Defining love is one of the unspoken duties of songwriters across generations.
Depending on the source, love is a wonderful thing, love is a rose, love is thicker than water, or love is a many-splendored thing. Of course, thousands of songs about heartache suggest that even if love really is like oxygen — as was suggested by Sweet — we may not all be breathing the same air.
“Love looks like a cheesy, happy Disney World to some people,” Ingrid Andress reasons, “and love looks like a slow build to other people.”
Sometimes love looks different to the same person after they’ve gone through a breakup. Andress earned her first hit, the Grammy-nominated “More Hearts Than Mine,” with a storyline that imagined bringing a beau home to meet the parents. That song was about a real boyfriend, and he had not met her folks at the time she released it. The relationship eventually bit the dust.
“It was one of those random things where I was just like, ‘I don’t think this is working’ — which at the time seemed crazy, because we had been together for a minute,” she says. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’ll get back together.’ Like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ And then I met somebody new, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is like night-and-day difference. I think this was the thing that I was missing from this first one.’ ”
Andress and pop singer-songwriter Julia Michaels had been threatening to write together for a while, and when their schedules finally matched up, with an appointment at the home of Nashville songwriter-producer Sam Ellis (“Lady Like,” “What If I Never Get Over You”), the two women discovered they were at the same place in their dating cycles.
“Her and I had recently gotten out of bad relationships, and then we had both randomly just started falling in love with new people, so it was very organic,” Andress recalls. “We were telling our story and our journey to how we got there, because we both at the time we were just in such a happy place romantically.”
But not in a Disney-level happy place. The opening verses reflect on the bad relationship experiences — manipulation, gaslighting and jealousy — as if they had recorded parts of a visit with an analyst.
“The verses are like a full therapy session, for sure,” says Andress.
Conversations with a therapist are often unpredictable, and the “Feel Like This” writers were similarly unsure where the song was going. Ellis had developed a careful, vulnerable piano foundation, and it provided an appropriate framework to explore the unknown.
“It was just sort of a big pile of lyrics,” he says. “We had to find what the song wanted to be out of that.”
The verses got the most attention early, and a four-line pre-chorus, which occurs twice, makes a nifty transition from the verses’ contemplative look backward into the present-day enfoldment of this new, seemingly unprecedented relationship. But instead of an anthemic, I-see-stars celebration, the chorus offers restrained, sensible contentment.
“It’s kind of a low chorus,” says Ellis. “It lifts, but it doesn’t hit you huge, melodically. It’s just — the pocket is cool, and that’s what those two do so well.”
They struggled temporarily to find an appropriate tone for that section that would balance optimism with cautious realism. Ellis broke away for a bit to the kitchen, and when he returned, Andress and Michaels had eased into “homemade cookin’ ” and “backyard kissin’,” portraying love at a comfort-food level while working up to the vulnerability that it supports.
“I thought I knew what/ I knew what love was,” Andress sings at the chorus’ peak before a desperate admission: “Guess I didn’t know at all.” They still didn’t have a title, but as they tried to define this reassuring emotion, Michaels blurted the chorus’ defining line: “I think love’s supposed to feel like this.”
“Feel Like This” wasn’t the kind of bumper-sticker phrase that typically works for a country song title — “My songwriter brain would never allow that,” says Andress. “Sounds boring” — but it worked for this particular piece, hinting at its positivity without going over the top.
“We’re both emo songwriters,” Andress says, comparing her work to Michaels. “I thought we were going to write a sad song that day, and we did not.”
Rather than write a bridge, they left a section for some vocal inspiration after the second chorus. Ellis oversaw a demo built around piano and kick drum, and got Andress to lay down a lead vocal, which would ultimately become the performance that appears on the master recording, her voice cracking appropriately near the end of the chorus. She also ad-libbed atmospheric lines to create a bridge, essentially establishing a short space without lyrics that gives the listener time to absorb the psychological lessons that had already transpired.
“With Ingrid, it’s always awesome when we write,” says Ellis. “Sometimes we’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t have a bridge yet,’ so I’ll just kind of play through the song just to get a vocal down, and I’ll leave a big section where something could come up. Nine times out of ten, Ingrid will sing something that ends up being this whole new hook or this whole new melody.”
Ellis did more production work on it in the short run, finishing an estimated 70% of the production. But Andress was hardly ready to assemble her next project.
“It kind of got left in demo world for a couple of years while she was figuring out the next record,” he says. “Once we decided that this was going to go on the record, we kind of cracked open the session again and took inventory of where we wanted to go.”
Multi-instrumentalist Devin Malone and Ellis developed all the parts, with Malone adding both the suspenseful steel guitar and the weighty, melancholy cello. Ellis plucked single ganjo notes to provide subtle, spacious rhythmic enhancements in the second verse and to offset the mood a bit.
“The plucking was intentional,” Andress says. “It brings a lightness to the section. It keeps it elevated. It keeps it moving.”
Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville elevated “Feel Like This” to single status, releasing it to country radio via PlayMPE on Jan. 31. It’s accompanied by a motorcycle-themed video that matches the subtleties of the song’s emotional journey. Instead of a happily-ever-after fairytale, “Feel Like This” is an adult approach to the mysteries of relationships.
“Dark comes with light,” says Andress. “You can’t have one without the other, so this song feels true to me in balance. I relate to it because I want to know the gritty stuff before we get to the good stuff.”