| Jensen McRae -

Jensen McRae


“I don’t have main character syndrome,” Jensen McRae says, “ so much as I have narrator syndrome.” Her songwriting often begins with the smallest snippet, overheard words or phrases that light up a title or a concept. It’s conversational, interactive in how it often sparks from the people and places around her. It also shows up in McRae’s output, which is prolific, generous, and blisteringly unafraid of failure. “I just never saw the downside to sharing something online,” she says, “or to something not resonating, because I know that I will have more ideas. It’s really ok if I post something and it flops.” “Massachusetts” began as one such post, and after months of fans clamoring for the completed version, it arrives as McRae’s first release with Dead Oceans. Through her lens as a narrator, the clarity of her songwriting and the depth of her voice, McRae delivers the gift of a song that makes lost love a little more lovable again.

The beginnings of “Massachusetts” were simple — just McRae and a piano — and it didn’t have a name when she first shared it. Its pieces locked together quickly, with McRae clicking its sharp, irresistible details into a tight rhythmic package. The song became known as #videogames or #christianbale, and what leaps out first is a soft but weary feeling, the longing and lingering that comes after heartbreak. What follows, though, is effervescent: the lightness of healing, the freedom to remember what was good about being together. The song took off.

Covers, interpretations and duets followed, as growing hordes of fans imagined completed versions and debated over its title. (“Massachusetts” was the most popular, and now officially wins the day.) Ahead of its release as “Massachusetts”, fans are already singing the song back to McRae across arenas, where she’s on tour supporting Noah Kahan. McRae was hesitant to make something more of the song at first, and the decision to return to it came less from the song’s popularity than from reconciling its place in her larger bodies of work. Ultimately, McRae decided to complete the song, setting out to “honor the original impulse” without over-attending to it. She’s quick to acknowledge that tension. “I’m not a perfectionist,” McRae says, “but I don’t want to put something out there that doesn’t feel true to me, or true to what it is.” McRae ultimately finished “Massachusetts” while on tour, deep in that mode of impermanence, before recording the studio version with producer Brad Cook (Waxahatchee, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Bon Iver).

The song’s center still holds. Built again on piano and vocal with a bright rhythm guitar and a classic four-piece band, the finished version brings a lush, supportive bracing to the beauty of the original. “When you experience heartbreak, and you write through it, a lot of what you’re writing through is dark and painful,” McRae explains. “But this song is about coming out the other side of that, where memories that were painful become sweet. It’s the arrival to where you can look back and know it was worth it.” It’s an exhilarating feeling and an equally exhilarating song, as McRae shares even more of the details and outsized moments that animate a relationship.

Born and raised in LA, Jensen McRae has studied and made music for most of her life. She attended Grammy Camp in high school and graduated from USC’s Thornton School of Music with a degree in Popular Music. McRae’s debut album, Are You Happy Now?, was written mostly when she was just 21, and explored what she describes as her “musical coming of age.” Again, here, McRae’s talents as a narrator loom large; Are You Happy Now? navigates identity from its deepest foundations – life as a young, bi-racial Black and Jewish woman – to its most personal musings – do I trust you, do I trust myself. McRae is working toward her next album, due to come out next year, and she knows the breadth of that collection carries a different heft. “I’ve lived a lot more, and have a lot more experience to share,” she says. “The record will touch on those moments that are harder, less healed. But before we pull back the curtain,” McRae continues, “it feels right to touch on this hopeful moment.”

Self-described as “one house down from the girl next door”, McRae has been compared to artists like Tracy Chapman or Phoebe Bridgers, and with good reason. Her voice is dynamic, her melodies are immediate, almost addictive. Most of all, the blunt force of Jensen McRae’s songs is in the stories they tell, and in the ways they invite you to see, feel, and hear yourself within them. It’s this skill that makes “Massachusetts”, and McRae, so easy to love.
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