Sunday, March 07, 2010


I've said it before and I'll say it again... like right now: writing is weird. Like sometimes you feel like you are just digging and digging and getting nowhere. Nothing works, nothing is good, nothing is inspired. And then, in a flash, something crystalizes for you and all the digging, all the work, comes into focus and makes sense and... you have success.

Speaking of success, MTV recently used a good portion of the song Things We Would Rather Lose on the Real World DC. Which was huge for us. And because of this, I've been taken by the possibility that we will have the means to record our third album sooner than I had anticipated... like this summer. Which is awesome.

In January or so, I demoed and sent to Jay about a dozen tunes... most of them came from my morning writing sessions of 2009. I was definitely happy with the group, and was hoping it would yield maybe five songs strong enough to record, leaving me to write another ten or so from which we'd cull another five and have ten songs. My general ratio has been to write two songs from every one that we decide to record.

So I was surprised when Jay came back with a list of eight that he thought were record-worthy. Surprised and happy. One song, he wanted me to completely rewrite the lyrics, but other than that, there were just a couple notes on some arrangement ideas.

So... that meant that we were really only a couple tunes from having our record ready... which was great but also a bit scary. When you (I) start writing for a project, there are unlimited possibilities. I tend to just write and write until I start to see themes develop organically... and then I grab the strongest and best organic themes, and start writing with those in mind. I think I've mentioned that I was waiting and waiting for this record to turn the corner and reveal the organic themes... develop some kind of creative inertia... and it just hadn't happened. I was happy with all the songs Jay picked, but the writing had all come with a lot of effort, a lot of deliberate effort.

This was not Look Alive or Things We Would Rather Lose where I seemed to be sweating songs out on a daily basis... choruses lingered for months, verses were crossed out and restarted... bridges were reverted to and then rewritten completely... It had been a frustrating and difficult time getting to the point of even having these eight songs... so I set into rewriting the one song, and pushing out a couple more to get to ten...

Then, an interesting thing happened: (I don't know why I ever doubt that it will... if you keep plugging away at creating, even when it feels like you're getting nowhere, you will eventually be rewarded with clarity... or something) the rewrite went incredibly well. I HATE rewriting on a large scale... or rather, I'm not very good at it: I usually take or leave the bulk of what I first write for a song, and if it's not good, I scrap it for parts.

But with this song, Lonesome Sound... I really felt like I nailed it. And really processed and responded to the feedback Jay had given me. After that (or during that), I finished the song Smoke and Ash, which I wrote about in my last post. The chorus had been hanging around and attached to no fewer than four songs... and I finally dialed in the right one... and I love the tone and the lyrical content... it was a little darker and moodier than the other songs, but still not depressing... just some added emotional weight to a group of songs that is largely positive, hopeful, and even playful at times.

Somewhat poetically right at this time, I lost my voice for about two weeks: a nasty sinus infection abetted by my stereotypically male tendency to avoid going to the doctor... the lesson? Antibiotics are good.

Anyway, I lost my voice and was stuck doing a lot of writing without a guitar in my hands. And I wrote this chorus (it really just kind of came to me in the middle of the day, nowhere near a guitar):

Do the echoes ever keep you up at night? Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right? It's okay to still have fading days I know you do

And what was more, I could hear the melody, the chords... I could hear the background singers... everything. It just popped into my head fully-formed like a reverse-Athena (natch). When that happens, you take notice. So I set about writing the rest with the idea that this was it: this was the last song of the record, and this needed to tie the whole thing together.

But no pressure...

Surprisingly, most of it came out very very quickly... and I was down to about six lines of lyrics to finish: a few in the verses and a bridge. And again, walking out of the gym one day last week, the bridge lyrics kind of just floated into my head and I had to scramble to write them down on my parking ticket.

And it was done.

Later that night, I sat in my living room and played all 10 songs for Andrea (and Tuman and Hendrix) and... well, I'm really really happy with them. I demoed the rewrite and the two new songs and sent them to Jay and, pending his comments, we should be ready to think about recording.

As I played through the songs, I was struck by one line in particular... in the first song I wrote in my morning writing sessions (called Dirty Engine), there's a line that goes "The days of easy love are gone/We're going to have to dig a little deeper"... and that line, in so many ways, is the message of the record. Emotionally, creatively, personally... dig a little deeper.

And I've been digging and digging and digging for me, for us, for PA... And it's paying off.