A Bath Can Be Kind of Like a Country Song

GracieHorse talks "hot spring culture," and how it inspired her new track.

A bath is a fairly accessible, simple pleasure that anyone can enjoy. You’re pretty much marinating in your own soup — and all of the different types of broth you create have different healing properties. Some salts help tired muscles; sometimes just a nice bubble bath helps relieve stress. When you’re done, and the dirt and other “stuff” that doesn’t serve you is circling the drain, the downward spiral of the water is almost mesmerizing.  

For this album in particular — my forthcoming record L.A. Shit — I thought the image of sitting in a bath was a good metaphor for the soup I was soaking in at the time. I had been listening to a lot of country music for years and, living in Wyoming, I would see some great country music at the local bar when bands would come through. And, I was spending time on my days off soaking in the local hot springs. It was quiet; I could let my ideas float around aimlessly and I could hear songs in my head play out uninterrupted. For several years, that’s about the only time I had to hear that music. 

I used to have a better balance between working as a nurse and pursuing a music career, but work got busy and my energy was spent caring for others. Even if I did play music, it was for other people’s projects — it felt less selfish. Workaholism is common in nursing; it’s hard to say no to an extra shift if you know your other co-workers or patients may not get the support they need. It seems selfish to carve out time to “do music.” I let that thinking dictate my behavior for years, until I injured my neck on the job. 

I ended up back in a hot bath again, but not in a cool hot spring I hiked to — it was in my own bathtub, trying to calm the electric pain shooting down my arms, which lasted for months. I couldn’t play guitar, or do much else. After some epidural steroid injections in my neck and months of physical therapy, I started to come around — and so did my creative life. Not being at work gave me the space to create, and I was able to finally spin those meandering melodies into the songs that made my album. You see and hear a lot of heartbreaking, anger provoking, and sometimes just ridiculous stuff as a nurse, and writing songs was a way to express feelings that are impossible to articulate. I realized that if you have the gift of singing and songwriting, honor it! The fear of never being able to sit down and play guitar again made me realize how precious this gift was — it’s worth carving out a space in your life for it. It was important to learn that I could still write and create, and didn’t have to be mesmerized into the downward spiral of vapid, self-serving “L.A. SHIT” that everyone except me seemed so adept at navigating.  It is my nature to be of service to others, but heck — I luv 2 rok, too. 

Thinking back on my time in that hot spring brought back some good memories, and some good songs too. Soaking in a bath can be an act of self-love, and so can writing songs. Soaking in a bath can be contemplative, much like a country song! Soaking can create a comfy feeling of home and nostalgia, much like a country song! 

Even animals get down with bath culture — take, for example, the snow monkeys of Japan. They were sort of a kindred spirit when I was recuperating, and trying to stay calm amidst the fear of my limitations being permanent. This past month, I finally had the chance to visit them while I was on my honeymoon in Japan! This group of Japanese macaques were displaced from their native forests as a result of the development of ski resorts in the 1950s. They moved into towns and started eating all the farmers’ crops, and were allowed to be hunted. Their numbers dwindling, a local hot spring owner started feeding the monkeys, and so they relocated to an area around the hot springs. Now the monkeys come down in the winter and early spring to eat and relax in the hot springs during the difficult winter months. They have been there ever since. The monkeys submerge themselves in the hot water in a region of Japan called Jigokudani, translated as  “The Valley of Hell” and come back up rejuvenated, relaxed, and ready to take on the winter. I saw them as a pretty cool symbol of resiliency, and was glad when I was able to see them do their thing in person!

(The monkeys at Jigokudani — isn’t he cute? Photo taken by me.)

Now that I have made a full recovery, I am back to work, but am also doing my thing with music and no longer take it for granted —  I’m giving myself permission to own my creative voice. Over my music career, I have always had a playful relationship to genre; I will get super interested in a particular style, write songs in that style, then move on to the next thing that interests me. The song I’ve just released, “If You’re Gonna Walk That Straight Line Son, It’s Only Gonna Hurt,” is a good example of what it sounds like to “soak” in a particular genre — country — but still have my own style shine through. It’s a song about knowing deep down something is not a good decision, but you go ahead and do it anyway… Country music could be a stop on the way to something else — or I could still sit soaking in this bath for a little while longer.

GracieHorse is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. Her latest record, L.A. Shit, is out May 19, 2023 on Wharf Cat.

(Photo Credit: Giraffe Studios)