INTERVIEW: Sydney Worthley Talks Vulnerability and Power In Songwriting

INTERVIEW: Sydney Worthley Talks Vulnerability and Power In Songwriting

When Sydney Worthley released her latest EP Rose Colored Glasses last May, she planned to hand it straight to listeners, face-to-face, until COVID-19 cancelled her plans.

After playing out for the first time in Saugerties last weekend, the artist feels ready for a new season back on stage. She will finally have a chance to share the five tracks with the 518 on June 25 at Lark Hall in Albany. (The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available now.)

This includes her popular title track “Rose Colored Glasses,” which made Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist this spring yet was nearly left off the EP entirely.

Worthley chatted with Mirth Films about what made the song stick, her role as a songwriter, and the way young woman are dominating the pop rock music scene:

Sydney Worthley: The title track (“Rose Colored Glasses”) I had written like a year before. I wasn’t planning on putting it on [the EP] but when we were getting ready to record I made the split decision to put it on there. So that one I never got a chance to play live it but the other ones I’ve played out.

Mirth Films: What made you feel that including “Rose Colored Glasses”, given that the EP is named for it, was really the right move?

SW: I was in between two songs but I think that I just had a lot of faith in “Rose Colored Glasses” for some reason. The lyrics meant the most to me out of any other songs because, with the other songs, I wrote about experiences that I’ve never had–then they eventually happened to me, which is very strange.

I wrote “Rose Colored Glasses” about a past experience, being in a bad relationship and only being able to see it when you take a step back. I was told, “I don’t know about this song. I love the other songs, but I don’t really know about this.” That made me want to pursue it more, and work on it even harder. And now I’ve heard that its people’s favorite song. It actually got the most recognition through Spotify and was on NPR, which is just a great feeling because I almost gave up on that song.

MF: Trust your gut.

SW: Absolutely.

And I think that this EP is kind of a bridge because my debut album was just so different sounding. I’m exploring songwriting styles and sounds than I did in my debut album because I think then I was sticking to things that I was comfortable with. This feels more experimental to me.

MF: Jumping off that experience, there’s such a boom of artists who are young women writing about these kinds of experiences and really connecting with listeners. It truly feels like a takeover. Is that something that you think about in terms of your own experience right now?

SW: Yeah, even here in the 518, I think that young women are dominating. It’s a really cool feeling ’cause it doesn’t feel like competition, it feels like unity.

I feel like in the past, young women have been expected to be or have been pitted against each other and they’re forced to do the best that they can. But in this situation, well, we’re forced to do the best that we can, because we’re getting the encouragement from women who know exactly what we’re all going through in the same music scene. I think also that having similar writing styles to somebody and having similar sounds, is also such a cool feeling. It’s very unique to feel understood in that way. And also, honestly, it makes booking really easy because you put two people together that have a very similar sound or very similar energy, and then people can come out to a show that they’ll really enjoy.

MF: Are there specific people locally who you feel your music most connects with?

SW: For a few years before the pandemic, I played out with Talia Denis. It was a really nice combination because she’s just the sweetest person ever and I think that our sound is cohesive enough, but our songs are different enough where we can entertain a crowd without giving them, like, four hours of the same thing.

I know (inspiration-wise) Talia really gravitates towards the sound and style of Paramore and I do too but I really look up to people like Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift. I love Phoebe Bridgers a lot because songwriting is a huge deal to me.

You can have a really cool sound but that can get old if you don’t relate to the lyrics or if you just don’t find any substance in it. So, I really love Taylor Swift’s songwriting, but I don’t think that my music style matches hers. With Phoebe, her songwriting style is just really unique. I’ve never heard anything like it. But, also, her sound is just so cool and I think I gravitate more towards that when it comes to my own creativity.

MF: What kind of like themes do you feel like you best communicate through your music?

SW: Recently, heartbreak and just relationships in general. And that doesn’t have to be romantic relationships, just the relationships to people around you. I think anybody can listen to a song about any relationship and connected to somebody in their lives that nay not be a significant other of any type. It can be about your family or even about a friend. I really enjoy writing about those different aspects and it from different perspectives, even if it’s about like my own relationships.

MF: I know friend breakups are really hard.

SW: Yes! I’ve been writing a lot of music in the pandemic and I think that that’s a huge theme in my newer music that I haven’t released or done anything with yet. Friend breakups, those ones hit really hard. So, it’s a very vulnerable thing to write about.

MF: How do you feel about bringing that kind of vulnerability to the stage again after so long?

SW: It’s challenging. I just got done with a show at the Dutch Ale House in Saugerties and I was able to perform three new songs. Two of them, I’ve never even played it for people in my own house, or only in front of my bandmates while we were practicing.

It was nerve-racking, because there’s just so many layers to that. You’re looking in the crowd for a reaction, for people to enjoy the sound and kind of like groove along, but you’re also looking to see if they connect to it–the lyrics and everything like that. But then, you’re also writing about your own experiences so you’re thinking too much. It’s actually better to turn off your brain and not think about why you wrote it or what you wrote about, especially if it’s really vulnerable. It’s a painful thing. Especially if you write about something very specific. There’s always the fear that the person that you wrote about or a specific situation is going to come up again. That’s a scary thought.

MF: How do you navigate that fine line between using music as this therapeutic experience versus feeling super exposed?

SW: I think that that’s something that I’ve always shied away from. When I was in high school, being surrounded by people that I’ve written songs about, in using music as a therapeutic experience, I would just throw it away the songs. I was just like, “I don’t know if I want anybody to hear that. I don’t know if I want that. I don’t know if I can just get over it, and not use music to do it.” But then you come back to those songs thinking, “Well, I really like this.” You can adjust the lyrics and doesn’t have to be about a specific person or a specific situation anymore but it’s definitely a really, really fine line.

MF: Is there anything particular about your upcoming Lark Hall show people should look forward to?

SW: My bassist, Julia Alsarraf, will be opening. She’s absolutely amazing. She has a really cool sound and style, her musicianship just amazes me.

Actually, once we got done recording for the EP, she left while I was still doing vocals. That day that she released her own EP, Mixed Feelings, and we all had no idea! She had been helping out with the EP and released her own thing at the same time, which I thought was that was like, so cool.

Witness Sydney Worthley’s songwriting skills with support by Julia Alsarraf on June 25, 8 p.m. at Lark Hall in Albany. 

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