Heartbreak and Songwriting
It was easy to get wrapped up in Adele's latest record, 21. Chris emailed me the video for "Rolling In The Deep" the day that it hit the internet and I was hooked. Somehow her first record didn't do it for me. But this song was different: the attitude, the KILLER chorus, the thumping beat. She'd converted me for sure. And then I heard "Someone Like You." It was a live performance on the Brit Awards and the emcee gave the perfect introduction: "If you've ever had a broken heart, you are about to remember it now." I haven't had a broken heart for a long time but damn if he wasn't spot on. It's just one of those songs, those monster songs, that hits me in the gut every time I hear it. It makes me remember being in high school and falling in love for the first time. It makes me remember driving home from the airport after dropping off my college girlfriend, thinking I'd never see her again. It's a rare feat for a song to provoke such visceral reactions, but this one does.
I almost didn't want to like it at first. The arpeggiated piano chords and straight-ahead changes put me off at first. I sniffed around the web and read that Dan Wilson (of Semisonic/"Closing Time" fame) co-write the tune. Was it too sappy or radio friendly? After repeated listens I just couldn't deny it. It may be cliche at times but with Adele's voice and delivery, it really doesn't matter. She transcends.
I also discovered that the songs on 21 emerged from Adele's broken heart after a difficult break up. She drew on the lessons learned and mistakes made to write heartfelt, honest songs. Man, that guy must feel like an ass. (Sidenote: check out this parody of what his response album would be).
21 got me thinking and reflecting on TRN's new record Gets Over You. Our first LP Carry Me Home was definitely a from-the-heart production. Writing those songs was my therapy during a very difficult relationship of my own (which turned out well, by the way). After purging all those feelings I had to shift my entire outlook on writing lyrics. Stef was a huge help in this area. During the year before we started recording Gets Over You, we met during her lunch breaks and worked on songs together. It was a blast creating characters and stories, thinking about what a jaded lover or "done with you" friend would do in a tough situation. We laughed a lot and came up with enough material for an entire record.
It's a challenge for me to find truth and honesty in writing fictional songs, but I think it's getting easier. I try to have more of an outward-facing view of the world: instead of living within my own struggles I'm keeping an ear to the ground for what's going on in the world and with other people (ok, that is a bring egocentric sentence, I'll admit).
It's an important time for songwriters today. There is so much anger and disillusionment in our country, but also such hope and expectation for what the future can bring. One of my favorite "state of the union" songs is Aloe Blacc's "I Need A Dollar." Great melody, beat, and production aside, I think the lyrics really drive this tune. "Bad times are coming and I reap what I don't sow/Well let me tell you something all that glitters ain't gold/...I need a dollar, dollar, a dollar is what I need."
This is a song of the moment. A song of Occupy Wall Street. Of high unemployment and a shitty economy. But it's also fiction, a song built on characters and experiences that Aloe Blacc has probably never faced. It's such a challenging road for a songwriter to take, and Aloe Blacc really nails it.
I'll wrap it up with a tune that fuses the shitty economy with love, and quite brilliantly: Allen Stone's "Unaware." This rules!