For some artists, the last year of increased solitude offered an opportunity to step into their craft and be more prolific and creative than ever before. For others, it presented a debilitating pit of emotional and physical quicksand, making it nearly impossible to get through the day, much less create anything. Kaylan Waterman, aka Vespre, landed somewhere in between the two. Her latest single and first solo release in almost three years comes after a long period of collaborating, resting, reflecting and rediscovering her muse. “Back to Me” is a buoyant reunion with Spring, self and love lost and found; and one that Waterman worked damn hard to get to.
“I know a lot of people who are like, ‘I made my magnum opus during COVID!’ That was not me, at all,” says Waterman. “I tried a couple of times and my body, my spirit just told me: Don’t even stress about it, but this isn’t it for you… focus on other stuff.” So, that’s what she did. Waterman, who works full time at local label, artist management and sync company Assemble Sound, already has enough on her plate to tire anyone out. But, on top of working full time and collaborating with her brother Kaleb the Intern, Moon King, and others in 2020, she started a sharing table in her neighborhood to provide food and other necessities to folks in the community.
While Waterman devoted her time and energy to filling other people’s plates, her’s was running low. “I just did not have it in me to create. I was too stressed, I was too sad, I was grieving, I was just like in survival mode,” Waterman explains. “I felt very depleted and music was the only thing I knew that would help fill me up.” So she started writing for herself, meeting at the cross-section of heartbreak and healing.
Waterman explains that the idea for “Back to Me” started almost as a clapback to peoples’ responses to her breakup. She says that although she’s the one who walked away from her relationship, everyone assumed she was dumped. “I would tell people, and they’d be like, ‘I’m so sorry, he’s the worst!’” Waterman says. “And I’m like, ‘umm, maybe I’m the worst…What are you talking about? I ended this.’”
The song allowed Waterman to reclaim her narrative and communicate the complex array of emotions that can accompany a breakup. She wanted to portray the duality of being resolute in her decision but still feeling loss and grief. “I just wanted people to know that women – especially independent, very self aware women – can make difficult decisions and still be soft and longing and wanting. We hold both of those things at the same.”
Waterman embodies this duality in “Back to Me.” Though her poetic lyrics focus on nostalgia and longing for a former lover, the music that accompanies them is upbeat, driven by shiny synths and ebullient percussion. The video (co-directed by herself and Andrew Miller) mixes the ethereal and the mundane, showing Waterman as both a serene nature goddess and a forlorn bodega shopper. Though she’s feeling the ripple effects of heartbreak, Waterman refuses to hide from her complicated emotions, and is determined to dance through it all.
“I think I did accidentally write a pop song but I don’t really gravitate towards pop in that way,” she says. The songwriter, pianist and producer grew up listening to Detroit house and attending the jazz festival as early as age 9. She says that she feels most inspired by female artists like Patrice Rushen – whom she lovingly named her Subaru after – who sit somewhere in between house music and jazz, disco and R&B. “I want people to be able to dance to the music I make, because Detroit is such a dancing town,” says Waterman. “I wanna speak to that culture more. I wanna write for us more. For my friends that go out dancing like me.”
Dancing in the middle seems to be where Waterman finds her stride. In the middle of heartbreak and happiness, rest and resilience, triumph and tears. Her music finds its strength in vulnerability and suggests that the listener do the same. “I feel like I’m coming back to life and I wanted people to hear it in that way,” she says. “Maybe it’s your creativity coming back or maybe it’s a person or maybe it’s just spring. Maybe you’re happy that this horrible winter is over… I wanted people to listen to it and hear however they wanted to hear it.”