and I would sit in the basement and work on recording,” she recalls. “They would come back and ask me how many jobs I applied for.… I did apply for some.”
The songwriting on the new album is in the vein of Adrianne Lenker and Joanna Newsom, whose lyrics are close and personal. Part of the intimate sound is a reflection of the self-recording process. “I wasn’t showing anyone these things,” Jones says. “I followed my intuition.”
But the freedom of self-expression also meant that she was using her own equipment, which limited her recording ability. The album “isn’t how a professional would do it,” she concedes. But the lo-fi product reflects her stance as a DIY artist, “an amateur who tries to play everything...and a songwriter, for sure."
Writing has always been her favorite part of creating music, says Jones, who has a degree in English from the University of Minnesota. For Howling
, she took the storywriting tenet of “Show, don’t tell” to heart. “Certainly the rules with songwriting are much looser,” she acknowledges. But she wanted to experiment with the question of how to “show the audience something and not just say it.”
The album consistently uses imagery to place the listener within a physical space, whether it's the snowy afternoon of “Howling & Crying,” the voyeuristic detail of a romance seen through a neighbor’s open window in “Big Summer,” or the description of capturing a Denver sunset in “Making the Same Mistakes.”
Jones is growing her narrative techniques in other ways, as well. She recently formed a new band called duck turnstone
, where she writes fictional storylines in a less personal way. Between the two projects, she hopes to start performing live again soon.
And while her personal songs could potentially carry over to the band, Jones sees Howling & Crying
as a specific process. “Writing music is very cathartic, which is true of lots of art,” she notes. “I do think [creating the album] helped me, but in some ways it brings up new things. It’s easy to miss what life was like [and wonder], 'What changed? What happened? Why is my life different, and why is it so difficult for me to cope with these changes?'”
It’s something that’s "relatable with most people, even where there’s not a pandemic," she concludes, though “breakup and pandemic life can be analogous."
Listen to Melissa K Jones’s
Howling & Crying on Bandcamp or Spotify, and follow her band duck turnstone to stay tuned for shows.