City Love Letter – Cashmere Washington Reveres Ypsilanti and Local Connections on ‘Life Is’

Cashmere Washington 2
Cashmere Washington pays homage to Ypsilanti and its people and places on “Life Is.” Photo – Mikael Dunn

Cashmere Washington openly shares a love letter to their current city.

The indie rocker expresses deep appreciation for Ypsilanti and the memorable friendships and experiences that accompany it on their introspective new single, “Life Is.”

“Ypsilanti is the first place I ever said, ‘I want to live here,’” said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who hails from Midland and recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University. “It’s the hometown I got to pick.”

Throughout “Life Is,” tender piano, fuzzy electric guitar, strolling bass, steady drums and glistening cymbals instantly evoke sentimental images of people and places along Michigan Avenue and nearby neighborhoods.

Washington sings, “Watched the best minds of my generation/Stumbling back home, coming down the avenue/Yeah, they don’t even stop at the venue.”

“It’s based on this memory that I have of my friend walking home in front of a venue on Michigan Avenue on their way from work, and this really wonderful conversation I had with another friend about how our favorite songs have the ability to let us focus on a beautiful sunrise when we know something awful is looming just beyond the frame,” they said. “The original goal was to mash those two scenes into a song (with a few artistic liberties taken).”

With that vivid imagery in mind, Washington closes “Life Is” with a thought-provoking verse that prompts listeners to take chances and pursue their goals. In a sense, the city of Ypsilanti provides the ideal backdrop for Washington to fully realize their true sense of self.

Washington reflects, “Cuz I know I’m not scared to die/I know that I’m petrified/To try and fail.”

“The line alludes to my own history with depression. Personally, the worst days have never been the tough day; it’s usually the day after,” they said.

“Maybe I’m too optimistic, but who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll get a raise; or a week from now I’ll bump into someone funny in line for coffee; or someone will send a really nice, thoughtful email about a beat-tape I put online five years ago. You just never know what can happen.”

The Evolution of ‘Life Is’

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Cashmere Washington’s upcoming EP, “Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them,” will include “Life Is” and five other tracks. Artwork courtesy of Thomas Dunn

For Washington, “Life Is” started as a raw phone demo and later transformed into an eloquent lo-fi, boom-bap ballad that perpetually seeps into the heart and mind.

“‘Life Is’ was written for my sample-based indie pop/solo songwriting project called mononoke, (which I don’t make music under anymore). I posted the phone demo on SoundCloud in the summer of 2019, but it never felt like it was done. I tried re-recording the song for two years with more of an Elliott Smith style and then as traditional folk rock, but it just felt weird,” they said.

“Over the first lockdown, there was a month I really only listened to Kacey Musgraves’ album, Golden Hour, and I really wanted to make country music with hip-hop production kind of in the vein of what she does on that album. The beat for the song was finished before the first EP was mastered and was for another song at first, but while demoing vocals, I kept singing the verses for ‘Michigan Avenue’ and eventually just went with it.”

To bring the track to fruition, Washington collaborated with Grand Blanc producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist David Roof from Rooftop Recording. They took “Life Is” and several other songs to Roof in September to mix and master for their next EP, Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them.

“I feel like Dave adds so much warmth and clarity to this song and every song we’ve worked on. Even despite the song being recorded solely at home, the original didn’t sound anywhere near how great it does now,” said Washington, who also worked with Roof on their The Shape of Things to Come EP. “It was fun. We had a blast working on them, and that’s the best.”

In September, Washington released The Shape of Things to Come, the first EP in a three-part series that will feature a diversity of genres and songwriting styles. The initial installment serves as a vulnerable, poignant journal for releasing painful feelings, memories and experiences.

“The first EP explored a lot of interpersonal problems I’ve had in the past. Although it was super cathartic and fun, it also gave me a chance to cut ties with the past to focus on me,” Washington said. “So I hope this new EP sets the groundwork for me to start doing that. Most of the songs on this EP are love letters for people I took for granted.”

Next month, Washington will drop their second EP, Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, which will include “Life Is” and five other contemplative tracks. Coming Feb. 25, the project will shift from inward therapeutic storytelling to an outward-looking songwriting approach with emotive and confessional lyrics.

The Shape of Things to Come dealt a lot with childhood, and even though Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them is also about growing up, I wanted to approach it differently,” Washington said. “So I’m glad this EP feels like someone’s teenage years. I definitely stepped away from writing songs that were centering on just my grief and just wrote about moments that I thought were touching.”

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