“I think the stories behind these songs are almost what’s most important,” says Sweetlove. She sighs. It’s a heavy sigh––the kind that makes the person listening suddenly feel their own chest tighten. Sweetlove knows what she’s just said isn’t what a singer-songwriter would typically say about her new EP. But Goodnight, Lover––the EP in question––was born out a tsunami of grief and pain that, while relatable, raw, and quintessentially human, isn’t typical.
Stripped down to rootsy grooves, lyrical heft, and Sweetlove’s warm vocals, Goodnight, Lover is an exciting six-song portrait of an artist coming into her own. It is also the work and reflection of a woman grappling with devastating personal loss the best way she knows how. “I love that we’ve wrapped all of these beautiful musicians around the songs, and all this talent came in and lifted them to a place I never could have taken them alone,” Sweetlove continues. “But it started with the stories.”
The first story to tell was about Matt, Sweetlove’s oldest friend. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in his twenties, Matt struggled with reality and caring for himself, and died from untreated pneumonia on Christmas Day. “We grew up together––spent almost every day of the first 18 years of our lives together,” Sweetlove says. “He was like my brother, but he was also my first crush and my first kiss.”
Later that year she lost David. A long-time love and close, lifelong family friend who had served as a medic in Iraq, David took his own life just before Thanksgiving Day in 2018. “He was this bright, wild, hilarious, beautiful light,” Sweetlove says. “Everyone loved him. He was a wonderful gypsy soul, always up for an adventure. We had this beautiful connection over so many years, and I adored him with all of my heart. There was no one like him in the world.”
Lastly, at the end of 2018, Teddy, Sweetlove’s brilliant cousin, lost a long, hard-fought battle with alcoholism. “The last time I saw him was in his hospital room. I had flown to Indianapolis to say goodbye,” Sweetlove says. “We had Thai food on his hospital bed, and I sang him songs. I’m so glad I got to tell him I loved him in the end. I wish I had had that chance with Matt and David.”
All of them, gone––and all within a year of each other. “Three men who couldn’t overcome whatever was in their head, tormenting them,” Sweetlove says. “That’s the hardest part: They were all so beloved, and they couldn't see it. I was ruined. Something just unraveled in me. And that’s what these songs came out of.” She pauses, then adds, convicted and grateful: “The songwriting saved me.”
Sweetlove has found her own refuge in songwriting after years of helping others showcase theirs. She sang backup vocals for Grammy-nominated and Tony award-winning artists, paying dues on huge stages. The daughter of a preacher and a teacher, she grew up in California’s Simi Valley and experienced music as a natural part of life––not as a pursuit or a practice, but an extension of just being. Childhood Pentecostal religious services began with songs often sung by David’s bearded, raspy-voiced father. “I grew up with his voice,” Sweetlove says, before noting that many of his children––David’s siblings––became professional musicians.
Now, after living in West Hollywood for the last 15 years, Sweetlove has drawn from her time sharing stages with superstars and that resonant voice that readied worshippers for interpreting tongues to create something that is entirely, beautifully hers.
Produced by Justin Glasco (The Lone Bellow), Goodnight, Lover puts Sweetlove’s twin devotions to her earthy pop and the people she loves on magnificent display. Written with Jay Stolar (Selena Gomez, Trevor Daniel, Aloe Blacc, G-Eazy, Demi Lovato), the title track nods to the bluesy swagger of Shelby Lynne as Sweetlove sings to a new lover, from a distance. Then, just one month later, David died––and Sweetlove’s world and the songs she would write, all changed.
Arguably the only happy song on the EP, opener “Devil on Your Shoulder,” urges self-acceptance with heartwarming confidence. “It was a crazy, rainy day, and my co-writer Jay Stolar and I decided that we wanted to attempt to write something about being brave in honor of someone’s memory,” Sweetlove says. “It’s sounds so cliché to say it out loud, but when you lose people that you love so dearly, it makes you want to stop being afraid to live your life and embrace the parts of you that don’t want to do what they’re told, especially when you’re the one who’s been doing the telling.”
Subdued and pensive, “The House” layers piano, acoustic guitar, and magnetic pedal steel under Sweetlove’s easy, out-front vocals conceding defeat. With upbeat percussion and clean electric guitar, “Did You Even Know” runs through the guilt ambiguity leaves behind. “After David died, I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs for months,” Sweetlove says. “Writing ended up being therapeutic––helped me process. Kept me from disintegrating.”
Searching and almost hopeful in the midst of wreckage, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” wishes for outrunning demons and time. Sweetlove wrote the song with Zach Berkman (Ron Pope). “I came into the write with Zach with the idea of wanting to send Matt off to someplace better,” she says. “Whatever happens after we pass, I do believe we aren’t our bodies. I believe he’s somewhere––I don’t know where. But I believe he’s at peace, at last.”
Swinging, sad, and slow, with hushed percussion and baritone guitar, “Things I Didn’t Say” is a vocal showcase written about Sweetlove’s last time in Portland with David. “I wrote it about the feeling of wishing I’d done more,” Sweetlove says. “I didn’t know what was coming. I didn’t know David was dying. I look back now and think, ‘Oh. He was dying, all that time.’ This song is about the last time I saw him and what I didn’t say.
“This experience has really made me think about mental illness and mental anguish, things I’m not a stranger to myself,” Sweetlove continues. “One of the worst things about mental illness is it lies to you and tells you that you’re alone, or that people would be better off without you. David was a vet, and we lost him to suicide. It’s my understanding this happens about twenty-two times a day. That’s shameful. Matt had a hard time getting the help he needed. And Teddy had a whole family around him that loved him, but it wasn’t enough to save him. The system isn’t really set up to help people so they can live lives free of torment and with joy. It seems harder for men to ask for or get help. I don’t know if that’s true. But it seems harder.”
Listening to Goodnight, Lover, a truth emerges: Sweetlove isn’t merely working through her own hurt. She is singing these songs to the ones she still misses, addressing them with tenderness and love. She is interested in the potential of music therapy to assist others––from veterans with PTSD to those dealing with loss––and she hopes these songs can be a balm to anyone who hears them.
“I think David would be really happy to hear that I took this terrible thing and made something beautiful out of it––something that can touch others,” Sweetlove says, quietly. “I hope listeners take what they need from it to comfort themselves or maybe feel less alone.”
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