The Weekly Song
2015 was a year of great progress for me, by almost every measure. I started collaborating with Brooks, played a lot of great shows at a bunch of new venues, and tackled the project of planning, recording, and releasing my first album (update coming soon!). All in all, a banner year, except for one domain: Songwriting.
This is a tough reality to face because songwriting is my favorite part of the whole music process. It's the part I know I would still do even if nobody listened. What's more, songwriting is something that, at least for the last four years, has come relatively naturally. I never felt like I wasn't writing enough songs or only writing impossibly bad ones. The balance felt easy and right. Of course, it's no surprise that with all of this collaboration, playing, and recording, creating new songs took a backseat.
Getting back into the swing of songwriting has been bumpy. Looking strictly at output, I wrote about as many fragments and seeds of songs last year as I usually do. What changed was the amount of time spent tinkering with these baby-songs to nudge them toward adulthood.
A few weekends ago, I spent an afternoon just looking through the fragments I had, transcribing the ones I felt still had some spark of potential left. It was a long and painful process. Long, because these bits of songs were scattered in a dozen places: notebooks, index cards, backs of envelopes, and various digital locations. Painful, because even great seeds go stale, and there were a few that might've had legs at one time, but now didn't seem worth the effort of saving. And of course, at the end of this long project, I was exhausted, without anything new to show for it.
A few days later, as I was driving around town, I realized that a chorus from one of my trashcan bound baby-songs was a perfect fit for a nearly finished song that had so far stumped me. In fact, they had almost the exact same melody, which I never realized until seeing them in close succession like I did that afternoon. Finally, I had something to show for my work: a song one step closer to being finished.
This is the process, at least the process as I know it. It is not clean and well-ordered. There are beautiful flashes of inspiration, but they don't always take you all the way. The rest is just slogging through, taking time, and hoping that with enough staring at these half-finished pages, something useful will rattle itself loose.
So I've been smiling to myself, wondering which of these little baby-songs will be born first and break me out of this months long block. Sometimes they feel like they're racing for the finish. Sometimes they feel helplessly suspended in solution, untouchable.
And then, yesterday evening I wrote a brand new song that had nothing to do with any of them. Flung out of space. I wrote it in about 20 minutes. And that's the process too.