Maryn Jones of Yowler gets spiritual on Black Dog in My Path.
Self-doubt and internal struggles often stand in the way of what we want. For Maryn Jones, depression, defeatism, and reckoning with our nightmarish world presented roadblocks in the process of creating her sophomore record as Yowler.
Thank God she pushed through it. On Black Dog in My Path, which came out on Double Double Whammy in October, Jones navigates these feelings with songwriting that’s both sweet and bruising. The former All Dogs leader explores her struggle with finding her way in a capitalist society and searching for deeper meaning in life across several hauntingly beautiful hymns, many of which are quiet and sparse, with just Jones’ soft voice and her guitar. But the album’s louder, more brooding moments really smack listeners in the face, such as on “WTFK” where she sings, “If want is evil, I’m becoming dark” over a heavy bass line and industrial percussion. The contrast perfectly illustrates Jones’ emotions and how she’s learned to channel them into her music.
AdHoc spoke with Jones ahead of her November 13 show at Park Church Co-op about how Black Dog in My Path came to be.
It’s pretty clear while listening to Black Dog in My Path that there’s an overall feeling of sadness beneath the music. But there are moments when you sound angry, too. Can you explain how you were feeling during the songwriting process?
That’s cool that you say that; people haven’t really asked me about that. I mean, the more obvious one is on “Where is My Light”; there’s a lot of resentment, and definitely some hurt [and] anger that was happening in that song. That was from feeling let down by some people I was close to. I’ve never really written angry lyrics before, or lyrics that were coming from that place. This time, I was like, “Wow, this is really helpful. I’m feeling very upset by this and it’s cool to just be able to do this.” It felt good.
There’s some political shit on there—my feelings about capitalism and shit, struggling with that and not really knowing how to exist as a human in our society, because it’s almost impossible. It felt good to learn how to write about anger in a way that just helped me feel better.
Your first record was mostly just you, but you worked with a few artists from Philly, and Kyle Gilbride played a big role in the production. What was it like working so closely with him?
We were already good friends; we were actually dating at the time. We recorded the All Dogs record together. We had already worked together and been friends for a while, so it was very comfortable; it just felt like the obvious thing to do. We are very creative together. I think he’s a genius, so working with him was very fun.
I’m kind of a pain in the ass, though, recording-wise. I get really distracted and I have no attention span. I get really impatient, so he was really, really a saint in that area. We would go to record and I’d be like, “I can’t do it,” and he’d be like, “Okay, we’ll do it another day!” So there was a lot of that, and then toward the end I just realized if I didn’t make this fucking record I was going to lose my mind. I just buckled down and stopped being a baby. That’s when it got really good and really fun because we just fed each other’s creative energy. We made crazy songs.
What was the hardest part about making this record?
I think that just making it exist was the hardest for me. On every level, I just really pulled myself back and am my own worst enemy; it takes me so long to write songs. Just being a person who is depressed and suffers from that—it’s just so hard sometimes to make yourself create things when you can barely sustain yourself as a human being. It’s crazy that I’m able to write songs because it’s like so the opposite of what my brain wants me to do.
The title of the record—“Black Dog in my Path”— sounds pretty ominous. What’s the story there?
I used to have this job at an ice cream shop where I’d just sit and look at Wikipedia articles a lot. I started doing research about this place where some of my ancestors are from, called the Isle of Man [in Scotland]. There’s this story about a ghost dog that prevents this sailor or fisherman from going out one night; he chooses to go out on the boat, but there’s this black dog standing there, and then there’s this crazy fucking storm.
It’s kind of a cheesy story, but when I read it, it stuck out so much. I wrote it down in my notebook and I started drawing pictures of it. I was like, “That’s weird—why am I so obsessed with this?” I was finishing up writing lyrics and doing last-minute vocals; [I was on the song] “Grizzly Bear II,” and I couldn’t finish the lyrics. I was just looking through my notebook, and I saw that [drawing], and I was like, “Oh my god. It’s exactly what I’m trying to say: ‘Stop fucking your life up, just fucking stop.’” I wrote it into the song, and then realized it sums everything up on this record. It was pretty cool.
Astrology is something you’ve discussed in previous interviews in relation to this record. It seems astrology is really popular right now, especially online. Why do you think that is?
I think human brains really like to put things into order, or compartmentalize them, to kind of help make better sense of life, because it’s very confusing and stressful. I feel like that’s one way I look at it. On a deeper level, why I’m into astrology—I really care about humans and I feel like I have a lot of empathy. I want to understand why people function the way that they do. It’s nice to be able to be like, “Oh, I like this person, I wonder how I can be good to them or care for them or understand them better [so] as to better relate to them.” It’s a nice guide. It’s comforting in this weird way.
I used to be more into it, but I’ll be honest: When it got to be more mainstream, I was like, “I don’t like this anymore!” And guess why? It’s because I’m an Aquarius. I have to be different. I personally secretly love it still.
I’m still a bit of a skeptic.
That’s the beauty of it: You don’t have to take it too seriously. It’s just fun sometimes—especially if you have a crush on someone, and you want to read something about them. I do that all the time. I’m like, “I know we just met, but what’s your sign? What’s your rising sign?” And then I just creepily read about them. It’s great!
You were raised in the Mormon church. How has your experience with that faith informed the artist you are today?
I feel like a lot of the reason I felt empowered to start making music in the first place is because [of being raised Mormon]. I not only was raised very religious—I was raised very strictly. Honestly, [I was] pretty stifled as a young human being. My family is very creative; they’re singers and love the arts. [But] as a teenager trying to figure out the world, I feel like I was not really able to do that on my own terms.
Once I had the chance to extricate myself from that life completely, I really wanted to go in the opposite direction. I moved to the Midwest from Boston. My parents had no control over me at that point, because I made it a point that they couldn’t. I moved away, kind of got out of touch with them, and just felt like I could do whatever I wanted. I [could] start a band. For the longest time after I left the church, I was adamant about not having rules for myself—not making decisions for myself before I have to. I realized I do have morals and rules because I’m a person who cares about things in the world.
How did you start singing and playing guitar? Was music a big part of your relationship to the church?
I started singing as soon as I could talk, probably. There was so much singing going on in my family. I definitely had to be in choir every single year of my life. Everything was just music and church. The reason I started playing guitar—[and] this is something I’m really proud of—is I got into fuckin’ Green Day! I was like, “I HAVE to do this. This is the opposite of what I’m supposed to do.” I was in love with Billy Joe Armstrong, but I [also] wanted to BE him. He was the coolest boy I’d seen in my life. I did the musical thing as a way to sort of escape what I was supposed to be doing. That was a really big moment for me.
What was the first Green Day album that you picked up?
Oh, this is really embarrassing. I was very weirdly sheltered, but I was into the music my mom was into, like Sting. But my sister was married to this guy who was into punk music and ’90s alternative, and he showed me the VHS of International Superhits!, which is all the music videos. Then I went and bought the International Superhits! CD. That was my life. I wasn’t cool; I didn’t get Dookie, or anything. Eventually I did. I got the hits!
Going back to your record, the lead single, “WTFK,” starts with the line, “Sick fucking world, and where do I get off?” That’s a pretty strong sentiment—what were you thinking about when you wrote that?
It’s kind of a double entendre. “I’m just sick of this shit.” It’s kind of an intense statement, because I’ve definitely been in places where I’m like, I don’t wanna be alive anymore! But it’s like, ya know, “Fuck this, how do I get out of this, because I didn’t sign up for it.” [But] that song is also about desire and, like, how do I make this more bearable?
I can see it being played at like a goth dance party.
Thank you—that’s a really high compliment, seriously. I started writing the bass line because I’m really obsessed with the album Garlands by the Cocteau Twins, which I consider to be a goth album.
You’ll be doing a bit of touring behind this record, and you have a full band this time. How does it feel to have more company on tour?
Whenever it was me calling the shots and steering the ship [on previous Yowler tours], it was like maybe with one or two other people along for the ride. I just felt like an idiot, because I’d bungle everything up so bad and have to do all this damage control. Having the band now is so fun, and I’ve been able to delegate tasks to other people so I don’t lose my mind. I’m a fairly organized person, but I get overwhelmed and stressed pretty easily. They’re also really good friends. I’ve been friends with Chelsea the bassist for 12 years. It’s really fun.
What’s up next for Yowler?
I want to do a lot of touring next year. I’m looking forward to getting started on other creative projects. I’m not sure if I should say this, but I’ve been talking with Nick from All Dogs and we’re gonna hang out and play music together. It’s really exciting; my dream is to have that band be a thing again. With Yowler, I’d love to do some one-off EPs with like me and one other person. I mean, this is an idea I just had yesterday, so who knows. I want to be creating more stuff more frequently, because I think when I’m happiest is when I’m putting stuff out in the stratosphere.