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Interview: Tim Myers picks himself apart on new album ‘Portraits’

There are 121 suicides a day in America. For each suicide, there are another 25 attempts, effectively plummeting the country into a tragic epidemic. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, and despite cold, hard facts, talking about mental illness and severe depression still carries a gross stigma, thereby blocking treatments, other medical advancements and any attempt at a solution. Musicians, singers and songwriters are speaking out more than ever before, recounting their own harrowing experiences and committing to be the change we need in the world. Tim Myers, founding member of OneRepublic, who left the band back in 2007, wields his pen for one of the year’s most affecting and potent performances ⎯⎯ his gitter-doused club-floor anthem “Tana: Sorry Don’t Live Here” depicts his wife Lauren’s brush with tragedy and her best friend’s plummet into darkness and suicide. “I don’t want to blame myself again / Running back takes some thinking of what could have been,” Myers grieves, situating himself as an apt messenger for such weighty material.

“I wish I could have picked up that phone / You called a hundred times and said you felt alone,” he later untangles, detailing the events which led up to Tana’s fateful death. Myers wholehearted believed “the experience was something that really needed to be talked about,” he tells B-Sides & Badlands. “My wife ended up going to a treatment facility for almost a full year. She became so depressed from what had happened. Tana was basically like her sister. Lauren stopped eating. She was dying, basically. It wasreally traumatic.”

The guilt overburdened Lauren and catapulted her into a downward emotional and psychological spiral. She spent time in two separate treatment facilities, and Myers was there every step of the way, despite detractors telling him to cut those ties. “We weren’t married yet. We were dating when this happened. It was really crazy. When she went to the treatment center, I was talking on the phone with her everyday and really going through this with her,” he says. “I remember going out there to Arizona for a week and took off from music. I bailed on all that, from the OneRepublic songs and co-writes, and went to go be with her.”

His family and close friends had a vastly contrasting perspective. “[They] were like ‘dude, why are you doing this? Just break up with her. She’s not good for you, and blah blah blah.’ I was like ‘no, she’s going through this, and I need to be there for her.’ I’m so happy I was there for her. We bonded so much more,” the singer-songwriter says. When he opened himself up, their connection only began to blossom. “It’s really true love. You have the puppy love and physical love, but nothing compares to that deep love,” he adds. “With writing the song, it was a good release to share that story and what we went through, even though Lauren cried when she heard it, it was great for her.”

Writing about such a heartbreaking event can be as cathartic as it is harmful. “Sometimes, those big life events, as a songwriter, hurts so much, you almost don’t want to open those wounds again. So, we write about other things,” he admits. “But when I was doing this album, it seemed like a) sharing her experience could help other people learn and save some lives, possibly and b) a good time to explore those feelings again and close that chapter.” And it certainly helped Lauren patch her wounds.

“The song is really about Lauren and the guilty and shame she felt, something you feel sometimes you someone close to you commits suicide. You feel like you couldn’t save them,” he says. “Lauren had saved Tana so many times but this time, she just wasn’t able to. She felt so guilty and shameful. That perspective isn’t often talked about.”

“Tana” becomes one of 12 portraits Myers sculpts on his new record Portraits, expected in Feb. 2018, which finds him peeling back the layers of his heart and consciousness for those who have touched his life in immeasurable ways. From his two, wide-eyed young daughters to his mother’s vital role, he exposes every raw nerve of his life, resulting in his most personal collection to-date.

Below, Myers discusses mental health, soccer moms, stalking Brian Wilson and his anti-Trump anthem “The King.”

There is still such a stigma around talking about mental health and suicide. Is that something you thought about when writing and recording this song?

100 percent. This year is the year of mental health. All the songs coming out are so much about mental health. In the media, people are really talking about it now. Collectively, as artists and people, we’re tired of things that are stigmas. “Oh, depression, let’s not talk about that” or “let’s not talk about suicide” or “let’s not talk about bullying.” Right now, there’s all the Weinstein stuff and sexual assault. Even though it’s really hard, it’s also really great to talk about it. Things are changing. By talking about it, I’m sure it’s saving lives and saving victims. We wouldn’t know about it…because it didn’t happen, thankfully.

You’ve talked about how your album Portraits is based around the idea of being portraits of people. When did that concept begin to manifest?

My last couple albums were concept albums. My last one ‘The Year,’ I had each song being a different month of the year, so there’s 12 months and 12 songs. I wanted to take you on a journey. With ‘Portraits,’ I wanted to do the same thing, but each song encapsulates a person in my life. There were a lot of songs that didn’t make the record. At first, I was like “I’m going to make it like this and then that.” It evolved as it went. Originally, I was going to make it really folky and acoustic. Then, I was feeling the alternative, electronic vibe. Ultimately, it became a hodge-podge of both. One of my favorite songs that sits in the Bon Iver and Of Monsters and Men wheelhouse is “Portrait of Home.”

The concept basically was just wanting to do something fresh and different and reexplore what songwriting is. “My Name” is a self-portrait, and originally, I was going to call it “Tim Myers.” I thought that would have been so weird. Who writes a song called their own name? It was too weird for people, because they laughed. That was the idea, to break some boundaries and do something different where you are picking people. It also forced me to be really personal. A lot of times, men, in general, don’t feel as in touch with our own personal experiences. Women, for some reason, can really tap into that. When I write with women, they can pour out their hearts from personal experiences. Men write emotionally, but we write about other people. That’s just what I’ve found in my career. I find myself doing that, taking the Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney approach. It’s more universal and less about “I feel shit about myself.” I had to take that approach with this album since there are songs about my wife and daughter and mother and then myself. I was forced to really pick myself apart and feel these emotions.

How did you narrow down to these 12 songs?

My wife and I had a sit down listening session. One of my favorite songs that didn’t make the album is a song called “Rosa,” which is about my cleaning lady. It just didn’t feel right. It was a more world sounding. We went through all the songs I had been writing for the album over the last couple years and went “what do you think about this one? And that one?” A lot of the songs felt cohesive as an album or were really personal, like “Daughter.”

How did you come to write “The King,” your anti-Trump song?

It was written right after the election. Like a lot of people, I voted for Hillary [Clinton]. During that whole campaign, I was able to meet Bill Clinton and talk with him. I was shocked with a whole mess of emotions. During Trump’s campaign, I could just see how people didn’t necessarily vote for him on his ideals but it was about how big he was and how he stood. He was aggressive. The election was so primal, almost caveman, in a sense. It was like “we’re going to vote for the big gorilla that’s using his arms a lot and pounding his chest and yelling at everybody.” Dictatorships thrive on that, like Mussolini and Hitler and the Stalin. I thought “we’re smarter than that, we don’t need to get sucked into that.” But we weren’t. The song felt very therapeutic. It’s fun to use metaphors. In this song, there are some about Robin Hood.

What are some of your other important portraits on this album?

One of my favorites is “Daughter,” about both my girls. I have five-and-a-half-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old. In the song, I say “you’re my diamond and pearl.” It’s a really sweet, cut ukulele song. Every time I hear it, it totally encapsulates my kids. If anyone has girls, they’ll feel that relation of how sweet and beautiful they are. It makes me tear up just hearing it play back. I really like “Mother,” which I wrote with Phillip Phillips, and exploring that with him. I love co-writing. Phillip is such a nice guy.

What was it like sharing such personal stories and journeys with other songwriters?

I just love it. When I wrote with James Arthur [for “Tana: Sorry Don’t Live Here”], I was pushing to dig deep. When we were writing, he was getting so much anxiety pouring out his heart, in a good way. He got a panic attack and had to leave the room. It’s really cool when that happens, like “we’re writing a song right now and feeling stuff.” Hopefully, other people get to feel those emotions.

What journey do you hope the listener takes with this album?

I went to write ‘Portraits’ about other people, but if they learn all this stuff about other people in my life, they learn a lot about me. I wasn’t trying to do that. Listening to the album, they’ll learn more about where my heart is and explore different people and get to know those people. They’ll see we all have a story and a song.

Your song “Lover My Love” recently went Top 5 on Billboard’s Dance chart. How do you process those accomplishments?

I’m just really blown away. It’s one of those things where I’m just like “what?!?” It seems unbelievable sometimes. It’s hard to wrap my head around.

What’ll be your next single?

I’m not really sure at this point. It’s funny, as I’ve gotten older, I really like testing songs out on all my friends. It’s awesome. I have two kids, and my five-year-old is in soccer. So, there’s all these soccer moms. They are the people who buy stuff. [laughs] I love alternative music, but sometimes, it’ll be like “this is my favorite song I’ve ever done.” Then, the mass population doesn’t agree. There are all kinds of people with different tastes. It’s neat to have this army of soccer moms to email.

How much influence do they have on if you’ll record/release a song?

It’s pretty much zero. I’m really into creative freedom. I write everyday. I’ve written over a thousands songs, fully written and recorded and mixed and mastered. They’re not just half-baked ideas. If I were doing all those songs for other people, I wouldn’t be very happy. A lot of times, I’m waking up and just feeling it and experimenting ⎯⎯ oh, I want to try this really moving, orchestral piece or something with three different kinds of choruses. Sometimes, I’m inspired by other artists, like “oh my god, that new Bon Iver song is so sick, I want to write a song like that.” Or I’m hearing a sound or an old ‘80s song and thinking “why didn’t I think of that lyric topic, that’s so cool!”

What songs do you wish you would have written?

Oh my god. There are so many. I’d probably start with the Beatles, maybe “Day in the Life.” It’s just ridiculous. Still to this day, I’m like “did they have a time machine? Are they time travelers? Because how the hell did they pull this all off?” Back then, the technology was so limited. It just sounds ridiculous. With computers now, I’m writing and recording a song, and it’s so amazing because you push a button, everything is quantized and tight and sounding amazing. It’s a lot easier to make something sound really good, as far as the quality. You can do a million tracks. I don’t know how they did it then with all those stacks.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is another song or anything off ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club.’ It was so good and experimental. Anything Radiohead did on ‘OK Computer,’ like the song “Karma Police.” I just did an orchestral cover of it recently to pitch for trailers. It’s a really dark version of it. I was dissecting all the chords and the lyrics. It’s a pretty ridiculous song, with lyrics like “buzzing like a refrigerator” and “her Hitler haircut is making me feel ill.”

I think “Good Vibrations” by Beach Boys is such an insane song. I can’t believe the production. Watching that Brian Wilson documentary that came out a couple years ago made me fall in love even more with Brian. He is actually my neighbor. He lives in my community, which is crazy. I really want to stalk him. [laughs]

I was just about to ask if you’ve stalked him yet.

I’ve talked about it. [laughs] Like “maybe, if I walk the dog everyday, he’ll just come out.” [laughs] I have this whole fantasy of writing together.

It’s been 10 years since you were in OneRepublic. How would you reflect on the past decade?

Oh my gosh. I’m just a completely different person. I’ve completely changed. I was so young then. It’s really insane, looking back at songs like “Stop and Stare” and “All We Are.” I wrote them at like 19 with Ryan [Tedder]. It’s wild to think about. Like what did I have to write about? How did I do that? As far as the journey goes, there’s been a lot more life. There’s kids and heartbreak and marriage. Life is a lot deeper.

Do you still feel leaving the band was the right decision?

Yeah, most definitely. 100 percent. I was recently diving into some past things, with my childhood and my time with the band. I have the same email address, and I haven’t looked back. I knew I had all the correspondence I had with a certain band member. I never went back and looked at what was going on. I went back, though, and looked at things. I was shocked. I was like “oh my god, yeah, this makes so much more sense.” That was the nail in the coffin for me, just seeing that again. My life is so sweet, and I’m so blessed. I’m thankful my road diverge and went this way. Seeing what was going on at that time made me feel really thankful. I’m really happy.

Photo Credit: Cameron Jordan

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Jason Scott

Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake--and she doesn't like you very much.