Running freely through a grove of trees, sunlight peeks through the leaves as their shadows create patterns across the warm soil. This feeling is reflected in the music of UC Berkeley senior Andrew Montana, who recently broke his toe stumbling on a tree root while running through the woods of Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite having to take a shortcut back home, crawling and getting eaten by bugs along the way, Montana says the adventure was well worth it and that it certainly won’t stop him from equally embracing the ups and downs that come with living a full life.
Since before the pandemic, Montana has been funneling this positive mentality into Azalea, Holly, his debut album set to release early spring 2022. His homicide-themed single “Strawberry” gained him recognition on TikTok, demonstrating his knack for concealing heavy storylines beneath optimistic sounds. After receiving listener feedback for his latest TikTok single sneak peek, he realizes it’s easier to connect with listeners through social media than he previously thought. In “Deep Down,” releasing Aug. 20, Montana branches out from the murder themes on “Strawberry” for a more relatable type of death: the death of a relationship.
“I wrote ‘Deep Down’ at the end of a three-year relationship with someone that I love a lot,” Montana said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I wrote it at a point where I could kind of feel the relationship coming to a close. Shortly after that, in May, I moved to a cabin in the woods in North Carolina to record my album with my co-producer (Kyle Benor). We got there and realized this song didn’t exactly fit the album, so we left it off and recorded the rest of the album. We come home, and the relationship just kind of ends at that point.”
With a raw post-breakup perspective, Montana revisited “Deep Down.” He held onto the first verse that was written during the relationship but rewrote the second verse, giving the single the contrast it needed to mesh with the core themes essential to Azalea, Holly.
“The second verse is (expressing) this hope that your partner — even if it ended amicably, which my relationship did — the hope that they are grieving in the same way that you are and hurting like you are because that would mean they loved you in the same way that you loved them,” Montana explained. “It’s a sad song, but I hope that people take away some feeling of the positivity that is intended in it.”
At first listen, “Deep Down” could easily be mistaken for a love song free of heartbreak. The fullness of Montana’s voice is layered over a bright acoustic guitar, laying down a cozy bed for mournful lyrics to rest upon. This warm simplicity is a result of Montana having chipped away at what no longer fit, making space for the many emotions of a loving relationship as well as those that emerge once it comes to an end.
“I really don’t want it to be the kind of breakup song that just exploits pain and resentment or anything like that,” Montana said. “When I wrote the second verse, the main theme was this idea that when you’re with somebody, you have these feelings that get cemented if it’s a serious relationship and you feel strongly for them. Those feelings don’t ever really disappear. They might get covered up with other feelings, negative feelings, and they might fade, but they’re still there. That feeling is important to me, and I hope that that resonates more so than the idea of the pain or resentment after a breakup.”
From opening pockets of breathing room at the end of each chorus to capturing emotional transitions through lyrics such as “The skin upon my wrist has grown hard,” “Deep Down” communicates tangible feelings for anyone who has loved and lost.
“I’ve always felt like my music was not super clear on the first listen, so anytime it does connect I feel like I’ve done something really special,” Montana said. “It’s really great to be able to make something that connects with people so immediately.”
The music video for “Deep Down” is scheduled to begin filming in late August in both Berkeley and Virginia, shot by UC Berkeley film and media major Kelly Zabors. An outdoor tour may also be underway, and as far as his album goes, the unsigned singer-songwriter is continuing to take the grassroots route, anticipating several more singles before the release of Azalea, Holly next year.
Whether it’s enjoying the love of running despite having a broken toe or engaging in heartbreak despite the pain, Montana maintains a positive attitude. His shared experience adds a beating heart to his music and with his final semester at UC Berkeley, there will only be more opportunities for him to sneak emotional depth into stripped-down folk sounds.