It’s been a hard last year for teenagers to navigate, between the pandemic, virtual school and the racial justice protests that gripped the country.
In the new record, ‘Sing Through The Quarantine’, Nashville teens tackle those topics and more with the help of the mentorship song-writing program called Girls Write Nashville.
In her song “2020 Vision,” 15-year-old Tiana Williams set out to try and process how it felt to be a Black teenager this year.
“All throughout 2020, whenever I would open my TikTok, that’s all you would hear: ‘No justice no peace,'” Williams says. “Because of the shootings, the killings like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It’s saddening because that’s my race, and it’s kind of hard for me personally because I lost a family member, a friend, to gun violence two years ago now.”
Williams says she was really struggling with her mental health this year, but the group Girls Write Nashville helped her channel those emotions into her song.
The 10-song album really runs the gamut of teenage emotions — there’s a bedroom pop tune comparing love to a contagious virus, and even a gritty screamo song about the pandemic.
“I know this is going to sound crazy but, yes, screaming my heart out about the pandemic did make me feel better,” says 15-year-old songwriter Lee Millán. “I feel like it was so cathartic.”
In a typical year, Girls Write strives to create a safe space where teens can share their experiences and make music together. Musician Ellen Angelico helps the young songwriters’ vision come to fruition.
“I’m like a kid conduit,” Angelico says with a laugh.
But last year was nothing typical. Angelico says creating music without being in the same room made it harder to forge that bond.
“We were much more disconnected, necessarily, from the kids and from their ideas,” Angelico says.
But those new challenges brought new opportunities, too.
This year students recorded their songs at home using what was already at their fingertips — their cellphones. They learned some song production skills with the app BandLab for Education, before passing their recordings off to female studio musicians like Ryan Madora.
Madora adapted her bass parts for a whole range of musical genres for the album. But she says her participation in the program is about more than just helping round out the song. It’s about the example it sets for the students.
“I started playing bass when I was 14, 15 years old,” Madora says. “You’re 14, 15 years old and you play bass, so it’s very possible that 10, 15 years from now you could be on this side of the session glass.”
That sort of inspiration has always been the goal of Girls Write Nashville. But in a year as chaotic as 2020, showing the power of music was all the more important.