Over the past year and a half, since I’ve been able to start writing songs again, I’ve been constantly amazed that this has come back- even though it’s harder than it used to be- and so appreciative, so grateful for any of it at all. That being said, I thought I would give a little idea of what the song writing process is for me- every song writer has a different approach, and this is mine.
First off, a little history: the way I used to write songs was entirely through some sort of ‘comes through me’ process: a little ditty or piece of tune would start thrumming through my brain, so I would have to stop whatever I was doing to record the melody or write down the words. Then I would either right then and there write the song, or work on it pretty easily later on within a few days. I wrote a lot of songs this way.
After my accident that left me with a moderately severe TBI, I wasn’t able to write at all for some time, let alone speak, finish sentences, or communicate easily at all. After a few years of this, I tried to write stories to help bring my cognitive condition back, but found I was cheating when I couldn’t think of the word I wanted to use- referring to the thesaurus or just using a different word altogether. So I wrote my recipes out that friends and family had been asking me to share with them for years. It would sometimes take the better part of a full day to write out one recipe- that’s how impaired the language side of my brain was- but I did it. After a year of writing, I was able to write a book’s worth of recipes and tales to go with them, found a publisher, and released my book ‘Ruby’s Juke Joint Americana Cookbook'(that comes with a CD of sample Americana music to cook by!).
Even after that, songs didn’t come to me. I re-worked a passel of of our songs for children’s ears for our album Rockabilly Playground that was on the primary ballot for a Grammy in 2013 🙂 the lyrics at least were able to come with some dedicated concentration now- but no new music.
Over the next few years, I continued to write- as a result of my cookbook, I had a radio cooking show that aired on over 500 stations in 200+ countries around the world. For two years, every week I wrote a new episode and series of recipes. And my brain did what brains do- it re-routed signals to new places 🙂
Which leads me to this past year and some change. About a year and a half ago, one day, as I was watching a movie about the bomb girls of WWII, I saw a poster in the background of one scene that was like a line of a song- as I sat there and watched the movie, the line kept repeating itself over and over again until I realized- oh my gosh! I have to write this out! And… there was music behind it 🙂
Which led to a whole series of songs that began burbling up through me again- I never know when I will be inspired- I’ll read something, or hear something on the news, or someone will say something, or I’ll be puttering around doing something and hear a line of music going around and around in my head- and realize- I have to stop what I’m doing and capture this!
The difference between how I used to write though and how I write now is that now I have to work hard at a song. It doesn’t just come to me almost fully finished. I get a snippet of a line of music, and have to work at the remainder- the verse, the chorus, the bridge, how they all connect. Or I have a lyric and work out what the story is- what the song is about. And then figure out what musical line goes behind the lyrics to buoy them up, to help the message come across- is it an upbeat feel? Or sad? Or loving, or something else? Cha-cha? Waltz? Shuffle? I often end up re-writing portions of the song as I go, and it can take months now for a song to work out.
And then I bring the song to Jorge, who makes comments and puts in his two cents’ worth- maybe changing something about the song, maybe adding a bridge, maybe leaving it as is. Once we’ve worked out the song together, we bring it to the full band, and it blossoms from a 2 dimensional idea into a 3 dimensional chorus of sound with the guitar, bass and drums fleshing it out. And last, once we start playing the song in front of audiences, it becomes something else- 4th dimensional? The song begins to take on a life of it’s own and may even change with the energy of a live show and the audience interaction with it.
Sometimes, I end up re-writing portions of the song even after we’ve been playing it out in public for a while. As my friend Tjarko says, NOW I’m a song writer- using more perspiration than inspiration 🙂
So that’s my song writing process these days. Thanks for reading along, and hopefully you enjoyed hearing about the process. So now I look forward to playing the new songs for you at a show sometime soon! Make sure to check our website to find out where and when we’ll be playing near you soon, and we’ll see you there!