Probably one of the most frequently asked questions I’m asked is, “How do you come up with what you write?” or “Where do you get your inspiration?” and the answer is everywhere. I live what I write, and everything that reaches the page – whether about a someone else or myself – in some way circles back to me and what I’m experiencing or have experienced at some point in time. Love – or what I thought was love – the fleeting nature of time, and purpose in life have each been themes in at least one song of mine because, like any piece of art, they were an internal struggle painted onto an external medium. In my opinion, if it’s not personal, I don’t really care.
That’s why the most important aspect to songwriting – apart from what makes a catchy chorus, what constitutes a great hook, etc., etc. – is brute, raw, uncensored honesty. Hemingway, the man himself, once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” Typewriters aside, I couldn’t agree more. Art is cathartic, a means of putting onto paper what’s been built up in your heart and seeing it in words right in front of you so you know it’s real and have to face it and really can’t look away because this came from you and is you and now it’s real not just a thought that you can push away or sweep under the rug like dust. I’ve tried that before. I’ve tried to say, “That was just an observation about someone else,” or, “I’m just a really great listener.” And I tricked myself into believing them because I didn’t want to face the truth of the lyrics – those words that I had created and had flowed out of me like a cup that’s too full because they had to be realized. Or at least given the chance. I never really listened to them, at least not in the time when it would have mattered. It was only after the fact that I really looked at them and grasped that I had never been more honest with myself than in those songs.
I lose myself when I’m performing songs that I’ve written. Now, I don’t mean I get on stage and forget I’m there (I don’t know if that ever really happens because, you know, you’re on stage), but more often than not, when you see me close my eyes, it’s because I’m reliving the experience of being heartbroken, restless, or whatever it was that made me want to write. You can’t lie to yourself in songwriting. You can talk about things you don’t know and take what you’ve learned from others, but those never really stick, and when people can brush it under the rug, they normally do. Sometimes that sort of thing happens when a song is in its early stages. It’s a terrible habit, but sometimes I’ll find myself so in love with a melody or a chord progression that I’ll find myself writing a line just so I can have something to sing along with. And sometimes it works. Sometimes, the stars align, and meter, melody, and meaning collide to make something catchy and real. But, usually, the words get trashed, and I have to take a step back and start from scratch because I can’t relate to what’s being said. “Roses” for example, is a track from the EP I’m working on right now, and I swear I’ve written the entire thing five times because I love the melody so much, but in some way or another, I kept forcing the words, grabbing them out of thin air in an attempt to replicate a feeling but never having much success.
So, in my experience, I’ve come to find that honesty tops the charts when it comes to songwriting, and I think it’s because beauty is in the details. You can’t replicate details. That’s what makes people cry when they hear a song at just the right moment about just the right feeling because you can’t help but remember how you loved the same thing about the girl who tore your heart out or how you feel the same way when you think about the future when it’s just too big and unknown. And sometimes I ask people if they’ve ever cried to a song because to me it’s really not an off-hand question. But most of the time, I get back this strange look with an even stranger answer of, “No. Have you?” Hell yeah, I have. It’s a short list, I promise, but those songs make you feel something. And it’s not a brand new feeling: it’s the same one that you’ve been pushing out of the light, so you couldn’t really see it – that same one where you’ve only gotten close enough to see its silhouette, and you don’t want to get close enough to see the details, so you fill in the middle to tell yourself it’s not really what it is. Songs like those are multipliers, written in a way that makes you inch closer to that silhouette and make you feel like someone’s there to hold your hand. Those are the good ones, and those are the songs that will never get old because, more than just a song, they start to gain a period of your life that comes back every time you hear them.
So, whether you read this to learn more about songwriting, how I write, or what inspires me, I’ll leave you with general statement. I write about what I’ve experienced because it’s the only way to be honest with myself, because it’s the only way to know a subject so deeply that you can talk about it with any sort of detail, and because it’s the only way to connect with people on a deeper level than the ear and finally start that conversation between artist and listener by saying, “Me too.”