When Ratboys' Julia Steiner wrote "Figure," she did so from a place of pain.
"I wrote 'Figure' in the middle of the night in my bedroom a few years ago," she tells NPR Music, "and for me the song was a way to air all of my disparate frustrations and fears in one place."
But "Figure," from the Chicago-based band's GL EP, doesn't really sound like a melancholy tune. True to much of the band's self-proclaimed "post-country" sound, it's punchy and playful — which, Steiner says, came from the suggestion of her bandmate Dave Sagan and friend-of-the-band Sean Eldon, and helped transform the feel of the song.
And while Steiner says she meant for the lyrics to be "vague and strange," they're evocatively poignant, too. "Is it the point of a story / To draw a picture in flame?" she sings over buoyant percussion and dynamic guitars, "I grew a heart in molting / Pleasure got beat down by shame."
The reinvention took another turn when Steiner's friend, artist Bayley White, crafted song's video. "Bayley had been doing some research on claymation videos and was hoping to try her hand at one," Steiner explains — so she sent her "Figure" and asked White to use the song to tell whatever type of visual story she wanted.
The resulting video follows the lyrics on a literal level, pairing spirited whimsy with bittersweet absurdity. Steiner says White peppered the video with "little touches" that felt deeply personal: "[Wilco's] A Ghost is Born album art on the wall (my favorite record), the Coraline-esque portal that appears on the wall (my favorite movie), my Steelers hat, etc. — all of these things made me smile so wide."
Now, Steiner says, the song has landed in a place that feels pretty far from where it started. "It still has that original angst and grit, but it has become something so much more than that," she says. "It's heavy, but it's also fun. And fun is hope."
GL is out now via Topshelf Records (physical, digital). Ratboys is on tour.