Posts Tagged ‘songwriting’

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 TM, shared the same experience as Don Henley and Lissie on Monday night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert when they discussed the events that influenced his new album, Bon Jovi 2020. Bon Jovi 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. “Washing dishes brings on hit songs, Stephen.

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

Billy Collins interviews Sir Paul McCartney about writing songs, poems, Beatles music, and more

March 21, 2016

On October 23, 2014, Sir Paul McCartney visited Rollins College at the invitation of Rollins Winter Park Institute Senior Distinguished Fellow Billy Collins. In this interview Paul shares some interesting stories from his life as a Beatle, how he wrote songs with John Lennon and by himself. He answered students’s questions and concluded by singing Blackbird.

Nancy Shevell’s son, Arlen, Paul’s stepson, was a student at Rollins at the time. The following year, at Arlen’s private graduation party in May 2015, Paul had asked to sing with the local band Nancy had hired. Josh Walther and The Phase5 Band shared their amazement online!

I discovered some surprising connections between Nancy Shevell and Barbara Walters, and with Paul McCartney’s first wife, Linda McCartney. See Who Is Nancy Shevell, Paul McCartney’s New Wife?

You may be interested to read The Story Behind Paul McCartney’s Song: “Let It Be.” See other posts about Paul McCartney on The Uncarved Blog, and poems by Billy Collins, including video interviews and readings.

Hafiz said to leave something in the marketplace, and Jesse Winchester sure did before he left us.

April 23, 2014

Hafiz’s poem, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, of leaving something behind in the world to inspire others, is exemplified in the singer/songwriting musical skills of the late Jesse Winchester. Read Hafiz’s poem, Leave something in the marketplace, then listen and be moved when Jesse sings this love song, Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding.

Leave something in the marketplace

Sometimes it can happen to these cheeks
when a poem visits my mind for the first time
and begins to look around.

They can wonder why rain is falling on them,
and causing my nose to run too.

O boy, what a mess love makes of me. But
there is nothing else right now I would rather

be doing . . . than reaping something from a
field in another dimension

and leaving it in the marketplace for any who
might happen by.

Leave something in the marketplace for us
before you leave this world.

A Year With Hafiz: Daily Contemplations
Daniel Ladinsky, March 20, page 88.
See more profound poems by Hafiz posted on this blog.

Singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester (May 17, 1944 – April 11, 2014) left many beautiful songs for us in the marketplace. Here’s one that will also make your cheeks wet and lift your mouth into a wistful smile as he sings about the sweet shyness of young love on Week 2 of Elvis Costello’s TV show, Spectacle. Listen to the poetic melodic musings of Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding.

I met Jesse in Montreal during the summer of 1967, shortly after he left the US to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War, which he didn’t support. He stayed and made a name for himself as a fine singer/songwriter. Robbie Robertson of The Band produced Jesse’s first album. He couldn’t return to the states to tour until after all draft dodgers were pardoned by President Carter. But many top recording artists would go on to perform Jesse’s songs, and he became known as a first-rate songwriter. Even Bob Dylan was famously quoted as saying of Mr. Winchester: “You can’t talk about the best songwriters and not include him.” In 2007, Mr. Winchester was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from performing rights organization ASCAP for his body of work.

I met Jesse decades later when he was touring through Iowa. It was sweet to see him again, finally being recognized for the talent he was, and for him to freely return home. Here is some news coverage of Jesse’s recent passing, reviewing his life and career, in The Commercial Appeal, USA Today, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and C-Ville Weekly. From all his fans, and friends who knew him, I’m sure they would agree with Hafiz that Jesse Winchester did leave a lot of good music in the marketplace, and love in their hearts. You did well, Jesse. Thank you!

Jesse Winchester Radio Special: Listen to a special 2007 radio interview and music special with Jesse Winchester recorded by Donna Green-Townsend for WUFT-FM before Jesse’s scheduled performance at the Butterfly Festival in Gainesville, FL. In this program Jesse talked about his early years in Mississippi and Memphis, the inspiration for many of his songs and what he thinks about the music industry today. He also talks about the number of artists who have recorded many of his songs including Wynonna Judd, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Elvis Costello and many more. RIP Jesse.

Roots Music Canada uploaded a Jesse Winchester interview on April 13, 2010 with RMC’s editor-in-chief David Newland, from Hugh’s Room, Toronto, a venue Jesse launched about a decade ago, and one for which he has the highest regard.

Roots Music Canada produced a show on April 16, 2014: Remembering Jesse Winchester, of him and other artists singing his songs. To see the song list click on Playlist: Folk Roots/Folk Branches – Remembering Jesse Winchester. Jesse Winchester sings a slower version of Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding on his album Love Filling Station (Appleseed) with a backup group. I prefer the solo performance.


%d bloggers like this: