Kate Wassell is bored of the pre-made Spotify playlists that sleep on the true heart wrenchers, and tells us why Jason Isbell’s ‘If We Were Vampires’ is a must-listen 21st century love song.
Say ‘overtired, cliché and cheesy’ and what music genre jumps to mind? The love song. There’s a multitude of great ones, but in modern music it often proves difficult for an artist to say something about love that hasn’t been said before, a multitude of times.
Sure, we all love a cheesy sing-along, but how to give a new lease of life to the love song? Americana artist Jason Isbell walks through his thought-process surrounding Grammy winning ‘If We Were Vampires’, a track on his most recent, acclaimed album ‘The Nashville Sound’. He tells Paste Magazine: “I realized that to write a love song, you have to write a death song”.
It’s not as morbid as it sounds. Melancholic and heart-wrenching, Isbell’s song-writing captures the realisation that so much of our love is unequivocally attached to time- to our need to live that time to the best of our ability; to treasure the people that we’re with before it’s too late. The track is dedicated and written for his wife, songwriter and fiddle player Amanda Shires, and their tender harmonies on the studio version are moving enough in themselves.
Instead of setting out a list of reasons for his love, Isbell seeks to sort through the tender moments that are in fact ‘not’ why he ultimately loves her. ‘It’s not the long flowing dress that you’re in’, he begins, ‘it’s not your hands searching slow in the dark’. Beauty plays a prominent part in so many love songs- and that’s something that shouldn’t necessarily be critiqued. Nor should the importance of intimacy. All these things matter in romantic love: they are the parts that make the whole. Yet Isbell gets to the root of the whole. ‘It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever’, comes at the chorus: ‘likely one of us will have to spend some days alone’. It’s mortality that keeps us from letting love go stale.
In 2018, the track won a Grammy for Best Americana Roots song. In Isbell’s acceptance speech, he thanks his wife Amanda Shires, and it’s not because she’s the subject of the song. He tells the audience that it was Shires who walked in on him watching day-time reality TV and told him to get up off the couch and write a song. More than the irony that the very song he then went to go write won him a Grammy, the motion of pushing your loved ones to do what they do best is the sentiment that sticks (not to mention the fact that Isbell can go from watching ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ to writing something as beautiful as this).
So, if you want a break from the overused lyrics of love this Valentine’s Day, (and also maybe want a cry- have a read of the YouTube comments), ‘If We Were Vampires’ won’t disappoint.