songwriting

VELVETEEN (new single)

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VELVETEEN

(Shive/Wells/Witt)

 

Love spoke my name

And I felt life run through me

Reborn in the flames

Nothing can undo me

Ooh, I believe that I'm becoming

 

So if my beauty starts to fade

Well, I've been held in a thousand ways

If my heart looks broken in

Then I've been brave enough to live

If perfect turns to perfect mess

And all your love is all that's left

Then I'm as real as real can be

Call me Velveteen

 

Shadow and light

I've learned to let them find me

Coming alive

Feels a lot like dying

Ooh, I believe that I'm becoming

 

So if my beauty starts to fade

Well, I've been held in a thousand ways

If my heart looks broken in

Then I've been brave enough to live

If perfect turns to perfect mess

And all your love is all that's left

Then I'm as real as real can be

Call me Velveteen

 

I know it's true no matter, 

True no matter how I feel

'Cause I'm becoming

I'm becoming real

 

So if my beauty starts to fade

If my heart looks broken in

If my beauty starts to fade

Well, I've been held in a thousand ways

If my heart looks broken in

Then I've been brave enough to live

If perfect turns to perfect mess

And all your love is all that's left

Then I'm as real as real can be

Then I'm as real as real can be

Then I'm as real as real can be

Call me Velveteen

 

 

 

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on Instagram Live, talking with fellow makers about how I’ve managed to raise children, live in community, and also keep creating music. Let me start by saying I am not amazing, nor is my situation unique. It’s not at all unusual to be a working parent. I think the unconventional nature of the music business makes it seem less conducive to leading a balanced life with family than other types of work.

You may feel like you need to set it aside once you start a family, because you feel a little selfish taking time to make art, especially if it’s not generating much or any income for the family. Or you may just be so freaking tired all the time that you can’t fathom having the brain power to make something good.

Well, let me encourage you if I can? I have five kids who are now 11 and up.  I didn’t start working in music as a vocation until my firstborn was three-years-old. I was SO tired for a LONG time.

I could talk for dayyyyys about all of this, but I have songs to write! So I’ve tried to recall + summarize the tips I shared in our Live chat.

FEELS LIKE HOME

Friends, I released a new single last week called "Feels Like Home." 

As a moderate introvert and Type 9 on the Enneagram, I'm prone to feeling overwhelmed by the noise & chaos around me. I wear myself out protecting my peace of mind and talk way too much about woods-walking and tiny houses. 

Living in a full house amplifies the pleasure of a little bit of quiet, a little bit of solitude or a date night where we get to be just ourselves and drive somewhere. As a former army brat, I never tire of exploring the elusive notion of "home" and have no choice but to allow it to remain fluid in terms of place but constant in terms of people.  

If "home" requires a permanent physical address, then many of us are homeless. But if home - at its deepest level - is about being known & cherished by someone, then we sleep in mansions.

So one day at the piano, craving a wide open sky and quiet companionship, I began this song. I shared it in progress online and found others resonated with it. About a year later, I finally finished it and collaborated with Nashville producer extraordinaire Ben Shive (Colony House, Ellie Holcomb) to record it for a possible film/tv pitch.

Now we wait and hope it will get picked up, but in the meantime, you can download and enjoy it. In fact, this week it's a FREE download on Noisetrade.com

I never stop feeling crazy joy & gratitude that you'd take the time to pay attention to what I'm making up over here at my old piano. 

Thank you for that...

cw

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OCTOBER SINGLE: I Can't Get Small Enough

OCTOBER SINGLE: I Can't Get Small Enough

The kids and I just got home Monday night from a 4-day trip back "home" to Raleigh. We haven't been back since we left in July, and we were all super excited to hang out with our people there. 

But as we started rounding familiar corners, the first thing that grabbed all of our attention was the lush green wall of 80-foot pine trees and sweet gums on either side of the road. That's Raleigh. Trees for miles. Green, green, green all year. 

The trees are highly protected in Raleigh, so that strip malls can be almost hard to spot. And the houses, even the big ones...so small, surrounded, overwhelmed.

When we moved to that place, I initially hated those trees, felt suffocated and closed in, not enough sky.

I'm different now...

September Single: HOME

September Single: HOME

Well, things took an unexpectedly joyful turn when I started writing this one. Honestly, I could write on the theme of "home" for dayyyyys - and have. Home is a fascinating concept for an army brat and so I find myself turning it over in the palm of my hand with curiosity and changing emotional response. 

My family has just relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, after almost two decades in North Carolina, and I find myself in a place of tension between missing "home" and finally BEING "home" with all of us inside the same walls after a full year of separateness. 

This song is me focusing on the latter. Ultimately, it's being able to hold the people you love most that makes us most at home...

February Single: Lighter From Here

What We Love  (artwork by Mandy Rogers Horton)
What We Love (artwork by Mandy Rogers Horton)

I shared with my email list last week that I won't be recording an album this year but instead invite you to join a tribe of listeners who will be able to stream or download a new song each month of 2016.

Album projects are amazing, but it's also amazing to share a new lyric and melody with your friends while it's fresh from writing and you're still living the story.

So every month Jess Ray and I will go into her home studio and lay down acoustic production on a new tune. If you join the tribe ($10), you'll get a little note in your Inbox each month letting you know your new tune is ready (mp3 & wav available). Download right away, or wait and get several at a time when you're in the mood.

These songs will not be available elsewhere this year, but you may be hearing the demo of a future single, who knows?

To top it off, each track will be paired with an image of an original piece by Mandy Rogers Horton, whose artwork was featured on the COVERS ep.

"Lighter From Here" is our January song, and it's ready, folks. Head on over to The Store if you're ready to take this musical journey with us.

ABOUT SONG #1: LIGHTER FROM HERE

2015 brought some hefty trials into our life, and Lighter From Here is my song of response. It's a new year hope rooted in the memory of God's goodness and of the faithful return of light year after year.

I've written before about my loathing of winter darkness. Well, I was interested to consider a couple of years ago that the longest night of the year arrives just before Christmas. Our hanging of decorations and our songs of Advent waiting and Christmas celebrating are a massive communal effort to persist in hope and survive the shortened days.

By the time we take down the white lights and get back to regular routine, the long night has actually passed. It's behind us, the worst. We can expect a literal lightening, slowly but surely, day by day.

It's not mere optimism. It's a beautiful and true thing, this faithfulness of nature to reflect the promise that light will win.

We may have some winter yet ahead, but I hope you'll hear comfort and even a gradual return to joy in these words and melody.

Hear a clip of this new release here & join the Tribe to get all 12 songs.

LIGHTER FROM HERE

In late December the sun refused to show

This frosty winter has cut us to the bone

But maybe we’ve felt the worst

We’ve been to the bottom

Maybe we’d take the hurt and the loss

For all that they have taught us

And if what lies behind is the darkest night

Of a long and brutal year

We’ll keep our eyes on the horizon

It’s all getting lighter from here

It’s all getting lighter

The sky will be brighter

The days will be kinder from here

We pull the embers into the new year fire

We will remember how wind and flame conspired

To bring our bodies close

And bind our hearts together

Send everything that’s gone up in smoke

Give us hope for warmer weather

And if what lies behind is the darkest night

Of a long and brutal year

We'll keep our eyes on the horizon

It's all getting lighter from here

It's all getting lighter

The sky will be brighter

The days will be kinder from here

It's all getting lighter

The sun will be higher

The days will be kinder from here

TuneTribe Photo
TuneTribe Photo

You Are My Defense: behind the song

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"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

Albert Camus

I love that quote. But it hasn't always been so. At least I didn't think so.

I finished high school outside of Chicago and don't remember the cold or snow, even in the black early morning at the bus stop, being the real issue. I was rather lonely during those high school years. I attributed that to being new, awkward, shy, fashion-challenged.

But maybe it was really the long winter. Or maybe I've merely associated winter with those blue feelings? Whatever the reason, my dread of the dark months seemed to grow over the years, even here in mild-natured North Carolina.

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As I said during a recent show, I even resented autumn because I knew where it was heading. The months of September, October and November formed a long, dreary hallway leading to winter, which felt like death.

(I'm not prone to overstatement at all.)

The slow but sure shortening of daylight was oppressive to me, to the point that the beauty of falling leaves or seasonal festivities went unappreciated almost entirely.

IMG_0694 I talk about this in the past tense, because this year and the last have, thankfully, not had quite the same effect. Certain circumstances in my life now allow for more solitude and focus which seems to be helping.

But in 2012, we saw a friend in our community repeatedly hospitalized for severe and chronic depression. This wife and mother of two young children known for creating beautiful and whimsical wall murals in playrooms seemed unable to keep her face above water for long, no matter the weather.

Numerous friends and family close to my heart have felt themselves swallowed up by depression during different life seasons, due to circumstance or chemistry or a combination of both. I remember the dread I felt walking into the apartment of one of these, the blinds closed mid-day, lights off, music blaring, finding there was nothing I could say or do that could get a smile out of this former class clown. I found red marks across his wrists and chose to believe him when he said he'd cut himself washing dishes.

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When I really look at it, I know my own struggles have never been quite that.  Depression is a brute, and I am less an expert than a bystander devastated by her own powerlessness to fix anything.

I asked my friend back in 2012 if she could describe it for me, what it was like for her. The songwriter, I suppose all artists, are prone to walking battlefields as well as beaches, gathering shells and making something out of them.

I wanted to write about this reality without trying to fix it. It's okay for a song to be a moment in time, to write where you've been and what you've seen. Of course, I've also seen too much love for it to not to make an appearance.

The stories of my people became linked to the story of me in winter, and this song, "You Are My Defense," took shape.

 

I feel the clouds coming over like a bad dream

Same shadows I’ve known since I was 18

Weeks before winter falls

You find me in the back hall, hiding

I feel the sunshine slip away

 

I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

 

You carve the stone with evidence of your love

Strike a match to warm us when the cold comes

And I will sing of summer light

That feeds the soul through the dark night

Will you feed my soul through the night?

 

Oh, when I’m a ship out on the sea

You are, you are the lighthouse calling me

And when I feel unreachable

You get to me

You get to me

 

And I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Every time you’ve laid yourself beside me

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

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I wish I could say I actually remember writing the second verse, what prompted the stone image. I sing it almost as a newcomer to the song, which is kind of cool. The stone may have had a different inspiration, but I now think of it as the whole of planet earth. Call me crazy, but I do believe there is a Person behind all this wonder. And I think the whole place screams it.

Similarly, the match doesn't have to be one thing, but one thing it might be is the faithful-to-return sun-soaked months that restore and revive before the cold.

The song I sing of hope is one I choose to sing and must choose and choose again, because it does not always come naturally. I sing of summer light because I want to live and that's the only way to survive. I sing because I remember the way the sun felt on my skin and expect to feel it again.

It is invincible within me if only I pry my hands from these fearful, reluctant eyes and see.

IMG_0707Time and time again while I sleep, Someone comes and lays himself beside me.  Being aware of that...saves me.

It's not about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps but by Love that lays down for you and with you.

Finding yourself not alone, not beyond the reach of one who loves you..it really is something.

-cnw


Through the end of January, every moleskine journal we ship will be sent with                       a handwritten lyric of your choice inside + a free copy of my COVERS ep.

The journals are a great place to record the things that feed your soul this winter or any season. The songs on this album are songs that, in their own way, fed my soul "back then."

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Release Show & Other Happenings

photo cred: Taylor Leonhardt!  

Dear friend,

I sat down to write and realized that today is the 2-month anniversary of the COVERS ep release!  We gave away 3,000 full album downloads on Noisetrade the first week. Many thanks to the Kickstarters whose funding made it possible for me to give the music away that week, thus getting it into the hands of so many new listeners.

I really hope you've had a chance to hear it, because man, it's been GREAT fun to interact with so many people who have memories attached to these songs & others who had never heard of The Smiths.  It's surprised me how many people are into covers and would never have found me apart from me covering Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight." :)

So what happened after Feb 10?

Since release day, I've had the pleasure of doing several interviews/podcasts, a small tour in Texas, a writing trip to Nashville, and have spent a good bit of time working up those promised Kickstarter rewards, as well.

I'm also carving out time for songwriting--both for me and for other artists--which is maybe most exciting, because one of the things I hoped the COVERS album would achieve for me is a renewed sense of energy in my writing.

Flow...

With spring upon us, I find I'm waking up with my brain exploding, creativity sparking, and it's been noted at the dinner table that my knee is bouncing in that antsy way you do when you've been in a state of flow and had to stop to do human things like talk and eat.

At times like this especially, the work doesn't feel like a job but like being alive, at play, outside of time, lost. And found.

I told Toby the downside about the writing days where  lose myself like this is that my brief hours of solitude are gone before I even look up.  Still, it is such a great gift to have work that makes you feel that way; it's a small price for the joy & honor.

Also...

I'm gearing up for songwriting workshops/events such as Young Songwriters Workshops in Raleigh, Escape to the Lake, Masterpiece Project 2015, and a Writers Retreat some friends and I are leading in Nashville in August (currently being revamped, will repost soon).  If you have any songwriters in your life, please have them check out these opportunities to connect with peers & grow in their understanding & practice of the art.

Last but not least...

I've been practicing with this gifted & oh, so fun group of musicians for the only currently-scheduled full band show on the books.  Our COVERS Release Show will take place at Raleigh's Pour House Music Hall THIS SUNDAY, and I couldn't be more excited.

If you're in town, please come and enjoy openers Jess Ray and Claybrook and stick around to hear the newly released tunes as well as some originals from past projects!

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If you've hung in there to read all this, wow! Impressive attention span.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to have the privilege of your time and ears.  I know you have your own work in front of you & it's good to be in such good company.

Keep saying it your  own way...

christa

 

 

 

 

 

The Songwriting Life

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.56.55 AMSo I sat down and wrote a few lines and tried for a melody, but nothing memorable came. Returned to familiar key progressions, fiddled, stared out the front window at the road, then stood and went back to the oven to check the roasting zucchini.

That was one day.

I sat on a piano bench in a room with community and coffee, and we couldn’t stop smiling, at the inspiration and flow and our own jokes. One sang and tried out a lyric while I played and nodded and a third dropped in spontaneous fiddle parts.

That was another day.

My laptop is open and I’m listening to someone else’s songs, in awe of the instincts and choices. Google title for words, put the tune on repeat and let it fill up the room, while I inwardly cheer that someone thought of it.

I don’t even try for something of my own that day.

Last month, all alone, a song came right up out of my skin. Maybe it had been coursing through the veins for quite some time. Maybe it was waiting for me to take it seriously, take it to dinner, ask the right questions. Love at first sight, we were made for each other.

That was a good day.

But every day…

I make, and I am made.

I sing, and I am sung to.

Together, we listen to the stories, we open doors, and we hold hands.

We laugh for no reason late at night, stand close with tears in our eyes, remind one another to look at the illuminated road rather than the lightning*.

This is the secret truth: the music doesn’t stop, not for one unseen second of our days.

You are a writer, and you are also a beloved character on the pages of another writer’s masterpiece.  A favorite part of the melody in another writer's song.

EVERY day.

So am I, even on the staring-out-windows days.

 

 

 

*Taken from Eugene Peterson's A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, where on page 30 he paraphrases Elie Wiesel on the stories of the Hasidim.

Jealousy & Her Rival, Community

*This is for a couple of young artists who asked me about jealousy amongst artists & how to find community in art-making.  Maybe for you, too? Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.11.40 PM

JEALOUSY

So you were sitting there trying to enjoy a performance when all of a sudden something ugly starts to wake up inside you and you find you're staring at the stage and the performer with less delight than dejection, more jealousy than joy.

You're feeling insecure about your work.  You feel underused...overlooked...uncertain.

If it goes on long enough, you start to get really good at finding fault with those "more successful" creatives.  You get critical in an attempt to protect your own sense of worth.  But it doesn't work, because instead of fueling better art in you, it makes you bitter, brittle, dry.

You weren't meant to be this way, and you don't WANT to be this way.  You WANT to be generous and cheer others on.  But you don't know how.

The first track on my album Feed Your Soul is called "Vanity Vanity":

When they passed me over like a penny on the sidewalk

I wanted to roll into the gutter

I wanted to listen in case they talked

Oh, little darlin', you've got a problem

Better treat it before it's too late

Vanity, vanity, how'd you get your hands on me

Goin' to the doctor who knows my sin

And he'll show me what I've got and take me to the river to get clean

Nobody likes to feel passed over.

You have gifts, you're pretty sure, but have no earthly idea what to do with all those songs/screenplays/ideas/drawings.  Or you're trying.  But your thoughts and motives are confused, and you don't want to admit it to anyone else, because it's ugly and everyone else seems above it.

Prayer.

I don't have answers or a prescription but I've been ugly inside, too, and I've often felt like a big zero.  And when I heard someone say to pray for those you do not feel love for, that it would change things, it sounded a bit pious and quite impossible.  But I tried it anyway; I prayed for a fellow artist I didn't know personally, whose success felt, for whatever (no good) reason, like a threat to my own.  Prayed for her to be fruitful and heard and to get better at her work and find more open doors.  I don't know what happened to her through that, but my heart, like the Grinch's, grew 10x bigger.  I found it impossible to ask on her behalf and still resent her.

Doing your thing.

My friend, Aaron Rice, says: "Stay in your lane," and I think that's a brilliant way to say it.  It doesn't mean you can't try new things.   But it means we have to stop looking at what others are doing and get to work.  I really believe we're meant to SHINE in unique, inimitable ways.  The more I take that advice, the more lovely and useful I am.

Giving thanks.

Like prayer, giving thanks has the power to protect us from envy.  Maybe only Mom & Dad care about my music, so I thank God for them.  Give thanks for the coffee shop that opens its platform to the unknown artist.  Thanks for the life story that gives way to song or story.  For the weakness that makes me dependent.  For the older man who tells me how that lyric reached a cobwebbed corner of his heart. I learn to give thanks for my own voice, as unimpressive as it seems to me.

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COMMUNITY

When we moved to North Carolina, I was at a total loss for artistic community, knowing no one and finding few musicians to intersect with.  Art-making can be very isolating, even though music should ultimately be collaborative.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and it's easy to feel like the only weirdo in your town (or house).

There are more of us out here than we think.  We have to watch for kindred spirits and create spaces that will draw us together.   A lot of times for me it's meant volunteering myself and my time to creative efforts, however small they may feel.  It's given me the chance to spend time with others who are at least interested in seeing artful things happen, whether they are artists themselves or not.

Some suggestions? You might...

*Volunteer with an arts camp for youth

*Say “yes” to local opportunities in community & church

*Reach out online via email or websites or forums

*Share your work online and let others find YOU

*Share art with often overlooked communities of people

*Participate in conferences for creatives (International Arts Movement)

*Support touring indie artists who come through town. 

*Host a house show, provide a meal and a space for them to rest.

*Join the Nashville Songwriters Association 

*Be willing to travel for opportunities to meet/share/work

*Search the web for like-minded artists & reach out.

*Find artists you respect & ask how you can support them.

*Host a meet-up at a local coffee shop for area songwriters & musicians.

At the end of the day, we need each other.  We really do.  We make each other better.

Hey.

There's no room for jealousy or isolationism.

There IS room for all of us at this party.  Even me.  Even you.

Especially you.

And this last picture?  It has nothing to do with this post except to say maybe we also need to take ourselves a little less seriously now and then. ;)

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Music Monday (albeit a bit late): Suzanne Vega... "Gypsy"

So, yes, by the time you see this, it is likely Tuesday, so perhaps "Tune Tuesday" will be more appropriate. I got caught up in children swimming and restoring some beauty and order to the chaos that is our master bathroom.  What is it about cleaning out one nasty drawer that can give one hope about the rest of life?  As if it all hinges on getting the toothbrushes lined up again and untangling lost necklaces.

Ah, well, I'll take it.

But Music Monday.  I decided this week to share what was likely one of the most influential songs of my early songwriting years.  I was in 11th grade, I believe, when Suzanne Vega's "Solitude Standing" album struck a chord in me.  My little sister, Mandy, was in 7th grade, and this song was our favorite on the album.  To this day, you will occasionally hear the two of us sing it - every word by heart - a cappella on some random sunny day.  Listening now to just the opening guitar pattern brings such nostalgia.

Who knows exactly what it meant to my 16-year-old self, but the melody itself, simple and serene, and the refrain:  "Oh, hold me like a baby who will not fall asleep, curl me up inside you and let me hear you through the heat" made me feel less alone.

Suzanne's use of language in lyrics left an enormous footprint on my own path as a writer, though I have yet to come close to her mastery of the art form.  Thank you for your work and inspiration, Ms. Vega.

"You have hands of raining water and that earring in your ear, the wisdom on your face denies the number of your years, with the fingers of a potter and the laughing tale of a fool, the arranger of disorder with your strange and simple rules..."

Trying My Own Wings

I’ve been learning freedom on a long, slow curve. Emphasis on slow.

I believe that when we meet God…when He makes Himself known to us…the cage door is thrown open, we are given power to live BEYOND.  Beyond ourselves, beyond the temporal, beyond the visible, beyond…

So why are so many of us still sitting here on our perches, behind bars?  Do we not have good, strong, functional wings?  What's keeping us nervous, fearful, glued, caged?

Myers-Briggs...So Interesting

The inner workings of human temperament…so utterly fascinating to me.  So utterly NOT fascinating to him, my better half.  The minute I whip out a casual reference to someone’s Myers-Briggs personality type, there is a decidedly audible exhale and eyes flicker to something happening outside the window.  (Of course, that’s because he’s an INTJ and he has better, more pragmatic things on his mind, so many things to be improved in the world!)

But I have a strong desire to understand people, including myself.  Understanding helps me to love.

What's Wrong With Me?

When I entered the professional songwriting world a few years ago and began working collaboratively for the first time, I didn’t understand why it felt so hard for me and so easy for others.  Not hard skill-wise, but hard emotionally/psychologically. I couldn’t seem to enter my writing space while sitting in the room with a total stranger and two hours to come up with a “hit.” I didn’t like many of the songs I co-wrote.  I didn’t like the cavalier, formulaic approach I saw.  Truth and beauty matter very much to me, and I am not interested in having my name on something I don’t really care about, no matter how much money it could make or doors of "opportunity" it could open.

But everyone else seemed to know how to get it done.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I lighten up?

I thought:

...I’m too serious...My songs need a day at Disney.

...I overthink and second-guess and miss great opportunities.

...I’m too picky.

...I’m unreasonably unwilling to sacrifice the aspects of life that must be laid aside in order to do this creative work well.  I’m also unwilling to sacrifice music to make time to do anything else really well.

...Maybe if I were more intellectual…

...Maybe if I were LESS intellectual…

...Maybe if I considered the market more…?

...Consider the market less…?

...Maybe if I were more dramatic…

...Maybe if I were LESS dramatic…

...Maybe if I reached out more, spent more time online, were more outgoing, followed this or that strategic trend…

And there were more lists for the other arenas of my life.

Unique, But Not the Only One

Recently, I read some texts dealing with work and personality type in the book Do What You Are.  Although I'm already doing the work I was born to do, it was highly encouraging to read profiles of other INFPs - how they approach their work, what is important in their work environments, and how they determine the value of their efforts.

My internal response was:

Oh!  OH!  Wow!  There is a name for this!  There is a whole truckload full of people who operate this way, with similar strengths and flaws, and we have others like us!  We aren’t DOING this, we are merely BEING who we were wired to be.

Maybe…Just because we are all dogs doesn’t mean we are the same breed?

Songwriters are not all of one breed?

All humans/parents/children/women/men/fill-in-the-blank are not of one breed!

One body, many parts!  And for those who are hands, not all hands look alike!  Those who are voices, each voice is one-of-a-kind!  Distinct works “prepared in advance” for us to accomplish.  This is not about justifying immoral or harmful behavior with “that’s just the way I am.”  This is about celebrating the individual traits that make each of us a uniquely designed creature…and also a unique contributor to our vocational/avocational fields.

Of course, all of this only further illuminates what we have already been told: our worth and beauty originate in the life of Christ whose Light overtakes our darkness and makes us radiant.  The Gospel, and not Myers-Briggs, is bread and water for the healthy, fully alive soul.

You are FREE to SHINE in the way HE makes YOU shine. :)

The Job That is Yours

I was reading Bedtime for Frances with the kids and love how Father tells Frances that everyone has a job to do.  Even the wind has a job: to go around blowing the curtains at night.

I think I’m figuring out what my job is…and what it is not.

There are certain songs it is MY job to write and deliver to certain people – it may be a small audience, but those songs are my job and not Adele’s job.  Adele cannot have my job, and I cannot have hers.

Try that on?

“________________ cannot do what I do, and I cannot do what _________ does.  And that is fine, fine, fine.”

Beautiful even.

Slowly, slowly, creeping through the open cage door, trying my own wings…

The Writing Room

Must.Write.Now.

It’s a bit obvious when the songwriter in this house has stayed away too long from writing, because she starts getting just a LITTLE bit grumpy.  A TINY bit irritable.  Easily IRKED.  Not by political leaders or financial crises or even by semi-big deals like being behind (again) on emails or (chronically) filing paperwork.

It’s much less rational than that.  Where there is no solitude, there is much loud exhaling at the very presence of human beings.  People and their people-y things, like shoes…hunger…chatter.

It’s not pretty...

So...for the well-being of my family: to writing I return.

...

Where have all the good ideas gone?

The writing road is often a thrill-ride attempt to grab all those great ideas that hover in cartoon bubbles around your head before they pop.

"Except when it's not."  (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes I honestly wonder if maybe I’ve written my last good song, because: Where did all the ideas go?!

They arrive through books, blogs, sermons and (yes) conversations (those people-y things).  Soak...write...soak...write...soak...

I’ve been soaking for a while now without the wave rising up.  These past couple of weeks, I sense the swell coming but something isn’t quite there.  And I’m beginning to think it’s not always about the idea…

.......

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes it’s about trying to write in a way that’s akin to taking a quiet bath in the middle of Times Square.  And the billboards and traffic?  My own brain.

Maybe we fall into Consciousness and can't get up?   Maybe the noise of a thousand tiny people in our heads telling us how to be and sound and watch out for this and don’t do that gets in the way of us carving out something fresh and true?

I forget to light the candle of Intuition that has always led the way …

Any writer can break down a great song for you and tell you why it works…AFTER it’s written.  More often than not, we're not actually thinking about those things during the process.  Occasionally, a listener will point something out that looks like great crafting, and it’s a delight to hear, because I had never consciously worked it out.

We practice, study, listen and pack all the structural tips in the back closet of the brain.  But the really natural, poignant writing happens in The Writing Room.

...

The Writing Room

The Writing Room is not a physical place but a mental Safe Room, where almost everything the writer needs lives.  Stacks and drawers of metaphors, images, memories, stories, poetry, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme line the walls (if you’re messy like me…maybe yours is more orderly).

Self-consciousness is most definitely NOT in the room.  Self-consciousness takes up lots of space, distracts from and suffocates art.

On a great day, the process is vertical, spiritual, intuitive. In that space we are free to focus every fiber on serving the song at hand. In that space, every syllable matters, every melodic nuance is measured and shaped, but it happens not in a lab but on a birthing table.

Like any good birthing room, the baby is delivered after hard labor in a safe and relatively serene environment.  And she looks a little like her parent and a LOT like a brand new thing that never existed before.

Life Cost So Much

Santa Semana--Holy Week--is a week to weigh costs. Fuel is nearly $3/gallon, unemployment at 9%…the $3 coffee that seemed nothing a year ago we now hesitate or pass on.  We feel the emptying of the bank account as we pay utility bills, mortgage, car…

But this is a week to consider the price tag on our right to be spiritually Alive.  The cost of life…of death.  This week, the worldwide family of Christian believers remember a purchase made on our behalf.

I think maybe we flinch a little at the idea of things done for us…honestly, don't we prefer independence, strength, self-reliance, self-sufficiency here?

Our default: I can do it! And our medicine: You can do it!

When I wrote “Life Cost So Much” I was not trying to be obscure.

But try to capture the Great Story in a few lines of lyric, and you see the problem…

I had been studying with our church “Two Ways to Live” and reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and also the book of Ezekial, and was providing music for a study on the basic tenants of the faith.  I just wanted to express some of these truths, to walk through the story in song.

And more people ask “What’s this one about?” than any other.  At the risk of saying too much, here is the place from which I wrote.

Death is easy, you don’t know you’re a ghost, The fee is taken out nice and slow…

It’s about the living dead, by which I mean humans who have not yet realized what we were born for, spend their days pursuing a sort of emptiness that does not sing.  In a way, a broad sketch of all human history, our childish insistence on wearing a crown not sized for our heads, certain we know better than our parent how to manage things.

Wisdom warned us but our flesh was strong…

It’s about Him telling us what we needed to know, giving what we needed for life from the beginning.   And us rejecting.

It’s the later part, the part where His children needed rescuing and He paid the debt we’d incurred by rejecting.

Life cost so much, life cost so much…

It’s the invisible Laws we have a hard time believing exist much less understanding, Mysteries that are before us and beyond us.  Things far more real than anything we’ve yet seen or experienced, and the true meaning of Justice, and the answer to I Deserve... .

Send us a king, send us our King…

It’s the late dawning desperation of humans everywhere through all time that oh, I do need what He said I needed.  I do need to come near, to listen, because nothing makes sense or means anything without Him in the picture.  I truly do not know how to be alive and be human apart from the Creator.

It’s about…the very tangible torment He opened Himself to repair the damage we’d done.  The great personal price He accepted to resurrect us.  How free is Grace?

Someone paid for the damage…

Tim Keller points out that if someone backs out of your drive, running into your gate and garden wall, there are real, actual damages that must be paid in order to restore the gate and wall. “Either you or he absorbs the cost for the deed, but the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. Forgiveness, in this illustration, means bearing the cost for his misdeed yourself.”

And the Father told us all of it long ago.  He told us we were dead, reminded that dead people can’t raise themselves up.  That resurrection would be a critical heart of the plan.

Dry bones, breath breathed, open graves, dead brought to life, Lazarus, Christ himself, our own future…the imagery is pervasive and effective in Old and New Testaments.

Ezekial 37: They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  Therefore prophesy and say to them: I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live

How else do you explain all these open graves we’ve got?

How do we explain it?  Joy in emptiness?  How do you explain the forgiveness of deep offenses?  Peace in tempest winds? How do we explain the always-returning green hope buds of this Life?

Someone must have paid…

How Emptiness Sings

I made myself wait these past several months, and now we're ready to share the music we made last summer/fall before heading out to Costa Rica.  And now...I'm both eager and a little shy about actually shipping.  :) How Emptiness Sings is a 7-track EP, all new originals, recorded & produced by Zodlounge (Nashville, TN), cover art/photos/design by Shelly Eve (who, by the way, you might know as Shelly Moore - singer/songwriter).  I love it. :)

Making music is joy - made complete when others enter in, listen, and respond.  Once that interaction begins, the work seems out of the artist's hands, ownership transferred to the listener.

So...to that end, I invite you to interact with these new creatures of music & lyric.  We are adding one preview track every couple of days through the release, until all 7 are up - click the image below to listen.

Official release is March 15 (hopefully you'll be able to find it at iTunes, etc, right away) - and we are already taking orders for physical CDs here at the Store.

You have a million other places you could be right now! Thank for stopping here.  And...please respond freely...your stories bring the music to life.

Christa%20WellsQuantcast

To the young writer...

(Photographs in this post were a gift from my young reader/listener/writer friend Abby Ang.  Enjoy Abby's words here.)

*Adding here to my original post, based on an interaction with a lovely young lady I hope to one day meet.

She wrote: At each stage of this journey, it seems the more productive I am...the more I battle the lie that my contributions are worthless. But, I know that is not true...so I keep on keeping on...trusting that God will use me (and my work) in a way that will somehow bring him glory.

I wrote:  When I was your age, I tried not writing for a period of time, on the advice of an older songwriter.  He said, "If you're not sure if this is what you're meant to do, try  NOT doing it.  See if you can. "  :) Clearly, I couldn't stop for long!  And I hope you won't, either...always remember that though there may be many others in that place [songwriters], working toward a similar goal, there is only one you.  No one else has had your particular life experience and seen it all through your set of eyes.  You do have something to add, and if God has gifted you musically/lyrically, you have something to add to the world of art & music.

And a couple of relevant book titles I recommend:

Walking on Water (Madeleine L'Engle - just read it, it's a classic) Linchpin (Seth Godin - secular, inspires the artist to break the rules & be uncompromising) At the Crossroads (Charlie Peacock - deals with history of "Christian music" & examines what it means)

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I’ve recently received several letters from young songwriters. You have something to say, and music is the language you speak, but you are uncertain where to take the work. I understand exactly how you feel, so...

I thought I’d jot some thoughts here to speak to you, and any others who also wonder.

It’s strange to suddenly find oneself in a sort of “older sister” role.  Odd to find that in the midst of all your own uncertainties and your own quest to understand how to really create something good, the “little sisters/brothers” knock on your door hoping you have the secrets.

And honestly, I can talk about words and writing all night, but business…not my favorite topic.

Strategy hasn’t played a part in any opportunities I’ve had before now.  And while I'm trying to be smart about things, I don’t tend to do things the way you’re supposed to do them in the “industry.”

So here, dear young writer, are my only words for you tonight:

What’s it all about for you? You have to find that answer…who are you writing for, and why?

Do you need to make a living from your writing?

If you do, you can do some googling and get tips on where to begin.  They’ll tell you, rightly, to first really make sure you’ve got what it takes, skill-wise.  It’s not an easy thing to get your songs cut by established artists, so your songs are going to have to be not good, but GREAT (and that’s defined by the market/genre you’re writing for).  And you’ll find tips on what to do and what not to do…don’t send in unsolicited material, don’t pay anyone to “publish” your stuff, don’t write 5-minute songs for pitch, start co-writing, etc….But lots of people write about that side of things, so I will not.

But, if you don’t have to make your living from your writing, then why bind yourself to that set of rules? You have all the freedom in the world to create something new.

Why not

stretch yourself, and your listeners…

Pay attention & deconstruct the music you love

find out what makes it work,

Be honest in your writing

write fearlessly,

use fresh, strong language…

Refuse to write what has already been written.

Take enough time to write each song the way it needs to be written,

(like a mother should heed the differences between her kids)

and rewrite,

but call it “finished” when it is.

(Gentle side note:  There is no divine inspiration behind any song in the way there was with Scripture, so let’s not say anymore that God gave us this or that song…it’s too often an excuse to not consider revising.:))

Be brave and put it out there...if singing isn't your strong suit, find someone else to deliver the music so that it can really be heard for what it is meant to be.  Start where you are...don't try to play it for industry people before you play it for "real people" in your own community, besides Mom and Dad.

Get old-fashioned in your thinking.  Consider the traveling musicians pre-record label.  Bring a song as you would bring a gift to small gatherings.  Post a song for free online and let people respond.

Write what is TRUE, and learn to WRITE IT WELL, and there will be people who want to listen.

And when they listen, and they get it, those are the people to listen to.  They’ll tell you what rings.

Not everything has to be heavy or serious.  We need to dance and laugh out loud as much as we need to cry.

Maybe the worst mistake we make is to define “success” by the numbers of people who know our name or our work.  Of course, we want witnesses to the work.  Of course, it feels good to be understood and validated.

But if we believe our work is made legitimate by being popular, we have bought a LIE.  I was no less valuable as a teenager because I was invisible and unpopular, but I believed that.

It’s a false story.  When we swallow it and live in that context, we have jumped tracks.

Real art has OFTEN been unpopular and Jesus Christ is not popular and we are not here to be popular but to be human. The gospel wasn’t pretty but it’s beautiful.  Because it’s true.

That’s the story we need to live and breathe and WRITE.

These are the things I have to constantly remind myself.  Because I like to be liked.

I know this isn’t what you’re looking for.  You’re afraid there won’t be a place for you in the world of art, that you'll live and die and no one will care about your songs. You want someone to give you 3 steps, or 7 tips.  But honestly.  I have no idea what work you were put on the planet to accomplish…I just think that the career path is not the point, and money is not the point, and fame is definitely not the point.  But creating something really good and pleasing to the Creator is.

Google those other articles and do those smart things.  But let those things support the art, and not the other way around.

I hope we cross paths one day, and that my soul is awakened by some bit of music you deliver into the world.  :)

With love and hope!

christa

more from the studio: Tom calls tracks to life (& snippets of 2 new tunes)

A minute or two of some car convo on the songwriting process, followed by some in-the-studio eavesdropping. The two songs you'll hear portions of on this clip are: The Best Thing (inspired by this post) and Kingdom Coming (on our response as Christ-followers to physical & spiritual poverty around us...I'll be writing more about that in the weeks to come).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBA9yj153Bg

Where deep gladness and deep hunger meet...

It’s obvious she has the bug.  She is 6 and can’t keep from it.   Small brown fingers push the sound from the ivory and I watch her do what I do.

Play.  Evaluate.  Try a new way.  Repeat.  Build a pattern, wonder where it must go next.

She is emotive.  Sometimes loud.  Often tragic (her favorite song being Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”).

She pulls words from the air as she goes.

”Wheeeeeeeeen will you coooooooooooome, will we eeeeeeeeever be togeeeeeeeeeether agaa-aa-aain…”

Then suddenly she sweeps into a rhythmic dance number, shoulders pulsing as she pounds and sings lyrics that may or may not match:

“Jesus, you died, uh-huh, you died for us, Jesus, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah!!”

I say:  I love this, but you really need to practice your lessons now.

Swiveling toward me on the bench, her smile and eyes light up like fireworks: “But I LOVE it!!!!  It’s SO MUCH FUN making up songs!!!!”

I can’t stop my grin, overjoyed to have this in common with her.  To hear her say it out loud, the feeling I know so exactly.  It is SO MUCH FUN.

I’d choose songwriting over many things.  I’d choose a day at the piano over a day at the pool.  And I like the pool.

I'm still finishing Paula Rinehart’s book, Better Than My Dreams, which I can’t recommend highly enough to every woman I know.  In it she quotes Frederick Buechner:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness

and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I knew early on where my deep gladness was, but I did not know it would intersect anyone’s hunger.

Have you seen the intersection? Realize how you have been asked to participate in bringing food to the poor in body and in spirit?

We're like the disciples of Jesus who saw 5,000 hungry people but had no idea how to feed them.  They forgot, like we forget, that it all begins, not with what we have, but with what the Father has.

And what He has is the power (and desire) to make a feast of our crumbs.

We cannot satisfy anyone.  He will satisfy.

Our part is to run like children with the kite of “deep gladness” we feel when we do what we were designed to do.

I begin by seeing.

I begin by seeing (I'm a visual learner).  Feeling waves roll in, scales fall, the earth shift slightly underfoot…how have I lived this long and not known this?

A secret overlay becomes visible and wheels turn…scaffolding is erected on the interior walls of the mind, frames hung, phrases chalked alongside, and I start the climb...

In tenth grade, a skinny, self-conscious girl, I sat at our hand-me-down piano and felt things I couldn’t identify, longings I couldn’t name.  We had moved back onto American soil as I entered 9th grade.  I hated most everything about our new home.  Mostly I hated everything about myself, and managed to feel both invisible and painfully conspicuous all the time.

Maybe that’s where the first song came from.  Maybe I couldn’t write about the experience of a sad teenage girl, because writing it seemed even more boring than living it.  Instead, I imagined a conversation with a homeless flutist on an unnamed street, who talked to me about his life – the losses and disillusionment.  (The flute wasn’t silent, so I’m not sure how that ended up in the lyric.)

Back then I wasn’t thinking that the homeless street musician might reflect something of my own experience.  Not consciously.  Later, high school and college literature classes showed me how to search beneath top layers and seek out subtle connections between people and circumstances.

Now I make an effort to listen and watch.  That’s where the writing begins for me.

I begin by seeing.  What a mountain has to do with faith…what medicine and children have in common…how my grandmother and I are one…why repentance feels like dying but makes us free…

*And you?  Tell us what you see?*

On songwriting...

Writing again the past few days (nights, really)...remembering that sometimes a three-minute song requires days or weeks of loving, painstaking labor...shaping, like wet hands sliding over clay, forming, pressing, turning...

Not always.  There are those glorious, rapturous moments when inspiration swoops swiftly down, blowing through a writer like a sudden wind.  

But not often.  For me, anyway.  I have over the years discovered I differ from many writers in this way:  I am not fast.

People ask, "HOW do you write a song?  I could never..."  

And I always think: "Of course you can write a song.  A child can write a song.  I could teach you in an afternoon.  Maybe not a masterpiece, but yes…a song."

 

Step One. Listen.

Step Two.  Consider.

Step Three.  Create.

Yes, and of course, metaphor, rhyme scheme, melody, chord structure...but all of that can come later.  Write something down!

 

Yet, here I am, twenty plus years of songwriting…still the struggle.  Like Jacob wrestling.  Or a crazy person holed up in a closet humming with a pen and notebook, scribbling and crossing out, scribbling and crossing out.

So this is what it looks like really.  In case you wondered.  Mystery exposed!

 

HOW THIS WRITER DOES IT

First...             A small seed of idea, enthusiasm, followed by…

Second...         A season of solitary brooding, considering, pondering.  Destroying dinners while compulsively connecting potential patterns, figuring perspective, angle and approach.  Then..

Third...             Dabbling at the keys…some few phrases in hand…solid starts that will survive and…others, doomed to be disposed of. 

Fourth...           More dabbling…the making of a melody...probably for the first verse and chorus only.   Said melody will change many times over many hours and days of tinkering…

Five...               As will the chords laid beneath the melody like tumbled marble.  So many options for every syllable…must test each possibility until Special happens.  Then, that syllable gets to sit quietly while the next has his turn on the pottery wheel.  Every line must find Special somehow. 

Six…               Days of pre-occupation, pausing by piano at every opportunity to re-play…burning melody into the memory of every innocent bystander in the house who have all long since grown weary of the precious infant song…

And recording…Garageband…over and over again, every time, so upon hearing playback, writer can attempt greater objectivity (this is a crucial tool, I’ve found)…

Tweaking, embellishing, taking away, shifting melody, meter…

Seven…             Sing new songbaby a capella while stirring spaghetti, driving, waiting for rain…and discover that some lines are already forgettable and others are quite marvelous.  Play with it, re-shape until it holds.

Eight…             Complete lyric and test against melody.  Swap small words that no one else will ever notice but which matter very much to writer.

Nine…             Be brave.  Play new baby for husband.  Take husband at his word and trust that he’s probably right, either way. 

Give it a name.   

Ten…             Send baby out to meet the other kids…Hope he is greeted warmly by people who understand what he’s about.