I can’t listen to music when I write, but I do listen to it a lot when I’m thinking of what to write or thinking about what I just wrote (or thinking generally). I find it very inspirational, if I don’t get too off track and end up in some rabbit hole of unrelated mental gymnastics. There’s a reason so many writers have anxiety! Our brains seem to be wired to catastrophize and overthink, which can at times lead us into the best fictional territories or at other times into the worst mental states.
Music seems to amplify this capability in both directions. I am, for whatever reason, drawn to rather melancholic music, so this isn’t a list you can go running to. But I like my melancholy tinged with hopefulness, which is how I might describe the mood of Breakfall, my second novel, a gritty domestic thriller of sorts, centered around two characters who meet at a Chicago Jiu Jitsu gym. Drama and scandal ensue when one of the members of the close-knit gym disappears. It’s a dark book, but it’s fun too. Therefore, the soundtrack to it might sound a little like the list below:
#1. “Bathroom Light” by Mt. Joy
I usually associate music with memories, and most songs on my list are ones I was listening to while writing or editing Breakfall, but the song that encompasses the feeling of my book the most, if it was a soundtrack, is one that I only just heard recently. This upbeat melody is just all around compelling and catchy.
#2 “She Calls Me Back” by Noah Kahan
Something about the wistfulness of Noah Kahan’s sound combined with the lyrics, which are heartfelt and ring true to some of the themes in the book too, makes it the perfect song for this list. Every time I hear it, I think of Mina, my protagonist, and her poor disaster-prone relationships.
#3. “A 1,000 Times” by Hamilton Leithauser
I was listening to a lot of Hamilton Leithauser while writing Breakfall (and I still have no clue how to pronounce his last name), but this was the first song to catch my interest. Like its title, I may have listened to the song 1,000 times too. It reminds me a lot of how Mina must have been feeling in the beginning of her romance, and I like that Hamilton’s sound is still very reminiscent of The Walkmen, which was a college favorite. It’s also so relatable. Who doesn’t have dreams of the same thing 1,000 times? I certainly do. I’m old enough to have a child in high school and I still dream about having to go back because there was some class I missed going to or flunked out of and I have to take it now as an adult. I don’t think that’s the kind of dream Hamilton Leithauser is talking about, but still.
#4. Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
This may seem like a weird one, and it may be purely circumstantial, as this was all over the radio when I was working on Breakfall, being that it was around the time the last season of Stranger Things came out. But as Mina is doing a lot of “running up” hills, metaphorically speaking—when we first meet her, her life has sort of collapsed around her, and she has to rebuild it nearly from scratch—the idea behind it clicks.
#5. Chemtrails Over the Country Club by Lana Del Ray
Am I the last person on earth to discover Lana Del Ray? I went down quite the rabbit hole of her music during the last year, because of Hamilton Leithauser’s cover of her song “The Greatest,” actually. If Mina was a famous pop star, she would be Lana Del Ray. Her music really strikes a melancholic but hopeful chord more than anything else on this list. Not just this song, but a bunch of them; “Old Money,” “Wildflower Wildfire,” and “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” are also favorites.
#6. Cigarette Smoke by Half Wolf
A lot of cigarettes are smoked in Breakfall, so this is a good fit for many reasons. Also, the line “You and your second-hand loving” is very Mina-and-Matthew. The folksiness and range of the vocalist is so impressive.
#7. “Mess” by Noah Kahan
If it’s not obvious, I am very into Noah Kahan right now. This is another one that gives me Breakfall vibes. Probably because most of the characters are quite the mess. Also, it’s just a very fun song.
#8. Vanishing Point by Alexandra Savior
Like Hamilton, Alexandra also has a propensity to exaggerate numbers to make a point. (“You’re 1,000 times mine, I’m 1,000 times yours” are the lyrics to the chorus. I wonder if she also had the same dream 1,000 times?) Jokes aside, this song is so haunting and lovely, as is much of her discography.
#9. “In Your Hands” by Nick Mulvey
Nick Mulvey is another folksy musician I’ve been really into lately. This feels like a song that would be playing while Mina and Matthew are on a long drive. (Also, “We Are Never Apart” works for that too.)
#10. “Love On the Brain” by Rihanna
I am for sure the last person on earth to discover this song, and it really made me question my entire life that I even like something by such a popular artist, but I just love this song, and it describes Mina’s mental state for a lot of the book, too.