In 2008 I decided to learn how to write songs from people who had already done it. Like a lot of people, I’d been collecting written fragments on envelopes…I kept knapsacks filled with notebooks and cocktail napkins where I had written phrases and song ideas…there were lots of things I had experienced in my life that I wanted to capture in words, but songs were beyond my reach. So, I took classes from people like Mary Gauthier, Darryl Scott, and Beth Neilsen-Chapman. I also went to the ASCAP Expo and sat in the back of writer’s panels to learn as much as I could about the craft. But mainly, I wanted to tell stories — and pursue the underlying truth that rests behind each song like a shadow.
I became friends with Mary Gauthier, and we came up with a song called “The Orphan King,” about her having been left at an orphanage in New Orleans on the day she was born. “The Orphan King” made it onto her Foundling record and we ended up touring together. She one day asked me to join her in taking a DNA test, because she wanted to learn about her biological family — and what I didn’t know at the time was that by following this path towards the truth in a song, it led me to learn that the father I grew up with wasn’t my natural father.
This experience sent me to write a group of songs that I put out on my first record. I worked with Crit Harmon on it, a masterful producer and co-writer — he likes to say he ‘co-fights,’ but we both agree the results were great. Before the release of the record, five of the songs were added to radio playlists in 11 european countries, including the BBC in Scotland, Wales, and Ulster. They’ve also won several writing awards, like the International Songwriter Competition and the Great American Song Contest.
My favorite parts of songwriting have been exploring ideas, finding hidden truths and playing with the point of view. Most of my songs have been written from several perspectives before choosing the one that felt like it had the most power.
You never know what a song might lead to. In my case, I wrote a song that wrote me back…