Clementine Was Right Unpack Every Song on Tell Yourself You’re Going Home

Music Features Clementine Was Right
Clementine Was Right Unpack Every Song on Tell Yourself You’re Going Home

I’ve known both Mike Young and Gion Davis since the pandemic. I was introduced to Young through the publisher of my first book, who was good friends with him and turned me on to the Clementine Was Right album Lightning & Regret. Davis, on the other hand, I’d known through sharing some space in the literary community together. His poetry book, too much still sits on my poetry shelf, and I hold onto it dearly. Together, Young and Davis make up the songwriting team behind Clementine Was Right, the Denver-based-but-everywhere-grown rock outfit that, if you have any smarts, should be put on your to-listen-to list right this instant.

Clementine Was Right’s latest album, Tell Yourself You’re Going Home, is their best, but it’s also a venerable collage of everything great about rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a lot of heavy Americana, some emo undertones, even a glow of indie-folk—sometimes all at once in the same song. 30 musicians are credited with performing on the album, which might seem like a lot if you aren’t familiar with Clementine Was Right’s rotating live cast—and having that kind of ensemble at their disposal helps make the band even more dimensional than Young’s shepherding, impassioned, siren vocal already does. As quickly as “Coca Cola Vigil” will make you weep over folks you’ve never met, “Takes Tall Walks” will have you standing up straight and calling your parents to tell them you love them. That’s the dynamic of Clementine Was Right, as Young and Davis—both literary poets at some time or another in their lives—have a chemistry together on the page that, then, transcends into a full-band lilt of brilliance. Few working bands can claim that kind of magic.

Today, Clementine Was Right’s Tell Yourself You’re Going Home is streaming everywhere, and I implore you to listen to it. It’s the best album that’s come out today, and it will be the soundtrack to this weekend and, for me, the next one after that. Young and Davis were kind enough to offer us a glimpse behind the scenes of all 10 tracks on the record, so tune in, kick back and let your mind wander with them to new, fantastic places.

“There Are No More Almond Trees”

This is a song that was borne out of watching my home state (California) get hit by fires, floods, etc, and I started wondering “What would I miss if it all just went away?” A pretty simple concept that grew into a story of people I remembered from childhood and “where are they now” as adults, and this idea of everyone I know in the dark somewhere whispering to the people they love “I love you, but I feel like shit.” Gion wrote the best part of the chorus. —Mike

“Attic Full of Barbie Limousines”

The premise of the song is basically everybody who “stayed behind” or “got stuck” in their small town talking to someone who “made it out” and all the many complicated feelings and dynamics at play there. Lead vocals are handled by one of our very stylish drummers, Dick Darden. It’s a left turn into Jim Ford-ish swamp pop by way of Silver Jews. The beginning and end are all sweet things people have said to me, plus the voicemail from my mom calling me at 2AM in 2021 to let me know my dad had passed. —Mike

“Coca-Cola Vigil”

This is dedicated to my friend Gene Kwak, an excellent novelist, who asked me to write a song about a story I told him from my hometown newspaper, about a gentleman named Paul who died in a workplace accident at a trash burn plant. Paul’s widow, Christine, would protest outside of the plant every day and would organize a vigil for him every year on the anniversary of his death using Facebook. At the time I told Gene about reading this story, we were young fiction writers trying to figure out the “relevance” of “contemporary technology” in fiction, and this seemed like a really poignant story about digital altars, etc.

But as the years went on, the rest of the story obviously became more important. In 2020, when there were really bad fires near my hometown, I did a thing on social media where I said I would write a song for anyone who wanted to donate some money to some of the people helping with folks displaced by the fires. Gene donated money and asked me to write a song about the “Coca Cola vigil story,” and here it is. —Mike

“Secret to Let Go”

This is another song Gion helped me fix. It started when I was in Ely, NV—which is not a town I grew up in but which struck me as very similar to rural Northern California towns—and I was eating breakfast and watching a woman across the street at a Motel 6 try the handle of every car in the parking lot. She was wearing an oversized 49ers parka and was obviously looking for something more than just a car.

She went into one of the rooms and came back out with a little kid, and together they walked away down the street. And all of this made me think of my own family, and families in general, and the way that when we enter into our families, we enter into all these secrets and troubles and promises, and suddenly it’s our job to navigate them, but they don’t belong to us (the secrets and troubles and promises), and at some point we have to let them go, and we have to give up the idea that our families are anything more special than fellow wounded, bumbling people. —Mike

“Meet Me in the Dark”

I kept re-writing the last verse of this until Gion liked it. This is about a summer love affair. One person can’t swim, one person can’t drive. People touch each other’s faces, but touch is hard to memorize. There is no way to break the past, and no one ever changes—we just pile up. —Mike

“River Boys”

This is a song about handsome boys trying to get out of town by jumping in a river forever! Gion said: “what if it had a timpani?” And he was right. I got all my wonderful friends from my old band in Massachusetts, The Cinnamon Urns, to sing harmonies. If you grow up in a river town, you’re always looking around and asking: “OK, where’s the river?” If you grow up in a river town, I think it’s impossible to believe that towns are real. The same humans who sleep with each other and don’t want to look at each other ever again—they invented towns? I recommend throwing as many things as you can into the river. You don’t have to watch. Nothing has to stay. —Mike

“It’s Ketchup (We’re Fuckups)”

This is mostly a collage of images about being rural and poor. Somewhat of a less jaunty companion to “Attic Full of Barbie Limousines.” The core ideas of the song are in the bridge, which I’m pretty much directing at myself: romanticizing your own poverty works as a coping mechanism until it doesn’t. Until you’re tired. Until suddenly way more years have gone by than you expected to go by. You try to dignify yourself by telling yourself the light you see walking to work just before dawn is pouring down like syrup—but it’s not, it’s pouring down like ketchup. You’re a fuckup. So what? There’s a scarecrow in the tire stacks. So what? You cut your hair over the kitchen sink. So what? It is about “so what” becoming a sort of desperate amen. —Mike

“Takes Tall Walks”

This is about death! It’s about grappling with losing my father and several of my friends over the last few years. Gion always tells me this is the most direct song I’ve ever written. I tried very hard to whittle these exact strange feelings that come with situations like trying to talk to your friends about your mutual friend’s suicide. How you just say their name while making a face that is trying to convey all this anguish that is not conveyable. “I hated the way there was nothing to say / inside all the faces we made with your name.”

And my dad: I really did hate to see him with a tube in his throat, I really did hate that nothing happened when we threw his ashes into the ocean. No huge beam of light came down, nothing opened or broke or felt easier or harder—nothing changed. But I remember how he used to love to watch his sports teams run up the score, how he was never pleased by an exciting game, only a boring game where victory was settled very early. He never had a lot of chance to coast in his life, and he was pleased to see a little coasting here and there. I guess there is also the coast too—as in the beach next to the ocean. As in the border between a place and the forever a place breaks into where it’s no longer a place anymore, where it’s not a where but an endless churn. —Mike

“Goddamn Universe”

This is a poem about how easy it is to live and how hard it is to be alive in this country. This is a poem about grieving the best minutes of your life as soon as they become memories. This is a poem about how love won’t save you no matter how hard you try but you do it anyway because it’s the greatest work you’ll ever create. —Gion

“Imagine a Fire You Can Wear as a Coat”

This is a song that started out in 2012 as a song reassuring myself after a relationship. Really pushing the idea of “let all the terrible things happen; all the terrible things you’re afraid of are already true; let go of your fear by letting all the bad things come to pass and you will still be awake and still here.” But it never felt done.

Eventually, my dad died! And then suddenly I found myself digging up and finishing this song—and I realized that I had moved from addressing myself to addressing him. Or maybe both him and myself at the same time. He had a really hard life, and I don’t know if reincarnation is real, but for the span of this song I suddenly imagine it is, and in that imagining I get to say: “I hope the next time you’re back / there’s less that you have to pack.”

And then, at the end, we get to say the title of the album, and we get to say: “Imagine a fire you can wear as a coat.” I guess there’s a little amor fati embedded in a lot of quips that have hung around for thousands of years: life is suffering, suffering is absurd, life is absurd, and so on. It’s not something I ever could have convinced my dad about. So here I am making a bunch of songs to convince everybody else instead. —Mike

Order Clementine Was Right’s Tell Yourself You’re Going Home here.

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