Left Out finds its stride in the wake of ‘Learn to Walk’

The Columbus synth-pop band will celebrate the release of its cathartic new single, ‘Undertones,’ in concert at Ace of Cups on Friday, April 12.
Left Out
Left OutCourtesy the band

“Undertones,” the new single from synth-pop group Left Out, begins in somber, self-critical fashion, singer Ceci Clark unpacking her struggles with self-confidence as she enters into the early bloom of a new romance.

“Am I undeserving of your love?” Clark sings atop pensive acoustic strumming, a slight tremble in her voice adding to the lingering uncertainty. But as the song shifts into its second half, Clark begins to find her footing and the music hits its stride, blossoming into a sun-kissed garden of flowering synthesizer, buzzing guitar and confidently urgent drums.

In that way, “Undertones,” which released digitally today (Tuesday, April 9), serves as something of a microcosm of Clark’s musical life. In an early April Zoom interview, the Left Out singer recounted how she initially started writing songs as a means of dealing with feelings of inadequacy, and how that idea has since receded as she has stepped more fully into her own.

“I was very Christian when I was a kid, and I had this deep love for God. … So, I would start singing these religious songs about how I’m not good enough, but he still loves me. And then somehow that transformed into the same thing but with boys,” Clark said, and laughed. “And most of the songs were written about breakups, or about times I wasn’t treated well, which was more often than it should have been. Now, I’m in a situation where I’m the most stable I’ve ever been in my life. I’m happy where I live, and who I live with. I have a stable job. So, it’s definitely different. It’s not as heart wrenching every time I write a song. And it doesn’t need to be anymore.”

The music has undergone a similar transformation since Clark first stepped solo onto the stage, fully expecting the audience to remain on their feet and vibing as she performed. “And then immediately after the first song, everyone sits down,” she said. “And I was like, ‘That’s never happening again.’”

In the days that followed, Clark began to recruit band members, the music expanding and mutating with the additions of a drummer and a keyboardist, who combined to add a shimmering synth-pop sheen that offered a welcome counterweight to the singer’s frequently heartbroken words. Unfortunately, the timing left something to be desired, with Left Out's early lineup solidifying in late February/early March 2020. The subsequent arrival of Covid delayed the band’s live debut for nearly 15 months – a stretch of time that Clark described as crucial in helping the crew develop its sound and chemistry.

“It was good bonding time, because we weren’t hanging out with anyone else,” said Clark, who will be joined by bandmates Zayn Dweik (drums), Sprout Selvaggio (synths) and Ali Bell (bass) in concert at Ace of Cups on Friday, April 12.

Amid the forced downtime, Left Out recorded its 2022 debut, Learn to Walk, a fitting moniker for an album on which the band gradually found its footing. “There could have been 25 songs on that record,” Clark said. “But I picked the songs that were on there because they were the songs that helped me, and I wanted the album to help other people who might be in a similar situation. I wanted to help them feel seen, and to let them know it gets better.”

As with most of Clark's songs, the tracks populating Learn to Walk have a raw, diaristic quality, which the singer traced in part to an interest in journaling she harbored from childhood but could never fully see through. As a result, the musician said she has amassed a collection of diaries and notebooks filled with “three or four” pages of writing and then dozens of blank pages. In songwriting, though, Clark discovered an outlet that helped her to exorcize these heavier feelings in a way that also held her attention.

“When I’m feeling any sort of way, I’m like, ‘Well, there’s something that has to come out right now.’ Then I usually hit record on my phone, find a couple of chords that I like, and then I’m hoping for word vomit, and hoping those emotions will find a way out,” Clark said. “And there are so many times in that process where it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s how I feel? I had no idea.’ And that reflection has gotten me through so many things and helped me to see so much clearer.”

The process can also introduce a sense of weightlessness, with Clark recalling how she wrote her earliest song after breaking up with her “first real boyfriend” as a teenager.

“I remember I was so angry, and I sped home and ran to my room and picked up my guitar, hit record, and said everything I had to say,” she said. “And I stopped recording, put the guitar down and slept like a baby. And that song never became anything, but it didn’t have to. It served its purpose for me.”

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