Monday, July 16, 2007

The Process

Men and women of great renown,

This is Ben posting. I've got a short window of time to write this post, so I'll save my thoughts on our tracking sessions for later this week. For now, I'll share a story from last week that offers some insight into the writing process.

As Andrew and I carpooled home from Wednesday's session, he mentioned to me that he was still in writing mode for this record. He loved the songs we already had in the docket, but didn't feel like the record was a closed canon yet. I mentioned that I had a song-start and he asked me what it was.

I've had this song in my back pocket for maybe a year. It began when I was reading Old Testament stories to my kids one night. My kids are young, so I was reading out of one of these super-paraphrased picture Bibles. That night I read the story of the widow's oil as well as the story of Naaman, both from II Kings if you're not familiar with them. Something about telling these stories to my kids in their most simplified form really brought home the symbolism to me. The widow's oil and the Jordan river were clearly the blood of Jesus.

I knew this was a strong idea and therefore a good song-start. I came up with a third story (the fire on mount Carmel) to round out the song with three verses. The challenge, I knew, would be to bring some focus to the ideas and not overwhelm people with metaphor after metaphor. The music I had in mind would be an Americana hymn, sort of like Canaan Bound. The first and only lines I came up with (probably sometime in the weeks that followed) were:

The blood of Jesus is like the widow's oil
One drop of it is deeper than the sea (I liked the meaning of this line, but not the words of it)
bla bla bla
If it's all you have, it's all you'll ever need

The blood of Jesus is like the leper's river
bla bla
bla bla

The blood of Jesus is like Elijah's fire

I never sat down to work on the song and it remained in this form...until last week. BUM BUM BUUUUM!!!

Andrew liked the idea and said he'd get to work on it. The next day he had something, which he sang to me in the car on the way in to work. I was relieved that the music was a little rolling tune, kind of like a weepies song and that he had a first verse. We were, of course, busy all day, but both of us were chomping at the bit to work on the song that night. As I cleaned the fridge that night I was in the famous writing zone. I went over and over the ideas in my mind, coming up with line after second-rate line, then occasionally stumbling on a new idea that sent me in a fresh direction. So after a lot of thinking on both our parts, we finally met up on iChat late that night. Here is the transcript of the first half of our conversation. That's AP on the left and me (with the hoverboard icon) on the right. It is, at points, difficult to follow because of the way iChat conversations tend to go. Also, I realize that these windows appear comically small, like stonehenge in spinal tap. If you really want to read them, maybe try saving them to your desktop.

At this point, AP invites me to an audio chat, and then we text some more, but I don't have the rest of the rest of the conversation. I wish I did because we all but finished the lyric that night and were able to track the song the next day.

I submit this because I think it's a pretty true picture of how a song comes into being. I know that when I was still wishing I could write a song and had never been able to, the most helpful thing for me was to learn (from AP and Eric Peters and Laura Story, specifically) that writing is just work like anything else. It begins with a creative spark, sure, but then you just have to swing the hammer for a while.


Cpt. Crayon said...

Sounds like the record's coming along well. I'm uber enjoying the play by play on this blog.

Oh yeah, and I appreciate that last bit of advice in this post.

Good junk.


Chris said...

Ben, thanks so much for sharing this! It is fascinating to see how a song takes shape, and this one looks like a song I'm gonna enjoy.

Tk log said...

Yeah that was way cool. Thanks.

MIKE P said...

Ben, Andy- Since your singin bout Naaman, don't miss that he thought his rivers were better than Israel's, only they weren't...our water is nothing to the water Jesus has for us...just a thought. I never saw that parallel in those stories. This, is why I so like you guys.

eiszoe said...

Woo hoo! Process! I hate it when artists say "oh, you don't want to hear about process...." The thing I enjoyed about this was you brought it down from the mountain, so to speak. I.e., people like me tend to idolize those successful at their craft, but I found that I write with the same trial-and-error rollercoaster ride that you showed on IChat. Not that anyone can write a great song, but this helps to know that you guys don't have some magic trick I could never access. You just have to jump in (to the river, fire, oil, :)

brlooke said...

Ben, thanks for letting us see a glimpse of your writing makes me even more excited to hear the final product!!!