I’ve never been very open to co-witing songs. The thing is, for me, song-writing is deeply personal. When other musicians off-handedly remark, “Hey, we should hang out and do some co-writes” I’m stunned, thinking, “YOU MEAN BASICALLY GET NAKED TOGETHER?” I can jam into the wee hours of the morning with others — there are many ways, of course, that music is playful and spontaneous in my life — but song-writing is messy and divine. Song-writing comes with tears and shouting and sighs, and is part of a tenuous relationship with the muse that I have often felt I couldn’t risk adding anyone else to.

I did, a few years ago, have a good run of co-writes with Don Harrison (two of those songs appeared on my EP Lost: “The Most Lovely” and “Let it Go”) but the key was that he gave me recorded instrumental tracks and then, alone in my apartment, away from any watchful eyes, I’d sing along and later get back to him with the result. Song-writing, at its best, for me, is that: I just start to sing a song, like it’s been on the tip of my tongue and I’ve suddenly remembered it.

But to remember it I have to be alone.

I always felt a little jealous of those that had the comfort level, the lack of self-consciousness, to write with others. What have I been missing out on? Am I just taking it all too seriously?

In February this year I participated in the Aboriginal Music Program’s week long Market Builder Residency, with huge thanks to Manitoba Music and Canada Council for the Arts. When the opportunity came up the participants were encouraged to pursue creative development, not just professional. I decided to take the co-writing plunge and asked the fabulous Coco Love Alcorn, experienced co-writer extraordinaire, if she’d spend a couple afternoons with me and be my in-person co-writing first. Coco and I have toured numerous times over the years, she probably has seen me naked at least a few times, and I felt safe enough with her to let my guard down and be open to other ways of writing.

We laughed a lot. She encouraged me to simplify. We distilled ideas. I was grateful to be pushed out of my comfort zone. And we wrote a couple songs! Alan Greyeyes filmed this one in its complete newness, inside the Coalition Music chapel. Half of the chorus came from an already in-progress song of mine that I may still return to one day — it has rather sadder undertones than this (I will always like sad songs) — and the rest came from the two of us together, talking about home, anchors, and family.

“Michigan” has been, through the recording process, the short hand for my song “You Were Here in Michigan” which will be the first single – coming in one week! – from my new album – coming in September! – “The Living Record”.

A savvy and smart friend of mine commented not too long ago “it seems ‘Lost in the City’ would be a better title” and he’s right in some ways. Lost in the city is the lyrical hook of the song and a less cumbersome, ie catchier name than “You Were Here in Michigan”. I’ve been told my specificity in songwriting has narrowed my potential fanbase (pft) and something like the difference between “You Were Here in Michigan” and “Lost in the City” is a good example of my not-broad-enough leanings…

But “You Were Here in Michigan” it is. JUST ‘CAUSE. Acutally, for many reasons, but I’ll spare you them.

Of course, as we know, “Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” and with that in mind, let me tell you more about this song that I am soon to unleash on the world.

I hadn’t actually expected to keep this song. I write many songs in passing that get thrown out, forgotten or ignored. As it should be. Somebody stop me if I ever start to carefully preserve and tend to every little thing I write. I wrote/sang this song to myself as I drove north from Flint to the ISLAND Hill House last fall, it kept me company and described the view. The next day I decided to record it and put it up on YouTube.

This is that rough, early rendition of “Michigan”:

I hadn’t planned to work on it again, but over the weeks that followed it kept popping into my mind, a pest really, demanding my attention.

One evening, not long before we went into the studio, in some late, fertile hour of the night, I gave in to its persistence, wrote a bridge, changed the ending and voilà, it was complete.

Once in the studio and in the shared hands of Steve and the band, it grew bigger and stronger and it has come a long way since that recording above! I can’t wait to share it with you.

In one week.

xoc

 

…and probably not the last?

For the Songs and Sonics blog, Jeff Boller created J-Bot who randomly generates five interview questions. From what I understand, it’s given some basic information – like that I’m singer-songwriter, not a guitar-slinger – to narrow down the questions it draws from. I confess, I kept hitting resubmit once I read that if you don’t like the questions you can get J-Bot to ask you a different five, but not because I didn’t like them, but because I was curious! Eventually I ended my curiosity and replied. It was fun. Thanks Jeff and J-bot!

Interview: Christa Couture

Folk songwriter • guitarist • vocalist • keyboardist

What’s your writing process like?

It’s like that part in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” about how to fly: “There is… a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Which is to say, at its best, it catches me off guard; it picks me up and swings me around; it just comes. Or not. I try not to overthink it – for me, thinking is the end of writing. I’m a bit artsy fartsy about it in that respect – I just start to sing when I’m moved to do so, and the muse doesn’t always have the greatest timing, but I do my best to accept her when she arrives. I can also sit down, be deliberate and say “I’m going to write a song about this now” as I have the tools to do so – but I’m never connected to those works in the same way as I am to the ones that reveal themselves to me on their terms. And for me, the connection is what makes it worthwhile.

What’s something you refuse to write about?

That seems like a trick question! Wouldn’t telling you be the end of my refusal? That said, there are things I keep private…