Bathtub Cig was born out of depression, but the band’s music is hardly a downer.
The bedroom-pop group’s debut EP, Old Light, which dropped in June on New York’s Sad Cactus label, brims with earnest, reflective lyrics and sunny instrumentation. It’s a sound that contrasts starkly with the soul-wearying isolation of depression. And that was intentional.
“I don’t want to completely bum people out with slow, dark songs and melancholy lyrics,” says singer-songwriter Hilary James. “Being alive is strange and sad and wild and wonderful and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, so why not try to write music that attempts to capture that?”
James began writing songs for what would become Bathtub Cig during a period she felt “crazy depressed” in 2017. Her friend and fellow musician Brent Colbert (guitar/harmony vocals) saw her keyboard out one day and asked if she’d been writing songs. She played one for him, and his supportive response “was the first moment when I was like, ‘Maybe this isn’t horrible,’” James recalls. She brought on drummer Jordan Bleau and bassist Adelyn Strei to round out the band.
Writing the five “painfully, embarrassingly honest” songs on Old Light—about mental health, self-doubt, self-loathing, and “fumbling through relationships”—proved cathartic for James.
“For me, this project is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in my life,” she says. “I’ve always had a really hard time owning that I have feelings at all, besides, like, ‘I’m fine all the time,’ which is obviously not super healthy.”
James knew she wanted to make music since age 3, when her mother took her to see Cats. She dreamed of being an opera singer but realized at age 12 that she didn’t have the chops. Instead she took up the cello, and by college realized she could do more with music than play in orchestra. James is now a member of five bands, including orchestral indie-rock band We are the Willows and surf-punk sister act Fiji-13.
“I never had a band where it was like, ‘These are my secret feelings,’” she says. “I never thought that I could write songs that weren’t just complete garbage. But there was something inside of me that was like, ‘I need to write these songs.’”
Bathtub Cig’s members, who all live together, just started recording a full-length album, but because of their various touring schedules, it won’t be out until 2019.
For now, James hopes her music will contribute to the current societal conversation on mental health. “I don’t think I’m a very brave person but I think this is one thing I can do,” she says. “Even if only one person hears the songs, my hope is to let people know that they’re not alone.”