#7 Anxiety (“The Fine Print” track by track)

For the third album in a row, I’ve decided to showcase each track in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “Anxiety” is the seventh track from my latest release, The Fine Print. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

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This song came about because I decided I should write a song about anxiety, something I’ve experienced to varying degrees for all my life. It plays a big role in my life, so I thought it was important.

I started this song when I was on a big free writing kick. In other words, I would set a timer for 5 minutes or whatever and just free write on a topic. I really need to do this more often than I do, because I would probably never get writer’s block writing that way.

But anyway, that’s how I decided to start my “anxiety” song. I sat and wrote about how anxiety makes me feel, trying to focus on the sensory and physiological aspects (as opposed to emotional and behavioral). A lot of those phrases made it into the song in some form or other. In fact, by the time I was done with my free writing, the lyrics kind of wrote itself because I had so many great phrases to choose from that it was easy to form it into a structure and rhyme it and everything. That’s the cool thing about free writing.

Lyrically I think it came out perfect. It describes so perfectly how my anxiety feels, which is exactly what I intended it to do. And if I can say so, I think it’s well-written — I think I should be allowed to say so, because I’ll be the first to admit when something of mine is poorly written.

The melody came pretty easily too. It’s usually not so hard for me to write melodies if the lyrics are already finished. I just came up with something that sounded pretty to my ear, and calming. I felt that was appropriate for the lyrics — even as they’re describing what it feels like to have anxiety, they are also a calming song in the throes of it.

In keeping with the calming mood, I decided to keep the production mainly acoustic, but I did some little experimentation with strings. I had to keep them pretty subtle, because they are virtual strings and I noticed that becomes pretty obvious when you try anything remotely complicated. But subtle notes and chords sound great, to my ear at least. I also added some harmonies — if you listen closely in the last part of the song, there are vocal harmonies in unison with the strings, although it’s pretty hard to hear them if you’re not listening for them.

Overall I was pretty satisfied with the simple production of this song and the overall calming vibes that the lyrics, melody, and strings give it. I hope I did justice to all of my fellow anxiety sufferers out there. At least I can say for sure that I did justice to myself!

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LYRICS

It starts with a shortness of breath
I don’t know why it feels like someone’s sitting on my chest
Or maybe like we’re floating out in space without any oxygen

If I listened to my body, it would always have me believe
That nothing’s ever gonna be okay
But I believe the doctors when they say it’s only anxiety
And nothing else is really wrong with me

So I can focus on my face, feel the tension, let it go
Still my arms and still my legs and let myself sink into bed
Don’t search for answers I don’t need to know

And the worry is never far from my mind
When I’m lying in bed after the day fades to night
It’s brought on by the silent, still darkness when I know I should be sleeping

If I took my thoughts at face value
Then everything would be a threat
And not a thing would ever go my way
But there’s a safer part inside my brain
That says it’s probably gonna be okay
And this is probably not my dying day

And for now I feel secure and I’ve got a roof above my head
For now I’m safe and warm, tomorrow isn’t my concern
As long as for today I have been fed

But anyway, my greatest worry I can’t shake
Is the possibility of living for a century with unfulfilled dreams
Resigned and given up and just a shell of who I am today

So I can focus on my face, feel the tension, let it go
Still my arms and still my legs and let myself sink into bed
Every single day I’m making progress

#6 The Fine Print (album track by track)

For the third album in a row, I’ve decided to showcase each track in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “The Fine Print” is the sixth (and title) track from my latest release, The Fine Print. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

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I settled on this as the title track of the new album before I even knew what else would be on the album… actually, before I even finished the song. As usual, that put extra pressure on me to write something good, and I must admit that it does tend to lead me to choose safe melodies, which doesn’t really bother me in songs, but apparently it bothers other people, ha. But I’m mostly just happy that the pressure didn’t prevent me from ever finishing the song at all.

This song basically started with me just thinking the phrase “the fine print” was kind of poetic, and I wanted to come up with a concept for it. Eventually I came up with “up until now, all my life has been in the fine print.” And then I used a technique that is common for some songwriters but that I rarely use: I took a bunch of random lyrical ideas accumulated through the years and smashed them all together into one song. Obviously, I only chose the ones that were relevant, but I was very happy to be able to make use of so many lines that had always felt great, but I could never think of what song to put them in before.

That’s where I found the bridge, the first pre-chorus, and bits of both verses. The rest came from either lyrical free writes, or just crafting the song into a coherent whole once it was mostly finished. I’ve always found it very easy to come up with a line here and there when the bones of the song are already in place. It’s the bones that are easier said than done.

Now, even though it was the title track and I really wanted it to turn out well, I did not feel the same paralyzing pressure on the production as I did on the songwriting. I just had fun with it.

This album is probably the first time I’ve actually played around with dynamics, especially with adding and removing extra instruments, so I really enjoyed putting the dramatically quiet pre-choruses between relatively loud verses and choruses. I got mixed feedback about it, but I liked it, and I’m excited anyway to be using a new tool in my kit. Anyway, as on some of the other songs, I added in some electric guitar hooks and drum loops and called it a day.

Lyrically, this is one of my favorites (perhaps my top favorite) on the album and means a lot to me, and I think listeners enjoy the lyrics too. (You could always watch the lyric video on mute and pretend it’s a poem!) Musically, most people think it is one of the weaker songs on the album. I like it, but of course I can’t be objective. But the good thing is that (in my opinion) my weaker songs now are still better than most of my stronger songs in the past, and that’s basically all we creators can ever hope for in our journeys. So I’m pretty satisfied, but looking forward to making the next album even better!

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LYRICS

Been feeling like life’s already passing me by
With a heart weighted down from missing everyone who’s left my life
My heroes are all middle aged and I’m running out of drive
I feel like I’ve waited too long, and I never wanted to wait too long

And you could say time, time’s still on my side
But it’s quickly growing tired
Tired of all of my waiting around and all my insecurities

Because up until now, all my life has been in the fine print
But if I could choose, then it would be on a billboard while a spotlight surrounds it

Outgroups and borders, they’re so boring
I want to learn every language and go out and speak them
I want to fight in every single righteous revolution
I know I want too much, and I don’t want to want too much

And you might say pain, pain means you need a break
But if your feet hurt at the end of the day
Your day was probably better spent than a day where everything felt fine

It’s time to draw a line in this quicksand I’ve been drowning in
The greater the risk, the greater the potential win
The greatest risk of all is dying unfulfilled

Up until now, all my life has been in the fine print
But it’s time to move it on to a billboard where a spotlight surrounds it

#5 The Artless Artist (“The Fine Print” track by track)

For the third album in a row, I’ve decided to showcase each track in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “The Artless Artist” is the fifth track from my latest release, The Fine Print. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

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This song deserves more love than it gets! The reason I don’t play it often is that — when played acoustic — it’s not really a fan favorite. There’s also the stupid reason that it has a lot of full F chords and, like most mediocre guitar players, I hate that chord. I have tried (as Frank Turner, the artist I most often try to imitate, often does) just playing Fmaj7s, which are much easier, but a lot of times it just doesn’t sound right. So, instead, I work my ass off to play the correct chord in the recording, and then I avoid playing it later.

But there’s a lot to like about this song, for me at least.

It started, predictably, with the phrase “artless artist” popping into my head because it sounded good and I knew that it would make an interesting concept for a song. I kept chewing on it, and I thought it would be a good song to discuss my all my social problems and anxieties. I was really excited about it. But, as is common for me, I kind of got too excited, which put too much pressure on me to write a great song, and made me not want to write it at all.

This was one of many songs I forced myself to finish during 50/90 because, when you need to finish 50 songs in three months, you just don’t really have the luxury of worrying about song quality. You flesh out every idea you can come up with, and finish every song that you start. (Okay, neither of those is really true because I have hundreds of ideas and I start hundreds of songs a year. And if I truly feel like I’m not ready to finish them without ruining them, then I don’t. But it’s kind of true.)

I finished the chorus much earlier than the rest of the song; the four lines just came pretty easy to me. That is often the case for me, as I’ve said before, because for some reason my brain is good at coming up with catchy, hooky, simple, concise bits, but I struggle with flowing verses. I either can’t think of enough to write, or I have trouble stopping myself from rambling on and on. Then when I have those verses that are either too rambly or that consist largely of filler, I struggle to come up with interesting and catchy melodies because, well, the lyrics don’t lend themselves that well to them. You’d think I could just piece together a whole bunch of quick, catchy lines to make a verse, but somehow it just doesn’t work that way. Writing choruses and writing verses are two different skills. However, I think I’m getting better at it through deliberate practice.

For the verses of this song, I can’t remember the exact process, but I remember having a giant wall of text on the topic to work from. It was either bits and pieces I had written over the course of many months, or maybe a free write or brain drain that I had done one day. Regardless, this made it much easier to write.

Interesting side note: When I first started writing intensively, I thought it was easier to write a song from scratch than piece together a bunch of existing lines and mold them into a song. But as I get more experienced, I’ve learned that in some ways, the latter is much easier. Piecing together a song from existing material takes more hard work and can take longer than writing if you’re already feeling creative, but writing from scratch requires the mental focus and clarity to be creative. So if you’re feeling mentally tired or uncreative, having existing material or co-writing with someone who already has ideas can be a great way to be productive.

Anyway, in this case, I took my few dozen lyrical lines written about social awkwardness and difficulty, and in a fairly short time I had sorted them into two verses and a bridge, moved around or added rhymes where they made sense to me, and matched the meter and rhyme scheme as best I could between the two verses. This is a process that’s become very enjoyable to me, actually.

Outside of the chorus, which I think I did a great job with, I don’t think I could point to any lines here that I think are particularly pithy and catchy. But I love the overall picture it paints. It reads like an encyclopedia entry about all the social difficulties I’ve encountered in my recent past. And it just feels so idiosyncratic — the same exact aspect of the song that other people criticize because songs will never be popular if they’re not “relatable,” is what makes me love it because it’s so me and it’s something I can hold onto for comfort whenever I experience these situations. When no one else has sung a particular experience of yours or the way you feel in a particular situation, it just feels amazing to be able to sing something that you wrote yourself and have it describe you completely perfectly.

Honestly, whenever I read these lyrics or sing the song, I love every line for that reason. It just hits so hard for me, and none of my favorite lines would hit as hard without every single line leading up to them. But the bridge is probably my favorite because it’s a good summary of how I feel on the subject:

And I am constitutionally incapable of telling lies
So I let my cards fall all over the table
Because I’ve learned over time
That if you never speak, people will assume you’ve got nothing to say
And without meaning to be cruel
They take the microphone away
So make sure you sing before it’s too late

Yes, it’s true that I’m pretty much incapable of lying. And I’ve learned to love that about myself and lean into it. Just be 100% open, honest, and vulnerable. I think it’s a strength. A lot of people following the same career path that I am might be hesitant to ask for opportunities or tell someone they admire them, but I’m not, because I know that I couldn’t hide those feelings and wishes even if I wanted to, so I might as well just say it. Many good-hearted, creative people appreciate vulnerability in others and it makes them want to help you. Some people are put off by it though, and that’s the risk you take. You win some, you lose some. But like I say, the very worst outcome is that you don’t say it, and you don’t get offered the opportunity that you could have been offered, simply because no one even knew you wanted it.

There are definitely other people out there who can relate to these experiences. It doesn’t matter if they’re artists either; that’s not the important part of the song. And I like to hope that someday, a lot of these people can discover this song and feel understood through it.

Production-wise, this is the most rocky sound I came up with; I kind of went all out with a super cool drum loop, electric guitar chords and melodies, poppy harmonies, and a bass line I wrote. I was going for heavy folk punk, but in my opinion it came off more like quirky indie rock. But that’s cool too! I think the full-on rock band sound made it a lot of people’s favorite production-wise — partly because that’s a popular sound, and partly because it was just such a drastic change from what I normally release. If only the lyrics were more widely relatable, then more of those people might have listened on repeat, ha. But again, I have no regrets because I wrote exactly the song that I wanted to write.

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LYRICS

The artless artist fell short again
Ruining a perfectly good shot
They shook her hand and quickly forgot
Can an artless artist ever find success?

I think about friends just like I did when I was five
Everybody has a story and something to teach me
And could end up being my best friend for life
But I’ve been fooled by so-called “friends” time and time again
With compliments and invitations to pretend they like me
But they were just using me till they find somebody better
Whenever I’m with a friend and we meet a stranger
Somehow by the night’s end, they become fast friends
They start keeping in touch every day
While the stranger soon forgets my name

I’ve been invited to cool parties once or twice
Introduced to people who I want to like me
But I cramp up lest I show too much excitement
And everybody says they hate all that’s insincere
Yet the way that they choose to get ahead is to pretend that they’re everyone’s best friend
Always asking for details they never want to hear
But me, I can’t pretend when I’m not interested
I don’t have a fake smile or a cool new way to say goodbye
I just awkwardly walk away, and every time I just say

The artless artist fell short again
Ruining a perfectly good shot
They shook her hand and quickly forgot
Can an artless artist ever find success?

And I am constitutionally incapable of telling lies
So I let my cards fall all over the table
Because I’ve learned over time
That if you never speak, people will assume you’ve got nothing to say
And without meaning to be cruel
They take the microphone away
So make sure you sing before it’s too late