July ‘Stratton Playlist’ Spotlight – Melanie Pierce Uncovers ‘Illusions’ of Misunderstood Life Moments

Melanie Pierce reflects inward on her latest single, “Illusions.” Artwork – Jenya Po

Melanie Pierce magically travels to the other side of the mirror.

The Ann Arbor pop-rock singer-songwriter ventures beyond the looking glass and reflects on misunderstood life moments in “Illusions,” a spellbinding glimpse into vivid realizations and intense ruminations.

“I was in this relationship for a long time and had felt misunderstood on so many levels throughout that period of time. And not just by that person, but also by my family because they were not super on-board with music. I also lost some friends in a short amount of time due to music and that relationship,” Pierce said.

“I was really reflecting on that time, and I remember exactly what I was doing when that song came out of me. The first line that actually came out was, ‘Painted words on paper-thin walls,’ and I was watching this TV show, and I paused it and went to the piano. That song was written in like 40 minutes, and it was written very easily and clearly, like I knew in me what I wanted to say and what I wanted to get out.”

Featured as part of this month’s “The Stratton Playlist,” “Illusions” blends somber synths, sorrowful piano, shimming electric guitars, soaring electronic drums and throaty bass into a hypnotic, sonic head-trip.

Akin to Vanessa Carlton, Pierce’s soulful vocals implode her romantic mirage as she ponders, “I thought I’d figured it out/Wide-eyed, I mapped it out/But you say I’m too difficult/Honey I know, honey I know/I try to pull back/Quiet the noise inside my head/But you say it’s too difficult/Honey I know, honey I know/I’ll never let this go.”

Pierce recorded “Illusions” earlier this year with producer Jake Rye at Adrian’s Social Recording Company. He helped Pierce crystallize the track’s vision and added majestic arrangements to quickly transform it in the studio.

“We would go back and forth like, ‘What do you hear for this part?’ and he had a good direction of where the production was headed. He came up with an awesome, meaty bassline, and I can’t really say enough positive things about him,” said Pierce, who learned about Rye through his collaborations with Michigander.

Headlights and Doom Days

Pierce also collaborated with Rye on “Headlights,” a shiny pop joyride filled with booming percussion, lingering synths, humming electric guitars and poignant, reverby vocals.

With Taylor Swift-infused sensibilities, Pierce emotionally sings, “You breathe smoke and I see you in mirrors/Through it all you could see the future/And I stopped caring a long time ago/We don’t speak anymore/There will always be blood/There will always be fire/You can’t have one without the other/Now you throw flames up with your words/And every time you speak I get burned.”

“That song is a lot about toxicity in relationships. Both ‘Headlights’ and ‘Illusions’ speak to any number of relationships. It doesn’t have to be a romantic thing; it could be a friendship or a family member. ‘Headlights’ is about seeing all these red flags, and you’re getting these gut feelings, but you’re shutting it off, and you’re like, ‘Nope, it’s fine.’ The bridge of that song is very much like a fall-out of ‘How it didn’t work, and now look where we are,’” Pierce said.

Outside of ‘Headlights’ and ‘Illusions,’ Pierce shines on her haunting debut cover of Bastille’s “Doom Days,” which fuses whistling, swirling synths, thoughtful piano, vibrant electric strums, pounding electronic drums, and echoey, rapid vocals. She beautifully sings, “We’ll stay offline so no one gets hurt/Hiding from the real world/Just don’t read the comments ever, ever/We fucked up this house like a planet/We were running riot/Crazy that some people still deny it.”

“I heard it the day it came out; it was a single off their new album (Doom Days). When the song itself came out, I had a very strong reaction to the lyrics, the melody and the production. I really related to what Dan Smith was saying, and I’m a lyric girl. If I hear lyrics that resonate deeply with me, then I love the song,” Pierce said.

“I thought for a long time that I could really put my own spin on it, and I wanted to release something to introduce myself. I’m a big fan of Bastille, and I really like their style. They’re just incredible musicians, and I really respect that. Their songs are edgy in a way that I can relate to and enjoy.”

Last fall, Pierce released an Ann Arbor-centric video for “Doom Days,” which features Corey Presley-directed snippets of city apartment balconies, parking garages and Arb dances. Dressed in black clothing and pale blue high-tops, Pierce symbolically and coincidentally prepares for “Doom Days” in insolation five months before the pandemic hit.

“Corey and I grew up together, and we’ve been friends for years. I wanted to do a video to reach more people, get the experience and see how it all works. He liked the production and direction that I took ‘Doom Days’ in, and he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” said Pierce, who filmed the video in one day with Presley.

The Lion King and Next Steps

Melanie Pierce plans to release a new single and launch a crowdfunding campaign for a debut EP. Photo – Megan Cylkowski

Pierce developed an instant connection to music while growing up in metro Detroit. At age three, she sang along with “The Lion King” soundtrack and learned to sing with her grandmother, who performed in Sweet Adelines International.

By age 13, Pierce started playing guitar and writing music and sought creative inspiration from Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Paramore. She later joined a pop-rock garage band focused on a Paramore-meets-My-Chemical-Romance sound before departing to pursue her own music.

“I started writing more of my own music because I had written all the lyrics and the melodies for the band’s songs, and then I’d come back to them so they could write their stuff to fill the songs out. After that, I was dead set on doing more of a solo thing, and that was six years ago,” she said.

“‘Headlights’ was one of the first songs that I wrote during that time. It’s always stuck with me and has been a song that I’ve known, and I knew I wanted to release it. It had to be the right time, and I had to plan it out well. Life happens, and things get in the way, and I had to learn a lot of life lessons up until this point.”

Those life-changing lessons continue to provide Pierce with inspiration for new material. She’s planning to release a new single soon and wants to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a debut EP.

“There is a third single on its way. Jake and I have really found an awesome groove, and it takes a minute when you start working creatively with someone. We’re doing some cool stuff now, and for the third single, I’m really proud of what we’ve created, and I’m excited to share it with everybody,” she said.

“I definitely want to record an EP, and I certainly have a plethora of songs. I’ve grouped a few of them together that really stand out, and it makes sense hearing them together as a collection. I’d like to get a campaign together, and I’ve been working to get the content sorted out to present in a nice package.”

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