In our new music feature Origins, musicians and bands provide intimate insights into what inspired their latest single. Today, Course remember what it was like to be “Sixteen”.
Chicago’s Course were just getting into their groove before the pandemic hit. They had fleshed out their lineup, performed their first (and only) headlining show, and had spent a week in Dripping Springs, Texas with producer Dan Duszynski tracking the first sessions for their debut album in a series of airstream trailers. Like everyone else, they had to recalibrate, figuring out how to soldier on with home recordings and the departure of one of their bandmates.
But as vocalist Jess Robbins sings on the band’s new single, “Sixteen”, “Whatever’s waiting/ Whatever’s gone/ Don’t matte if I’m where you are.” While the song is about the mixed emotions that come with the newfound freedoms of adolescence, there’s a comparison to be made about the struggles and successes of the last year. “This life, this love/ Call it crazy, call it dull — but don’t call it luck,” sings Robbins over optimistic synths that dance with anticipation.
“Sixteen” serves as the latest single off Course’s upcoming debut, A Late Hour — which yes, they did finish remotely. The album is out May 21st, and you can stream the new track below, followed by its Origins.
Flash Fiction Piece:
Writing fictional stories and getting out of my normal songwriting process allowed me to explore an area of my writing I had not accessed for music in the past. I worked mainly on character stories, but in the case of “Sixteen”, a flash fiction piece [Editor’s Note: Read the story at the bottom of the page], I wanted to focus on a moment in time, a feeling of what I remembered about being sixteen and the new emotions mixed with a new sense of freedom in adolescence. I had been in a songwriting rut and after talking with my good friend and fellow songwriter Kevin Prchal, we decided to co-write a few songs together. The process always started with me writing a short story and going from there. It was a great experience working with a friend and someone I have always admired as a songwriter. He pulled me out of the rut! — Jess Robbins, singer
They Live by Night (1948):
Jess came to me when she was in a writing rut. She had a lot of ideas, but was having a hard time getting them out. So I gave her a little creative writing assignment. I told her to relieve the pressure of writing for a song, and just write about whatever themes or ideas she wanted to explore. I think this widened the scope a bit more for her and she was able to tap into something really honest and beautiful. With this particular song, she wrote a story about being young and in love, and the story ended with the words “they were sixteen.” This is the line I ran with and wrote what I hoped would be this sort of hazy dreamscape evoking images of young love. When I wrote it, I had Nicholas Ray’s 1948 film They Live by Night on my mind. Not necessarily from a lyrical standpoint (the stakes are far less tragic in the song), but from a visual and aesthetic point of view. I can’t listen to it without picturing Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell as the main characters. — Kevin Prchal, co-writer
When we went to Dripping Springs, Texas, we had not worked on the song as a band yet — it was the last song added to the record at the time and basically it all came together to fill out the vibe and energy of the song. We felt we really needed to go for it with the synth parts — [producer] Dan Duszynski played around with the synths until we found the perfect tones. — Jess Robbins, singer
On a lot of the songs the keyboard parts are meant for texture, backgrounds, rhythmic parts, but for “Sixteen” we wanted something really out front so we used a doubled ARP string synth to get this kind of throwback pop sound. — Dan Ingenthron, synth/keys
Dandy Sounds Studio in Dripping Springs, TX:
It felt less like a studio, and more like a sanctuary. Sanctuary From the pace and routines of our day-to-day lives. There was no waiting in traffic, rushing around or even meal-planning involved (Thanks, Anastasia!). Each day came with the simple expectation of being, breathing and creating. And that was restorative in so many meaningful ways. Between Jess’ voice, her killer band, and Dan Duszynski’s wizard producer brain, this little demo I recorded in my bedroom took on a larger life than I ever anticipated. — Kevin Prchal, co-writer
“Sixteen” Flash Fiction: