Letitia VanSant creates a chilling effect with the opening line of her new song, “You Can’t Put My Fire Out:” “I didn’t run/I didn’t scream/I didn’t want to make a scene.”
The words came to her during a workshop when she was presented with the prompt, “How are you wounded?” It brought to mind her experience with sexual assault – she was raped by a former friend years prior, an experience she is sharing through song. “I think that question really opened the door for me,” VanSant says. Three years after she wrote down those striking lines, the rest of the song began to organically unfold as she watched Christine Blasey Ford courageously recount her story of sexual assault during the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to Supreme Court in 2018. Premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, “You Can’t Put My Fire Out” was “one of those songs that forced its way out of me,” VanSant says, “and then I recognized the message that was coming out of it.”
VanSant shares that she initially kept the details of her sexual assault to herself, and is honest about the long-lasting impact it had on her life, subconsciously making her feel socially hesitant and “unwanted.” “People don’t realize sexual assault is not just the physical vibration, but it’s the mental impact that can live on for years,” she explains, adding that she’s since been on a journey of self-love. “I think that I’ve finally done enough of that that this song was able to recognize how much the experience had hurt me.”
Writing “You Can’t Put My Fire Out” has served as a healing process for VanSant, who reclaims her narrative in its potent lyrics: “Too long you’ve lived inside my mind/You paid no rent/You stole my time/Now I’m taking back what’s mine.” “I didn’t realize how much of the voices in my head that said bad things about me kind of came from this experience,” she continues. “It was sort of like recognizing that all of those voices saying hateful things towards myself, that’s not me. Those are the voices that I can kick out and that I can replace with more positive and much more powerful messages.”
One of those powerful messages is the title of the song, which VanSant admits she originally thought was “cheesy.” But as the lyrics began to tell her story in a meaningful way, she saw the title as a statement of self-confidence and conviction. “It’s more of a realization of a statement of something that’s true. It’s both a willful ‘I’m not going to let you’ but also ‘you actually can’t.’ People really can’t get at the core center of my being and my spirit. No matter what the world throws at me, the core of me is an unchanging and alive thing,” she says.
Through “You Can’t Put My Fire Out,” VanSant can use her story to connect with others who’ve experienced sexual assault. The singer says she’s had “powerful reactions” from women and men alike when she performs the song live, recalling a time when a group of college-aged men approached her after a show to discuss the song. “I think that this is the kind of song that can speak to anybody who’s been through a difficult experience. It’s for anybody who has someone in their past living in their head and needs to kick them out,” she says.
Growing up as white woman in an upper middle class family in Baltimore, VanSant is open about her intention to acknowledge the privileges and advantages she’s been given by society. She’s adamant about wanting to create space for people of color and those who are non-binary – and the question posed in the workshop reminded her that we all experience pain in our own way.
“As a person that occupies a position of a certain amount of privilege in our society, I think there is a place for self-doubt and for questioning. But I think that within that there is a place for growing a deep and centered kind of self-love. And the more we all grow that,” she expresses, “the better the world will be.”
“You Can’t Put My Fire Out” is included on VanSant’s new album Circadian, set for release on February 21.