Clouds Part and Hearts Break on The Life’s New Single “I Wanted To Tell You”

We spoke with the pop artist Curtis Pawley about his new track, which will be out on the label 38’s first compilation.
April 26, 2017, 6:27pm

New York singer and producer Curtis Pawley makes music as The Life, and his new single "I Wanted To Tell You" contains enough sadness, joy, heartbreak, and sweetness to fit the moniker's cinematic vibe. Pawley's ballad is the lead single off of a forthcoming compilation from the label 38, which he runs alongside filmmaker and producer KJ Rothweiler. The compilation, simply titled Compilation 1, will feature tracks from Tony Rainwater, Mankind, J. Albert, and 80's pop icon Alice Cohen.

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"I Wanted To Tell You" has three movements. It begins with a series of tender pitch-distorted and layered vocals that recall Kanye West's 808's and Hearbreak. Next, it morphs into to a choral, clouds parting-esque chord progression with a nudging heartbeat. Finally, it returns to the delicate but raw vocal refrain of its title, as Pawley croons "I wanted to tell you" with a bitter-sweet sense of regret.

Pawley revealed that he made the whole song almost entirely from sampling his own voice. What results is a vulnerable and dextrous song that's neither entirely pop, electronic, or choral music, but a beautiful thing all its own. We never quite learn what the singer wants to tell the listener, or who "you" is. But that's ok—it's like listening to a cross-section of a relationship in transition.

We spoke with Pawley about his musical inspirations and the creation of "I Wanted To Tell You." Listen and read below, and look out for Compilation 1 on May 25. You can pre-order it now on 38's bandcamp.

THUMP: Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating this song?
Curtis Pawley: The song's actually a combination of multiple ideas I've had bouncing around for a while. I was originally writing the first section as a straightforward guitar and vocal song, but then started to hear it as a choir, and took off from there. The second section is chords I had written that I was still trying to write a melody for. But then I was listening to this demo Phil Collins released for "Against All Odds" that's just the chords. And that song is one of my favorites of all time, but hearing just those plodding chords works so well—it reminds me of Mahler, or something. And I realized that what I wrote was probably finished after all.

It seems to go through several movements, with pop, gothic and even gospel sounds. Does the song tell a story?
Those influences you mention are definitely all there. Not consciously, though. I wasn't really trying to combine anything. I suppose you could say it tells a story, but it's subjective. I'd probably say that it's the beginning of a story.

In a press release you mentioned a range of influences that includes everyone from Boyz II Men to Peter Gabriel. What is the thread that connects them for you?
What it really comes down to is just being a massive fanboy. I get obsessed with figuring out what exactly makes a song I love work so well, pulling it apart, and finding these common threads between different songs that might not even be there for anyone else. I do this a lot, and try to get to the point of being able to call these things up subconsciously when I'm writing.

If you had to give your sound a name, what would you call it?
Just pop music. Pop music that results from being an obsessive fan.

After the single's release on the label compilation, what's next? What are you currently working on?
More songs. Where they'll live, I don't know yet.