“But it doesn’t always come,” she says in the next breath, “and that’s frustrating.”
The Memphis native is no stranger to the vicissitudes of her muse, or to the patience it requires at its most elusive and unpredictable. However, when she set out to compose her current album, The Well, she could no sooner wait for inspiration than she could make it arrive on demand.
It had been six years since her last album—Reilly’s debut, Arc of Tessa, was released in 2003, followed by Let Your Ghost Go in 2006—and while the time away from the recording studio admittedly rekindled her creative spirit it also brought about a significant shift in her priorities.
“It was really nice to sort of take a break from it for a while and do other things in my life,” says Reilly, who now lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, actor Daniel London. In 2009 the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Sylvia. And, not unlike music, Reilly clearly relishes motherhood as among her life’s most daunting challenges—“It’s like running in a hamster wheel constantly from sunup to sundown,” she jokes.—and its most rewarding.
The particulars of her life course through the noirish, gothic-folk vignettes that comprise The Well, yet they tend not to yield detailed or confessional narratives but instead surface in lyric imagery and abstractions. “It’s the way I write,” she says, “but I think a small part of that could be [me] protecting myself. I really let go in the way that I sing, but you’re maybe not going to know everything about me.”
Not that she even strives for such candor. "I’m not interested in being the girl, mushy singer/songwriter. That was never what I set out to do,” Reilly maintains. “Hopefully there are people who are listening to the record that can walk away with their own feeling about it.”
Stark, stunning highlights like “The Lady of Leitrim” and “Under the Waves”—“It’s really an emotional song for me,” she confides of the latter. “I’ve never really sung like that before”—resonate with an almost ominous mystique.
Yet it’s “The Rise and Fall of Sleep,” in which Reilly offers a poignant glimpse of what it’s like with a little one in the house, that cuts deepest. “I really wanted it to describe so many things at once,” she explains, “what it’s like when the day ends and everyone’s completely exhausted and it’s quiet…” Her voice trails off like a fleeting memory. After a long pause she adds, softly, “I’m really lucky to have her.
“I think it’s fitting to have it as the last song on the record because it puts everything in perspective,” Reilly adds, and indeed her being a parent has fundamentally changed and, as this album illustrates, enriched, the way she approaches her craft.
“I feel like I’m constantly multitasking as a mother,” she says. “And I’d just booked studio time before I finished writing the record because, I thought, when you’ve got a kid you have to be in the day-to-day thing but if you want to get something done you have to do it. It’s stressful because you’re juggling a lot but it got me out of just being depressed and looking out the window and waiting for something to inspire me to write. I don’t have time to do that anymore.”