When her 20-year relationship broke off abruptly, singer-songwriter-producer Terry Radigan felt like she’d been knocked off a bicycle. Dazed, she took a year to rage, cry, and regain her balance, and to begin to heal through writing songs about the experience.
Although she didn’t initially intend to make an album about the end of her relationship, a friend and fellow producer persuaded Radigan to reconsider. The result is the recent album The Breakdown of a Breakup (Catherine the Great Music, Feb. 2012).
Radigan is known for her work with Nashville stars like Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood, but her own music doesn’t belong to any specific genre. The Breakdown of a Breakup is truly a multi-genre album, ranging from blaring brass-rock on the track “Mistake” to madcap waltz on “Siamese Twin,” and string-ballad on “Beautiful Lie” to alt-country on “The Truth.”
The Breakdown of a Breakup is a gift to anyone who’s ever gone through a breakup or experienced a major life change. With clarity, honesty, and an occasional dash of humor, Radigan opens her heart up to listeners.
She recently spoke with Apsara about the ups and downs of finding her way again, and about the process of putting the experience into music.
The songs on the album take listeners through a very natural progression of emotions. How did you go about putting the album together?
I ended up taking a couple of months just to get my feet back under me. The joke my songwriter friends and I have is that even if this kind of thing happens, we know we’ll get songs out of it.
It took a while to take everything in, and then I started writing some of the songs. I wrote most of them close to the order they are on the album, but I didn’t have a thought at all about making a record out of them.
David Barratt is another musician and producer who I work with. A year ago, he asked, “When’s your next record?” I said, “I don’t know, and I don’t really know what I want it to sound like.” He said, “You’ve been writing a bunch of songs—why do you feel like you don’t have one already?”
I thought about it, and about a week went by before I called him and asked if he wanted to be my executive producer. Once we sat down to put the songs together, I saw there was a really clear storyline. It wasn’t so much about two people meeting, but about how you feel in the aftermath of a breakup.
It isn’t really possible to pin a single genre label to this album—there are all sorts of styles of music and instruments on it. How did you decide what type of music to use for each song?
It just flowed—that was the most liberating part of this album. The mood of each song laid out so clearly what the track would be. The only thing a song had to do during production was to back up what the emotion was.
What was the experience like while you were writing the songs?
I almost felt like I was writing a letter to myself. When I was writing “Beautiful Lie,” it was like I was writing to myself, saying, “This is what’s happened, and this is how you were feeling.”
I’d been writing “Beautiful Lie” throughout the course of a day, and I remember I took a break in the evening to go to a music place just a few blocks from my house. It’s a tiny little club, and in the backroom there was a string quartet playing. Strings just kill me, and they especially killed me that night. Then I walked back, and finished writing around 2:00 a.m.
I felt peaceful after writing that song. When you sit down quietly for a couple of hours and really sort of drift, you find out what’s floating around in your head and you get to put a name to your feelings. They’re right there in front of you, and you say them out loud. It makes me feel better to be aware of what I’m feeling, instead of just feeling it in the background.
The last song I wrote for the album was “The Truth.” That was the result of David’s sitting with me and saying, “The one thing I think is missing is the song where you tell on yourself.” I agreed with him, but I didn’t want to write it—I spent three weeks dodging him.
Just before I was going to have a breakfast meeting with him, I decided I needed to put something down and it just sort of fell out. I think it’s the most personal song that I’ve ever written. Once I decided to put it on the album and the song was written, then I knew the record was done.
Since releasing the album, what kind of response have you received?
The release party we had for the album was such a brilliant night. There was a lot of chatting in between the songs as I expanded the story a bit. It felt like a conversation, but I was the only one talking.
I’m a songwriter and I’ve put out an intensely personal record for people to hear, but I’m essentially really private. My friends have asked, “Why in the world didn’t we get a phone call saying that you were feeling bad when you were writing this music?” But it was almost like I could get all of my emotions out in the songs.
Through this album and the feelings on it, I’m able to connect with people listening to it. When we were putting the album together I didn’t want it to be a “poor me” or an “angry” record. There’s a little bit of every kind of emotion in there, but the thing that people are walking away with and they’re coming to me and saying is that they feel good by the end of it and that they feel strong.
And that made me feel so good because that’s the most important thing. It’s like, yes, you go through all of these different emotions. But at the end of it you’re still you and you’re still there at your core.