Johanna Söderberg of First Aid Kit
Photo: FilmMagic/Getty Images
Songs Of Support: 11 Musicians Reveal The Music That Heals Them
During this time of pandemic and societal unrest especially in the U.S., people turn to music for a light in the darkness, as events have taken both a physical and mental toll. But musicians are like everyone else, in that they, too, need music to turn to right now, for some comfort and reassurance of their own.
As one half of the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, Johanna Söderberg has a very specific, tried-and-true antidote she turns to when confronted with bad news and hard times. It involves the 29-year-old musician and songwriter pulling out her copies of albums like GP and Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons and singing every line she knows by heart while the music blasts throughout her apartment. Sort of her mental equivalent of tapping the “Home” button on the iPhone, it’s a quick reset by returning to the old favorites she’s loved for most of her life when things start to get too crazy outside — a practice that’s proven especially useful during the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns that have interrupted the lives of so many musicians like her.
“When times are difficult, I tend to rely on my musical equivalent of comfort food,” Söderberg tells MusiCares. “For example, ‘Diamond Day’ by Vashti Bunyan is such a song. It fills me with calm and an appreciation for the slow and mundane aspects of everyday life.” The songs on those Gram Parsons albums, Söderberg continues, “bring back so many memories from my life on the road. They give me hope that soon I’ll be back on that stage performing again.”
Along the same lines as Söderberg’s go-to tunes, we asked 10 more musicians across a spectrum of genres to tell us what they’re listening to right now — and, specifically, what songs give them hope and comfort — as many of these artists have been forced to scuttle tours and shows and are quarantining around the world, unsure of what the future holds.
Ruth Berhe, known by her stage name of Ruth B., is a singer-songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta, whose debut album Safe Haven was released in 2017.
“To Zion” by Lauryn Hill — Music has always been my go-to during any times of trial and tribulation, whether that’s writing my own stuff or listening. I think, for me, an artist/album I always find myself going to during these times is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, by Lauryn Hill. Especially right now, I just think -- I respect her so much as an artist, as a woman, as a black woman, for the music she made. Her songs, for a young woman to listen to, they just always resonate with me. There’s a song for kind of every feeling and mood. And I feel like some of the issues and battles she faced are still relevant today. And I can still relate to it, even though it came out so many years ago.
My favorite song on there is “To Zion.” It’s very much a story. It kind of touches on a bunch of the issues she faced and problems she had to overcome. But she does it in such a beautiful way by telling this story. Music can really make people feel understood. Even though you don’t know exactly what she was going through, and she doesn’t know exactly what I'm going through, a song can connect you with one another.
Alex Bleeker, Real Estate
Alex Bleeker is the bassist for the band Real Estate, which released its new album The Main Thing at the end of February, right as the coronavirus pandemic was arriving in the US.
“Let's Make a Deal” by Linda "Babe" Majika — Back in March when the lockdown began, my friends and I started a radio show called Quarantine Dreams. It keeps me actively searching for new music, and for some upbeat dance jams to keep the vibrations high. I stumbled upon this tune a few days ago and I can't stop listening. Instant Boogie.
“Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric — This early power pop classic has been hitting home in a new way these days. I'm supposed to be on tour, but instead I'm grounded at home .... I'm longing to be traveling "the whole wide world"....
“Hello Take Me Anywhere” by Night Shop — My old buddy Justin Sullivan, best known for his drumming stints in some notable groups (Flat Worms, The Babies, Kevin Morby’s band) is really coming into his own as a songwriter. He just put out this new tune and it's getting to me in all the right ways - clever lyrics and classic melodies. His wistful, homespun, nostalgic video for this tune brought a tear to my eye.
Bethany Cosentino, Best Coast
Bethany Cosentino is a guitarist and the lead singer for Best Coast, for which she’s one-half of the rock duo along with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. The band released its latest album Always Tomorrow on February 21.
“Only Over You” by Fleetwood Mac — In hard times, I don’t particularly turn to “joyful” or upbeat music. I gravitate to music that makes me really feel something, and this song makes me feel everything. The lyrics are just real and raw and relatable. I think we can all relate to just feeling crazy and obsessive over things in our lives, and sometimes it just helps to have those feelings mirrored back at you by someone else. Fleetwood Mac is my favorite band of all time, and I feel like they just do that so well — mirror my feelings back at me. This song in particular just has an easiness about it, the background vocals especially feel very relaxing and they are easy to focus on and kind of zone out to. The whole back half of this song in general, the guitar solo, the background vocals, the steady drum beat, it just helps you tune out the work and kind of drift away into the song.
Ivan Barias is an award winning and multi GRAMMY-nominated producer and songwriter. Barias serves on the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees and also co-chairs the Producers & Engineers Wing Steering Committee.
“Higher Ground” Stevie Wonder — To me this is the song that embodies perseverance and never quitting despite the many obstacles life and tough times may bring. It’s about being deliberate in what you were put here to do and and to never let the circumstances deviate us from the journey of peace and love for everyone.
“Move On Up” by Curtis Mayfield — Another uplifting song that uplifts not only because of the infectious groove but because of the feeling that it instills in you. That feeling is that anything is possible despite what life keeps throwing at us. The lyrics “Just move on up for peace you'll find. Into the steeple of beautiful people where there's only one kind” sounds like pie in the sky but it’s still encouraging nonetheless.
“Las Caras Lindas” by Ismael Rivera — A classic Salsa song that celebrated what it was like to be a Black Latino in the 70’s. Ismael Rivera sang about feeling proud to be black and how beautiful the faces of Black people looked while dealing with the many difficulties of the time. The song translates to “The Beautiful Faces” in the English language. I think aside from the beautiful lyrics it illustrates that despite all of the pain Black people have been through they still manage to smile and give their love to the world. When I listen to this song as a Black Latinx man in America, despite the pain I see I still feel that love is what’s going to save us all and allow us to heal in the end.
Nora En Pure
South African-Swiss DJ Daniela Di Lillo, better known by her stage name of Nora En Pure, hasn’t been able to perform in front of a live audience in months, since clubs and concert venues around the world remain closed. In the meantime, she’s been streaming regular shows to Internet audiences - and she’s planning to release a new track every month through the end of the year. Her first new track during the lockdown is “All I Need.”
During the last few months, I’ve enjoyed some classic tracks that always lift my spirits and some others that I was working with for my record label, Purified Records.
“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin — This is probably my number one feel-content song. I have always loved this song and often whistle it even without noticing, and suddenly I feel happier. Even my dog responds to it by now. It has this genuine lightness that you don't get in many songs nowadays.
Greatest Hits by Pink Floyd — Having so much time at home, we listened to some playlists of Pink Floyd and thoroughly enjoyed their greatest hits while cooking or dancing around a little in our living room. Their music takes your mind off current things quite easily.
“Moonlight” by Alex Breitling — I signed this track (to Purified Records) shortly before the lockdown and managed to play it out during some sets before all the events got cancelled. It's such a soothing track and with these memories in mind it holds a special place and the longing to get back out there to play and connect with people again.
“For Every Forever” by Mathame — I closed my first livestream during the lockdown with this track when the situation was still very fresh. It was a Beatport stream with donations for the Covid-19 relief fund, and a lot of interaction was going on. I wanted to close with this track as the vocals and the theme seemed very fitting to the current situation, giving hope and assurance. Since playing it there, this track has become very emotional for me and will always remind me of this time.
Seth Avett, The Avett Brothers
Seth Avett is a multi-instrumentalist as well as one of the singers and founding members of the folk rock band The Avett Brothers. The band’s latest album is Closer Than Together.
“That’s How Strong My Love Is” by Otis Redding — From the opening chords of “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” we’re all invited into such a deep, universal groove … and then, immediately, Otis Redding’s voice connects us even further. His voice is so wonderfully full of soul and power and the lyrics are so simple and bold. The song reminds me of my own strength of heart and it reminds me of the love of God.
“Get By” by Talib Kweli — For me, “Get By” by Talib Kweli is possibly the greatest example of positivity ever recorded in song form. The words are uplifting. The sample is intoxicating. The delivery is perfect. The vibe is absolutely unstoppable. And if the rhythm of it doesn’t move you, you oughta check your pulse.
“Own Light” by Brother Ali — Brother Ali’s “Own Light” is a beautiful reminder of what, how, and why we feel so deeply. He is one of America’s greatest living poets to my mind, constantly weaving words to celebrate the complexity, diversity, and above all, compassion of the human experience.
Sarah Jarosz’s music blends folk, Americana, and roots traditions, and she’s a multi-instrumentalist who plays the mandolin, guitar, and banjo. Her new record, World on the Ground, will be released on June 5.
“Lovers In A Dangerous Time” by Bruce Cockburn — I’ve loved this song for many years, but I rediscovered it recently when Shawn Colvin covered it on her IGTV. It’s taken on a new meaning during a global pandemic. "Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / You’ve got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight." That’s songwriting at its best right there, and a mantra for the present day.
“Cattails” by Big Thief — Big Thief have been making some of my favorite new music in recent years. The melodies and lyrics are equally enriching. This is a warm hug of a song - like a painting that’s been on your wall for years but you just remembered to really take another look at it.
Marco Pave is a hip-hop artist and rapper who released his debut album “Welcome to Grc Lnd” in 2017.
The Recession by Jeezy — An album I would say helps me a lot in dark times, I go to The Recession by Jeezy. Which is impactful, very impactful to me in a way, because I came of age during the Great Recession. Growing up in the shadow of that, that was an album and that was an artist literally speaking about it as it was happening. It did two things. It gave a light to what was happening, but it also gave hope to what was happening. Because at the same time, he was still growing a successful career as an artist. And it was, like, this is the reality now, and this is how we adjust to it.
Damian Kulash, Ok Go
“Post-War” by M. Ward — It’s on the album “Post-War,” and it’s just a quiet, beautiful, honest … it’s like a salve on my soul, you know?
“Lay Down” by Son Little — He’s got some more upbeat, bluesy things, but this is, like, a really beautiful, quiet, soul song.
A lot of what we’ve been listening to is ’60s soul, dance music, because my two twins - we need a soundtrack to their lives. We do some “Wheels on the Bus” and so forth, but music that they want to just get up and jump around to. It’s been really fun to go - oh, right, Sam & Dave! Or, The Monkees. I don’t know if in other times I would have wanted to play them more contemporary music and this is just a desire to bridge with the past or something, but it feels like what we want is to be, like, here’s what goes in the time capsule, kids. Let me play Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for you, you know?
John Carter Cash
John Carter Cash is a singer-songwriter who’s also the son of June and Johnny Cash. His new album The Cash Collective: Hey Crow! will be released on June 19.
“Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash — This is a love song, and communicates the desperation and sadness associated with a love that never will be. But its honesty opens the heart, and the pure emotional expression heals.
“Pancho and Lefty” by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard — This tale may be a work of fantasy, but being lost in a story brings us to a different place, and in doing so, perhaps our own struggles don’t seem so important.
“Paranoid” by Black Sabbath — Pure rock and roll angst. Get the wiggles out.
“Whispering Shifting Sands, Parts I and II” by Johnny Cash — My father Johnny Cash invented the concept album. These two songs of cinematic vision recall a time in the American West when all was new and unknown. The haunting melody creates a vision better than the movies.
“Let the Lower Lights be Burning” by Tennessee Ernie Ford — This is a gospel song but written by a captain of a ship who prays that “the lower lights be burning,” those of the lighthouse on the shore. It is a song of hope and lends a recognition for the need for guidance, both spiritual and realistically.
“Winter” by Tori Amos — Tori Amos is a master. Her music has literally saved my life on at least three occasions. To me, “Winter” is the most important song on Little Earthquakes.
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