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Duo Jet and Xander finds inspiration in nature, aims to sprout hope in listeners

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations director)

By Hannah Ferguson

May 28, 2020 12:39 am

Jet Talandis and Xander Ambrose want their listeners to locate their happy places.

At this year’s Spring Sing, Talandis and Ambrose will perform their original composition “The River.” The pop ballad uses lyrics inspired by their life experiences like experiences with social anxiety or finding hope at the end of a rough day – as they spin a narrative around a trip to the river that helps someone start the day over, Talandis said.

“This (song) is about going to the river, feeling so much self-doubt, feeling lost and finding a way to cope and manage,” Ambrose said. “There’s sort of several phases that we all go through, but ultimately we find hope.”

Talandis, a third-year human biology and society student, began writing the lyrics to “The River” immediately after attending Spring Sing as a first-year. Although Talandis considered bringing his song to the stage last year, he had no one to accompany his vocals. After he met Ambrose through the HOOLIGAN Theatre Company, they began to piece the song together, with Ambrose creating a piano accompaniment. Both from Chicago, the duo met over the winter break to work on their composition.

“I knew (Ambrose) was the type of person I wanted to create something with,” Talandis said. “I heard him play my song, how it sounded in my head, for the first time out loud.”

The pair wanted to focus on writing lyrics that were personal to them but can still be applicable to many people, Ambrose said. At one point, Talandis sings, “You can scream out loud for no one but the voices in your head,” which Ambrose said reflects his own experience with social anxiety. Despite the personal origins of the lyrics, however, the first-year theater student said the words can also reflect more general feelings of self-doubt.

The river reflects Talandis’ own happy place, which he finds when being outside in nature. However, the river is meant to represent the listener’s own place of emotional serenity ⁠– whether that be physical, emotional or in a memory. The image of going down to a river with stones can carry both negative and positive associations, Talandis said. The listener can decide if the song’s speaker is leaving the stones at the riverbank or entering the water with them, ultimately leaving them to choose if the song is hopeful or not.

“The main image, whatever you get out of it, is a place, and that place is going to be different for everybody,” Talandis said. “That place is supposed to bring you to a point where hopefully you’ll experience that optimism and come out of a bad day better, but that might not happen for everybody.”

Talandis said his own style of music draws from a variety of inspirations, ranging from rock to gospel. But more than his musical stylings, when performing the song, what Talandis said he thinks about his own place of mental clarity: his family’s lake house in Wisconsin. Its isolated location allows him to reflect internally without the distractions of day-to-day life, as well as reconnect with a sense of optimism, Talandis said.

Fourth-year geography student Jaya Mapleton said the song’s upbeat tempo makes her think of warm colors, speaking to the variety of invocations that can be made from the same imagery. Mapleton said the song’s pop roots – similar to songs by Hozier or Bishop Briggs – is atypical of Spring Sing duet acts, which she said tend to be less upbeat.

The song aims to bring people together during this time of social distancing and global uncertainty, Ambrose said. By believing that the sun will rise every day or that winter always ends, Talandis said nature offers a way to find hope even in the worst of times.

“I think the main connection between nature and optimism is the idea that you can be a part of it and remove yourself from any distractions and just really be connected with yourself and your emotions and nothing else,” Talandis said.

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Hannah Ferguson
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