Cashmere Washington didn’t expect a car accident, a degree completion and several rom-com binges to spark a new EP.
Ironically, that chaotic period provided the Ypsilanti indie rocker with an unexpected setting for writing their new “love letter-style” EP, Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, out today.
“I got rear-ended by a tow truck right after The Shape of Things to Come came out, and it really destroyed my confidence for a bit … like I didn’t want to be online or even want to leave my house,” said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who’s now an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) alum.
“But I had this screenwriting course at EMU in which we analyzed movies from a screenwriting perspective, and I watched so many more of them because of last semester. I blazed through so many Rachel McAdams or Meg Ryan movies and also got really interested in a few K-dramas. I watched a lot of them while I played guitar at night and most of the new EP was written this way.”
While watching rom-coms and K-dramas, Washington also sought inspiration from another unlikely source, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s 2007 Academy Award-winning film, No Country for Old Men.
“I pictured the whole EP as an indie romantic-comedy soundtrack. Because the songs on the EP lean into a variety of emotions, I see ‘Life Is’ as a good example of both. It straddles the line between a cataclysmic sadness and an unwavering optimism to me,” they said.
“It’s funny because No Country for Old Men is such a dark film. I love how it sits within many genres and influences, yet is its own thing. The EP … pushed me to write songs that have multiple sides and angles. The songs have these dark and cinematic edges to them, but I hope they also feel kind of cheeky and cute.”
No Country for Old Men Meets J Dilla
For Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, Washington pens six earnest tracks addressing past people, places and conversations intertwined with thoughtful lyrics, pensive instrumentation and emotive vocals.
Their latest singles, the Ypsi-endearing anthem, “Life Is,” and the commemorative, thought-provoking banger, “Rosy,” feel like pivotal movie scenes that are constantly replayed and burned in one’s memory. (Check out Washington’s new detective-esque “Rosy” video, which reflects the EP’s cinematic-like subject matter).
With a mash-up of thematic elements, Washington’s EP sonically reflects a fusion of indie rock and alt-country influences from the late J Dilla.
“I started listening to Dilla after I saw toe perform at the Magic Stick in 2012. The lead singer-guitarist was wearing a ‘J Dilla Changed My Life’ T-shirt, and before they played ‘Goodbye,’ he mentioned he loved Jay Dee’s music,” Washington said.
“Dilla has been very synonymous with indie rock to me, and there’s something about how his music feels to me. It has this energy that is overwhelming when I listen to it. I know he loved making whatever song you are listening to because you can hear it. He reminds me that music is fun.”
Washington beautifully weaves those influences on “I Want You,” a mesmerizing, guitar-driven ballad that explores hidden feelings and almost “comes around the bend again” to declare long-awaited love.
Contemplative and roaring electric guitar, cyclical bass, tapping drums and crashing cymbals propel Washington closer to their rom-com defining moment.
They sing, “Come around the bend again/Always stumbling/So caught up in heavy shit/Tell me why/The worst part of growing up/Is giving up on the things you love.”
“I used to say that I was ‘around the bend’ pretty often to the person that this song is addressed to (and) to let her know that I was ‘almost there.’ Most of the songs on this EP are the other side of the coin from songs on The Shape of Things to Come,” Washington said.
“While ‘Second Wind’ is angsty, but angry, ‘I Want You’ is just moody. The two songs are written about two different situations, but share a vibe. So I definitely see those as sister or sibling tracks.”
“I Want You” also closes with a heated guitar solo echoing Washington’s alt rock-fueled determination to reveal their true feelings.
“When I was recording the song, it started out as a joke. I was goofing around and asked myself, ‘What would Doug Martsch do?’ or ‘What would J Mascis do?’” Washington said.
“At this time, I already knew what the title of the EP was going to be, and I thought a lot about this interview with J Mascis saying he originally wanted Dinosaur Jr. to be an ear-bleeding country band. So the solo started off as a ‘why not’ and quickly became ‘Oh damn … well … let’s work with that.”
Washington captures a similar moody vibe on the Peanuts-inspired “Charlie Brown” as unabashed electric guitar, hazy bass, pounding drums and tingly cymbals recall “cigarette bands” and friends being indecisive and obsessive about past relationships.
They sing, “Swear it’s just like honey/How cigarettes always taste sweeter on my tongue/Blow my brains, they always talking ‘bout some guns/And cigarette bands never listened to one song/But hey, good set, man/That drummer’s not half bad.”
“I grew up playing in ‘cigarette bands.’ We were usually the opener that folks would smoke through our sets and tell us ‘good set,’ but we knew they didn’t listen. It was just what you would say to the opener. Somehow, one of the biggest goals I had for a while was to not be the ‘cigarette band’ in the lineup,” Washington said.
“The song pulls from real-life experience and conversations with someone who wasn’t over their ex and how I was the shoulder they wanted to cry on. ‘Charlie Brown’ is about feeling like a ‘cigarette band’ in that relationship.”
Washington grapples with additional personal challenges on the somber, reflective ballad, “Anywhere,” which chronicles a life-changing conversation with a friend and reexamines the notion of “home.”
Lonesome piano, nostalgic electric guitar, placid drums, delicate cymbals, comforting strings and airy synths transport Washington back to that fateful discussion.
They sing, “Cried the whole way home/Your song kept playing on that radio/I pretended that I didn’t know/What was coming through that car stereo.”
“I haven’t always felt seen in my life. I played sports year-round on travel teams and spent every weekend from the fourth to 10th grade on the way to some other place in Michigan to play two or three games a day,” said Washington, who grew up in Midland.
“Growing up on the road like that while (I was) young makes me see ‘home’ as relative. Like having four walls doesn’t mean as much to me. I prefer to see home as anywhere with people I choose to make time for. ‘Anywhere’ is about one iteration of that feeling of home and tells a story about losing access to it and feeling lost, but still thankful for having it.”
The Shape and Future of Almost Country for Old Men …
Washington spent two months writing the six tracks for Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, the second EP in a three-part series featuring a diversity of genres and songwriting styles.
It’s the “teenage years” companion to last fall’s The Shape of Things to Come, which poignantly addresses childhood struggles and features raw instrumentation across six journal-like tracks.
“For Almost Country For … I wanted to lean into that ‘feel’ for the project. I wanted the songs to feel like big compositions and use some crazy chords, but (they) also could 100 percent be in an intimate front porch set,” Washington said.
Washington also arranged, performed and recorded Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them in their home studio before taking “Life Is” and other tracks to Rooftop Recording’s David Roof for mixing and mastering.
“I initially brought ‘Life Is’ to a few other people to mix, and honestly, they did an incredible job, but it didn’t fit the vibe for the EP,” they said.
“I ended up bringing a few other songs to Dave in September because I had a great time working on the first EP, so I wanted to go back, and I asked how he felt about the song. He just started working on the song. We knocked that song out and two others for the EP that day.”
With their new EP out today, Washington plans to finish a few songs for an upcoming repackage of Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them and continue working on their third release in the series. They also collaborated with Casia, a Los Angeles-based artist, via email for another project.
“The third EP is about halfway done, and I’m super excited about it. I’ve taken a break from working on it for the past month, but I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of the year. It’s super different from the first EPs sonically, too. It has a lot of hooks,” Washington said.
“The mixtape (with Casia) is like our version of the Postal Service, but through Gmail with a kind of hyper-pop feel. It sounds different from the material we both tend to release on our own, but delves into similar themes that we’re both exploring on our separate projects. We’re hoping for a late April/early May release digitally.”