Artist Spotlight: Searows

    Searows is the moniker of Kentucky-born, Oregon-raised singer-songwriter Alec Duckart. He wrote, recorded, and produced his 2022 debut album, Guard Dog, alone on GarageBand, but the project led to co-signs from the likes of Ethel Cain and Gracie Abrams, both of whom he’s supported on tour. Last week, Searows released the End of the World EP, which he again produced on his own, via Matt Maltese’s new label Last Recordings on Earth. As the title suggests, and not unlike its full-length predecessor, the collection stares down feelings that could, one way or another, be called catastrophic anxiety; but as he gives them the space to unfold, Duckart’s songs reveal themselves as products of not just constant worry, but change. He names a song ‘Funny’, even though it’s the heaviest, most vulnerable song here, then follows it up with the title track, which actually has quite a bit of warmth and levity to it. “I buried my teeth in everything good/ And it didn’t save me like I thought it would,” Duckart sings on ‘I Can and I Will’, and by the time the thought cycles back, it’s mostly just an echo. There’s a lot more of them to get through, and he can’t wait to dig in.

    We caught up with Searows for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about his earliest musical influences, following up his debut album, writing about anxiety, and more.

    What are some of the earliest memories that come to mind of connecting with music?

    There were definitely a lot of artists that my parents listened to that I love to this day, artists that I feel like have particularly beautiful and emotional voices. Sufjan Stevens, I have been listening to since childhood, and he just has this voice that invokes heavy emotion; Joni Mitchell has a similar feeling. I feel like I always just really liked sad music. I’m trying to think of what I chose to listen to really early on that wasn’t just my parents’ music – I mean, I was really into Owl City. [laughs] There’s a lot really embarrassing music tastes that I had as a kid as well. But I’ve always really resonated with sad music, and not necessarily because I was sad, but it just felt so significant and cool to feel so strongly from just, like, sounds and a song.

    Especially since you were drawn to that kind of music from an early age, do you feel like you were able to appreciate the nuances of it in a deeper way growing up, to see something more complicated than the sadness in it?

    Yeah, definitely. I feel like “sad” doesn’t even encapsulate what the feeling actually is, for both the listener and the writer a lot of the time. Because I feel like they can write about really anything, any range of feeling, and when you listen to it, you can just feel some heavy feeling that isn’t necessarily sadness, but is just a significant emotion that maybe you weren’t able to feel before. When writing music, even when I’m feeling good, I feel like I seek out the things that make me emotional – not in a sad way, but just in a significant way. I don’t know if that’s a good description.

    How did songwriting take on this significance for you?

    When I was like 10 or 11 was the first time I wrote a song, and it was entirely making up the most depressing poem I could and making it into a song. I liked sad songs, and I was like, “I want to make one.” [laughs] That was the one time when I was 10, and then I didn’t really write anything else after that. In middle school, I started playing guitar, just learning songs, and then I think I just wanted to make something myself. I wanted to have a song to play that was my song, that fet like it was mine. I feel like I was still sort of trying to, not emulate other artists, but just the feeling of hearing a song and being moved by it – I really admired that and wanted to see if I could do that with my own music.

    Do you remember when you first felt that with your own music?

    I wrote a lot in high school, and I remember writing a song about just a weird friend situation. It was mostly an angry song, not in the way that it sounded, but just the emotions in it. I feel like it was the first time that I was really writing about something specifically, not just trying to sound poetic, and it was something that I needed to write and get out. I definitely didn’t have practice at that point with translating my thoughts and feelings into a song that doesn’t sound like a weird diary entry – not that that’s bad, but I feel like I’ve gotten better since then.

    Was it something you struggled with for a while, toeing the line between something poetic and diaristic?

    Yeah, definitely. I wrote a lot of songs that were just words that didn’t really mean anything to me. It just sounded good in the song, like it fit into the song and it sounded poetic. It didn’t have any meaning to me, or at least like not none that I could really identify. And then sometimes I would write other songs that were just very melodramatic, straightforward, exactly what I was feeling, and I struggled to figure out how to put the two together in a way or find a middle ground. I’m still very much learning how to write lyrics that feel true and also said in the way that I want them to be said. I’m glad that I was able to write a lot of songs that were not very good, because I would not be doing what I’m doing if I just gave up after writing shitty songs. Being a teenager is just so weird, and I was so unsure of anything that I did – I’m glad I had an outlet for that and that I’ve been able to practice it for a while.

    A lot of your End of the World EP is about growing older, and there’s this part on ‘I have more than enough’ where you seem to be addressing a younger version of yourself, twisting the chorus slightly: “You wouldn’t talk even when somebody was listening/ ‘Cause you didn’t have the words/ Well, I have more than enough for the both of us.” Of course, you’re always trying to articulate what you’re feeling in the moment, but do you feel like that’s helping you unpack the past in some way?

    I feel like the things that I first started writing about were things that were currently still happening or that I was still very much in the middle of. There’s obviously a lot of value in what you have to say while you’re in whatever situation, but I feel like when it’s been several years, there’s a whole new clarity to it. This EP in particular has been a lot about writing about the same things that I’ve written about a bunch of times before, but in a more further-back perspective that is more at peace with things rather than just, like, the bleakness of being in a bad feeling or situation.

    When it came to anxiety as a recurring theme, was it a challenge to write about it from different angles, or even outside of it?

    I think anxiety is one of those things that’s like, I can write about other anxieties I’ve had in the past, but at the same time, it’s still always – I’m a very anxious person and still have so much anxiety that it’s like I’m still writing from the current anxiety, but also get to see how I dealt with old anxiety and kind of having to apply it to that. I feel like writing about old anxiety or past anxiety is how I figure out how to both write about and deal with whatever current anxiety I have.

    To reference ‘I have more than enough’, it’s like writing about different feelings but trying not to call them the same name.

    I forgot about even that line in that song, but it very much applies to that. It feels like the same feeling sometimes, but we change so much that it’s like you have a new version of each feeling because you’re learning more every time you feel it.

    How do you get around the fact that it’s constantly changing when you’re in the process of making a song?

    It’s definitely hard sometimes. There have been many times where I write about something and it’s months later that I’m recording it, or sometimes years later that I’m recording it, and I just have to remind myself of where I was at when I wrote it so that I can not be judgmental about how I wrote it. I come back to songs and I’m like, I wouldn’t write that now, or I would do that so differently if I had written that now instead of, like, six months ago. But I feel like the fact that it was true for me then or felt true in the moment is something that I have to listen to. I can’t just write a new song every time I stop connecting to an old song. I mean, I can write a new song, but when you’re making a project or a collection of songs, it’s inevitable that you grow out of ones that were written at the beginning of the project or before it even started. I struggled a lot in this EP to not just start over and write all new songs, but I’m glad I didn’t do that.

    When it came to following up your debut album, were there things that you had in mind that you wanted to work on?

    When I released my first album, even by the time I finished it, I had learned so much while making it that I already felt like I could write, record, and produce in a way that I was happier with than what my album was. I was very nervous releasing it because I just felt like I could do better than that. I’m very happy with how it sounds because it’s where I was at when I made it, but I feel like I was really ready to make something else and apply everything that I learned about producing and recording music to this EP. And I wanted to write about things in this different way; I feel like a lot of the songs were very bleak, and they ended on a very pessimistic tone – that I do still enjoy writing about, because I love just bleak, depressing songs sometimes [laughs] – but I feel like it was more reflective of where I am now to write about the other side of the hopelessness.

    You really draw out the first and last songs, ‘Older’ and ‘I Can and I Will’. Both songs need that space, but their approaches are quite different. The first is moving through time with what seems like a whole cast of characters, while the closer zeroes in on just you and your thoughts in a way that’s very direct. Did you have a sense, especially when you started ‘I Can and I Will’, of the place it would reach emotionally?

    The first idea of the song came from second half of that song, where it kind of shifts a little bit, and I didn’t know where it would go at all. And then I added the first half of the song, which was initially completely different. That song had quite a journey to sound like how it sounds now. Parts of it were very stream-of-consciousness type writing that I had to put together in a song, and then I was like, Oh my god, this is seven minutes long. I think it was originally a little bit longer than that – I did cut some things, so this is the shortest version that I was willing to do. I’m a fan of long songs, so I didn’t feel like I had to make it shorter. I made a demo of it without any drums, and then I got the drums recorded. And while I was recording them, I was like, I like how this sounds, but it completely changes the feeling of the song from what it was initially in the demo. So I went back and re-recorded and rewrote a bunch of it. A whole evolution happened. There’s also so many drawn-out moments, in a lot of my songs but specifically in that song, that definitely make the song longer. But I feel like it needed space in the middle where you just have to stop for a second.

    What do you feel like you’ve learned from making this EP that you want to keep working on going forward?

    It’s both similar and different to how it felt with Guard Dog, because I feel like I’m a lot happier with this EP while it’s coming out. I feel good about it – which, for Guard Dog, it was a little bit more complicated. But at the same time, I feel like I learned so much about how I make music and how I want to make music in the future. I feel like I learned a lot about what I am capable of doing in terms of recording and producing, and I’m very much ready to make something new and then learn more from that. I’m eager for the next thing.

    I really enjoyed having more instruments than just guitar in this EP, but I was still very limited to the time that I had and the resources and what I’m able to do. This was my first time putting other instruments in my songs, and I really like how they turned out, but I had so many more ideas that I wanted to do. There’s some strings in it, but I would have put more in the whole thing if I could have. I love horns and banjo – I feel like those are both instruments that can be too much, but in the right song they can be perfect. I also really enjoyed having drums. I just want to see how many more things I can put in songs, but at the same time, I also think I will never not write very stripped-back acoustic guitar songs.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Searows’ End of the World EP is out now via Last Recordings on Earth.

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