So I had about three versions of things to write here: profound sounding sentences that summed up all my thoughts on being a good songwriter - stories of honing my craft and delivering solid sets of good songs, tales of finding my voice in hopes of becoming a good songwriter.
But here's the stark reality of the situation: I am not. I am not a good writer. Because once you admit or feel you are a good writer, all the goodness goes away and a kind of cold confidence takes its place - predictable things happen in your songs and it all feels too well-constructed. People say things like, "he/she knows what he/she is doing," or "I'm a professional" starts ringing throughout your brain and rattles around like a rock in your shoe, or "this worked last time; I'll try and re-vamp that."
Having given you my preface, please keep in mind that the following thoughts on songwriting are from a non-good songwriter.
I think that's my favorite word when describing songwriting. For me, if I'm not taking a risk instrumentally, structurally, or even lyrically, I'm not making a good song. You never know what kind of impact you may have on others with your work, but if you can capture a moment in a three-and-a-half to six-minute musical package, then job well done. It's a gift you've been given to give back.
For the most part I work alone. I enjoy it that way. I used to think I did this out of paranoia that some 'mean' co-writer would come along and 'tamper' with my ideas. But, no it's just how I've always done it.
I generally write the music first. Melody. Everything starts on my piano. If it works by itself all stripped down and naked then it's gonna work no matter what. And by work, I mean convey what I'm feeling and trying to give to the listener whether or not I add a bunch of crazy strings, or drum beats, or layers of vocal prettiness or hooks.
I write the story with musical themes then add the words to audibly enhance it or to add an additional connecting block for dimension. Actually, sometimes the words are written strictly because they phonetically feel good to say. I suppose it depends on the song. In fact, I often enjoy making up words or using "improper" versions of words such as casted, abode, etc. I do this because I can stretch and stretch. No need to be 'quirky and weird' for the sake of being 'quirky and weird.' But in this way it really begins to feel like my song and eventually, my record.
It's funny, because now I think in terms of "records." This is a new development for me. Is it good or bad? Not sure ... But I do try and hold onto the days when writing ditties and short songs was an absolute escape from boring day jobs, taxing school projects, and people.
"Heal for the Honey" - I wrote this little piece over a year ago (late winter '06). Not out of heartbreak or anything like that, but out of patience. It's really a futuristic lament song. At the time I didn't know very much of the things that would come, but I thought to write about my reaction to them anyway.
I decided to title the new LP after this song. At first, I thought the record was going to be a "break-up" record - seeing as I wrote and recorded it in the midst of some painful times of the heart. But, after lots of prayer and time I realized it was a record about healing and renewal.
Fresh starts. A rebirth. Beginning again.
Overall theme of the record: Never settle. Even if it means fighting to the death for what is right and true.
When I was a kid, we had this wide-open field behind our house. We were living in the sticks at the time and it was a special few years in my life. I distinctly remember spending the majority of being nine years old wandering around that old field. There was a particular film score I had grown really attached to, and I listened to it on my walkman and headphones day in and day out. I'm pretty sure that's where almost all my inspiration comes from to this day - that place. When I think back on all those summers spent barefoot on that grassy piece of land in south Louisiana with mosquitoes buzzing around and the soggy marsh to the left making its occasional splashing sound, I think about the little person I was - dreaming big things and "scoring" those dreams in my head.
So that, my friends, is what my songs are - dreams of a 9-year-old Southern girl who would go to her 30-minute piano lesson once a week and try to complete Bach Invention #2 so she could hear Ms. Seagrave say, "Alright, let's try the next one this week. Think about voicing the right hand a bit more so the melody rings clearer."
And after years of countless piano recitals in musty churches and quarterly competitions of trying to "out-play" an Asian prodigy, and going to college to study under a mentor of great "academic compositional accomplishment," and spending night after night in seedy clubs and smokey bars where boys in tight pants would shout out their love-sick, anti- conforming confessions with false British accents, and then spending all my Sundays in congregations where lines of "needing to be filled up" are spread across a giant screen on Powerpoint; I go back to being nine.
It was just me, God and a field.
This is my process. Or, my inspiration.
So I'm now learning how to share my 9-year-old dreams with people by making records and playing shows and "connecting" through the "digital" world. I've been given a chance - so there's a responsibility there not to waste people's time.
Sharing is precious. An opportunity.
Show people your world. Draw them in. Love them. Thank them.