What happens when the music you’re writing is dedicated to the search for a muse, and then you find her? What happens, then, when you not only meet her, but learn her name, fall head over heels for her, marry her, start a family, and then realize that the record you’ve just made is inexorably adhered to a period in your life that’s done with? What happens when you find yourself singing songs that weren’t by you, as you know yourself now, but written by the man who used to exist before meeting her?
Keegan DeWitt is about to find out.
When DeWitt, frontman of Nashville indie-pop outfit Wild Cub, was writing Youth, the band’s debut record, he was fixated on one thing—or person, really—in particular: his future soul mate. Who was the person DeWitt was going to spend the rest of his life with? Where was she? What was she doing? What street was she walking down right at that very moment, and how would she affect his life by simply being a part of it? Was she even out there? Similar prompts fueled DeWitt as he and Wild Cub experimented with loops and inventive guitar parts while piecing together their first full-length body of work, when DeWitt met his yet-to-be-found muse as he was writing the record dedicated to the pursuit of her.
“What purely drove me when I was writing Youth was finding someone to pair my life with, and intimacy with somebody else,” he says, calling in from his home in Nashville. “A lot of what Youth is about is me aging a little bit and starting to see how so many people around you are shaped by their expectations, and whether or not they’re able to achieve them. I started to realize, ‘Am I going to get soured and closed-off before I have the opportunity to link with that person?’ Youth is so much about missed connections and trying to find connections in the big mess of the world. Now, with the next thing, it’ll be tough to not be like Paul Simon singing about your kid eating Cheerios. Or something.”
Or maybe it’ll be easier than he thinks, as reinvention has played a pivotal part in DeWitt’s growth as a musician. Before Wild Cub, DeWitt tried the singer/songwriter thing on for size, carting his guitar and a keyboard to modest venues and mesmerizing listeners with his ability to make the room sound fuller than it was. DeWitt started writing music before learning how to actually write and read it on the page, a fact that shocked listeners because of his adeptness with both instruments and the ease with which he approached the microphone. (“It’s super tactile and hunting it out of the darkness, just finding chords and playing it by ear and letting it kind of happen that way,” he says of his process.) While his solo effort was revving up, DeWitt’s film scoring career excelled in tandem as he contributed thoughtful soundtracks to independent films and documentaries, with a handful of these works receiving the festival treatment at Sundance and South By Southwest, and one, Sean and Andrea Fine’s Inocente, taking home the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 2013.
When Wild Cub formed nearly two years ago, it was because DeWitt was over this routine of writing songs that could be played on whatever instruments he could carry, and culminated in hours spent messing around in the studio with misplaced noises. “Thunder Clatter,” Youth’s single, is the best example of the band at work, and also the one that threw Wild Cub into a pointed course of action. A lucid low from a bottle being struck hit DeWitt’s ear, either from a commercial playing in the background or a faint echo of something dropping around the corner, and, inspired by that ping, he built his own loop and brought it to the band’s studio space, where they played and replayed it on the EP until the guitar part came into being. This persistence for a perfect sound entirely theirs, coupled with the visual leanings he adopted from his solo forays, laid the groundwork for the first output from the new collaboration.
“As much as there may be allusions to other types of music [with Wild Cub], they’re usually [from] film and poetry or photographs,” he says. “A big thing that fueled a lot of Youth was flat narrative film, like Godard and Antonioni and these people that were exploring these really small, small moments. I still feel the challenge to discover them, these moments aside. It’s not like the big kiss or the big break-up or whatever it is—it’s these moments within that stuff. That’s something I still hint at in terms of construction. The lyrics themselves aren’t literal; they aren’t topical lyrics. They’re little of stories, just letting the light hit and glimmer off these tiny fragments that spark something in peoples’ imaginations and helps them construct a narrative that’s personal to them using some of these hints I’ve placed in there.”
And this is why Youth, in all its hopelessly romantic glory, won’t see its sentiments shelved. DeWitt finally found what he was looking for when he wrote it, but as the circumstances around him change, the constant remains in the lyrics’ perpetual accessibility.
“We recorded Youth a year ago and passed it out to family, friends, fans, our small world, and so for those people, they’re all like, ‘Are you sick of it yet?’” he says. “I’m not sick of it because other people’s interpretations of the lyrics are way more interesting and dense than [the meaning] I would tell them. It’s the same with the music. Before it existed, it didn’t truly exist until people got to experience it. Performing it for rooms of people and the energy of a sold-out room, that, I feel, is a life that’s just beginning to exist for this record.
And I think that’s really exciting. And somewhere in there, I’ll have to figure out how to write new music. My moment of discovery is [going to be], ‘What do you write about when your entire being prior to this was about meeting somebody who completed your life, and then you’ve met that person?’ It’s a deeper, harder thing. I feel like there’s an answer somewhere in terms of poetry and literature. That’s one of the great digging spots.”