Three years ago, I wrote a story for every song on my new album — now, you can read them

I started writing song-story postcards when I released The Living Record; a series of 12 postcards, one for each song on the album, and each with a story behind the song. I sold them as a “perk” of the crowdfunding campaign, and it was the most popular item.

When Long Time Leaving was coming down the pipes, I wanted to do write song-stories again. Not because they sold well, but because I loved taking a moment to think about what story to share, and I loved my monthly appointment of sitting with a stack of postcards and writing that story over and over for those who had signed up to receive them – little song letters between us.

Three years has passed since Long Time Leaving came out! Enough time, I think, for those stories to sit quietly on postcards – today, I’m sharing the song stories here. No postage (or hand cramping) required.

The first half of this song dragged me out of bed around midnight after I received a summer text message written in code. Months later, the rest came pouring out of an autumn morning. It’s a song for the love and lovers of that year;  it’s halves that waited.

Except for the first five words, this song came out complete, on a stretch of highway in North Dakota; the first of two I would write that day, while driving alone between tour dates in the fall of 2013. For all my songs about big losses, this one traverses smaller aches: the revisited ex and the unrequited crush.

A residency in Michigan in 2011 greatly shaped the songs that made up my last album and marked a shift in a really difficult time. Driving through the state two years later, remembering drew the first two verses and the chorus out in quick succession on the same day “Alone in This” was written; a fruitful drive.

I don’t quite remember writing this song. I know it was a late night, maybe a sleepless one. I recall it like a dream – I know I was home, but it didn’t seem like home, and I sat down at my piano and started to cry in her arms. “Don’t you cry,” she said, and so we wrote this song instead.

This song is about couples counselling and the watchful caretaking of people falling into their darker instincts. I started to think of my role in tending to my assorted songs as being a similar mediator: experienced yet starting from scratch towards an unnamed goal.

This song had been waiting for its moment since the last album; since it was written on a ukulele in the vibrating Michigan woods as a love song to no one in particular and everyone at once. It’s the only song I’d performed live before recording, and I always introduced it with: “feel free to take this personally.”

Sometimes you just imagine everyone is talking about you, and sometimes they really are. And sometimes, news of events in your life reaches strangers’ ears before your own. I wrote this song engulfed in whispers and heartache and looking for a way out.

I first wrote this little waltz in 2005 but only performed it live once. In 2012, I used the lyrics in a bouncing piano-based song called “Towhichawrita” and performed it countless times. For the album, it yearned to waltz again and so I returned to its beginnings. Apt, considering this song asks us to listen from the start.

I woke up one day already singing this chorus. Two verses quickly followed, but my lover didn’t like them. I threw them out and wrote three more. Still, my lover didn’t think the song should make the cut. We broke up and I put the song on the album. The song might have been about exactly that all along.

This song was written on a lonely piano, slow, sad and with your everyday pop progression of 1, 4, 5. “I’m tired of sad songs,” the piano sighed; I shifted the chords to 1, 3, 4. By the time I brought this song to Steve Dawson, he transformed it further to what’s on the album: a tambourine-ed book-end of a love song.

I’m a fan of doing whatever it takes to get through dark times. Ideally, it doesn’t hurt others or yourself, but other than that there’s no wrong way through. This song is about finding friends in unlikely places to help get through hard days or, sometimes, just one night.

“Je suis aux oiseaux” is a kind of happiness – an elation – and this song looks towards happy moments with hope and belief. It is a thank you to everyone who has held me through hard times and when it came to me as I walked home down a quiet midnight summer street, I knew it would be the last word on the album.

Thank you, to those who gave me a place to mail these stories. Thank you, reader, for receiving them now.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *