The coronavirus pandemic has heavily impacted the music industry, but some artists have taken the challenges that come from it and used them to create. That’s exactly what Merritt Gibson did when she learned that COVID-19 would prevent her from going back to the college campus she had come to love so much. She took the emotions that she was experiencing and turned them into her latest single.
“Breaking Down” isn’t just about Merritt expressing her feelings toward one specific instance of adversity. It’s also an example of how an artist can take a negative and craft it into something positive, not only for themselves but for listeners who perhaps can find some solace in the music. I spoke with Merritt about the circumstances behind the song and the challenges of recording it in my latest interview.
Brittany Frederick: This single is so beautiful, but it came out of something difficult for you. Walk me through the story behind the song.
This whole situation hit me really hard. I was so happy at UVA [University of Virginia], where I go to school. During spring break, we were sort of in limbo, waiting to hear if we’d return to campus. It was a total purgatory. I was so stressed out. I was checking my email inbox every 20 minutes, texting my friends all the time, updating each other on what other schools were doing. Then when the email came in, I realized I would be inside my house, away from my normal life and classes and friends for months and months. I sat down with a guitar and wrote what I was feeling.
This songwriting experience was special – it felt like the song already existed inside of me, like it came out fully formed. I didn’t even really feel like I was writing it, more like I was transcribing it. It was a really, really interesting experience.
BF: It’s been a challenge for artists to record music during this time, but you and your producer “Bassy Bob” Brockmann were able to come up with a creative way to get it done. What was your recording process?
MG: It was a huge challenge. But it was really rewarding to figure out how to work around not being able to be in the same room as the producer or the musicians. I’ve actually never met my producer or any of the musicians on the track. We all know each other solely through Zoom and FaceTime.
My producer and I used this technology called Source Connect by Source Elements. It’s a plugin for the recording software Pro Tools. I would sing into my microphone in my living room and the recording would stream into my producers’ computer down in New Orleans and transfer as an MP3 file. He could hear me in real time and direct me and say like oh, can you do more of that or less of that? It was a very streamlined process.
After the session he could download higher-quality audio files. It was really cool. It was like I was there with him. Then, on top of that, he could actually control my Pro Tools setup using the Source Connect plug-in. I didn’t have to start and stop the recording or adjust the reverb or mix levels.
It all worked out well, but the process definitely had its challenges. We spent hours on the phone with Source Elements support, trying to figure out this uncharted territory. But it was super interesting and an amazing way to connect with people whom I’ve never met.
BF: Now that you’ve released “Breaking Down,” would you consider recording more songs using this process?
MG: I definitely am considering that. I have another song that I recorded last summer in person in Nashville. I’m considering releasing that this summer. I’ll probably record another song remotely, maybe in July or August or something. Remote recording worked out really well, and the quality is the same that you would get in a studio. And it’s convenient. I have extra time because of quarantining and social distancing and all that. It seems like the perfect time to tackle these projects.
BF: What made you ultimately choose music as a career? Was that a decision you made in school or did the inspiration come from an outside source?
MG: I really got into songwriting when I transferred high schools. I went to a boarding school, an all-girls one, in Connecticut. That’s where I really found my sound. There was so much support, and everyone was excited about the music. That’s what shaped my path.
I had an assignment to set a poem to music, to make a song out of an old poem. I chose Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Dream Within A Dream.” That was my first time playing in front of a large audience. The reception I got to that is what made me realize that I could really pursue music.
A couple of weeks after that, I went into Boston and recorded a set of demos and sent them out to managers. That was junior year. That summer I recorded the album [Eyes on Us] in Nashville.
BF: The recording of “Breaking Down” was important for you emotionally. What are you hoping that hearing it leaves other people with?
MG: This song is about acknowledging how so many of us, if not all of us, are feeling during this really difficult time. It’s about accepting those emotions and processing them. We are all grieving the loss of things on different levels. Everyone is missing their daily lives, routines, family, and friends. The pandemic has been much worse for those experiencing the loss of a family member or friend.
In the context of today, this love song can be interpreted on different levels. On the level that’s closest to me, the way I wrote it, it’s for college students who lost their independence and the time to find themselves. It’s for high schoolers who have lost rites of passage like graduation.
But then it’s also for the medical workers who are going into the hospitals every day. They’re shouldering the burden that they’re the last people to see somebody’s loved one alive. They feel like they’re breaking down. And it’s for people who have coronavirus and feel like their bodies are breaking down. It’s for people whose loved ones have the virus and can’t even see them in person.
I hope the song connects with people on multiple levels and shows them that they’re not alone. The entire world is going through this together.