Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Prison, Superman and the Open Road

You know that moment when you bite into a fresh slice of pizza. The smell of the baked crust as your fingertips cradle that precious triangle like a lizard on a hot rock lifting its feet every couple seconds to avoid the burn. You can feel the heat on the skin of your face as you bring that long awaited deliciousness to your watering mouth. There is a quick light that flickers in your brain...a warning light perhaps? A memory you just can't seem to grab hold of as you are lured by the distraction of melted cheese hiding delectable sauce over cooked dough. Your mouth opens wide as you ease a corner past your lips and over the tongue. Like an anxious puppy getting ready for a walk, your teeth slam down and your eyes roll back for the moment has finally arrived and the reason you are here...on this day...was to eat this very slice of pizza.
But, it's too late. The damage is done. The scalding melted cheese welds itself to the roof of your mouth, your eyes tear up, your nose pushes air out and the previous width of your jaw pales in comparison to the desperate plea for cold air as you breathe in quickly to minimize the pain. The cheese won't let go. Your teeth cannot cut it, so in that moment you are forced to pull more lava into the opening of your face as your eyes scour the room for those who may bear witness to this incredible feat you have just embarked upon. Its a kitchen dance gone bad as you hop from foot to foot shaking the contents of the inside of your mouth back and forth working up the courage to bring that fire down your throat and rescue you from the horrible ending your pizza dream should have seen coming. 

What does this have to do with songwriting?

Instead of picking someone to collaborate with this week...as given to us in the challenge...I took a big bite of hot pizza and ended up collaborating with 3 SAC songwriters. So my blog will be long for those who wander through it.

The three writers I worked with are Rosanne Baker Thornley, Robert Campbell and Kristine St. Pierre.

Song # 1 - TURN written by North Easton and Rosanne Baker Thornley

 This is Jack. He is 41 years old. He was arrested for drug trafficking 8 months ago and he has 3 years and 4 months left in his sentence. The words surrounding the wall behind Jack are his own. A letter to his younger self. A plea of sorts to urge the younger Jack to make better decisions. To stay true and not be swayed by the pressures of those he shares company with. Taken from the letter he wrote to himself..."Get to work Jack, get clean and avoid the madness because you are good enough to live your dreams and not just have them in your sleep"

When I received an email from fellow songwriter in the SAC challenge (Rosanne Baker Thornley) containing a link to Jack's picture and many other prisoners...I was captivated. Drawn in. Our first skype session was a discussion on the idea of writing a song based on the letters these men had written to themselves.

Writing songs is no easy feat. There are so many components to consider in the journey from the music, to the melody, to the words on the page and how they all tie in to a common point in a matter of 3-4 mins. Finding rhymes that aren't expected, using imagery that captivates the mind and pulls the listener into the setting of the song itself, and then the process of building the audio vision and the presentation afterward.  Music is a place where creativity stands hand in hand with formula and patterns, and its in the recreation of these patterns (words, chords, and melody) that original songs are born. I suppose that's why I love it so much. It is a challenge every time. And the challenge began in the first session me and Rosanne had. Our styles, our rhyming patterns, our thoughts on how to convey an idea. In fact, after our first session, I took to the guitar, climbed inside my studio and sent her back an almost completed song. Both of our ideas were in there...in my mind anyway...and I was truly excited about what I had created. Anxious...I sent it off to her...attached the lyrics and waited patiently for her response.

She wrote back"Hey North...Um...I like the first line in the pre-chorus."

My first thought..."This is not going to be as easy as I had hoped" but the challenge is the collaboration. So meeting number 2 over Skype took place. And we both felt that tension and apprehension as we both mentioned our intentions. We battled back and forth and finally like a crunched up ball of paper (my first version)...I slowly opened up to some of her thoughts and ideas and experienced the true magic of what songwriting collaboration is all about. With the barriers down, everything seemed to not only move quicker...but feel great. Each line got stronger as we analyzed it. The song unfolded and when we added the final polish, we had something not only unique and special, we had captured a little of what challenges these prisoners face every day of their lives.

For those of you who have had a chance to listen, or read Rosanne's lyrics...you know she has a great way of putting things together. All of her songs in this challenge have been fantastic and she truly is a pleasure to work with.  It looks like we are also going to carry on and write another song together.

The Turn for us, is the moment you make a decision to go the other way.

Have a listen:

At 17 a boy don't know bout living smart and moving slow
18 notches on the wall...carved em all
Once a year i mark the day 
I should have turned and walked away.

I had the hopes that young men do
not the strength to see them through
I followed blind, across the line, 
took the fall in  someone else's shoes
If I could go back, back to me I'd say.

Look before you follow, Think before you choose
Its not what you gain, Its in everything you lose
Don't forget your feet, you don't have to stay
You can always turn..... and walk away

In the shadow of my youth
I didn't care about  truth
I was desperate to belong
I could've put it right...but I did it wrong.
And the hardest part in the empty dark
is the quiet pain and the fear I face 
If only I could just go back and say

Look before you follow, Think before you choose
Its not what you gain, Its in everything you lose
Don't forget your feet, you don't have to stay

You can always turn... you can always turn...and walk away

My second collaboration session was with Robert Campbell from Nova Scotia. We bounced some ideas back and forth and had sort of settled on a topic in facebook messages and email. We brainstormed on it for a little while and nothing seemed to be clicking the way a song should...in my opinion. Finding the creative words to explain the subject we had chosen...and then Robert mentioned the word super hero. I know...i know...there are so many super hero songs out there.

And some really good ones. Five for Fighting (it's not easy), Crash Test Dummies (supermans song), 3 Doors Down (Kryptonite)...But at the very least it started the creative juices flowing. We visualized superman staring down at the world wanted to hang up his cape and just lay on some beach somewhere. Grow his hair long...maybe pickup the guitar. But no matter what the song metaphored...the idea itself was as basic as the desire for "THE SIMPLE LIFE"
And then lyric after lyric seemed to find the paper. The verse, the chorus, the bridge, the melody. Robert has a great thought process. He brainstorms well and seems to be neck deep in music. Much respect... And despite our many disconnections through Skype...we collaborated well together and turned out a pretty neat little song in a very short period of time. 

Give it a spin.

THE SIMPLE LIFE written by North Easton and Robert Campbell

Maybe I'm just another superman
Standing on the edge of the world looking down
I don't wanna fall, when the fear gets too much
I don't wanna crash into the waiting crowd.
Im tired of facing the same old situations
Gotta get there in the nick of time
I wanna day, give me some space
I wanna sleep straight through the night
If I had the simple life
I'd sit and celebrate
And in the quiet I would close my eyes and drift away
I'd spend my time in the sun
I would always be young
If only i could taste the simple life

IM sick of chasing those higher expectations
When I never reach the finish line
I'd settle for less, if the rest of the world 
would see that we'll never make it out alive (chorus)

If I could just take off this cape
Give myself a break
Take my time and Save the world another day
But I wont...no i wont.. damn i wont


My third collaboration session was in person with Ottawa SAC member Kristine St. Pierre. Kristine drove twice out to my studio in Rockland (25 mins out of Ottawa heading east). We knew of each other over the years as the Ottawa Music Scene is not huge. 

When we sat in the get to know you part of our collaboration, we stumbled upon a common thread between us. A friend of ours. A woman who we both have known for years. I taught her children guitar, she watched over my little ones before as well. She truly is a remarkable person with a great spirit and beautiful heart. There was also another thread between us all as well. We had all lost our mothers.  There is a place in the mind that all of us go to in the hard and trying times of our worlds. Its a place where we lean upon the words and actions of others. They give us energy, advice, hope, belief in something bigger than the everyday. When your mother is gone...that place is harder to find sometimes. I know for me, thankfully, that songwriting allows me to not only feel and see my mother everyday, but it also allows me to share her world, memories and more with my children and as many others as I can. 
Our common friend, walks. She walks for more than just the exercise. Their is a purpose to her steps. Perhaps to find solace in the beauty of nature. Maybe its to breathe in the air from the country side or to raise awareness for causes such as the afflictions that take our loved ones far too early. 

How could this not be the subject matter of our Collaboration. 

When you know what you are writing about, words flow much easier and the song took shape quickly. It is not a song about pain, or pity...It is intended as an inspiration...a song to empower the faith of the lives we live and where we come from. And no matter what happens to us, no matter how hard we are pushed, or how much suffering we endure.. the words that keep pushing back against the challenges that try and knock us down....I'm Still here!

I'M STILL HERE written by North Easton and Kristine St. Pierre

Alone on the road in the rain
And she walks with the light again
I'm still here

And the sound of the city, Somewhere behind
And all the crowded cars, scream by
In a blinding race, Every step I take

Up comes the dust, Down comes the rain
Fight through the fire ,Calling her name
And suddenly she's, SHouting out...

Im still here

Verse 2
Hard Thoughts, hit me like a brick wall
never let the pain get through from a memory
and everything in front of me
Is like a gun shot, loaded and going off
Fight back but i'm still drowning in honesty
Draining my energy

I'm still here

When it comes to the heart and the courage it takes
All the fear and the worry you faced
And the words that I still hear you speak

And in the dark when i feel myself break
its the road where I go and...You save me

I'm still here..

As the snow slips into the drain pipes on the broken streets, the grass and the trees start waking up from a long winter slumber. The Birds, and the squirrels, and the feet of people everywhere breathe in the outside air...and sadly...because of the turning of the seasons...that little nasty flu bug sidelined my co-writer this morning and the song we intended on releasing took an extra day.

I look forward to sharing it with you all...and many more songs as the challenge to write a song a week continues for North Easton. I have enjoyed this challenge immensely, and the people in it are truly an inspiration to me and the future SAC songwriters.

I will post "I'm still here" tomorrow.

Till next week
North Easton

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