Joshua Harmon remembers being at his family’s house in early 2019. He was in his childhood bathroom, and he was losing it. Processing a tangle of feelings, the vocalist and guitarist of Utah-based band The Backseat Lovers suddenly heard a lyric in his head—“Do you want to be like your father?/The older you get, your head’s getting hotter.” These words would become the first lines of the song “Close Your Eyes,” but beyond that, they opened the floodgates for the group’s second album, Waiting to Spill.
“From that moment,” says Harmon, “my main goal was to make something that was honest and real, something that meant the world to me.”
He soon discovered that the group’s lead guitarist and vocalist Jonas Swanson was working on a new song that expressed similar emotions. “We were both singing about the same sort of feelings,” says Harmon. “Our relationship with our parents, and our perspectives in that moment of seeing ourselves turning into adults. It was a bit of an affirmation from the universe, realizing that these two songs could be the same song—and that really sparked what ended up being the entire backbone of the record, which was Jonas and my songwriting partnership and companionship.”
Still, it would take eighteen months to record the follow-up to The Backseat Lovers’ acclaimed 2019 debut, When We Were Friends, featuring the single “Kilby Girl,” which has over 200 million streams globally. It was a time of experimentation and revelation, of being stuck together through a pandemic and of traveling to isolated writing retreats in the California woods to drill down on their emerging material. If the first album saw the band synthesizing their influences—from folk-rock singer-songwriters to jam band improvisation to Radiohead-style art rock—this time they broke through to create something uniquely their own.
“I think we definitely pushed the boundaries and tested our limits with this album,” says bassist KJ Ward. “We grew a lot, as band members and as individuals. It’s a very personal album, and in the studio, there was a lot of open dialogue and deep conversation.”
The Backseat Lovers formed in Salt Lake City when Harmon introduced himself to drummer Juice Welch and asked if he wanted to start a band. After Harmon met Swanson while waiting in line for an open mic night, he invited the guitarist to come down and play with him and Welch. They released their self-produced EP Elevator Days in 2018 and played their first show a few short weeks after; Ward joined the group in 2019, just after the completion of When We Were Friends.
“We barely knew each other as people,” says Harmon, recounting the making of the first record. “We had just met each other and then I said, ‘I’ve got two songs, what do you say we try to get some gigs?’ So a huge part of what made this album a more collaborative process was the fact that we actually started to gain a real sense of trust and empathy for each other, which made it so we could try weird things together and not be scared of thinking something’s not gonna work or some idea falling flat, because we all were willing to be vulnerable.”
Swanson echoes this sense of openness and connection that defined the making of Waiting to Spill. “Me and Joshua really dug deep when we were writing together,” he says, “which was something I hadn’t done before in a songwriting setting. It brought us to talking a lot about the future, and what our path seems like it may be and the anxieties about that. We both wrote a lot about our family and friends and about losing people along the way, too. It’s very introspective, but it has a lot to do with facing those internal fears.”
The circumstances around the album’s creation were critical to the songs that ultimately resulted. The first Backseat Lovers tour was supposed to begin in March 2020, but when those plans fell victim to the pandemic, the band members began sharing a home during lockdown and bearing down—“zooming in really close,” as Swanson describes it—on their music.
“Joshua and Jonas were pumping out songs at an insane rate,” Ward says. “We spent every hour with each other, we were constantly playing each other songs and writing and creating, and it felt like we took the next step as a band. We got really good at understanding how to work with each other, so even if we had a disagreement, we knew it was for the better of the song.”
“Close Your Eyes” isn’t the only song on Waiting to Spill that changed structure or fused multiple parts together. “Words I Used” also involved combining pieces of different songs (“that one took so many shapes and sizes—there were hundreds of additions bouncing between us,” says Harmon). On “Follow the Sound,” says Swanson, “I had some kind of mental block where I couldn’t find a way to support the song.” So the Lovers started messing around with different percussion noises to see if that might break the ice. “We were hitting mallets on a lounge chair and slapping on books and stuff like that,” says Welch. “Honestly, finding obscure things in an Airbnb to record and finding cool sounds is almost as fun as playing a drum kit.”
Elsewhere, the album is full of intricately stitched sonic details and filigrees, from voice memos played backwards to vocals run through distortion pedals. The band members all point to the transition between the two opening tracks, “Silhouette” and “Close Your Eyes,” as a crucial piece of the overall feel. “We always had the idea for a pitch shift, Doppler effect-type thing,” says Swanson. “There was a moment when Josh was singing and I was manipulating some stuff with pedals, and it was so spontaneous—we weren’t thinking about it, it was just coming out of us.”
For The Backseat Lovers, Waiting to Spill represents a pivotal time in their personal and creative lives—a period of bonding, growing, surviving, and now hopefully connecting with new listeners. “I’ll always cherish what we went through to make this album, even though it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” says Harmon. “We got over the hurdle of being a band that just does rock and roll and can only plug in a few guitars and create songs in that way. We can see something more than that, while still keeping the spirit of rock and roll and our roots as musicians.”
“Each song had its own process, its own life,” says Welch. “We just had to roll with that and respect what the song was telling us to do.”