#4 Forever Young (“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. “Forever Young” is the fourth 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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Along with “The Bench at the Top of the World,” “Forever Young” was one of the first songs of this batch that I instantly enjoyed playing, so I’ve been playing it all year long.

But unlike “Bench,” this was the type of song that needed time to marinate before I could finish it. I remember when I first had the idea to write a song called “Forever Young” about the trade-off between financial independence and the freedom to do what I love. What an original idea, right? But if songwriters are still allowed to write love songs, then lord knows I should be allowed to do this.

At the beginning, I (ironically) struggled with a lack of emotion and passion for this song. I finished the lyrics pretty easily because I had a lot of experiences and emotions to draw from as well as specific verbal ideas I wrote down in preparation. But the lyric just made me feel nothing, and that wasn’t right. Interestingly, the final lyrics aren’t that different from the first draft. But when I’d first finished it, I just couldn’t come up with a melody that wasn’t boring because frankly, the lyric bored me. Maybe it was a self-consciousness that the topic was unoriginal, or maybe I had just spent too much time working on it. But I actually set it aside for a while, as in a few months.

Then later during 50/90, when I was desperate for finished songs to keep inching my count towards 50, I forced myself to look at it again. I was like, okay, I basically have a finished lyric, it cannot be this hard to come up with a melody, just come up with anything so you can call it finished, and then do what you want with it later — refine it or throw it away. But luckily, I’m a perfectionist, and that part of my brain refused to let me come up with just anything. In fact, because I was having trouble coming up with a good melody, I spent more time than usual refining it as I wrote. For example, I wrote a handful of different melodies for the main hook (“rather be forever young than prematurely dead inside”) before I settled on one, and I think it’s a lot better for that.

When I recorded it, I think this was probably the arrangement I did the best job on. I wrote some really nice electric guitar and bass hooks (again, contrary to popular belief, there are no keyboards in this song, it’s just guitar!) and then I pieced some drum loops into a pretty neat track. I don’t hear any glaring flaws in levels or timing like I do in other tracks. Judging by conversations I’ve had, the arrangement was the main asset of the song. It doesn’t seem to be a fan favorite or really hook people in by itself.

But I personally have a soft spot for this song, for some reason. It’s still my second favorite song to play on the album, largely because it’s easy and fun to sing and play. There’s a sweetness to the lyrics and the melody that resonates with me, even though I feel somewhat detached from it. Like, I wrote it about myself, but I feel like I’ve been growing out of it all along; it’s just something I felt like I needed to express regardless. It’s almost like an ideal philosophy for me, my version of Frank Turner’s “Photosynthesis” (a formative song for me). I’m particularly proud of the bridge section (“I used to hate songs like this too when I was afraid”), partly because it was a cool way to change up the song’s dynamics, but for me that’s also the most personally expressive part of the song. By the way, that was a little reference to my surprising dislike of “Photosynthesis” when I first heard it… which is a long story that’s somewhere in my past blogs if you are interested enough to find it.

Overall, I like this song because it was one of those times when I set out to express something and did so perfectly. I don’t mean that the song is musically or lyrically perfect, only perfectly mine. Every songwriter has different goals they try to achieve with their songs. For me, that one is paramount, so I will remain proud of this song regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.

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LYRICS

When I was five I used to think
I would be settled in some pastel yellow house by now
On a pretty little row of pastel colored houses
With a hardworking husband, who looks like a prince
And a couple of funny, precocious little kids
I might be a pantsuit professional
Or a working writer, or a teacher
At any rate, a stable job, not still just a dreamer

But I think I’d rather be forever young
Than prematurely dead inside
To wake up every day and work on a dream
Is a blessing I’d never take lightly
It’s not a failing

These days, I wake up every morning, just after eleven
Spend most of my days reading and writing in bed
Still living with my mom, like when I was seven
But there’s meaning and method, I’ve got a direction
And the biggest surprise
Is I never dreamed this life could make me so happy

And stoically settling for plan B
When you never even took plan A all the way
Just because time marched on and you got afraid
That isn’t success

I used to hate songs like this too when I was afraid
So if you hate this song, it’s not too late
I used to hate songs like this too when I was afraid
So if you hate what I’m saying, it’s not too late

#3 Have You Ever Slept with the Lights on? (“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. “Have You Ever Slept with the Lights on?” is the third 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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Out of 50+ songs that I wrote in the latter half of 2020, this one almost didn’t make it onto my 8-track album. I wondered if it was too cheesy or childish. After all, it’s basically an unapologetic proclamation of fear and vulnerability.

I didn’t write it thinking I would share it. One of the main effects of doing 50/90 (50 songs in 90 days) and other intensive songwriting is that I don’t feel any pressure for everything to be good or shareable. I feel free to write exactly what I’m feeling and what I want to express — or alternatively, something completely silly and pointless (but in this case it was the former). Then when the songs are finished and I’m preparing for a release, I feel free to polish and share only what I still want to express and what I’m musically proud of.

I didn’t set the goal of releasing eight songs, I just planned to release however many songs I really felt like putting out there. There were some songs that I went back and forth on, and this was one of them. Musically, I did feel like this was one of the catchier songs, and that was confirmed when I shared the songs with other people. On the other hand, I knew the sentiments were not necessarily cool or socially desirable. But it was definitely one of the most genuine and honest songs in the batch, and that’s much more important to me in my music.

So, with two marks in its favor and only superficial negatives, it made the cut. And after asking about 10 different people to listen to the batch and tell me their favorite(s), this one handily got more votes than any other song. It seemed like that was mostly because of the melody, but I think the lyrics played a role too.

So in the spirit of being vulnerable and not caring if I seem cool or appropriate, let’s get super real. I was thinking about people I admire, like Frank Turner, when I started writing this, but it did become much more than that as I wrote.

I don’t know if everyone does this, but for most of my life (childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, which is only just coming to an end), as I’ve searched for an identity and tried to find my footing in the world, I’ve felt such an irresistible impulse to connect with people who seem to have it together and who represent who and what I want to be in the future. I know that’s probably just a part of being human, but I always felt weirdly ashamed and uncomfortable with that part of myself. I was always trying to find an explanation: why am I so obsessed with connecting with these people? What do I truly want from them — what do I want them to tell me or give me? And probably most importantly: how do I stop, and just become comfortable in my own skin and trust myself without regard to anyone else?

I think I only recently started to come up with a satisfying answer (and that’s only because I’m slowly overcoming this need and actually becoming completely self-reliant). It’s pretty stupidly obvious and simple: I only ever wanted them to tell me with absolute certainty that I would be okay. And of course, no one could possibly do that. But what this song is about is that if I could only tell them how I was really feeling with no “coolness” filter — that sometimes I’m really scared and I have no idea what to do — and if they could tell me that they 100% remember feeling the exact same way, and that they might even still feel that way a little bit now, albeit happy and fulfilled and successful and experienced, then maybe I could keep that knowledge in my pocket and touch my fingers to it when I need some strength and self-belief.

I say that the song became more than this because when I really get into a flow with a song and it becomes something worthwhile, it always takes on a life of its own. So I wasn’t just thinking about the people I admire. I was also thinking about my strengths and my perseverance in spite of every fear. I was thinking about how I felt as a child. I was thinking about young girls and kids right now who might be feeling that same way now. And that’s why I think I ultimately did want to release this song, because it really ended up meaning quite a lot to me by the time I was finished.

I did add more instruments to this one: electric guitar, some drum loops, and virtual bass (that I wrote myself). I would say I did a pretty good job; it was one of my favorite arrangements from the album. I’m probably proudest of the simple little electric guitar hooks on here, which I actually wrote pretty quickly, but they add so much. (Almost every single listener seems to hear them as keys, but they are definitely guitar!)

So basically, a deeply personally meaningful song combined with one of my first full arrangements that I did myself. I’m proud of this one, my friends and family like it, and I hope other people did too!

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LYRICS

I’ve always wished I could ask you
If you were ever afraid
And how old were you when the fear finally went away
It’s been my steadiest friend
And though I try to defeat it every day
It’s so hard for me to fall asleep
So afraid of what could go wrong tomorrow

Have you ever slept with the lights on?
Do you get scared when you’re all alone
Do you ever worry that something’s wrong
And your safety net’s gonna break soon
Have you ever slept with the lights on, lights on, lights on?

But I get up every morning
And I force myself to follow a dream
My stomach never settles and my heart struggles to break free
But with every word from my mouth
And with every face I meet
I know these nerves are just excitement
A sign that shows just how much this all really means to me

Someday I’ll do my best to help
The next generation like you help me
And maybe I’ll never get my answer till one day
My most promising protege asks me the same thing

Have you ever slept with the lights on?
Do you get scared when you’re all alone
Do you ever worry that something’s wrong
And your safety net’s gonna break soon
Have you ever slept with the lights on, lights on, lights on?

#2 Boulder (“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. “Boulder” is the second 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 actually started its life as an assignment! Over the past year, as I’ve had more free time to work on the creative side of my music, I’ve tried out a bunch of online songwriting courses. One of my favorites of those is The Songwriting Academy’s (UK) weekly masterclasses. Every week an experienced (generally pop) songwriter does a presentation about the creative or business side of songwriting and there’s an assignment.

One week the theme was empowering pop songs. “Firework” by Katy Perry was actually presented as the prime example. I knew I wasn’t going to (and didn’t even want to) write another “Firework,” but I figured it would be a nice exercise to write my own version of an empowering song.

I started by brainstorming some images and metaphors that felt empowering to me, because that was part of the idea of the exercise. I came up with a bunch, but for some reason the idea of pushing a boulder stuck with me. Maybe because it’s a common enough image in general, but I can’t really think of an example of someone using it in a song. (Correct me if I’m wrong as it sounds like my kind of a song!) Most of the other images I could think of were pretty overdone in songwriting.

I started with a couple of other constraints: first, the key of A, because in my mind each key — played with open chords on acoustic guitar — has a different feeling: G and C are basically your old standbys that can do anything; D and A are the most empowering, positive ones (A being the quirkier of the two), and E can either be quirky or kind of punky. I think this is more of a factor of the specific songs I’ve happened to cover and write in each key rather than some kind of musical genius (or a universal fact), but anyway, that’s how I chose the key.

The other constraint was deciding the structure ahead of time. Obviously, the chorus was going to be the high point that summarized the empowered feeling. The reason I didn’t put my main image (the boulder) as the chorus is that I had written those final lines already, I liked them, and they didn’t really seem to work as a chorus. I knew that was going to be the ending. I decided that I would organize the verses simply by time: verse 1 would loosely focus on the past and verse 2 would loosely focus on the present.

I find that these kinds of constraints and pre-planning usually lets the exact lyrics and melody write themselves, and this case was no different. Although I can’t see it holding up to “Firework” for the average music fan, I was pleasantly surprised by my results. It’s a nice little tune, and I’m particularly fond of some of the lyrics in the first verse — “days when a little push led to a dream come true, and months and months when I tried and tried and I barely made it through.” For me, that was one of those lines that expressed a feeling/experience perfectly from within.

A careful, musically inclined listener might notice that the strumming pattern I use for this song is one I seem to have gotten hooked on in the past year. My first instinct used to be the “Old Faithful” pattern (DDUUDU) or what I like to call “acoustic punk strum” (DDUDU), but now it’s this one. I have to consciously force myself to come up with something different. Most of the songs on this release actually used this same strumming pattern until I went in and changed some of them. Hopefully I did a good job of that so they don’t all sound the same.

Production wise, this was the track that eased the listener into more instrumentation after the first track being acoustic only. I added some minimal electric guitar chords, vocal harmonies towards the end, bass, and minimal (digital) drums. Actually, I added the instruments to all of the songs first, taking each song where I felt like it wanted to go, and then I listened to them to decide the ordering. I liked the idea of starting and ending acoustic, with the bigger songs in the middle.

Anyway, overall, I’m happy with this song, and I hope other people enjoy it too.

P.S. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out this song in the Spotify mobile app, which as far as I know is the only place where you can see Canvas art (3-8 second videos that loop while you’re listening to a song). My favorite graphic designer, Matthew J. Corrales (I highly recommend him for all your design and animation needs), has been creating Canvases for some of my songs, and this one (featuring a cool animated boulder rolling down a hill) is one of my favorites.

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LYRICS

I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs in my time
Moments on top of a mountain, and moments down in the grime
And I’ve had days when a little push led to a dream come true
And months and months when I tried and tried and I barely made it through

But I’m powerful, so I won’t just take anything
For I was born to sound off… to sing
So I’ll take all of my pain, put it in a song
And nobody’s gonna tell me that it’s wrong
Because now that I’ve made my mind up, I’m dangerously strong
And I think I knew that all along

And as I grow the gains get higher and the failure’s less
And I never, feel regretful, as long as I do my best
And I get people telling me how much my music means
And after years and years of trying, I’m finally who I want to be

I pushed a boulder and it rolled
I flicked on a light switch and the world lit up
I pushed a boulder and it rolled, it rolled