So, this might be a little bit nerdy, but I find the creative process, from initial idea to finished(abandoned?) product to be really interesting to read about. I love getting a glimpse into the way that someone moves from point a to point b (or c,d,e, so on & so forth…), and all the bunny trails that they may chase before they finally arrive at the place that “feels right”. So over the next few days, I’m going to dissect one of the tunes from my This Machine Sings Grace EP, “When I’m Gone”, which I think probably had the most interesting and longest gestation period of all the tunes on the record and certainly went through the biggest transformation(s).
"When I’m Gone" is, like all of the songs on the EP (with the exception of "Jesus", a Velvet Underground cover), a song that tells a piece of a larger story, and it was written with that in mind. That story will be much more fully fleshed out on my upcoming full length, Saint Croix. Anyway, it’s not the oldest song that will appear on that record, but it is the first one that I had written in nearly 3 years for the project, which I had started and abandoned a number of times since it’s initial conception about eight years ago.
At the time that this song was written, I was falling in love again with the sort of story-song form that I had abandoned for quite some time in favor of electronic music - ambient soundscapes, remixes, music for pictures and the like. I’ve been a fan of electronic music for a long time, and after my band broke up in 2005, I slowly but surely moved more and more in that direction, and away from the more traditional pop-song form that had been my wheelhouse to that point.
There were a couple of reasons for the move in this direction. First of all, I was used to playing with a band who made a BIG sound. Suddenly, I was making music alone for the first time in, well, ever and electronic music had appeal in the sense that I could, as a single guy with a computer, continue to make a big sound. Secondly, and probably just as impactful (maybe more so), was the fact that I’d lost confidence in my abilities as a songwriter. Without the Rosewood boys at my side as a creative team pushing me to write, offering ideas and feedback, and just giving me a reason to create consistently, I wasn’t sure I had the ability to take my fledgling tunes and make them compelling. I gave into “the resistance” in a big way, and so free-form soundscapes and such were a way in which I could scratch a creative itch without investing to much emotionally in my work. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways, it was a fun detour, and I learned a ton about different elements of sound design and production, but for me it was ultimately a dead end. If you’re interested, you can listen to (and if you want, download) a selection of tunes from this period below.
Perhaps ironically, just as EDM started to take off over the last few years, I started to lose interest and have a real desire to pick up my guitar again. I found myself listening to classic songwriters like Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen again as well as current torch-bearers like Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, Gillian Welch, Josh Ritter, Hayes Carll, Jason Isbell and many others. I found myself savoring stories and reconnecting with the way that words and music, that may be simple on their own, can combine in ways that have meaning deeper than they could ever convey on their own. I was falling in love with craft again.
It was in this time that “When I’m Gone” emerged and with it, the intent to finally finish the project that will be Saint Croix. Below you’ll find the single mic recording that I did as soon as I finished the song. As I mentioned before, I was listening to a ton of Hank Williams and Bob Dylan at the time, and you can hear it in the incredibly derivative performance that I give in this demo, but I was excited about the song. Lyrically, it has a classic country feel to it that I really like, and the structure is a little different than the vs-chrs-vs-chrs-bridge-chrs-chrs that dominates radio these days, but it still feels hooky (to me, anyway).
Ultimately, this song kickstarted my return to serious writing and recording, but it wasn’t long before I felt like the style in which I had originally written it felt borrowed. I knew that I wanted to pursue a more traditional form of songwriting than I had been, but after years of playing in a Big Rock band, followed by years wandering in a wilderness of electronic sound, I wasn’t quite sure what my sound was anymore. What followed was a long period of exploration that I will continue to document for you all tomorrow. :)
In the meantime, listen to the original demo below, and the download my new EP, This Machine Sings Grace, here and listen to where the song ended up.
Hope you enjoy,