Amy “Wyn” Doran has an eclectic and impressive experience with her craft, garnering a New England Music Award nomination for Female Performer of Year. She has performed in countless popular venues throughout Massachusetts and for multiple music groups—from Sofar Sounds to Podcast Garage—and has sung at the Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall. In 2018, she worked with singer-songwriter Ben Folds at a songwriting retreat in California. In her interview with Berklee Groove, the young musician discusses vulnerability, heartbreak and learning to embrace her creativity.
You’re driving down a narrow, foggy road lined with pine trees on a humid, stormy summer evening. It seems like something out of a memory, or a dream—but you can’t be sure. Rain splatters across your windshield, but the wipers quickly wash them away. You turn on your radio and a doleful, soothing song comes on that reminds you of everything you’ve just left behind. Your heart brags against your ribcage, tempting you to turn back, but you don’t. You can’t.
That’s the ambiance that comes to mind when listening to “Cigarettes,” the ethereal new track from singer-songwriter Amy “Wyn” Doran.
Doran was a student taking pre-med classes in Boston when she felt that something was inexplicably wrong. She couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that this was not her path to take.
That’s when she came to realize she was suffocating her artistic drive.
“I kind of laughed at it, but a deeper piece of me felt liberated,” Doran admits. “I went home, found a Craigslist ad, and that turned into finding my first collaborator and bandmate. We went on to write a couple albums together and we’ve toured, as well. From that point on, writing and performing original music have given me a thrill and craving I had never felt before. I haven’t looked back since.”
The musician, a native of Nashua, New Hampshire, has always had music as a part of her life. She enjoys that it is a universal connector; people from all different walks of life can unite behind the power of a song or a melody. “That’s just the coolest thing there is,” Doran adds. “It’s a thrill to be at a concert in a sea of strangers, all singing the same song because it carried you through some specific point of your life. Not only individually, but collectively. There’s really nothing else like it.”
Doran’s heavy new single, “Cigarettes,” is a vulnerable, haunting track that has been woven together with a raw, poignant sense of heartbreak. Her vocals—channeling the attitude of Alanis Morissette and the intensity of Amy Winehouse—carve out a touching narrative that delves into the personal topics of lost love and grief. With a ghostly instrumentation as her backdrop, Doran masterfully entices the listener with the powerful, desperation-laced line, “Did you mean it when you left?” The dark, soulful notes and tones lurking beneath each lyric spark a tangible intensity. The dashes of electronica sprinkled throughout the track add to its dreamlike sound.
Thematically, “Cigarettes” touches on the importance of love, but not necessarily the type of love that we think we want. “I didn’t understand the lyrical power when it came through me, but the tag of the song, 'for our love we do our best,' really made me think about how in our individual stories as humans, we must live our own truths. Sometimes what we must do as an individual won’t align with the people we want it to. That’s really rough, but it’s life, and I like to think we’re doing the best we can. The more I let this song take shape, the more I realize how much I needed that message—and maybe someone out there needs that message, too.”
Doran dug deep while organically building the nature of the song, something that she does often. “I had a bad argument and was driving away from it in tears,” she says. “After, I sat down with my guitar and a vocal harmonizer pedal I had never used. The chorus just poured out of me. I wanted the song to feel tense and haunting the way my emotions were washing over me. My songs come from the stories and times when I felt most alone, heartbroken, or confused by some of the more intense situations I’ve experienced. My songwriting has become an amazing outlet for times when I didn’t know what else to do with these emotions.”’
The record’s artwork rises to the occasion, impressively matching the drastic intensity her song features. “‘Cigarettes’ is the follow up to my first album, and it’s also a shift in sonic landscape. I wanted the artwork to demonstrate that shift,” Doran says. “I used some commonalities of the framing from my first singles, but wanted to incorporate some messier, dark electronic vibes into the art. I’ve had many medical complications and my artwork often incorporates body scans from my times in and out of the ER, so I used some textures of that to demonstrate the vulnerability of the song. I also used manipulations of smoke and TV static that I think suits the vibe.”
“Cigarettes” entices with its wistful vocals laced with dark imagery of a turbulent romance. The track wraps you around its finger—and doesn’t let you go. “Cigarettes” hones in on Doran’s knack for songwriting and proves that the young musician’s future is only beginning.