Singer/songwriter Emmett McCleary opens up to heirwaves about the release of his latest single “Pretty Mess.”
“‘Pretty Mess’ is a song about the first person I fell in love with, someone who I cut off entirely after we parted ways,” McCleary tells heirwaves. “I knew it was better that they were out of my life, but I still thought about them and the relationship we had, and I wondered if they thought about it too.” The ultra-relatable indie pop gem captures the deep sense of wonder that ensues in retrospect as one ponders what feelings still resonate with the one they loved and lost.
“I wrote ‘Pretty Mess‘ in Austin, TX, during a summer where I felt really lost and unsure of my future,” McCleary explains. Spending his days split between working for Instacart, a grocery delivery service, and interning at a recording studio, “I saw the full gamut of potential outcomes in my life between those two,” McCleary reminisces, feeling overwhelmed by the future and the present and falling into a nostalgic state that summer.
Releasing the track on New Year’s Eve was fitting, as it is a moment where almost everyone is nostalgic, and taking the time to reflect on those what if’s and what could’ve been’s – mirroring the hopeful, searching feeling that the track conveys. “It’s okay to have someone out of your life and still remember little things about them fondly,” he says, “I used to feel ashamed of any happy memories associated with someone that caused me pain, but I think I’m past that now. Love is a really complicated experience, even after it’s over.”
With a raw and alluring sense of hopefulness, the lyrics captivate anyone who has ever ended a relationship yet still found themselves reminiscing and wondering. It is a vulnerable piece that captures the essence of longing that remains as one begins to move on. As McCleary shares those feelings through his lyrics, he notes that the production of pop music makes it easier to be vulnerable. “It doesn’t really feel like I’m baring my soul to the world, even if I am describing things that are true to my experiences, because I’ve edited it so thoroughly,” he says. “Vulnerability in pop music is a strange sort of vulnerability because it’s very stylized and carefully thought out.”
“Love is a really complicated experience, even after it’s over.”
The track is the first installment in a new chapter for McCleary, who’s upcoming EP Lonely Chrome is set for release this spring. “My earlier work fetishized the 70s in a way that I can’t really relate to anymore,” McCleary says of his intent to make the single sound more contemporary. “I also borrowed a bit rhythmically from R&B, which is my favorite stuff to listen to these days. I think it’d be disingenuous (and culture-vulture-y) for me to fully lean into that sound, but I like incorporating bits and pieces, hopefully in a respectful way.”
“Pretty Mess” is available for streaming on all platforms now.