Mixtape Project 001. Looking Back at Love through a Song with Ryan Graham of Speak Low If You Speak Love

Posted 3 years ago by Joel Funk

The Mixtape Project is a monthly feature we’re working on here at 36vultures in which we include musicians, bloggers, photographer, or anybody that we feel is doing something cool in music. All that we ask for is a playlist of songs from said person and a write up about what these songs mean to them. Today is Valentine’s Day and who better to kick things off than Ryan Graham of Speak Low If You Speak Love. This dude knows how to write a love song that would make the likes of Taylor Swift jealous. His debut LP ‘Everything But What You Need’ is being re-released this year through Pure Noise Records and we can’t wait to hear the new material being tacked on. Today, we have Ryan’s Valentines Day Playlist as well as a write up about all of his encounters with romance, both succeses and failures. We promise the intro won’t always be this long.

In 2005, the words “fear is the heart of love” popped out of my computer speakers and directly into my ears and I’ll never forget the moment I heard the phrase. I was 15 years old, confused and wildly impressionable. After attending my first local show, I decided there might be cool music aside from rap and I’d go searching for it. Consequently, the girl I had a crush on had the lyric set as her away message and I figured I would Google the phrase in hopes that I might impress her. What I discovered was Death Cab For Cutie’s album Plans, along with the fact that the only substantial thing going for the girl I (thought I) was interested in was her taste in music. The album as a whole struck my 15-year-old core, as I sat in my basement and reflected on the range of emotions I was feeling. All at once I remember wanting to know love, but wondering how to keep it at a safe distance. I was terrified and hopeful. Every sorrow-drenched word Gibbard slurred made me shudder at the thought of love and the potential for it to disappear in an instant.

The reason I recount this particular memory is to provide some context for the next 10 years of stumbling through collapsed relationships. Valentine’s Day is approaching and that means the holiday which exalts love is inescapable for at least the first half of February. However, to me, love is more than just that happy, seemingly fruitful relationship you so often see on social media or a fleeting romantic feeling. Love is when a person can cherish the culmination of growing and learning experiences you’ve had (good and bad), because they’re what makes you who you are. Every relationship molds and changes what you knew before. You are no longer a blank slate, but rather a slew of thoughts, ideas and beliefs which develop an outlook that is entirely dependent on your unique experiences. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that many experiences are accompanied by a song, album or band. These songs more often than not bring me back to the exact moment where my ideas about love and relationships were formed. This mixtape project gave me the opportunity to revisit some of those moments. Here’s an unchronological look at a handful of songs that left a mark on my love life.

Valentine’s Day 2008 was not my favorite day by any means. A few weeks prior I had turned 18 and the girl I was seeing at the time gave me a Weepies album for my birthday. I had no idea who they were, but figured I’d give it a shot. “Gotta Have You” become my anthem for the next week or so. I listened to it until I was blue in the face with infatuation for this girl, as if they wrote the song for her and I. Fast forward to that Valentine’s Day: I’m driving an hour and a half to surprise her with a giant chocolate-chip cookie in the shape of a heart and some flowers. When I knock on the door, it creaks open with hesitance and a long face. “I think I’d prefer to just stay friends. I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m sorry, Ryan.” I’m sure you can imagine how small I felt in that moment, thinking I was so suave with a thoughtful surprise. Unfortunately The Weepies will forever remind me of the humiliation of being dumped on Valentine’s Day, but it’s still such a great song. 

On the bright side, that has been my only extremely poor Valentine’s Day experience – most of my other memories are simply sub-par. Even when things don’t go your way, great things sometimes present themselves in spite of those closed doors. The first time I had ever heard Owen, who is now one of my favorite artists, was because of a mixed CD a girl made me just before things went sour. The somber tone of “The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” was so unbelievably captivating that I had to do my research behind the tale. Basically, Crespi commits suicide after being rejected by the two women who were at one time fighting for his heart. And although the song isn’t as bleak as the story behind the name, it’s full of longing. Lyrics like “Could you love someone completely? And yes, by ‘someone’ I mean me,” and “I’m only asking because I don’t want to die alone” made me feel as though I needed to fight for this girl’s already spoken-for heart. To me, it felt like a cry for help even though it was proving to be a long shot. Once again, things didn’t pan out, but I can say that I fought my hardest to win her over, and for me that was good enough. Although I failed, at least I tried.

Some songs elicit the most vehement emotions – shame and cowardice being among them. Most recently, I found myself listening to Relient K’s “There Was No Thief” over and over during a breakup. It’s a realization song: “There was no thief, because it was me who lost you.” It’s about making a poor decision and struggling with the reality and repercussions of that decision. With tears in my eyes and the song in my headphones for hours straight, I realized it was also a song of redemption: “I guess it’s up to me to find a way to get to you.” I had made a stupid mistake, but this song gave me the courage to make things right. I wasn’t ready to give up what we had built and acknowledging that it was my fault was the toughest part. Theissen’s comforting words proved that I wasn’t alone in that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong: catching feelings can be great. I’m a huge fan of the “honeymoon phase.” It’s a shame that it typically wears off shortly after it starts, but while in full effect it’s beautiful. This is where songs like Dashboard’s “Stolen” or Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s “Made To Last” come in. Cheerful, uplifting songs about requited love! It’s not often that I find myself being drawn in by this sect of the genre, but I can’t deny the occasional feel-good tune. Appropriately enough, I also included a song or two about loving what you’re passionate about amongst the mushy gushy tunes. Stornoway’s “Fuel Up” tells a charming story about finding yourself throughout the years and encourages the journey’s necessity. “Home is only a feeling you get in your mind from the people you love and you travel beside,” is a lyric I always find myself going back to and reflecting on while out on the road. Relationships are difficult to manage when you’re away for a long period of time and it’s easy to long for the people and things you leave behind each time, but a song like this is a good reminder of not only your purpose, but also your priorities.

All this to say that love and relationships aren’t innately a bummer, but it may seem like that’s the case while you’re on your way to finding the one that sticks. Luckily for the hopeless romantics, there will always be music to take your mind off of those feeble attempts at love and there will always be a specific lyric to mirror whichever emotion you’re struggling to cope with. On the other side of the coin, if you’re happily paired off, you have a cornucopia of songs to perpetuate your bliss (as well as rub in the face of those who unfortunately don’t share your joy) – just don’t expect to find many of those songs on my mixtape. My road to romance has been full of potholes and wrong turns, but I’ve always been able to fall back on the one thing that makes me feel worthwhile: Music. There’s no better therapy than knowing you’re not alone.

“I know I’ll never be lonely, I’ve got songs in my blood.”

Listen Along: 

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Tracklist / Favorite Lines

01. The Weepies – Gotta Have You 
“Oh, such a prima donna, sorry for myself.”
02. Death Cab For Cutie – Your Heart Is An Empty Room
“The chase is all you know and she stopped running months ago.”
03.Lovedrug – We Were Owls 
“I can see it that you’re ready to go, like a bat in the cave of my soul.”
04. Sleeping At Last – Homesick
“If love’s elastic were we born to test its reach?”
05. Fireworks – Teeth
“Now you’re a planted seed in a field by the sea, but you’re still growing next to me.”
06. Copeland – You Have My Attention
“Speak but a whisper, I’ll hear a sermon.”
07. Yellowcard – Always Summer
“ I know I let you down, but I’m letting out and I found a way that I can tell the truth, make it up to you.”
08. Relient K – There Was No Thief
“It was cowardice that made me push you away.”
09. Watashi Wa – Ten Years And Separating States
“It was in a dream we were out at a lake after 10 years and separating states.”
10. Dashboard Confessional – Stolen
“You are the best one of the best ones.”
11. Third Eye Blind – Blinded (When I See You)
“Just an old friend coming over now to visit you: that’s what I’ve become.”
12. The Spill Canvas – Teleport A & B
“Hypothetically if you were point A and theoretically if I was point B, we would be frantically melting into one massive point that could overcome anything.”
13. Death Cab For Cutie – Tiny Vessels
“You are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me.”
14. Owen – The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi
“Spoiled sick like milk you let sit too long.”
15. The Cranberries – Linger
“You’ve got me wrapped around your finger. Do you have to let it linger?”
16. Hanson – Use Me Up
“Nothing could be worse than numb.”
17. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Made To Last
“Nothing’s made to last these days but I’m gonna be by you ‘til my last days.”
18. Stornoway – Fuel Up
“There’s no rewind so you might as well play.”
19. Noah And The Whale – Blue Skies
“Blue skies are coming, but I know that it’s hard.”