To put this post into perspective, you have to understand that Ellis Paul and Steve Earle are my two most favoritist songwriters of all time. Followed closely by Dar Williams. So, to get to sit in a room and learn about song-writing from him pretty much blew my mind. It was like getting driving lessons from The Stig. AKA: kindof a big deal.
Anyways, it was a three hour class where we talked about the song-writing process and how you can write songs that really tell a story. Listening to Ellis (can I call him Ellis? I’m going to call him Ellis) talk about his aims in writing songs (capturing a mood, telling a story, creating a moment) it made me realize why I love his music so much. We’re both coming at this whole song-writing business from a very similar place.
He also vocalized all of the things that I have subconsciously been trying to do with my songs. Adding the details in that make it come alive. Showing what you mean instead of saying it directly (I lost track of the number of times he said, “show, don’t tell”). And he added in a new dimension (at least for me) which is to engage the senses. Bring in sight, smell, taste, touch and sound and people will feel like they’re right there with you. It doesn’t have to be completely literal (if it did, there would be a lot more songs about burnt hot dogs), you can actually do it very subtly. But I had never really thought about adding kinesthetic elements to my songs. With that idea in the back of my head, I think that I can write some songs that have a lot of the same elements as some of my favorite songs. I’v added in a lot of those details in the past, I just never did it consciously.
I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me that was hoping I’d get a chance to play one of my songs (we were encouraged to bring guitars for work-shopping) and he’d say “OMG! You’re the next coming of Joni Mitchell!”) and sign me up to open for him on his next tour. I have a strong suspicion that the other 24 people in that room were thinking the same thing. Which makes me feel a little less crazy.
In case you were wondering, I did not get referred to as the second coming of Joni Mitchell and, as of this writing, I will not be joining Ellis Paul on his next tour. You’re all shocked, I know. I’m sure that this has everything to do with the fact that my guitar stayed snugly in its case. And nothing to do with me not being the second coming of Joni Mitchell. I’m really more of a Lucinda Williams. We only had time to workshop one person’s song. But it was still really valuable. And gave me some good ideas about how to approach my new stuff that I’m trying to bring to that next level.
Everyone who attended the class got a copy of his latest CD. Which doesn’t come out until next January. So, don’t I feel special. Sortof. You can buy a copy on his website, here. Would it have been too dorky to have asked for an autographed copy? I figured it would be too dorky. So now I will just need to be content with knowing that I got my copy in person. I made a joke about “trade ya!” and gave him a copy of Beer and Pie. I hope he listens to it. More importantly, I hope he likes it.
I’m floating around some new ideas in my head. I think I have a few songs in there that are getting ready to come out. And none of them is about burnt hot dogs. I’ve also decided that I need to start doing what I did for years and years and years, which is to carry around a notebook and to jot down little snippets and the beginnings of songs. I stopped carrying a composition book right around the time that I started writing most of my songs on my lappy toppy. I will occasionally make a note on my phone, but it’s not quite the same. Although the song Beer and Pie was tapped out furiously while I was hoping and praying that my iPhone battery didn’t die.
I had a good time today. Just sitting six feet from Ellis while he played a song for us was well worth the price of admission. Throw in a free CD and I got a hell of a deal.
Hopefully, this will be the beginning of some fantastic new songs.