on songwriting, various topics:Will you ever release Boy at the Piano?
Boy At the Piano is in the same boat as Signal Fire: having passed up (or been passed up for) two albums now, their future's uncertain. Boy has never fit with any of the other songs — even more of an outsider than Unwritten Letter #1, which was pretty borderline — but it's still evolving, and who knows, maybe on album #3 or even #4 he'll have a place in things. I doubt it, though. A cameo on a live album is more likely.There is a part of Shasta, the piano part (yeah... that really narrows it down, doesn't it? ), that reminds me very much of Tori Amos' Cooling. The question is (I guess, if it makes sense) did you intentionally incorporate the sound of Cooling into the song Shasta?
You know...I just sat down and tried playing the intros of Cooling and Shasta back to back. I had never noticed that. There's a simultaneous "huh, interesting" and "dammit!" reaction whenever this happens. I would like to claim that it's a clever reference to Cooling, evoking some kind of end-of-relationship-with-consequences theme. But no, it's pure accident. Not very impressive, but it's the truth. Someone also remarked recently that the high piano motif in Harbor sounds oddly like the motif in Vanessa Carlton's A Thousand Miles. That would have been amusing if it were deliberate: "a thousand miles...'sail your sea'...going away, coming back...get it?"
Speaking of Harbor...Is life on the road making its way into your creative process? Am I guessing correctly that Harbor is a glimpse into this influence?
I don't know what inspiration I'll draw from for the next album. I write very slowly ("glacial" is a word Sarah McLachlan used once to describe her output rate, and I can relate to that). There is a fragment sitting on my mental workdesk right now called "Interstate Highway," but who knows if it'll see daylight. It's too early to tell what bent this next collection of songs will have. And, of course, there's also the possibility that I'll never write anything worth hearing again. Songwriters get that fear every now and then.Of all the music you have written which one(s) are you the most proud of? If by some strange quirk that's not your favourite then what would that be?
I've found that off the two albums I've put out, Gravity and Harbor are my favorites to perform live. The melodic lines and the piano parts are fun to play, and somehow it's easy to lock into the emotional space they require. I don't know that I'm proudest of them as songs, per se. I tend to be pleased with certain lines of lyrics, or certain chord changes. In my own mind, presently I'm only getting it 100% right a few seconds at a time.What instruments do you use at home to play and write on?
Ask me this in a year, when I'm actually at home for a while and have instruments at my disposal.
For now, oddly enough, I do most of my songwriting while driving; it develops in my head, with whatever instruments seem most fitting. If I hear a vocal line I sing it out loud to remember it.Do you create detailed imagery of the fictional people in your songs, sort of like watching a movie in your head, and is it the peripheral perceptions of these little "films" that you write about or is the "peripheral vision" you speak of more of an emotional periphery? Or is your creative technique something else altogether?
How in-depth are the personas in your songs? I know of fiction writers who develop entire backgrounds and histories for the characters they create- education, family relationships, favorite foods and colors, pet peeves etc. Do you focus much on "fleshing out" the characters peopling your songs?
I'm not a Method songwriter, if that's what you mean. Walter of Homecoming developed over time, and to this day I don't know much about him. He's a "warm stranger" to me as much as anyone else: someone I instantly connected with, and felt like I knew
somehow, yet he checked out of that motel the next morning and drove off toward Utah and I haven't seen him since. Sometimes I'll suddenly remember a detail about that night — he stepped out of the diner and tugged at his jeans for a moment, glanced down like he'd just realized what a potbelly he'd gotten over the years. His truck had a large grey moth spattered tragically on the front grille. But I don't know what he did during recess in fifth grade, or if he had any other girlfriends before he met Carrie. I think you can make a compelling sketch portrait without necessarily coloring it all in. But who knows...maybe someday we'll cross paths again and he'll tell me some more stories.
The concept of working in peripheral vision is both a detail thing and an emotional thing. I can look straight at a character and write about the constellation of details around her — the orange peel and styrofoam cups in Shasta, for example, or the mother and sister and lover in Passage — and somehow I'm better able to get at who this person is, better than if I'd started with "here is what she looks like, here is how she feels." Or I look at something more abstract, and the metaphors for it begin to form on the outskirts. It always gets interesting with the latter, because this stuff floats up from the subconscious and sometimes I don't necessarily see how they're related to the topic. A little girl curled up in the corner of a stone labyrinth? Feather moon, scarlet sky, living clouds? The imagery that comes from this direction is a bit more primordial. But if it feels right, it goes in the song. I figure out what I mean later.
And here's where I start to feel self-conscious, because there's nothing worse than an author over-analyzing a process or a work that isn't that
impressive to begin with.