I’m usually pretty uptight about lyrics — like, I’m definitely not the songwriter who records scratch vocals going “la la” and then figures out the words at the last possible second. There are some songwriters I really admire who do that, though. Somebody told me that’s how Paul Simon made Graceland, tracking first, and sorting out the lyrics after, and I adore that record. But for me, I guess because a lot of my songs are these story songs, it sort of feels like the story has to be written before I can commit to the the structure of the thing.
Anyway, when we were making Young Man in America, there was this one song that for whatever reason I just kept writing and re-writing right up to the 11th hour. It’s called “Annmarie.” In fact, the song had two entirely different sets of lyrics from early on, and I could not for the life of me decide between them. There’s the one that ended up on the record, and this other one that went, “Angels hear you when you cry / Angels see how hard you try…” And so Todd (Sickafoose, the producer) and I kept referring to this song as “Angels/Annmarie” for months as we worked on the record in New York and California.
I put off tracking the vocals for this song until the last possible minute and then, the day before I absolutely had to make a call one way or the other, I had a sort of a crisis where I thought neither set of lyrics was good enough and I should start again from scratch. So I started this brand new version, and in my sleep-deprived, studio-addled mind it was like, “this is the kind of moment legends are made of,” like, I would write this brilliant entirely new and awesome set of lyrics that would make this song actually be the single on the record and also tie in beautifully with the general poetic and thematic direction of the record and blah blah. And at this moment of truth I called my husband N. on the east coast. N. is my best, most brave and honest editor. I sang him my new lyrics over the phone. There was a moment of silence and then at last he said, “that’s terrible!” and we both just started laughing hysterically. Because it was terrible. I’m not even telling what the lyrics were.
Not the kind of story legends are made of, but it is true.
Anais Mitchell’s new album, Young Man in America, is out now.[youtube id=”2E2be56jIso” width=”600″ height=”350″]