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When Forever Returns

My brother  has a blog called The Boston Diaries, where he talks about how he gets his ideas for songs, for whatever reason, I’ve decided I to do something similar. Without further ado, check it out:

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to let go of someone you really care about. With Valentine’s Day looming around the corner, there’s all this talk of love and heartbreak around the bend. A friend of mine introduced me to this band called Passenger a few months ago, and they have this song called “Let Her Go.”

I guess the thing that drew me to the song is the way chorus is written:

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know your lover when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know your lover when you’ve let her go
And you let her go

It strikes as an interested play on that old saying, “If love someone, set them free. If they come back to you, then it was meant to be.” To me, that’s easier said than done. We want to so badly to be ever close to the people we love, but what happens when life is starting to pull you apart? Do you split up or try to make it work?

Recently, I’ve become enthralled by Abigail Washburn’s song “Dreams of Nectar.” The song was inspired by a friend of her’s whose wife sent him a Dear John Letter. At the time Washburn was planning to move to China to become a lawyer and was killing time as an ESL tutor for some Chinese immigrants that she had befriended. One night, one of them comes to Washburn crying and holding a letter in his hands, in which his wife tells him that she and their children are moving on.

In thinking a lot about how I would feel about that type of situation, I started process the idea “When forever returns.” Initially, it struck me as a conversation between a soldier and his or her significant other. Before Saturday night, all I had  was a roughly sketched out chorus. I had no concept for how I wanted the verses or anything else for that matter to go until I had dinner with an old friend on Saturday night.

She comes from a Vietnamese family and she’s getting ready to go to back for the first time in many years. She told me about her mom having mixed feelings about the trip in part because my friend loves to travel so it feels to her mom like my friend is always leaving. That’s how I came up with the first few lines in the song:

I know you’ve got the world to see
I know you want to chase your dreams
But it feels like you’re always leaving me

 

There’s a lot of uncertainty and variables that you have to watch out for when a loved one has to go away for any reason. I think there’s so much worrying involved because some things are hard to communicate. If you’re the person leaving, you know that people want to be understanding of the situation, but sometimes it’s hard. Likewise, if you’re the person being left behind, you know they’ll face things that you can’t protect them from, and the distance alone is a torture especially if that person is dear to you. Irrespective of what ends up happening the long run, everyone worries about the shape of things to come. In the end, no one really knows what the answer to that question will be so there’s very distinct absence of resolution as far as the lyrics are concerned.

When Forever Returns

Verse 1:
I know you’ve got the world to see
I know you want to chase your dreams
But it feels like you’re always leaving me
Recently we hardly speak
We meet we greet and then retreat
To the distance the only thing we share
I know you have to leave
So I won’t keep you any longer
But before you go
I just want to know
Chorus:
When forever returns
When the good times come again
Will you hold me in your arms
Like old lovers in the rain
When forever returns
When the road that took you away
Leads you to my door
Will you recognize this face
Verse 2:
It’s hard when you are not around
To feel like I’m on solid ground
You were always my gentle voice of reason
Whenever trouble came along
Whenever I was overcome
You would say “You’re stronger than you know”
I long to hear your voice
And I miss you everyday
But I’m afraid that you won’t feel the same
Chorus:
When forever returns
When the good times come again
Will you hold me in your arms
Like old lovers in the rain
When forever returns
When the road that took you away
Leads you to my door
Will you recognize this face
Bridge:
The eyes that stayed up every night waiting up for you
The hands that always prayed for your return
The worry that lay siege unto this lovers heart
Will it be forgot, will it be for naught
When forever returns

My Take on the Anatomy of a Songwriting Session

I recently came across this article on ServetheSong.com called “The Anatomy of a Songwriting Session” by Mary Shaw. I decided to write about my own songwriting process. It’s not that I think Shaw is wrong at all. In fact I actually like her approach. However, my process is a little different so I figured I’d talk about it a little.

Begin With An Emotion

I usually start with an emotional idea as well. Most of the time, it comes from watching movies or listening to other songs. Sometimes I listen to a song and I feel like something is missing from the lyrics, I’ll start writing my own lyrics just to fill what I consider to be an artistic void.

With movies, I’m usually a little bit more focused on the acting, the lighting, the set design and even the foley effects. For really great filmmakers, sometimes it’s everything that isn’t being said that’s more important. Afterall, social psychologists say that as much as 90% of everything we’re saying isn’t actually coming from the words we speak.

Building The Perfect Beast

I’m one of those “always have a plan no matter how ridiculous it is” kind of people. Once I grab on to an idea, I usually like to plan out what dimensions I plan to highlight in the song. I decide whether or not I agree with the theme of the subject and what direction I want take the theme that I am working on. Usually, that tends to lend itself to figuring out a rough song sketch, but it doesn’t always have to.

Find A Singable Chorus Melody

This isn’t always the next step for me. Sometimes I actually start with a verse or a bridge. However, it’s usually a good idea to work on a chorus early on because it helps join whatever subthemes I decided to tinker with in the verses. A good chorus sometimes makes the rest of the song write itself

Writing Lyrics

This is probably my favorite part of the songwriting process. Shaping lyrical into ideas into a whole song is process that I don’t take lightly. This may be partly due to the fact that I draw inspiration from other peoples songs. In many cases, I think a great song lyrics speak to the soul the in ways that the listener (and the artist) may have never imagined before. A line of lyric written for the right style and delivery can either make or break a song.

Lay Down The Lead Sheet

This is usually the part I find least amusing. It’s probably because I started out writing hip-hop lyrics. Hip-hop is usually a competitive genre more often than not, it’s just you  and the beat (the more correct term would be instrumental but don’t mind me and my pendantry). Since the beats are usually done separately and have probably been mixed before the recording process begins, then it’s typically pointless to have a lead sheet if there is only one performer. In any case, If you’re in a band, or you plan to publish your music for licensing, then a lead sheet is probably in your best interest.

The other reason I tend wait until the end to work on the lead sheets is purely for a sense of catharsis. In my mind, lead sheets represent the final culmination of everything that you have been working on. Once it’s documented on the lead sheet, it’s finished product. When you’re publishing or licensing your music, the lead sheet will serve as the master control for how the song is to be performed. Broadcast stations also use lead sheets to determine which sections of songs they are going to play. Hence, there is no point in making a lead sheet if you haven’t finished the song.

There you have it. The anatomy of a songwriting session. There is no right or wrong way to go through the songwriting process. Frankly, your audience probably won’t care about what your process was, because their usually more concerned about how the song makes them feel. So experiment a little. Try my process, try Ms. Shaw’s process or create your own altogether.