Fourth time is a charm for this year's Tiny Desk Contest winner
Nearly 6,000 independent artists submitted to this year's Tiny Desk Contest with high hopes of performing behind the same Desk that's been graced by artists like Taylor Swift, Usher and Yo-Yo Ma. On Tuesday, Morning Edition announced the winner: Little Moon, a band from Springville, Utah.
Much like the story behind it, the band's winning entry, "Wonder Eye," has distinct phases. It begins with artist Emma Hardyman quietly plucking a guitar before her voice builds and the six-person band — Emma Hardyman, plus bassist Nathan Hardyman, keys player Bly Wallentine, harpist Bridget Jackson, drummer Chris Shemwell and electric guitarist Grace Johnson — erupts with a force of sound.
"I was used to not winning," Emma Hardyman tells Ari Shapiro, who she and her husband Nathan Hardyman spoke with hours after the announcement. The Utah band members say they're not used to a lot of attention — and as longtime fans of Tiny Desk (the group has now entered the contest four years in a row) it feels like a whole new realm to be seen by NPR. "It's like when your crush likes you back," jokes Nathan.
Nathan and Emma Hardyman tell Shapiro they began writing "Wonder Eye" while Nathan's mother was in hospice care and wrote the lyrics soon after she passed. "'Wonder Eye' incorporates the idea of multiple deaths," Emma shares. "I think it took the physical death to help us realize that death is really happening all the time — be it past versions of ourselves, old held beliefs, old judgements even. And to that extent, we're always grieving as well, which was also eye-opening."
There was another major personal life event that factored into Emma and Nathan writing the song: They were in the process of leaving the Mormon church they were raised in.
"The tools I had been taught to use to make sense of death were no longer as relevant to me," Nathan shares. "My belief system, which was once very clear about [what happens when you die] — I was no longer as certain of that. So the lyrics to the song are really a reminder to me to sit with that uncertainty."
"Is there a knowledge that is found / not in knowing?" Emma sings in the winning entry. Nathan says acknowledging that he doesn't have all the answers is "a step toward finding acceptance and peace with the mystery of life."
"My human instinct is to replace that uncertainty with something that doesn't upset us so much," he continues. "But I think accepting uncertainty, accepting ambiguity, making peace with the mystery of life and death — that can be a really healing thing to do."
Perhaps there's something paradoxical about taking uncertainty and grief, and channeling it into something that became a definitive winner.
The band will perform its Tiny Desk concert at NPR's headquarters soon before headlining the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour. You can get tickets to see Little Moon on tour at NPRPresents.org.
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