Violet Delancey first appeared on the scene in 2016 as a country/folk artist with her well-received debut, When the Clock Strikes Midnight. Her latest album, Columbia Road, available May 25, is a huge stylistic departure that sees Delancey rebranding herself as an “Americana-tinged dream pop singer-songwriter.” Produced by Andy LeMaster (R.E.M., Bright Eyes, Azure Ray) in Athens, Ga., Columbia Road has Delancey drawing inspiration from Kate Bush and Emmylou Harris. Those influences are apparent, especially in Delancey’s new single, “Eloise,” which feels in a lot of ways like it’s straight out of a ‘80s Kate Bush fever dream. Delancey’s vocals fit nicely in with this genre change; the lyrics meander along backed by soft percussion and guitar, lulling the listener into the hazy, ethereal world her and LeMaster have created. It’s clear that Delancey is on a musical journey, and she brings the listener along nicely.
Recently, The Young Folks talked to Violet Delancey about her new single, as well as her upcoming album.
The Young Folks: What’s the story behind “Eloise?”
Violet Delancey: I was inspired to write the song after a trip to Savannah, Ga. I was on my way to play a show there when I heard that a hurricane was set to arrive the following afternoon. As I drove south I felt like I was coming in with the storm, as the sky began to change and the winds picked up. The city was already pretty deserted when I got there, so it felt ghostly. I was struck by the haunted feeling of Savannah, and the sense of history sparked my imagination. It was exaggerated by the emptiness of the city. The figure of Eloise kind of just popped into my mind as I imagined what it must have been like in the 19th century. When I went to a historic cemetery the following morning before leaving, I noticed that none of the women were mentioned independently on their graves, they were only ever listed in reference to the male relative who presumably bought and owned the plot. I’d already become sort of swept away with the story Eloise I’d started to invent, and at the cemetery I realized someone like that would more or less be erased from history, or would only exist in relationship to her prominent male relatives, and that added another layer to the song.
TYF: What was it about the grave epitaph that really struck you?
Delancey: It wasn’t a specific epitaph, but rather the way all the women in the historic sections of the cemetery were represented (or under represented). I think in some ways Eloise is a personification of the spirit of Savannah as I perceived it or imagined it would have been at its height. It’s full of echoes of a time that’s passed. Eloise was someone who so vividly embodied that past, but wasn’t preserved in our cultural memory because she was a woman at a time that didn’t want women to be fully known.
TYF: It seems like the sound of Columbia Road is very different than your debut album, When the Clock Strikes Midnight. Was that a conscious choice or did it happen organically?
Delancey: In some ways it was conscious. I think it’s more possible that the sound When the Clock Strikes Midnight was a conscious choice that did not happen so organically—I was very much trying to learn from and emulate my role models, and ended up with a recorded that referenced them very heavily. It was a logical production style with the way I’d written the songs, inspired by writers like Dolly Parton and Guy Clark. With Columbia Road I had a clearer sense of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to take things down a path that wasn’t so clear cut. The soundscape of Columbia Road really did evolve organically when Andy and I joined forces.
TYF: Do you worry about how this album will be received being that it’s stylistically different from what fans might expect from you?
Delancey: I try not to think too much about reception at any point during the creative process. I think that even though it’s stylistically different, it has some through lines—it’s still my writing and my voice, which I think is probably what people recognize and respond to more than the production choices. I feel like every production choice in this record supports those two elements, so hopefully it will be well received by people who liked the last record!
TYF: You’ve previously said that your inspiration for this album came from both Kate Bush and Emmylou Harris. Can you talk a little more about that? I can definitely hear the influence from Kate Bush.
Delancey: I have loved Kate Bush for a long time but never really new how to draw upon her musically since her work is so abstract and distinctive. When I started thinking about what would work with my new songs, she came to mind, and as Andy and I started talking about the components of her music, specifically “Hounds of Love,” it really worked with the direction I was trying to go in. As far as Emmylou Harris goes, we talked a lot about Daniel Lanois’ production style for some of the tracks, and Wrecking Ball is also one of my favorite records, so we drew some inspiration from that for the atmospheric tracks like “Was it You.” That record really sets the model for how to produce songs with a classic Americana/folk structure in a more atmospheric way.
TYF: I read that you were studying Mythology when you decided to switch gears and concentrate on music. What led you to jump head on into songwriting and was it difficult to make the switch?
Delancey: I went straight from undergrad to a master’s program, and I think at the time I was having a lot of doubts about whether I’d chosen a path that I would always find fulfilling. I started playing guitar as a creative outlet, and fell so in love with it that after a few months of fooling around with songwriting I decided that my next move would be to Nashville and that I would try to learn as much as I possibly could about songwriting and pursue it professionally if I could. It wasn’t such a hard transition, because I needed something to energize me and was in some ways really desperate for a change, and my newfound passion for music set a fire beneath me and energized the whole move. I also felt inspired to write songs for the same reasons that I loved studying mythology—I have always been fascinated with storytelling, and the power of stories to connect people and tap into universal truths.
TYF: How has your background influenced your music?
Delancey: Many of the songs on this record circulate around mythology explicitly and implicitly—from reenacting a classic myth (Eurydice) to referencing popular fairytale figures to meditating on the nature of the hero’s journey in the modern world. I also draw upon places I’ve lived and the journey I’ve taken to get to where I am—I wrote a bit about LA (“the concrete coast” in “100 years or more”) and have set a lot of my scenes in London, where I was living when I decided to take the plunge and become a songwriter. Everything I’ve done and been and studied finds its way into the music, but not always in the most obvious ways. I first fell in love with Kate Bush when I was in college, and in some ways referencing her sound in my music relates more to my background than anything on When the Clock Strikes Midnight.
TYF: As a relative newcomer to the industry, what’s been the biggest surprise or lesson you’ve learned?
Delancey: As someone who grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by the movie industry, I’ve always been surprised by how open and welcoming people are in the music industry, especially in Nashville. There isn’t the same sense of inaccessibility that seems to come with celebrity, even with some of the most accomplished musicians and performers, and I think that really opens the door for collaboration and artistry. It’s big time, and yet people are still first and foremost interested in making music and not as preoccupied with image and aloofness in the same way.
TYF: What’s one song by another artist you wish you had written?
Delancey: “Ballad of a Runaway Horse” by Leonard Cohen.
TYF: What do you hope fans take away from this album?
Delancey: I think many of these songs emerged from a feeling of being a little bit lost and unmoored, uncertain about what choices to make in order to stay authentic to my true self, which is a common theme for me and I think many others through the process of “adulting.” I unconsciously connected to some of the stories I’ve learned about or that have spoken to me as I created the imagery for the songs, and I guess I hope that people who listen to the songs might feel some sense of recognition about having felt the same way and maybe draw faith from them in how to move forward through difficult or uncertain times. A lot of the album feels like a dreamscape to me, and I would like for people who listen to the whole thing to feel like they’ve entered a dream and emerged from it with some pearl of wisdom or understanding.