Hear transatlantic songwriters find connection and escape during quarantine
This is an exclusive first song, part of WBUR’s efforts to showcase New England musicians.
The world stopped in 2020 and Tianna Esperanza was thirsty for excitement. A rush. So she started kickboxing and jiu-jitsu. She bought a motorbike. She could no longer play music for crowds, but she could drive fast and hit hard. She could still feel.
It was around this time that the Cape Cod-based musician wrote the debut of a song that would eventually become “Old Friends”. “It’s kind of on the psyche of a friend, a male friend, in their early twenties… who really feels lost, and looking for momentum and adventure,” she says. “Old Friends” eventually became a study on male violence. But Esperanza believes she also tapped into her own desire to escape.
The pandemic brought unexpected fortune to the young musician: a writing partnership with famed Irish singer-songwriter Mick Flannery. The two were connected through their managers. Esperanza had never listened to Flannery’s music before, but says she fell in love instantly. Flannery reminded him of Leonard Cohen, but not in a “try hard” way. “He felt himself,” she said. They have entered into a transatlantic writing partnership. “I’ve never written better with anyone,” says Esperanza. “During the pandemic, we would sit two to three times a week, sometimes for hours, and even stay silent on our side of Zoom and sit and write together. “
“Old Friends” is one of the results of these long pandemic writing sessions. (It is released as part of Folk Alliance International’s “Artists in (Their) Residence” series and to promote a grant program for artists financially affected by the pandemic.) The song begins with a calm circular melody, sung by Flannery in a low, trembling voice. Then Esperanza pops up, at the top of her lungs, with a question that sounds more like a challenge: “Is it so hard to believe / That you could ever love me?” The song gains in intensity; it’s strange, threatening. The dark figure of a man – a man burning with violent impulses – focuses on Flannery’s last verse: sounded like thunder / shook him from within.
There is an inherent drama in the contrast between the two voices: Flannery’s is soft and worn, like old leather, and Esperanza’s is sturdy, sometimes bending into a blue note. You can hear his influences in his singing: jazz, folk, rock, punk. (Esperanza’s grandmother, Paloma McLardy, was a founding member of seminal punk band The Slits.)