Natural Tendencies: Chris DuPont Shares Honest and Vulnerable Stories on “Fragile Things” EP
Chris DuPont didn’t go into making his new EP with a plan.
Instead, the Ypsilanti indie-folk singer-songwriter opted to write and record what came to him naturally.
“I just thought, ‘These songs are close to me.’ I didn’t have as much of an elevator pitch this time. It felt like a relief because sometimes I hide behind the elevator pitch. Sometimes I hide behind [this idea of], ‘Oh, this is what I’m about as an artist, and this is what I’m trying to say,’” said DuPont about Fragile Things.
“And instead, I just decided I’m gonna cut the crap and let people have it, and I hope they respond to it. If they don’t, then I will still know that those stories needed to get out of me for me to be OK.”
What resulted are five intimate songs about the trajectory of relationships and the vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom that come with them. On Fragile Things, DuPont shares those tales through emotive vocals, atmospheric folk-pop instrumentation, and ambient soundscapes.
“When I play them and share them, the consensus tends to be like, ‘Someone’s going to get something out of this,’” he said.
“When I play them live, they connect quickly—usually better than I expect. One thing I’m learning is that I think it’s just my job to create and not treat them like they belong to me as much.”
I recently spoke to DuPont about writing songs for his new EP, creating videos for the title track, recording the EP at multiple studios, preparing for a November 17 EP release show, and collaborating with Kylee Phillips on a duet EP.
Q: Your new EP, Fragile Things, takes an autobiographical and vulnerable approach to songwriting. How did you explore that mindset while writing the five tracks for it?
A: When you write a little collection of songs that’s all about relationships, many of which are going wrong, it can feel very self-indulgent. One thing I grapple with as an artist is that I want to be someone who is about something. If you asked me, “What is your music about? What are you trying to do to make a difference?” Most records I’ve been able to say, “There’s a story about this record.” Outlier was about me grappling with my faith and how I was going to contextualize it. Floodplains is more about grappling with my mortality, my weird personality, and what it looks like when a family changes shape.
As you can tell by these songs, it took me much longer to find my way. Coming out of the personal crises I was going through in 2019 and straight into the pandemic, I decided, “Well, the stories here are a little unhinged, but let’s share them and see if they land.”
Q: “Fragile Things” examines the challenges of sharing your true feelings in a relationship, especially one that’s struggling to stay afloat. How did writing this track help you recognize the fragility of that relationship and provide you with some closure?
A: It’s about a relationship that was failing. I didn’t write it as a breakup song at the time. I wrote it thinking and just admitting, “This is hard.” I think it’s silly to be in a relationship and not admit that it can be hard. We are all this walking collection of painful memories, and it’s so easy to bump one. It’s just so easy to take someone the wrong way or hear something the wrong way.
That’s what I was reflecting on in that song … and it was a little bit of looking at myself with some critique. [In the song], I talk a lot about the fact that I live largely in my own head, and in the bridge it says, “If love could be more than my willingness to bend / Could you help me see it?” After I got divorced, I looked at myself, and I was like, “Well, clearly, I’ve just proven to the world that I can’t make it work.” So now, I need to prove to myself that I can be self-sacrificial and that I can go with the flow of someone else’s agenda. I honestly just went too far in the opposite direction and stopped ever having my own opinion.
I was trying to take a look at myself more in a relationship and understand why I kept bumping into the same problems over and over again. The encounter that inspired that song ended up not working out. I felt like walking out of that situation and having that song felt like something that I could look at that helped me understand this quite clearly. It was a big moment of self-reflection. I was just trying to make sense of how I operate in a relationship, acknowledging that it’s going to be hard, and I wanted someone who could be down for that.
Q: You recorded and released a video for “Fragile Things” in collaboration with Exterior Night’s Mathew Pimental and Jona Kalaj. How did they help bring the vulnerability of the track to life visually in your car and in downtown Ferndale?
A: Jona had seen my shows a bunch back when Cultivate was open. She had already been aware of what I do, and I sent Jona and Mathew a mood board. I said, “Here’s some stuff I like, and I’ve been really into The Paper Kites, Night Traveler, and these ‘80s-revival indie-rock bands.”
There were a lot of moody night shots, and Mathew and Jona said, “We called our company Exterior Night for a reason.” The car idea was Mathew’s idea; he goes in with a plan, but he also does a lot of discovery. He said, “I want you to sit in your car just lightly singing it and thinking,” and then he shined a light through my moonroof and played with shadow. It ended up being very fitting with the lyrics. He could tell by those lyrics that it was meant to be consumed singing it at your dashboard quietly.
There are also these cool moments in the city [of Ferndale] where people are walking past me and looking back. That’s because the song is a looking back, and it ended up being a lot of fun.
Q: You and Kylee Phillips recorded a live acoustic performance video of three tracks, including “Fragile Things,” with Robby Fisher at Dogtown Studio in Grand Rapids. How did Robby capture the intimate feel of that performance in the videos?
A: The studio looks great, it sounds great, and it’s a very easy room to sing in. [Robby] set up microphones and turned on a little bit of amplified sound coming back. He’s such a warm person to be around … and he got the songs. We walked away with three videos that sounded killer. I’m hoping the people who listen to me will tune back in … but all three of them were a lot of fun to make. It looks like a very deep and big space, but it’s not a large room. He does some real magic with lighting, and he’s a great audio guy, too. He was excited about the songs, and he had the edits done the next morning.
Q: “Heights” spotlights sacrificing yourself for another in a relationship, accepting its demise, and seeing the outcome differently in hindsight. How was writing this track cathartic for you?
A: I had this little guitar riff that I was excited about. Since I’m getting older ... sometimes I sleep on my wrists, and I get hand pain. I remember writing this riff, and I was so excited about it, but it also hurt to play it, so I titled it, “I Wrecked My Wrists.” Then I was going through voice memos trying to find a project to work on, and then I thought, “Oh, that can be the first line of the song.”
It came from that weird working title of my hand hurting while I played guitar. Since the change in my family shape and having a marriage end, I felt like I had shown myself that I couldn’t sacrifice. I couldn't hold something together and fight for it. I think I made the mistake in the years following of fighting for things that weren’t mine and that weren’t for me. I think that did damage to me—and in many cases—did damage to the other person involved. I have this desire to prove myself and prove that I can stick it out for people, I can bend, and I can adjust. I think a lot of times I end up losing myself. I think this is a song about looking back on nearly losing yourself, but also realizing that, “I’m a father, and if I lose myself, I’ve lost everything.”
In many ways, the song is a sigh of relief, and in many ways, it’s like a warning to myself. It’s like, “Be careful because you have a responsibility to these two people in front of you, and you can’t afford to take your attention off them in situations that aren’t for you.”
Q: “Annie Lindbergh” reveals the growing passion and love for another as well as sharing those feelings with them. How did the relationship of Odysseus and Penelope and the friendships of Carole King and James Taylor and Anne Lindbergh and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry inspire this track for you? How does this track also serve as an important reminder to go after what’s most important in life?
A: With this song, I wanted to find those unmet loves or unmet attractions. I remember thinking about it because this beautiful thing was starting to blossom in my life. [At first,] we referenced Once with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. I remember as a young man loving the tragedy and thinking, “He was just what she needed at that one time.” The older I get, the more I think, “OK, that’s cool, but I’m not interested in that anymore. I don’t want to be the tragic what-if guy.” That is a form of love in many narratives … but just think how more rewarding and fulfilling life can be when you choose something. I had their names originally in the song, but it was very ugly to sing and it didn’t work, but that was the initial spark.
I thought, “What are some tragic loves that I can think of?” I just wanted to think of as many examples of that as I could, and Annie Lindbergh and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry are definitely the most obscure. I was torn because I was going to name it “Carole King” because of Carole King and “Baby James.” I don’t know why I named it “Annie Lindbergh,” but I just thought that was the most interesting name. It wasn’t like any one of those references was the most important, but the overall idea of the near misses was. It’s a love song that had to be a little thinky. The story that the song's about did lead to a very happy ending. I think it was my way of trying to subvert and be like, “Hey, we all know about near misses and the one that got away. How about we not do that? How about you don’t get away and let’s just see where this goes.”
It also represents some growth on my part, and it was like, “Hey, I’m less interested in tragedy now. I’m more interested in building a life and showing up for it.” I think that song is the soundtrack for that change in my life.
Q: How long did you spend writing the five tracks for Fragile Things?
A: “Aviator” is the oldest and that was written in the middle of 2020; Floodplains was in post-production and everything overlapped there. Then it went: “Fragile Things,” “Take Me for a Long Drive,” and “Annie Lindbergh.” “Heights” is the newest one.
Q: You recorded Fragile Things in multiple locations, including your home studio, Solid Sound Recording, and Big Sky Recording. What was it like to work with Eric Wojahn at Solid Sound Recording on several of the EP’s tracks?
A: A lot of my records have been worked out in multiple places. I scheduled time at Solid Sound mostly to back myself into a corner. Since I have a studio now … and I’ve done things on a handful of other records down here, going to work and making music downstairs is very easy.
But showing up—even to my own workstation—was overwhelming, and I would book time at Solid Sound so that I could just get the bones of the song down and have someone there in the room who was a brain outside of mine. Eric [Wojahn] has been with me for a long time, so he knows me well. He would set up microphones and help me get the right guitar tones.
For “Fragile Things” and an early draft of “Annie Lindbergh,” he cut the vocals for me, set me up with a nice microphone, and gave me a lot of feedback in terms of what he wanted to hear. For “Fragile Things,” we ended up keeping that vocal and that main guitar line, but for “Annie Lindbergh” we didn’t. It wasn’t because we didn’t get good footage; we got a great take of that song at Solid, but that song has been performed in many keys. I couldn’t decide if it wanted it to be higher or lower, and I had a vision for it where it sat in a vulnerable, but high spot. We did that at Solid, and I took it home and I spent months fighting the song.
Finally, I could almost hear the song say, “Stop fighting me.” I dropped the key drastically to the point where the vocal was almost a whisper, and it made the instruments darker. It’s a lower key, so the guitars are warmer and the upright piano and electric guitar were pitch-shifted drastically down.
Drums for “Aviator” and “Take Me for a Long Drive” were done at Solid in January 2022. It was like, “I’ve got these couple of songs; they’re a little rockier.” I needed to get out of my head and get into the studio.
Q: How did “Heights” take shape at Big Sky Recording with Geoff Michael for Fragile Things?
A: Later in the process when we were working on “Fragile Things,” and “Heights” was newly written, we went and did some stuff at Big Sky. You can also get some pretty cool drum results there. The big, snappy drums in “Heights” and that big, cracking snare … so Geoff Michael said, “Hey, you can tell that a lot of songwriters are nervous about trying [stuff]. Can we try some stuff?” He put a microphone in the hallway, so that when you hear the snare, you’re also hearing this splashy [sound]. He said, “Are you sure you want to do this, it’s a folk record. I think it’s exciting.” And I said, “I think it’s very exciting; let’s totally do it!” We can thank Geoff and Billy [Harrington] for the kooky pop-rock drum sound on “Heights.”
Q: You frequently collaborate with Billy Harrington on your projects as well as projects you produce for other artists. How did Billy’s drumming help elevate your five tracks on Fragile Things?
A: I don’t think I can ever do a record without Billy, and most records I engineer, he’s playing on. He brings a lot to the table creatively, but also emotionally. He gets the tunes; he cares. Sometimes, he’ll even do Pro Tools comps and edits for me. He’ll always come over and listen, and we’ll often do our edits together. He cares a great deal about the whole process, and he’s very loyal to the whole thing.
Q: You also had Brad Phillips play violin on “Annie Lindbergh.” What did he help bring to that track?
A: Brad just gets it. Brad and I are cut from a similar cloth emotionally and musically. He just connected with “Annie Lindbergh” so much; he was just so familiar with the song and what it wanted to do. Half of the time, he’s singing it and playing it on his acoustic guitar at his shows, so he knows the bones of the song well. Writing the string parts for it was just an extension.
Q: Kylee Phillips sings backing vocals on four out of the five tracks for Fragile Things. How did her vocals blend so seamlessly with yours on those songs?
A: Working with Kylee is fabulous; I’ve admired her for a long time. We met in 2013 on a radio show, and I heard her and said, “Holy cow! I’ve never heard anyone this developed.” We would share bills all the time, and we had a great rapport with one another.
She offered years ago to do backing vocals for me, and I didn’t do it because I felt like I hadn’t earned it yet. I was like, “Are you kidding? I should be backing you up.” Finally, I mustered up the courage to ask her to play with me, and then we just hit it off. I play on her music and she plays on mine. I feel like the actual part of having her sing on the record was a relatively simple and quick thing.
She just sat down in a chair next to me with an SM7 [microphone] in her hands and just said, “OK, I’ll sing back up.” We took a couple of hours, and she just knocked it out. I think her voice on the record is very special. I think where I see her touch on the record most though is talking through songs, talking through lyrics, and talking through arrangements. Her ear and her opinions as an artist left a big mark on the record that I don’t think anyone but me is going to fully understand. She’s been there since these were baby demos. She acted as a big emotional support and that was at least as important as the vocals. By the time we tossed her vocals in, I said, “Well, the song’s done now because our vocals just like each other.”
Q: You’re playing an EP release show on November 17 at The Valley at Frutig Farms in Ann Arbor. What do you have planned for the show? Who will be joining you on stage for it?
A: I had this image in my mind of playing the EP straight through, but I think it would make way more sense to intersperse those songs with favorites. I think we’ll do a big mix, and I’m going to do a solo portion in the middle. I’m going to have Kylee Phillips on backing vocals, Johannes Stauffer on keys, Nate Veldhoff on bass, Tony Pace on guitar, Brad Phillips on violin, and Nate Zuellig on drums.
Q: What’s up next for you? Any plans for additional live shows later this year? What about plans for new material?
A: Kylee and I are playing at The Starlight Room in Muskegon on November 18. We also have a couple of support dates with Vienna Teng in December—one in Kent, Ohio on December 14 and one in Evanston, Illinois on December 16. We love her and her work. She’s doing these cool climate action workshops followed by shows.
In December, Kylee and I will be going straight back into the studio because we’re going to do a duet EP, which will come out in the spring.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.