Journal Entries: Cashmere Washington's reflective new collection provides a therapeutic outlet for the Ypsi singer-songwriter
The Ypsilanti indie rocker eloquently tackles the challenges of relationship abuse, childhood trauma, gender, and identity across six insightful, therapeutic tracks on their new EP, which is part of an ongoing series of journaling-like songs that started as ‘therapy homework’ from my therapist to just write six letters to the people who hurt me and I wanted to let go of," said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who is also the hip-hop beatmaker guero. "After I wrote the first four in a week, I liked them so much I couldn’t stop writing."
Backed by raw electric guitars, thumping drums, and roaming bass, The Shape of Things to Come is a powerful outlet to show Washington's inner strength and powerful voice while acknowledging and shedding long-term guilt and shame.
“Since the EP came out, I’ve felt good for the most part," they said. "Of course, some songs are difficult songs some days, so I do take breaks from the songs from the series sometimes. But I’m glad I’m making space to house those moments and feelings. And I have a song to sing when I need to feel those things, and I don’t have to carry them around all the time.
“I spent 20-plus years never talking about my childhood, honestly, so singing ‘Another Forest Drive’ and talking candidly about my life without apologizing felt amazing, even if it was to a microphone. There is so much guilt that goes in moments like that, so I avoided them. Shape is a victory lap because I never gave myself permission to tell those stories with full honesty.”
Washington’s therapeutic journaling starts with the ruminative, hip-hop-leaning, guitar-driven opener, “Another Forest Drive,” which boldly addresses a family’s struggle to accept a child’s sense of identity: “Hey dad, I don’t mean to be a bother / Your son just came out as your daughter / Mom hits me, can I have another?”
“Last spring, I rode my bike for hours around my hometown and freestyled," said Washington, who grew up in Midland, Michigan, which is about 30 miles northwest of Saginaw, and named the track after J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive album. "I had this line about the world needing ‘queer music that feels like bar mitzvah bangers,’ and the 'Forest Drive' came out of that.
“A few of my friends heard that song and called me and told me what it meant to them immediately. A few of my friends have mentioned, ‘It’s like the way they wish they saw those events, but now they have a song to dance about when they think about those moments and don’t have to just cry about them.”
On the propulsive jammer “Second Wind (Coming Round the Bend),” Washington shifts their focus away from family and toward strained friendships and sings, “And I don’t need some excuse / To stand in my truth / Got nothing to prove to you.”
“The EP really tries to tackle toxic/unbalanced relationships and how they take different forms," Washington said. "‘Second Wind’ is about a series of really toxic platonic friendships where I never felt non-binary enough or queer enough.
“As cheesy as it sounds, most of the emotional lifting that went into this particular song was already done before I wrote it. The song is more of a promise to not go back to any of those situations again.”
Washington reiterates that self-promise on the honest, gritty closer, “Everything,” as a fiery electric guitar echoes a courageous sentiment: “Don’t know why / I just apologized / For you being so horrible / You’re everything, I’m nothing / You’re everything I’m not.”
“The EP closes with a song that was originally intended to be a letter to me, but I love how it can be read in so many ways," Washington said. "I thought it was important to be honest with myself, especially with regarding trauma and how I am somewhat personally responsible for these cycles continuing.
“It was definitely a weird, cathartic experience for me. It was written on a day I had to force myself out of bed and into my childhood room to meet my self-imposed art quota for the day. I did so many takes of the song, but I settled on the final version because it felt super imperfect.”
Those imperfect, authentic responses inspired Washington to outline the words and chords for their six tracks on The Shape of Things to Come. They sought creative inspiration from Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Ornette Coleman’s 1959 album, The Shape of Jazz to Come.
“To Kill a Mockingbird, in particular, was a big influence on the EP," Washington said, "because the story is about a kid facing evils of the world and all she can do is recall those moments. I respect the novel because it allows the reader to come to their own conclusions at the same time the narrator does.
“The Shape of Jazz to Come is more of a statement than anything. For me, it’s like, ‘This is me. Feel however you want to.’ I spent so much of my life trying to make others feel comfortable with my life experiences, so it was everything I wanted to embody with my art.”
Washington’s tracks started as home demos, but quickly morphed into live recordings at Grand Blanc’s Rooftop Recording with David Roof. Washington and Roof spent four days recording and mixing the EP while simultaneously bonding over Neumann microphones and other studio gear.
“I think a big part was we were always ahead of schedule. We both checked our egos at the door, and he stayed committed to making the songs the best they could be,” Washington said.
The Shape of Things to Come serves as a companion release to Treehouse Sessions, a new live acoustic-based set of recordings with Evan Haywood at Ann Arbor’s Black Ram Tree House. It also represents the first EP in a three-part series, which will include a diversity of genres and songwriting styles.
“These songs are pulling from my full-blown obsession with romantic comedies, and the EP explores how to move forward after tough situations," said Washington, who’s studying creative writing and new media at Eastern Michigan University. "The Shape of Things to Come was more improvised and loose in terms of overall construction [while] the new songs explore tighter songwriting styles."
Washington plans to call their next release Almost Country for Old Men, Electro Country for They/Them, to play off Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s 2007 film, No Country for Old Men, due to the songs’ cinematic, dark quality.
“I’m hoping to put the songs out before the end of the year around the same time as a split [release] that I’m super honored to be a part of," Washington said. "School is wrapping up for me soon, and I’m really excited to focus on Cashmere after that."
Lori Stratton is an Ann Arbor-based writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.