Photo Credit: Leo Zuck
Emotional memory is a peculiar phenomenon. We've all experienced it - that song that brings you back to your first (very awkward) slow dance or just one whiff of your grandma's perfume and suddenly it feels like she's standing beside you. For rising artist Matthew Chaim, it's "Sunflowers."
Now, sunflowers are actually quite an interesting flower. Did you know that they exhibit a behavior called heliotropism, where they track the sun at all times, facing east as the sun rises and following it westward throughout the day? They were also rumored to have mystical healing properties and were used widely across Native American tribes to soothe a myriad of physical ailments. Today they are known primarily as the "happy flower," but for Chaim, this flower is one very important thing in particular: his late father's favorite.
Chaim's father passed away when he was only 12-years-old and though he was only in Chaim’s life for a short period of time, he left a significant impact on him as a beacon of protection. His single "Sunflowers" is a letter to his father, a conversation expressing a combination of sorrow, anger, and love. In his own words,
“I wrote 'Sunflowers’ with producer Rabitt at a time when I was writing a lot of music about my father. He passed away when I was 12 years old, and it has only been in the last couple of years that I’ve found the space to express this loss in my songwriting. The song’s genesis was actually sparked by a moment when I had walked out of Rabitt’s studio and into his main house… and I saw a pot of sunflowers on the window sill. Sunflowers were my father’s favourite flower, and we had huge ones growing in our backyard throughout my childhood summers."
An ominous sweep of sound lands the listener directly into Chaim's state of mind. A gently plucked acoustic guitar accompanied with distorted horns, reminiscent of those heard in Bon Iver's 22, A Million, creates the perfect juxtaposed mood, one that reflects Chaim's innocent childhood memories with the heavy grief he has felt for well over a decade. As Chaim sings opening lines "Sunflowers, and some rain goin' find you/ And my pain goin' find you too/ Sunshowers, they don't say what they might do/ There are days I wanna fight you," his flawless vocal tone gracefully expresses a sentiment of anger, but in a way that doesn't seem to be based in hostility but sorrow.
Moving into the second verse which houses the most meaningful line of the song for Chaim "Tall towers, you were the shield when they would scare." A lyric inspired by a childhood memory Chaim shared with us,
"When I was younger, my father, little brother and I would go on bike rides along a path near our home. Along this bike path, we would approach and eventually pass a big TV tower. And at that young age, the tower’s sheer enormity really scared me. So I’d always be sure to bike to the right of my father, so that he would be in between me and the tower. Protecting me, keeping me safe.”
As we move through the second chorus and toward the conclusion of the track, the production builds and surfaces, concurrently the beat picks up and this melancholic song now feels anthemic, even cathartic. It is a long-overdue conversation that seemingly may not end with some larger optimistic outlook on death. Chaim's sentiments conclude with a sort of goodbye, an understanding that these days have gone away, the sunflowers remain, and in a sense that's all okay.
Take an exclusive first listen to "Sunflowers" below: