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Three pints in, Shannon McArdle gets those eyes. She stares off into the bottom of her glass, running her finger alongside the rim; her pupils are dilated, and she seems to have taken her mind back to that place—the enormity of the last year of her life. She’d been an integral part of Athens-to-Brooklyn band the Mendoza Line, which enjoyed marginal success throughout this decade by negotiating the indie-rock/alt-country Venn diagram. Years of dating founding member Tim Bracy led to marriage, but one day in February 2007, he was gone. The Mendoza Line’s final release, 30 Year Low, came last summer, and although all the material was written and recorded before there were any inklings that their marriage would be striking out, it clearly presents two people who’re not so happy.
McArdle has suggested to me, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that what’s happened to her isn’t exactly fair. That a “Dear Jane” letter isn’t how years of commitment should resolve itself. That lawyers and abstract finger-pointing only made matters worse. Now, our brief, slightly awkward silence is finally broken when she softly says, “Listening to the record now, it still makes me very uncomfortable,” her twangy Southern accent sounding sad and pensive.
She’s talking about Summer of the Whore, her newly minted solo debut, a striking, guitar-centric, whispery debut that documents her divorce, the inevitable depression she spiraled into thereafter, her subsequent recovery process, and all the loaded, convoluted feelings you get while moving on from anything. Double, sometimes triple entendres line songs like “Leave Me for Dead,” the sleepy folk ballad “That Night in June,” and the title track, where she deadpans the line: “But this offer is over, once I’ve settled up the score/If I were you, I’d get in on the summer of the whore.” It’s haunting to hear her sing this, because up until this point, you’ve been with her through the downward spiral; its hard to tell if she’s having a good time now, or just closing her eyes and going along with the ride. You’re let into yet another world of hers, where she’s seemingly acting out—possibly in revenge, possibly as a get-enriched-quick scheme in physical bonding.
Earlier, she’d tried to persuade me that “Summer of the Whore”—the expression— was just a joke between her and fellow musician Adam Gold. “One of us would say, ‘Oh, man, I was a real whore last night,’ ” she explains. “Not necessarily in the traditional sense, but just acting in a way that we didn’t want others to necessarily see us. You know, it could be something very small—it didn’t necessarily mean that something sexual had occurred.” At this point, she hadn’t gotten those zoney eyes yet and was still up for joking with me about her past. “But I want to make it clear that I was not a whore. I would not accept any money for sex in the summer of 2007.”
When McArdle started writing the material that eventually became Whore, she says it was mainly just to get her out of the house, but after some distance, she realized there “might be something special here, that people would want to hear.” And you can hear her starting to explore some sense of optimism toward the record’s close, during “Come, Autumn Breeze,” a slow-building ballad of reconciliation and acceptance. She’s come to terms with moving on, and if she’s not 100 percent there yet, she at least now considers the notion of other, better relationships as something she could explore again. “I like to think there are little sparks or rays of hope,” she says, pausing for a moment, looking up at me. “Should we get another?”
Shannon McArdle plays Mercury Lounge on August 19