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EXCLUSIVE: Margo Cilker Premieres ‘With the Middle’

August 10, 2023 1:00 pm GMT

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Maybe it’s the weight of the world holding us all down, but just getting through a whole day without giving up and going back to bed is difficult these days.

It’s often the middle of the day that feels like the hardest part of it. Those hours between your dwindling early morning enthusiasm and the time you get to wind down with a well-deserved glass of wine. Those moments when doubt begins to set in, and the top still seems a long way off.

“What do I do with the middle / Between the coffee and the wine,” Margo Cilker sings on her new single. “The part of the day when my heart says I won’t do it this time.”

Taken from her forthcoming album, Valley of Heart's Delight, 'With the Middle' is everything we’ve come to expect from Margo Cilker, one of the most distinctive and self-assured voices to have stepped out of the world of American country-folk in the last few years.

There’s always been something strangely comforting and reassuring about the peculiar kind of melancholy that permeates her songs. Listening to ‘With the Middle’ feels like being all snuggled up under an 18-tog double duvet of it.

It's a warm slice of languorous Laurel Canyon folk that brings to mind Laura Cantrell or Emmylou Harris on their most down days. One of those super sad country songs that goes down better with a cigarette and a deep pot of coffee.

“Kitchen table, my own home / Sometimes a woman’s dream is to be alone,” she sings, as the long hours of the afternoon stretch out before her.

Produced once again by Sera Cahoone - whose work on Cilker’s critically acclaimed debut Pohorylle brought to life the joyful sense of adventure and restless spirit of the songs - ‘With the Middle’ captures Cilker at her most vulnerable. She told us about how the instrumentation changed the way the song came across when she came to record it.

"After hearing 'With the Middle' about 30 times through on a video shoot, my friend Bart texted me, 'Regarding your middle song. Have you considered napping?' I guess this is a song for those of us who can’t nap. It takes me to a time when I felt incredibly fragile. I like the way Sera’s production bolsters the song; the track was almost unbearably lonely before the drums, bass, piano and steel."

The title of Margo Cilker’s sophomore album refers to a place she can't return to; California’s Santa Clara Valley, as it was known before the orchards were paved over and became more famous for silicon than apricots. Margo is the fifth generation of Cilkers born there, and in this 11-song collection, family and nature intertwine as guiding motifs, at once precious and endangered, beautiful and exhausting.

“It’s an homage to the place I was born,” Cilker explains. “A place I have roots, but don't always feel like I belong. Which was once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight due to its abundance of fruit orchards in the first half of the 20th century.”

Cilker moved from California to the Pacific Northwest in her mid-twenties and wrote much of Valley of Heart's Delight while living in Enterprise, Oregon, a small town near the Snake River and powered by the river’s massive, publicly-funded hydroelectric dams.

“I wrote these songs surrounded by the wild landscapes of the Northwest, but I was leaning toward the place I’d come from. I felt cut off from my family and the valley that held them. I spent hours thinking about my sense of belonging. I’d traveled through many places and then, when the travel stopped, I ruminated on where I had ended up. Where were you when the music stopped? I was in Enterprise, OR. And there in Enterprise, my mind drifted back to the Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

“I wrote about family — about death and rebirth, and the arcs of love and art through a family line. There are songs that hint at missteps and redemption. There are songs about trees: in orchard rows, family trees, redwoods. And water: agricultural runoff, wild rivers, dammed rivers, baptismal flows. And there’s a song about a fish, cause it’s a damn good song and I wanted to record it.”

‘With the Middle’ is premiering exclusively on Holler below.

Valley of Heart's Delight is released on Fluff & Gravy Records and Loose Music in the UK and Europe on September 15th.

Written by Jof Owen
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