I started writing songs when I was 12, so I’ve had a lot of practice. I didn’t have formal songwriting lessons, but not getting schooled in something never stopped me from doing it anyway. So far, I have a hoarder’s collection of scribbled notes, chord progressions, and — if I’m diligent enough — sheet music for stuff I’ve written in the past 20 years.
Thanks to my improv-free schedule these past few months, I’ve been devoting a lot more time to rekindling my love of songwriting. I’ve been fleshing out a musical I started last year on my personal coming out journey (called “Next”), and the Google document that I keep is filling up with songs that have randomly popped in my head when inspiration strikes.
Most of the time, I write lyrics first. I find it easier to plop a melody into an existing phrase or sentence than the other way around. And this is probably where I have the most trouble. Even though I consider manipulating language a strong suit, I’m a terrible, terrible literalist when it comes to writing lyrics for songs.
So instead of writing soaring metaphors or clever similes, I end up writing things that are bland and pedantic. Not Rebecca Black bad, mind you — although this probably means that my songs will be huge pop hits — but a lot of what I write is not terribly poetic or deep. TJ and I have even talked about writing a dance song with extra vapid lyrics (e.g., Party time all night / Dancing till sunlight / Ibiza, oooh la la / Ibiza oooh la la), since that seems to be what passes for songwriting these days.
But I want to go higher… or deeper… or whatever the appropriate metaphor is. I’m at the point in my songwriting career (let’s call it that for now) where I’m struggling to balance the kinds of songs I want to write. As an artist, I need to give a better voice to the crapulence floating around in my head.
Most of the songs I’ve written have been the earnest, honest kind — no smirk, no attitude, just good old-fashioned “here’s how I feel and here’s how I’m expressing it” songs. This is not a surprise, since the first songs I wrote were meant for use in the church.
But lately I’ve been trying my hand at adding more nuance, cleverness, and wit to my lyrics — kind of like channeling Oscar Wilde while writing Whitman. I’ve, of course, been inspired by the amount of musical theater I’ve seen in the past few years.
And boy, it’s harder than it looks. I can only imagine how many drafts of “Defying Gravity” were tossed in a bin somewhere.
But I’m up for the challenge. As Morales said, I’m going to dig deep down to the bottom of my soul and… try to write more exciting lyrics. Hopefully I won’t come up with nothing.