songwriter

I Wish I Wrote That: “Signed, Sober You” by HARDY

I love it when a song just levels me with sheer craft. Like… it’s so good, it makes me mad. But it also makes me smile. And I can’t decide whether I want to pick up a guitar or throw in the towel once and for all. Yes, when that happens you know you’ve stumbled across a winner. And HARDY’s “Signed, Sober You” is one such tune:

There are a million things to love about this tune but let me just share a few thoughts on why it’s such a fine piece of songwriting.

1. We’re in the scene from line one

Third shot down, I’m in trouble

I love this opening line. “Third shot down, I’m in trouble”. Bang! Right away, we’re thrust into a bar scene with our hero. You don’t need to be watching the video to see the flickering neon beer signs, sense the pool table off in the corner, and practically feel the chunky wooden bar underneath your forearms. From the first six words we’re sucked into the world of this character. It’s instant drama—and we want to know what happens next.

2. A healthy dose of suspense

Stumble through the front door, gone as it gets

Flip the kitchen light on, there it it

On the fridge, just my luck

“Read this if you’re drunk”

Something is unfolding. We know that much. But what exactly is this all about? The details are coming slow and steady but we still don’t quite have the full picture. Even as the note on the fridge appears, we don’t know who it’s from. And if you’re like me, you might assume it’s from the lover who recently left him. But like me, you’d be wrong.

3. An original idea, expressed simply

Don’t think about it, mister

Don’t even touch your phone

I know you think you miss her

But I promise you, you don’t

There’s healing in the lonely

Sit back, kick off your boots

And you’ll thank me in the morning

Like you always do

Signed, sober you

Arrgggghhhhhhh!! So. So. So. Good. Now we finally understand what this song is all about. I love the plain-speak, “Don’t think about it mister, don’t even touch your phone.” It’s a great example of how you to don’t need big words to convey big ideas. As Mark Twain put it, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

4. Playing with language

There’s healing in the lonely

I particularly love this line in the chorus. What an original expression. He transforms the word “lonely” from an adjective into a noun—if not a proper noun: The Lonely, capital L, right? A lesser writer might have said, “There’s healing in feeling lonely,” or “There’s healing in the lonely times.” But as writers we’re free to bend, twist, push, and break the language. Whatever it takes to get the message across.

5. Making every word count

P.S., there’s pizza in the freezer, Dumb and Dumber on the TV

It’s so stupid, that’s what you’d be

To go diggin’ through her Instagram

If you’re thinkin’ ’bout that, read this again

Pizza, freezer, Dumb and Dumber, TV—the details continue to paint the picture. We’re back at our hero’s apartment. Look at how Hardy uses the word “diggin’”. He could have said “lookin’” or “checkin’ out.” But he found a far more visceral word, far more active and emotionally charged. It perfectly reflects the desperation of the narrator.

6. Zooming in, zooming out

Yeah, well remember last time that you hit her up

You heard some other guy, how much does that suck?

That set you back a month, yeah, trust me, old friend

You don’t wanna go down that road again

In movie-making, an actor’s performance will feel very different when it’s shot close and tight, versus far and wide. We have the same perspective tools available to us in writing. Thus far, we’ve been zoomed in on the details of a single night. Here in the bridge Hardy zooms out to give us the bird’s eye view to help us better understand what’s at stake for our character.

7. A twist at the end

Don’t think about it, mister

Don’t even touch your phone

I know you wanna kiss her

But I promise you, you don’t

It’s always a nice stroke of craft to give the listener a little something extra at the end of a song. Hardy swaps “miss” for “kiss” here, just to put a cherry on top.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. Well done compadre!

Hope you enjoyed this breakdown and if you’d like to book an online songwriting lesson, grab a freebie right here.

How tall is your song?

So you’ve written a song. Now, how do you play it?

To me, the answer often comes down to understanding the nature of your song. In other words, its character.

How tall or short is it? What does it like to wear? Is it weepy or joyous? Does it bark at you, or sing you to sleep? Does it sit you on its knee to tell you a story, or seduce you into doing things you’d never dream of doing?

Once we’ve written a song (and often during the writing process) we’re getting to know this song. And certainly once the song is written—the raw structure, the chords, the lyrics—it becomes a matter of presentation. This can include anything from the key you’re in, to the style, to the tempo, to the feel.

If you’re like Bob Dylan, you might choose to vary these elements from night to night — depending on how you’re seeing things. This is artistry. This is seizing the mercury of life and transmuting it into the physical realm in order to marvel at it, share it with others, give us a glimpse of the impossible. To help us better know the unknown. That’s what songwriting is, that’s what performing is, that’s what this whole thing is about.

I remember one student who had written a great song called “Break Something,” about a man who had come unhinged under the mad pressures of life. The concept was fantastic, the lyrics brilliant… but the delivery was lacking something. He was playing it in sort of a folksy strum. It was laid back and placid—whereas the actual content of the song was the complete opposite.

Together we wondered, how could we use style to reveal more of the song’s natural character? Well, if I’m in the land of Folk and I need to add more wildness, I take a step to rock n roll. And if from rock n roll I still want to add even more menace, danger, and out-and-out unpredictability, I go to rockabilly.

And that’s what we did. We reimagined “Break Something” from a back porch strummer into a a hot-rodding, slicked back, swaggering, loose cannon of a rockabilly song.

Off came the 2nd fret capo and we found ourselves not in the bright and sunny strum of D-G-A, but in the open-chorded mayhem of E-A-B. Gone was the laid back tempo and we ratcheted things up to, well, a break-neck pace. Out went the plaintive vocal delivery and in came a growl and a hiss and a bite that infused every line with danger. Do you see what I mean? We’re demonstrating the content of the song in the style in which we execute it.

Every song has a character to it. Discover it—and use every tool in your arsenal to reveal it to your audience.

Serendipitous chicken wings, plus a song

My friend Marcus told a story about chicken wings and suddenly I couldn’t help it: I wanted chicken wings.

He told us that somebody had planted a chicken wing in his bag one night, and he later found it… at the exact moment he saw someone else eating KFC. The stray wing enabled him to immediately satisfy the sudden craving that came over him when he saw the other fellow plowing through a bucket of Kentucky grilled. Holy cripes, I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment that rules quite as much as that. Maybe finding a $20 in my jeans?

Anyway I had southern fried chicken on my mind so I went over to Hill County Chicken and ordered the 5 piece Texas Tenders. This was too many, there’s still a tender in the fridge at work as we speak. But it did have me in a southern kind of mood.

So when I got to the studio tonight I decided to try this tune that has a bit of a southern fried feel to it. Originally I had intended to send you Part 1 of the 3-part recap of the NJPAC show (Note: The recap is now available here) but I haven’t gotten a chance to understand my digital camera yet and it’s important that footage be included in these communications so it will have to wait.

In the meantime, here is a little tune for you. Georgia keeps finding her way into my songs. This one is called “The Stars Kept On Shining (In The Georgia Sky)”. Now before you listen please keep in mind that this is an EXTREMELY CRUDE RECORDING made without the use of ANY SORT OF PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT OR EXPERTISE and you should bear that in mind before you hit play.

(Also, there are many, many words in this number so I have included them below if you’d like to follow along.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ubDXtgJ7UE&w=560&h=315]

The Stars Kept On Shining

(In The Georgia Sky)

words and music by Paul Rosevear

Taloolah was certain

That true love had come

In a man named Orlando

Who worked in the sun

He was kind and gentle

And she was his prize

There was no greater beauty

He’d seen with his eyes

But the town started talking

And the family got wise

And they did what they had to

To keep things in line

So Orlando went missing

And Taloolah just cried

And the stars kept on shining

In the Georgia sky

Now Jim was a rebel

It was just in his blood

He didn’t mean no trouble

It’s just the way that he was

And he fell for Delilah

With the silver streaked hair

A drunk’s only daughter

With beauty to spare

Well the old man spoke plainly

He made himself clear

With his wife just a memory

Well his girl would stay near

But Jim he insisted

And one bullet was fired

And the stars kept on shining

In the Georgia sky

Well June was a wild one

A bad girl with charm

She kept love in her heart

And junk in her arm

And she wound up pregnant

With no man to be found

All the boys that she’d been with

Well they’d long since left town

She stayed on the needle

Cause the world got so cold

She could see people whisper

When she’d come up the road

But the babe was born healthy

Though her sweet mama died

And the stars kept on shining

In the Georgia sky

Brother Paul’s Family Tree, plus a song

So I just discovered that Suzanne Somers published a book of poetry called “Touch Me” in 1980. How could this be?

Life is amazing. I was just having lunch w/ my buddy Dave yesterday and we were catching up on this and that and we started to tell each other about our families.

Turns out Dave is the youngest brother of ten siblings. I told him I only know of one other guy who is the youngest brother of ten and he happens to be one of the greatest minds in all of American music—Dexter Romweber.

But anyway as we talked about family, I told him about this bizarre coincidence between my wife and me. She’s one of two siblings, just like me. She’s got an older brother, I’ve got a younger sister. Fine.

Now, her father is an only child—just like mine. And just like my dad, he grew up without a dad of his own. OK, pretty strange. Plus our mothers were both one of six brothers and sisters. Well now this is just odd, you have to admit.

What does it mean? Nothing as far as I can tell. But it’s interesting.

At any rate, when I got home from the studio the other day with Milo, I remembered the one song that I actually wanted to record in the first place—the one I actually knew the words to. It’s called “A Long Time Ago”.

Now, I don’t have the studio tonight, but that’s fine because I’ve been meaning to do some recording in the bathroom. So I did, and here it is, “A Long Time Ago”.

Just to let you know exactly what you’re in for here, this was guerilla warfare. No mic stand, I had to get creative. The mic was perched up in the shower basket with all the shampoos and such. Which was fine because it captured a nice reverb but the problem is, the voice is a little bit low. But I’ve included the lyrics here below in case you’d like to follow along.

Then I put the mic in the towel rack and that worked out just fine.

OK without further adieu (and just remember this is NOT A PROFESSIONAL RECORDING BY ANY STRETCH), here it is ladies and gentlemen, “A Long Time Ago”.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzsUj1AUoKQ&w=560&h=315]

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2 Songs From Brother Paul & The Magnitude of Funk

So I was over at the studio getting set up and Milo showed up. He also rents time at the studio and happens to play drums.

We get set up and started to jam a bit on a few ideas I had. They’re actually more than ideas, they are complete songs except I don’t have the lyrics memorized. This is a big problem.

Anyway we did the best we could and kind of got a groove going on two ideas.

The first is called “And I Sang,” a song I wrote based on something a friend told to me about his childhood.

The other song is called “Dreams of You”. This is a little country number I’ve had forever. Basically it’s a cheatin’ song.

Be forewarned! THESE ARE NOT POLISHED RECORDINGS. They are extremely raw and may cause you to recoil in terror.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eczCfnLVjIk&w=560&h=315]

P.S. I was thinking if Milo and I ever had a band together, perhaps we could call it “The Magnitude of Funk”