By Christopher Treacy & Chelsea Silva
Australian newcomer Chelsea Silva captures the essence of inner confusion on her new single, “Frontline,” our new Song of the Week in the current CQ Roundup. She does so by shifting the voice in the song between different perceptions or vantage points, as she explains below. The result is a portrait of mental illness told from both the interior and exterior, replete with penetrating images and some beautiful singing. It’s powerful, and while the song doesn’t quite fit into a standard pop format, it’s also got a subtle folk-pop hook that calls you back for repeated listens. Silva was kind enough to parse out the song a little with us earlier this week.
The writing style on “Frontline” seems impressionistic – little vignettes. Perhaps told from multiple vantage points. Is this how you prefer to write?
This is definitely how I like to write my songs, as it tells multiple stories in one. This song has many different subtexts, but the defining story is that of mental illness and an inner battle one might go through in their mind. Subtexts can include—but are not limited to—having a disagreement with someone you love, feeling lost and hopeless when you used to feel safe, feeling like what you have known or who you have known is a lie, being regretful of a past mistake, etc. Your own experiences in life can show the unlimited potential of what this song may mean for you.
There’s a battle going on within the song. It sounds to me like one person’s interior thinking versus the version of themselves they’re showing the world and a third voice that could be the outside world’s perception of that person. All warring for the truth, which is in a state of flux. Does that come even close?
You hit the nail on the head there! It’s definitely a war against oneself, the world around them and the person they show to protect themselves. While “Frontline” can definitely include the subtexts as mentioned before, this song can also show how one can hide behind their façade and the wall they put up in order to limit the damage. At the end of the day, “Frontline” can also be someone begging for the raw, honest truth. It can be about themselves, the world and what the world may think of you.
Structurally, the song resists a standard verse/chorus format. Those elements are there, but they’re parsed out in an unusual way, reminiscent of Laura Nyro’s style. What about the song demanded that musical treatment? Were there other songs or artists you were channeling or thinking about when you were working on it?
The song does have a little element of verse/chorus but it’s not quite the same as what we’re used to. It’s a way to slightly rebel against the standard way of writing, much like rebelling against the standard way of dealing with mental illness. It can also represent a new way of living that we are not used to through the symptoms of mental illness. Honestly though, I didn’t have a song or an artist’s inspiration in mind. I held onto what I was feeling and thinking and musically turned it into the song you hear now. Texts, images or songs that are similar to “Frontline” are completely coincidental!
Mental health is the topic of the day, and with good reason: our culture has moved in a direction that’s damaging to emotional wellbeing. There’s no downtime, no off button, no escape. The world encroaches on everything. You really have to work at achieving some privacy and peace of mind. But at the same time, we’re talking about mental health so much and diagnosing it and labeling it. I wonder if we’re almost becoming too hyperaware of it. There’s a danger in looking at everything through a clinical lens, don’t you think?
Exactly. We’re always on the go, and we can’t necessarily blame ourselves for that, either. I know that I’m the type of person that, when I have ‘downtime’ from work or my career, I feel so much guilt. I thought that being hyperaware of my own mental illnesses was a bad thing until I thought about it from another angle. If you’re self-aware of your own destructive patterns, behaviors, the reasons why they’re there, triggers that make them worse and the knowledge of how to help yourself, that can be more helpful than not knowing anything at all. “Frontline” has the ability to represent that.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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