Local Singer Songwriter Makes Album as a Tribute to Deceased Girlfriend

Dustin Illingworth with girlfriend Amy Cole.

We sat down with singer songwriter Dustin Illingworth of the Costa Mesa-based band Tide Pools to talk about Grief is a Wilderness, the album he considers the best thing he's ever done.

Grief is a Wilderness is a musical tribute to Illingworth's long-time girlfriend, Amy Cole, whom he tragically lost in 2010 when she accidentally drowned in the bathtub. Illingworth and the couple's roommate found Cole, who struggled with alcoholism and depression, the day after Independence Day. Illingworth describes Cole as a "wildly talented" artist who was pursuing a master's degree at San Diego State University.

You can feel the admiration in Illingworth's voice when he speaks of his muse:

"I think she was just starting to realize [how talented she was] and then we lost her," Illingworth said during our interview. "I can just imagine what she would be capable of given more time and that confidence."

Illingworth's own talent was tested after the tragedy, during a time when the musician felt he was in "very dark and claustrophobic place" and had no desire to play music, but he knew he wanted to make something to honor Cole as a tribute to her life and their relationship.


"My desire to create something great for her was my motivation to pick up my guitar and start playing again," he said.

Illingworth began the album in 2010, hand-picking songs from a large amount of material until he felt every song was his best. He then gathered musicians who he played with previously and had known Cole.

"I really wanted [the musicians] to have a personal sort of connection to the music, so they could know where I was coming from," Illingworth said.

The creation of the album became his grieving process which Illingworth feels allowed him to communicate with Cole, and helped sort his thoughts, feelings and regret. In some tracks, Illingworth felt as if he were putting words in Cole's mouth, to reassure himself that she is still with him in some way. 

Despite drawing inspiration from loss, Grief is a Wilderness is not a melancholy album. The vibe of the album is mellow and peaceful. Those who enjoy Neutral Milk Hotel, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young will also enjoy Tide Pools.

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