my work is music
“My work is music.”
Those words fell out of my mouth last week when I was speaking to a songwriting group about my process. It wasn’t in my notes. It wasn’t something that I planned to say. It’s not even something I’m convinced of on most days despite the front I maintain.
But it fell out of my mouth and I actually believed it.
I’d been talking for well over an hour at that point and in hindsight, I have some regrets about not spending much time expressing the fact that most songs take me months to complete because I’m honestly afraid of them. I’m afraid they won’t be good. I’m afraid they’ll be misunderstood. I’m afraid they’ll age poorly. That I’ll say something on the literal record that I will regret.
And so I fear them and treat them carefully and delicately because I know their power.
I turned my grandmother’s near fatal experience of driving in front of a train into a triumph of spirit. I turned dream visitations of my late mother into a memory that feels as real as any other and placed my niece at the center so that she may claim some of that magic for herself. I’ve turned resentment into compassion; self pity into resilience.
And I’m aware that none of it really matters. It’s not dangerous work. It’s not health care or farming or structural engineering. Everyone will go on living just fine without hearing the songs I dream up, and yet it’s everything.
So why does it matter so much to me?
Songwriting is alchemy for the spirit. A song can shift your focus, broaden your opinions and change your mood.
Songwriters express on our behalf.
I think a songwriter has to examine their work with the care and attentiveness that they would give to a home they wish to maintain. We learn as we go what it takes to make improvements. To take notice of where it’s sagging; where the clutter collects. You have to recognize what is legitimately “character” and what you’re choosing to not fix. There is a difference, and you are the one who decides what is charming and what needs to go.
I’m stubborn when I work. The door to my office is locked. I crave privacy that verges on secrecy. I rarely share anything unfinished. It’s revolutionary that in recent months I’ve begun to seek feedback from a few trusted friends and have overcome the compulsion to resist any and all input.
If it goes well and a song is born, I make it work for me. I make it the key to open doors to new experiences and relationships. My songs keep the lights on and the fridge full. Songs are my ROI for 18 years of voice lessons, four years of piano lessons and two years of music college.
When I consider it in that light, I’m impressed with myself.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days because I’m writing for a new album — after a baby and a pandemic and an extended hiatus from the life that I built for a decade. I’m reconnecting with music and also regularly playing with a new collaborator, Bryn Besse. In one week I’m gonna get on stage to sing, and it will be filmed, and I just hope that it’s good.
Not life changing or unforgettable, just good. Like my favourite cornbread recipe or the boots that Blundstone gave me that are always comfortable. I want to be dependable as a songwriter and a performer. I want to be useful.
You know that feeling? Where you’re calm and ready and know that the only thing that stands between you and doing a great job is, well… you?
If you’re someone in Saskatoon or know someone in Saskatoon this is your alert that I’m at The Bassment on November 26th. It feels very different than before. It feels like starting over.
For all of you who aren’t in Saskatoon, wish me well! I’ll share the goodness that we capture with you.
Thank you for being subscribers, supporters and friends.