“CLEAN SLATE” is the opening track from BACK BURNER, the debut solo release from singer and multi-instrumentalist Halen. While the EP is ripe with songs about relationship struggles, its sum presents as a reclamation of power in the face of repetitive emotional neglect. Connecting over Instagram, Halen added, “People pleasers and hopeless romantics are victim to the back burner all the time, I fear.” For anyone who’s been there, that line surely feels like an all too familiar feeling. The following discussing touches on other aspects of the song, including its recording and instrumentation, as well as the contrast offered between its lyrics and the visuals Halen released in advance of BACK BURNER.
villin: What was the sound you had in mind when writing “CLEAN SLATE”?
Halen: I’ve always been inspired by Alanis Morissette. When we were producing BACK BURNER I was listening to a lot of Jagged Little Pill; I’ve always loved her use of harmonica and that was one element specifically that inspired me for this song. For the album as a whole, I was looking for a ’90s alt-rock feel.
villin: What about the song made it the right fit to open BACK BURNER?
Halen: I thought the quiet instrumentation at the start paired with the big dynamics of the song would make it an interesting opener. Plus, I think the hook is pretty good, if I do say so myself!
Halen: I think every band I’ve ever been in has influenced me in some way, whether that is aurally, or simply in terms of gaining experience. There were several songs on the album that were originally written for Daizey! My sound overall is a little softer though, and I think that does the music justice.
villin: Did you perform the instruments yourself on the track?
villin: How long have you been playing the harmonica?
Halen: I don’t really play the harmonica super well to be honest, I just blow into it and hope it sounds good. No technique there.
villin: Did you work with anyone to help produce and record the track?
Halen: Phil Young is my superhero! He helped me record, mix, and produce the entire album.
villin: Thematically speaking, relationship struggles are well represented on BACK BURNER. Do your lyrics on “CLEAN SLATE” come from personal experiences?
Halen: Nearly all my lyrics are based totally off personal experience. They span multiple relationships and seasons in my life, which I think is sad but beautiful: heartbreak always feels the same. My hope is that my (many) heartbreaks will resonate with others.
villin: One of the lines I identify with speaks to over-extending yourself to try to reduce someone else’s discomfort. Does it help you process the emotions that come with something like that by expelling them through lyrics?
Halen: Songwriting is incredibly healing for me. In my times of deepest hurt, picking up my guitar or putting pen to paper is often the only thing that helps. I also find that letting other people hear about my insecurities allows me to release their power.
villin: It’s interesting to listen to BACK BURNER and recognize the contrast that exist between the boldly confident imagery which you’ve released surrounding your music on social media, and the vulnerability and self-doubt which comes through in songs like “CLEAN SLATE.” Is it a conscious decision to present that dichotomy, or is it a natural byproduct of those two sides being part of your personality?
Halen: I love this question! It’s definitely intentional. I think I’ve often been outwardly viewed as a confident, independent woman, and I have rarely felt that inwardly. Part of releasing this music was a reclamation of all the parts of me I had previously been willing to sacrifice, and some of those reclamations were the taking back of my image, sexuality, and self confidence.
villin: What does it mean to be a “back burner girl”?
Halen: A “back burner girl” is the girl literally put on the back burner of a man’s life. I’ve been made to wait for men who aren’t sure, who can’t commit, but who don’t want to lose me. No one deserves to feel like an option, or like they’re disposable. Don’t allow others to put you on their back burner.