Posts Tagged ‘popular musicians’

Don Henley and Lissie use the same approach to writing songs—don’t force it and wash the dishes!

October 4, 2020

I enjoy listening to songwriters talk about their creative process—how they approach the task of writing a song, the kind of strategies they use.

How Don Henley writes his songs

I recently watched a 92nd Street Y interview posted on YouTube in 2015. American Rock royalty Billy Joel and Eagles drummer and singer-songwriter Don Henley covered a lot of ground in 85 minutes. One of the things Joel asked Henley about was what does he do to get himself into the space where he can write songs.

Don tells Billy how he may hole up in a cabin, or somewhere where he won’t be disturbed, and shuts out all electronic distractions. He also says he doesn’t just sit there and write; he can’t force the words to come. He says he follows the zen-like advice to do a simple task first.

He tells the audience, “I’m dead serious. I’ve written some of my best stuff loading and unloading the dishwasher! Because you’re distracted and yet you’re not. I don’t know how to explain the thing. But I’ve read about the zen masters saying the same thing—if you can just do a menial task instead of sitting there with a pen and paper, in front of you going, (he clenches his fists and grunts).” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the discussion starts at 57:14.

How Lissie writes her songs

That reminds me of the exact same thing Lissie said in The A-Sides Interview. She discusses how she is learning to balance art with commerce, and spontaneity with structure. Describing her creative process she usually comes up with a melody, sometimes working with other musicians, then later writes the lyrics alone.

When writing lyrics, she’s “careful to not force it” and is always surprised when rhyming phrases pop into her head “when washing the dishes, not focusing hard on the lyrics.” That’s when she’s presented with newer better word choices she hadn’t thought of.

She emphasizes finding a balance: “being spontaneous, yet structured.” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 4:58.

How Colin Hay writes his songs

Another singer-songwriter I had discovered and recently wrote about is Colin Hay. When it comes to writing songs he says he likes to have as empty a mind as possible and puts himself in a space where he won’t be interrupted. He emphasizes that time is important, to give himself enough time to fail. He describes a scene where he’s all alone for 3 or 4 hours without any distractions, just sitting with his acoustic guitar doing nothing, just idling, coming up with musical ideas.

At other times, a friend may drop by and mention something in passing that will act as a catalyst to what he’s been thinking about. It triggers the melody, and then the words spontaneously come out in one take. In those cases he’ll quickly finish a song in under an hour. That’s how he wrote Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.

He explains all this in a 2011 CNN interview with Brooke Baldwin when she asks him where he was when he wrote that song, then quotes some of the lyrics to him. The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 3:52.

TM, creativity, and the default mode network

Our minds are usually working on a particular problem, consciously and unconsciously. I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I’m writing a poem or a blog post and reach an impasse. I give up, let it go, and, surprisingly, the right solution later presents itself when I least expect it.

Science calls that place in our brains the default mode network (DMN), a.k.a. the imagination network or genius lounge. It’s activated when the mind is daydreaming, not engaged or concentrating on anything, just “idling” as Colin Hay put it. The key is to be easy. Focusing or “forcing it” turns it off.

Interestingly, the DMN is also activated during the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique as practitioners experience a state of “restful alertness.” Sometimes great ideas may show up during, but more likely after TM, what David Lynch calls, “Catching the Big Fish.” He often tells students, “TM is a boon for the filmmaker.” It facilitates access to one’s inner resources to create and think out of the box.

Jon Bon Jovi says washing dishes brings on hit songs

Addendum: Jon Bon Jovi, who loves doing TM, shared the same experience as Don Henley and Lissie on Monday night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert when they discussed the events that influenced his new album, Bon Jovi 2020. He told Colbert how the song Do What You Can came about when he was washing dishes in one of their JBJ Soul Kitchens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bon Jovi concluded, “Washing dishes brings on hit songs, Stephen.

Related: Lissie @lissiemusic and her connections to Twin Peaks, Fairfield and #TranscendentalMeditation


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