Writing new songs in the wake of a divorce for the upcoming How We Want to Live album led Lisa Bastoni to take a hard look at many of the relationships in her life. One of the more trying relationships was with her father, reflected in the track "Never Gone to You," which Billboard premieres exclusively today (Aug. 5).
The Massachusetts singer-songwriter tells Billboard that the song was inspired directly by her absent relationship with her father, who she hasn't seen for about eight years. "I was driving my kids to school and thinking about my dad," Bastoni, who's joined on "Never Gone to You" by Rose Cousins, tells Billboard. "And I had this moment where I was thinking about my love for my kids and wondering why or how can a parent not see their child for so long? My story with my dad is going to be my story for my whole life.”
“My original thought was maybe I'm dead to him, but he's never going to be dead to me, but my co-writer [Felix McTeigue] said, 'Maybe there's a way to soften that. Maybe he's gone, but he's never really gone to you,’” she adds. “That's what we went with. I like to keep a bit of hope in there, even though it's a bit of a sad story."
Bastoni is also confident that she's not alone in this experience. "It is my story, but I feel like it's also for anybody who's had that experience with a relative sort of rejecting them, in a way, how that stays with you for your whole life," she says. "It's figuring out how to manage this idea of how things are versus how you'd like them to be and just accepting and moving on and trying to make something positive out of something sad."
For her part, in fact, Bastoni says the door is open for some sort of reconnection with her father, though she's not necessarily holding out hope for it.
"It's complicated," she says. "My dad is sort of a mysterious person, and I do care about him. The way that I think of it is he has his own pain and he doesn't know how to talk about it, and so for him withdrawing is his way of managing it. It wasn't like we had a big falling out. It's been something I've turned over in my mind for years, and I don't really have an answer or understand it. I hope to one day understand better what happened, but I don't know."
Bastoni does dispel notions that the rest of the Sean Staples-produced How We Want to Live — which continues her return to music after 2017's The Wishing Hour ended a 10-year break have and raise children — is a divorce album.
"There wasn't much bitterness," she contends, and instead she wrote more about her goals and desires for life moving forward, as well as covering Bob Dylan's "Workingman's Blues #2."
"I reached a point where I was tired of feeling sad and tired of complaining about things and starting to feel more proactive about how I want things to be — and moving in that direction," says Bastoni, who before the album also inherited a guitar and a song notebook from her late grandmother, which also made an impact on the album.
"There were some surprises in there," says Bastoni, whose children are now five and seven years old. "Even in this perfect relationship with my grandfather there were moments that of wondering and questioning. Even when things are great, there's still this question about 'How are we doing?' That was illuminating."
Bastoni, who currently books herself, is planning some concerts around How We Want to Live's Sept. 20 release, and during November she'll be part of the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk Winner tour. "That's a help, and it's great," Bastoni says of the honor. "I feel like I've met a lot of people through it, all around the country, other songwriters who convened at the festival. It's a great community there, and I feel lucky to be able to represent it."