Teen Mom frontman Chris Kelly says he wants to take a more personal approach to songwriting. But if his band’s newest tune is any indication, he’s already got his heart dangling from his sleeve.
With a title like “Naked In the Eyes of My Love,” it’s clear from the outset that this song—which arrived last month via the Rough Trade-curated cassette compilation 80N7—finds the D.C. indie-rock band treading delicate emotional territory. Kelly says it deals with a wrenching separation from an old flame and the ambiguity that followed. “I was trying to process the change from seeing someone every day to not, and then not knowing if that person was going to come back,” he says.
The songwriter prefers not to harp on the song’s specific inspiration, but his lovesick frustration comes through with every stanza, particularly when he arrives at the chorus. “How ’bout you just tell me what you do/Now that you’re not coming back?” he coos with a wounded, melancholy inflection. “So dumb—I can’t believe the [things] that I have done.”
Teen Mom—rounded out by drummer Sean Dalby and bassist Tom MacWright—started playing the song around last fall, then tracked it in February at Arlington studio Persona Non Grata. Kelly wrote the lyrics back in the early, scorching-hot summer months of 2013. That season brought a spurt of inspiration for the musician: He was going through personal changes and killing time, bored in his parents’ basement, and the ideas came tumbling out. “I look back on that period and feel like a lot of songs came out of nowhere,” he says.
Now the songwriter says he’s a little stumped. “I’m kind of going through a writer’s block thing right now where I can’t write songs,” he says. But he knows he wants to keep his future work more straightforward, like “Naked In the Eyes of My Love,” while still building a certain emotional intensity.
“Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is trying to play very simple songs,” Kelly says. “I think a lot of times, people try to be too impressive and they try to pack a song full of a lot of musical ideas. I think after you write a bunch of songs, you realize you don’t have to keep doing that.”