My junior year of college I stayed at my dorm for Thanksgiving. Which was just a very normal thing for me to do for Thanksgiving because I reject normal things, like eating cake on your birthday. While a campus of 5,000 left for all corners of the country to celebrate with friends and family and food, I stayed in my apartment eating groceries I bought from the Family Dollar. I had four days to do nothing. Four days to not even leave or speak to another human. It was me, cable and Cheezits and my keyboard and guitar. I got to work.
I gave myself a task. I was going to write an album. I’d never written songs before, outside of my musical offering “Chicken Pot Pie” when I was 6. But Keane was a band I loved and I’d read about their lyricist Tim Rice-Oxley taking whole days to do nothing but write. So I wrote in his honor.
The first song was called the Four Chords I Know. Which was written using the four chords I knew. G, Cadd9, D, EM. It rhymed. Lyrically, it was about using the Four Chords I Know to express love for another person. Really pretty shitty.
One song I imagined to be a chorale chanting. The hook was written around “letting the spirit flow”. Very Southern Revival. I pranced around my apartment hitting my knees with the ferocity of a crowd chanting We Will Rock You. Except the song was intended to Rock the Spirit. In a secular sense. It was a liberal arts college after all.
I wrote a song called Don’t Move. Don’t Move was written with arpegiating chords. I knew instantly that it sounded way too much like Coldplay. Clocks, specifically. I am still into the tune. It still surfaces when I’m banging around on the keyboard. Not a waste.
The last song was called Punctuate. It was about a time I called my girlfriend the name of my ex-girlfriend in bed. It felt like a life and death matter and I wrote a song that shared that same.
Musically, it’s the best thing I’ve done. Then and now. Lyrically it was very explicit. I was much less nuanced than I am now. But I didn’t mind. It sounded exactly how I felt. I was convinced that Punctuate would be an incredible song. I told myself that if Punctuate was great it would be the only consultation for hurting a woman I genuinely thought the world about in the most careless way was that it let me feel I’d been channeled to release something entirely beautiful. I don’t feel that anymore.
I write songs now and I’m happy with them. They’re good. They aren’t sung any better. But I’m proud of the writing. I’m proud of how they represent who I am as a writer and an arranger. I’m proud of it. I know more than Four Chords now. I like that.
So in that way, Punctuate is now not a song I think the world about. I want the tune. I decided to axe the lyrics.
These songs weren’t good. My musical sensei, my old world percussion instructor, upon hearing I was intent on rejecting this song and releasing it to the endless inbetween of shitty artistic ideas, wrote, “
Write one hundred songs – that is your goal. Then the world will open up for you. Forget the album -for now. Get your 100 songs in and then you will never hate the songs from the past. Remember that songwriting is a craft just like woodworking or being a great chef – play, play and play some more and the song will live inside of you.
He’s the fucking man.
It was released to the public on a Monday at an open-mic. And while my songs are infinitely better, remembering the life or death quality to the song was awesome. It was like rediscovering a muscle I’d not scratched in many years. I was an epic kind of guy. I wrote an epic kind of song and in that moment, I performed it as epically as a yopro in DC could. Which was awesome. I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad the best riff I’ve ever written will be matched with equally better writing. But in that moment, it was entirely very cool.