Behind The Lyrics
I didn’t tell anyone except for a few friends and the Fraction members that it was coming (they got it early). I thought it would be fun to experiment with the way that huge pop stars like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake can just drop a new album, unexpected and unannounced, and see what happens with it.
Spoiler alert: I’m not sitting at number one on the iTunes Charts and (to my knowledge), Neilson hasn’t pushed FERMENT / DEBRIS to Billboard, but it sure was exciting for me to finally give it to you. I am incredibly thankful to those of you who have reciprocated that excitement thus far.
Tonight, I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about it.
I wrote most of the lyrics to both of these songs in my head and on my feet, walking around some neighborhood, trying to find fresh air and enough mental clarity to think straight. The words always seem to come outside and out loud, which, come to think of it, is how most of them have always come. I wrote almost all of last year’s releases that way: ANXIETY walking around Downtown Seattle, and Sanctuary Cities walking through San Francisco’s Tenderloin. I remember - even back at 17 - thinking up When I Go To Meet God on a bike ride home from my closing shift at Starbucks.
I guess some things don’t change. Maybe even most things.
Sommelier - the song who’s beginning is so beautifully sung by my friend Elle Puckett (you might know her from Poema, or Eisley, or you just might know her) - came to me on a walk in Albuquerque, not far from my house, nearly two years ago. It feels absurd – how long a song can take to come into existence.
I wanted to write about the sky, and about God, and about the way that, if you keep your eyes open for too long while you’re looking up at the night, they’ll start to water, and then all the stars will start to blur together. I wanted to know if there was a way for me to create a correlation between that experience and the way that certain aspects of a more metaphorical, spiritual vision felt like they were beginning to blur at that time, too, like stars dying and all things being made new, and wondered if I - or if the people in my heart and mind (perhaps even some of you) - would be able to see clearly again. I wanted to ask questions about how it would feel to burst from new wine being poured into old wine skins, and I wanted to write about the nights that I would sneak out of my bedroom window and experience exactly that as a dreamer, laying down in the meadow up the street from my parent’s house, wondering.
At some point, I shared the lyrics here, through the LTP Weekly. I had ideas and faces and characters associated with the story therein, but my mom - o faithful subscriber that she has been - wrote back to say something to the degree of, “Interesting – I don’t know what you had in mind, but I think all of these characters are you.”
Perhaps they are. That’s something I love about art: giving others the freedom to interpret it as they will. And often more than that. Oftentimes others even help you figure it out. If you’ve read (or heard) my Correspondence [a commentary] release - then you know how much I love leaving the "why" out, but I also love learning what, exactly, I'm writing about from more objective listeners who can help me interpret my own work. As weird as that may seem, it can happen, in much the same way as one's perspective of his or her own work, and what it meant to them then and what it means now, is capable of changing over time.
As for Carl Sagan’s Smoking Chair... that one began at midnight, on some weird, dark road off the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada last December. My wife, Brandi, was working out at a gym she found, and I was walking around by myself, singing a hook that never even made the song. I scrapped it because it felt like an old, melodramatic emo lyric that I might've loved in sixth grade, but didn't feel right for the rest of the story.
Some of my favorite moments of the day are in the late afternoon, when the sun is the warmest, shining in through the blinds, accentuating the dust in the air. I thought about how beautiful and lonely it might feel in the quiet of an old study, sitting in a leather chair behind an oak desk, quiet shattered by a loss ringing off the hook in the hallway.
In January, when I was finishing the song in a bookstore on Capitol Hill, I was reading these quotes by Carl Sagan, and I came across this one:
“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
I thought that was a fascinating idea, regardless of the fact that I disagree with his statements about "all" conventional faiths desiring small gods. But yes, perhaps we get to his grandeur in different ways. Jesus, after all, chose the foolishness of incarnation on Sagan's pale blue dot, which likely seemed small to him, indeed. I think it's hilarious, put that way. Of course God, in all of his grandeur, would do something as absurd as that. It spurred my reverence and awe toward him, anyhow (which is not the same thing as an endorsement for Sagan's worldview – let alone an assumption that all of you agree with mine – only that, per usual, Jesus is a God comfortable with using whatever means he pleases to spur on our wonder, and this just happened to a way he did it in me). Plus, I liked the imagery: Sagan's stars floating in the air and the dust motes in the light of the study and the same sun that cast its beams through the broken windows of the car crash where the man, who came from dust, returns to dust.
Finally, I wanted to emphasize the worlds that each of us are. I wrote a bit about that in my letter following Chester Bennington's death, and I recently read a quote that I didn't know existed, saying the same. I enjoy that idea. It reminds me to be humble – or to try – when interacting with others. Judgements are quickly cast in the world, folks, but we're in this together, worlds colliding.
So anyhow, I thought it'd be fun to share a bit of behind the scenes about these tracks with y'all tonight, and I hope it was. It's no manifesto like the Correspondence commentary, but it's a brief look into some of the inspiration that led me to FERMENT / DEBRIS.
I'm thankful for your interest, and I'm thankful for your support.
If you'd like to listen to the new poems / songs, you can find them digitally, everywhere, forever. If you'd like to pick up a record, however, head over to the online store and pick one up before they're gone. I sort of get tired of constantly playing the scarcity game, but we really did only press 500, and so, such is the nature of the beast.
Thanks so much for being a part of my life. It is an honor to share this new EP with you.
This blog post was originally sent to my LTP Weekly Subscribers and Fraction Members. If you'd like to receive weekly thoughts, letters and pontifications every Sunday night, please consider signing up to become a paid Fraction Member here, or joining my free newsletter by entering your information in the form below.