A lot has changed for Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music junior Cam Franklin since their debut solo show at the Bitter End in late September of last year. Over the course of the year, they went through full rebranding, changing their stage name. In November of 2019, they released a song called “24 Hours,” with a music video directed by Jacob de Guzman and Jesse Bronstein, on Instagram’s IGTV platform. In January of this year, they went to study at NYU Berlin, but along with many others had their semester abroad cut short by the emergence and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. After the NYU Berlin campus closed, Franklin returned to New York and, on April 23, they released two songs they had been working on for over a year.
“I’ve wanted to release these two songs together for almost a year,” Franklin said. “Logistically, I kept putting them aside to focus on other things, and I’ve also experienced a lot of anxiety around my presentation as an artist and my stage name. Right now, that kind of brand performance matters less to me. I’ve held onto these songs long enough that I just had to let them go so I could progress to the next phase of my work, even if I don’t know what that is yet.”
The two songs, “The Botanist” and “Moon Song,” are a result of a painful yet formative period of Franklin’s life, a time that Franklin attempts to explore in these projects. Both were produced for a songwriting class Franklin took as a first-year while struggling with mental illness, trauma and substance abuse while feeling as though they could not write music, experiencing a lack of purpose. For them, it was the age of suffering and a beginning to the healing process. It was the age where they fell deeply in love and lived through sweeping heartbreak, which they explained in an Instagram post announcing the release of new music.
Franklin wrote “Moon Song” the week they stopped talking to their first love and greeted their first new moon without them. The rhythmical tune resembling alternative folk in style and singing weave together into a textured and filling sound. The electronic voice and subtle strings emerging in parts of the song as a background to Franklin’s singing add an ominous feeling to the sound. By the end of the track, it’s hard to hear the words behind the increasingly loud music, the sound turning intentionally messy and bordering on psychedelic rock. Franklin’s rhythmic singing, improvisation and experimentation with layers in “Moon Song” show their roots as an a capella performer, which they followed into college as a part of The NYU N’Harmonics, Tisch School of the Arts premier co-ed a cappella group.
If “Moon Song” feels like dancing around the fire in the woods, “The Botanist” makes you float in a dream-like state of calm with a strange mix of peace and despair, both probably originating from the story behind the track. Franklin wrote “The Botanist” about someone with whom they had a brief yet “very intense and passionate” love affair. The simple chord progression allows the listener to focus on Franklin’s lyrics, telling the tale of the botanist and them growing apart slowly and irreversibly. A song about young love, it allows us a peek into the lessons Franklin took from the love they experienced. “How am I ever gonna know / Maybe I never need to know / What’s going on beneath the soil / Better to blossom on his own,” they sing.
Franklin’s friends and fellow Clive Davis juniors Grace Ludmilla and Harry Teardrop helped with the production of “The Botanist” and “Moon Song,” each utilizing their unique skill sets to ensure the best possible quality for both tracks.
“The production process was different for both songs, but they were both valuable learning experiences,” Franklin said. “I had the privilege of making them both with friends … Letting other people, whom I dearly trust, touch my work was healing. [Grace Ludmilla] engineered with me so it felt less vulnerable to have her support every step of the way. ‘Moon Song,’ however, was more improvisational. My collaborator on that song, Harry Teardrop, is more technically skilled and confident in his skills as a producer than I am, so working with him taught me to believe in my vision.”
In a couple of weeks, everyone will be able to stream Franklin’s songs on Apple Music and Spotify. However, there’s no need to wait — both tracks are readily available on BandCamp for purchase and streaming. Released on the new moon of April 23, the date pays a subtle tribute to the story behind “Moon Song” of letting go of first love. If bought on BandCamp, the music can be downloaded with a zine Franklin made to accompany their songs and expand the listener’s immersion into the intricate tales behind both of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 27, 2020 e-print edition. Email Anna-Dmitry Muratova at [email protected]