When 19-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Taylor Janzen started writing her second EP, Shouting Matches, she was afraid that the songs were too vulnerable to release. Sure enough, her debut EP, last year’s Interpersonal, was a hit among critics for exactly that, even catching the attention of Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Over just her guitar, Janzen confronted her own experiences with mental health and emotional abuse. But her new EP feels even more raw: “I feel like Shouting Matches is full of songs that I didn’t think I’d put out,” Janzen told Noisey over the phone. “They’re terrifying for me but they’re my favourite songs that I’ve ever written.”
Janzen, a native of Winnipeg, writes 100 percent of her songs and melodies solo. But on Shouting Matches, which we’re streaming below ahead of its Friday release, she’s joined by a full band for the first time, recording in Omaha, Nebraska with American producer and instrumentalist Mike Mogis, who’s known for his work with artists including Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis. “The recording of the first EP was very DIY,” Janzen said, “whereas this new EP was the first time in real studio. [Mogis] really helped me take these songs and turned them into what we needed them to be.”
But the full band doesn’t distract from Janzen; if anything, it helps to highlight the versatility of her voice, which can be smooth and soft as well as powerful and gritty. Songs on Interpersonal, like “Stations,” show the former, but on Shouting Matches, her strength comes through loud and clear. A prime example is “Dennis Quaid,” the first track Janzen wrote for the EP and also its most upbeat, in which Janzen soars through the chorus: “I'm scared of what I'll see / When the darkness is lifted from me,” she belts, “And I'm bathed in the light.”
Janzen said she wrote it during a time of immense anxiety: “I was about to graduate from high school and I was just going through a time where I was constantly anxious. I’d just started playing music in the local scene. I just had this fear – this imposter syndrome situation. I thought that I sucked and I was waiting for people to find out that I sucked. I went home and I had this acoustic guitar and I was playing it and I just decided to yell my anxiety over that – just say what I wanted to say without really worrying about if it was poetic or not.”
Janzen didn’t originally intend to record the song at all – she even let it go unnamed for months – but found herself returning to it when her anxiety reared its head. “I was tired of not having a name for it,” Janzen says, “so I just decided to call it ‘Dennis Quaid.’” (The title has nothing to do with the lyrics – Janzen is just a self-professed fan of the actor, even interviewing him last month about his first album with his band, Dennis Quaid & The Sharks.)
Janzen also explores difficult dynamics with the people closest to her on Shouting Matches: “Toronto” details her strained relationship with parts of her family; “Prodigal Son” centres on a close friend who’s ill and doesn’t want to take care of themselves. Of that song, Janzen said: “It’s kind of about, ‘Am I under any obligation to stick around and make sure you’re okay when it’s at the cost of my own well-being all the time?’ I was basically thinking about how I couldn’t contact this person and I couldn’t tell them what I really felt or thought because it would just make everything worse. So I put everything into this song. [This type of concept] is a bit of a touchy subject for a lot of people,” she said, “but it’s also a very isolating thing that can feel very difficult. I think putting it out will, hopefully, help people feel a bit less isolated.”
Throughout the course of the EP, Janzen undergoes a bit of a journey to hopefulness herself. “New Mercies,” the opener, begins with a verse that Janzen says is a manifestation of her own cynicism: “Don’t look / I’ve seen the ending,” she warns, “And It’s worse than you thought.” But by the end of the EP, on “Toronto,” she closes with what she said is one of her most optimistic verses yet: “But now I talk all that I want and it’s all right,” she sings. “My thoughts could fill this city and I no longer mind / I can find the comfort inside the sunrise / Cause I no longer shrink back when I see the light.”
“I guess it’s like, my own commentary on that I never know the ending,” Janzen said. “I always think that it’s going to be worse, but it always ends up turning out well for me. I feel the need to point that one out. It always ends up better than you think it will.”
Shouting Matches is out 3 May via 2mm.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.