How It All Started

I decided to write songs. Well, I guess I should say I decided to finish songs. I’d been writing songs for a long time. The trouble was, I gave myself a lot of liberty not to finish them. That kind of liberty in songwriting is important. Some songs aren’t meant to be written in one fell swoop. Sometimes you gotta live and learn a little to be able to finish them. That said, unfinished songs can’t be sung. So, I decided to finish one song a week for a year. I was serious about it. I’d hole myself up in the basement while my daughter was napping upstairs and I’d write. Sometimes it was fast and messy and furious, as if in desperation — “Dear God let me finish this song before she wakes up!” Other times it was slow. Painfully so. Always, it was fueled by caffeine and resolve. I’d start multiple songs a week. Sometimes two or three at a time. I’d have all these different ideas and I’d try each one and see if anything stuck. It happened more than once that I’d get really excited about an idea and think I hit something big. I’d finish it and record it and the next day I’d listen and wonder what the heck I was thinking. Then I’d have to start all over again. Sometimes I’d find the catchiest chorus and I’d play and play it, so proud of myself. Then I’d realize I’d basically written the chorus to the song I’d been playing earlier in my car, just in a different key with different lyrics. And I’d have to start all over again.

It was hard. I expected it to be. That wasn’t what surprised me. What surprised me was that sometimes it was easy. Part of me was waking after a long, dormant time underground. I felt like a bear lumbering out of hibernation into the bright morning sun. I could feel it’s warmth on my face. The world seemed new — and brighter. I was feeling more like myself and I was having fun! I started listening more. Observing more keenly. I was not just looking but seeing, not just listening, but hearing. I was tuning in. That’s my favorite part of being a songwriter — the observing and the tuning in. It requires an “in-the-moment” kind of living that is challenging but freeing. The songwriting was changing me.

Sometimes it felt like the song came and took my hand and wrote itself. That was something. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to harness a wild horse and no matter what I did, the song didn’t want to be written. I learned to let those songs lie, at least for now. I read an interview with Leonard Cohen where he talked about how some songs literally took him years to write. Talk about patience and dedication! Songwriting is an event as much as it is a process. Sometimes it happened to me, despite me. Sometimes, it needed what is exquisitely, uniquely me, to take its hand, and show it the way.

I ended up finishing thirty-two songs in thirty-two weeks’ time. I didn’t finish fifty-two like I initially set out to do. But I realized I had learned what I needed to learn and that was enough. I’ve finished many more songs since and like any other writer, I have piles of works-in-progress stacked high. Anyway, after thirty-two I decided to make a record. I call it Light in the Lowlands. It is releasing on April 5th, one month from today. This is how it all started. And I can’t wait to share it with you!