I often get asked how my songs come about – then I always have to go back to poetry.
Although as a teen I started out writing short stories, the moment I got more serious I switched to poetry. Being 18 years old poems seemed to be more accessible in their sometimes fractured structure, with their immediate picture, much like brush strokes of a painter, especially for a young man trying to find himself in the canon of world literature between Baudelaire and Bukowski.
This old love never left me, and in my mid 20s I joined a band after audience members of my readings and their concerts pointed out, we should do something together. And fun it was!
What remained since then is the way I approach morphing poetry into a lyric: the text stands for itself, by them time I start making music I have dozens of candidates to choose from (much like back then when the band started jamming) and often I find a poem that fits the music and I re-write it until it fits.
As an example I take a text I wrote in 2022, because I have all versions, and we can track the process together.
Version 1 (v1)
That's how it always starts, some piece of paper and some peace of mind, and maybe a picture or an expression like the pencilled “It was dark, it was quiet, it was everything I wanted”. Now, this spoke to me, guess what, I love alone time, I need it, I die if I don't have , metaphysically and probably physically, too – I never tried it without. I wrote 14 novels, that's 7 years in solitude, solid – and you didn't hear me complain (for 10 years I was a full-time novelist).
Maybe I came up with those lines sitting alone after work at home having a beer and a tea light going, or it popped up somewhere differently and this is my version or extension of it, however, it stuck, and eventually I wrote it down and carried it around with me, maybe for weeks, I don't remember. But then in one sitting (just the black thin marker) I jotted down the quintessence of the text.
First changes, what do we have here? I scrapped “Behind me” (nice though, but without time of the day indication which now, with "midnight" means rather silence) and took “Midnight”. Dingle Bay, Ireland, yes, I was there, bloody young, my 1st backpacking trip, memorable, never knew this would pop up in a poem or a song, anyway ...
Crossed out “in orange streetlight”, I knew right away I used that somewhere else, because that was the moment after leaving the little movie theatre in Cologne where I watched “Angel Heart”, “Raising Arizona” and other gems more than once. Never forget that light – and the silence afterwards.
“One summer” is general, “After a summer rain” adds the aforementioned wetness of the cobble stone, and yes, it was cobble stone in that side street.
“of the lit tea light” had to be changed to “lone candle”, moving it away from real life (I prefer tea lights in wooden houses), but also sounding better and including another quiet indicator “alone”.
The last strophe I abandoned too early here, but forgive me, this could have been on a lunch break or in the car on some parking lot, before I had an appointment or pick up a kid or start work, so, please, cut me some slack. But I knew I had something!
Version 2 (v2)
The R now shows the direction of the lyric, for me R = refrain = in English the Chorus. If not long before you are guessing right, English is my 2nd language, hence the German “DOCH” scribbled on the side of the 3rd line, meaning “but yes!” = leave it, after axing “country” from the road, but I regretted that action a moment later (country = quiet).
Now we are also “Leaving the old pub”, way nicer and better to sing and indicating the entering silence after the dolby surround irish stout extravaganza.
And here I added the full chorus with the “Haunted” passage. Unthinkable now without, especially ending on the own “mistakes”.
“Black yet shiny” really? What was I thinking? “Hands in my pockets” come in because that's just what you do when it rains cats and dogs, also means turned more inwards.
The moving shadows on the walls and the ceiling was another picture I used in another poem/lyric. I just love sitting and watching the tea light or candle flicker, and that's what happens at night. So here I had to at least shorten it, gaining the first personal evaluation of the moment in the last line “It is way too late”. The ratio speaking.
Last strophe just got tweaked with the “calm sea” and the “seldom”, at this point I don't have to hint what emotion those adjectives carry, right?!
Version 3 (v3)
Again handwritten, that's rare. Because I had to do it in the studio (for over a year now I have the immense luck of sharing a studio space where it can be dark and quiet whenever I want it and nobody is there...) and there is no printer but I was ready to sing it in. So what can you do? I took the sharpie, and then, while recording tracks working in more changes. Words are like clay.
So now it is right away me “I'm” leaving the pub – what I did numerous times, and now I go more concrete into the fine “November” rain, and if you think Guns N' Roses I can't help it, but November is the best sounding month.
Just noticed the “winding” popped in already while slinging the sharpie.
I tried “ancient” but ignored that thankfully soon after. “My” Hands are now “deep” in my pockets, accentuating the feeling.
The poetic “lucid” finally found its way in. I still love that, countered with the earthy “I'm drinking” way too late, dropping the “awake” - which frankly would have sounded like a pear-shaped yodelling attempt.
“calm” became “Baltic”, more concrete by location and the moment I was thinking of in my real life: I was on a reading tour and stayed close to the Danish border in Germany in a small hotel with a big window overlooking said sea. It was too cold to open the window but I did it anyway and stood dressed for hiking inside my hotel room listening to “Gobloots” music (Alex Salcido now, Gobloots recordings are not available anymore, sorry) for hours and, well, drinking beer... - Baudelaire was known for that, or was that Bukowski?
Clouds at night are “leaden”, definitely the stronger word.
No changes in the chorus on page 2-2, so no scan here.
Version 4 (v4)
This took shape. Only one noteworthy change, finally my hands “are buried deep”. Using “buried”, a death-silent word and sacrificing the “South” of Cologne for that syllable appears like a good deal for the writer (outside Cologne nobody associates anything with the South of Cologne).
The boxed A7 just refers to “Audio Track 7” after recording the vocals to the song.
And what is that song now? It ended up as the title song of my January album of my 1 EP a month series.
Here on bandcamp, thanks for reading and listening, maybe sharing this blog post with somebody.