Strawberry Runners Walk Us Through Their Eponymous Debut Track By TrackPhoto by Emi Night Music Features Strawberry Runners
Strawberry Runners’ debut album came from a place of creative—and personal—necessity. The LP is interwoven with bandleader Emi Night’s life experiences, both past and present: the substance abuse and mental illness which afflicted their siblings, homelessness and poverty, incarceration and domestic violence. And yet, Strawberry Runners doesn’t feel bitter; more than that, it’s vulnerable and honest, a retrospective of a life lived despite and because of the circumstances that made it. “It’s important to use the good that comes naturally and take the challenges with it,” Night explains. “A song is something beautiful I can make out of this twisted world, and it can connect to someone who needs it.”
Strawberry Runners is playful and sincere, full of joyful synths and diaristic lyricism. It’s a show of resilience and acceptance, of reckoning and change. The LP is replete with color and sound, guided by the soprano rawness of Night’s croon and plentiful indulgence in ever-blossoming background tracking. To celebrate the album’s release today, Night walked us through the tracklist, explaining every song’s backstory and the wealth of little secrets they contain. Check it out below and listen to Strawberry Runners as you scroll.
“When I Walk”
Tarot cards: The Fool / Queen of Swords / Eight of Cups
I wrote most of these songs while I was in a rough place. It was shortly after leaving an abusive long-term relationship, I was living unhoused in a new city and had just received news of two of my family members, who were struggling with newly-expressed psychotic disorders, separately attempting suicide. As I wrote these songs, I was waking up to an unfamiliar reality that never became recognizable—the laws that ruled my former life no longer applied. But I think important lessons are often disguised as misfortune. At first everything felt sharply broken and unnatural. I didn’t know how to process it. I deflected, resented, isolated, and I hurt some people in the process. I looked for solace in strangers and strange places, I took comfort in the resulting smaller, more manageable injuries, and I walked. I walked and I kept walking, because it gave me a sense of control. I was building a new life from scratch, and all I knew to do was to walk until the pieces started fitting together again. In time, I started to feel at ease with myself, and at my lowest, I still had something to hold onto that was mine alone. Whether I felt vulnerable or powerful, grieving or hopeful, together or in pieces, I had my solitude.
“When I Walk” is a song about finding peace through self-empowerment. Yet there is also a side of the story that is lonely, prideful, and embittered. Self-reliance can be a cold defense against the pains of loss that accompany love, while simultaneously providing clarity and connection to the bigger world, outside of impermanent relationships. I aimed to contain the alchemy of these two aspects within the simplest lyrics possible. Throughout the album I use the journey and return story archetype to tell how passage through poignant experiences leads you back to your origin, hopefully with greater awareness and wisdom. This archetype is the reason that I chose to associate each of the songs with a card or series of cards in tarot. Musically, I wanted the album’s intro to feel inviting, like a new, magical world was unfolding before you, and I knew the band felt it too when we got into this track.
I was recording the vocal take, and the band was out in the control room. They had pulled out a bunch of instruments and were listening back to the intro, just…vibing haha, I don’t know how else to explain it. I came out and they were like, jump in here! So I grabbed a mandolin—pretty sure it was out of tune but it worked for the part. We played around and told a little story—it felt like the musical equivalent of, “once upon a time…” or “a long, long time ago…” or something like that. Is it corny? For sure. That’s okay, we loved it. Working on the intro, we came up with a quick, warm harmony for everybody, grabbed the mic, and ran outside. While we were singing, we could hear the river swelling through the woods next to the studio, heard the birds bickering in the bushes and the bugs swimming in the air, we could feel the wind on our skin, and the sun scorching the raw wood deck, could smell the earth and water and pollen all simmering in the summer heat. We were breathing it all in and you can hear it in our voices—it was a very sensory moment, just like in the song. I think there was a bit of magic propelling us outside at that particular moment. It was the only place to finish the song—the same place as it started—out in the air, under the sky.
Tarot card: The High Priestess
I wrote this song one night when I was staying with family during the same breakup. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable and vulnerable about this one, but it’s a reminder to listen to your intuition and be as honest with yourself and others as possible. It wasn’t intended for sharing when I wrote it—I was ruminating on the hard conversations my ex and I had been having. The lyrics begin the way most of my serious conversations do: on another subject—in this case, dreams. For months before the breakup I’d been having these dreams where I was in situations that made me feel so small and spineless. While I was at my family’s place, I realized I was having those dreams because I knew something was off in that relationship but I was resistant to ending it. I started to wonder—how did I become the kind of person who knows one thing and believes another?
In the song I break down what happened, oscillating between feeling angry/defensive and embarrassed/sorry for my ex. In the end, the situation was so bewildering; I realized there was no clarity or satisfaction I could gain from thinking about the past or blaming someone else for what went wrong. I just knew that moving forward I had to listen more closely to my intuition. Months later, I felt bold enough to drop the voice memo recording into a playlist of new songs that I sent to the band. We ended up working on it and it was one of the songs we recorded in the initial session at Headroom. We re-worked it last year and finished it up at Big Nice after I recorded the vocals at home, as I did with most of the other songs. Michael Cormier-O’Leary arranged this final version and gave it a new life.
Tarot cards: Queen of Cups / Three of Cups / Six of Cups
“Alison” is a song about love, beauty, and continuity over time in friendship, the crux being that even when things seem light and easy, the people we love are often dealing with more challenges than they show on the surface. This is an older song that I revisited after hanging out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I added a new verse/bridge thing and re-worked the choruses from the earlier version. It’s hard to understand how someone’s life is developing if you’re not around them regularly, regardless of how much history or love you share. You come home and find things aren’t the way you left them. It’s about trying to hold onto good memories as life unfolds.
“Angel in the Glass”
Tarot card: The Moon
“Angel in the Glass” reflects on the last moments of that past romantic relationship which had been full of secrets, through the lens of a psychiatric condition that I was recently diagnosed with, Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is characterized by alternating between multiple identities and most often occurs in individuals who have experienced severe trauma. It develops as a coping mechanism during and following traumatic incidents. This song is the first song where I wrote openly about one of my alters. Angel represents my ideal self—they are a projection of aspects of myself and the people I love or admire that sometimes, forgetting myself, I step into and embody. It’s a mask and a companion. The glass is my reflection. I was begging this ideal self/companion to come to me for good, to help me be the person I want to be, to provide strength and clarity in my situation—to help me through the pain and confusion.
This song speaks to the disorienting challenge of distinguishing truth from illusion. The feeling underlying this song is a dizzying spiral, a familiar phrase in an imperceptible tongue. It’s about continually awakening from derealization (DID state) and/or deception and “arriving” at a new truth. To “arrive” is also a sexual innuendo. Some people say that after an orgasm, a person enters a pure state, without tension or consciousness—for a brief moment, as close to death or birth as we can be while living, besides through trance or practiced meditation. I felt a need for this crossover with sexuality because it’s part of my traumatic history. Musically, I wanted the song to evoke the sense of searching and suspense. I treated the vocals in an unusual way. I recorded multiple versions of the vocals in which I performed the song with varied textures. I layered multiple takes, not just to blend, but to create a subtle duality, allowing distinct characteristics of each vocal take to remain apparent. The vocals feel at moments like separate voices with unique qualities of pain, cynicism, and tenderness that blend as one—to sound almost like a conversation between people who can finish each others’ thoughts despite their differences.
Tarot cards: The Devil / The Emperor Reversed
This is my favorite song on the album—it explores my desire to control my circumstances via the anecdote of an intimate encounter. It’s a song about manipulative power plays in dating and romantic/sexual relationships, “it’s such a sick game / but everybody plays / so who’s to blame / the hunter or the prey?” In this song I express the vulnerability I was feeling as I struggled and failed to hold things together in my life. It’s also the moment where I stepped spitefully into my power to set boundaries—though with a self-centered, unrealistic perspective, “if you want me / you’ll do, you’ll do / what I want you to”. I recorded the guitars and vocals for this song at home—but we added a few things in the studio at Big Nice like the heavy distortion in the choruses—this was a brilliant idea from Brad + Mike to create a sense of heavy dissonance without percussion. Benedict Kupstas and Erika Nininger added the most beautiful mellotron and Rhodes parts in the studio as well.
“Look Like This”
Tarot card: Seven of Cups
I wrote “Look Like This” in a moment when I was feeling frustrated with my ego, how it tends to get in the way of things I care about, like genuinely connecting with people, taking in new ideas, and having fun. I frequently feel like I take myself too seriously and it’s so annoying how hard it is to break that habit. Whats cool about the recording—conceptually—is that its the first song where I let go of creative control in the production phase and kinda took my ego out of the picture. This is the first song that Michael Cormier O’Leary and I worked on together production-wise. We actually recorded another version as a straightforward rock/power pop song with the Philly band a few years back, but it wasn’t feeling right. Last year, Mike was living up in Maine and looking to take on more production work. When he visited Brooklyn for a gig, we hung out for most of a day and got into talking about the album we started in Philly. Together we figured that it might be fun to revisit the record with fresh ears, and re-work some of the old songs.
I told Mike that Look Like This was the first song I’d cut from the album as it was, so he offered to take a swing at re-arranging it. I re-recorded the song with just acoustic guitar and vocals, slowing down the tempo and lowering the key a bit to mellow it out. I sent some references for drum sounds I was into, along with a long playlist of music references for the vibe in general. Very soon after, maybe within a couple of days, he sent back a new keys/synth/midi arrangement under my vocal tracks. He had re-worked the rhythm a bit to pick the energy up, maintaining most of the guitar licks but keeping the track pretty keys/synths forward. Honestly, I barely recognized the song when he sent it back, and I couldn’t have been happier. When I heard that first pass from Mike, that was the moment I finally let myself feel excited about the possibility of this album getting out into the world. There was a bit of back and forth after that and we honed the sound in the studio, adding more instrumentation.
Tarot card: Death / Two of Cups
I wrote this song after learning about steps my brother was taking in attempt to commit suicide. Only a couple of years before this, I had discovered that he was struggling with a drug addiction, and less than a year before this, I began to glean that many of his mannerisms which I had attributed to drug use, were actually symptoms of newly expressed schizophrenia. In a matter of a year or two, this brilliant, charismatic, and gentle person with whom I’d shared most of my life had become a volatile and intimidating stranger. I wrote ‘Buddy’ as I was processing the grief of learning about his wish to end his life, the pain of the growing emotional distance between us, and my sense of helplessness to do anything about it. I didn’t end this song on a note of closure, because the story is still open-ended, but no less heartbreaking for the hope rendered by that uncertainty.
Tarot cards: The Tower / Five of Cups / Nine of Swords
This is a song about regrets following betrayal. I wrote it the night I discovered my ex had been cheating. It’s very simply a song written in pain and regret as I watched my world shatter. I recorded the instrumentation with Heather at So Big Auditory, and the vocals at home. The sitar was played by my friend Galen Passen.
“Can I Take This”
Tarot cards: Temperance / The Star / Ace of Cups
Waves of echoes—I still remember the warmth of the sound. It was as loud and rolling as thunder, if a thunder could whisper. I was visiting a friend in Florence who lived on the third floor above a pedestrian path. It was in a popular area, so there was constant foot traffic on this ancient, cavernous cobblestone street—while she was out, I sat in the window for an afternoon and an evening listening to the sound of the people below and felt so peaceful and free—I never wanted to forget that moment; feeling connected to that foreign place through the sound of indistinguishable footsteps and laughter and conversation, a haze of sound so thick I could swim in it. The quiet dark—a creek hidden in the woods near Bloomington where I would go to be alone and float on the cold water, make the sounds disappear, and watch the periwinkle sky turn dark through the black lace treetops as the sun set. I’ve always struggled with the idea of God or faith or religion, and I’m inconsistent about prayer or meditation or anything like that. But in these moments of quiet solitude, I feel I’m connecting with something bigger than myself. I wrote the song to help me remember that connection in times when things aren’t so peaceful. It was important to record it imperfectly and without embellishments, to feel private like a prayer, gentle like a lullaby—the vocals are a single track from a single take at Big Nice. The instruments were performed in two sessions at Headroom and at Big Nice.
“Bed and Blanket”
Tarot cards: The Chariot / Strength / Judgement
A song in defense of doing my own thing—I reflect on past offenses and victories, with a touch of remorse in some chords and tones, but a sort of lonely pride above everything. This song is a partner song with the opening track. Most of the instrumentation for this was recorded at Headroom, with guitar overlays by Stephen Becker at his home. I recorded the vocals at home.
Tarot cards: The Fool / The Hanged Man / The World
I wrote “Circle Circle” one delirious evening while I was sick with a fever—experiencing cyclical thoughts, rumination, and anxiety during the strange waking hours illness brings. The song, the consistent melody and rhythm, felt like a lifeline of certainty through existential dread and fever dreams. Writing the song, I gleaned a new understanding of the transmuting power of music. It’s difficult to describe, but if you’ve ever felt at sea in the midst of a disorienting transformation, and can imagine that through torrents of emotion you find a pillar of stability to cling to, to climb and gain your bearings, to witness the whole stormy sea thrashing about without being swept up in its current—that’s a bit how music began to feel to me while writing this song.
The lyrics illustrate a search for meaning in a lifetime of disparate moments that can feel both monumental and insignificant; maintaining curiosity in what can simultaneously be a mundane, cruel, chaotic, lonely, and beautiful world. Musically, I wanted to create a song that would evoke the sensation of climbing a gently sloped but deceptively long hill on an old road bike during a spring day, plodding ever upward over false peaks: the slow start, the frenetic frustration, the eventual surrender into the groove, the sensation of never quite reaching the destination, but finding purpose + strength in little joys along the way. Michael Cormier O’Leary helped me arrange the song, drawing inspiration from the music of Virginia Astley. He played many of the parts, providing a playfully off-kilter synth backdrop and a curious, meandering solo to the persistent, if idiosyncratic rhythm.