Friday, June 29, 2012

Song Story: 'Transformed'

'Transformed' is the only co-write on this EP, and was written several years ago with Matthew West.  Matthew and I got together to potentially write something for my first record, Every Reason Why, and 'Transformed' is what came out of our time together.  Again, I often try to write worship tunes from the perspective of the things I would want to say to God while sort of lost in worship. I had been thinking about the very simple premise of asking God not to let us leave unchanged and Matthew really resonated with that, so we started playing and singing and lyrics and melodies began forming. I believe the main hook of the chorus came first: "Inside out, upside down, backwards, forwards, turned around" ... it was shaping up to be a driving song about letting God truly shape us--even if it's uncomfortable.  We really liked the idea of centering the lyric around what so many of us struggle with in the midst of a worship service in our society... so we started with this admission of arriving distracted, worn out and disconnected.  That seemed to really set the tone of a song about asking God to meet us in our humanity and transform us.

Another song on Every Reason Why shared a similar mold to this one, so it ended up not being on that first record. The congregation at my church was really resonating with it, though.  A few months later my publisher at the time told me that someone was looking for a song and the theme of there gathering was 'Inside Out'... we reworked the chorus to make it start and end with that phrase, and while they didn't go with it either, a 'tween group called PureNRG really liked it.  Matthew reworked the lyrics a little more to fit that demographic, and 'Inside Out' was born. :)

Fast-forward to this year, the original lyric and form of the tune, this one entitled 'Transformed,' finally got recorded... Honestly, I was really nervous going into the recording process with this one, but I feel like it landed right where it needed to and the feedback I've gotten has been surprisingly strong. A couple people have even told me it was their favorite tune on the EP.

From a songwriter's standpoint, songs like this can seem like they mostly live inside an almost novelty category, but I've always thought there were some subtle touches to this one that made me proud of Matthew and my efforts:  the re-harm of the chords inside the verses as they repeat, the signature major 2 over 4# that I can't seem to stay away from :), and lyrics like "Divinely directed, I long to stand corrected" among others.  Early on as I played this song in church and on the road, I started intersperse the half-time feel throughout the song as it felt appropriately unsettled to go with the lyric. That feel obviously ended up playing a big role in the production of the version heard on Beautiful Truth.  One last note: the intro was actually added the day I sent the final tracks off to mix as I felt like there needed to be some tension and build before the band exploded into the half-time groove at the beginning... searched for some crazy sounds, read some great verses that have to do being transformed and that intro actually ended up being one my favorite moments on the record! 

Next up is the title track 'Beautiful Truth'... the last one written for the EP.  Check back soon!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Song Story: 'Holy Lord'

Probably the most straight-forward corporate worship song on the EP, 'Holy Lord' was honestly inspired by the massive feedback I received about the song 'You Are' on my first record.  Songs flooded with scripture references that teach biblical truths as we worship and are primarily about God, not us, seem to be in short supply according to many.  With that in mind, the lyric of 'Holy Lord' began re-forming.

I say re-forming because this is one of those songs that I actually wrote over several years... and one of the only songs I can think of that was completely written, evaluated, dismantled, tossed and re-written with exception of the chorus only.  I actually played the first version of this one in a worship set in our church... once. The feedback I got was quite simply "I liked the chorus a lot." I think I knew in my heart it wasn't as strong as it could be, but playing it in a worship set really solidified that thought. So... the verses, pre-choruses and bridge--melody, chords and lyrics alike--were tossed. That's when I shifted my focus on the lyric toward the trinity.  Holiness... divinity... they're kinda crazy concepts in a lot of ways, you know? I often talk just before leading this song about words in our language being limiting. We say we love God, but also that we love coffee, or Butterfinger Blizzards. We so often sing of our Amazing God but use the same word to describe our favorite sit-com or a football game. As I sat back and thought about the word 'holy' I wanted to elaborate on that which makes God so much bigger and more (insert any superlative adjective--or string of them for that matter) than the things of this world.

So, I decided to really hone in on the trinity--a concept that is arguably underemphasized in the modern worship genre as a whole--and truly one of the remarkable traits of God that we scarcely even understand. So I scoured scripture for thoughts on the three entities of the Godhead and wrote them into the verses. Verse one is about the Father, verse two is about Jesus, and verse three is about the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, when we worship in spirit and TRUTH, I believe its important to have a knowledge of the distinct roles of the trinity and the fullness of the God we are worshiping. I hope this song finds a home in churches across the nation and world, and that it helps worshipers become truly awestruck at the vast, incomprehensible nature of God.

On the theory-geek side of things, this one is pretty simple. I'd have to say that my favorite part of this one as a songwriter is probably the short pre-chorus, which kind of becomes a 2nd bridge later in the song. As with the song 'Here With You,' the piano is primarily just two notes in the right hand over moving bass notes in the verses and pre-chorus. This creates really open voicings, but often times very rich tensions in the chords. The one and five in the right hand create a seven and eleven, respectively, as the pre-chorus is introduced with a two in the bass. The two-note melody line repeats itself as the bass climbs up and has a nice resolution on the four, I think. This was one of those little fragments of a song that fell out of me, as if it was given to me rather than thought of by me.  I tend to like those little moments more than the stuff I labor over.  Other than that, the other noticeably odd thing here is in the start of the chorus. The one chord moves to a four but with the bass maintaining the one. I don't know, it has kind of a lofty feel in the midst of a pop song, which probably inspired the word 'holy' in the first place.

I'm two thirds done with these... excited to talk about 'Transformed' and then 'Beautiful Truth' here in the coming weeks.  Thanks for reading!  Don't forget to grab your copy of the EP if you haven't already and ten or twenty more for all the other people you know in the world who have never heard of me. :)  Until next time...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Song Story: 'Every Reason Why'

I know, I know... you're wondering why I have a song on my new EP that has the same title as my last CD.  Well, here's the answer:  The CD project Every Reason Why actually got it's title from a lyric in the song 'You Are'...  

     "You are every question's answer  | You are every reason why..."

As you can see, this blog also got it's title from the same line. Anyway, as I was writing the song 'Every Reason Why' I guess those words just came out as they're part of my thought process now, you know?  I've certainly recycled key thoughts and phrases, particularly the ones I find at least mildly unique, over the years and this one just made sense to me.  I admit, I kinda tried to find a workaround since I had titled the last record with the phrase, but nothing else seemed to make as much sense, so eventually I just embraced the quirky reality of having a song that appeared to be named after a former record.

In terms of the song itself, this one was an interesting journey.  I think I wrote the chorus first, but not the one you've heard.  I wrote this fist-pumping, repetitious, shouty chorus about how 'we are the lost and broken' and only because of Jesus are we not--anyway, I think I heard like seven other Christian tunes and one secular tune that sounded just like it.  Which of course, either means I've got my finger on the pulse of the ever-changing industry... or I totally stole it without knowing it.  Either way, it wasn't flying with me, so I dumped it and started the chorus over once I had written the verses.  Another 'we' song, I really wanted to write a congregational proclamation, if you will, about a gathering of imperfect people vulnerably celebrating the only One who's perfect.  The American church so easily seems to become a lofty gathering of better-than-thems who seemingly thank God for being so much so.  I think the heart of true worship is built on the foundation of a constant humility.  I believe that as we become more and more like Him, we are more and more aware of the reality that we could never do so by our own strength or intentions. So the verses just admit that we are who we are and we're willing to accept that, striving to take steps closer to God... and that Jesus is da man, if you will.  Highly vernacular, we sing,

     "Jesus, it's all You."

The pre-chorus and chorus are simple and straight-forward, declaring that Jesus is the reason we're here, and more importantly, the reason we'll eventually be there with Him.

     "Well aware that we could not have found a way along our own paths | to secure a forever spent with You... | it's Your life, it's Your love, it's Your cross, it's Your blood..."

My hope is that when congregations decide to sing this song, they find it incredibly welcoming and disarming.  That we could sing it unified in our humanity, and more importantly, unified in our faith that Jesus overcame and is the ONLY reason--EVERY reason--we can call ourselves saved.

Ok... now for the songwriter stuff:  I hope some of you songwriters are actually reading this stuff and trying to get fellow songwriters involved in the conversation.  I'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences, feedback, etc.  Anyway, the most noticeable oddity about this song--particularly for a worship tune--is the phrasing in the verses.  The first three lines of each verse are really almost in 6/8 the way they're phrased, and yet they're being sung over a straight four-on-the-floor groove.  I really pushed some boundaries on this one, but tried to land on something unique and still singable.  Odd rhythm juxtaposed with the same melodic phrase repeating in threes helps make that happen.  The theory-geek term for this is 'hemiola' and it's all over this record, so this isn't the last time you'll hear me refer to it.  That said, any time I do something like this--especially to this extent--in a worship tune, I try to keep other elements more straight-forward so as to avoid sacrificing it's functionality as a corporate worship tune. As a result, the pre and the chorus are super straight-forward melodically and the chord phrases sorta evens back out, too.  I love the sweet little snare/hat fill that my drummer threw in the middle of verse 2, by the way.  Super fun.  The other fun liberty I took on this one was at the very end, when I threw half the verse chord changes out the window, straightened 'em out, and then used a colorful (M7 add 13) flat 6 as the penultimate chord (Lauren, you owe me three bucks) which I thought was kind of a fun way to end this one.

Again, let me know your thoughts... more fun as a conversation! 'Holy Lord' will be up next in a few days!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Song Story: 'Here With You'

Truth be told, I'm super amped about this one. It's actually the first single on the EP and the favorite of quite a few of the people who have given me feedback both before the project released and since. I was actually writing another song, 'Holy Lord,' when the chorus of this one kinda just fell on me. Lyrics and melody, all at once--and I love it when that happens--just kinda came out one day. The thing is, I think if I wouldn't have been writing 'Holy Lord' at the time, I would have been more hesitant to finish this one. It's kinda just a simple love song to God. If I'm being honest, I tend to feel a little guilty getting gushy in a worship song with no theological backbone or scriptural foundation--but I was already writing this other tune steeped in the mysterious truth of the trinity and lathered with scripture references. So... I don't know, I guess I kinda felt like that gave me license at the time to make this one what it ended up becoming.

I'm a big first line guy... now, that doesn't mean I think every one of my first lines is epic and grammy-award-worthy. But I'd like 'em all to be, 'cause I think first lines are super important. I started 'Here With You' with a first line that has a little duality to it. You can kinda break it up different ways and it means different things:  Lost... in You I'm found. So that just says, quite simply, that I'm lost, but I'm found in Him. But you could also say:  Lost in You, I'm found. That kinda suggests that I'm no longer lost when I'm lost in Him. Kinda of a cool paradoxical twist there for ya. :)

Anyway, once I'd written the chorus, the rest of the lyric sort of just inspired itself. I titled this project Beautiful Truth because I truly think that worship music should be full of the beautiful truths of God, and I think the premise of this song is one of those. On my best days, when I'm really well aligned with my Creator and walking in truth, I can scarcely think of a place I'd rather be than in a church, in a congregation, singing surrounded by believers... in His presence. And yet when I turned that reality on its head, that's when the amazing part surfaced: even on my worst days, God is elated to be in MY presence! That just seems nuts, doesn't it? And yet, I believe that's the heart of the God we serve. He longs--desperately--to be with us. To me, that deserved to be declared at the top of some lungs in some worship services. :)

Ok, how 'bout the geeky theory stuff... this one has another big instance of the whole polyrhythm thing that kinda threads a lot of this project together. Here it shows up more in the oddly imbalanced harmonic phrases. I don't know why this hit me when I wrote it, but I had this bent to write chord patterns in 3 over really straight-forward grooves in 4. So the entire intro is very asymmetrical in terms of the chord structure while maintaining this simple lead over the top of a very predictable groove. I'm simply using 1/3, 4 and 5 in the intro but each phrase ends up starting on a different chord than it did the time before. Kinda wacky. The other thing I did here, which I did a decent amount on this project, was hold a simple 1 and 5 in the right hand over every variation of bass note. So with a 1 chord, in this case C, the notes C and G play a very simple role as one and five, but as you move to the 4 chord (F) they function as a 5 and a 9, the 5 chord (G) turns the C into an 11 and so on. Lots of color comes from a very simple, stagnant repetition there. Similar stuff in 'Holy Lord' but we'll be talking about that one a little later, won't we? :)

Hey, don't forget to comment, share, like, flag, tweet, retweet, plus, minus, group, cough, sneeze and whatever else you're supposed to do. I wanna hear from you all. Tell what has compelled you. What details did I leave out? What song did YOU write that included some of the same ideas... or different ones? This is really way more fun as a conversation, so invite your friends and pull up a chair!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Song Story: 'Glory Hallelujah'

Unity is huge.  It's not just huge in sports teams and in successful businesses. It's not just huge in committees or even families.  Unity is huge to God.  It's huge in churches, from the leadership all the way to the last attender and even more it's huge in terms of the Church with a big 'C'... the collective Christ-followers and the churches in which they worship throughout our nation and world.  The verses in God's Word that discuss the importance of unity are prolific and the urgency with which the concept is discussed is palpable.

All that said, I wanted to write a worship song that, at it's core, could help unify the congregation singing it.  I used 'we' language on this one--something I haven't used a ton in the past--because the lyric and theme begged for it, and I searched for words that could articulate the depth of unity that I believe God desires from us.  I think the lyric I'm most proud of in this particular song kicks off the second verse: 

All of our brothers and sisters through time have sung of the blood of the same sacrifice

This lyrics speaks to the beautiful truth that singing of His love and sacrifice for us binds believers together in a way that transcends even time. No matter what melody is being sung, no matter what chords are being played by what instruments, believers have been uniting together for centuries singing about the truths of Christ's glorious death and resurrection and all that they imply.  To me that's an amazing reality, and one worth giving some serious real estate in our church services!

As for the song-writing fodder I promised... this one was fun to play around with as I wrote it.  I used a hemiola passage in the verse (played quietly with a wurlitzer) and bridge (a little more apparent from an electric guitar) with three notes being repeated all the way through large 4/4 phrases.  I also truncated all of the phrases in the bridge--all of them 3 bars instead of four--just to add to the urgency of the concept sung there.  One of the things I think is most fun, though, about this tune is that the chords in the second verse are quite different than in the first even though the melody is identical... capped off with a 2sus chord replacing the typical 5 in the first verse.  Yup... theory geek stuff for sure! 

Hope that gives you some insight into the first song on the project!  Come back and visit soon as I'll be discussing my first single next time... track #2, entitled 'Here With You.'

See you then!