Like all the best treats, Cornelia Murr’s dream-folk debut, 2018’s Lake Tear of the Clouds, is delicate and airy on the outside, rich and complex on the inside — a delight best enjoyed slowly, with eyes closed and mind open.
It’s a fitting description for Murr herself, who as a child bounced from London to Colorado to Massachusetts to California to New York with her bohemian mother (“Hippie doesn’t even really sum it up,” says Murr.) in constant search of a place untainted by the sprawl of corporate culture.
“Moving around as a kid definitely gave me some commitment issues,” Murr half jokes over the phone, strolling the streets of New Orleans as she chats.
The experience made Murr — an Angeleno for the last three years — both guarded and vulnerable, adaptive and stunted.
“There’s something of a freedom when you’re not going to stay somewhere; you don’t have to deal with your problems as much,” says Murr. “You’re the new kid and there’s an element of anonymity or just distance. So on the one hand I think it gives you certain social skills to become very adaptive, like starting over, over and over and over.
“But I also don’t think I really know much about being part of a community,” she admits, “and it kind of scares me.”
Through film school in New York, acting gigs and soul-sucking retail jobs, Murr spent years writing songs no one heard, suffering a “kind of crippling paranoia that if anyone, like a single person didn’t like a song of mine, it was somehow some kind of offense to society that I would be so bold as to put it out.”
Fears aside, Murr has built a circle of supportive friends — a community — including actress and songwriter Lola Kirke, who encouraged Murr to move to L.A. and introduce the world to her music.
“I was at a point in my life where it was kind of do or die. I’ve been writing songs my whole freaking life,” admits Murr. “Just get over yourself, you know? But for a long time I think it was scarier to just try because I was too afraid to fail in front of people. Then eventually, when you’ve got something in you, some creative thing that is gnawing at you for years on end, it becomes a bigger crisis if it’s unanswered.”
With further encouragement and guidance from producer Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Murr answered the creative calling with Lake Tear of the Clouds, a psychedelic folk album that chronicles her journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
“I’ve spent so long / In a silent space scream/Now I’ve forgotten how it feels/To know someone’s listening,” Murr sings in the track “Billions,” acknowledging the surreal sensation of opening the floodgates, so to speak, for the first time.
The resulting deluge takes cues from the dream-pop of Broadcast, with Murr’s lo-fi melodies and ethereal vocals belying the weight of her lyrics; even there we often find bitter pills disguised as candy.
“Empty temples impress/The imperial temptress/They’d endow/The flowerless trees/Tokyo Kyoto/And back to freeze/My little bud/You who cannot say please/You won’t see me upon your release,” Murr coos in “Tokyo Kyoto,” on its surface a song about a trip to Japan, at its heart a eulogy to a terminated pregnancy.
When the song premiered, Murr hadn’t planned to talk about its meaning, but with Brett Kavanaugh taking the bench and the #MeToo movement growing louder, it seemed like a good time to stand in solidarity with other women.
“So many women go through [abortion] and the secrecy around it makes the experience harder,” says Murr. “I think it can make you feel a lot more alienated when you’re going through it. And that’s a problem and there’s only really one way to change that and that’s to talk about it.”
While the hazy reggae of “Man on My Mind” wasn’t written with a political statement in mind, the song’s meaning has evolved for Murr, evoking images of protesters taking to the streets in the wake of the countless mass shootings and environmental tragedies.
“Between the shootings and spills,” she sings, “Behind the scenes it’s too real/After the ending/We fall into the streets/The daylight’s blinding.”
“I started thinking about who’s in power—and it’s mostly men—and the kind of destruction that has occurred and is still occurring, what a friend of mine calls terracide, and that really has come from the power structures at play,” she explains.
“How is it that any person can walk around with the science that we have in front of us and the real life events and disasters happening and just either not get it and not believe it or not care? It’s the not caring that scares me the most. Watching the impeachment the past few days — I shouldn’t even get into that — morality can be kind of an annoying word, but where is it for some of these people?”
Like the insects she sings about on “Cicadas,” Murr makes herself known as she emerges for the first time after a long period of incubation, adding her voice to the growing chant of dissent in this country. With Lake Tear of the Clouds Murr reminds us that, like cicadas, it may take time for us to develop, but when we do we must sing and sing loud.
Cornelia Murr plays Panache Valentine’s Village of Love Planned Parenthood of LA Benefit with Mac DeMarco, Cherry Glazer, Weyes Blood and more at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 14 at Telegram Ballroom.