Nowadays, Michelle Billingsley is refreshingly unguarded, and this openness extends to her lyrics. She sings her heart out about emotional abuse, fear of commitment and, of course, sex—all with a wink and a smile. Her latest single, and today’s premiere, “Mom Jeans” is indicative of her uncanny ability to take a difficult subject—in this case a complex and strained history with a parent—and turn it into a moving yet comedic vignette. “My mom and I are good now, but we did not get along growing up,” Billingsley says. “I wrote ‘Mom Jeans’ looking in the mirror, noticing the parts of me that were my Mom’s—and her mom’s—and it drove me nuts because nothing was mine. There’s that line, ‘Sometimes the apple falls far from the tree / but boy this one hasn’t / Inherited her eyes, her smile, her nose, her boobs and her bad habits.’ It’s an upbeat song, but it’s really a laundry list of inherited features I saw in myself every time I looked in the mirror.”
The chorus of “Mom Jeans” almost leaps up from the music, sad, hilarious and all-too relatable: “I got a short fuse, rotten luck / Another man incapable of love / And yet I keep staying / ‘Cause I can’t come unless my heart’s breaking.” That tail end of that simple but potent last line, in all its self-deprecating honesty, gets at the heart of Billingsley’s brilliance. She can make you sing along, dance, laugh and cry—sometimes all at once.
She continues “I was sitting in the bathtub when the first lines of “Mom Jeans” came to me. I wrote them down on a pad of paper, laid back in the water, and then another line hit me. So I jumped out soaking wet and grabbed the guitar so I could get it all down.
What drives the song—my Mom and I are good now, but I had a hard time getting along with her when I was growing up. We just automatically took opposing stances on anything, big or small. I looked so much like her that people would ask if we were sisters. So, of course, I automatically hated everything I inherited that looked like it was hers.
When I first got back the rough mixes for the new album, I had an interesting car ride with my dad and my grandmother. I asked if they wanted to hear the record, and they did. Everything was going great until the chorus of “Mom Jeans.” That line, “I can’t come unless my heart’s breaking” came out of the stereo and I just froze. I froze, and started sweating profusely until it was finally over. Every single second of the rest of that song is burned into my mind, me sitting behind my grandmother hoping she wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics.
Ethan Jodziewicz [The Milk Carton Kids, Sierra Hull] played bass on “Mom Jeans” and a few other songs on the record. We got the vocals and guitar down first at Narwhal in Chicago with producer Matt Brown and engineer Brian Deck, then sent the tracks to Ethan down in Nashville, and he laid down his parts in his home studio, and sent them back to us. After that. Matt added his fiddle on top. It was a fun way to work. Matt’s a brilliant old-time player on multiple instruments, but we thought this one needed more of a Cajun feel, so he switched gears and came up with that great counter melody to the vocals.”