“Love Triangle,” the first single RaeLynn released in her new recording deal with Warner Music Nashville (WMN), already has a reputation, despite the fact that it’s only now being revealed to the mainstream country audience.
Programmers were introduced to the song when she made it a regular part of her set during a radio-promotion tour in 2013. And the demo was circulated among Nashville songwriters, becoming a de facto calling card inside the industry before the song ever made its way into the real world.
“I’ve been living in Nashville for four years, and this song gets brought up to me at least every other day,” says RaeLynn. “Songwriter friends will be like, ‘Oh my God, when are you going to put out “Love Triangle?” ’ It’s just been that song for me that really helped me get a lot of writing sessions and helped jump-start my writing career.”
For co-writers Nicolle Galyon (“Automatic,” “Saltwater Gospel”) and Jimmy Robbins (“Beachin’,” “Sure Be Cool If You Did”), “Love Triangle” has been a source of frustration, a song they thought could be important if only it was heard.
“I would take a bullet for this song,” says Galyon with a laugh.
“Love Triangle” could have been released earlier in a different format. RaeLynn recorded the first version of the song during her time at the Big Machine Label Group. And several other artists offered to record it when it was clear that hers was not destined for release. But RaeLynn insisted on keeping it for herself.
“If someone wants to cut one of my songs, that’s fine, but not ‘Love Triangle,’ ” she says. “ ‘Love Triangle’ is too special to me and hits home too much for me.”
Understandably. It’s her story.
Born in 1994, RaeLynn turned 3 the year her parents divorced. She lived with her mother throughout her youth, with the court allowing her father to have custody every other weekend. Her parents did their best not to take out their interpersonal issues on RaeLynn, but the tension still came through.
“I always felt like I was stuck in between my parents, relaying information back and forth and walking on egg shells, not knowing what was going to trigger something to make them mad and not knowing what to say in front of them,” she remembers. “I was feeling that way at like 6 and 7, you know, having all these emotions run through my head when I should have just been thinking about Barbie [dolls].”
All of that reared its head before a writing appointment with Galyon and Robbins on Jan. 8, 2013, and RaeLynn was in a foul mood when she arrived at Robbins’ home studio in Nashville.
“My mom and dad were blowing me up about the stupidest thing,” recalls RaeLynn. “Here I am, 18, don’t live with them, out on my own, the fact that we’re still at this point is stupid, and so I get to my writing session and they were like, ‘Have you had a good day?’ And I was like, ‘No, but it’s going to get better. Let’s write a fun song today.’ ”
RaeLynn brought up the title, which she envisioned as a flirty song about carrying on two relationships. But her situation with her parents overshadowed that idea.
“I don’t remember who said it, but one of us was like, ‘Well, that’s kind of a love triangle,’ ” says Robbins. “We all kind of got the tingles as soon as we had the idea, just because we hadn’t heard that turn of phrase with that perspective.”
They wrote the chorus first, contrasting the confusing triangle of a divorced family with the path of a more stable home: “Some mamas and daddies are loving in a straight line.”
“We could’ve overwritten the chorus pretty easily going into a shapes concept, things going in circles or being in a box,” notes Galyon. “But that just wasn’t real. I think we kept it as honest and raw as possible.”
When the chorus was completed, they turned to the verses, built around a moody line that Robbins invented on acoustic guitar. Galyon and RaeLynn adopted that progression for the melody, and they established the drama in that first verse, the daughter’s suitcase packed as she waits for Dad to pick her up for a weekend.
It moves into the pre-chorus with his arrival — she’s excited to leave with him, but heartbroken as she watches her mom wave goodbye: “I cry for her/Out the window.” Tellingly, the second pre-chorus reverses the scenario — she’s excited to come home to her mom, but heartbroken as she says goodbye to her father: “I cry for him/Out the window.”
“My dad would pick me up every other Friday at 6 o’clock and drop me off every Sunday at 6 o’clock, and I remember those last couple hours, like around 4 o’clock, my dad would get kind of sad because he knew that he was about to not see me for two more weeks,” says RaeLynn. “At the time, I didn’t understand, but now being married, I can’t imagine going through that.”
They used the bridge to introduce a new, hauntingly sad melody, but decided against matching any words to it.
“The song’s so heavy, I said, ‘Can we just do some “oooo’s” and let everybody breathe?’ ” recalls RaeLynn.
RaeLynn recorded it for Republic Nashville on April 29, 2013, but it never made it to market. Robbins suggests that he might have over-produced it — one version included a children’s choir. Plus it was the height of the bro-country era at the time, and sad family dramas were not quite the order of the day.
Big Machine “always looked at this song as being special,” says Robbins, “but it was a very different climate.”
When she parted ways with the label this spring, RaeLynn enlisted Robbins and Galyon to co-produce some new recordings, intent on making music without any label oversight. Robbins played all the basic tracks for a new version of “Love Triangle,” kicking it off with the acoustic guitar part, stacked twice, the tension palpable in its reverberations.
“I used a guitar where the strings haven’t been changed in about 10 years, so they’re very, very dead,” he says. “It makes you hear more of the finger movements and stuff.”
RaeLynn did the vocal part in roughly 40 minutes with Galyon overseeing the session during the week of April 4. Derek Wells added atmospheric guitar parts later, and Nir Z overdubbed the drums, which don’t enter until the second verse.
“Love Triangle” was key as RaeLynn shopped for a new label. Part of her attraction to WMN was the label’s commitment to the song, which it targeted as her first single in the new deal, announced June 7.
WMN vp A&R Scott Hendricks sat in with Robbins to jointly mix the final version, which went to radio via Play MPE on July 13. It hasn’t charted yet — no surprise, since the label isn’t officially seeking adds until Aug. 1. But Galyon is already psyched to see a song with potential cultural significance get its shot.
“There’s only room for someone to sing about this particular thing once every so often,” she says. “We’re just so thankful that this is the song that gets to be out right now and gets to speak to this topic.”
Numerous fans have already posted their approval of “Love Triangle” on social media, many referring to it as “my life.” As personal as it is for RaeLynn, she understands why they appreciate it.
“This song has changed my situation with my parents a lot,” she says. “And I want this song to do that for a lot of kids and raise awareness to parents, that y’all need to handle your stuff and leave the kids out of it.”