Premiere: Kristen Merritt Tenderly Copes With “Ending” On Radiant New Single
Glossy. Wistful. Poignant. Daring. The new single “Ending” from singer-songwriter Kristen Merritt is a soulful reverie of reflection, presented with a gracious sound & incisive lyrics. It’s a stirring display of our internal struggle with the concept of romantic closure that soars above its tempered sound & gradual tempo with genuine emotion & impeccable production This dazzling track will officially be released on Thursday, January 23rd, but The Auricular is proud to host an exclusive stream of it today, available in the middle of this article.
After a successful 2019 which saw the release of the delicate Spectrum EP and the breezy single “Warm Weather,” Merritt looks to begin the new year strongly with a sublime R&B track teeming with crafty talent. Glossy guitar chords stream over a calm snare beat and supple bass line as Merritt strives to find answers within for complicated conclusions. In the lyrics, Merritt surveys her romantic background, contending with the importance of words versus actions when it comes to love.
The strongest point of the song unfolds over the interlude and coda where Merritt soothingly murmurs in the background of a blooming instrumental. Ebbing and flowing over the swaying music, Merritt directs this track even while wordless with an emphatic and visceral delivery that helps bolster the song’s internal probing.
You can listen to “Ending” below, followed by our curious conversation with Merritt on the song’s casual genesis and the deep personal revelations it uncovered.
A song like this seems to be organically linked by words & music. How closely were the words written with music in mind, and vice versa?
Funnily enough, I found the track for this song, after a conversation with a friend about leasing beats. I was completely new to this area of music as I had always recorded my own instrumentals, but I figured I’d try something new, and happened upon this track on YouTube. This was the track I used [when I recorded using] voice notes, and while I kept it in my mind that I wanted to write something that had a more dreamy/sultry vibe (and was more romantically inclined), what I thought was going to be a standard love song (“I love you, you love me, we’re happy, let’s explore that”) turned into a love song that wasn’t so sweet (other than the dessert metaphors sprinkled throughout), and carried the weight of a lot of personal issues surrounding love and relationships.
Was there any specific moment that led to the writing of this song, or just an epiphany of sorts when looking back on your relationships in the past, romantic and platonic?
This song was one where I opened up my voice memos app on my phone and just let the lyrics flow as they came. So, at the time, I wasn’t quite sure what I was singing about or what the source of inspiration was. When I revisited the lyrics though, after the “flow” session if you will, I came to find deeper meaning in them, as they narrated a habit of sorts in my love/attachment style that I had never consciously took stock of.
The song definitely narrates a story about romantic love, but it’s not one love story in particular. There was a habit I was forming, where I let my anxieties and self-doubt cause me to cling to external validation, especially in needing to hear the words “I love you,” even when my partner demonstrated their love in a myriad of other ways (one could say more action based than verbal). This song lyrically acted as a recognition and understanding of my own past behaviors, and a cautionary tale of sorts, to let love live between people how it wants to, rather than how you think it should, or how you “need” it to.
How close does the finished product line up with your original idea for the song?
My idea of what I wanted the song to be and the finished product were distinctly different. Well, not completely, as I did aim for a sultry, soulful vibe for the song, but as for the lyrics, it was very different than what was anticipated. I have two styles of writing lyrics — one where I am very targeted in what I aim to write about (usually because I have a line that I wrote and liked and wanted to use), and one where I just let the lyrics flow and determine what they mean after the fact.
No lie, with this song after I wrote it, I liked it enough, but I really discovered the true meaning in the lyrics after I pretended I was doing a Genius lyric breakdown (like the YouTube series), and sung/explained it out loud like the artists do during their videos. That’s when I really fell in love with the song. Talking through it, breaking down each line and metaphor, enabled me to dive deep into what I had kind of word-vomited (for lack of a better term). And with that, I really connected with the story I was telling. It was like waking up from a dream with a lot of weird themes throughout and you’re like, “oh, I should unpack this a bit.”
The song features a dreamy interlude & coda with subtle instrumental flourishes and your voice humming deep in the mix. Was this section a way to hammer home the song’s central lyric or to further examine the “words versus actions” argument in life?
I think this is where I wanted to emphasize the dream-like quality of the song, or at least provide some levels that reflected my subconscious in a way. Again, this was done kind of unconsciously, but I think the levels represent that transition between, “ok, here is my first verse where I have isolated the problem / a previously unknown truth” and the second verse where I’m like, “oh, and this is how it manifests in my waking life, this is the ‘inevitable end,’ an ending not for the lack of love, but because I overthought the situation due to my issues with self-esteem and self-doubt.” It’s a space with a hum where the words aren’t missed and don’t really matter, because something is still felt. That is what I am realizing sometimes love feels like.
It takes a lot of work for a song to come across this smooth. What would you say was the hardest part about recording this track?
Not to toot my own horn, but this track came together really smoothly. And truly not to too my own horn because the beat/backing track arrangement was done by the producer Mixtape Seoul, so they did the difficult yet wonderful work of melody creation there. It did take me some time to get the right feeling in the vocal recording, and I definitely picked away at the mixing of it, but it felt good to hear the soul and story in my voice, and the fact that it could blend so well with what was created by another artist was truly lovely. Recording the vocals in this track, and instruments/vocals in other tracks I’ve done as well, definitely started off as an arduous task, but over time, I’ve learned how to sing on a recording in a real way, as if I am singing for a live crowd. That’s why I think it blends well, because I aimed as much as possible to feel the music as I sung, and lyrically, to make it an intimate story-time of sorts.
Is this single intended as a standalone or is it the first taste of something big on the horizon?
This single is the first in a series of “let’s push Kristen out of her comfort zone” by releasing more music in 2020! I have always shied away from releasing songs with any type of regularity because, if I’m being honest here, I felt that if I were to release more frequently, the creative well would dry up, and I would have nothing left for the “big break.”
I’m coming to realize that you have to plant your seeds on the way to the “big break,” and that the big break itself truly is just the culmination of the work that came before. Not that this is news to anyone if you really think about it, but sometimes the narrative around the portrayal of an artists’ big break seems to have them just blink into stardom as if this one hit was the ticket, and I admit I used to feed into that. So it’s intimidating to put yourself out there without the guarantee that something good will come from that act, but I believe it’s an important practice to keep creating and sharing my work, because I am building confidence and really putting in the work to build a career. I think I have some great stories to tell with my music and I want them to be heard, so I just have to get them out there!
So in short yes, this is a taste of more coming down the pike!
When can people catch you next in concert?
I recently moved up to New York City for music pursuits, but I will be back in VA this summer to play shows in the area! If you happen to be visiting New York though, my next featured performer set will be on Tuesday, February 18th at the Daily Press Coffee in Brooklyn. You can be sure though that I will be releasing plenty of music (and maybe even a few videos) in the meantime to keep the energy up! To continue to serve a need that’s greedy and plenty, if you will (and as I hope it to be)!