Inside the Songs: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West’s Rugged Wordplay
One of our favorite albums of 2011 was The Holy Coming of the Storm, by Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. We were proud to help run publicity on it because we believe then (and now) that their music was a game changer. Cahalen and Eli’s songs were so tight, so perfectly written, and their arrangements so angular and powerful. We just loved the album. And so did lots of other people. We’ve been hoping for a chance to get Cahalen to talk about some of his songwriting process and to go over a few of the more beautiful songs from the album to add background. Now here we are! Here’s what Cahalen had to say about three of the key songs from his album with Eli West.
Inside the Songs with Cahalen Morrison
“My Lover, Adorned” (written w/and sung by Eli West)
“For me, few novels have such strong imagery like any of those by Cormac McCarthy. The sparse quality of McCarthy’s writing allows the reader to do much of the work themselves. The kind of writing I enjoy most, and the kind that comes across in the most powerful way, is the style that McCarthy uses. Four lines of sparse (maybe even dry) prose, followed by a line of poetry that knocks you out of your rhythm. So, you stop, and read it again, letting the subtlety sink in. The whole book [McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses] flows in this way, to me. I was struck by so many one-liners in the book, that I wound up with a sheet of paper, stuck in the back cover, covered in lines and page numbers. A few months after I had finished the book, I went back through, and reread the lines that had stuck out to me before. One passage had especially beautiful imagery, so I decided to expand on it, using one line. ‘John Grady stood his saddle upright to the fire and walked out on the prairie and stood listening. He could see the Pumpville watertank against the purple sky. And beside it the horned moon. He could hear the horses cropping grass a hundred yards away. The prairie otherwise lay blue and silent all about.’ (p. 42) I used the line in a slightly different context, but still in line with the story, the song ends up being more of a parallel, than being completely true to the story, being that I was also drawing from personal experiences, and weaving the two together.”
“I spent a month in Boston, visiting a friend a few years ago, and ended up with a woman on my mind that was out west. This being my first time enduring an east coast, maritime winter, I was quite taken by the complete and utter dreadfulness of the sleet, snow, and wind. And, as it would seem, the combination of longing for love and terrible weather make a good mindset for songwriting. The song ended up being situated upon mother nature keeping this woman away from me, at any expense. This is another song that I borrowed one of my favorite lines for. But, this line came from one of my favorite Tom Waits songs, ‘All The World Was Green,’ which I used as a whole, unashamedly. I hope he won’t mind.”
“On God’s Rocky Shore”
“For this song, I stuck with the fairly basic model using imagery, song structure and harmonic devices that run deep and common in Old-Time music. There is not necessarily too much glue that holds the verses together, and not really a storyline that the song follows, as each verse is stand-alone, and only ties in subtly to the rest. The title of the record, The Holy Coming of the Storm, comes from the last line of this song. I grew up in Northern New Mexico, and am always in awe of the severity and intensity of what nature does in the desert. This line, ‘The creek is rising, on up to the shower, the holy coming of the storm,’ is referring to flash floods in the summer, when there is not a cloud in the sky, but all of a sudden, there is a wall of velvety, brown water tearing down the arroyos, wiping out anything in its path. And the storm may or may not show its face in whatever particular canyon you are in. It all seems so counter-intuitive, and definitely speaks to something that is part of the bigger picture.”