Recently I’ve been analyzing my songwriting process, exploring the method in which I write and looking for ways I can help other people write songs. So today I’ll be breaking down one of my songs and walking through the thought process of its creation. There’s something inherently self-indulgent about analyzing this on a blog, so forgive me if I get squeamish.
So first, for reference, here’s the song:
Usually, a song starts out as a single concept or statement that I find interesting. In this case, “what does it feel like to find out that someone you loved now no longer is interested in dating in your gender?” As an aside, this song falls into the category of somewhat true. A number of women I’ve dated have later entered into relationships with women.
There are plenty of cultural tropes that play on this theme: “You must have been a pretty crappy lover to turn her off of men,” or “what did I do to make her gay?” They’re the low-hanging fruit in this case, since not only are they common, but queer studies indicate that they’re not really relevant. Being gay is not a choice; it’s part of your identity. As good or bad as you are as a lover, you can’t “make” someone gay. In fact, it’s downright arrogant to think that your behaviors have fundamentally affected the other person’s sexual identity. As I was mulling over the different directions this theme takes, I kept coming back to feeling hurt and snubbed and trying to understand why.
That’s when I realized that exploring the feeling of rejection based on sexual preference was much more interesting than the simple fact that I dated women who later discovered that they were gay. When you put the two ideas together, you get a song that’s funny on the surface (“Why am I so unlucky that I keep dating women that want other women? Wah wah waaaaah…”), but also introspective (“How am I supposed to feel after learning you don’t like men anymore?”).
And thus you get the chorus:
All the ladies I loved love ladies now
Which you could argue they would have anyhow
I know it wasn’t a choice
That turned you off of the boys
And it’s more hubris than I can allow
But all the ladies I loved love ladies, ladies now
I wrote the first line of this while swimming one day, which is where all my good ideas seem to come. I’m a sucker for alliteration and palindromes, and that first line has them both. From there it was just finding a rhythmic structure that worked, and setting up interesting rhymes that maintained the theme. Since it turned out to be catchy (the hook, if you will), it became a good candidate for the chorus of the song.
This meant that I’d have one verse to set up the exposition. I’d have to explain that there were women I dated and later found out that they changed (or discovered) their sexual identity. In real life, I found this by the fine art of Facebook stalking, so I worked it into the song. Seeing the “photo of you embracing your girl,” and “your interests listed as your family and partner,” both are implicitly results of stalking the social media network of your choice.
At this point I had begun to play around with the music. I’m a very chordal songwriter, in that I tend to come up with a harmonic structure first, then craft a melody that fits the words and the chords. I found a little descending harmonic line I liked, and worked it into the verse. For the chorus, I found a pattern and then reversed part of it:
G C em D
G D em C
Here’s the earliest demo recording I made, so I wouldn’t forget what I had done so far:
The lyrics for most of the rest of the song teeter between confusion and anger. If I was the person who turned you off of men, what’s so bad about me? And if I didn’t, was I really that insignificant in your life? But I’d like to think the persona is coming to peace with these self-esteem punches in the gut.
My good friend Carmaig de Forest once told me that the bridge of the song should approach the themes of the song from a different perspective and also have a different harmonic structure. So the bridge is the angry exasperation, the basest impulse, followed by a plea for leniency in judgment:
Did you gag when I disrobed?
Flick the switch on your left lobe
Please don’t tell me I’m a homophobe
I jump from G to the key of E-flat here which is a bit jarring, but that’s the point. After a brief solo, I come back to the pre-chorus to continue the mixed feelings:
You weren’t so fine
But you were mine
I don’t know how
Then for the outro, I jump briefly back to E-flat leading up to the final chord in G. The “superman” progression so to speak.
The whole writing process took me about a week or so, in thinking of the words, tying them to chords and melodies, and coming up with an arrangement. It probably was a total of 3 or so hours of physical work with a lot of thinking in between. But that’s the process that works for me. I’m curious if other songwriters out there identify with my way of doing it, and if there are parts that are totally alien.
Thanks for listening!