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Alumna Catherine Coffey released her first single.
Catherine Coffey | Courtesy

A self-described hybrid of “Nebraskan curiosity” and “Russian-New York moodiness,” Catherine Coffey ’16 has written music since high school.

Coffey, characterized by her mesmerizing, acoustic singer/songwriter sound, released her first single, “friend,” on Sept. 3, via iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music.  She has co-written and sung a few songs with Q-Curius, an electronic-rap duo composed of Joel Calvert ’17 and Forester McClatchey ’16, but ‘friend’ is her first solo release.

The song is an ode to finding the balance between love and discretion in close relationships.

“It’s grown-up in ways that my other songs aren’t. In a way, my other songs tend to lean forward,” Coffey said. “Up until ‘friend,’ a lot of my songs were almost desperate or reaching out, whereas ‘friend’ leans back just a little bit. And it was the first time I found my music leaning back and taking a look at the person, and even taking a look at myself.”

Some theater enthusiasts may recognize the melody of Coffey’s new song: originally a duet, it was was modified from “Mother Courage,” a piece Coffey had written for a theater production (of the same name) at Hillsdale last year.

Fellow alumna Meg Prom ’16, a close friend of Coffey’s since their sophomore year, designed the cover art for “friend.” She took inspiration from Sir John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia, heroine of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

“I took his study and combined it with watercolor illustration to emphasize the unfinished nature of the work while also connecting Ophelia’s story to the album,” Prom said. “Even while drowning her eyes are turned upward, and in the full painting her hands are posed like a martyr or saint in traditional paintings.”

According to Coffey, the song “friend” is inspired by the idea that some of the closest people to us can be the most toxic. Expressing a balance between love for others and personal discernment, “friend” depicts growth through relationships, the chorus beginning, “Tell me how to love you now.”

“After listening to the song and showing her my plans we both felt that the song worked perfectly with the nuance of Ophelia’s story and passion. ‘friend’ draws out the same melancholy finality in Ophelia’s eyes, but also articulates the purity and faith that are present in Millais’ depiction of her,” Prom said.

Senior Danielle Adams, Coffey’s producer and producer of Vanity Plate Records, mentioned an interesting moment regarding the recording process of “friend.” Adams revealed that errors had occurred while recording the guitar. Since the errors were unable to be corrected in the original recording and distance separated the partners, Coffey utilized a recording technique used by bands such as Arcade Fire to resolve the discrepancies. Via app, Coffey sent Adams a file with the recording of the guitar, and Adams was able to layer the separate recordings for a seamless soundtrack.

Freshman Declan Williamson, who performed with Coffey at student music festival Wombstock earlier this month, described Coffey’s new song as “ethereal” and “symphonic in nature.” Her insight, he said, is “wise beyond her years.”

Coffey said she will be releasing several new singles this winter, the first by early October. She is also collaborating with other artists on a full album, “Purple,” which she expects to come out by next winter.

“Making art is the focus,” Coffey said. “Be yourself and those who believe in it, too, will stick.”