To experience healing from a song, an artist shares the process of soothing vulnerabilities in a way that helps the listener soften into accepting and overcoming their own fears. Perhaps the unique, collaborative journey that Clara Baker, Leigh Jones and Audra Nemir of Five Letter Word went on to write their new song “Still You Stay” is responsible for its rhythmically healing nature.
When Liz Chibucos, guitar player and vocalist in Portland’s Far Out West, sound engineer at the Goodfoot, and booker for Left Coast Country, shared a residency opportunity with the ladies of Five Letter Word, they had only hours left to apply before the deadline. Fortunately this placed no dent on their acceptance, and soon enough Baker, Jones and Nemir showed up to their weeklong residency of creative exploration in Oysterville, Wash. The opportunity was more than just a special environment in which to write; it would be their first true taste of collaboration. Until this point, every song claimed by the winners of Northwest String Summit’s 2018 band competition had been written individually by one of the three ladies respectively. They did not underestimate such a challenge and prepared with the powerful tool of organization.
Jones shares that the writing took place in her room, or “the ‘Music Room,’ where we went to write and rehearse. Clara's room was the ‘Business Room,’ where we convened to book shows and scheme world-domination tactics, and Audra's room was the ‘Pleasure Room,’ where we went to drink wine and decompress at the end of each night.”
“Still You Stay” is one of 14 songs written in 11 hours during this intensive week of songwriting. It speaks to the nature of one-sided relationships, with a recognition for those who show unwavering support despite the lack of reciprocation:
“I can crash, I can rage. I can bend you ‘till you break, and still you stay.”
Fans of Five Letter Word will find comfort in the strong, feminine vocals and familiar vibrations of their trademark banjo; however, this song distinguishes itself from the singles that have preceded it with a hollow, haunting display of harmonies that echo the sounds of the ocean. A showcase of the power of unity, their individual choral backgrounds come together to collaboratively build a sense of newness in their dialed-in folk sound.
“Clara sings lead vocals on this track, and she wrote a lot of the lyrics to this song while playing clawhammer banjo, and we developed the harmony breakdown in the middle together while sitting at a piano,” Jones shares.
The recorded version features Nemir on upright bass and Jones on guitar, and is one of four songs on their new album, Siren, which was spawned at the writing residency. The work of other Oregon talent can be heard in the engineering of Bart Budwig at the OK Theatre in Enterprise, Ore., and seen in the cover art designed by Chelsea Stephen of Left Pebble Studio.