Jilian Medford started recording music under the name IAN SWEET in 2014, when she moved from Los Angeles to Boston to study songwriting at Berklee College of Music. On her first two albums, 2016’s Shapeshifter and 2018’s Crusher Crusher, she dove into varying indie-pop textures in search of a dynamic that felt honest enough to match both her ambitions and the earnestness of her songwriting. Though it’s not hard to trace her artistic growth throughout these records, it wasn’t until her latest release, Show Me How You Disappear, that Medford was fully satisfied with the result: Written after the singer-songwriter had completed a two-month outpatient program following increasingly severe panic attacks, the album grapples with internalized trauma in an attempt to chart a path towards self-acceptance. With help from a number of handpicked producers, including Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Empress Of) and Andy Seltzer (Maggie Rogers), she sharpens and amplifies her approach in ways that not only evoke the overwhelming intensity her emotions but are marked by a towering confidence that seems to transcend them. That newfound clarity cuts through a haze of synths on the final of the album’s many transformative mantras: “I see it now, I see it/ So much more than before/ I see everything.”
We caught up with Jilian Medford for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight Q&A series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
What are some of your earliest musical memories?
Playing Avil Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ on my bright blue electric guitar at my 5th grade talent show is one of my earliest memories of playing an instrument. But also, my dad would blast Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush constantly when I was really young and I think that really stuck with me.
How has your approach to songwriting changed since you first started creating music?
I don’t think it has changed too much. My songwriting always comes from a place of yearning, reflecting and wanting to grow. What has changed over time is just being more self-aware and honest with myself so in turn the songs have become more truthful.
You made your new album during an especially pivotal period in your life. How does it feel to now be putting these songs out into the world? Does it change the way you reflect back on that time?
I feel so proud of this album and it is amazing to see how much I’ve grown through the process of telling my story. Putting the music out definitely continues to give me more perspective and insight into what I was feeling and going through during that difficult period of time. Each listen through or each interview I give about the record I gain some new insight into my emotions, it’s very cool that this record continues to help me heal.
Many of the album’s lyrics were written during journaling sessions while you were in therapy. Could you talk about the process of then assembling and refining the songs? What were some of the challenges of deciding what should go on the album?
There was definitely lots of gibberish and nonsense in those journals that I had to sort through, but on the days where I really wanted to connect with the writing I would write lots of mantras, things I wanted to forgive myself or others for, goals, ambitions etc. These mantras stood out to me the most as jumping off points for songs and lyrics. ‘Get Better’ is a song that is an example of this. I remember writing in my journal I wanna get better better better over and over again until it just a chicken scratch on the page and I knew I wanted to run with that and make it into a banger!
While making Show Me How to Disappear, you also revisited the discography of your “forever favorite band” – Coldplay. What is it that inspires you about their music?
It’s hard to explain the way I feel listening to Coldplay but it’s just this overwhelming bliss. Parachutes was the first CD I ever rented from the library. I just fell in love and have seen them live about 5 or 6 times. I just love them, they do that sad/hopeful thing to you that I also try to achieve with my songwriting.
Instead of working with a single producer for the record, you collaborated with a few different ones. How did you go about deciding which producers to work with, and what do you feel they each brought to the recording process?
As I was writing the songs and demo-ing I started thinking about which friends of mine or producers I wanted to work with would be good for which songs and that’s just sort of how that developed! I wanted to work with people who wanted to experiment and try new things.
What can you tell us about the beautiful cover artwork by Milagros Lupotti?
I have been a fan of Milagros’ work for a long time and knew I wanted to have them make the cover. Each time I look at the artwork I see new things and that’s my favorite part about it – it feels infinite!
On ‘Dumb Driver’, you sing, “Once you complicate the earth it can’t be undone.” What was the inspiration behind that line?
Good questions haha! My relationship with someone had gotten so complicated and toxic at that point, it was abusive and caused me to have PTSD. It felt like my world/ my earth was coming apart and couldn’t be fixed or put back together.
What are some things you’ve learned from making Show Me How You Disappear that you think you’ll be applying in your future projects?
I think I need to believe in myself more and trust my instincts!
And finally, what do you hope listeners take away from the album?
That it’s ok to not be ok!
IAN SWEET’s Show Me How You Disappear is out now via Polyvinyl.