Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Magen Tracy and the Missed Connections’ song “Try to Be Free,” which is due to be available on July 22 via Red on Red Records. It was produced by Mike Oram with additional production by Ed Valauskas; recorded by Mike Oram at Boonemusic, Ed Valauskas at Q Division Studios, and Tamora Gooding at Boom Boom Studios; and mixed and mastered by Pat DiCenso. Graphic Design and photography on the album are courtesy of Jenny Bergman (Secret Bureau of Art and Design).
“Try to Be Free” is Magen Tracy on vocals; Mike Oram on guitars, mellotron, and backing vocals; Stud Green on violin and backing vocals; Sam Spencer on bass; and Tamora Gooding on drums.
We caught up with Magen Tracy to chat about the song. Find the song premiere just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: Tell us about your recording process and for this song.
Megan Tracy: “Try to Be Free” was written on the heels of our last album, Long Fuse Burning, and we originally planned to record it at Q Division Studios in spring of 2020. I was newly pregnant at the time, and hyper-aware that my free time was about to become much more limited. Then the pandemic hit and turned everything upside down. Unlike some folks who threw themselves into making art at that time, I turned inward, and shut down a bit; this happens a lot when I’m going through an emotional time–it’s not until after I’m through it that I’m able to write or create from the emotions I’m experiencing.
Luckily for this tune, not all of my bandmates had the same reaction. Mike Oram (our guitar player, and the song’s producer) threw himself into writing and recording for himself and others during that time, and made it his mission to get this song out to the world. The recording started with guitar in his home studio, then made its way to Tamora Gooding’s Boom Boom Studios where she tracked her own drums, and back to me for scratch vocals. Mike continued to layer guitars, mellotron, and I’m not even sure what all else while we waited for a time that the rest of us could track our parts.
That finally happened in June of 2021: with enough of us vaccinated and Q Division reopened, Sam, Stud, and I went in to lay down bass, violin, and vocals, respectively, with Ed Valuaskas (our producer for Long Fuse Burning). This was a hugely emotional day. It was the first time we’d all seen each other in person in over a year, a bittersweet final session at a beloved studio about to close its doors and move to a new location, and, for me, my first time really spending a full day away from my new baby and focusing on music again.
When I listen to the song now, I hear all this at once–our excitement writing and playing it in the before-times; the devastation when that all went away; the musical love letters we sent to each other throughout the pandemic; the joy of meeting up again at Q; and the triumph of pulling it all together on the other side. I also hear all the ways the song, and our lives, have changed throughout that time. It didn’t start out that way, but “Try To Be Free”, for me, has become about freedom not from an ex-lover, but from a previous state of mind, and about embracing whole- heartedly what’s next.
AH: There are a lot of instruments in this mix, and some of them were recorded piecemeal over the course of the pandemic. What was it like to finally hear everything come together?
MT: It’s hard to overstate the impact of hearing this song recorded, because it came together during a time when the five of us were so separated–from each other, and from one of the main things that drives us: making music together. We’ve been playing this song live since 2019, and our original plan was to record it in a day or two at Q Division Studios in mid-2020. Like so many things, that changed in March 2020. So instead, it’s a track that began in Mike’s home studio because he believed it need to see the light of day; made stops at our various homes over the next year; and changed and crystalized over texts and zoom calls rather than live shows and rehearsals.
We did get one glorious day at Q Division in June of 2021–the first time we’d all seen each other in person in over a year–to track bass, violin, and vocals. When I listen to the song now, I hear all this at once: our excitement writing and playing it in the before-times; the devastation when that all went away; the musical love letters we sent to each other throughout the pandemic; the joy of meeting up again at Q; and the triumph of pulling it all together on the other side.
AH: You’ve talked about this song being about freedom from a previous state of mind. Has your relationship to the song changed over the past couple years?
MT: When I wrote the song, it was very tied to a specific time and place, and I can still viscerally feel all the emotions it references when I sing it. But it’s now so much more about the recording process and about the julibation of finishing it at a time when we’re finally back together as a band and a community. Like so many did over the past few years, we each took the time away to reassess what was important to use. Music was always high on that list, but I think the way we approach it now is different: we’ve all focused in more on what’s essential and what brings us joy.
AH: You’ve been involved in Boston’s rock scene for a significant amount of time. Has it been difficult to keep up momentum? What keeps you inspired to make music?
MT: I’m continually inspired by the artistic community around me in Boston. Every time I go through a songwriting drought, or am feeling burned out from hustling and performing, listening to someone else’s new work, attending someone else’s show, or working on a new collaboration rejuvinates me. Because I’ve worked as both a front person and side-player, I have a lot of options when it comes to music-making. So even when I need a break from my own work, I’m able to keep motivated by working on other folks’ projects, which, in turn, inspire new ones for me.
AH: You’ve been a player for Juliana Hatfield, Band of Their Own, and a host of other artists. Has playing other peoples’ songs influenced your own writing?
MT: Absolutely! I love playing other people’s material, whether it’s backing up another artist or doing a covers night. There’s nothing quite like digging deep into another artists’s work; everytime I do, I think my songwriting grows as I learn new tricks and gain new inspiration. The pre-chorus in “Try To Be Free” definitely has some Hatfield influences. I’ve been really lucky with the opportunites I’ve had to play alongside so many talented folks, and it’s had a huge impact on both my writing and my playing.
AH: What are your plans for the rest of the year? Where can fans find you?
MT: We’ll be at Toad in Cambridge on August 6 celebrating this release, and then at the Square Root in Roslindale on September 16. We’re also planning to play a big holiday showcase in December for our new label, Red on Red Records. We’re working now on booking more in the fall, but will also be leaving ourselves plenty of time to work on new material. Now that we’re able to meet more regularly again, there are a ton of song ideas from the past 2 years that we’re excited to pull together; I hopeful that these can coalesce into enough material for an EP in 2023. People can find us at https://linktr.ee/magentracy for updates!
Find Magen Tracy and the Missed Connections’ music here: https://redonredrecords.bandcamp.com/
This song created triangles of sound around you, with lyrical images of light and freedom, and telling each other we’re better remembering to try to be free when we’re so caught up in someone. Thanks for the optimism, Magen Tracy!