8 Cylinders or 4 Cylinders?
Do you ever write a song that is more or less just ‘there’ on an album, with the other ones that you think of as stronger—but then it takes on a life of its own and winds up playing a much larger role in your life than you ever expected?
Yes, this does happen, as does the converse. I have an unblemished record of failure when it comes to picking the songs from my albums that will resonate with an audience. I say this only half jokingly. Part of what makes this a complicated puzzle to assemble is that songs change in live performance. Some songs take a long time to settle into what they will become in live performance. The tempo can change, making the phrasing different, often bringing a new depth to the lyric. It’s not so much that the song as a static thing itself takes on a bigger life but sometimes more is revealed over time that brings more resonance out of the song. Sometimes the songs that inhabit a smaller world can have the biggest change over time.
Little Scar from Welding Burns was a very small song in my head. It’s quite short and it doesn’t cover much ground lyrically. I thought of it’s place in the album as a minor role, just a moment. In the live show however, it has grown in importance. It’s a song that sometimes will quiet a chatty audience or bring the mood of the room to a very specific place. I’m not exactly sure why this happens but I suspect the lyric might be something that a lot of people would like to express. I tried to make the song visual, like a tiny movie that plays out over two and a half minutes. So, as small as the song is you can see it as it goes by.It’s become a more important part of the set than it was as a part of Welding Burns.
On the other hand, sometimes there are songs that feel like they will carry a lot of weight that don’t have much muscle when it comes down to it. Sometimes you think you’re firing up an 1972 8 cylinder Nova and you find what you really have is a Pinto. Sometimes the thing goes up in flames. There can be enormous growth and change in a song and your relationship to it. I like to think of the songs as sort of living things that can continue to grow and expand or shrink if need be. I try to think of the lyrics as evolving and not set in stone. It used to be a frightening concept to me that I could call something finished and it might need to be opened up again. I’ve gotten comfortable with that idea over time. Small songs can become bigger. Big songs are sometimes more powerful in a smaller version than how you might have conceived of them. They’re tricky little buggers those songs. You have to always be chasing them around and watching that they don’t get out of line. Don’t let em get above their raising…