09 Nov Courtney Seely, on Motherhood, Shifting Soundscapes and Creating ‘Future Self’
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
I already knew, having played a show with melodic Connecticut indie synth-rock trio Green Light, that their music is lyrically rich, sonically layered, and deeply cerebral. Yet I still made the amateur mistake of playing the song “Future Self” for the first time while running on a high school track.
Only a few seconds into the title track for the band’s current album, which came out in October, I felt compelled to slow down and listen. Green Light frontwoman Courtney Seely’s airy, emotive voice — which possesses a bit of a Stevie Nicks vibe — captured my attention and captivated me right from the start, as she launched into the song about the bittersweet process of moving forward.
But it wasn’t simply the poetic depth of the “formidable shift to a new destination” that drew me in. It was the way Courtney simultaneously expressed fear and self-assuredness in her vocal delivery, within a melodic, moody backdrop of keyboards and fuzzy, synthesized beats, which gathered momentum as the song moved toward the chorus:
“Cause I can’t let go without control/
This rope just holds me down/
And I can’t break free
From this version of me
When this rope, it holds me down”
I’m a professional writer — yet it’s a struggle to find the right words that can encapsulate the emotional catharsis within the song’s 5 minutes and 19 seconds — so you’ll have to just trust me on this one. And while you’re on Spotify (or iTunes, Amazon Music, or whatever), be sure to listen to the band’s entire catalogue. That’s the only way you’ll be able to truly absorb the genius of Green Light, the only band I’ve ever met that’s formed by mental health professionals — Seely (vocals, piano), Bill Cox (keyboards, synthesizer), and drummer Dan Coca-Ducach.
The 11-track Future Self also offers an abundance of light, joyful, and even flirty songs, including my personal favorite, “Comin’ for Ya,” the perfect accompaniment for that jog I eventually resumed. Another track, “Fireflies,” is delicate and pretty and the kind of song I’d share with my hopeful 10-year-old self (or my future self, to be fair!). There are others, too, like the minimalist piano ballad “Unspoken” that highlight the trio’s versatility.
By the time I reached the end of the 11-track album, “Heavy Like the Sand,” I couldn’t help but wonder, how does Courtney balance real-world demands — the grueling hustle of indie-band life (for two bands!), marriage, motherhood, and a challenging career — yet come into every song sounding refreshed and poised to deliver?
We recently caught up with Courtney to ask about this and more.
Rockmommy: Hi Courtney! For those who are unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe your style?
Courtney Seely: My musical style is primarily in the alternative, indie, pop, electro pop arenas. That is where my interests lie and my writing style is heavily influenced by that. As a bandmate I am really open to many genres, ideas, and styles. I love trying new things and hearing what others bring in based on their influences.
I started playing piano at 5. I picked up the guitar — with the help of my dad — in high school and began writing songs almost immediately. I never did a ton of collaborating in high school so it was just me and a guitar or me and a piano but I began playing at the school talent show and things like that. I played some with a friend in college as well but after that put down music for a long time. Throughout that time my now husband, Tyler, was playing in a local band so I spent a fair amount of time at local shows with him. It wasn’t until around 2014, 2015 or so that I began to get back into it.
Rockmommy: Who are your inspirations in the sound world?
Courtney Seely: Aside from my friends and family in the music scene who probably inspire me most of all, I am inspired by Lorde, Chvrches, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, Brandi Carlisle, Phoebe Bridgers, and recently got into the band Dizzy.
Rockmommy: Let’s talk about that new Green Light record. The title track ‘Future Self’ is intense and unforgettable. Can you tell us about this song, and how it set the tone as the title track for the rest of the record?
Courtney Seely: Yes — that’s the exact sentiment the song brings for us so I am glad that translates so well to the listener. This song is about the discomfort that comes from seeing things change in your life, and finding the courage to trust yourself. It set the tone for the record in that this album deals with a lot of change, ultimately resulting in this letting go of control and a need to trust yourself in the process. It was one of the earlier songs written for the record and we felt the meaning allows the listener to embark on a process of letting go and seeing where the ride takes you.
Rockmommy: Do you come up with the lyrics, or collaborate with Bill and Dan?
Courtney Seely: Bill and I primarily collaborate on the lyrics and music for our songs. We don’t have one consistent format. There have been songs he writes all of the lyrics for, and vice versa. With music it’s similar. I’d say one of the most unique things on this record was that many of the songs that I wrote lyrics for (“Comin’ For Ya”, “Heads”, “Move You”, “Unspoken”) started with a melody and lyrics that I shared with Bill (without music) and he took those and added what he felt fit nicely on piano and they grew from there!
Rockmommy: How is this album an extension of — or different than — some of your past recordings?
Courtney Seely: I think it is definitely both. It’s different from The Days in that Future Self took a lot longer as we really wanted to spend time crafting and shaping these songs. Some were older songs we reworked to include with this collection, and many new. The Days was written very quickly, comparatively — within a couple of months — and was all created within that timeframe, mostly remotely! I’d record my parts at home and send to Bill and he’d magically put it all together. With Future Self we were happy to be able to get back together and record in person — it’s a completely different experience.
Rockmommy: I recall you and your Green Light bandmates telling me about you are all mental health professionals. Is this how you met?
Courtney Seely: Yes! Bill and I are both therapists and Dan works with folks who have neurodevelopmental disabilities. We all met along the path of our careers — Dan and Bill first at a previous job, and Bill and I later at our job at a mental health agency.
Rockmommy: What influence does your work in the mental health world have on the music you create with Green Light?
Courtney Seely: I think it has a large influence. We are a reflective bunch, always thinking about how we impact our world, how things impact us, so all of that reflection in our personal lives and in our work lives lead to a lot of great content for songs! It’s also such a needed outlet for us all. We all work hard and play hard — so this band is a great way for us to move through the stuckness of whatever is happening around us.
Rockmommy: I noticed you and embarked on another musical endeavor, The Sparkle and Fade (with husband Tyler, sister Lindsey Callahan and brother-in-law is Jeff Callahan). How did that band blossom? Are you recording soon?
Courtney Seely: Yes! This group formed about a year ago during the pandemic. My husband started writing some of his own songs and asked me and my sister and brother-in-law to join him in the process. We actually completed our album during that time, called “Find A Way” and released it in June 2021. I primarily wrote lyrics on that album and played some keys and synth.
What started as just an album project turned into a whole group! In November 2020 we brought on a bass player, TJ Chalfant, and drummer, Joe Onofrio and we’ve played 3 shows so far.
Rockmommy: How do you balance a full-time career with music and motherhood? What have you had to let go of, or adjust to, to make it work?
Courtney Seely: My son is now 8 ½ which is wild to think about! The balance is…hard. As I said in other places, the music outlet is almost essential to me in terms of keeping my sanity, so I work hard to make that happen! I have a weekly practice with Green Light where we get to work on new material, rehearse for shows, or just jam. The beautiful thing about playing around here is there are a bunch of places that my son can join in the fun. He often comes to see us at local farmers’ markets, outdoor venues, and it’s pretty much infused in his being now!
I don’t think he remembers a time when I wasn’t playing in a band, so it’s just a part of our lives now, which is really nice.
All of that said, it means giving up some time — like weekend nights when we have gigs. We are lucky to have our parents close by so Griffin loves spending time with them and they are a huge support without which I don’t know this would work.
I’m also fortunate to have a flexible job which makes it possible for me to join in the mom things at school and to be home with him in the mornings and evenings. Our families are very supportive as well — and mine even all play in a cover band together, Almost the Whole Damn Family. So they all understand!
Rockmommy: Is it frustrating or hard at all being a woman with responsibilities, fully adulting, trying to create a fanbase and make music? I think it is! Just wondering if you can relate?
Courtney Seely: Yes! I agree! As a career woman, a mother, and musician, I always carry guilt! It’s hard to let go of that and not want to be everywhere and doing everything all at once or to feel the pressure that I should be doing that.
I think women have a ton of pressure to be everything for their families, at work, and in their social lives. I’m a huge proponent of rest and making things manageable. As a group, I think we do a great job of not overbooking ourselves and respecting our personal schedules so that there is never a feeling of the group being burdensome. I also have a very supportive family who are essential in helping me get it all done.
Rockmommy: When can people see you play out live? (Tell us about your ‘future self’ gigs!)
Courtney Seely: Our future selves in Green Light will be playing on 12/10/21 at the Cellar with Private Language and Audio Jane! We actually collaborated with Ryan Sindler from Private Language on “Face the Sun,” a track on our album “The Days” so there could be some special treats at this show. You won’t want to miss this one…if you haven’t seen these other amazing bands you should come out!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.