Holding My Breath is about falling into the kind of love where you're so anxious and nervous about losing the other person that you forget to consider their feelings at all. When you're trying so hard to hold on to someone that you alienate them entirely.
There's a real story behind this song: the time I took a girl on a ten-day trip across Europe for our second date. The Irish countryside, Paris, and Amsterdam. It was fun and amazing and awful and tumultuous and perfect. There was no third date. I was so worried and anxious and nervous about what she was thinking that I never actually stopped to consider her at all. I saw her as this vibrant and amazing character, but never as a real person.
The second verse is written from her perspective, with the twist that each line reads differently depending on which of us is singing it. We're both people in a crazy situation with hopes and anxieties, but I never quite hear her voice.
Picking someone to sing that part was always going to be tricky. We needed someone whose voice could at once sit below mine yet earn its place in the mix. The concept is cute and all, but it would take just the right voice to sell it as a song.
We originally tried it with a friend whose voice was amazing but just didn't fit into the mix. Mike, our producer, said one of those things that no musician ever wants to hear.
"My cousin is a great singer."
That's great, dude. I'm sure. Whatever.
And then he played us a song and within seconds I was telling him to call her and ask for a rate.
Mike's cousin is Addi McDaniel — one half of Addi and Jacq, a vocals-and-harp duo that I'd struggle to even describe. Her voice... her voice is something.
She did the whole thing in like three takes. It was amazing to watch. We spent more time chatting afterwards than actually working, and I wouldn't change a note of it. My only regret is that she fits into the song so well that you don't really get to hear her shine. For the eventual album release I've asked Mike to put together an alternate mix where she has the lead vocal in the second verse. It's just so great to listen to.
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The basics of the song were written on a train in Ireland with Joe, sitting across from each other and playing parts that we thought worked together. It was all written on acoustic guitars, and we kind of thought that's where it would always belong. We even recorded an acoustic demo. Every time I tried to bring it into the practice room, the overwhelming feeling was that it was just too singer-songwriter for Airplane Mode.
Patrick secretly decided to set about finding a beat that could pull the song into synth-land, and a keyboard sound that could Killers-up what kinda felt like a Ben Folds-y tune. Once he had something, he conscripted Joe to move it into band territory. I only found out that Patrick had been working on it in secret because Joe accidentally texted me with a Dropbox link.
I gave the MP3 a listen and I was very pleasantly surprised. It was definitely early, but it definitely worked. And that bridge! Holy shit! I loved it so much I doubled down to make sure the rest of the song could live up to it, and it eventually inspired me to write my favorite guitar solo I've ever recorded.
* * *
Yana Ushakova is a Brooklyn-based artist. Mostly oils. Her work is featured in galleries and in the lobbies of famous NYC landmarks. Her work is, in my opinion, absolutely breathtaking.
With this new set of songs we wanted to try our hand at different kinds of collaborations. We've been very DIY as a band, even going so far as to assimilate our producer into being as much band member as anything else. Getting outside perspectives on our songs and ourselves feels like a healthy approach, and we liked the idea of seeing what sorts of things we could create with our music beyond the songs themselves.
I asked Yana if she would be interested in doing a commissioned piece for a music video. She said yes. I asked if she was okay with us filming her working. She said yes. I asked if she would be willing to play a character.
"...Let's meet up and talk about it."
I played her an early mix and told her the story behind the song. For the video, I wanted to swing in the opposite direction. I wanted to keep the focus on her.
"The song is my side of the story. You're playing her, and I want you to paint her side of the story."
We had lots of conversations about context and framing and how to make sure the focus was on her as an artist and not just an objectified clichéd "love interest." It would be easy to fall into tropes or play up an on-screen romance. Every decision — including some very painful edits — was in the service of that goal.
I'm very proud of what we made together. Every video we make has its own set of challenges, but aside from our rooftop band scenes this was a pretty easy shoot. Yana was patient and thoughtful and gave plenty of input on her favorite shots and ways to make things cinematic.
And Christ, this painting...
I love this painting so much. Yana did an amazing job, offering her interpretation of the song and how it makes her feel. And she did the whole thing with my camera in her face, giving her direction and fucking with the lights in her studio.
To have been so involved in the creation of something new without ever myself touching brush to canvas is a unique feeling. The painting is based on a song I wrote. I got to give a broad overview of what I wanted the piece to represent. In a very real way, I helped to make this. This wouldn't exist without me. And yet I did nothing.
I could talk for hours about why I love this painting as a piece of art. I love the use of color. I love the movement, which reminds me of a dandelion blowing in the wind, or a breaking wave. I love the organic flow, the crisp lines separating gradients.
I love it because I get to see what my song looks like. This is my art through the eyes of another artist. I get a version of this with the band, of course: this song in particular came together because Joe and Patrick took the initiative to make an old acoustic song work with our current sound. But that's Airplane Mode working together, and I always get a voice in that process. This painting is someone else's soul reacting to mine. It's so personal and intimate and beautiful.
The song is about getting so carried away that you forget to give the other person a voice in your story.
I love this painting because hers is the only voice you hear.
This video features two major collaborations with two amazingly talented people. We know how lucky we are to work with companies like Fracture to create music and videos, and we're proud to say that every single penny of our budget went to supporting local independent art.