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.
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!
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