It’s an old truism that great pain informs great art, but with the new Ellery album, This Isn’t Over Yet, it seems the inverse is true.
Last year, following a particularly productive writing period, Ellery’s married brain trust, Tasha and Justin Golden, hit the studio with renowned producer Malcolm Burn to begin their fourth full-length album.
“We were really excited to work with Malcolm because we wanted to work with someone who could challenge us as songwriters,” Tasha says over coffee at the Rookwood Commons Starbucks. “And (we wanted) somebody who had done a lot of work with the female voice and somebody who had a real ear for the song, who had a concept of what the song is asking to be, as opposed to what I intended it to be when I wrote it. He seems to have all those qualities.”
“He was super smart,” Justin says. “And kind of crazy in the way you want your genius-y smart producer to be.”
Burn wound up being the perfect choice behind the board for the Goldens. His musical intuition injected energy into the sessions and his suggestions transformed several songs from possibilities into definites for the album’s track list.
“A few songs felt finished but they didn’t seem to settle with us,” Tasha says. “ We were interested to see what he would do with them.”
Scant months after the duo finished recording with Burn, Tasha, who has dealt with mild depression for years, was overwhelmed by several personal and professional situations, leading to an almost crippling doubt about the future.
“I started to feel it last fall,” Tasha says. “We were doing a series of house concerts and they were really fun and we were connecting with great people, which was a welcome, warm vibe. I just hit a wall of exhaustion and felt like I couldn’t do this anymore. I love making music, but I was feeling like the costs were outweighing the rewards.”
For Tasha, there was no other creative outlet to fall back on. At the same time, she felt as though there was no other option except to step back from Ellery and see what transpired.
“It was scary because I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, there’s this big void,’ ” she says. “It was kind of frightening for a while.”
“Nothing came in a moment of clarity,” Justin says about his wife’s bleak outlook. “It was just a lot of processing and talking with good friends and talks for us about what we think and want. I ached for her and wanted things to be right for her, but the effects of all that was us butting heads more often and feeling disconnected. So taking a break and asking the questions felt really welcomed. I was like, ‘Let’s change this, the way it’s going is just bad.’ ”
Stranger yet is the fact that the dark and moody Over the Rhine-meets-10,000 Maniacs atmosphere on This Isn’t Over Yet was fashioned when Tasha was in good spirits, making the new material almost a harbinger of the bad emotional times to come.
“That’s kind of how it feels now,” Tasha says. “What moves me to write is suffering to some degree, so I think I was noticing it in other people’s lives but it wasn’t something I realized I was dealing with at the time.”
The Goldens had looked for a label to release This Isn’t Over Yet but largely stopped in light of Tasha’s malaise. Although she was convinced they had produced their best work to date, she needed to remove herself from it.
“I always did the booking and media for Ellery and I’m a workaholic, which is how I’ve dealt with my depression,” Tasha says. “So a big thing for Justin was that he wanted me to not work. So for the first few months of this year, I didn’t have a specific job. My job was to figure out what I wanted in my life. It was horrible.”
Slowly, Tasha’s depression began to lift as she reconnected with old friends and her longstanding love of poetry. Rather than continue to prolong the process of label shopping, the Goldens decided to release the new Ellery album themselves.
“When the record was done we sent it to some people, not because we wanted to be on a label but we wanted to see if anybody was interested and what would the deal look like,” Tasha says. “Then all this hit and we backed away from it. Then this spring, it just seemed like the simple path: ‘Let’s do it, let’s get it to the people who’ve been waiting for it.’ ”
Perhaps the strangest aspect of This Isn’t Over Yet for Tasha was revisiting the album after having set it aside for so long. In some ways, it took a short period of adjustment for her to reconnect with the material, but once she had it seemed like a completely new album.
“It was interesting for us to come back to the record in the spring and realize that a lot of the emotions of the songs feel like foreshadowing,” she says.
“It’s deeply cathartic to listen to it later on,” Justin says. “The songs have a different kind of weight now.”
ELLERY (www.ellerymusic.com) hosts an album release party Friday at The Carnegie Arts Center with Denison Witmer. Get show and venue details here.