Daniel Myers said his new album, Hell of a Year, started to take root in April 2022, when, in the midst of a romantic breakup, he set off alone on a cross-country trek in a car absent a functioning stereo.
“I had some family back in Oregon, where I grew up, and I was hitting a bit of a rough patch, so I was like, you know, I’m gonna go see family. That’s what I’m going to do now,” said Myers, who leaned into the time he spent in silence on the drive, often ending the day seated near a campfire with a guitar, where he started to rough out the bulk of the tunes that form his new record, out today (Friday, Nov. 17). “I always wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up. I wanted to ride the range. And so, I’ve done a lot of cross-country road trips, and I love it. … But when I got out there, I spent time with my dad, fishing and not talking politics, and then also reconnecting with old friends and family and kind of getting this sense like, you know, I trust myself to write songs. I trust myself to play them. I was really reconnecting with who I was at 15- or 16-years-old and first starting to play around with the idea of writing songs.”
For a time, Myers said, he felt distant from the person he once was, describing his life up to this point in time as striated, composed of what he had started to view as distinct, detached phases and which included the time he logged as a child living in the Philippines with his missionary parents, the years he spent enlisted in the army, and his most recent stint in Columbus.
“And I think, in a way, the road trip was a way to remind myself this was all one, continuous story,” he said. “And that the same things I liked about myself then are still a part of me. And even the things I didn’t like about myself, I can learn to like those things. … So, yeah, I went out to Oregon with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, and I came back from Oregon with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. But I think I had a better idea of who I was and what was right for me, and I knew what I needed to do.”
This healing process unfolds throughout Hell of a Year, a break-up record that takes its sonic cues from the wide-open vistas Myers traversed journeying to the West Coast and back. Throughout, the musician dabbles in songs awash in pensive acoustic strumming (“Better Days”), dusty, Western-style slow burns (“Heard It Coming”) and country-tinged goodbyes. “It’s a million to one I’ll even see her again,” Myers sings on “Crossing Oceans,” one of a handful of songs in which the narrator observes his lost love from both an emotional and geographic distance.
Though rooted in heartache, there’s a maturity to the songwriting that surfaces most cleanly in “Wedding Dress,” a tune in which Myers envisions his former love in her wedding dress and prepared to marry another person. Rather than jealousy, though, the song exudes a sense of happiness – even if it arrives with some lingering ache attached.
“I listened to a lot of John Prine going into recording, and he’s someone who really exemplifies that idea of slow down and write something that’s true – and that means it has to be true for everybody,” said Myers, who is accompanied on the record by bass guitarist Scott Hyatt, drummer Lawrence Durica, pedal guitarist Nate Little, guitarist West Taylor and pianist Jeff Straw. ( and Paige Vandiver also provide backing vocals, along with saw and percussion, respectively.) “One thing in writing about a breakup, you want what you’re writing to be true for the person you’re breaking up with, too. And if you can do that, you’re kind of building a place where more people can meet, I guess. I think that’s what most artists want to do, is to say, ‘Hey, I went through this shit. And this is what I made with it. And I hope you feel welcome here.”
Of course, Myers said it took some time and numerous drafts of songs to reach that point, describing early versions of tracks as angrier and more acidic. And while he allowed that there is a time and a place for these kinds of visceral, acerbic exorcisms, he knew going in that it wasn’t the kind of record he wanted to make at this moment.
Supporting this idea were the handful of older tracks that resurfaced as he worked, including “Wedding Dress,” which he wrote more than a decade ago, but which didn’t feel like it belonged until now. “I have a hard time trusting timing that I’m not in charge of, but sometimes it works out,” Myers said of the song, a more pop-oriented number he described as existing in the vein of Gram Parsons or Aaron Lee Tasjan.
As the album winds down, Myers delivers a pair of songs in “Too Broke to Love” and “Time Is Money” that could be interpreted in multiple ways. “I came in broke, I ain’t leaving that way,” Myers sings on the latter, leaving listeners to question if he means his bank account or his emotional state. A similar tug exists in the former, on which the musician repeatedly offers that he “ain’t too broke to love.”
“With that one, yeah, I think it could go either way. But I wrote it the way you’re taking it, with the idea [of being emotionally fractured],” Myers said. “What I had in mind was making peace with the fact that I don’t have a perfect track record in relationships – in anything – but then trying to get to a place where you can say, ‘Well, all of those things are true about me, but what also is true is that I’m worthy of love, and I’m deserving of love.’ I mean, hell, it’s hard out here. Even if you’re broke, you still need love, too.”