Milly Raccoon is one of Americana’s best kept secrets. The fiddle player and singer has been eccentrically reimagining bluegrass, jazz and old timey country as feminist anthems for a world on fire ever since she first appeared on the scene nearly a decade ago.
“They used to beat me up for always making the highest grade / Now they just pretend a smile and turn the other way,” she sings on ‘That Girl I Left Behind Me’, coupling her words to a bluegrass melody that can be traced all the way back to 16th Century England.
Taken from her upcoming album, Frankincense and Myrrh, her new single is like a toe-tapping theme tune to an otherworldly folk animé.
“I played classical violin as a kid, and I became a big fan of 90s rock and pop, early 20th-century musical theater, traditional Irish music, and zydeco,” she says. “I briefly had a Grateful Dead cover band in high school.”
After high school, Milly took her eclectic listening habits to Seattle where she threw herself into the local bluegrass scene, often playing in several bands at a time: an all-female bluegrass band; honky tonk band; band that played Turkish and Egyptian music for a belly dance troupe; an Irish band and a band that played the traditional music of Mexico and South America.
The high school Dead Head in her reared again when she performed as part of the Nashville band Bertha, playing a tribute to the Grateful Dead in drag and raising money for LGBTQ+ causes in Tennessee this Spring.
“After my first tavern bluegrass jam, I was enchanted by the musical style and fellowship,” she remembers. “I dove into teaching myself bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, and ukulele. I’d play every bluegrass festival I could, sometimes traveling for days by bus to get to out-of-state gatherings.”
Alongside the countless bands and the festivals, and always eager to perform as often as possible, Milly began busking and decided that a life on the road wasn’t as goddamn impossible as it might have seemed.
“I didn’t have a home for about a year and a half and just went from town to town, making a living by busking,” she says. Along the way she released the wonderful Intimates and Hosiery in 2015 and the sublime You’re in Country Country in 2018, taking bluegrass as close as it gets to outsider songs and the anti-folk scene of New York from the early 2000s.
“Eventually it seemed like the next step was to move to Nashville,” she says, “where I quickly learned that instead of busking, I would have to focus on more structured realms of performance work.”
It was a difficult adjustment for someone whose art was as untethered and unique as hers, but it was a struggle that inspired ‘That Girl I Left Behind Me’, as the singer reflected on the magical alchemy of songwriting and her own place in the scheme of things.
"The melody under this title traces back to Elizabethan England when it was sung by British soldiers,” she explains. “It remained a wartime song for the next five centuries, with new lyrics added for each new wartime era, notably the American civil war and World War I.”
"It was also famously performed by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in the mid-20th century. Before carrying that English title, it was an ancient Sean-nós Irish tune, entitled 'An Spailpin Fanach,' Gaelic for 'The Wandering Laborer.'”
Milly now adds her own layer to this musical trifle with a lyric that feels incredibly poignant at the moment in history that Music City now finds itself in, intent as it seems to be on socio-political self-destruction.
"I am fascinated by melodies that pervade through hundreds of years and lyrical transformations and am honored and moved to have become part of the legacy of this song by writing and recording my own version.”
“Once a day I want to die but I’ll just decide to hide me / and pray I magically find that girl I left behind me,” she sings in her crackling, old timey, almost disarmingly childlike voice.
"My version of this song consists of my own lyrics about having trouble finding my way in life, as though I am in my own personal battle with social anxiety and lack of focus, and the reprise of the traditional chorus now refers to a version of myself I felt I had left behind, as opposed to a war-torn romance.”
The video brings the lyric and the song’s history to life with a charmingly animated video that feels fitting for a song that sounds like Iris Dement singing one of the folk songs from Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s 1970s children’s animation Bagpuss.
‘That Girl I Left Behind Me’ is premiering exclusively on Holler below.
"In this video I wanted to represent the history of the tune, as well as my history at the point I wrote the lyrics,” she explains. “I show the civil war soldier girl walking out of the past to modern-day Nashville where I was. The wild-west themes represent the song’s distant past as well as the vintage-loving country music scene in which I was trying to find my place.”
"The virtual reality goggles were an idea I got from a dream I had while I was making the video, which kind of brings the futuristic element into the song’s journey. The scene of me as a busking clown refers to my path as a quantum court jester, and street fiddle player, juggling a lot of artistic and musical roles."
‘That Girl I Left Behind Me’ is out now. Frankincense and Myrrh by Milly Raccoon is released on July 7th