Monday, November 17, 2008

Songwriting with John - "Disclaimer"

So I wrote a new song today, and I thought that I would try and take you through the process with me.

Just to set the scene, I was called early this morning to substitute teach (I do this occasionally for extra dough) at Waunakee High School, where I went to school as a teen. I was to teach orchestra that day, but the teacher just wanted me to put in videos and hold study hall, so it was a really easy day. I had a whole hour with no classes, so I sat in the absent teacher's office with my guitar and began to write a song.

I started with the simple chord progression of G - Am - C - G and played it over and over again until some words began to come out. Lately it is the music that has been coming to me first, and then I decide on a topic and begin to wrap my words around the chords. The song was to be, I decided, a song about jealous, and this is the first overprotective verse that I put down:

"You better tell me where you've gone
and when you will be back.
There's better men out there than me,
and I can't help those facts."

Feeling off to a good start, I laid down a second verse that seemed to have little to do lyrically with the first verse, but I really liked the sound of it:

"Some talk to God, some talk to Jesus,
well I talk to myself.
Sometimes the best laid plans are broken
by everybody else."

Hmm, what does that have to do with the first verse? I'm not entirely sure, but to be honest thats what happens sometimes, you just put something down because you love the way the words work together or how it sounds, and you say f%#k it, it doesn't need to make sense to anyone but me!

Now I had come to my first chorus, and I realized that I was going to take the song in a different direction, away from the jealousy theme, something that might fall better in line with that second verse. A rewrite of the first verse was going to be necessary, but that could wait for now. Here is the chorus I came up with:

"You could say hello,
but you don't need to,
that's the type of thing you can't predict.
I could clean up,
but I don't want to,
domestication never seemed to fit."

(Alternately, I'm also quite fond of "domestication always seemed a bitch" for that last line.)

AHA! I have my theme! The roving, uncompromising, relationship-killing life of a folksinger. The song is called "Disclaimer", and you can think of it as a warning, an honest telling of what those unfortunate women are in for that fall in love with traveling musicians. SEE the glamorous lifestyle YOU COULD BE LEADING TOMORROW, oh lucky, single ladies:

"I could play guitar for hours,
and you could hang alone.
I could go out with my friends
and you could stay at home."

So I went back and changed the first verse to:

"Tell me how far gone are we,
cuz I keep losing track.
There's better men out there than me,
and I can't help those facts."

Make more sense?

There is another verse and chorus as well, but I'll save those to play for you when you (hopefully) come out to a show. I want to leave you with the last line of the song though *SPOILER ALERT*, as I think its my favorite of the song:

"These songs have got me like they're cigarettes."

I hope you've enjoyed this first edition of Songwriting with John!


[ROBOMARK_3000] said...

I hope it's as good as your other new songs!

Pat Zyduck said...

Great song John. Love the insight into your process.

jeremiah said...


Yeah, I really like the "their songs have got me like their cigarettes" line a lot and the first line "tell me how far gone"...

an hour well spent ;)