#7 What I Need (“Broken Heart” track by track)

I’m currently showcasing each track from my newest album, Broken Heart, in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “What I Need” is the seventh and final track, bringing this series to a close! But don’t worry, I will have more music out again soon, probably in the autumn.

For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

***

This is one of the earlier songs I wrote. It was finished before my last couple of releases, but I didn’t include it in them because it didn’t seem to fit. I don’t always impose a theme on myself, but when I release an album, I generally want all the songs to fit in together in some way.

This actually began as a songwriting exercise, based on a songwriting lecture I watched online that was about writing sad relationship songs like Adele. It was a great lecture that went into highly specific details about both musical and lyrical techniques, and all the different aspects that go into evoking that particular emotional response. Of course, at the end, we were encouraged to try our hand at it, so I did.

This is one of my rare songs that started with the music. Since I’m generally better at lyrics, in songwriting exercises like this, I like to focus more on the music so that I can really try to get it right. I was playing around with different finger picking ideas, and I really liked the way that this one felt for a sad pop love song style. Then I took my time to improvise a melody over it, coming up with many different ideas until I found one that I really felt was catchy and emotionally effective.

One principle from the lecture that I tried to incorporate was lifting the melody and energy as you get up to the chorus, and I really liked how I did that. The second half of the verse rises from the first, and then the chorus lifts even higher. Finally, line by line, I carefully crafted some lyrics that fit in perfectly with the melody I had written, discovering the meaning as I went.

At this point I’ve written lots of songs that I crafted bit by bit like this, and lots of songs that were the result of sheer inspiration and only edited slightly after the fact, if at all. I can’t say that either one is a better method than the other. It’s honestly luck and a crapshoot. Sometimes inspiration leads to amazing songs; sometimes it seems to hold me back because I want so badly to do the inspiration justice. The same is true of craft: sometimes it leads to something great, and sometimes putting in so much effort to write a “good song” ruins the emotional expression of it.

If anything, how much pressure I put on myself is a big factor – the best songs come from having fun and playfully attempting to express what’s inside of me. Desperately wanting to be great can be a huge hindrance. But for the most part, there are no guarantees of good or bad; I just have to keep trying.

In this case though, I’ve been really happy with this song ever since I finished it, and I’m glad I finally found an album that I wanted to put it on. When I write the music first, the lyrics usually do not come from any conscious inspiration, I just kind of write them by instinct and feel. As a result, a lot of times they end up being uninspired, unoriginal, unrelated to my direct emotions and experiences, and I’m not satisfied in the end. I suppose the people who are obsessed with what our subconscious can tell us would be very surprised and skeptical about this, but that’s my honest experience!

This time though, it actually ended up being a fairly truthful account of a dysfunctional relationship I had with an alcoholic, although I might have exaggerated the intensity of my feelings and our attachment for emotional effect – it wasn’t that long of a relationship and I don’t think I ever even cried over the break-up. I hope that doesn’t ruin the song for anyone, but it doesn’t for me!

I also like how even though most of the songs are all about different people, and this one is about a relationship while most of the others are about crushes that never went anywhere, the album can still be interpreted as a coherent story about one person. That’s the beauty of art!

LYRICS

Once upon a time
You gave me more than the moon
You gave your all and it got me through
So I fell in love
And you promised you would never hurt me
Two peas in a pod, that’s what we were

But then things, they changed
And I felt so lost without the man I fell in love with
And it got too much
To just make it all up with another kiss

Can you give me what I need?
Can’t you see that all I asked for was you?

Your demons wrestled with you
For control of your mind
There were times you were lucky just to be alive
Somehow you kept your feet
Down on the shaky ground
But one wrong move and you knew you would drown

And I tried to help you
But you were always too proud
To make the change you needed
Comes a time we all have to make a choice
About who we’re gonna be

#6 Sins (“Broken Heart” track by track)

I’m currently showcasing each track from my newest album, Broken Heart, in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “Sins” is the sixth track. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

***

It’s unfortunate that between the title “Sins” and the explicit marking, this song is probably going to get more clicks than most of the others out of curiosity and people’s fondness for explicit words. I think this is a really good song and very personally meaningful to me, but I’m not sure it’s the best on the album!

This is one I had in the pipeline for years. Every time I’d go on a songwriting marathon, I’d go back to that song, but I’d always be like, “nah, still not ready to be written.” I’d write a few lines here and there, write a new and improved outline for exactly what I wanted it to say (both overall and in each part of the song), I’d write and rewrite a chorus or hook, and then I’d scrap it all and give up for the time being. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t write it in a way I was happy with. It was one of those things that felt really deep, meaningful, and personal, and like I could feel exactly what I wanted it to say, but I didn’t know how to put it exactly into words.

But just a little while ago, even as I was beginning to record the other songs for the album, I wanted this one to be a part of it too, so I finally forced myself to sit down and channel all my inspiration to write it, one piece at a time. And I’m honestly happier with it than I even expected I’d be! It was another song that conveyed exactly what I wanted it to.

The original spark of inspiration, hook, and title was close to what it is now, but with the word “nail,” ha: “Some people want to nail you for your sins, but I think that’s how I would live if I thought that I could get away with it.” The “nail you for your sins” thing just came to me, it wasn’t something I sat and thought about. But when I did, I was like, what does that even mean? Was I trying to reference crucifixion? Or arrest and imprisonment? In the end, I realized that there wasn’t anything in the word “nail” that actually said what I wanted to, what I really meant was “judge” or “vilify,” but honestly, “hate” sounded better and also fit pretty well with the meaning, so I went with that instead.

So, the theme of this song is something I’ve thought about as someone who rarely does anything “wrong” and has a reputation for being perfectly sweet and innocent – which I’m not completely, and I don’t like it. Am I always attracted to “bad” people? No. Am I attracted to sociopaths and the worst people? Definitely not. But I do sometimes respect and admire people who are a little bit more openly hedonistic than I am, something I’ve never felt comfortable to be.

Now, let’s be real, much of my lack of hedonistic behavior has to do with fears and anxieties about health consequences to be honest, but some of it is also social fear and anxiety, and that’s more what this song is about. What my lifestyle choices have nothing to do with, though, is religious moral sensibilities: I’m an atheist and I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s such a thing as a “sin” if it’s not hurting anyone else, and I think that’s one reason I resent people (many of whom subscribe to these ideals) thinking I never do anything wrong.

So that’s kind of the main idea that sparked the song, and I think centering it around an intense desire for a specific “bad boy” character (or bad girl or otherwise, depending on the listener — I didn’t gender it) made it more interesting and compelling.

The only line that I have to say doesn’t totally fit into the story is the one in the bridge that says, “You say you hate the game, but you only ever fall for the ones who live to play.” First off, I’ll address the possible elephant in the room: it does sound like I might have had “Blank Space” (a song that I cover) in my head a little bit when I wrote that line, ha! At least it takes a different perspective than Taylor, though, and doesn’t just imitate her.

Second, although at first glance it seems to come out of nowhere, it fits into the bad boy crush story that I was writing. As it is an unrequited love album, this is the part that addresses that. In the movies, the bad boys always looove the good girls. But in real life, sometimes they don’t. In this case, not so much “good” in the obvious sense, but artless perhaps. A lot of people say they appreciate straightforwardness and genuineness, but then they’re charmed by coy and clever quips as much as the next guy. I write to express what’s inside of me, not to write a perfectly coherent story – and this line felt good and true for me, so in it went and stayed.

LYRICS

People think that I’m a delicate flower
Who’s never had a dirty thought
But I’m not
Some of them would hate me
If they could see inside my mind
And sometimes I kinda wish they would
Because it feels like I’m lying
If I can’t get these things I want, if we can’t thrive
Then I know I’m gonna dream about you
For the rest of my life

Some people want to hate you for your sins
But deep down that’s how I would live
If I thought that I could get away with it
If I thought that I could get away with you

You’re a tough nut to crack
And many times I prove it by showing off my broken teeth
That I know you’ve seen
Last night I had a dream about you and that shit got explosive
The kind of explosive where I think it’s probably better if we didn’t
We’d take this whole city down with us
And that can’t happen
So now there’s really nothing left to do
Except just to go on pretending

To say that I might be in too deep
Is the understatement of the century
And you, you say you hate the game
But you only ever fall for the ones who live to play

And I’m afraid of what you know
And I’m afraid of what I don’t
I’m scared of ending up all alone
And I’ve been fucking terrified to be real with you

Some people want to hate you for your sins
But deep down that’s how I would live
If I thought that I could get away with it
If I thought that I could get away

#5 Cookie Dough (“Broken Heart” track by track)

I’m currently showcasing each track from my newest album, Broken Heart, in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “Cookie Dough” is the fifth track. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

***

I had a lot of fun writing this song. As usual, the chorus came first in a fit of inspiration. Actually, not trusting people who don’t enjoy cookie dough is a real thought that I have frequently had. I try to remind myself that everyone’s different and there’s no accounting for taste, but deep down I’m like, there are biological reasons for our preferences for fat and sugar, so what’s wrong with these people who don’t have it? Apologies to anyone who fits into this category – intellectually I know this doesn’t make any sense, but it did make for a cool song idea in my opinion!

At some point I started thinking about the parallels between liking a food that feels good but is bad for you, and liking a person who might make you feel good in an immediate sense, but is bad for you in the long run. And it turned into a whole song idea!

Writing and releasing this song made me think of a bit of feedback I got a while back, about a completely different song on a different topic that the person found silly/frivolous. They told me that I should think more before I write, and not just write a song about any old thing that pops into my head. This bothered me for a couple of reasons. First, I found it a little insulting that they assumed that just because they didn’t understand the point of the song, meant that I must not have had one or even thought about it. Second, there are actually plenty of hit songs, as well as songs that are widely considered to be great (those two categories don’t always match up), that are written about totally frivolous topics that seem to have just popped into someone’s head! It’s not always about writing the most profound song in the world.

In fact, I have also been criticized for writing a song about war and peace because that was trying too hard to have a message (of course, that song never saw the light of day because I ultimately agreed that it was tacky, but that’s beside the point!). So it seemed like I just couldn’t win, if there is such a delicate balance between being too frivolous or too sincere. So I guess I’ll just continue writing about what feels meaningful to me and not worry about how others will perceive it!

Anyway, even if some people would hear this song and say, “I can’t believe you wrote a song about liking cookie dough even though it’s bad for you – how pointless!”, for me, there is meaning in that metaphor. And while I mainly find the first verse (the one that’s all about our evolved love of substances like cookie dough) to be a bit of fun, I feel like the second verse and chorus deepen and intensify the emotional meaning by making it about a person, while still keeping a fun and light feel to it.

A note about the chorus: I really wasn’t crazy about the word “inhibiting.” I like to keep my songwriting pretty close to natural language, and I just feel like that’s not something people would say. Then again, I could see myself saying it, so that’s probably good enough. (Even if most people are nothing like me at all, I suppose the people that I want to listen to my songs are those who are much more like me. How else will we relate to each other?) In the end, I tried a bunch of other words that vaguely fit in with the syllables, rhyme and meaning, but none of them flowed as well and had the precise meaning that I wanted, so it stayed in. Hopefully I made the right decision! These are the kinds of small decisions that perfectionist songwriters like me can agonize over for much longer than you’d think.

Overall in this song, I spent a lot of time making small adjustments to the lyrics so that it would flow better, and I think I did a really good job, if I can say so. Some songs need more of this than others; it depends on how quickly I wrote it and how much of it was inspiration vs. craft and graft.

LYRICS

Cookie dough might be my favorite food
In love with fat and sugar after millions of years of evolution
The sweetness, the texture, and the feel of it
Overwhelm the system with pleasure
But it can make you sick in unexpected ways
And I never really liked the aftertaste
God, I wish it were a superfood
Not just fighting a famine that we made it through
But can’t forget

I can’t trust people who say they don’t enjoy cookie dough
So who could trust me if I said I didn’t want you?
And I’m sick of this inhibiting
But pleasure’s not everything
There must be some way that we can make do

You’re my favorite kind of guy
Excitement in your eyes and uncertainty in your life
You look like a prince from a Disney movie
And you’ve almost got his manners too
With just enough edge so you aren’t boring
And I could see us taking the world by storm
I can’t pretend it would all be fine
If I settled for the guy who always gets it right
Instead of you