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Listen: When Her Mother Got Cancer, Kaiti Jones Found Solace In Song (And Surfing)

Kaiti Jones (Courtesy Paula Champagne)
Kaiti Jones (Courtesy Paula Champagne)

This is an exclusive song premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight ascending New England musicians.

Usually when Kaiti Jones sets out to write a song about something that happened to her, she needs a little distance. Sometimes, she’ll wait years before putting pen to paper. She wants to feel in control of her emotions, calm.

Not so for the Boston singer-songwriter’s new single “Tossed.” Jones wrote the song in 2018, when her mother was starting chemotherapy treatment for blood cancer. “I was writing to process my feelings,” she says.

“Tossed” builds slowly, with spare percussion and a guitar strummed metronomically. Jones relates her story in plain language. With each verse, she describes a new scene, and with each scene, finds the poignance in some ordinary observation. “Touched down in San Diego,” she begins. “I never really minded flying/ Oh, but this time it was different/ I got the news you might be dying.” Eventually, she finds her way down to the boardwalk and into the ocean.

According to Jones, that’s pretty much exactly how it happened. She was in San Diego for a work trip a few weeks after finding out about her mother’s cancer diagnosis. She was new to the job and didn’t know her coworkers very well. There was no one to confide in. So early one morning, she Ubered 40 minutes to the ocean and rented a surfboard from a stranger in a parking lot.

“But the sea she keeps the tally/ Of the battles I have lost/ So I struggled for a moment/ Before I let myself get tossed,” Jones sings, landing with gentle emphasis on the final two words.

“That whole line, just kind of fully formed, came to me when I was out in the water,” she says. “I want to say I was surfing, but really I was just kind of being thrashed around.” The moment, she realized, was a “microcosm” of what she was going through at the time. (Though her mother's cancer is not curable, Jones says she's doing much better these days.)

This is Jones’ gift as a songwriter: to find the metaphor in the mundane, the drama in the everyday. With “Tossed,” she didn’t want to distract too much from the lyrics. The song has only a few chords, and no chorus. It builds to an explosive bridge and then quiets, like waves receding from the shore.

“Tossed” is the title track to Jones’ new album, and its emotional anchor. She worked on it through the pandemic, which lent the endeavor an additional weight. “It was a worry that washed over the record,” Jones says. “How do we lean into things that are bigger than us, and hard, and still keep going?” With "Tossed," she wrote a song to keep her company.

Kaiti Jones' sophomore album "Tossed" is out March 5.

Note: The audio for The ARTery's music premieres comes down after the track is released. You could still listen to the track via the streaming service embed above.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2021.


Amelia Mason Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.



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