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One of the methods Medford learned in therapy—and continues to practice—is the emotional freedom technique. “Basically, you tap the pressure points on your body and repeat mantras,” she explains, lightly patting her fingers around her eyes, under her nose, on her collarbone, and under her arms. “Initially, my therapist would have me say things like, ‘I forgive myself for staying in that relationship.’ It just lightens your load. It’s a meditation.”
Each day of the program began with a journaling session, and Medford used the time to write lyrics. On one of those songs, “Dirt,” she outlines her metamorphosis into a more self-aware being: “I’m breathing for the first time/I was underwater.” After treatment, she would head to the studio to record with these thoughts fresh in her head. At the end of February, right before the pandemic shut down Los Angeles, she graduated from the program.
Throughout last year, while working her day job at a company that creates music for film and TV trailers, Medford continued to toil on what would become Show Me How You Disappear. Instead of pairing up with a single producer, she tapped several different ones, including Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief) and Chris Coady (Beach House), matching them to the mood or emotional weight of a track. “I wasn’t trying to make everything all at once because I didn’t have the capacity to do that,” she says.
The result sounds lighter and more spacious than her previous work, as if she’s floating. Considering her last few years of personal turbulence, I ask Medford how she feels about her other albums at this point. “I don’t feel like I was being as truthful as I could have been on those records, because there wasn’t a lot of honesty within myself at that time. I didn’t get the opportunity to actually say what I wanted or really feel connected to the songs because I was constantly lying to myself,” she says, as the California sunshine beams down onto her floppy knitted hat. “But with this record, I was processing my emotions in a healthy way for the first time. I feel so proud because for once I was not trying to fake it. It gave me an opportunity to really feel like myself.”
Pitchfork: On the new album’s opening track, “My Favorite Cloud,” you sing, “My psychic told me I’d die/’Cause I’d forget to breathe.” Is that based on a real story?
Jilian Medford: Yeah. Right after my grandpa passed away in February 2019, I went to see Harmony [Tividad, of Girlpool]’s mom, who is a medium. I was really struggling between so many things. She went into her trances and then she held my hands and she’s like, “You don’t know how to breathe. When was the last time you actually took a breath and remembered it and felt yourself breathe?” I just started bawling. But she was like, “If you don’t learn how to breathe properly, like, you will die.” I knew what she meant. I had often felt myself holding my breath and not knowing it.
Did you try to incorporate that feeling of anxiety into the sound of the record?
My thoughts were so obsessive at the time, and I was also doing a lot of the tapping therapy, which was basically repeating myself over and over again as much as I needed to, to feel released of it. All the songs are a form of healing for me. But they’re also anxious. When I was unwell, the only way I could get through the anxiety was by thinking about it over and over again. A lot of these songs lack resolve—like I’m trying to figure it out, but it doesn’t need to be figured out right now. It can’t. It’s just finding ways to accept it and accept yourself and feel stronger than before.
Show Me How You Disappear is definitely more eclectic than your typical indie rock record. What were your musical reference points for the album?
I was listening to Madonna’s Music a lot, which I was forced to listen to as a kid because my mom is obsessed with Madonna. Coldplay, always—I’m a super fan, I’ve seen them like five times. Young Thug. And I’m always listening to Björk. But these are very subconscious inspirations. I never want to sound like anybody, and I find it kind of impossible to sound like anyone else because I don’t know how to do it. I just want to try to make music that sounds like whatever I’m feeling in the moment.
Has your relationship with being a musician changed during the pandemic?
I have a complicated relationship with being a musician because I’ve struggled in the past with insecurity and comparing myself to other people, not feeling confident in my own music, and not really trusting it. At the beginning of the pandemic, coming right out of really intensive therapy, I let go of a lot of that insecurity. So I’ve been able to enjoy myself outside of music more. For so many years, that was my whole identity, but now I’m able to see myself in a new light. Of course, I want touring to come back because I love it more than anything, but it has caused me a lot of anxiety in the past, too. I’m hoping that once these things do come around again, I can reflect and be like, “Remember that time when you weren’t so hard on yourself about everything?”