Charlotte Cornfield Breaks Down Her New Album Could Have Done Anything Track by Track

The Canadian singer/songwriter's fifth LP is out now via Double Double Whammy/Polyvinyl

Music Features Charlotte Cornfield
Charlotte Cornfield Breaks Down Her New Album Could Have Done Anything Track by Track

On Could Have Done Anything, the follow-up to her acclaimed 2021 album Highs in the Minuses, Canadian songwriter Charlotte Cornfield spends 30 minutes reflecting on a lifetime’s worth of memories. Pulling influence and inspiration from Tapestry and Car Wheels On a Gravel Road, Cornfield has a distinctive lyrical approach that stands alone in the contemporary folk-rock sphere. A song like “Cut and Dry” tenderly pairs a timeless instrumental with a nostalgic reflection on leaving people behind and growing up.

Ever since Cornfield released Two Horses in 2011, she has been painting beautiful portraits around the melancholy and joy of leaving and returning. Her work, it’s emotional, poised and alive. She takes the smallest moments and finds everlasting beauty within the margins of her own musings. Written and recorded post-lockdown, Could Have Done Anything arrives like a second coming-of-age. Few songwriters can fuse such clear-eyed love songs with engrossing, vivid moments of loneliness, geographical beauty and gratitude.

Thankfully, Cornfield continues to open up her world to the rest of us, and it’s a gift every time. To celebrate today’s release of Could Have Done Anything—out via Double Double Whammy/Polyvinyl—she sat down with us to provide more context, inspiration and background for all nine songs. Check out Cornfield’s track-by-track breakdown and stream the album below.

1. “Gentle Like the Drugs”
My band and I did this tour with Pedro the Lion [on the West Coast] and Arizona, Colorado. It was a really, really beautiful landscape tour. Really long drives, gorgeous vistas. I have been to the West Coast a bunch of times, but I had never been to the Arizona desert and southern Utah. It was magical to drive through there and, at the same time, we were having an amazing time on this tour. I had never met Dave [Bazan] and Pedro the Lion before, and I wasn’t even that familiar with their music prior to the tour, but our crew and their crew just instantly clicked and it became this magical thing of both of our vans just sailing off into these beautiful horizons. And we would bump into each other in the middle of nowhere in Utah, we hung out together on our nights off and the shows were great.

It being post-COVID, it felt like there was a real warmth and excitement and genuine kind of love that was forming. When I got back from that tour and I was reflecting on it, my partner left for a work trip and I was thinking about the idea of being away, having this incredible experience and then, also, the beauty of being able to come back and fly back into life, which I was excited about doing, as well. The hook, the “gentle like the drugs” line, I wasn’t really referring to drugs in particular, but more of the debauchery that happens while being alone when my partner is away: staying up late, eating mac ‘n’ cheese, the gentle—not destructive—habits that slip back.

2. “You and Me”
A lot of these songs relate to being away and coming home, but I was thinking about the image of [my] tour bus flying through the country and thinking about that Lucinda Williams song, “Metal Firecracker,” which was her description of a bus, as well. Being away in a joyful way and then coming back home, I was thinking about how I felt like I was on the other side of some difficult things and in this new place of really being able to enjoy myself and being in love and feeling really positive about it. Similar to “Gentle Like the Drugs”—with the imagery of different parts of the country—“You and Me” has a lot of movement in it, and it’s got this driving beat, which, when I recorded it with Josh Kaufman, we did it at this studio—the Isokon in Kingston—[and he] and D. James Goodwin, who engineered it, were like, “We need a tighter rock sound for this.” It was really fun to record that one, and it just took off in the studio.

3. “In from the Rain”
The recording ended up reminding me a little bit of the Jayhawks—or ‘90s alt-country—in this way that I love. And there’s some guitar stuff that Josh did that is really classic, including some risks where he asked me if I felt okay about having them in there. He was like, “A lot of people wouldn’t” and I was like, “No, I’m super into it.” But, yeah, that song is, thematically, about reflecting on a friendship that had had some bumps, and the idea of reconciling after falling out or taking a relationship at face value, rather than trying to make it—or the person—into something that it isn’t, accepting things for what they are and the beauty of the person for what it is and not trying to make it any different. I tried to lace in some imagery in that one, and I like the idea that it transpires over the phone and each person is on the phone with a different backdrop, just taking it in.

4. “The Magnetic Fields”
It’s essentially the story of a night in my life that happened when I was a lot younger, in my early 20s, in Montreal, where I was listening to a ton of the Magnetic Fields. Then, they came through town and I went to the show. Experiencing a live show that was very potent and formative and, at the same time, having a personal experience with somebody at that show was very formative. And then, the juxtaposition of those two things together and reflecting on that now, thinking back and feeling this real powerful nostalgia for that particular moment.

5. “Cut and Dry”
Coming out on the other side of isolation to this really joyful and exciting time of being able to be out again, Being back in touch with the outside world in a serious way and then thinking about being at a more grounded place in my life then I had been before, it created this space for reflections and thinking back on friendships, relationships and, even, myself. I think, when I wrote “Cut and Dry,” I was thinking about this idea of being categorical about things and wanting to move on, being like, “That part of my life is over, I’m putting it in the past,” or like, “That person is from my past and it’s okay to not be in touch anymore.” It’s easy to just decide that, but, in reality, all of these people and pieces of my life that I’ve tried to leave behind I keep coming back to. And I like the idea of working things out and embracing my past. The [music video] came from watching all of this family footage with my brother that I had neer really seen, or hadn’t seen in many years. There was this passion and love for performing music that I could see throughout. I’ve tried to, at different times, reinvent myself and move on from the past, but I look at that stuff and I’m like, “I’ve always been this person.” And I see myself now in that, in me as a five-year-old singing at a Christmas concert. There is a real nostalgia to that song and a wistful result.

6. “Nowhere”
When “Nowhere” hits, sonically, the soundscapes get a bit wider. Up until “Cut and Dry,” the songs are funny and the verses and choruses are classic-sounding. And then on “Nowhere,” my drummer brought this up to me. He’s like, “You really started stretching forms and doing slightly weirder shit, more open-ended—stuff where it didn’t have to launch into big hooks, necessarily. But we explored other things. “Nowhere” paints this picture of a room in which two people are having an experience together against the backdrop of this room. This idea that “I’m in this room with you and I don’t want to be anywhere else,” it almost feels like nothing exists outside of it. In the studio, we created that space by Josh and I building this groove of drums and percussion. He did a lot of cool guitar stuff, made it super groovy and lifted the song. It’s a little bit of a vibe shift.

7. “I Dream Of”
It started with the guitar riff. I had my guitar in Drop D [tuning] one day, and I like the drowniness of that guitar part. I was just freestyling vocals, recording a voice memo. That happened really quickly and became the song. There’s different images that I pulled from different things; I didn’t think I’d still be reminiscing on this moment or still be thinking of this person, but, instead of thinking about it in a painful way—in which some of my past songs have—this one is almost more resolved. It’s like, “I didn’t think I would dream about you still,” and then it pulls me into some memories and then lets go at the end. When we did this in the studio, Josh played these very ethereal, vibey, textural drums and percussion that was slightly eerie in this cool way, and I liked it. That’s the crux of the song, we didn’t add much else.

8. “Could Have Done Anything”
This one, I just ran with some thoughts. I drew, somewhat, from personal experience, but, in my head, there was a story unfolding that was completely beyond that—of a person who was spiraling out and falling out of step with the narrator of the song, to the point where the narrator then can’t reach them anymore. I just thought that was really interesting, and I was thinking about Toronto Island—which is a ferry ride away from downtown, but it feels like this weird hippie beach town that feels apart from everything. I spent a lot of time there, and I was thinking about being on the island at night, going swimming and being so close to the city yet so far.

And, in this moment was another person, and the juxtaposition of that intimacy and then the drama of things going off the rails and these two people being pulled so far apart. The “could have done anything” line, I think about it in so many ways, because it is quite open-ended. But, I was thinking about how, at any moment, a decision that I make—or that somebody makes—could change the entire shape of how things happen and there are these moments where it feels like any number of decisions could be made, or any number of things could happen. And this is what did happen, but I could have done anything. I was like, “Whoa, that’s something to hold onto.”

9. “Walking with Rachael”
To me, it feels like a personal statement of where I’m at or where I was at that moment. It wasn’t something I was trying to write, I sort of led myself there. And it started with this walk that I took with my friend Rachael. It was deep pandemic, so it felt really special to have that moment with a friend, and I was thinking about my friend Nigel in Montreal. In the case of honest and true friendships, where people can be straight with me, I like it when people tell me “Oh, you seem like you’re having rough time” or “You seem like you’re doing a lot better” in the same way I would say the same thing to them, if that were the case, just coming from a place of care. I was seeing myself reflected back in this new life spot of everything slowed down and taking things in more and [I’d] grown from my mistakes and trials and errors and experiences—and by no means are those over, but moving on to a new phase and looking back and being like, “Yeah, I’m actually a lot happier and calmer than I was,” that feels pretty profound. So that really felt like a note to end on.

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