“What if every broken place I’ve been was a Godsend.”
This lyric from the title track of Riley Clemmons’ second full-length release represents the core of a creative vision that came to her nearly two years before the arrival of her new album, Godsend.
The thought-provoking concept sent Riley on a journey through a twelve-track realization that with each of life’s challenges comes a gift and ultimately, a Godsend.
“I had the title Godsend for so long,” Riley affirms. “I loved what it implied, but I needed to live enough to fulfill what the word itself meant. A year ago, I opened the note on my phone, and I just started writing the song ‘Godsend’. It became the anchor around which I wrote every other song. These are honest stories of failure, lows, highs, loneliness, and struggles with self-worth and relationships. They all made me take a step back and wonder if, ‘Maybe there was a purpose to all of this that I just didn’t see’. Well, now I do.”
The result is a meticulously crafted, authentic album, with soundtrack-worthy production that features Riley’s skyscraping vocal performances—an undeniable pop sound that fits seamlessly with its overarching theme.
After years in Nashville, songwriting sessions with some of the industry’s elite, touring the country, and releasing music of her own, the 21-year-old has found her stride. Enter a Global Pandemic. Like everybody else, Riley was stuck at home. Undeterred, she used the time to learn how to hang dry wall and hardwire equipment in order to build a D.I.Y. basement studio where she made much of Godsend. She knew she couldn’t stop recording. More determined than ever, Riley constructed a place where she could escape to her own personal creative haven. She collaborated over ZOOM with producer Tedd T [for KING & COUNTRY, Mutemath] and soaked up inspiration from numerous cowriters such as Emily Weisband, Paul Duncan, and more, working to retrofit the music to the title it spawned.
“I think collaboration is a creative superpower, and I love it,” she states. “I love finding a word or a concept, spending time with that by myself, building out what I’m hearing and then taking it to the studio, to collaborate with various producers and writers I know. I feel like I’ve learned so much about the craft.”
Introduced to music at a young age by her parents, Riley grew up listening to everyone from Van Halen, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac to Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Billy Joel, Katy Perry, and Ariana Grande. Dad influenced her love for classic rock, while mom sang in church and cultivated Riley’s passion for gospel. Both sides ultimately informed her path as a songwriter. After logging countless hours in sessions, her first single “Broken Prayers” took flight in 2017 and racked up 30 million-plus streams. In support of her 2018 self-titled debut album, she hit the road for the first time with Tauren Wells and grew into a powerhouse presence on stage. In 2019, she teased out her next chapter with “Fighting For Me,” which amassed over 80 million global streams. Thus far, she’s gathered nearly 210 million total career streams and 50 million YouTube views to date.
She set the stage for Godsend in 2020 with “Healing” and “Over and Over (feat. Lauren Alaina),” and in early 2021, she welcomed audiences into the album’s world with her fastest growing single to date, “Keep On Hoping,” which amassed 1 million streams in the first two weeks of release and has quickly climbed the Billboard and radio airplay charts. Above a driving beat, the track builds from intimate verses into a sweeping hook backed by a gospel choir.
“When I wrote the song, there was a sense of heaviness from the sheer amount of voices I was hearing on TV, on the internet, on social media, and from people in my life,” she admits. “I realized, ‘How are you ever going to hear the truth, if you’re not making room to hear it?’ I knew I wanted to make this anthem for myself and anybody else who needs it. If the world feels heavy and gets too loud, don’t forget there’s still hope—you’ve just got to make room for it.”
The bold ballad, her current single as of April 30th, “I’m Not Alone,” pairs her raw vocals with resounding piano. She confronts the overwhelming feelings of pervasive loneliness brought on by the past 18 months as the stark production highlights the emotion in her voice.
“I was feeling a unifying sense of loneliness, because everybody experiences that to some degree,” she observes. “One of the verses consists of things I would jot down in my journal. The chorus lifts you up though. It’s a special song, because it builds towards finding the light.”
Thick funk-infused bass and handclaps underline “Stuck Inside My Head” as the BPM picks up and Riley’s vocals ring out on the hypnotic hook. “I was in the middle of coming out of a relationship where I was stuck,” she recalls. “I knew it was no longer healthy for me, but I was stuck in that place. That was part of growing and learning though.”
On the heels of “Stuck Inside My Head,” she gains confidence through that growth and immediately launches into “Headspace.” Palm-muted guitar backs a spunky and spirited promise, “You’re never going to see my heart break, because you can’t have my headspace.”
“I always knew ‘Stuck Inside My Head’ and ‘Headspace’ would go side-by-side on the record, because that’s my story,” she says. “I became confident, planted my foot in the ground, and said, ‘Nope, you can’t have my headspace’. I had better things to think about like being the best version of me I can be. Only you decide when you’re going to keep moving on. You decide you control where your head goes. It’s a really important moment on the record, because it was important to me as a person.”
As she deliberately sequenced the songs to resolve from one emotion into the next, much like a live set, the album moves into the confessional ballad “When Nothing Hurts” right after. Above sparse production, she embraces the importance of gratitude in life’s best moments. Then, there’s “Irreplaceable.”
Once again, she offers an uplifting reminder lyrically.
“It’s for myself, my family, and my friends,” she goes on. “I wanted everyone to know I’m still working on telling myself I’m irreplaceable. It’s a process.”
Everything comes to a head on “Godsend.” Her voice echoes with stark emotion as she takes stock of her journey. It codifies the primary theme in a universally relatable anthem.
“This idea was the root of the project, and we created it from there,” she reminds. “These stories are about heartbreak, healing, what it means to be lonely, what it means to be self-assured, and what it means to be doubtful. Maybe all of this was a Godsend. We found the songs from there. It’s really the beginning of this new chapter for me.”
Ultimately, Riley takes all of the wisdom gained from those mistakes and lessons and uses it to empower herself and others on Godsend.
“Every song on this record is something I’ve been through or felt defeated by and had to learn how to get back up from again,” she leaves off. “Music has always told my story for me. When you listen to this, I hope these songs possibly help tell your story.”