Villagerrr balances sadness, beauty on ‘Tear Your Heart Out’

Mark Allen Scott leads the shambolic indie five-piece into a record release show at Cafe Bourbon St. on Saturday, March 23.
villagerrrCourtesy the band

When Mark Allen Scott started writing and recording under the name villagerrr in early 2022, he played alongside a rotating cast of musicians – a decision he said was due in part to circumstance (his various collaborators were busy with other projects) and in part by design (he wasn’t sure what direction the music might take, and the shifting players allowed for more sonic exploration).

In the last year or so, however, the Columbus band’s lineup has stabilized, anchored by a three-guitar attack that Scott said has given new energy to the songs on villagerrr’s forthcoming record, Tear Your Heart Out (Darling Recordings), which the five-piece will celebrate with a release show at Cafe Bourbon St. on Saturday, March 23, accompanied by Mukiss, Julianna Money and Wished Bone.

“I think there’s a lot of room to explore, because the recordings, a lot of them are more subdued,” Scott said via Zoom in early March, days before departing for a series of shows at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “And now when we play, we have three guitars and bass and drums. So sometimes we’re really firing on all cylinders where it's like, ah, maybe this song doesn’t need to bust everybody’s eardrums or whatever. It’s still a work in progress, I think.”

The more reserved nature of Tear Your Heart Out is reflective of the subject matter, with a number of the shambolic, roots-indebted songs centering on those almost imperceptible moments that can cause tensions in a relationship, developing over time into yawning chasms. It’s a divide best evidenced by the album-closing “River Ain’t Safe,” on which a pair of onetime lovers find themselves on opposite banks of a deep, tumbling river, hearts filled with regret but no way to mend the fissure. “I remember the way it felt with you staring up at me,” Scott sings, later adding, “The great river that runs between us welling/It ain’t safe anymore.”

The musician attributed this lyrical outpouring in part to having reached an age where life leads to a natural distancing from longtime friends, coupled with the lingering echoes of past romantic relationships. But the album draws its power from Scott’s ability to tease out these big, conflicted emotions by homing in on microscopic details – a sideways glance, a question left unanswered, the ache of loneliness that can strike like a gut shot in the middle of the night and leave one momentarily paralyzed in bed. 

“I don’t know if a lot of people feel this way, but the last few years, for me, it’s been hard to shut off my brain,” said Scott, 26, who first started taking songwriting seriously at age 20, inspired by the likes of Mac DeMarco and Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek, a musician he now dismisses as “a piece of crap” in light of the sexual misconduct allegations against him that have surfaced in the years since. “So, sometimes I’m just focusing on what’s right in front of me, tuning out the broader spectrum of events that are happening in my life, or that are surrounding me and my friends. Not to be too depressing or existential, but sometimes it’s nice to focus on what’s in front of you and then work out from there.”

In that way, songwriting can almost serve as a survival mechanism, at times, allowing Scott to narrow in on those things on which he might be able to maintain at least some grip while the larger world slips deeper into chaos. “I find it hard to express how I’m feeling in words a lot of the time, and it’s nice to be alone and get lost in the sauce with my guitar,” Scott said, and laughed. “I don’t know. I’m being stupid. But it is cathartic for me to make songs, whether they’re completely true or I’m just making up some story. And, really, I think my favorite part of writing is layering all of the instruments and seeing how a song can come together. It’s almost like a puzzle, placing things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It gives me some sense of control. It feels purposeful.”

In the past, Scott has taken a sketchbook-like approach to recording, writing and releasing tracks at a head-spinning pace, including three albums and an EP in 2022 alone. “I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I do fall into that camp of people where the less I know about a song the better,” he said.

But in working with a record label for the first time on Tear Your Heart Out, Scott slowed his pace, giving the songs additional time to develop. The bulk of the songs on the album were recorded more than a year ago, with the mastering taking place last summer, and Scott said the additional time has allowed a degree of scar tissue to develop, where these songs feel less “on the surface” than they typically do in the run up to a show. “And it might be better for my mental health to play with that bit of space between,” he added.

Regardless, the raw, emotional power of the songs remains undimmed, with Scott’s narrators pausing to survey the accumulated emotional wreckage (“Come and look at what you’ve done,” he sings on “Neverrr Everrr”), struggling to find a place in which they fit (“Barn Burnerrr,” a lovingly creaky tune more reserved than its title might suggest) and trying desperately to hold to relationships that are coming steadily unfurled.

“Gave my everything,” Scott sings on “Cry On,” a hazy, melancholic strummer. “And now you wanna take some more.” 

Though at times heavy, the album is frequently disarming, awash in moments of disquieting lyrical catharsis and musical beauty. Even “River Ain’t Safe,” which serves as a definitive parting of ways, closes with a gorgeous piano coda that echoes the feel of something akin to peace settling in.

“It’s a sad song, but it’s also pretty, and I wanted to balance that sadness,” Scott said. “It’s hard to know when things are happening if they’re good or bad or whatever. You kind of need time to zoom out and look around.”

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