Pleasure Systems Everything I Need

Pleasure Systems Brings Light to Grief-stricken Folk with “Everything I Need”

Pleasure Systems’ “Everything I Need” is built from familiar textures: warm and lush vocals, bedroom synths, and vividly drawn scenes of domesticity and quiet.

Many listeners’ first introduction to Pleasure Systems, the solo songwriting project from New York-based Clarke Sondermann, was “Blur”— a gutting, cinematic dream of a song born from Sondermann’s own immense grief following the death of his longtime partner. 

It’s a song that feels far too close for comfort. Like Mount Eerie’s “Real Death” or Sufjan Stevens’s “Should Have Known Better”, it’s dangerously intimate– spend too much time with it, and the despair at its center will transfer to you. Only the first track of 12 on Visiting the Wella similarly devastating collection of songs on illness, heartbreak, and the haze that forms over the world as you grieve– it’s become something of a cult hit for those afflicted by loss in the years since its release.

It was hard to imagine a follow-up project to Visiting the Well, so singular and specific in its pain that Sondermann’s voice seemed inextricable from it. That’s changed with his return to music, a new single entitled “Everything I Need”, made in collaboration with Melody English. 

The track is built from familiar textures: warm and lush vocals, bedroom synths, and vividly drawn scenes of domesticity and quiet. But there’s a renewed sense of interest in the world– budding feelings of trust in a place capable of inflicting so much damage.

We spoke with Clarke about the odd feeling of your grief facing an unexpected audience, the vision for the new single, and what comes next for the project.

Way back in 2021, I was planning on reviewing Visiting the Well after I heard “Blur” because it was such an immediate, transcendent song, and I knew that I was listening to something so special. But when I heard the rest of that album, I couldn’t look directly at it. It felt like I’d listened to someone deliver a eulogy, and I was going write “4 stars”. It just felt wrong. 

So since then, I’ve been wondering, what made you feel like sharing a project as personal as Visiting the Well with the world, and what were your expectations for it once it was in everyone else’s hands?

I really, really appreciate the way you phrased that. As a musician, it feels counterintuitive to say that I didn’t really want to do press on the album when it came out, but my biggest mental block about releasing it was not wanting to be known publicly for the most painful experience of my life.

I was also terrified of someone assigning a numerical score to what’s – like you said – basically a eulogy. I know I shouldn’t do stuff like this, but I looked it up on Rate Your Music recently and laughed really hard at someone who gave it two stars and said, “not too interested in this, but it’s fine”.

I guess it felt like a step in the grief process to send it off into the world. It helped me move on in some way. The hardest song to write was the closing track, “The Maze”. It felt like some kind of acknowledgment that I was never going to get it exactly right – no matter how hard I kept trying to write toward resolution or a clean narrative.

Honestly, even though I had a fantastic label behind me, [Visiting the Well released on the outstanding Orchid Tapes imprint], I had low expectations at the time it came out. I think all musicians should go into every professional experience with low expectations these days. If something happens with a release, that’s amazing, but you can’t bank on anything anymore. The cards are stacked against us.

Anyway, was your four-star rating going to be out of four? That’s really mean if it was out of five.

Umm, pass! ❤️ Did your feelings about it change once “Blur” took off? It’s clocking something over two million streams on Spotify alone at this point. Is there anything you’ve taken from the experience of finding that audience?

I’m thrilled that song found an audience, but I’m also really glad that it happened organically and without much promotional effort on my part. I am – and always have been – tremendously proud of the record, but I was weary of letting that whole experience become “content”. Of course, it was also luck of the draw. That song started getting picked up on playlists well over a year after the initial release, and then it just snowballed from there.

It probably helps that “Blur” is by far the least explicit song on the album in terms of meaning. It doesn’t have the hyperliteral lyrics from other songs on the album about “your dying breath” or “washing the blood from your hair”. It’s just a sweet song about missing someone. People probably think it’s about depression or a breakup. I’ve seen a lot of TikToks of people cleaning their rooms or walking their dogs set to it. Which is great! It makes me so happy! I care way more about listener interpretation than I do about artist intent.

As for the new single, I feel like it’s such a seamless transition from Visiting the Well to where you are now. What made you feel like putting out a follow-up? Did you have a vision for how you were going to move out of the sound and feel of the last album into this song. Any sort of pressure?

It actually took until fairly recently to start writing again, but once I started, it flowed pretty naturally. I think that at some point while making the last album, I forgot how to write in any style other than confessional and diaristic. It took some time and space to get rid of that impulse. I felt like I couldn’t write anymore, but it was because I was happy! I didn’t have anything to complain about in my diary! And I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about making my diary public this time.

I’m in a much better place in my life now than I was when I was working on Visiting the Well, and it feels important to express that. If there are people that don’t know me but know Visiting the Well, I want work now to show that devastation doesn’t last forever. Love finds you again; the weight gets lighter, etc.

I’m really motivated by this idea of “cautious optimism” in my writing right now. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, but there’s a lot of sunshine and roses out there to appreciate. My past work put a lot of emphasis on the painful parts of life, and it’s time to tip the scales a little bit toward the happy side.

Did anything or anyone, in particular, inspire you for this song?

It’s a love song for my partner Mark. I’ve been writing a lot of love songs lately. I wrote this one when we were on Fire Island – I started whistling a melody to myself while we were walking our dog on the beach and wrote most of it in one sitting as soon as we got back to the house. I felt completely content in that moment and wanted to immortalize that feeling.

Do you have plans for more with Pleasure Systems now that this is out? 

Absolutely. But I’m trying to have more fun with it and break from the album format this time around. It also feels great to let myself actually collaborate for the first time. I’m so used to playing and recording everything on my own, so it’s been really rewarding to let my friends help me with the new material.

Melody English, who’s featured in the song, is a huge advocate of only doing what feels good for your music. Weirdly, that’s something I haven’t considered much before now. It felt right to release this song, so I did! It actually doesn’t matter if I haven’t finished an album yet. Making music finally feels good again, so I’m going to keep doing it.

Pleasure Systems’ new single “Everything I Need” featuring Melody English is out now.

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